A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Defend the union link

If this report in today's Guardian is true, and Blair wants to use the review of party funding to sever the union link with Labour, I am aghast at the short-termism and stupidity.

I can understand that at the moment a number of General Secretaries are seen as destructive or unhelpful towards the government. But the answer to that is for the moderate majority in the unions to get organised and elect some new general secretaries with a less dinosaur attitude.

It isn't for Blair to turn the final months of his premiership into a fight he does not need to have, will probably lose and if he wins it will destroy the character of the Labour Party and ultimately weaken it.

The union link works. It gives a voice in Labour's policy making to millions of ordinary working class voters whose concerns are grounded in the realities and bread and butter issues of the workplace and who counterbalance the esoteric and sometimes extremist views of often middle class individual party members. It means that Labour's leaders are elected by a large, representative sample of those who actually vote for the Party. The only problem with the link is that it needs strengthening at a local level with far more trade unionists being encouraged to both join the Party as individual members and become union delegates to their constituency parties.

The link provides a constant conveyer belt from union activists of recruits to public office - councillors and MPs - virtually the only way in which ordinary working class people get to hold public office - if it didn't exist the PLP would be even more dominated by lawyers and other professionals and career politicians (before anyone fills the comments box, yes I know that I fall into the latter category - it doesn't stop me being objective about Labour's candidates needing to be representative).

In policy terms it is difficult to see how anyone could think that the Warwick Agreement reached with the affiliated unions was not a positive input to Labour's 2005 Manifesto, including important policies on workers' rights that might otherwise have not been committed to.

When the Labour Party hits hard times, the unions keep it going. When it tried to self destruct in the 1930s, '50s and '80s the unions were the voice of sanity and moderation.

We owe our existence as a party to the decision of the unions to set up the LRC with the Fabians and ILP, and to the work of individual trade unionists in setting up a CLP organisation on the ground.

Without the unions we are just A.N.Other centre-left political party like the Lib Dems, the SDP or the US Democrats - rootless, not embedded in the communities we represent, and liable to be blown away by the first political gale just like the Liberals were in the early years of the century and the SDP were at the end of the '80s.

I cannot think of more than a dozen Labour MPs who would back any move to sever the link.

This is not a left-right issue - most of my friends on the right of the party are passionate supporters of the union link.

I declare an interest - I'm an Amicus member, serve on my union's Regional Political Committee and am a union delegate to my local Labour Party.

If anyone in No10 is reading this, please tell me the Guardian report is inaccurate, and if it isn't please try to stop this crass act of political madness before it goes any further.


Anonymous HenryG said...

Totally agree with you Luke (I don't often). Just came across your article relating to my post at Labour Home.


This is not a straight-forward left-right issue as you say, but something that cuts to the heart of what Labour is about.

12:53 pm, December 12, 2006

Blogger parburypolitica said...

Here, here.

1:02 pm, December 12, 2006

Blogger John said...

indeed. Lots to lose and little to gain - Besides any importance of the link for our identity, we'll need the money if/when we're out of office - Tory funders will give no matter what, but we'll get poor quicker if we're no longer fashionable. Let's hope this report is just being a bit too sensationalist for it's own good.

Alternatively, let's just flip it over and suggest all parties have affiliated donations. The Countryside Alliance could hold political fund ballots of their members to donate to the Tories. Bingo, everyone's happy!

1:22 pm, December 12, 2006

Blogger Harry Perkins said...

Long live Luke the Red!

1:31 pm, December 12, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. I am also an amicus member and will be a union delegate to my CLP come Jan. When I was in USDAW and our working conditions were well below what they should have been they also sorted it out.

Agree with everything you said. And also Gen Secs are a bit awkward. None of them are particuarly dangerous. Just look at what UNISON achieved when they worked with Alan Johnson for their pensions. I think the motto is we are stronger together.

One thing I am worried about as an amicus member and a labour member is the merger. I think its goingt to put too much power in the hands of one gen sec. Tho industrially it is 100% the right thing to do.


2:44 pm, December 12, 2006

Blogger Harry Barnes said...

Well put. If you have time for a 6,000 word blog, then you might be willing to slog through (or gut) my latest post "100 Not Out - Labour in North East Derbyshire" which is mainly about the significance of the mainly Mining Trade Union link to Labour in this area. But much of the initial stuff has a wider application.

5:58 pm, December 12, 2006

Anonymous Miranda said...

Totally, totally and totally agree.

10:14 pm, December 12, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

Seems to be across-the-board unanimity on this matter (even though I may take some issue with you on one or two matters of history contained in your lengthy blog entry...) Good to read this here - I hope we see defences of the union link in blogs right across the spectrum of Labour Party views.

10:20 pm, December 12, 2006

Blogger Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Luke

The facts are much worse than you appear to imagine.

Peter Kenyon

9:09 am, December 13, 2006

Blogger daraka kenric said...

Hey Luke, great post. This is an ongoing, though less institutionally clear debate in the Democratic Party as well.

...but shouldn't you have seen it coming? Isn't this one of the mainstays of the "third way" approach in general?


9:44 pm, December 13, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

I trust we'll all be persuading any parliamentary colleagues of ours to sign EDM 487

11:02 pm, December 13, 2006

Blogger Harry Barnes said...

Daraka Kenric.

You are stop on.

Although "the third way" is in modern dress,it adopts the old
Lib-Lab/Social Liberal tactic (1874-1918) of trying to link the freedom for the market with secondary measures of social justice. The early Labour Party instead linked Trade union and labouring peoples'interests with democratic socialist advances. New Labour is ,therefore, driven to uncouple this old Labour Alliance to advance its own project.

11:28 am, December 14, 2006

Anonymous susan press calder valley said...

My MP,Chris McCafferty, has signed EDM 487.Has yours? E-mail now

1:15 pm, December 14, 2006

Anonymous John McTernan said...


Someone in No 10 is reading this and the Guardian report is totally untrue. I can do better than to give an account of what the Prime Minister said to the PLP Parliamentary Committee yesterday afternoon:

The Prime Minister attended the Parliamentary Committee where he was asked about Hayden Phillips Review of Party Funding. The PM made clear that he will do nothing that would break the link.

In the discussion he said that the party has some serious decisions to make about party funding. If the status quo remains then Lord Ashcroft's money will mean that the Labour Party will be massively outspent in key Labour seats at the next General Election. We need annual spending limits and local spending limits to be introduced if there is to be a level playing field at the next election.

The Tory Party want a cap on donations but they are resisting spending limits. Hayden Phillips needs to recognise that trade union funding is already highly regulated. He is proposing a model where trade unionists opt into paying the levy. That is completely unacceptable to the Labour Party.

3:07 pm, December 14, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

John, thanks for replying, and I'm reassured by your response.

3:50 pm, December 14, 2006

Anonymous Dave Green said...

Never a truer word said Luke. Unions exist to advance the interests of the voiceless and powerless by collective action; the Labour Party seeks to advance those interests through public policy. We wouldn't be the Labour Party without them. Keep the link!

11:46 pm, December 14, 2006

Anonymous Belfast Mickey said...

This is an excellent piece, but I wonder which general secretaries you think are dinosaurs. Go on...name names! Surely they have to represent the views of their members?

9:21 am, December 18, 2006


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