Former Labour MP Dave Nellist – a workers’ MP on a worker’s wage
Dave Nellist speaking in support of working class people
There has been much publicity over the past few days regarding the prospect of MPs taking a massive pay rise at a time of massive cuts and when most workers have seen falling living standards. Council workers were offered just 1 per cent! However this episode underlines again the principled stand taken by Dave Nellist whilst he was an MP – he only took the average wage of a skilled worker, donating the rest to local campaigns, strike funds, charities etc. What a contrast to the MPs of today who have claimed enormous expenses whilst supporting never ending cuts for ordinary people. He was an embarrassment to the Labour Party because he showed most other MPs up for what they are – career seeking place men and women with barely a principle to share between them
Whilst an MP and then later a Councillor, Dave was a firm supporter of council workers and trade unionists in the city. As the article below states which is taken from the BBC website, he is still an active member of the Socialist Party and continues to support the trade unions and the fight for socialism. We urge you to consider joining the Socialist Party to help rebuild working class political representation and organisation in Coventry and beyond. If you would like to join, click here
From his election in 1983 to his deselection by Labour in 1992, Dave Nellist kept less than half his salary.
Along with two other Labour politicians – Terry Fields, MP for Liverpool Broadgreen, and Pat Wall, MP for Bradford North – Mr Nellist chose to “get by” on a wage closer to that of the people he represented.
Mr Nellist, now 60 and still an active member of the Socialist Party, was unemployed for the six months before he was elected, but had worked in a factory for many years.
He would only accept the average wage of a skilled factory worker in Coventry, which amounted to 46% of his salary as an MP.
Each year the remaining 54% was donated to charitable and political causes.
‘Want for nothing’
Mr Nellist said he saw his political career as being akin to that of a union rep in a factory.
“At the time time, we were going into the [MP] job like a convenor in a factory, we had the time to do the job but not three times the wage or holidays,” he said.
“The engineering union used to work out the returns of all the factories in Coventry and averaged their wages – equivalent to £28,000 or £29,000 nowadays – so that was what I took home.
“I accepted every penny of the full salary, but as the Labour Party we gave away roughly £35,000 [per year in today’s money] to help the families of miners in the 80s, community groups, pensioners.”
He said receiving less money did not damage “the responsibility” he had to his family and he was very proud of the way his children grew up.
“They didn’t want for anything. We went camping as a family for two weeks every year – and still do – like many people.
“I came off factory wages and into that job on the same. I’ve never had anything different so you don’t miss what you’ve not had.”
Mr Nellist added that as a Coventry City Councillor for 12 years until 2012, he continued to take home the same wage by reducing the hours of his full time job at an advice agency.
He dismissed the idea that the more someone is paid, the more they will achieve.
“Why should MPs be any better? How many millions have we been paying the bankers, how many millions do we pay footballers?
“I don’t accept the idea that those prepared to live the same life as their constituents are going to be any less representative.”
Pay rise ‘bung’
On Thursday the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) said salaries should increase to £74,000 by 2015, but perks should be cut and pensions made less generous, something Mr Nellist described as “scandalous”.
“The suggestion by [Ipsa chairman] Sir Ian Kennedy that the pay rise would be a way of keeping MPs from claiming more expenses is frankly amazing – I was almost lost for words,” he said.
“It’s basically saying they’ll get a bung on their salary as a way of keeping them in line.”
Mr Nellist believes public representatives like councillors and MPs should be able to empathise with the people affected by political decisions.
“With a 9% average fall in people’s earnings, MPs should not be getting a rise – it insulates them from those day to day problems like food and fuel which have rocketed.
“Millions have to get by on much less [than MPs] so that is why we should pay them so they share the pain and the gain.”
Mr Nellist fears the impact of the proposed pay increase for MPs will add to a perceived disconnect between the public and politicians.
“I think it will contribute to a growing disillusion in politics and politicians in general – at a time when millions are having it very tough, those people who may lose their jobs could become very angry if this happens.
