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What is the future of the Labour-union link?

CLPD logoAfter Collins, what of the future? Of the collective link between the Labour Party and the trade unions as organisations representing the organised working class? The composition of the implementation committee is quite encouraging, and its actions may avert our worst fears in the immediate future. For example, Labour Uncut have suggested that the implementation committee  might change the basis of the London mayoral primary, and any early leadership election so that union members can be fully involved. They, of course. wish to prevent that. So the battle continues to preserve effective union involvement in party decision-making.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the collective link may be on a slippery slope. For the first time since they set up the Labour Party, the trade unions face being slowly edged out. It is true that the unions have the power at the moment to prevent this happening, but it has often been the case in the past that when push comes to shove, some trade union leaders prefer to fight the next battle rather than the one they’re faced with.

In the consultation document, Ray Collins made it clear what is coming: “we need to consider how, once this new system is in place, we would address consequences for other structures in the party, such as the conference.” Alan Johnson also weighed in: “there is no earthly reason why affiliated unions should have 50% of the vote at conference“. On 5 February, the Guardian editorial gave “two cheers for democracy” but complained that it left “block vote system intact” and the “system of elections to the NEC unreformed“. The misnamed Progress had spelt it all out in their statement of 5 September:

the unions currently hold 50% of the vote on the conference floor. This is unsustainable. Instead, the union and CLP share should fall to one-third, with parliamentarians and councillors taking the final third. Finally, the electoral college, which elects Labour’s leader, should be scrapped. In its place, the party should adopt one member, one vote, with MPs shortlisting the candidates.”

There is also the matter of state funding. You do not have to have a crystal ball to predict that the party leadership will go for state funding once we have a Labour (or Lab-Lib) government. Watch for the reference in the manifesto if you don’t believe me. Rather than accept subs and donations from millions of hard-working levy-payers, they prefer to be ‘spongers on the state’. Accepting money from tax payers, many of whom are Tories, UKIP, BNP and worse, who would have no opportunity to opt in or opt out. Already trade union leaders, activists and members are demoralised. With one attack after another on their role in the party, the real danger is that trade unions will just walk away. Progress and certain Labour Uncut bloggers will have got what they seem to want. An SDP Mark II.

We must not let this reactionary situation develop. To preserve their political voice, trade unions cannot afford to be passive and reactive. We have to find a way to change the whole basis of the relationship between the unions as organisations and the party. A relationship where the unions are proactive, and are properly in the driving seat alongside the party leadership. We will be discussing this key issue at the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy AGM at 11:30 – 4:30pm on 29 March at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1. Watch this space


  1. Robert says:

    The real issue of course is that labour these days would be better off with state funding and it would love to have it and will, I’ve no doubt.

    Today we have a number of Unions which back the Progress group and would jump at becoming the main backers of the labour Right wing Blair-ite group.

    So what is in it for the Unions we pay Miliband money he spends it he gets elected he then tells the Unions your not getting sod all from us, then the few at the top will move to some committee get a few £100,000 and we are the bottom are left to fend for our selves.

    Is it not time the Union started to back MP’s who back the Unions not the party it’s obvious to a blind person labour is now a Tory Lite party not a socialist party for god sake Miliband and ball’s two people who have hardly spent to much time in a Union, Miliband the poor thing even stated his MP’s should cross picket lines.

    New labour is not dead it’s alive with a bloke in charge who has never had a job, never worked.

  2. Mr jeffrey l davies says:

    Tory Lite party correct tony blair done so much damage another thatcher lover but labour the way they are going is going to see the unions putting their own men up once again if ed doesn’t change his stance whot tickles me is the torys using unions to beat labour with when labour only got say is whose paying your way or whot bed you sleeping in meaning star bucks mc d and the like seem to run us through the tory party yes labour gots the weapons but doesn’t use them against jeff3

  3. Peter Willsman says:

    Robert,it is not true that there are “unions” that back the misnomer organisation,Progress.A few unions do have “moderate” leaderships that are soft on the hard right Labour First,the origins of which go back to Frank Chapple(Luke Akehurst is the current secretary of LF).But LF is different to Progress,which is Blairite and neo liberal and can not be regarded as part of the Labour Movement.In fact most of them would regard it as a badge of honour not to be seen as part of the Movement.They are really in the wrong party,the SDP(or further right) is their party.That is why they want PR,so they can work with the hostile media to split our Party.

    1. Rod says:

      Peter –
      Doesn’t USDAW back Progress? USDAW undertakes joint campaigning with Progress (Campaign for a Labour Majority) and USDAW general secretary John Hannnett speaks at Progress events. Also, USDAW backed David Miliband in the LP leadership contest.

  4. John reid says:

    Labour first hard right, lol, labour first, backed Ed miliband for leader,all are union affiliated, want the up in ,labour link, most of those people were loyal to Neil Kinnock, it’s the first time I’ve heard Kinnock called hard right, I didn’t know progress supported Par, as for progress, not supporting labour, a Ken Livingstone didn’t support labour in 2000′ 2001 ,backed Lufthurrahman, and ousted Andrew Mackintosh, ,I’d look closer to home for those who don’t support labour, if you have to come out with such tosh, it’s shows you’ve no real argument, for your campaign for the NEC,

    Who re these progress people who regard not. Being part of labour as a badge of honour.

  5. Mr jeffrey l davies says:

    I’ve heard Kinnock called hard right, he was a lefty only to later join that majic roundabout in Brussels raking in the cash

  6. Robert says:

    Labour Progress you mean I tired of all the bull about labour being socialist and if Miliband is a socialist god help us all

  7. John reid says:

    When Akehurst and co were backing Kinnock, circa 1987′ when the GLC were proposing and winning things like getting rid of the army and scrapping the police

  8. swatantra says:

    I like the idea of State Funding. That way any Union Money would be put to the benefit of Union Members and Voluntary Groups and Charities and not into the coffers of a Political Party.

  9. peter willsman says:

    Rod,I was on the NEC with John Hannett,he is not a Blairite.All sorts of people speak at Progress meetings and at Campaign for a Labour Majority,it does not follow that they are all Blairites.You need more evidence than that!!!

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