Friday, July 08, 2011
A Reply To "The Partisan".
The blog "The Partisan" (their symbol appears above) have placed an item in my comment box in the thread below this one. My reply quotes what they say in five sections, whilst responding to each in turn. Unfortunately, this makes the whole reply too long to go in my comment box. I have, therefore, used this thread for the reply.
(1) "For us, although MPs may well have not literally crossed a picket line, in terms of the spirit of the issue they did."
I accept that numbers of MPs who entered the Commons on 30 June by avenues other than St.Stephen's entrance may have known about the picket and some would be taking diversionary action. But I also see it as being highly likely that others used alternative entries because this was their usual practice and some of these may not have known that a picket was in operation elsewhere. Even if those who entered in ignorance later discovered that a picket existed, by then some of them could have already participated in parliamentary procedures.
(2) "We do also understand both that the list is incomplete, at the moment neither of us has the time or inclination to trawl through hours of BBC Parliament to identify other miscreants, and that some Labour MPs not in Parliament on Thursday may not have had the most noble socialist motives for this."
I hope that you will not abuse this information, but via the following link you will be able to discover (a) who spoke in the Commons that day, (b) who spoke in Westminster Hall and (c) who was present at Commons Committee Meetings. You don't have to trawl through the speeches on the floor of the Commons, as a list can be found as to who spoke - you can then click onto names to check to see if they said anything of importance. It is also possible to check on what was said in Westminster Hall and in Commons Committees, the later providing lists of those in attendance. See - http://www.parliament.uk/ I think that you should search out the contributions of those you have been criticising. Many of your strictures will hold, but you need to judge as to whether they hold for everyone you mention.
(3) "On the more substantive point, whilst we accept that there is a difference between the importance of Cryer's contribution and, for example, Barry "should we rename veal spring beef" Sheerman, there's still a pretty substantial problem here. Whilst it is obviously important that MPs pursue matters in Parliament, it strikes us that an unconditional principle has been violated (if it's unconditional, there should be no question of balancing it with a competing principle)."
Having joined numbers of picket lines in a supportive capacity in the past, I am aware of the importance of the principle involved. The principle is not, however, a categorical imperative. I am sure that the philosopher you later direct my attention to (if Kant had been alive today) would have recognised that it is a principle that is conditional and depends upon the circumstances in which pickets operate. For instance, although the example I now use is not applicable to any current British circumstances, it is theoretically possible for a Trade Union to put in place a picket based on furthering racist, sexist or other interests which are unacceptable to a socialist. This means that an acceptable picket line (as functions in the overwhelming number of cases which we can envisage) is still based on a conditional and not an unconditional principle. I am not, of course, claiming that the picket at St. Stephen's was involved in any such excess. I merely wish to establish the logical standing of the principle we are discussing.
(4) "It's also worth noting that the principle that MPs should work hard for their constituents is widely accepted (at least by the public); principles of unconditional solidarity are being made to appear anachronistic (the GMB, for example, suggested crossing picket lines was an issue of individual conscience, it isn't), this makes fidelity to this principle particularly vital at the moment."
I agree that attempts to uphold picketing rights are especially important in current circumstances. But as this means that bolstering this right is now even more important than it was at some time in the past, this further shows that the weight we give to picketing rights can be given a different stress in different circumstances and is , therefore, a conditional (yet highly important) principle.
(5) "The question on PCS tactics is an interesting one. What we'd suggest is that the Kantian distinction between the public use of reason (one can criticise taxes as much as one wants) and the private use of reason (one still has to pay them) applies here. One can criticise a union's tactics as much as one wants and try to influence them but once they are democratically agreed on one's bound as a socialist not to disrupt them."
Democracy is of great importance, but I do not think that it is the only basis on which the support for picketing should rest. For this would mean that in say, the absence, of a ballot for strike action then picketing would not then be justified. Yet no national ballot took place during the Miners' Strike of 1984-5, but there were still strong reasons for supporting the wide programme of picketing that operated. For the defeat of the Miners by the Thatcher Government would have (and did) lead to a serious collapse in the power and influence of both Trade Unions and the Working Class in general. Nevertheless I agree that it is important that Trade Unions should themselves be democratic organisations. But as democracy is important as part of the life blood of Trade Unionism, so it is important in society in general (although its needs extending). Democracy is important, for instance, in shaping both the activities and openings for MPs - avenues which again need to be extended. Hence (1) the rights of pickets and (2) the rights of MPs to be able to act on behalf of the interests of the electorate are two extremely important principles. When these two principles rubbed up against each other on 30 June, then they needed to be carefully weighed up against each other according to the circumstances of the time. Well intentioned democrats and socialists might come to different conclusions as to which principle was paramount that day and in which circumstances. Furthermore if say,Tom Watson and John Cryer can be excused for coming down on the side of making use of their parliamentary openings that day, it does not follow that everyone else should be excused. It is by a person's intentions that they should be judged. Moral judgements can be complex and often need careful thought, they can't all be devolved to principles we never given any further thought to.