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Shouldn’t it be up to affiliates themselves how they manage their link with Labour?

This morning Ed Miliband will make a speech in which he will lay out his support for changes to the trade union link including the limited use of primaries, but possibly more crucially forcing trade unions to get their members to “opt in” for Labour party affiliation rather than “opt out”. This proposal will not only damage party funding and hurt our chances in 2015, but it will also amounts to the Labour Party unfairly dictating to trade unions how they run their own affairs and weaken the Labour Party’s important basis in the democratic structures of Britain’s workers.

For a start this “opt in” endangers the labour Party’s funding, so endangering the Party’s chances in 2015. Furthermore it is not worth bringing in this change in the run up to a general election when all focus should be on attacking the Tories.

Furthermore the idea of an “opt-in” system being preferable to the current system is nonsense. Billy Hayes is right to critique the principle of the “opt in” as trade union members already needn’t support the Labour Party if they do not want to.

Indeed the “opt in” has always been a Tory strategy to undermine trade unions’ ability to achieve parliamentary representation that was thankfully repealed by the 1945 to 1951 Labour government, Ed Miliband should not be going out to undo the good work of the Attlee government in protecting working peoples’ representation in parliament.

Furthermore the “opt in” will undermine the key principle that it should be up to affiliated unions themselves how they manage their relationship with the Labour Party. The Labour Party should not be dictating to trade unions how their members can be involved in trade unions. That is not in the spirit of Refounding Labour which had as its principle the ability for party units to decide for themselves how they run their own affairs. Len McCluskey rightly argues that “opt in” would “undermine unions’ status as voluntary, and self-governing, organisations.” Indeed Unison already has an “opt in” scheme for Labour affiliation and that is its right, but the Labour Party should not be imposing that 

Indeed “opt in”  will circumvent the elected structures of the trade unions, apparently reach out to workers themselves, but undermining the basis of trade unions as the democratic representative bodies of Britain’s working people. “Opt in” would weaken the Labour Party’s hugely important union link as it would reduce it to merely being a connection with some individual trade union members rather than rooting our party in the secure foundation that is the representative structures of working people.

If the Labour Party wants to engage better with trade unions it should approach them on their terms and properly give individual union activists a reason to get involved, not try to enforce its own terms on them and circumvent their democratic structures. Frankly it is rather rich for the Labour Party to accuse trade unions of being undemocratic engaging in “fixing” considering the kind of treatment Party members have come to expect at the hands of the Party machine.

Ultimately The Tories and their wealthy backers in the City will not be satisfied until trade unions are totally eradicated from public life and no amount of reforms to the union link will shut them up. Labour should be standing up and defending the union link not going along with the Tory narrative against the power of working people in politics. We should have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to limit in the influence of the trade unions, the only democratic representatives of working people in this country, and attack the backing of the Tory Party by the wealthy and City bankers who brought the world into the financial crisis.


  1. Andy Newman says:

    Very well argued.

    Quite apart from the demerits of the idea, this would focus politics for the next two years on an internal debate about the relationship between unions and the party, which is an election losing formula if ever there was one.

  2. P Spence says:

    Milliband either has not thought this through or is naive. What is in this for unions as associations with a legitimate and collective interest in politics? It may encourage a weakening of relations and disaffiliation

  3. Stephen says:

    As the UNISON Active blog points out – the ‘opt in’ system has been tried before. The tories brought it in in 1927 and Labour repealed it in 1945. So much for ‘forward looking’ and ‘new politics’…

  4. John says:

    Stephen,isn’t that like saing Heath brought in the industrial relations act in 70′ labour repealed it in 74′ so thatchers reforms were wrong,

  5. Stephen says:

    No it’s suggesting that as to a guide as to how Labour manages its internal affairs Clement Attlee might be a more better example than Stanley Baldwin… it might alspo a be a bit of comment on the historically challenged individuals who are suggesting that this is ‘forward looking’.

  6. Peter Willsman says:

    Crosby,the Aussie smear merchant, must be laughing into his Amber Nectar.The Tories are rubbish and Labour is cruising . Then along comes a storm in a teacup at Falkirk and Crosby gets his puppet Cameron to wind things up and create a diversion.The hacks and assorted Blairites do the Tories dirty work and Labour have played right into their hands!We need to wise up.The Tories and many Blairites want to destroy our Party as the party of the organised working class.They will pursue this relentlessly.Every time Ed makes a concession they will demand more.We should go on the attack and make Crosby and his dirty gutter politics the story.I also can not understand why on earth we brought the police into an internal Party matter in relation to which we have adequate procedures.The much more serious case of the Erith and Thamesmead ballot box that was broken into at HQ while Ray Collins was Gen. Sec. was never investigated by the police.

  7. P Spence says:

    GMB this morning report that donations likely to catastrophically fall. Milliband has walked into a trap. There was no need to waste political energy and capital as he has over the last week. I cannot see how opt in will strengthen the Party. He is naive.

  8. David Pavett says:

    The idea that an organisation can maintain its integrity even if it allows external bodies to affiliate members to it on whatever basis they decide is such an absurd proposition that it can surely only be supported by people who believe that in the given case it will result in better outcomes than the alternatives. In itself the principle is obvious nonsense. It would mean that if a group of people set up an organisation with objectives X that they should allow voting members to be affliated from external bodies even if they are directly opposed to X. It is organisational nonsense and I can’t believe that, in general terms, this is not obvious. If it is obvious in general terms then it applies to the Labour Party also.

    The basic principle is that if someone is to be counted as a voting member of an organisation they should only have joined it as a conscious decision and not be default is, in my view, unassailable. The fact is that no arguments have been raised against this point. People who are only too keen to talk of “principled positions” in other circumstances seem remarkably quick to forget matters of principle in this instance.

    My view is that the central problem is not the relationship with the trade unions but the appalling policies of the Labour Party (or the appalling lack of them). I get phone calls asking if I would contribute £20, £30, £50 pounds to the Labour Party. My response is that I am very concerne with education and if I did not think that Labour’s educational policies were no more than Tory-lite policies (actually, I use a one-word shorthand for this) then I would willing contribute such sums and more.

    The fate of the Labour Party ultimately depends on the quality of its politics and currently those policies contain nothing to inspire the desire to contribute more. I write to Labour leaders asking for information about their policies. In nearly all cases I get no answer, not even an acknowledgement. Why should I feel like contributing more to the salaries of people who feel that they can ignore ordinary members who ask for information?

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