Culture And The T.U.C.

Heading "History repeats itself" above two photos - one of the 1936 Jarrow March against unemployment and one of the 1980s Peoples March For Jobs. Beneath the photos is text "The first time as tragedy - the second time as a B-movie stunt" - James Joyce

BM Blob on the Trade Union Congress and The People's March for Jobs.

Submitted by Fozzie on April 15, 2022

Framing the proletariat

The TUC moving with the times has started to grant full bureaucratic status to ethnic minorities, conning a few into becoming brokers of wage labour. As black equal rights charter chairman Ken Gill said, 'the structure of the union should be examined to ensure the removal of barriers which can prevent black workers from reaching union office and decision making bodies (e.g. shop stewards, branch officials, regional and national committees, national officials etc' (Morning Star June 17th '81). Dressing itself up as progress, this is the essence of counter-revolution, because respect for trade unionism and other forms of external authority is declining.

Ethnic minorities are being sold the lie of democratic integration into the trade union superstructure at the moment of its world wide demise. Consider the fate of the infamous TUC led 'Day of Action' (May 14th '80). In a desultory way the TUC's call to strike was obeyed by 100's of thousands of workers. But the millions of workers who instead went to work that day had not opted to kiss the guvnors arse. The clearest example, the one that best sums up the situation, was provided by that semi-insurrectionary City of Liverpool. Disobeying union instructions some factory workers toddled off to work as usual that morning only to down tools an hour later after a flair up with management. A wildcat stoppage on, of all days, the TUC's 'Day of Action'! What a paradox and one so disheartening to both unions and management. As a friend put it, the decision to work or not to work was about quits in its essential ambiguity.

The TUC can't hope to carry on manipulating proletarian anger indefinitely. All they seem able to do successfully is eulogise moments from the historic past of their failed Labour movement endlessly commemorating the Tolpuddle Martyrs, Peterloo, a watered down version of the Peasants revolt. Never once have they commemorated the excellent excesses of the Luddites, Captain Swing, the Ranters etc because they don't conform to the TUC's rule book of do's and don'ts.

Having become soap opera historians (wait for the next years installments) with a flair for pageantry they have learnt to consign the immediate past to the labour museums in the fond hope, class struggle will remain showcase material. The historically patented 'People's March for Jobs' was instantly turned into stone when Ken Livingstone even before the march was officially over, unveiled a commemorative plaque at County Hall. That day County Hall was even thrown open to skinheads who, put off their stride, bemusedly wandered the miles of corridor.

A further wonderfully ludicrous example was provided a few years previously by the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders occupation/work in: the formica negotiating table around which the shop stewards and management had sat was put on permanent show in a newly created Labour History museum in Limehouse, London.

The TUC has not lagged in acquiring some knowledge of avant garde art. They can thank ex '68ers for aiding them to move on from evening classes in oil painting. Their economic committee for the autumn of '81 ran a special 'jobs express' of 'gaily decorated' chartered trains stopping at specially arranged meeting places throughout the country. Comparison with Russian Agit prop trains inevitably spring to mind. Even before the carriages started to roll down the track, it meant sweet fuck all.

The theatre of unemployment

There can scarcely be a more telling example in recent history of the fragile veneer of organized protest. Four weeks before the Toxteth uprising, a mass demonstration attracting well over 100,000 was held in Trafalgar Square at the end of the People's March for Jobs. All the TUC bigwigs and labour left wingers were there. The weather tanned marchers were given pride of place. Applause followed them everywhere. The marchers politely returned the applause. This vast demonstration passed off in an orderly manner. There were no arrests.

Not one even reasonable leaflet was to be found. A man with performing budgies brought up the rear. A month later Liverpool 8 was a burning cauldron.

The People's March for Jobs set off from the Pierhead on May the 1st '81 - Labour Day. The original banner carried by the Jarrow Crusaders in the '30s hunger march was gingerly unfurled. Insured for £25,000 it was a labour antique and was to be used again in the autumn in another labour sponsored march in Jarrow itself. On Pierhead, the young unemployed marchers had all be kitted out in green anorak uniforms and natty backpacks. A snappy graphic symbol bearing the legend 'Peoples March for Jobs' had been designed especially. One might as well have sported an 'I Love New York' badge.

In fact design aptitudes had played a major part in the creation of this theatre of protest. When drawing up plans for the March, the organizers had been struck by the visual impact, as refracted through photos of the original crusaders. (Cameras were waiting to record the moment when the march passed through the village of Lavendon in Bucks, sight of them most well known photo of the Jarrow march). Then the impact came mainly through the newspapers, now there was colour telly to think of. So the advice of design teams were sort reflecting the depth of change since the '30s in trade union responses. The original TU sponsored march from Tyneside was got together on a budget of £300. Now the bill exceeded £50,000.

Festival of forgetfulness. Trade union resolutions and the organization of defeat

Amongst militant labour party activists and fellow trade unionists, a conscious amnesia is a handy tool. Other than a few days madness on the streets, the summer riots are forgotten consigned uneasily to oblivion. The official view of the unemployed has hesitantly come back to prevail once more: the unemployed are weak. downtrodden, declasse creatures who shall remain so until the TU's or para statist bodies shall come to their aid. This conception of powerlessness is institutional. Really they are safeguarding their own jobs and self importance. Ruth Lister, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (Sept 27th '81) said … 'The unemployed seem to be cowed and don't know what's happening. The TU's and Labour MP's aren't protesting anywhere near enough'. This idiot must have closed her eyes to the clamour on the streets.