Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Is It Time For 1931 Again?

In 1931, in a deep recession, the leadership of Labour in government did not act to defend working-class living standards, but did the opposite. It proposed to cut unemployment benefit. The unions wouldn't have it, the majority of the Cabinet wouldn't have it, the Party Executive wouldn't have it, and the benefit-cut supporters, led by Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden, debunked from the Labour Party and shackled up with the Tories and Liberals in a 'national government'. The Labour Party had split.

In 2009, in a deep recession, the leadership of Labour in government is not acting to defend working-class living standards, but doing the opposite. It proposes, with its Welfare Reform Bill, to cut entitlement to state benefits.

We need the labour movement to reject its leaders' actions in 2009 as it did in 1931.

Sadly, the Labour Party of 2009 is not the Labour Party of 1931. The Party has spent the intervening 78 years travelling the road from its origins as a party to represent the working class in politics towards becoming a straightforward party of the ruling class, and is very near the end of that journey. But even if it is politically weaker and stripped of confidence, the labour movement still exists, and it should rise up and force a split as in 1931.

Many unions have policy against the Welfare Reform Bill and other New Labour anti-working-class policies. There is no hope from the Cabinet or the majority of the National Executive, but at least some Labour Party members must be appalled at their government's actions, and there are socialists and campaigners outside the Labour Party who would welcome an attempt to refound a party of labour. This time, it may not be possible to drive the right wing out of the party but we must split the bulk of the political labour movement away from the class enemies of the Labour leadership.

Would a split damage Labour? On one level, you might say 'who cares?', as New Labour has damaged working-class interests and the labour movement itself so badly. But we should also remember that 1931 led to 1945. After MacDonald split, Labour took a kicking in the election, but began to rebuild. 14 years and a World War later, Labour won a landslide election victory and brought in the most extensive pro-working-class reforms that a Labour government has ever managed.

I'd sooner not have to wait 14 years - let alone go through another war - but right now in 2009, we could do with a bit of 1931.

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