Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon are both at the STUC today. They have very different audiences, though.
Jeremy Corbyn will be a lot less comfortable with hard-nosed trades unionists than people might think. The history of British trades unions is characterised by sectional interest; working class folk representing others in the workplace, trying to get the best pay and conditions in return for their labour. That’s where the Labour Party came in – think Keir Hardie. Whereas Corbyn belongs to a Marxist tradition dominated over the years by intellectuals and middle-class Londoners. On the one hand, most actual workers want a fair deal when it comes to the material stuff capitalism produces. While on the other, a lot of Corbynites want to smash that system altogether.
For now, that element of the trade union movement with most influence on the Labour Party is in hoc to the class-war revolutionaries (often paid handsomely to be just that….). Many of the folk in pivotal positions today have backgrounds in far-left activism. Unite’s Len McCluskey, elected last week with just over 6% of the Unite membership behind him, takes his ideological tune from his Communist chief of staff, Andrew Murray. And Labour’s manifesto is being written by Andrew Fisher, who campaigned for Class War against Labour at the last election.
As McCluskey’s derisory support illustrates, most trades unionists can’t be bothered with his class-war emphasis. Their officials are mainly super-busy on the daily business of helping members not be shafted in the workplace, maintaining as good relations with employers as possible, and generally improving pay and conditions. Sadly, but understandably, most trade union members leave the TU politics well alone. In a lot of cases, the trades unions get on with the day job and their politics refiect that. In others, though, notably Unite, well-paid ideologues at the top rule the roost. McCluskey’s close friend Karie Murphy, for example, is Jeremy Corbyn’s chief of staff. This means that while Corbyn is comfortable with the ideologues, most members are voting Tory or SNP these days.
And that’s where Scotland’s FM comes in. With most services devolved, she’s in a position to have a practical effect of the jobs and lives of trades union officials and their members.
So while both politicians will be making a speech to a big hall full of people today, Jeremy Corbyn will be pitching awkwardly to the room knowing that many folk in the room think he’s far from ideal, and only a small minority think his class-war is the order of the day. And Scotland’s FM will be pitching confidently to every Scottish worker watching the telly. ‘Unless you’re a Tory (and quite a few are…) it’s me or this guy’, she’ll be saying to them. Take a close look. It’s your call.