Left Wing Hate Watch, RMT Edition

In Assistant General Secretary Steve Hedley, the RMT union have found a worthy successor to Bob Crow

With the entire country focus transfixed on Europe and David Cameron’s spectacularly poor negotiating skills, there has not been much emphasis on the Evil Tories in the media of late. Some nervous Tories, coming out of hiding for the first time since the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, may have even considered themselves safe.

They were wrong. Steve Hedley of the RMT union is actively gunning for them using the most violent rhetoric imaginable, as he demonstrated in an interview on LBC today.

LBC reports:

RMT leader Steve Hedley has claimed the Tory government are “murdering” people, then called for them to be “taken out and shot” in an extraordinary LBC interview.

[..] “I think all the Tories are an absolute disgrace, they should be taken out and shot to be quite frank with you,” said Hedley, Assistant General Secretary of the RMT union.

“Oh Steve!” responded [presenter] Shelagh. “I’m not going to let you say that, so don’t repeat it…if your job is to represent your workers, and I was one of your workers, I would want you to represent me without resorting to things like that.”

Hedley then claimed that the government was “killing three disabled people a week by their cuts.”

Everything changes, and everything stays the same. The Labour Party have a new leader, and Jeremy Corbyn’s admittedly haphazard opposition has thus far been mostly principled and courteous. Politically, Corbyn may be quite far from David Cameron (though not as far as he would be from a real conservative), but in his speeches he is more likely to forget that the Tories exist than indulge in an angry tirade against them. But same cannot be said for the people under him in the Labour Party and in the wider left-wing movement.

As we have repeatedly seen, many of these people are ready and willing to engage in the most overheated, provocative rhetoric against their political opponents on the right, continually implying that those who disagree with them are not just intellectually wrong but morally evil. And it is no longer just grassroots activists at fault – MPs and union leaders are increasingly getting involved too.

Whenever I write about the latest high-profile instance of left-wing anti-Tory bigotry and intolerance, I usually receive a number of comments chiding me for taking the intemperate war memorial-defacing actions of a few angry lunatics and claiming that they represent the Left as a whole.

That’s not what I am trying to do, though the way that some on the Left are so quick to take such criticisms personally suggests that in some cases, I may be striking a little too close to home. After all, since nobody suggested that all left-wingers are angry, screaming, spitting hate mobs, the fact that the likes of Owen Jones take the time to pen articles refuting this non-accusation can be taken as a sign that the criticism is hitting uncomfortably close to home, and that there may be a deep-seated, half-subconscious approval for these distasteful acts of protest.

But the purpose is not to hold up instances where left-wing activists go too far just to act outraged. It is to point out (rather wearily at this point) that there is a poison within the Left which encourages adherents to believe themselves to be the sole possessors of compassion and virtue in a world where anybody different is immediately labelled “Tory Scum”. And until this poison can be sucked out of the Labour Party – or an adequate antidote found – the Left will continue losing elections by spending more time shouting angrily at the country for our supposed moral shortcomings than they spend presenting an attractive, cohesive alternate vision for government.

Steve Hedley is not your average left-wing grassroots activist, sharing Corbyn memes on Twitter and raging against the Tories on Facebook. He is the assistant General Secretary of the RMT, one of the most powerful (and high profile) trade unions in the country. He is the voice of organised Labour, which in turn increasingly claims to be the voice of the Labour Party. And when he angrily parrots the same drivel about the Evil Tories wanting to kill disabled people as the most zealous online activist, then it is no longer possible to say that this is an isolated problem of passionate ordinary folk getting a bit too carried away.

If the political Right has a problem in Britain (and it does; small-c conservatives are utterly underwhelmed and uninspired by the rootless premiership of David Cameron, no major conservative legislation has been enacted in the precious months following the 2015 general election victory, and the only motivated people online seem to be the ones churning out bigoted memes about migrants) then the Left should realise that they have a problem, too.

It may have started innocently enough, with Ed Miliband and his MPs turning a blind eye toward (and thus tacitly encouraging) overheated anti-Tory rhetoric as the coalition government found its feet back in 2010. And there may have been every good reason in the world to let demoralised Labour activists blow off steam by promoting the notion that this utterly unremarkable, centrist government is actually on an ideologically charged “more Thatcher than Thatcher” mission to roll back the state (if only it were true).

