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Dangers of the Collins review

Defend the Link  full colourJust two years away from the General Election, the priorities of the Labour Party ought to be obvious. These surely need to be to strengthen our campaign against the Coalition government’s failing policies; sharpen our alternatives in anticipation of government; and preparing our internal organisation for the elections in 2014 and 2015. Yet for some reason, we’re plunging into an internal conflict over a central element of our Constitution.

It appears that the Spring Conference is to become a rubber-stamp for ending the effective, collective involvement of the trade unions the party. Precisely why this is so urgent has not been explained. A relationship that has endured for over a century surely warrants a more considered examination.

The suggestion is that an “opt-in” will be necessary to demonstrates Labour’s real support in the unions. In reality, the overwhelming majority of trade union members want the Coalition government out. There will be many trade union members who want this without ever wishing to join Labour. Such support is going to be walled off from Labour by the hurdle of opting-in.

It seems to be generally agreed that the new mechanism will reduce levy affiliation by around 80 to 90 % from current levels. On top of this, general donations will be substantially reduced, as the impact of reducing the role of unions will increase internal resistance to donations. Inevitably, there will be the argument that if we only affiliate 10 to 20% of levy payers why should we donate more than 10 to 20% of the remaining levy on top of this?

Taken together these reductions will cost ……………… The obvious question is then how do the enthusiasts for opting-in propose to fill this gap?

There will be some increase in business donations, if Labour appears to be the next government. But we know how fickle business is in its support for Labour, unlike the loyal support received from the unions.

There is only one way this proposal will work – through a massive increase in state funding of political parties. Labour in government could secure Lib-Dem support for this, and perhaps the Tories also, if there is a large enough cap on individual donations.

This is not a debate to be taken after the Collins review, and Spring Conference. This is a debate about whether opt-in can work at all. It is vital for all members that the question of the funding gap is answered now.

It is also a distressing to see “open primaries” being touted as a strengthening of the Party’s connection to the electorate. With such a system the election of Labour’s candidate for London Mayor is likely to be more influenced by the owner of the Evening Standard than union affiliates and individual party members.

How extraordinary is it to insist upon signed authorisation and financial commitment from trade union members before becoming involved in party processes, whilst offering anyone, for free, the opportunity of participating in the mayoral selection?

Suggesting this is also appropriate for Party parliamentary selections really does begin to question the value of membership and affiliation. Why pay for the privilege of membership when you get the rights of membership free?

The CWU will participate in the Collins review. We will not dress up as a good thing the battering of the union link, nor the reduction in Party control via open primaries. By insisting upon examining the practical problems of opt-in and primaries, perhaps a re-think can be prompted. That is essential if, in future, the Party is to avoid bankruptcy or becoming a state-funded liberal party.

This article appears in the Conference issue of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy’s Campaign Bulletin. Join here to receive your copy.

4 Comments

  1. Patrick Coates says:

    AS everyone else seems to be on holiday, on behalf of all CLP’s Secs, I think we should stay as we are. Having been a member of the Party since 1997, and have had no problems with the Unions and Labour working together. I think the problem is between the so called right and left in the Party.
    But is it real or imagined, I am a member of LRC and Co-op but not in a union, and I need money to fight the next elections, so will be hoping that both sides of the coin will put £’s in the pot, to get rid of this odeus Government. There sorted.

  2. Rod says:

    @Patrick
    “stay as we are”?

    The Progress steam roller is about drive over you. Trade Union influence within the L.P. will be diminished because Progress, with their heavy PLP representation, demand it. They need to remove the only obstacle preventing full-spectrum (to use a term from elsewhere!) domination.

    This is the primary focus for the PLP now and this is why Labour’s opposition to the Tory led government is minimal/non-existent.

  3. Rob the cripple says:

    I do not think any need to say much, we all know Progress now runs Labour and the backing and money is basically from a bloke who is best described as a right leaning money making Tory.

    I have nothing much to say Miliband was picked by the Unions serve them right for getting involved.

    Now of course the Unions can get back to what they should be doing and getting members to fight the cuts, Len and Paul can now look at what they can do to fight the Tories and the Tory Lite party of Progress and Blair.

    The GMB has to put in place now the regulation for us to discuss disaffiliation because at the moment we cannot even discuss it at local level.

    It’s time for Unions to have a vote on leaving the Labour paryty

  4. ray davison says:

    It’s about time the unions united to reclaim the Party they formed and use their power to enhance democracy in the Party and empower members by voting at Conference for progressive rule changes. For too long they have been compliant with the right and now face terminal castration for their weaknesses.Give the right a FIGHT.

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