Young Keir and radical ‘workers’ control’ ideas
13 February, 2020 — By John Gulliver
EVEN though Sir Keir Starmer is regarded as a centrist in the contest for the Labour leadership he could pick up support from young leftish members – if he is still on sound nodding terms with his younger self.
It turns out that when Starmer was himself in his twenties he was sucked into the radical movement known as “workers’ control” where workers, led by shop stewards, could run plants themselves. Somehow this would involve the local community – a vision that seemed to appeal to Starmer.
It was inspired by senior shop stewards at Lucas Aerospace, who had published a kind of manifesto setting out their ideas for “socially useful production”, as well as by workers in Glasgow who had taken over a defunct plant and become nationally known as Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. Support came initially from the then Labour government.
Starmer’s surprising past emerged the other day when the radical magazine The Spokesman, set up in the 1960s by the eminent philosopher Bertrand Russell, published excerpts from an article written by him in a left-wing journal, Socialist Alternatives, in 1986. It sketched the problems of an “over production crisis of capitalism”, and the use of “alternative plans” that could “restructure the economy” on “workers’ terms”.
He seemed to anticipate resistance from “bureaucratic” union hierarchies but was clearly carried away with the development of “alternative” ways of running the economy.
His vision at the time predated, in a sense, plans proposed by shadow chancellor John McDonnell in the election campaign for “workers” to sit on company boards. McDonnell, who was politically established by the 80s, probably was also drawn to the “workers’ control” movement.
Critics of Starmer point up his apparent ambivalent voting in parliament on welfare and immigration legislation but I hear a growing number of young members, who have come across his article in The Spokesman, believe there is another side to him.
As I predicted last week, he pipped his main rival Rebecca Long Bailey – a Corbyn supporter – at the post at a meeting in Tufnell Park in the leader’s constituency on Saturday when he picked up 138 votes against 135 for his opponent.
Considering the constituency has a bulging membership of 4,300 it was a low turn-out, less than 10 per cent