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Defending the Link

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.


  1. redmik says:

    The ‘link’ was effectively broken when Labour reneged on their side of the deal in the ‘Warwick Agreement’.

    There is little doubt that Labour would not have survived the 2005 election without the support of the unions and their members.

    However, once that was achieved Labour always found another issue deserving greater priority than the repeal of Thatcher’s anti-TU legislation.

    My own trade union activity dates from 1950 but my Labour Party membership only started in 1964 and was only based on the understanding that the Party was the political wing of the trade union movement.

    That may have been the case in those days but the current Labour Party has been subverted and infiltrated by a self-perceived elite from a privileged background.

    This seems to have been well demonstrated by Polly Toynbee’s recent work on the ‘class ceiling’ which revealed that no less than 15% of Labour MP’s were privately educated.

    We used to believe in ‘government by the people, for the people and of the people’ but there is an ever-deceasing proportion of Labour MPs who are ‘of’ the working class.

    ‘Nuff said.

  2. Chris says:

    “it would cripple the Labour Party and represent an all-out attack on hard-won trade union rights to representation”

    And on democracy!

  3. Syzygy says:

    Apart from everything else the Unions are the only organisations to have spoken out against the EU/India free trade agreement (which is 85% a UK deal) which will undermine collective bargaining and worker’s rights by allowing Indian workers to be moved into Britain with no workplace rights, no right to remain and no access to the legal system, ‘creating a tier of slave-like labour in Britain’.

    Linda Kaucher’s persistent research into this hidden policy can be read:

    One can only conclude that the ultimate aim of this government for the City is to wreck the UK economy, public services, pensions, and the NHS in order to create the social and economic conditions of the Third world in the UK.. presumably to make the UK ‘competitive’ with China. Faced with this government acting on behalf of the transnationals the LP and the UK need the unions more than ever.

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