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Ed takes a step back from the brink on trade union link

Defend the Link  full colourThe interim report by Lord Collins on the relationship between the party and trade unions was circulated to Labour’s national executive committee this morning. Too late for them to comment prior to publication — but they will be relieved by what they read. One of Ed’s greatest qualities is his ability to unite Labour, and in this document he will have won backing from the executive even if he didn’t ask them for it. The only question is whether he will also get the backing of the Blairites in the party who, unlike Labour’s traditional right, are not really represented on it.

The reason that the document is likely to relieve the Executive, union and CLP representatives alike is that it does entirely accept the importance of the relationship with the trade unions collectively, a voice for their whole membership. In Ray Collins’s introduction he says:

One of the principles that will continue to underpin the relationship is a collective engagement with our party, for trade unions. These are hugely important civil society institutions in their own right which, week in and week out, fight for working people.

They have a wealth of experience, knowledge, research and ideas based on their role in the workplace and communities. That is expressed collectively through their organisations and Labour benefits from that rich shared experience. We should not and will not lose that vital contribution. Indeed, if our party did not already have a close relationship with trade unions this report would be recommending that we build a link to become One Nation Labour.

It makes clear that the party comprises individuals and organisations:

The latest reforms proposed by Ed are similarly built on the principle that Labour is an alliance of individuals and organisations.

The main body of the document makes clear that it is possible for the party to involve individual trade unionists as well as trade unions as organisations embodying the collective views of all their members. And therein lies the basis of an agreement. Neither the unions nor constituency parties wanted this debate. They still would prefer not to have it. But they would prefer to reach agreement on a way forward than to fall out and damage Ed.

The questions asked in the document are also generally fair and reasonable and could be the basis of a genuine consultation process:

What kind of relationship with the party do you think those individuals who choose to affiliate want or expect?

What rights should they receive? Should their rights differ from CLP members and if so how?

What ideas do you have for how members of affiliated organisations might have a closer individual engagement with Labour and a real voice inside the party, particularly at the local level?

How do we ensure that the collective voice of trade unions is still heard in the Labour Party?

Once individual affiliated members have had an active choice about whether to be part of the Labour Party, do you believe that we would need to consider the consequences for other party structures including conference and the rules for electing leaders?

What views do you have about the practical timeframe for agreeing and implementing changes to affiliation and related issues?

Do you have any other ideas you wish to contribute to this review about how to deepen the relationship between Labour and working people?

Only the question about “the consequences for other party structures including conference and the rules for electing leaders” will really raise hackles amongst trade unionists. Their answer (and ours) will be no. And they will be wary too of the possibility that the next stage will produce recommendations with a different tone. There is, tellingly, no question about whether Ed’s proposal that individual trade union levy-payers should opt in. But on the whole Ed has done well today, and stepped back from the brink of disaster.


  1. Peter Willsman says:

    The document is not as bad as some people expected. However, there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that Ed and his team take full cognisance of the serious concerns of the unions. It also seems to assume that everyone will agree with Ed. But if he does not take on board the strength of the concerns about the party, he will not convince the CLPs and the unions at the spring conference.

    There is a subtle shift in the document between the past, the present and the future. It talks about Labour being a federal structure in the past and present, but in the future, it talks about being “an alliance of individuals and organisations“. It says if we didn’t have in the present “a close relationship with trade unions” we’d have to build in the future a “link“.

    However, the trade unions founded the party, they are part of the party, and they should stay part of a federal party.

    The CLPs and the unions are the twin pillars of the federation that is our party. You would not talk about CLPs having an “alliance” or “close relationship” with the party. And neither should you talk in these terms about the other pillar of the federation.

    CLPD continues to work on the way forward that will meet all the concerns of the unions and CLPs as well as Ed. CLPD will be circulating some draft ideas to CLPs in the early Autumn, in the hope that we can find a basis for uniting. And get on with fighting this vicious government and giving Labour voters hope.

  2. Mike Homfray says:

    These plans are exactly what Ed always intended. lets unite and stuff the Blairites who seem to be cosying up to Clegg in any case

  3. John p Reid says:

    Mike, how we’ll are labour doing in current opinion polls

  4. Andy Newman says:

    John p Reid says:
    September 19, 2013 at 2:24 pm (Edit)
    Mike, how we’ll are labour doing in current opinion polls
    , we

    On LOrd Ashcroft’s polling in marginals, wewould win the next GE. though its not comfortable.

  5. John p Reid says:


  6. Jon Lansman says:

    I think the points made by my friend Pete Willsman are valid. When we know that these words have been hammered out between different wings of the team around Ed, these subtelties are significant. This document contains a form of words that people with different views have signed up to. At the end of the process, a structure will be agreed that will please some of them more than others.

    I notice too, as I failed to in my earlier readings, that Ray Collins says “Changes to the nature and scale of affiliated membership inevitably throw up questions about the way affiliated organisations are represented in the party and participate in its structures.” Why inevitably (it was my emphasis)? Even the question I said would “raise hackles amongst trade unionists” asks whether “we would need to consider the consequences for other party structures including conference and the rules for electing leaders?

    Whilst this report contains much that we can be pleased with, there is no reason for complacency amongst those who wish to defend the link between the party and the trade unions.

  7. James Martin says:

    I tell you what, that report is so thin as to be laughable. So what have we got? First Miliband denigrates innocent individuals (who he has still refused to apologise to, showing how utterly spineless he is), he denigrates a union who has been shown did nothing wrong, risked leading the Party to bankruptcy (which may still happen). And for what? This? Jeez, the man is a bigger pillock than I thought.

    And while I am at it, just what does ‘One Nation Labour’ mean? No, seriously, I’ve been a Party member for a quarter of a century and I haven’t got the foggiest. I would assume that if you want a ‘One Nation’ party with the unions involved, then you must balance them with the CBI? After all, we are all in the same nation aren’t we, and this suspiciously LIBERAL sounding phrase reeks of that sort of middle class nonsense.

    Personally I’d send Miliband out on some actual work experience (first time for everything after all), and get him to see why we so desperately need proper unions in so many businesses and workplaces, then he may just stop sounding like he is still in an Oxford student union meeting all the time…

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