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, March 16, 2010

Shock, horror! Labour linked to unions!

As red scares go, the new Tory publication claimed Unite is Labour's "new militant tendency" doesn't quite rank with the Zinoviev Letter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinoviev_letter).

You can read the Tory dossier here: http://www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2010/03/~/media/Files/Downloadable%20Files/newmilitanttendency.ashx

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Labour and trade union politics is likely to find it laughable.

The revelation that the country's largest trade union has quite a bit of political influence inside the Labour Party is hardly shocking. Perhaps the biggest clue is in the name of the party: "Labour". Kind of suggests a party aimed at representing working people rather than plutocrats, doesn't it? And what are the other organisations that represent working people industrially and politically - that would be the trade unions. They set up the Labour Party (as the Labour Representation Committee) in 1900 when it became clear the Liberals were not interested in advancing the interests of ordinary working people.

It's also hardly a secret relationship. Unite's share of the vote in electing Labour's leader is a matter of public fact. So are its donations. So are the NEC members, MPs and PPCs who are members of it. Most of them proudly state their membership on their election addresses. Unite's policy submissions to Labour's manifesto are made transparently all in their own name, and argued for publicly. It's hardly comparable to the complex network of front companies like Bearwood Corporate Services and the Midlands Industrial Council which channel big corporate money to the Tory Party in return for who knows what.

Labour should be very proud that democratic organisations consisting of millions of ordinary citizens repeatedly decide to formally affiliate to it, fund it and campaign for it. Where and who are the equivalent mass-membership NGOs and civic society organisations that transparently affiliate to and fund the Tories? Their funding comes from the few, not the many.

A few specific points about the Tory dossier:
  • Casual use of the phrase "militant tendency" is a smear. Militant Tendency was a Trotskyist revolutionary group. Unite may be marginally to the left of the Labour leadership, but it is led by democratic socialists.
  • Unite itself doesn't seem to share the view that it has a massive influence over government policy. If it did, how is Brown and Adonis' intervention in the BA dispute explained?
  • The number of CLPs supported by Unite financially merely reflects its relative size as a product of a series of mergers. It's the biggest union so of course it has the most CLP constituency plan agreements and the most MPs and PPCs who are members. All Labour PPCs are supposed to be members of a trade union and Unite is now the union almost everyone in the private sector is eligible to join. It's hardly sinister. What would be sinister would be if a tiny organisation, with a handful of members, had a disproportionate number of MPs or PPCs.
  • Perhaps it's unsurprising that Unite is funding Labour's re-election when the tone of this document indicates Tory hostility to the union and their policies would see many of the union's members lose their jobs and the public services they rely on. Kinda comparably shocking to the fox-hunting lobby making donations to Tory campaigns really.
  • Charlie Whelan comes across as rather benign given a central Tory allegation is that he stopped "MPs joining the Hoon-Hewitt attack on Brown". What a scoundrel! And he is is "regularly attending meetings in Downing Street, Parliament and Labour HQ". Clearly the behaviour of a revolutionary subversive!
  • The funding of CLPs listed by the Tories is derisively small compared to the tens of thousands of pounds Ashcroft has bunged to some Tory associations. The dossier lists an average spend by Unite of just over £3k per constituency. You might be lucky to get half a leaflet to all households with that. I'm not being ungrateful but the average CLP is quite spiky and independent and won't be bought for the sort of sums of money you could raise at a well-run quiz night or barBQ.
  • The sums given to cabinet ministers are also laughably small. We are led to believe Cabinet Ministers can be bribed by Charlie Whelan with mega-bucks donations like ... £277.38 to John Denham. I'm sure it will be the 38p that will really decide Denham's position on future local government pay rounds. The two seats held by Cabinet members that have had the most money are merely the ones the Tories are fighting hardest.
  • The section about what Unite has done to help Labour's campaign is pretty much consistent with what you would expect the largest affiliate to a political party to do when that party was trying to win an election. Do the Tories find the identical activity and funding of the Democrats by major US unions equally worrying? That would seem strange given their efforts to identify themselves with Obama.
  • Apparently one of Whelan's crimes is quoting on Twitter things Brown has said that he agrees with. Is this really the best intel of a rising tide of syndicalism the Tories can come up with? And "Two ‘tweetPhotos’ recently posted by Whelan show how he has been visiting Parliament"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If the Political Director of any major organisation hadn't been "visiting Parliament" they should be sacked. Oh, and on the next page we learn he briefed against Tony Blair. Hold the front page!
  • The list of MPs with CLPs funded by Unite rather gives the lie to the accusations it is a new "militant tendency". There's some real old-school ultra-leftists listed there, like err... Margaret Hodge, Bob Ainsworth, Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown, John Spellar, Tom Watson, Charles Clarke, Alan Johnson. And if that lot aren't red enough in tooth and claw to scare you, look at the "militant" PPCs Unite is backing: Rachel Reeves, Andrew Pakes, Stella Creasy. A list that makes Stalin's politburo look like the SDP's Gang of Four. Or perhaps not.

