Friday, May 28, 2010

UNISON London Regional Council 3 - Ken Livingstone

3rd speaker was Ken Livingstone and he was definitely “on form” (pictured with our Regional convenor Gloria Hanson and BA striker Nikki Marcus). Much of his speech was similar to what he said the other week at London Progressive but he was much sharper and persuasive. Ken announced to no great surprise that he will be standing to be selected as the Labour candidate for London Mayor this summer.

Some interesting stuff (to me anyway). He reminded us that when he was Mayor he “forced” the TFL bus companies to pay their cleaning and catering contract staff the London Living wage. These companies afterwards reported surprise at the greater productivity amongst staff, less turnover and less sickness that resulted from their staff being better paid! He also reminisced about when he was a MP in the early 1990’s - he and his fellow members of the Campaign group often found them rebelling in votes against the whip on the same side as the Liberal Democrats then led by Ming Campbell. This happened so often that they discussed whether or not there could be a formal link? Until they realised that the Lib Dems would never support the campaign group over the role of trade unions.  This was the origianl reason for the unions to form the Labour Party in the first place.

Ken emphasised that the reason why we have far less unemployment now than in previous recessions is the high level of public spending and he fears that Con Dem cuts will lead to massive unemployment. He sees the role of a London Mayor as not only being a good administrator although that is important but also to have politics based on a concept of class and want to advance working class interests. He thinks “the Labour machine” in London is more in touch with working people and better at representing them than the rest of the country and this is reflected in the 2% lead in London this month.

Interestingly he argued that he is not so much concerned about the debate over "socialism v capitalism". Rather he just wants a fairer society. He referred again to the lessons from the “Spirit Level” book. When you have a more narrow range of incomes you have a better society in all measures. In Germany they have state pensions of £25,000 per year. No need for revolution or blood on the streets. We just need a more equal mixed economy.

In the Q&A (normally we wouldn’t for in-quorate meetings but who can shut up Ken?) he had a dig at Oona King who is standing against him. Who he liked personally but she did lose the 4th safest seat for Labour and he is not bothered if he loses the “fashion vote to Oona”.

One (non delegate) person attempted in front of Ken and Nikki to embarrass the union by trying to make a statement over this rather than asking Ken any questions.  I don't think either were at all put out but you do wonder why people do these things in front of guests to the union?

Ken said he did not know what the person was talking about and would not comment about the affairs of an union he wasn’t a member of but he said in his experience as an MP and as Mayor he had met UNISON officials “the face of the union” on a regular basis and a very good relationship with them, he thought they had always been fair, open and transparent with him, they had always supported their national conference positions and never wanted any secret or untoward deals. He compared modern day unions favourably with that of the late 1960's. Which I think is a fairly ringing endorsement of London UNISON.

Finally there was a question about how the unions should fight the Con Dems by replaying the great 1980’s campaigns against the abolition of the GLC with protests, marches and strikes. To which Ken being Ken, sensibly concurred without committing himself.

Was I the only person to think “well, the campaign to defend the GLC ended in a yet another Labour movement “Glorious defeat”! – do we want to just repeat the failures of our past or do we want to learn from them?"


Bill said...

Oooh, go on, I'll bite: "No need for revolution or blood on the streets. We just need a more equal mixed economy." - except you cannot have equality in capitalism: it is premised on poverty and unemployment, equality can only come about through common ownership. There is indeed no need for blood on the streets, the ballot box gives us all the means we have to effect a revolution.

John Gray said...

Hi Bill

the Mixed Economy works - all the rest is pie in the sky romantic nonsense. IMO

Bill said...

I don't recall the mixed economy working here 1945-80 - the most that can be said for it (if we're being particularly generous) is that it reduces inequality, it doesn't abolish it.

Believing capitalism under new management (which is all nationalisation is) can have any meaningful benefit is the rromantic nonsense...