Return to Labourism?

Graham Bash (Labour Left Briefing) reports from the Labour Party conference

The Labour Party conference was by no means all bad. Despite the appalling speeches by both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which called for a renewal of New Labour, I think the major theme of this conference has been the limited, but definite, return to Labourism. The leaderships of the 'big four' unions united to ensure that positive resolutions were passed on a number of issues such as the call for limited secondary picketing, for an end to any further privatisation of the health service, support for direct investment in council housing and for defending and index-linking state pensions. Also this was not just the unions imposing their will on the Constituency Labour Parties. On the controversial debate to change the law to allow for a degree of secondary picketing in the aftermath of Gate Gourmet, 39% of the constituency parties supported the unions' stance. True, from afar that may not look very impressive, but, given the usual levels of support we get from constituencies for positive resolutions, this represented a move forward. But let's be clear what this is and what it is not. It is not a socialist agenda being put forward by any means, but neither was it New Labour. It was Labourist. That is, the trade union movement and its bureaucracy acting under pressure to defend trade union interests. However, compared to much of what we have seen in recent years, that represented, if not a substantial advance, at least something we must take serious account of. Now because it is the actions of the trade union bureaucracy that have produced these positive results, how far it goes - to what extent words become deeds and resolutions become actions - depends on the pressure from the trade union movement itself. It is events such as Gate Gourmet that impinged on and - in the actions of some of the leaders of the trade unions - actually found a concrete reflection at our conference. Obviously, how this develops from here depends on how far the trade union movement is activated at its base, just as was the case in the Gate Gourmet dispute. And, of course, the remit of these resolutions is narrow. It was criminal that there was no debate on Iraq, so the disintegration of that country found no expression at conference. Yet when domestic trade union issues were on the agenda, there was an impact - however limited. That's the story of this week in Brighton. Despite its limitations, there was progress.