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.

Monday, June 09, 2008

A misguided decision by the GMB

With all respect to my friend Iain McNichol who is their National Political Officer, I thought the GMB's decision today to withdraw funding from, as they seem to have put it, six Labour MPs, was churlish and misguided.

The six MPs are Meg Munn, junior minister at the Foreign Office and MP for Sheffield Heeley, Stephen Ladywood, MP for Thanet South and vice-chairman of the Labour party, and four parliamentary private secretaries to government ministers: Christine Russell, MP for Chester, Roberta Blackman-Woods (Durham), Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead East), and Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West).

They are all Ministers and PPSs so they all have the same reason why they are "not doing enough to support its preferred policies" - they are part of the Government, not backbenchers, so cannot pursue issues in the way that backbenchers can and would have to resign their positions if they want to break the whip to support a GMB position.

The more pertinent point is that there has been no such thing as the GMB sponsoring an MP for at least a decade, since that system was abolished and replaced by one less open to accusations of outside interests controlling MPs. What the GMB actually has is a series of "Constituency Plan Agreements" with Constituency Labour Parties. The deal here is that they and other unions give some cash (often not a lot) in return for the CLP encouraging GMB branches and members to get active in the party, recruiting GMB members to party membership, working on joint campaigns on the issues GMB cares about etc. It would actually be of questionable legality and a breach of parliamentary privilege for this to be presented as a deal that somehow mandated the MP to push particular policies. Having a Constituency Plan Agreement is not necessarily a precondition of an MP being a member of a union's parliamentary group. In fact an MP could be a member of a union, and of its parliamentary group, and vigorously campaign for its policy priorities without having any funding for their CLP through a Constituency Plan Agreement. The media and public might rightly suspect the buying of votes with donations if there was an explicit linkage.

So the victims of today's decisions are not the six MPs who had little choice any way about which way they vote given the offices they hold, but the members and activists of six probably blameless CLPs. A couple of them are in areas where the historic links between the GMB and Labour go back nearly a century. Three of the six are knife-edge marginals where the withdrawal of funding can only hurt Labour's chances of holding the seats, and risk local GMB members ending up with Tory or Lib Dem MPs hostile to trade unions.

The GMB would do better to make sure every one of its Constituency Plan Agreements is implemented, not scrap some of them.

It ought to be working to strengthen the Labour/union link at the grassroots by sending more delegates to CLP GCs and increasing joint campaigning, not issuing threats that the people on the receiving end have no power to respond to.

I write this in some sorrow as someone whose great-grandfather helped set up both his Boilermakers' Union and Labour Party branches in the '20s, at a time when the idea of a union voluntarily distancing itself from local Labour Parties would have been unthinkable.


Blogger ian said...

Hi Luke

I think the GMB decision is perfectly understandable. While I feel sorry for the CLPs who are losing out, their argument should be with our Labour Government who are subjecting GMB members to wage cuts and privatisation.

Like you Luke, many of my grandparents where in Labour affiliated unions including the GMB. I think they would be agreeing with the GMB decision today like your grandparents would.



6:54 pm, June 09, 2008

Anonymous Andy said...

Presumably, the GMB feels that it's members interests will be best served by having a Tory MP in Chester? I can't see why else they would do something like this unless they are ignorant, short-sighted, grandstanding idiots.....

7:28 pm, June 09, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

I think it's unfortunate, understandable, probably not a quick or easy decision and vastly preferable to disaffiliation.

There is a lot of internal pressure to disaffiliate at the moment - in a number of unions, and the sight of money apparently going to MPs (though of course you're right about the new system) who regularly vote against the union's policies is a red rag to an increasingly angry bull.

Andy's point is far too simplistic.

It would be in everybody's interests to be building bridges right now, rather than using that sort of language.

7:42 pm, June 09, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny things Unions, here in Old South Wales we have had a couple of unions saying they will only affiliate if the CLP adopts, lock stock and barrel, the unions pet policies.

Needless to say the roar that went round the CLP was "NO" not because of the policies but because that sort of "Blackmail" is best left to Ashcroft.


8:25 pm, June 09, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

"Needless to say the roar that went round the CLP was "NO" not because of the policies but because that sort of "Blackmail" is best left to Ashcroft."

I totally disagree. I think that the solution to Ashcrofts bribing of the tories (and he is a figurehead for a much more widespread practice among business people) should be met by workers' bribing of Labour.

Where I disagree is that I think they should bribe it well. THis is the least welcome time for unions to be acting like this.

8:51 pm, June 09, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, Luke: how terrible it is that trades unions might dare to think that in return for their loyalty to the Labour Party and movement, they might expect the MPs and CLPs they sponsor to, say, want to revise Thatcher's anti-union laws, or that they might even suggest these things to the Great Helmsman.

