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.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The union link

Luckily most people don't read the Times now it is behind a paywall.

For those of us who have had a look today there's some very disturbing stuff from people who should know better attacking the union link and by extension attempting to undermine the recent leadership election result.

The Times having hated unions ever since their own battles with the printers, they are delighted to print this stuff.

Apparently it would be more democratic to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of political levy paying union members and deny them a vote in Labour leadership contests, opine the various ex-Ministers quoted.

One even says that the unions are "increasingly an irrelevant structure in British society anyway".

I find this deeply distasteful. Actually I find it offensive. There are echoes of some of the bitter anti-union talk that was doing the rounds at Annual Conference, which on probing turned out to be rooted in a contempt not just for the union role in the Party but for their industrial role defending workers against employers.

Right at the moment we should be deepening and strengthening the relationship with the unions not weakening it or severing it. All the progressive forces in British society need to be building a united campaign against the cuts. Instead we have Labour MPs (who ought to pause for a minute and think about how the Party they are in got its name, which organisations founded it, and who funded our election campaign this May) badmouthing our own affiliates.

Yet again we are in danger of elements of the losing side in a leadership contest trying to refight the contest or question its legitimacy. We know where that takes us, we've been there twice before.

We also know where severing the union link would take us. There was an experiment in running a social democratic party without any links with the unions in the 1980s. Devoid of any voice for working people's priorities, and wholly dependent on the kind of London dinner tables that feature in the Times article for its political thinking, it went on a journey which has ended with the perverse spectacle of former Labour men like Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Tom McNally holding ministerial office in a reactionary Coalition government under a Tory Prime Minister.

My advice to the people floating a "liquidate the party structures" approach is that they should either shut up or put up a series of rule changes and see how much support they get for them. The fact that many of them practice what they preach by having minimal engagement with the grubby minutiae of day-to-day running of the Party, such as turning up to local meetings and engaging with ordinary members, might prove an obstacle to advancing their model.

Alternatively I guess we could leave the dinner party and Westminster cocktail circuit set to continue talking to each other and Murdoch press journos, and just ignore them.


Anonymous Richard said...

Completely agree.

3:58 pm, November 18, 2010

Anonymous workingman said...

Hear bloody hear!

4:05 pm, November 18, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uniting against the cuts when a majority seem to agree that cuts are necessary. Dangerous ground and far more sensible to try to influence the level of cuts and where they fall.

Sadly, the unions are becoming an irrelevance in today's society evidenced by their dwindling membership and lack of public support for most recent actions. Does the party in opposition really want to be standing shoulder to shoulder with the few remaining militant dinosaurs. The very kind of people that did so much harm to the party in the past.

Think you are way off the pace on this on, Luke, and the ex ministers were nearer the mark.

4:10 pm, November 18, 2010

Blogger Neil Harding said...

For once, Luke, I agree with every word you say. And this from someone on the right of the party. Well said.

4:12 pm, November 18, 2010

Blogger Robert said...

Yes you are totally right about this Luke - I just wonder who these MPs are. As they are too cowardly to own up to their beliefs, we have no choice but to speculate. Are they perhaps amongst those who "plumped" for David Miliband in the leadership election (ie didn't rank other candidates)? Or those who saw Phil Woolas as a victim ? Or those who really think that people earning over £100,000 should pay no more than 40% tax? They apparently see no inconsistency between their status as Labour MPs and their reactionary attitudes towards unions and the millions of workers they represent. Its really worrying that such Labour MPs exist, unless of course the Murdoch press have invented them, which would not be beyond possibility.

4:41 pm, November 18, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leaving your juvenilia about The Times aside, how can such an idea be "distasteful" or "offensive"? I can see you disagree with Alan Johnson's view, but to attempt to rule it out f discussion on aesthetic grounds is really absurd. I begin to wonder what's happening to you.
David Aaronovitch

6:10 pm, November 18, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

the 2nd article in as many days that I agree with,whatever is the world coming to ?

7:09 pm, November 18, 2010

Blogger Jimmy said...

I don't follow the argument that the leadership result is being undermined. Were levy payers simply to be treated as ordinary members then far from altering the outcome it would have boosted the margin of victory as well as depriving our opponents of an obvious and tendentious line of attack.

8:06 pm, November 18, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

as one of 30 unison nurses last week working for Labour in a council by election.

If you recall it was the unions whos votes were required to block looney left CLPs in the 80s or expel Militant

yes I am pissed off

11:35 pm, November 18, 2010

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

They tried the idea of having a faux-progressive social democratic party without links to the unions in the 80s. They called it the "SDP". It's not worked out in anyone's favour really has it?

Spot on Luke

11:39 pm, November 18, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - did Luke even mention Alan Johnson?? Then again, it is certainly arguable he has been pushing his luck with some of his recent comments......

