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If Chuka Umunna shows contempt for unions, who’ll represent the interests of Labour?

Neil & UmunnaYesterday on Andrew Neil’s Sunday Politics (viewable for  just 6 days), in response to the suggestion that union influence was not really being cut, Chuka Umunna demonstrated little understanding of (and even less respect for) the collective decision-making structures of trade unions. Whilst claiming to “show some respect to individual trade union members“, he showed contempt for the leaders they elect, for the policies and aspirations of their unions, for the very idea of collective representation and action and most especially for the notion that they might collectively have any influence over the Labour Party, in spite of the fact that they will, collectively, retain just about 50% of the votes at Labour’s conference

Those of us who have always opposed Ed Miliband’s proposal to switch to opt-in, always argued that cutting affiliation levels and then expecting much larger sums to be given as donations would be a hostage to fortune. Yesterday, Andrew Neil predictably argued that the effect of these changes was that the unions would continue to raise money for the Labour Party, but, since affiliation fees would ultimately be reduced, they would provide finance in the run up to an election only if they liked the policies, Chuka Umunna insisted Labour’s policies would not be swayed by the unions’ financial clout:

Well, they won’t ‘have us’, as you put it, but let’s show some respect to individual trade union members. The idea that individual trade union members don’t have their own view and have their own voice and just, say, do what their general secretaries do is completely absurd. They will decide what they want to do and make their own decision and the idea is we want them to make that and not let the leadership of the trade unions decide for them.”

In relation to manifesto commitments, he chose to rubbish the policies of Unite in particular:

Let me go to the money. I mean, first of all, the Labour party manifesto will be an offer that reflect the broad interests of Britain, of the British public. Now, the idea that somehow, you know, people can say ‘well, we’re not going to give you this kind of money unless you do this and that’, we will come up with a policy agenda which is appropriate for the British people, regardless of what, you know, implications that may have financially.

They [unions] won’t be the determining factor on policy. Let me just give you an example – let’s look at Unite, for example, Unite’s advocating a 75% rate of income tax, there is no way we will have that in our manifesto. Unite are advocating taking back in-house PFI contracts on a no-compensation basis, there’s absolutely no way we would agree to that.

Unite are proposing that we unilaterally, say, adopt a Financial Transactions Tax, there is no way we will do that. We will come up with an agenda that is appropriate for the British people.”

Presumably, had Chukka Umunna been able to influence the Trade Union Congress of 1898, he would have urged rejection of the very idea of “securing a better representation of the interests of Labour in the House of Commons” as being contrary to the interests of One Nation.



  1. Jon Lansman says:

    I am reminded by Wigan postal worker of 31 years, Andrew Egan, that it isn’t just trade union democratic processes that Chuka has contempt for.

    This was the Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Business who, when Labour Party conference voted unanimously against Royal Mail privatisation, and for the next Labour government to bring it back into public ownership, immediately briefed journalists privately that he would ignore it and publicy repudiated it no sooner than the conference was over.

  2. peter willsman says:

    What I want to know is what would “Paul” make of CU’s anti union comments?.Has anyone yet made contact with “Paul” and had a hands laying -on ceremony?.We need the”Thoughts of St.Paul” published, so we can hand them to new disciples,sorry I meant new members.

  3. Rod says:

    “he showed contempt for … for the very idea of collective representation and action”

    Well, what did you expect from the One Nation version of New Labour? Miliband and the rest of the elite displayed their contempt for trade unionism at Falkirk.

    But the time for nostalgia and hand-wringing has long since passed. Now is the time to stop campaigning and voting for Miliband’s Progress Party.

  4. John Reid says:

    Rod one nation isn’t New Labour, as for the interview, o.k I can see how you’ve taken Chukas words ,to come to that view,but ididnt take that view when I heard the interview,

    In fact if a union didn’t fund labour or any other left wing organisation I wouldn’t say that political party wasn’t pro unions,

    All he said was union money wouldn’t sway policy

  5. James Martin says:

    His offensive comments should be shoved back in his face – let’s “show some respect” to individual LP members so that we have our own voice for once and not let the leadership of the LP decide for us.

    There again, I couldn’t ever imagine wanting to talk to the posh yuppie toss-pot myself, too much of the B-liar about him if you ask me…

  6. swatantra says:

    Labour is the only Party that will respect the interests of labour. Chuka probably thought that presentating a 75% tax to the electorate would be difficult. Similrly selling a FTT to a sceptical electorate would be difficult if we can’t even do tx dodgers on simple evasion, and also reneging on PFI is difficult in Law. All 3 measures are credit worthy and should be intriduced in a very subtle way and not the sledge hammer used by the Unions. There are more ways of skinning a cat Horatio.

  7. Rod says:

    John Reid: “one nation isn’t New Labour”

    I suppose you have a point. Unlike Blair’s New Labour before the ’97 election:

    Miliband’s One Nation Labour doesn’t conceal its enthusiasm for military invention.

    One Nation Labour openly displays its contempt for trade unions.

    One Nation Labour fails to provide a message of optimism to the electorate.

    Yes, there is a difference. One Nation Labour is more honest than New Labour.

  8. John reid says:

    Rod that’s a bit unfair on trade unions

  9. ray davison says:

    Well we cannot rely on Ed; he thinks Thatcher was a clear thinker and parents should boss headteachers and senior management teams. What a strategist: the votes will flood in (oops).

  10. John reid says:

    Ray, isn’t that what parent teacher assocs ,do, telling teachers about running achools

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