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The absence of the trade union Right

The recent report circulated about the activities of Progress, a semi-clandestine “party within a party” has been highlighted by Jon Lansman. Conrad Landin further highlights the undemocratic nature of Luke Akehurst’s Labour First group The level of organisation of the Labour right gives them disproportionate leverage within the party, particularly as the consensus between the Blairites, Orange Book Liberals, and the Tory Party is shared with a number of journalists.

The paradox of the current position is that the leader of the Labour Party is arguably the most left wing person in his own office, and the second most left wing person in the shadow cabinet. This is due to the success of the party’s right wing in gaining disproportionate influence in the parliamentary party.

However, what is rarely remarked upon is the unprecedented weakness of the right wing in the trade unions. With the exception of USDAW, all of the major unions have leaders who are firmly to the centre left.

This is in marked contrast to previous eras, for example Arthur Deakin, the former General Secretary of TGWU until 1956 was a bulwark against the left. Tom Griffin at Green Ribbon recounts the sorry tale of CIA involvement to bolster pro-NATO figures in the British unions.

In the 1980s the secretive St Ermin’s group of right wing trade unionists, like Ray Grantham (APEX), Terry Duffy (AUEW), Bryan Stanley (POEU) and Roger Godsiff (Research head at APEX) coordinated activity to undermine the left, assisted by Frank Chapple of EETPU (who stayed out of the group).

In contrast, currently, the Atlanticist right is entirely absent from debates in the unions. Almost every national union is affiliated to Stop the War Coalition for example, and both UNISON and UNITE opposed government policy of military intervention in Libya. Over economic and social policy, every union stands firmly to the left of the parliamentary Labour Party, and this is because the unions reflect the aspirations and interests of their millions of members.

This represents a major opportunity for the unions to shape the debate in the party, and provide a counterbalance to the right.

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