“The best people go into politics to do a proper job and to represent the people, not for the money.”
We are publishing this article by Unite activist Kevin Parslow in the wake of the controversy in Falkirk. We think it will be of interest to Unite members in Coventry and elsewhere. Comments and opinions welcome.
Unite contingent on 20 October 2012 demo against austerity, photo by C Job
Unite meets roadblock in New Labour
Time to discuss bold step of disaffiliation
The attack on Unite, the biggest trade union in the country, following New Labour’s suspension of the election candidate selection process in Falkirk West, is a decisive moment in the relationship between the unions and the Labour Party.
Unite’s preferred candidate, Karie Murphy, and constituency chairperson Stephen Deans, have been suspended from party positions.
Tom Watson, New Labour‘s general election strategist, has resigned his position following these moves.
New Labour has scrapped the scheme, originally backed by party leader Ed Miliband, which allowed unions to pay the first year of membership subscriptions from their political funds and which Unite used in Falkirk West to sign up over 100 of its members to the party.
Outrageously, Miliband is handing over Labour’s secret report, not shown to Unite, to the police! Unite members will be indignant at these scandalous moves.
They have echoes of Labour alleging ‘corruption’ against the Liverpool city councillors and Militant who fought against cuts in the 1980s. If Unite does not fight now, the union will be seriously damaged.
Any pretence that Ed Miliband was independent of the right has been blown away by this confrontation as he has become a prisoner of the Blairite faithful. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was prophetic when interviewed in the journal New Statesman on 24 April this year:
Len McCluskey, Shrewsbury 24 press conference, 23.1.13, photo Bob Severn
“He fears, though, that Miliband could still fall under the sway of those he pejoratively refers to as ‘Blairites’. He singles out the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander and the shadow defence secretary, Jim Murphy, for criticism.
.“Ed Miliband must spend most of his waking hours grappling with what lies before him. If he is brave enough to go for something radical, he’ll be the next prime minister.
“If he gets seduced by the Jim Murphys and the Douglas Alexanders, then the truth is that he’ll be defeated and he’ll be cast into the dustbin of history” [our emphasis].
Murphy has been prominent in this crisis with scathing attacks on Unite and Len. One unnamed Blairite has called Unite an ‘organised conspiracy’! Furthermore, these attacks have been egged on by Cameron, the Tories and the capitalist press.
They are all in favour of a tame, pro-capitalist Labour Party. Unite must come out fighting to rebut this onslaught at every opportunity.
Transformation of Labour
But this is not just an organisational attack on the trade unions and the left that remain in New Labour.
As the Socialist Party has consistently explained, this is part of the political transformation of Labour from a party based on workers, that had socialist aspirations, albeit with a pro-capitalist leadership, into a pro-big business party with similarities to the Democrats in the US.
Even from the first attacks on our predecessor, Militant, we predicted there would be attacks on the left and left unions.
With reference to the process against the Militant Editorial Board, which led to five expulsions, we wrote:
“The purge will not stop at Militant. It will grow to other left groups within the party” (Militant 628, 26 November 1982, quoted in ‘Rise of Militant’).
Unite is now considered part of the ‘left’ within New Labour and has been compared to Militant by the press! To this end, the Blairites have decided the union must be humiliated. They want to rid the party of union influence and expel unions whose predecessors helped to form the Labour Representation Committee in 1900!
New Labour has consistently refused to listen to the unions on policy. There have been no real commitments on scrapping anti-trade union laws.
Cuts and privatisations are carried out by Labour councils and councillors who oppose them are suspended or expelled.
Now, Miliband and Ed Balls have affirmed their commitment to the Tories’ spending plans. In other words, cuts planned by the Tories will be implemented by a New Labour government, if the party wins the next election.