(I like the man, btw)

But what this blogpost is *really* about is a tiny, barely relevant in many respects - but unfortunately with GROSSLY disproportionate support in certain media and "chattering class" circles - minority of deeply embittered "more Blairite than Blair" ideologues. The new Militant Tendency, maybe?? ;-)

People who think we can still "outflank" the most right wing government in living memory on stuff like crime, immigration and tax cuts. People who want MORE privatisation, MORE so-called "choice" in public services, MORE trashing of accountable local government; and yes, people who genuinely loathe and despise trade unions.

No, you are not one of these people yourself - you are better than that. But you probably know some of the people I am on about!

Why are they still even in the party? Even more pertinently, what would be the point of a "Labour" party controlled by them even continuing to exist??

No names - this time ;-)

2:21 am, November 19, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

But hundreds of thousands of political levy paying union members are (sic)'disenfranchised' because their union does affiliate to Labour. Not all the political levy goes to Labour, and member levy payers don't support Labour. After 1918 Labour created individual membership of the party, so forget levy paying join the bloody party if you want a vote.

9:17 am, November 19, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

These people are the ultra-Blairites. They think that Blair didn't go far enough, whilst mainstream opinion is shifting towards the view that Blair went too far. When you are dealing with people like this the only option is expulsion. Their ideology is reactionary and they are trying to take over our party for their own ends. Entryists.

2:27 pm, November 19, 2010

Anonymous Andy Mc said...

Talking to journos at parties or in cabals at conference or Westminster bars doesn't win votes. Talking at party meetings only wins votes if the members are then inspired to step up their activism.
Talking to the people on the doorstep, that's what matters.
That's what they're doing in Sandwell.

4:01 pm, November 19, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In unison you either opt to pay into general political fund or a Labour gfund

whats wrong with that ?

Not everyone who supports the party or pays money to it needs to join it ???

Dont think those company share holders who give money to the Tory party do

as for voting

surely the TU vote has saved the LP from either Militant and Blairite/SDP hijacking

surely thats a good thing ?

4:10 pm, November 19, 2010

Anonymous Barry Edwards said...

There are more members of trade unions than all the political parties added together. Labour is more than just the voice of the unions but must continue to include that voice.

10:19 pm, November 19, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite strange to see the advocacy of pulling unions into the Labour fold.

As a union member who has seen his rights progressively eroded by successive governments for thirty years, isn't it a bit late? 13 years in power and the reason people see unions as "a bit of a thing of the past" is because of the hoops, hurdles and high fences that unions have to navigate to make their point.

You could have pulled down those walls. You didn't. Now you're in opposition, you're selling again when you haven't been buying for however long. Lord forbid that a Socialist movement comes along and shows you how it should be done. You could end up the Gang of Four yet.

11:08 pm, November 19, 2010

Anonymous Rich said...

Luke at last you support the unions. Labour is going to need the unions if they are to stand any chance of destroying this vile coalition.

The lib dems need to be decapitated and we need to show the public what this Tory is planning to do with our nhs. I want an election next year.

11:46 pm, November 19, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just how doid Johnson get his Hull seat



Just who helped smash the BNP in Barking and save Hodges seat



1:04 pm, November 20, 2010

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Well said, Luke.

4:07 pm, November 20, 2010

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

I love the fact that David Aaranovitch is so thin-skinned and easily wound up. But if you've offended a pompous, self-regarding and deluded windbag like that up Luke, you're doing something very, very right.

4:18 pm, November 20, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a piece of juvenile tosh. I suspect when you woke up the next morning, you regretted writing it. I can't think of any reason for it other than get yourself back in with the left in your own party, after having had the temerity to (sort of) criticise the great Ken the other week.

The idea that the second biggest party in this country should stick its head in the sand to all logic and to its own Chief Secretary's words - "There's no money left" - and instead try to become the parliamentary wing of an essentially extra- and anti-parliamentary movement, opposed to the necessary agenda of the democratically elected Government is as obnoxious as it is absurd.

You don't believe the cuts can be avoided and I suspect you agree the necessity for most of them. You yourself attacked the mob at Millbank last week. So don't write rubbish like this.

10:40 am, November 21, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

I think there is a clear difference between someone like Luke - who I disagree with firmly on some issues - but who is very clearly a social democrat in the right-wing Labour tradition, and some of the New Labour ultras who may appear to be saying some of the same things, but whose underlying thinking is actually quite different, and not at all rooted in working class communities or collective politics at all.

This is one example. Another is the role of the state. The traditional Labour right is much more sceptical than the ultras about the litany of 'public service reform' and also, I'd say, more sceptical about localism. We still think there is a place for planning.

Its notable that Andy Burnham has been loyal to the leadership. That's because he is much more in touch with the right wing Labour tradition.

I've always considered myself to be right wing Labour as well with the odd major difference - defence, basically, and foreign policy, where I lean more to the left, but it didn't take me long to see where I thought differently to the ultras. I think Luke may be making that realisation now: hope that doesn't sound patronising but I dictate a definite shift in what you are saying. Oh, and I'm starting in turn to recognise where differ from some of the soft left - agreements with the FibDems indeed! Over my dead body....

9:29 pm, November 21, 2010


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