What a load of old cobblers.

Did anyone tell Richard Balfe, the former MEP and turncoat, who has spent the last couple of years as David Cameron's envoy to the union movement? Yet another piece of mock-triangulation and pretend movement to the centre ground exposed.

The mask has now slipped and we know it's the same old union-bashing Tories - hating unions because they represent an organised way for working people to secure better pay and conditions and thus are inimical to the class interests of people like Cameron and Osborne.


Blogger Jimmy said...

I liked Iain Dale's take on this:

"Perhaps Labour should consider changing its name."

3:49 pm, March 16, 2010

Blogger Jon said...

nice work luke. the guardian's 'in figures' was pretty scandalous as well...

8:55 pm, March 16, 2010

Anonymous Rich said...

No link between between unite and the labour party apart from funding. If anything unite has openly attacked the labour government over it's stance on workers rights and numerous strikes.

You are right though the torys are very anti union and very non worker friendly.

9:13 pm, March 16, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

I wouldn't object to Labour's financial links with the unions being loosened as long as there were strict limits on possible expenditure for all parties

10:59 pm, March 16, 2010

Blogger Guido Fawkes said...

Militant tendency is not an ideological term. The Blairites were a militant tendency, most parties have a militant tendency.

12:35 am, March 17, 2010

Blogger Jimmy said...

"Militant tendency is not an ideological term."

Of course not. It was just a newspaper.

3:04 am, March 17, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are strict limits on possible expenditure for all parties.

I don't really understand why the parties fight one another on funding - neither party can withstand more than 10 seconds scrutiny on this issue.

Labour lie, defame and confuse private funding of the tories. The tories respond on a like for like basis.

And the electorate? Probably and wisely doing something else wondering why political leaders aren't doing something better with their time.

10:07 am, March 17, 2010

Blogger opus said...

can you tell us why £4m of taxpayers money has been given to Unite in 2006-07 according to todays Gauardian in respect of the Union Modernisation Fund?
Unite has given £11m to the Labour Party in the same period (once again according to todays Guardian).
If Unite wants to modernise why should the tax payer foot the bill?

11:21 am, March 17, 2010

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Good post Luke. I know we disagree on the minutiae of internal union and Labour politics, but at least you know what you're talking about.

Which puts you in a different position from most of the people covering this in mainstream media - but then that's what happens when you sack all your industrial correspondents. The level of ignorant hateful stupidity emanating from the Tories and their hysterical media/blogger chums is a wonder to behold. But it's a useful reminder that they remain the party of mean-spirited class war, declared by and for the privileged.

12:09 pm, March 17, 2010

Blogger Rational Thinker said...

To be honest, Labour would be wise to remove it's financial dependence on the Trade Unions, because trade union's are not the only progressive movements in this country. The Unions deserve more respect than they get from the cynical arch-Blairites, but nonetheless, over-dependence on stop Labour from being dynamic and changing with the world, particularly rising aspirations for autonomy and control in relation to the welfare state.

Not all progressives oppose every public service reform tooth and claw. labour needs to galvanize an increasingly pluralistic, dynamic and decentralized civil society, compared to the rigid corporatist civil society of the past.

2:15 pm, March 17, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone know why taxpayers money is being passed to Unite by this government,for them to pass it back to the Labour party?