This will mean confrontation with the working class and the unions. The idea of a general strike against austerity cannot be postponed in the hope of ‘better times’ under Miliband. If not fought for and called now, the demand will still be urgent under New Labour.
Unite members in action: Strike at ‘One Housing’, June 2013, Woodgreen site, London
The political strategy of Unite, to recruit its members to Labour in order to get more working-class election candidates selected, has come across another roadblock.
The Socialist Party has explained on many occasions that the Labour Party is unreformable. New Labour has closed all the democratic avenues for real change that once existed.
But given Unite’s agreed strategy, we said the only chance it had of being successful would be for Unite to go in with its full programme against all cuts, the scrapping of the anti-trade union laws, and nationalisation, win over the ranks of Labour and get rid of the Blairites.
Even then, we said it would be unlikely to succeed given the obstacles in Unite’s path.
But the union’s strategy was first challenged when a handful of Labour councillors who voted against cuts, some of them Unite members, were suspended or expelled from Labour groups and the party.
The two brave Southampton councillors who opposed austerity have drawn the correct conclusions and become part of TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition).
Warrington councillor Kevin Bennett has recently had his suspension from the Labour group extended for a further six months.
Unite members and others supporting Kevin Bennett outside his Labour group appeal hearing on 1st July 2013
Now the focus has switched onto the parliamentary selection stage. New Labour does not want representatives who would fight for the working class.
Unite now has three possible ways forward. The first would be to capitulate to New Labour. This would be disastrous, not just for its political strategy but for its industrial one too. There would be growing anger and indignation in the rank and file, and doubts would be raised over the union’s commitment to fight for its policy. This would cause serious problems for Len and the left leadership of the union and jeopardise their position.
The second would be to continue with the current strategy. This would mean the likelihood of further collisions with the Labour bureaucracy, in which Len has already admitted he ‘can place no trust’. This would not prevent Unite having to make a decision later on the continued scandal of providing funds to New Labour, to the tune of £9 million since Miliband was elected Labour leader in 2010, with the support of the unions! Immediately, Unite would also face the decision of supporting anti-cuts councillors.
The third path is to take the bold step of the union disaffiliating from New Labour. The Socialist Party believes this is the correct road to take. The working class has waited too long for its own party since New Labour accepted the free market and dropped its famous Clause 4, Part IV, which envisaged nationalisation and socialism.
What Unite should do:
Unite members, in their branches, stewards committees and constitutional committees of the union, should pass resolutions defending the union against these attacks and calling for a full, democratic discussion of the alternative. In particular, they should call on the leadership to implement the following plan of action:
An emergency executive council should be called to discuss the crisis.
The EC should pass a resolution for a recall rules conference which would have the end of removing the references to Labour Party affiliation from the rulebook, thereby facilitating disaffiliation. This conference should also discuss political representation for the working class.
Should this be carried, Unite should call meetings and conferences of trade unionists, from affiliated and non-affiliated unions, including those linked to TUSC, with the aim of forming a new workers’ party which would have the programme of fighting the cuts, scrapping the anti-trade union laws and opposing privatisation of public services. Such a party would truly reflect the needs of the working class and fight in workplaces, communities and in elections for socialist ideas
Interview with Dave Auger (in a personal capacity) – newly elected member of UNISON NEC for the West Midlands
We are pleased to announce that Socialist Party member Dave Auger has been elected to the UNISON National Executive Council, standing for the West Midlands Male Seat. He received 2834 to the 2556 votes of the incumbent. In this interview for our website, Dave, who is speaking in a personal capacity outlines why he stood and the sort of union he will fight for. Socialist Party supporters in UNISON congratulate Dave on this excellent victory; let us carry on with the fight for a fighting, democratic Unison.
Dave Auger speaks to Unison conference
Many stewards in the Coventry area campaigned for you, helping to give out your election literature, and no doubt persuaded people to vote for you. What would you like to say to them?
Dave A – Firstly, obviously to thank stewards who worked for my election and those who voted for me.