But the time has come to admit that the experiment has gotten out of control, and that the swivel-eyed anti-Tory hysteria has metastasised and started to re-infect the very left-wing political elites who first let it loose back in 2010. We see it in the ferocity with which some Jeremy Corbyn supporters attack their (far from blameless) centrist colleagues, calling them Red Tories. And now we see it in the shape and form of a senior trade union leader calling for Conservative supporters to be rounded up and shot.

I don’t spend much of my time worrying about what is best for the Labour Party or the British left-wing movement in general, but in this case I am writing out of genuine concern over what is happening to one side of the political debate in this country – the side which now finds itself represented by spokespeople like the RMT’s Steve Hedley.

Calling for all Tories to be “taken out and shot” is a juvenile piece of rhetoric from a half-baked political mind. It’s not a serious threat – let’s not go down the censorious road of calling the police on anybody who ever utters a mean word about us – but neither is it evidence of a person or political philosophy capable of showing respect, understanding nuance and thinking in colour, the kind of behaviour required of a movement which aspires to lead.

The closer Steve Hedley is to mainstream left-wing thought, the further the Left will be from tasting power again. Which is why any Labour politician with an ounce of sense must now furiously disassociate themselves from Hedley’s inflammatory remarks.

 

Tory Protests

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Clarence Darrow vs The Rotten Soul Of Today’s Labour Movement

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What would the famous labour lawyer and anti-death penalty advocate Clarence Darrow say to the late RMT union leader Bob Crow if the two men were to meet in Heaven?

The mental image of their fictional meeting would not leave my mind after I watched Kevin Spacey’s remarkable portrayal of the former unfold in the eponymous one-man play Clarence Darrow at London’s Old Vic Theatre on Friday.

The production – which is well reviewed here, here and here, and in which an elderly Darrow looks back on the many victories and tribulations of his long legal career – gave considerable attention to Darrow’s union activism through his defence of the American Railway Union leader Eugene Debs in the 1894 Pullman Strike, and of the McNamara brothers charged with dynamiting the Los Angeles Times building in 1910, among other famous episodes.

But watching Kevin Spacey portray Clarence Darrow is to see an impassioned and eloquent defence of the rights and dignity of working people that today’s current and recently departed left wing political and union leaders could never hope to equal.

Witnessing the spirit and passion of Clarence Darrow flicker to life on a London stage made it starkly apparent just how close the modern labour movement is to purposelessness and death in the Age of Miliband.

While Darrow in full rhetorical flight could have convinced Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher themselves of the need to concern themselves with the welfare and aspirations of the mother and father working minimum wage jobs on zero hour contracts, today’s left-wing figureheads come across as whiny, self-entitled and spitefully partisan by comparison.

Here are the stirring words of Clarence Darrow in an address to the inmates of Cook County Jail in 1902, the theme of which would be taken up by Ed Miliband and the Labour party in a bold reassertion of conviction politics were today’s labour movement not so politically calculating and intellectually inert:

To take all the coal in the United States and raise the price two dollars or three dollars when there is no need of it, and thus kills thousands of babies and send thousands of people to the poorhouse and tens of thousands to jail, as is done every year in the United States — this is a greater crime than all the people in our jails ever committed, but the law does not punish it. Why? Because the fellows who control the earth make the laws. If you and I had the making of the laws, the first thing we would do would be to punish the fellow who gets control of the earth. Nature put this coal in the ground for me as well as for them and nature made the prairies up here to raise wheat for me as well as for them, and then the great railroad companies came along and fenced it up.

How relevant to today, given the present Labour Party’s focus on the “cost of living crisis” and its apparent determination to freeze consumer energy bills.

But here instead is Ed Miliband warning us of the supposedly mortal threat to the unions posed by David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition government, in a typically unmemorable speech to the 2013 TUC conference:

We have a Prime Minister who writes you and your members off. Who doesn’t just write you off, but oozes contempt for you from every pore. What does he say about you? He says the trade union movement is a “threat to our economy”. Back to the enemy within.

Six and a half million people in Britain. Who teach our children. Who look after the sick. Who care for the elderly. Who build our homes. Who keep our shops open morning, noon and night. They’re not the enemy within. They’re the people who make Britain what it is.