They should just shut up and be thankful today's Thatcherites in Government wear red rosettes and gladly take their cash, rather than wearing blue rosettes, eh?

Your commenters may call it blackmail but if the party that was set up to represent unionised labour wants (and we know it does, the cash isn't coming from the membership) unionised labour's support and money, it'll have to do some of that representing lark, won't it?

9:25 pm, June 09, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...


The GMB still have constituency development plans with other MPs who are part of the government. So it is not about how these MPs voted.

I'd guess it is more about how these MPs have treated the GMB when they have sought to raise issues with them. Some MPs treat unions with respect and some take us for granted.

I've dealt with a number of government ministers on trade union issues and many have been polite, respectful and took up our issues. We didn't always get what we wanted but we knew these MPs had tried for us. That's all that is expected.

9:32 pm, June 09, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

I don't think you are listening to what the GMB are saying, Luke.

I think that if the unions are going to put large amounts of money into the Labour party, it is only reasonable that they feel that the money is well spent and that it can be justified to their members.

Clearly, the GMB no longer think this is the case.

The union link has its problems, and of course, 'control by the unions' is one of them. However, if they are to spend their money, it is only reasonable that they should have some sort of say!

It just isn't good enough to say 'because the Tories will be worse, you must continue to support the Government" when it is doing things we don't agree with.

Perhaps the Government might try thinking about why this has happened .

9:36 pm, June 09, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Maybe the unions could start being a bit more representative of their members - who are ordinary middle of the road voters - rather than their leftwing activists.

Very few ordinary union members want the repeal of what you describe as "Thatcher's anti-union laws" - why would an ordinary union member want to lose their right to be balloted before strike action or see a return to syndicalist tactics like secondary picketing.

The biggest problem with most unions at the moment is that their leadership are either unreconstructed old lefties totally out of touch with the realities of modern working life or so weak that they pretend to be left in order to appease the small number of hard left activists who infest their conferences and committees.

Labour should be telling the unions to change their policies and personnel, not the other way round.

9:43 pm, June 09, 2008

Anonymous Ex GMB member said...

The GMB is a vial organisation that has some appalling employees like Mr Kenny who treat everyone in the Labour Party with a brush the size of a double decker bus.

You cant have a dialogue with people like this. Time and again he and his cronies have campaigned against the Labour Party, or the Co-operative movement as if each member is liable for every single action of every other member.

I wonder who he and the other GMB stooges will blame when the Union is bankrupt.

By the way who is doing the sweep stake of when they will????

12:10 am, June 10, 2008

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Luke, you make a whole swathe of informed procedural points, but absolutely no political ones. Are you going to acknowledge that there's a hell of a lot of disillusionment among ordinary union members about the way our government is treating them? This isn't coming from mad Trots demanding the nationalisation of the top 250 monopolies, but from people saying, "Hang on, if my subs are funding this lot, what are they going on, and why?" It's coming from people who are having real-terms pay cuts, dogmatic and inefficient privatisations etc imposed on them.

And as for out of touch leftie leaders, well you can always vote them out. Trade unions, unlike our party, still have contested leadership elections. I would of course be very interested to see how someone running on a hard-Blairite ticket would get on in a union election in the current climate...

12:24 am, June 10, 2008

Anonymous observer's friend said...

Currently the biggest threat to the welfare of the poorest members of our society is not - funnily enough - the low wage level for GMB members, but inflation (which most severely hits people on welfare benefits, pensions and fixed incomes).

I'd like to think GMB members would show solidarity with the poorest members of society and help fight inflation - but suspect they will just grab what they can for their own. What do you think?

4:05 am, June 10, 2008

Blogger Robert said...

I'm a GMB member who lost the use of his legs in an accident in 1990, then had an emergency operation and caught MRSA, getting over this I had to have another operation to put right the affects of the MRSA and guess what, caught MRSA again in the spinal cord.

Since Labour has come to power my benefits which I live on have gone up slower and lower then at any other time since the Welfare state started. This year was the biggest rise we have had under Labour due to inflation, it went up £2.75 a week, except of course my council tax and rent went up £4.96.

I know people think my god benefits I bet you get a free car well in fact I get £125 a week, and because it's not means tested I pay full rent and council tax.

I think watching MP's feeding from the Union trough and the problems with expenses I think Union money should go to Union people and not be fed to the pigs who are enjoying my union dues.

They can either work with the Union or find another trough to feed from.

8:49 am, June 10, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:25 am, June 10, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

The very reason the Labour Party exists was to form parliamentary representation for the unions.