In my election address I did make the point that unlike a lot of elected NEC members , who you never see again, I am always available to attend your branch meetings , both to tell you what is going on nationally , but also to hear your concerns and issues
As part of the Reclaim the Union slate, you ran a campaign that was critical of the current national leadership of Unison. Can you explain a bit more about the sort of programme you were putting forward?
I have been critical of the current leadership, but have always believed it is not enough to be critical. If you believe as I do that they are not representing members then they need to be challenged, which is why I put myself forward.
The key word at the moment is recruitment and I agree on its importance. But workers join a union because it offers something and that is not just cheap insurance and holidays.
Council workers are afraid of losing their jobs , attacks on their terms and conditions and just as importantly services that they take a pride in providing.
They want a union that will fight to defend these things , which will give leadership to that fight.
What we have currently is a leadership that when it suits ‘talks the talk ‘ but never ‘walks the walk’. It invariably leads us up the hill only to lead us back down , whilst seeking to convince us that we have won or the membership are not up for a fight.
It does all this because it is wedded to the Labour Party, what they call a ‘link’ is actually a millstone which prevents us taking concerted action in case it embarrasses the Labour Party or challenges their own role in service cuts.
On issues such as pay, you were one of those who called for outright rejection of the 1 per cent offer. Where do you think the union are going wrong on issues such as pay and previously pensions?
The vote on the pay offer is a perfect example, the committee which makes the recommendation went from a unanimous stance of opposition to the offer to voting to make no recommendation. They said members were not up for a fight and were very defeatist.
Those who voted to recommend rejection did so on the basis that what members needed was leadership and encouragement ,that not only should it be rejected and action taken , but that not to do so would seriously weaken our union when we are under concerted attacks by government and employers.
How should we be responding to the massive jobs losses being proposed in local government and the public sector in general?
Employers have never welcomed unions with open arms , they have always accepted unions because they know the power we have can bring them to their knees. If we continue to surrender terms and conditions and services, they will just come back for more.
We have to fight and yes we have to convince many of our members who think keeping their heads down , that our continued existence depends on our fighting.
What experience, ideas and policies will you be bringing to the NEC? How long have you been an active trade unionist, tell us more about what branch you are from, your positions etc.
Dave supports striking PCS members
I have been a trade unionist for 40 years , I joined when I started work at 17.
I became politically active 30 years ago . I have been involved in many of the battles of the last 30 years both a trade unionist and community activist.
For the last 12 years I have been full-time deputy branch secretary of my branch which has a membership of 5500. So (without blowing my trumpet – tongue I cheek) I have a wide experience of representing and fighting for members and negotiating with employers. I am also the Regional International Officer because international solidarity is central to our work as trade unionists.
What is your view of the current situation, with regards to the Labour Link?
I have no problem with UNISON members being members of the Labour Party, I know some very good ones. However the Labour Link has a control over the union which I believe is unhealthy and produces many of the problems I have already outlined. But why should we be supporting a party which is responsible for many of the attacks on us?
Their control is such that you can find yourself in the nonsensical situation as a branch where you are affiliated to your local Labour Party, at a time when that same Labour Party as your council employer is attacking your members jobs and services!
You are a member of the Socialist Party and very open about your political affiliation. Can you tell us why you are a member and why you would urge Unison members and council workers in general to think about joining the Socialist Party?
I joined the Labour Party in 1981 with the naive impression that this was the party of the working class. It quickly became apparent that this was not the case!
I quickly became a member of Militant (the forerunner of the Socialist Party) because only they among the Left in the Labour Party were serious about fighting for the working class and recognised that only a socialist society could achieve this. Since I and many others were expelled the Labour Party has drifted further to the right . Since those days I have always found the position of the Socialist Party to be generally spot on in terms of both perspectives and tactics.
I would encourage all workers to consider joining the Socialist Party.
Thank you for your time Dave, and best of luck
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