Over two centuries working people have fought for our rights in the workplace and wider society.
Among our victories have been those of the Chartists and the Suffragettes (and Suffragists) who won us the franchise.
The right to choose who governs us is an essential element of democracy. Our rulers have never been comfortable with this and are not now.
For all the ideological bullshit about “Western democracy” (which would be, to paraphrase Ghandi, a good idea) capitalism sits most uncomfortably with popular democracy if voters can elect people with real power over the market economy. The “ideal type” of the relationship between capitalism and democracy is far more Chile 1973 than Britain 1945.
Capitalism - as an economic system - is invariably contrary to the interests of the majority of the population and perpetuating it requires impressive intellectual athletics from those whose role it is to sell a lie to workers (the most dedicated of whom these days brand themselves as “Progress” - or “Sainsbury’s”).
The emergence - more than a century ago - of a social democratic political party linked organically to the trade unions (the Labour Party) posed a continuing, unavoidable challenge to the hegemony of the idea that there was no alternative to capitalism as a way of ordering our lives.
The history of the Labour Party is the tale of how the articulation of an alternative to capitalism was - and continues to be - avoided, marginalised, ridiculed and rejected. However, for as long as the Labour Party was - or appeared to be - a voice for organised labour (because of our collective affiliation to the Party) then the question of capitalism was always contested - as Labour continued to appear as an oppositional voice.
That is what is now at issue.
Ed Miliband seeks to undermine collective trade union affiliation to Labour, leaning upon half understanding of a poor analysis of our history to make proposals which jeopardise our future.
We have declining turnout in elections, and declining support for the two main parties, because there is less to differentiate these two parties in a world lacking both a global alternative to capitalism and a viable domestic alternative to neoliberalism. In the past there was mass support for Labour as an alternative to the world as it is. This support may often have been misplaced, but it was real.
If Miliband succeeds in transforming the Labour Party into an entity which only ever quibbles with the detail of the existing social order, by whose beneficiaries it is funded, he will have blocked the road back to that mass support.
And in that case the purpose of the franchise will have been frustrated and representative democracy will continue its long slide into irrelevance.
Courtesy of Jon Rogers at Jon’s union blog