How dare he? How dare he insult people – members of trade unions – as he does?

Terrible speechwriting aside, Miliband’s suggestion that David Cameron spends his every waking hour plotting against the trade union movement like a modern-day Iago is patently absurd. While the Conservative Party – as one would expect – raises objections to various union policies and rhetoric and their self-interested leadership, you will search in vain to find any evidence of the prime minister “oozing contempt”.

Ed Miliband (in his halting, aggrieved and ineffectual way) and others try hard to continue the life-and-death struggle narrative laid out by Darrow a century earlier, but the fact that their comments are aimed at a modern British audience – even the poorest of whom likely own smartphones, personal computers and enjoy access to universal healthcare via the NHS – renders them ridiculous.

Where Darrow wore his heart on his sleeve and walked the walk of labour advocacy – foregoing a more lucrative career in order to oppose his old railroad bosses who were oppressing their workers – today’s leaders such as Miliband and his union counterparts often hail from the same metropolitan middle and upper-middle classes who form the middle management and ranks of senior civil servants for whom so many working Brits toil. And what’s more, Labour politicians and the management class now talk and sound alike.

Whereas Clarence Darrow stood firmly for worker’s rights without lapsing into sentimental and unworkable socialism, the response of the likes of Ed Miliband, Len McCluskey and Mark Serwotka to our present pale shadow of real austerity has been snarling and misleading hyperbole about the Conservatives “hating” the poor and taking an obscene delight in their suffering.

(It is conveniently forgotten by these anti-Tory crusaders that the suffering was largely created by a gradual bipartisan expansion of the state, and by making so many British people dependent on the government for one thing or another that any retrenchment of spending now has a widespread, painful effect that would not be the case if the government didn’t try to do so much.)

The victories won by organised labour in Clarence Darrow’s day saved lives and liberated millions of people from what William Beveridge would later describe as the five “Giant Evils” in society: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. And they are immortalised in rights and traditions which endure to this day, such as the annual May Day march and rally in London, and the Labor Day federal holiday in America.

The victories won by the left wing establishment of today (and the debauched, rudderless trades union to whom they are captive) are comparatively petty and trivial, and each passing ‘victory’ incrementally serves either to perpetuate inefficient public sector service delivery or entrench benefits for union members at the expense of the ranks of the budding entrepreneur class, the self employed, the underemployed and the jobless.

The union men of Darrow’s America (and their British counterparts) would be horrified to witness the tanned, bloated, self-satisfied swagger of men like Bob Crow, who delighted in tormenting other ordinary working people with their undemocratic strikes in order to preserve the gold-plated salary and benefits of, say, a tube driver on the London Underground who gets paid well over twice as much as a newly trained Private fighting for his or her country in the British Army.

So how would Clarence Darrow feel upon meeting the likes of Bob Crow?

One can only imagine, but in fairness, it is not unreasonable to think Darrow would first feel immense satisfaction and relief that the causes for which he fought have come to fruition and done so much good, not just in the United States but throughout the Western world.

His heart might swell to know that not only have child labour and the exploitative company towns of his day been cast into history, but that the strength of public sentiment stands firmly against multinational companies who try to take undue advantage of lower standards and regulations in other parts of the world – although there is undeniably still much work to be done.

But a man of such conviction as Clarence Darrow would also likely recoil at the nanny-state socialism, self-entitled smugness and the bitter, envious rhetoric of people like Bob Crow and today’s labour movement leaders, who have casually sauntered in his hard-fought footsteps across what is now much easier political terrain.

And a final bold prediction: A century from now, in the year 2114 – no matter how much the current generation of labour leaders try to portray themselves as intrepid generals locked in an ongoing epic battle for the rights of the downtrodden and the dignity of man – nobody will spend hours queueing for return tickets to a play honouring the life’s work of the likes Ed Miliband, Bob Crow or others of their calibre.

Truly great women and men like Clarence Darrow fought and won ninety percent of the battle before today’s privileged, metropolitan, self-appointed guardians of the common man ever picked up a protest placard or stumbled into their first Labour Students Society meeting.

 

 

Clarence Darrow finishes its run at The Old Vic Theatre tonight. Kevin Spacey also portrayed Clarence Darrow in a PBS biopic movie of the same name, the climactic speech of which is shown above.

