A union rep’s take on Clause 4.
There was much applause during John McDonnell speech at this year’s Labour Party Conference when he referred to Clause 4: – “One hundred years ago, in 1918 the Labour Party adopted Clause 4 as part of its constitution. Let me remind you what it said: ‘to secure for workers by hand or brain the full fruits of their industry’ I say that Clause 4 principles are as relevant today as they were back then”.
Clause 4 was Labour’s original commitment to end capitalism and bring about the socialist transformation of society. It reads in full: –
“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”
(Pre-1995 Constitution of the Labour Party – Clause 4, part 4).
Tony Blair removed Clause 4 when he established New Labour. Under Blair, the party leadership championed PFIs and privatisation. Blair’s aim was to put an end to the Labour Party as a socialist party. But now New Labour is dead in the water and the party has been transformed under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. It is time to bring about bold socialist policies. Support for nationalisation has been rising. In opinion polls, over 80% support the nationalisation of the utilities and the railways. 50% even agree that we need to take over the banks.
Today, privatisation has been completely discredited. Profiteering from illness by privatisation chunks of the NHS is seen for what it is, deplorable. Company Directors’ mistreatment of workers such as we saw with JD Sport has been exposed. Company Directors’ raids on workers’ pension funds such as we saw with BHS has been exposed. The inequality gap in UK is growing at a disgraceful rate. Low pay is endemic in the UK’s economy. Just under half of workers in poverty are full-time employees.
8 years of Tory driven austerity has seen concerted raids on the poor. And just as workers returning from WW2 demanded better, so too are people emerging from the Austerity Wars with a resurgence of support for socialism. Our eyes have been opened by this battle ground. Austerity kills. Last year “indisputable” research linked government cuts in adult social care and health spending to nearly 120,000 “excess” deaths in England since 2010. Accusations of “economic murder” were drawn.
We need a Labour government committed to fully carrying out the socialist transformation of society, as encapsulated in Clause 4. This would mean “a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people and their families”. Today, we look out with dismay and despair as we witness the deliberate dismantling of the socialist achievements of the 1945 Labour Government. There are lessons to be learned here. There are many aspects of Clause 4 that were not secured at that time. Yes we need to regain lost ground under the next Labour Government through re-nationalisation etc, but we also need to make sure such easy privatisation handouts will not be repeated in the course of time. How to ensure irreversibility?
The 1945 Labour Government was won by working people returning from the war having been assured by the wartime coalition that there would be no return to the 1930 days of slums, poverty and disease. Workers were determined this promise would be kept and so campaigned hard for a Labour Government. Churchill and the Tories were expecting to win but the people had other ideas. Once elected, Clement Atlee’s (1st Earl Atlee) 1945 government set to work on a nationalisation programme that would “secure the means of production”. This was obviously a huge step toward implementing Clause 4 but all was not rosy. This was a time when power-as-domination was prevalent. The heads of the private companies became the new heads of the nationalised industries. It was through a top down, paternalistic political methodology that socialist endeavours were pursued.
Fabian leader Beatrice Webb, who influenced the public-ownership plans of the Labour Party at that time, had little faith that the “average sensual man” could “do much more than describe his grievances, we do not think he can prescribe his remedies… We wish to introduce the professional expert”.
Working people were not to be trusted with a hand in management. They were to be set in their place of cap doffing to the professional classes (instead of to their previous masters). These confounded experts have nowadays morphed into those ‘oh so costly’ and disconnected consultants; and society can no longer afford them.
When we get a second chance at bringing about Clause 4 we need to have learnt the lesson that it will not be fully realised by simply repeating (re)nationalisation in ways that serve to keep workers in their place. For a practical and participatory path towards Clause 4 to be laid, a re-nationalisation programme under the next Labour Government will need to put workers at the heart of running the common ownership companies. In the words of Nye Bevan “nationalised industries should be run under workers’ control and management”. Nye Bevan stood apart from many of his contemporaries in this respect.
We need real transformative, participatory democratic systems to replace the ‘we know best for you’ systems of the past. Yes to Clause 4. But yes especially, to a people’s power that will become embedded and stabilised in those future common ownership work places. Not only is it an aim of Clause 4 to end the grotesque inequalities in our systems of “distribution and exchange” (that are an affliction upon our communities) but we also need “the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.” For this we need the ‘know how’ of workers to be influentially pivotal in ALL the strata of operation and administration. Yes we DO know our place. Clause 4 has spelt it out.
Unite Community Rep
2) Hilary Wainwright. A New Politics from the Left (Radical Futures)
3) “Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England: a time trend analysis”. BMJ Open. November 2017. Co-authored . University College London, Cambridge University and Oxford University.
4) JMcD 2018 Labour Party Conference. https://www.facebook.com/Labour4Clause4/videos/476590206082613/