Trade union rights and freedoms, which we have long taken for granted, are now faced with a serious threat. Margaret Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws are still in existence and supported by all three of the main political parties in parliament, and the Conservative-led coalition is threatening to introduce even tighter controls to regulate trade union activity. This is why it is essential that the link between the Labour Party and the trade unions, which helped to found it over one hundred years ago, is not only maintained but strengthened. It is the Party that has traditionally given a voice to working people everywhere. Break the link and you break the Party.
From the introduction of the National Minimum Wage to the improved rights both inside and outside the workplace, trade unions have led the campaign to improve life for working men and women, Labour’s key constituency.
Facing the biggest cuts to the public sector since the foundation of the welfare state and the NHS, Labour and the trade unions must present a united front. Any weakening of the relationship between trade unions and the Party it helped to create will only make it easier for the government to press ahead with its reform agenda, damaging the lives of trade union members everywhere.
Rather than distancing itself from the struggle to overturn anti-union legislation, the Labour leadership, and in particular Ed Miliband, who owes his election victory in the Labour leader’s election to levy-paying trade union members, should unite behind the 500,000 workers who took to the streets back in March in the largest ever demonstration in the history of the trade union movement. With the 6,500 Shropshire council workers facing redundancy or a 5.4 per cent pay cut, with the 50,000 National Health Service Staff expecting to lose their jobs and with the workers at Bombardier who have lost their jobs due to the government’s short-sighted decision not to support train manufacturing in Britain, now is surely the time for solidarity between Party and unions.
The link delivers results for working people and ensures working people are represented and elected to Parliament, to local and regional government and to the European Parliament.
At every general election, trade union members up and down the country go out on the streets and campaign for Labour, as they have done throughout Labour’s history. Trade union leaders have always made it plain that for trade unionists and working people there is only one practical political choice: ‘It has to be Labour.’ It’s no exaggeration to say that without the trade unions, and the support they offer to the Labour Party, financial and political, the Party could not continue to func- tion as a the main opposition in the country.
The Tory-led coalition realises this, hence its cynical attempt to cap political donations at £50,000. If this were allowed to happen, without the consultation of union members who pay their political levy, it would cripple the Labour Party and represent an all-out attack on hard-won trade union rights to representation.
The millions of affiliated trade unions members represent a huge constituency of working people with a very real stake in the Labour Party and its future. The link is alive and well, relevant, modern and still delivering for working people.
Simon Weller is the National Organiser of rail union, ASLEF, who was this week elected to the General Council of the TUC. This article also appears in Campaign Briefing, a Campaign for Labour Party Democracy publication.