 

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After Bob Crow, What Next?

SPS_bob_crow_2

 

Thus the Bob Crow era came to an abrupt and unexpected end, with the death of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union’s general secretary at the tragically early age of 52.

Bob Crow inspired strong feelings in many people, this blog included, but today is not the day to revisit those battles – Crow leaves behind a wife and four children, as well as countless devastated friends and admirers.

Indeed, regardless of what one may think of Crow’s ideology and tactics, the fact that he did good by his members (at least in the short-medium term) is indisputable. Tube drivers earn more than twice the starting salary of a new teacher, a remarkable if somewhat galling fact. RMT members’ loyalty to and trust in Bob Crow was well earned.

But what is likely to happen now that the gates have closed on the era of Bob Crow? Despite the efforts of a few other pretenders here and there, there does not seem to be the same appetite for the repeating, predictable, militant industrial action strategy that he rigorously followed.

And so as the RMT head office staff return to work tomorrow, the burning question will be whether the union chooses another leader willing to exploit the fact that he has London commuters gripped by the unmentionables to continue showering their members with terms and concessions that others can only dream of, or if they will decide to quit while they are ahead?

There is a compelling argument that Bob Crow’s tenure will come to be viewed as the high watermark of what activist, militant unionism can achieve for semi-skilled workers. The RMT’s most recent victory over Transport for London in the recent tube strikes was just as much a result of the abysmal strategy and negotiating tactics of TfL, and London mayor Boris Johnson’s dithering, than it was a Bob Crow triumph. A less hapless guardian of the public purse might have not allowed the RMT to get away with so many concessions.

This, ultimately, was the paradox that Bob Crow created for his members: with each passing victory, each benchmark-busting pay increase or working practices concession flaunted in the face of other workers and the general British public, the RMT only served to make the case for altering the people-to-technology ratio even further against employing real human beings.

Many lines on the London Underground are already highly automated. Indeed, the Docklands Light Railway is entirely driverless. As purchasing decisions for new rolling stock and signalling technology come around, a climate of industrial unrest – or the weary “what will they demand of us this time” mentality that it has created – can only make the case for maximum automation more compelling.

The cost of all of the RMT’s industrial relations victories – and they are short and medium term triumphs only – has been to make labour so expensive in relation to capital that the simple solution of exchanging the unreliable (labour) for the reliable (capital) has become a no-brainer. Boris Johnson, exasperated at the impact of unpredictable strikes on his mayoralty, is known to be interested. And contrary to what the RMT might say, or however they seek to misuse the memory of 7/7, most Londoners will be much happier to be whisked from A to Z under the streets of London at the hands of a computerised train than by an excessively remunerated humanoid with a tendency to go AWOL around Christmas or major international football tournaments.

Another side note of interest is the fact that Ed Miliband was so cautious in his praise of the RMT’s late leader, as the Guardian reports:

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said: “Bob Crow was a major figure in the labour movement and was loved and deeply respected by his members.

“I didn’t always agree with him politically but I always respected his tireless commitment to fighting for the men and women in his union. He did what he was elected to do, was not afraid of controversy and was always out supporting his members across the country.”

How far Ed Miliband has seemingly come since the days when he willingly leaped on stage with anti-austerity protesters and a cast of characters from all over the left wing political spectrum.

Could it be that so soon after Bob Crow’s latest triumph over the hapless Transport for London negotiating team and reconfirmation that public sector workers are being paid more than their private sector counterparts – at the height of his power – Crow had become somewhat politically toxic?

And so, when Robert Crow of Woodford Green is buried, dead at the height of his influence, his legacy is far from being set in stone. Mourned by his trades union colleagues, and his RMT members most of all, Crow’s ambition and determination helped them to prosper in recent years, while many other workers did not.

But, when we are all zipping around London in efficient driverless trains at 3AM on a bank holiday, will they still be so grateful to his memory?

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Tribute to RMT leader Bob Crow, who died on 11th March 2014, written on the Service Information board at Covent Garden Underground Station

 

The text of the impromptu memorial to Bob Crow at Covent Garden Underground station, written on the Service Information board:

“Fear of death follows fear of life. A man who lives life fully is prepared to die at any time” – Mark Twain

R.I.P. Robert Crow RMT

13/06/1961 – 11/03/2014