The news that the national executive of Unite, Britain’s largest union, has come out in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become Labour leader will be welcomed by both Labour members and trade unionists. Corbyn has also received the backing of ASLEF, RMT, FBU, and BFAWA trade unions, and from the Socialist Education Association. Other unions and organisations - particularly the other big unions of Unison and GMB - must now also act to reflect the will of their members and follow suit.
Notably, the RMT and FBU are not affiliated to the Labour Party, but have thrown their weight behind Corbyn nevertheless. This is an indication of the enthusiasm for Jeremy’s campaign and clear anti-austerity message, which has chimed with workers across the labour movement.
Pressure from below has clearly started to have an affect. Initially the feeling from the tops of the trade union movement, if not the members, was that they would be pushing for Andy Burnham as the lesser evil - least anti-union candidate of the original three “front-runners”.
But that was before Corbyn entered the fray at the last minute. It has become clear to many that only Jeremy Corbyn is putting forward policies that correspond to the agreed positions of the major trade unions. In particular, Jeremy is rightly seen as being the only anti-austerity candidate on the ballot.
Liz Kendall’s attempt to out-Tory the Tories has only served to underline this – she has got the support of big business and the Murdoch press, but no support from any organisation that represents ordinary people. Cooper and Burnham have also been pandering to the right-wing press, with the result that clear blue water has emerged between them and Corbyn. The likes of Burnham, Cooper and Kendall have all been rushing forward to distance themselves from the unions whilst praying for support from establishment types. For these people, the wishes of the millionaires outweighs the wishes of the millions.
Enthusiasm for anti-austerity
Corbyn’s campaign has shown that people will not accept this any longer. Not only have people been joining the Labour Party to vote, but thousands have been signing up to the £3 “registered supporters” scheme in order to get a vote in the leadership contest. Given that the three Blairite candidates are about as inspiring as a plank of wood, most of these registered supporters will clearly be backing Corbyn. In addition, reports from hustings indicate that the three right-wing candidates have been jeered and booed for their Tory-lite policies, whilst Jeremy has received applause for his consistent anti-austerity demands.
The great irony is that this supporters scheme was originally intended to create a supposedly more right-wing counter-weight to the party membership and affiliated trade unions. In reality, the wider layers being drawn in as registered supporters are turning out to be more radical than the Party membership, encouraged to engage in the leadership contest by Corbyn’s presence on the ballot.
The belief that people yearn for right-wing, Blairite policies is quickly being exposed as a fantasy by events - not only by the enthusiastic reception that Jeremy has received, but also by the tremendous 250,000-strong anti-austerity demonstration in London on 20th June, and other such protests that have erupted across the country since the general election.
Fear is now starting to grip the Party hierarchy and their friends in the City of London – they are afraid of the forces that have been unleashed by allowing Jeremy on the ballot and giving him a platform.
One shameful response by both the BBC and certain newspapers has been to promote the myth of the “Tories For Corbyn” campaign, arguing that Tory supporters are being urged to join the supporter scheme and vote for Corbyn to deliver Labour into what they argue would be an “unelectable” leadership. They are trying to devalue Corbyn’s campaign with stories like this, which have no factual backing to them whatsoever.
The mainstream press know that the Labour leadership election was seen as a sham before Corbyn came on board. The so-called contest reflected the dismal state of affairs at the top of the party, with no one able or willing to come up with any sort of alternative to austerity and “reformism without reforms”.
The basic premise put forward by the right-wing media and the Blairites is that Corbyn and his left-wing policies would consign the Labour Party to a lifetime of opposition in parliament. Such sentiments have even been echoed by Labour MPs such as John Mann, who tweeted that Corbyn’s inclusion on the ballot paper showed the Party’s “desire never to win again”.
The reality is that it is Blairism and counter-reforms which have made Labour unpopular, hence the heavy election defeat in May. If Labour was to stand on a clear socialist, anti-austerity programme then it could smash the Tories, hence the growing support for Corbyn from many sections of the youth and working class.
Momentum is growing. The Telegraph (or “Torygraph” as many call it) has now quoted leading “party lobbyist” (whatever that is) Luke Akehurst (an arch-Blairite) as saying that Corbyn is now a close second and could win, with Kendall coming last. The right-wing in the Party are desperately banking on the second preference votes to keep Corbyn out at the death.
Even if this is how things finally work out, the damage has been done. The myth of Blairite dominance and the need to “return to the centre ground” will have been exposed, and the basis for future struggles laid.
Despite the enthusiasm for Jeremy on the ground, the tone of some of the union leadership’s support for his campaign has only been half-hearted, with one senior trade union source quoted as saying they would back Jeremy to “teach the party a lesson”. “Are we backing someone who could not possibly win?,” the source rhetorically posed in the Telegraph, “Yes, we are. But there is a feeling we need to nail our colours to the mask.”
Support for Corbyn must not be given with a sense of defeatism. Defeat should not be conceded lightly, when the prospect of victory lies within reach. With a concerned effort from the union leaderships to get their members signed up and voting for Jeremy, it is clear that Corbyn could win.
Such an outcome, combined with the heroic struggle of the Greek people, would provide the inspiration and confidence that the labour movement in Britain needs to fight back and go on the offensive against the Tories and their programme of austerity.
But to really inspire trade union members, Labour Party members, and registered supporters to turn out en masse, vote for Jeremy, and build the fight back, the Corbyn campaign and the unions backing him must inspire and enthuse. This means giving a bold lead with a fighting, socialist programme.