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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas