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The Tories had done Labour’s dirty work for them and Tony Blair had no plans to look this particular gift horse in the mouth.There was to be no return to compulsory union membership under the “closed shop” arrangements and no removal of the requirement for secret postal ballots before industrial action – this had delivered true democracy to union members and there was no way they would hand it back.One might ask: Have we witnessed the “breaking” of the English working class?
When Cherie Booth and Tony Blair appeared at the front door of 10 Downing Street on the morning after Labour swept to power, the unions were euphoric, full of hope and expectation.
Eighteen years of Tory power characterised by an aggressive programme of privatisation, contracting out of public services, radical reform of employment law and the taming of the trade unions had been swept away.
However, for the union barons it was to be a short-lived period of unbridled optimism of a return to beer and sandwiches at Number 10 and involvement in national policy making.
Alas, instead it was Sauvignon Blanc and canapés, but for the leaders of business rather than the leaders of unions.
In his seminal work, The Making of the English Working Class, EP Thompson adopts a deterministic stance and argues, “the class experience is largely determined by the productive relations into which men are born - or enter involuntarily”.
There have been few social changes in Britain to match the desire for individual betterment and the growing self-perceptions of middle class, with all the materialistic trappings that accompany it.The only way they feel able to change this is through the back door.The frustration of the trade unions can be traced back to the election of Tony Blair and New Labour in 1997 and the adoption of Third Way politics - whatever that meant.Last week was a testing one for Ed Miliband and the Labour Party - and perhaps an era-defining one.The Labour leader’s decision to address the issue of a cap on welfare spending was risky.Those hankering after the nostalgia of a class war, labour versus capital, and bemoaning their lot over a glass of Double-Diamond may have been outnumbered by the modern-day champagne socialists of the Party, who adopt the left-wing rhetoric but certainly don’t live it.Lord Mandelson’s caution to Ed Miliband about the danger of getting too close to the unions should be seen as further evidence of the desire to create a division between the Labour Party and the labour movement.It was Thatcher who managed to entice upper working class swing voters, known as C2s (defined by the National Readership Survey classifications as “skilled manual workers”), to desert Labour in 1983.Their support was short-lived and they swung back to Labour en masse in 1997; in 2010 they were back with the Tories.Dr Alf Crossman is not connected to any of the parties mentioned in this article and has not received any financial or non-financial rewards or incentives to express these opinions.The views expressed are those of the author and are not intended to reflect or represent those of the University of Surrey or its management.