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Labour must get back in touch

I have a photograph back home taken in 1978. It is of a demonstration organised by local trade unions in the town of Trowbridge in Wiltshire. I was barely seventeen years old at the time, but there we are marching underneath a banner that reads ‘Wiltshire Against the Cuts’, Tony Benn, the then local Swindon MP, David Stoddart and me. Next to us is a tall man with a beard who was the Liberal candidate for the upcoming General Election. Those were the days. Days when Liberals marched with the Labour Party and the unions against Tory cuts.

This Saturday, what promises to be the biggest union-led demonstration since the great miners strike of 1984/85, the “March for the Alternative” will be the biggest show of strength yet in opposition to the Coalition’s cull of jobs and services. As such, it will get little media coverage unless of course a small group of anarchists try and hijack part of it.

I can’t remember whether Labour leader Ed Miliband is going to be speaking or not. I recall that he said he’d march, and then backtracked, and then promised to speak. This early indecision had nothing to do with his attitude towards the trade unions, which is a positive one, but more a reaction to the deeply hostile attitude to trade unions and the working class in general which pervades the media from the liberal Left to the Murdoch Right.

As far as much of the commentariat are concerned, trade unions are ‘dinosaurs’ led by bloated General Secretaries. They are anachronistic and should not really have a role in public life. For many of the liberal Left commentators in the media, it is all the fault of the unions that they didn’t get their favourite, David Miliband, elected as Labour leader.

Hopefully the TUC is more savvy these days about social media, as the unions will have to spend the next few days thinking of ways to circumvent the inevitable news black out. It is also good to hear that the TUC isn’t just “against”, but is “for”. Now we need to see exactly what the trade union prescription is for public services, jobs and working people.

Of one thing we can be sure, the Labour Opposition’s official position of being opposed to the speed and scale of the cuts is hardly a rallying call. “We would have done it, but not so fast and deep”, has of course been the official mantra for months.

The truth is that we don’t need to be making many of these cuts at all. But since no one is prepared to take on the super-rich, or make those who avoid tax, pay, or ensure that the large corporations actually pay tax, this has become the de-fault position of the Labour Opposition.

It will be up to the TUC, and more particularly the hundreds of thousands who will march through London, to put some backbone into the Labour Party. And if the Labour Party doesn’t find its backbone soon, it will come to be seen as increasingly out of touch.


  1. Matty says:

    I’m glad that Ed did speak, bemused as usual by the desperate Blairites who were against the march, despite the huge support for it. See
    “Majority back aims of TUC March for the Alternative

    A new YouGov poll published today (Saturday) shows the majority of people in the UK back the aims of today’s TUC March for the Alternative.

    YouGov asked: ‘On Saturday 26 March, members of the public, community groups and trade unions will march in London to campaign against public sector spending cuts. Generally speaking, do you support or oppose the aim of the march to campaign against public sector spending cuts?’

    The majority (52 per cent) said yes, with one in three (31 per cent) disagreeing. Even one in five Conservative voters back the aims of the march.

    TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘I’m sure that many of our critics will try to write us off today as a minority, vested interest. This poll nails that lie.

    ‘The thousands coming to London from across the country will be speaking for their communities when they call for a plan B that saves vital services, gets the jobless back to work and tackles the deficit through growth and fair tax.'”

    By the way, I submitted a comment to Labour Uncut on an article about the march 24 hours ago, it’s still awaiting moderation.

  2. andy newman says:


    I would love a copy of that photo, and to have a chat with you about those Trowbridge protests.

    The White Horse (Wilts) TUC is publishing a book later in the year about local labour movement history.

    Can you e-mail me at

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