The dictionary definition of obsequious is too eager to praise or obey someone. The word came to mind when reading the comments of the trade union leaders in response to Brown’s speech, and hearing of their actions at the conference.
Billy Hayes, whose members will be striking again in response to the liberalisation of postal services, said from the rostrum:
“We know that the Liberals want to privatise Royal Mail, we know what the Tories would do to Royal Mail. When we look at our party we see the difference that a Labour government makes.
“We took it to Warwick and we got a commitment and that commitment has been honoured. We thank the government and the party for that.”
Billy neglected to see that the government was not going to privatise Royal Mail, but would progressively privatise the work. He might have well thanked the government for breaking one leg rather than both.
Tony Woodley:“It was a great speech.”
As if this wasn’t cringing enough Woodley added:“Gordon Brown’s decency and integrity shines through. It demonstrated he is in touch with ordinary working men and women, recognising their core concerns on education, housing and the NHS.”
The NHS? Would that be the same one Tony where the government is introducing a competitive market in which Foundation Trusts compete with each other for patients?
“It was a captain’s innings – safe, solid run making but no sixes. He’s Geoffrey Boycott, batting for Britain.”
“He covered all the things important to our members – the NHS, education, crime and affordable housing but there were no fireworks and if he wants to call an early election he has to light the blue touch paper.”
He ‘covered’ them? What a bizarre thing to say when his policy is privatising them, Derek.
For once you have to say that these union leaders were being consistent. Their rhetoric was at one with their actions. Cringing words were followed by cringing behaviour in the conference, voting to accept the taking away of the only power they had – to defeat the leadership on the conference floor, on the basis of the promise of a ‘review’ in two years time.
Of course, the term “awkward squad” was always a lazy journalistic label which covered a very different set of union leaders. However, henceforth, all those who supported Brown, all those who try to present a picture of a leader who is ‘union friendly’ deserve to be call “the obsequious squad”.
It is a salutary reminder that trade unions will never be transformed by the mere election of a new leader or two, many of whom talk out of the left side of their mouths (but only when they are trying to get elected). Union activists and members can only rely on their own organisation to break the unions from collaboration with the neo-liberal programme of New Labour and to turf out union leaders who place the interests of their relationship with the government above the interests of their members. Brown has the measure of them.