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Unite offers Miliband an olive branch, with clear red lines

An olive branch from UniteThe executive council of Unite the Union yesterday offered Ed Miliband a compromise in his efforts to “mend the link” between Labour and the trade unions, but also set out the red lines which it is not prepared to cross.

In a unanimous decision, it welcomed “any measures which increase the involvement of individual trade unionists in the Labour Party” and, as had been advocated by Len McCluskey from the start, specifically agreed Miliband’s proposal that “individual political levy paying members of trade unions be encouraged to ‘opt in’ to associate membership of the Labour Party as part of the drive to build a Party of mass membership.” However, it also insisted that collective affiliation of the trade unions should continue alongside the opting-in of individual levy-payers and that there should be no diminution of trade union voting strength or representation within Labour party structures. 

Unite’s proposals argue that individual levy payers opting into associate membership should be able to vote in leadership elections (as they can now) and in the selection of parliamentary candidates (which they currently cannot). This last proposal goes some way towards Miliband’s idea of opening up selections beyond individual members of the party, but it rejects the idea of open primaries: “voting  in selections must remain the prerogative of members and associate members.”

The proposals agreed by Unite’s executive have much in common with proposals which have been circulated by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) over recent months. These spell out in more detail how such a compromise might work.

There would be three categories of membership in place of the current two: alongside “affiliated members” (i.e. trade unions and socialist societies like the Fabians and Socialist Health Association) and individual members would be “associate members” – the new category for individual union levy-payers who “opted in”. Under this arrangement, wherever members of trade unions exercised their rights as individuals, they would do so as “associate members”, but where they exercised them collectively, they would do so as “affiliated members”.

Collective affiliation would be based not on the number of individual members who opted into Labour membership, but on their ‘weight’ as the most active and some of the largest voluntary organisations in Britain. Affiliation fees would be based on bands of membership (as is common practice for the affiliation of membership organisations to all sorts of bodies) – a proposal originally made by Martin Mayer who is a member of the national executives of both Unite and the Labour Party itself.

Finally, CLPD’s proposal envisages that the recruitment of associate members should not be a one-off exercise when the proposal is implemented or when members joining their trade unions. Instead it should be repeated whenever there is an opportunity for trade union members to participate in internal elections or selections within the party.

These proposals, whilst not severing the collective relationship with trade unions and widespread adoption of primaries advocated by Progress, do meet Ed Miliband’s aspiration to strengthen the relationship between the party and individual levy payers especially at a local level. It is now up to Ed Miliband to decide whether or not he wishes to reach an agreement on a way forward with the trade unions. If he doesn’t, since Unite’s decision brings it into line with virtually all other affiliated trade unions, he faces almost certain defeat at the special party conference on 1 March.


  1. Peter Jones says:

    Dear Unite,
    Howabout two other red lines…
    1/. Workfare. Labour are going to continue this vile policy, which is an attack on ALL workers. Not only that, but they are also going to ramp the policy up…
    2/. Austerity… Where do I begin with this nasty lie? Suffice it to say that it’s amazing how money can be found for ‘pet projects’ like HS2…

  2. Robert says:

    That OK fine no problem, but I think labour are after to remove the block vote, which is laughable when you think of how Miliband was elected.

    Associate membership is just a silly way of building up labour membership without them having to do anything.

  3. Matty says:

    Robert – the trade union section of the electoral college is one member one vote. There is no block vote.

  4. swatantra says:

    Its rather unusual for Affiliates in many organisations to have a vote other than an individual vote, or for Associates to have full rights of Membership. The only way you get full voting rights is actually to become a member, ie to opt in.
    So Unite will have to think again.
    Although EdM may have been elected by ‘a Union block’ doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t change the system to a more democratic one.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      ‘Associates’ can mean different things in different organisations – the essential thing is that here they mean that there are two categories of individual membership with different membership fees maid in different ways.

      It is simply untrue to say “Its rather unusual for Affiliates in many organisations to have a vote”: in Amnesty International for example affiliates have “one vote for the first 5000 members and a further vote for 10,000 members or part thereof up to a maximum of 10 votes” but pay £30 to £500 on a sliding scale.

  5. swatantra says:

    So, if Unite has say 2m members then
    2 000 000 divided by 5000 would give Unite 400 votes, at least. Unite would still have an overdominate position! Maybe that could be cut down to 40.

  6. Patrick Coates says:

    I have now received 2 large enverlopes from HQ asking to send a delegate to the meeting on the 1st March 2014.
    I have local elections to fight in May with 20 seats to find, this is a compleat waste of time and money, and will do the party no good at all.

  7. peter willsman says:

    The key decision on 1 March will be how the TUs affiliate to the Party.At the moment they collectively affiliate with members being allowed to opt out.This was the arrangement brought in by the Attlee Govt.and it is what Unite and the other unions want to retain.After the General Strike in 1927 the Tories vindictively attacked Labour by bringing in a law that made trade unionists have to individually affiliate by opting in.On 1 March the Party needs to make it clear that it is with Attlee and not the 1927 Tories!!!

  8. James Martin says:

    The LP was formed by the unions as their collective voice in parliament. If unions had wanted individual membership of a political party then they would have stayed with the Liberals then, or split en mass to the SDP traitors later.

    The problem we have now is too many in the Party with the same politics as the Liberals or SDP who are deliberately trying to remove organised labour – and the most transparent and democratic mass voluntary bodies in the country – from the party and therefore politics.

    Swatantra would clearly be happy with a UK version of the US Democrats where if unions are used at all it is simply to mobilise some votes for various right-wing candidates or to provide a bit of dosh. But policy influence and actually giving American workers a political voice? Forget it!

  9. RedShift says:

    “Dear Unite,
    Howabout two other red lines…
    1/. Workfare. Labour are going to continue this vile policy, which is an attack on ALL workers. Not only that, but they are also going to ramp the policy up…”

    This is mindless nonsense. Labour’s proposal is like The Future Jobs Fund but for all long-term unemployed, not just 18-24s. It is basically being given a paid temporary contract. I’d have killed for that when I was unemployed but the Tories axed the FJF.

    If you think that’s workfare, you don’t know what workfare is. Let me into a little secret – you don’t get paid for it!

  10. Patrick Coates says:

    Suggestion= Cancel the meeting on the Ist March. End of.

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