Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Labour Link with Unions?

I'm not really sure what to make of the story in today's Independent about Ed Miliband supposedly severing "big money" ties with affiliated trade unions.  It is all pretty unclear and confusing.  This is after all the winter silly season. 

The idea of having a 4th estate of Labour "supporters" (define?) to vote in leadership elections seems particularly daft and impractical. 

The state of the Party finances means it is hardly in a position to contemplate getting rid of any financial sources never mind trying to pass controversial rule changes at Conference. 

I'm not at all sure what impact this would have on an affiliated union such as UNISON which has its own separate political fund called (hint, hint) "UNISON Labour Link" paid for by voluntary levy payments by individual members of much, much less than £500 per year.  In fact I think changes could indeed strengthen the link between the Party and its unions. 

I do like this great quote (para 354) by former Labour Party General Secretary Peter Watt “...I think the relationship between the party and trade unions, people misconstrue it, it is not a relationship we have with them, they are of the Labour Party, they formed us, they are members of. People talk about the trade unions and the Labour Party, we are the same institution in terms of the Labour Party, they are fundamentally in our DNA from top to bottom, and that cannot and will not change, and the party gains huge political strength from that and I think could gain more".

Hat tip UNISONactive


Anonymous said...

John, don't understimate the impact of a new requirement for trade unionists to opt in rather than opt out of political fund contributions via union subscriptions. The historical precedent,following the 1926 General Strike, was that opting in cost labour one third of its income. UNISON is unique in requiring members to opt into Labour political contributions - (of course two thirds choose the general fund instead). Unite has approx 300k members opted out - a requirement to opt in will potentially exacerbate that unacknowledged but already substantial disengagement from Labour.
And decollectivising the financial relationship will inevitably reduce union influence.

John Gray said...

Yes there are risks but there does need to be change. We have to get our members involved and engaged in the Party. “Opting in” could be one way. Yes, an administrative nightmare. What is wrong with talking to our members and explaining about the benefits of the Party link? What about (shock horror) the Party taking its responsibility seriously and coming up with policies that would encourage people to “opt in”?

I personally think that having a General fund for none party supporters is not only democratic but a good idea. We have to recognise that a high % of our members vote Tory (turkeys voting for Christmas) always have done and mostly always will do. If they think their subs is supporting the Labour Party it puts them off the union.

Funding the party is not enough and in the long term unsustainable. Unless we get greater participation by trade unionists at all levels ( local as well as national level) we will lose the Party in the long term.