I agree with Dunc, Ian, Mike and with all the points e10 rifle made on this one. It is sad, yet understandable for the GMB to cut funding on grounds their views are not heard, as Harold Wilson once said "You don't kick your creditors in the balls".

With regard to union dues being used to finance the party that is untrue, at least I hope it is. Not all trade unionists are Labour people. In my union I know we are a right mix. This is why affiliated unions have a political levy, which as a Labour Party member I(voluntarily) pay. It is this money that is used to finance the party, unless anyone knows any different.

9:29 am, June 10, 2008

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

Needless to say I disagree with the substance of Luke's posting for the same reasons as many above, but two quick points anyway.

It ought to be working to strengthen the Labour/union link at the grassroots by sending more delegates to CLP GCs and increasing joint campaigning

I agree with this and, as I recall, that is what Paul Kenny announced the GMB would be encouraging its members to do across the country.

I'd like to think GMB members would show solidarity with the poorest members of society and help fight inflation

What makes you think GMB members aren't among the poorest members of society? A large proportion of our members are on low incomes, and many are retired (we have an active Retired Members' Branch in London Region which is affiliated to the LRC). I presume that observer's friend is one of the half a dozen people in the country who think that holding down public sector wages way below RPI will keep down inflation.

9:40 am, June 10, 2008

Anonymous tim f said...

This seems an over-reaction from Luke.

TU's are there to represent their member's interests first and foremost. They're not the industrial wing of the Labour Party. Yes, I believe it's in most of their members' interests to get a Labour government elected, but it affects their interests what that government do, too. Surely that's a no-brainer?

The article says that the overall level of funding will not be cut, so if MPs and local parties want a slice of it then they will have to offer a two-way relationship, rather than Labour "telling the unions to change their policies and personnel".

By doing this the GMB have excused disallowing the disaffiliation motion, bought off some of the discontent within the union, kept the level of funding the same and started to play hardball at the right point in the electoral cycle (ie two years before an election & just as the NPF process is reaching a crucial stage, not immediately before elections).

All the stuff about trying to buy votes is smoke and mirrors and disgusting from someone who has previously come out against proposed reforms limiting trade union funding. This action is not buying votes, it is a TU putting it's money where it thinks it does the most good. That's its perogative.

10:09 am, June 10, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Sorry, but they are "the industrial wing of the Labour Party." That's why they get 50% of the vote at our conference, 12 seats on our NEC, etc. etc.

10:31 am, June 10, 2008

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

The causes of inflation at the moment aren't public sector pay demands, FFS. Only someone as obsessed with living in 1979 or 1997 (ie most Blairites) seriously argues that - try looking at the causes of house-price inflation (until recently), world food prices etc before aiming a predictable kick at the low paid.

The trouble with Luke's view of the union-Labour link - and I completely share his belief in its importance - is that while some see its purpose as to influence the government on behalf of union members, he sees it as to control union members on behalf of the government.

Even some of us lefties are now being attacked from the left by people who are basically unpolitical and uncommitted over the maintenance of the union link. It'd be nice if the government at least made the job of defending the link that much easier than it is now.

10:34 am, June 10, 2008

Anonymous tim f said...

ok. So as not to drag this argument into tedium, I'll rephrase.

They're not ONLY the industrial wing of the Labour Party.

10:35 am, June 10, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been a GMB member for 7 years and was previously in UNISON and NUPE. I served as Branch secretary for 4 years held many other posts including regional level; and was a shop steward for 15 years. By contrast the GMB has hardly any democratic structure. I am invited to at most 1 meeting a year and have no note of my views taken by this ridiculous national rubbish. In my experience several of the lay officials are associated with parties to the left of Labour and are pursuig their own agenda. This makes me so sad as it feels just like the winter of discontent arguments in 1978.

I am a LP meember in Steve ladyman's constituency ad he has always supported TU issues I have raised with him, most recently on equal rights for temporary workers. he also been involved with campaigns on health and safety ad is an excellent hard working MP. This is really a Kangaroo court by the GMB, can they produce a single member who agrees with them here in S. Thanet. I know dozens of trade unionists who would say that who whoever produced this "recommendation" should be disciplined for gross and malicious incompetence. Go on GMB publish your evidence (dodgy dossier) so it can be publically rebutted.
Mark N

12:13 pm, June 10, 2008

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

I nearly spat tea all over the keyboard after reading anonymous's description of the GMB as being run by Trots with "their own agendas". While anonymous makes several very true points about the GMB's internal structures, the idea that this latest development is the result of some shady "parties to the left of Labour" (shocking as it is that members might dare to elect officials who are not LP members) is utter crap.

