Thursday, 28 February 2013

A Christian Pacifist commemorated in Gibshill in Greenock and Blue Labour

I've read that the great Catholic Trade Unionist Jakob Kaiser’s  had a vision for Germany which was a Christian Democracy that looked to early days of the British Labour Party for its inspiration in developing Catholic Social Teaching which in turn put great emphasis on co-operatives, the public ownership of key industries, extensive social insurance. So it was with some interest that I've been reading "The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox” which stresses the importance of the early days of the British Labour Party under the leadership of George Lansbury

"The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox” sets out the ideas of the Blue Labour Group. Blue Labour is an idea developed a few years ago by Maurice Glasman.

Blue Labour is strongly against the neo-Liberal, ultra free market globalization which New Labour sadly embraced. It basically seeks to return the Labour Party to it radical working class roots by promoting a revival of things like Guild Socialism, Credit Unions, Mutualism, the co-operative movement and localism. Blue Labour is not very keen on the overreliance of the welfare state or blackleg labour. Indeed, it advocates some form of protectionism of the national economy and British jobs. It is also quite traditionalist in outlook in that it seeks to uphold traditional values such as family and faith.

The inspiration for Blue Labour is the former Labour Leader George Lansbury and also Keir Hardie. Most people in Inverlcyde are of course familiar with Keir Hardie and most people in Inverclyde are aware that Keir Hardie Street in Gibshill is named after him. But perhaps less people know that Lansbury street is named after George Lansbury. You can read about George Lansbury and his relationship with Blue Labour here  in a tribute by Jon Cruddas MP. Lansbury is unique because he was a Socialist and a sincere pacifist whose ideas were underpinned by his Christian beliefs.

I am not a memeber of the Labour Party, and can't ever become a member while the party remains essentially pro-globalization, pro-militarism and pro-nuclear. However, Blue Labour is a very interesting idea, which in my opinion offers the best way forward for the Labour Party. For example, it is true to say that many Scottish Working Class people have a natural inclination towards both social conservatism but also radicalism. Perhaps, this makes Scotland ideally placed to embrace and develop the ideas found within Blue Labour. For example, our local Labour MP Ian McKenzie controversially voted against the recent equal marriage bill despite much local criticism from those on the Left. However, regardless of what our own personal opinion may be on this change in legislation, there is still the possibility that our MP’s decision to oppose this bill might have accurately represented the feelings of his constituents here in Inverclyde. We may not like this, but it is a possibility?

Just as Blue Labour draws upon the influence of great figures such as George Lansbury, so too can Scotland look to early Labour Movement figures such as Robert Owen and his Co-Operative and Credit Union ideas. More so, Scots can also look to the influence of early Christian Socialists like John Wheatley. The approaching Independence Referendum offers a stark choice between a Yes Campaign who in my opinion are projecting a vision of Scotland (which may indeed be further Left than the “Better Together” campaign) but yet could also lead to a bigger, more centralized State. Indeed, there is the real possibility that Independence could in fact lead to less local autonomy and even more centralization based on what we have seen happen to the Police and Fire Service over the last few years.
For me, it is deeply frustrating that the Better Together Campaign does not appear to be fighting against the Yes Campaign from either a cultural or even a working class perspective. We all know the political arguments for independence, but there is no getting away from the fact that an old man drinking in a Miners Welfare on Tyneside making the short journey to visit his old mates at a Miners Welfare in Ayrshire would become a foreigner. The same comparison could be made between an Everton supporting Docker visiting Glasgow for a Celtic game. We share the exact same culture, social attitudes and lifestyle. A Glaswegian on the other hand will feel far less at home (and welcome) in Inverness and Aberdeen than they would do in Manchester or Leeds. From a cultural point of view, it is also disappointing that nothing is being said about our shared industrial history and heritage. For example, Greenock itself is a rich mix of people descended from Irish immigrants and people descended from Woolwich Arsenal workers brought from London to Greenock when they opened the torpedo factory around 1910. I myself am descended from 19th century German labours brought over to work in the Tate and Lyle sugarhouses. Similarly, Abram Lyle, the Greenock born Sugar refinery owner, also set up in the East End of London. Lyle also took quite a few Scots to the East End of London in 1882, mostly hand picked from Greenock. Like it or not, we are the same people with the same history. And like it or not, we will be exchanging a London business and banking elite for an Edinburgh one.

It is also true to say that the UK Labour Movement has been the only thing which has been able to seriously undermine religious bigotry and sectarianism in Scotland. This is especially true here in Inverclyde. I also strongly agree with the sentiment offered in “The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox” that the Labour Movement has never been fully credited with uniting Catholics, Methodists and non-Conformist as provided in the example of Cardinal Manning and the Dock Workers strike. I would go so far as to say that 21st Century Scotland is today screaming out for that same type of early Labour / Blue Labour philosophy which was once able to bond our own migrant Gaelic Scots, Lowland Scots, Ulster Scots, Irish Catholic shipyard workers, English Woolwich Arsenal workers and German Sugarhouse Labourers into a single working class here in Greenock and Port Glasgow. Instead, the Yes Campaign has the support of the Greens and also the remnants of the once strong, now discredited Scottish Socialist Party who are mostly socially liberal, Trotskyite and almost exclusively anti-religious in outlook. In my opinion, this leaves vast swathes of working class religious and traditional minded people who are dissatisfied with Labour without any real representation since they would never vote Conservative or Lib Dem either.
Also worth mentioning that the idea of socially conservative faith based politics within the Labour Movement did not simply die off with Lansbury or Haride.  Catholic and other Christian Labour MPs, including Labour leader John Smith, fought against abortion and easier divorce. John Smith also fought against deregulated drinking and gambling. John Smith was also among those who successfully organised, especially through the USDAW shop workers’ union against Thatcher’s and Major’s attempts to destroy the special character of Sunday and of Christmas Day.

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