11:18 pm, March 17, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous - BOTH the major parties are slinging mud and the records of both parties are poor.
I'd like to make a point about trade unions - they do not represent the interests 'working people' as the majority of 'working people' - like myself - are not members of a trade union. Moreover, what about the millions of non-working people who's interests they don't represent? I merely point out that, as an interest group, the trade unions are no more or less legitimate as a source of funding than wealthy individuals or employers associations. The benefit of mere numbers - 1 million compared to 1,000 - does not confer any special difference. Trade Unions are an interest group looking after minority interests like any other interest group, they have vested interests in certain sorts of government behaviour - e.g. preserving the jobs of their members over and above the wider good of the rest of the country as a whole and ignoring any costs such activity might impose.
Of course, most members of trade unions are public sector workers (or ex-nationalised industries like BA) and have a vested interest in preserving jobs and pay in the public sector - regardless of the costs this imposes upon the rest of society. Not surprisingly, as most of these vote Labour, Labour has an interest in securing its vote and the interests of those who help fund it - the trade unions - by preserving public sector jobs. I'm not mentioning Conservative vested interests, no doubt they are many, but just because Labour vested interests are of a large group, does not mean they are more valid, because they do not represent the interests of the country as a whole. Labour - and the Trade Unions who formed the party as you rightly point out - protect some producer interests (a limited group) over and above those of consumers (everyone). You point to the absence of 'civil society' or NGO groups supporting the Tories, but I suggest you ignore the obvious point that groups representing consumers as a whole do not exist because that would entail the membership of everyone! Again, I make the point, why should you put the special interests of any group - be it Unite, or any Union - over the interests of those who can't easily represent themselves in this organised way? The logical answer, of course, is to eliminate most of apparatus of the state to such a degree that it is practically unable to discriminate and favour certain vested interests, be it Tory, Labour, Union or whoever. That is the only course which would favour the many over the few - but then that wouldn't be in the best interests of Unite members, now, would it?

10:23 am, March 18, 2010

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Politics, by its very nature, is all about competing interest. The idea that there's some noble, above-it-all way of 'neutrally' arbitrating them is nonsense.

There's seven million people in trade unions - I would like there to be three times that. I line up unashamedly with those 'interests' - those 'interests' being decent pay and conditions, safety and dignity at work, and democracy in the workplace. I don't see who else is going to deliver those.

12:13 pm, March 18, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

E10Rifle - you missed the point. Yes there is no neutral position because there will always be interests. The logical extension of that is that we should do our utmost to prevent one group of interests (in this instance, TUs) predominating too much and capturing the government and imposing rent-seeking behaviour on others. It doesn't matter if those interests are ones you evidently support (like TUs) or ones I imagine you don't (you can fill this in but I'd guess, the employers organisations. Of course, with no employers there would be no jobs and no Unions but let's not go there...). The point is that we need, in the interests as many as possible, to prevent any interest groups abusing power, and the only sure way to do this is minimalist government. It doesn't mean there will be no interests, but as those interests will receive little benefit, little harm can be done.
On the other point, in wanting more workers as members of TUs, you assume, of course, that TUs do look after the interests of workers rather than pursuing other organisational objectives (gaining power and using that power in way that meet the objectives of their leaders). I'd suggest that the historical record is rather mixed on that one. I'm all for voluntarist organisations representing the valid interests of their members, but I'm utterly opposed to those organisations capturing the government to do so. Personally, I'm glad that the numbers in the TUs in the private sector have fallen, as they mitigate against productivity improvements and in the long-run they tend to harm the very interests they ostensibly seek to protect, but that's a personal view.
I believe that it should either be illegal for public sector workers to be trade union members and/or for TUs which represent public sector workers to be disbarred from giving funding to any and all political parties. That would break the viscious cycle of the state paying workers who are then able to fund the parties which govern that state (of course they may do so privately) - and who thus have a vested interest in offering those same workers jobs/wages etc, as in the same way it should be illegal for companies etc who have or are bidding for government contracts to fund political parties.

1:15 pm, March 18, 2010

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

So public sector trade union members should be imprisoned, and private-sector ones actively discouraged. Blimey. Scratch a liberal, uncover General Pinochet.

8:02 pm, March 18, 2010

Anonymous isle of man houses said...

I feel involvement between business (wealthy business men), trade unions and the politicians, can be a good thing for politics, as it ensures politicians are kept in touch.
The two can cancel out the extremes of the other.

12:09 am, March 19, 2010

Anonymous Rich said...

Working people have no access to powerful lobby groups because they can't afford the fees. Unions are very important part of society and politics. Without them workers would be in real trouble.

Why is it fair that tax dodgers can fund the Tory party to the sum of millions yet a worker can't donate a couple of pounds a week. I'm sure lord Ashcroft has something to gain from investing millions into the conservatives.

Even cancer charities use donations to move government policy. Recent asbestos research grants have been awarded following a campaign.

Most union activity is positive and we actively seek to protect jobs and workers welfare. Unfotunately this often conflicts with greed and the need to make as much money as possible. This is why we need a balance.

10:53 am, March 24, 2010


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