The GMB is not a beacon of democracy, but the beneficiaries of that have always been the right-wing of the union and those loyal to the Labour leadership. Just look back through the history of the GMW and see the role it and its successors have played through the years.

Make no mistake, this decision by the GMB leadership - and I have no idea how they came up with the names either but some of us have form for fighting for democracy in the GMB - is a result of pressure from thousands of members who are fed up with such a large yet supine GMB group in Parliament.

Whether or not there are a few reds under the bed as anonymous implies (and in my experience the GMB has remarkably few far-lefts) they have not driven this latest project nor implemented it. The GMB leadership is about as Labour loyal as you will find anywhere but they now are beginning to take some steps to distance themselves in order to retain the support of the membership.

12:29 pm, June 10, 2008

Blogger John Wiseman said...

It is clear that the GMB has done the right thing. Unite have withdrawn support from at least 20 MPS and I agree as the new controller of our CDP in St Helens that this has been a hard decision. To his credit Shaun Woodward MP has started doing work for pensioners locally, but he could do more, but he still has the unions support. We regulate the amount of money we give from £500 to £2000 depending on how much is done in the constituency. Shaun has done the basic, but other MPS earn £2000. I support the decision as it will make MPs more accountable to their members ans unions.

John Wiseman
TULO St Helens South and Whiston CLP

3:07 pm, June 10, 2008

Blogger Chris Paul said...

Paul Kenny should start by cutting the wages of any GMB delegate that doesn't toe the Union line in a selection, the NEC, or NPF. At the moment they suck up to LPHQ. More.

7:03 pm, June 10, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

Luke are you listening yet, I did warn you about this about a month ago. Are you also wondering where I'm getting my information from?

Let me be very blunt, I've recently signed several legal documents that will end the payments from our union to the Labour party. The decision was made by members and not board.

The Labour party is not backing working people. Only tonight the union representing underpaid Shell truck drivers has been attacked by Brown for their legal and balloted action. What on earth do you expect working people to do. No one is listening so a strike is the last option.

You talk about the loyalty but where is the loyalty from our Labour party. We are the largest lobby group for the Labour party and expect our views to be represented.

Labour are truly finished.

7:40 pm, June 10, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Luke, I think you're argument is problematic if you believe that strike ballots represent members but that elections do not.

Surely you either believe that democracy is appropriate and effective, or you do not?

I see both strike ballots and union leadership ballots as essentially fair play.

"Labour should be telling the unions to change their policies and personnel, not the other way round."

This, coming from someone who the other day had a popshot at Compass for having 'no organic roots in the working class'.

In Luke's Soviet Russia, working class has roots in Victoria Street.

9:53 pm, June 10, 2008

Blogger Jack Ray said...

given that it's a fairly long time since a majority of trade union members voted Labour (I believe it was last true back in the 70s dark ages, go figure...), surely "representing their members" would entail disaffiliation? I submit to you that it is in fact the "leftie activists" that are voting to keep the levy!

9:47 am, June 11, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

when are the GMB going to admit that some of these MPs' constituencies haven't received any money from them for years and others get really small amounts. Great gestures politics!

6:18 pm, June 15, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/08Bullying Could you please sign my petition and pass it on? I worked for Liverpool City Council for over 20 years and had to resign due to Bullying and Oppressive behaviour by management. I have launched a campaign for a change in the law in relation to workplace bullying investigations.
http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/08Bullying/ . When you complete the petition - it will email you a link which you have to click to actually have your name added to the list. Please do remember to check your spam folder if your email doesn't appear and make sure your name is on the list!

8:00 pm, July 21, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have started a new petition to Stop Bullying in The Workplace. It's Called 09Bullying could please sign it and pass it on to the members? http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/09Bullying/ When you complete the petition - it will email you a link which you have to click to actually have your name added to the list. Please do remember to check your spam folder if your email doesn't appear and make sure your name is on the list!

40% of UK organisations still do not have an effective policy
on bullying. Introduce legislation that makes it compulsory
that all workplaces have an effective policy on bullying. All
organisations will submit a report on how many staff have
submitted grievances or complained of bullying to the local
newspapers who will report the bullying figures. Reports
repeatedly reveal that between 10-50% of employees experience
bullying which prevents them from fulfilling their duties. The
absence of legislation on bullying at work leaves both
employees and employers unprotected. Bullying is the cause of
underperformance, not the solution. Stress is now the number
one cause of sickness absence; bullying is a major cause of
stress. The cost of bullying to industry and taxpayers is
estimated to at least £12 billion annually. The cost of
conflict in the workplace could be in excess of £20-30 billion
annually. This is equivalent to a hidden tax burden of over
£1000 per working adult per year. Protect the worker - change the law.



11:46 am, March 06, 2009


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