Hain: whatever happened to the workers' struggle (c1986)?

It looks like the perfectly balanced front-bench team: Labour's employment spokesmen include a former law lecturer, a former seaman and chef who led a newspaper boys' strike at 14, and a one-time Young Liberal and Tribunite firebrand, writes Stephen Castle.

Stephen Byers, 43, is the man with the legal brain. He is also, as one union source put it in Blackpoool, an "arch-moderniser" who is close to the Labour leader. But he is new to the employment job. He was brought in during the summer, against the backdrop of tube, rail and postal strikes, to tighten policy on industrial relations, particularly on public-sector strikes. One MP suggested that, when Mr Byers speculated so indiscreetly over dinner with journalists last week about the future of the Labour- union link, he was failing to appreciate his own importance in the party hierarchy. "He needs to understand," the MP said, "that, when he says something, even in private, journalists are going to give it a great deal of attention."

Nevertheless, it says much about Mr Byers's reputation that Tony Blair did not hesitate to back him. Less media-friendly MPs would have gone to ground; Mr Byers was trusted to take his case to every conceivable news programme on Friday.

Ian McCartney is the man with the working-class and union background; he served as a campaign manager for John Prescott. He joined a union and the Labour Party at 15 and, in his Who's Who entry, describes himself as "head of the McCartney family, a family of proud working-class stock". He is in charge of minimum-wage plans and that, according to one union source, "reassures us that Labour is really committed to the plan".

But the most intriguing presence on the team is that of Peter Hain, an exiled South African who fought passionately against apartheid from the 1960s. He has a formidable knowledge of the unions, after nearly 15 years as research officer for the Union of Communication Workers. He joined Labour in 1977.

Mr Hain's hallmarks are meticulous preparation and hard work. His brief is to make an issue of job insecurity.

His contacts are excellent. As one union official put it last week, "at Blackpool it takes him an hour to walk from one end of the Winter Gardens to the other because everyone wants to stop and chat to him".

But can he be entirely comfortable in a team whose leader, David Blunkett, said last week that the party would "not tolerate the activities of armchair revolutionaries whose only interest is disruption"?

In 1986, Mr Hain published a book called Political Strikes, in which he was highly critical of traditional trade unionism. But his proposals for "modernisation" were not exactly of the sort that Mr Blair has in mind. The essence of his argument - supported with frequent references to "struggle" - was not that unions should hesitate to use their muscle, but that they should use it for wider ends than better pay and shorter hours. Further, he envisaged a Labour government backing them. "New trade unionism will involve collective bargaining ... It will also include positive strikes where they are required to gain increased control. Such strikes - for example against an obdurate private employer who resists disclosure of information or proposals for industrial democracy - will need the support of Labour ministers, so that the authority of government is harnessed with shopflooor power."

Hardly new Labour; rather, very old syndicalism. Mr Hain was particularly severe on the then Labour leadership's failure to support the 1984-5 miners' strike. "Fastidiousness" about picketing, he argued, failed to take account of "the seriousness of the class battle being waged". Since workers only had strength in numbers, they were understandably hostile towards their fellows who threatened it. "They are therefore justified in so organising picket lines that they can only be crossed by very determined individuals ... Furthermore, if it is to have any effect upon those at whom it is directed, a picket must serve as a reminder of the workforce that it represents, and a mass picket is the authentic reflection of a large workforce."

But consistency has never been Mr Hain's strong point. Or, as friends put it, he adapts to changing circumstances. One said: "In the old days he had to be prevailed upon to drink the occasional glass of wine. Since becoming MP for Neath, he's learned how to sink pints and sing rugby songs."

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam