We are grabbing this opportunity with both hands

1st March, 2014 4:28 pm

Anything that has lasted 100 years can’t all be wrong, but it probably could do with a health check. And so it is with the union-Labour link.

Unwelcome reference to the ‘death throes of machine politics’, and the unwarranted attacks on Unite over members’ efforts to revive their party in Falkirk aside, Len McCluskey has consistently made it clear that he didn’t believe the current affiliation system was sustainable.

(But what about that other ‘machine’, far from being in its death throes and recently troubling the Electoral Commission? The £750,000 Lord Sainsbury pours into Progress and Movement for Change should be examined by our party too.)

We want the relationship between our members and Labour to be tenable.  Unite’s own polling shows that only half our members vote Labour so it’s only right that our affiliation is more closely in step with actual support for the party.

Those who are no friends of Labour, sadly including some within the party itself, will claim the support of Unite ought to bring discomfort to Ed Miliband, implying that there is something inherently problematic in reforms that, far from `defeating’ trade unions could actually prove to lead to far greater involvement of trade union members.

Ignore them.  There is proper work to be done now, like removing the fear that union members living in London lose their chance to take part in the Mayoral primary in 2015. These are valid concerns which is why Unite is impressing upon the Implementation Group that they must be dealt with as a matter of urgency.  Affiliated union members in the capital must not lose their vote.  They – the users, providers and funders of the capital’s services and its lifeblood – must have their say in this selection.

There are also concerns about what would happen if there is a leadership election before the end of the transition period. Well there isn’t a vacancy and Unite is confident that if allowed to express his vision, then Ed Miliband won’t just be the leader of the Labour party but also of our country too, but clearly the Implementation Group needs to consider this matter too.


To those in the Party who would like to get rid of the collective trade union voice altogether, to use Labour as no more than a brand, not least those who led the attacks against Unite over Falkirk, Unite says learn from today.

`Link breakers’ do not attempt to comeback  – no looking to dilute the union share of the vote at conference, reduce seats on the NEC or diminish our involvement elsewhere in the party our movement founded.  This link is in our DNA – it is what makes our party strong. It is staying.

The hard work begins now. During the course of the five year transition proposed by Collins, Unite will be striving to persuade our members that there is a place for them in the Labour party.

Party membership currently stands at around 187,000 members. Unite alone would only need to persuade 13 per cent of our membership – just one in eight – to tick the relevant boxes to double that number.  Even with the dreadful cynicism that afflicts party politics, the affiliated trade unions can push forward from here to help Ed to realise his dream of a mass membership Labour Party.

Unite is on the case already with plans for a campaign to drive up membership.  But we cannot do this on our own.  Ordinary working people, brought low by austerity, crying out for genuine difference in policy, desperate for some hope for themselves and their families, need a Labour party that offers a real alternative, one that will make a genuine and positive difference.

Members have tasted a flavour of Ed’s vision – rapacious energy companies brought to heel, one million homes built, ditching the bedroom tax and our NHS given a fighting chance with the abolition of the destructive Health  and Social Care Act.  We cannot deride the Tory manifesto for being the expression of six posh blokes, five of them from Eton, yet leave a great big worker-shaped hole in our manifesto.  People want a manifesto that gives expression to their hopes and offers real change to build a strong economy and a fairer society.

So Ed, an appeal – release your inner radical, tell us more about how you will deliver the jobs, homes and hope our country needs so we really can persuade the 6.4 million trade unionists, the ordinary men and women who are the backbone of our country, that Labour is their party.

After today, there must be no distractions, no Domesday scenarios, no self-aggrandising briefers. Our movementis the best and only chance the people of this country have of a fairer future.  Collins has given us a long overdue opportunity to remind our members that Labour is their party and that their participation is wanted and needed.

Unite won’t be wasting any time.  We are grabbing this opportunity with both hands.  Let the hard work begin.

Jennie Formby is the Political Director of Unite

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  • Sharza Dethick

    If like me you are on a zero hours contract, paying a union subscription, and now asking for us to pay Labour as well on top. People having to pay for gas and electric, or who are having to use foodbanks just to survive, many in work wondering just how they are going to feed their kids, being hammered by the bedroom tax, these are the people who need to have a voice, but won’t because they will not be able to afford to pay Labour Party subscription on top. It is difficult enough for me to recruit members as it is under these circumstances without go up to them and asking for an additional subscription to the Labour Party People in the UNITE Community Branches find it hard enough to find the 50p a week and people in the workplace branches, some of whom don’t even have bank accounts and pay their subscriptions monthly in cash. No sorry, you are having a laugh, but i’m not. It is still the rich and not the man in the street who benefits from this not us.

    • Jennie Formby

      Sharza, you don’t have to pay on top, all political levy payers
      currently have £3 of their existing subs each year paid to the Labour Party as an
      affiiation fee. The change means this money will only be paid if you
      actively choose it to be but you won’t be asked for any more money as it
      is part of the subs you pay. We will be getting materials out for
      activists like you to explain in more detail

      • Sharza Dethick

        Hi Jennie, I am glad to hear that, as my members will be asking me tomorrow, not many of us in work today, well none of our members anyway, trying to drive up recruitment at present, uphill struggle with all the cuts to my service. Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

  • Doug Smith

    Hi Jennie

    You write: “… not least those who led the attacks against Unite over Falkirk… “. Well, it was Ed Miliband who led the campaign to discredit Unite at Falkirk. And, as has been pointed out by commentators in the Tory supporting press, this gave the green-light to a nearby employer who then moved against his own employees with an ultimatum: the sack or poorer conditions.
    This was one of the most shameful episodes in Labour Party history.

    By choosing to play along with Miliband you’re putting the ambitions of Miliband and his Progress before the interests of ordinary Unite members.

    I joined Unite forerunner TGWU when Jack Jones was General Secretary. This week I’m going to terminate my Unite membership.

    • Jennie Formby

      This isn’t about silencing the voices of ordinary people, quite the opposite. It’s about us getting more of our members involved, something absolutely in line with Unite’s political strategy. And it won’t break the link unless trade unions sit back and do nothing, something Unite certainly won’t be doing.

      I have nothing but contempt for Progress, but Miliband isn’t Progress. We’ve got to fight to reclaim our Party but it wasn’t properly representative of union members – ordinary workers and their families – before Collins so status quo wasn’t an option for us.

      I’m sorry to hear you’re going to end your membership; I hope you reconsider

      • Doug Smith

        It’s no longer “our party”. Ordinary members have little say over policy. The elite do as they please, as happened in the many stitch-ups for safe parliamentary seats and as happened at Falkirk.

        When Labour conference voted to renationalise the Royal Mail the vote was immediately slapped down by the elite – a spokesperson said renationalisation wasn’t going to happen. Regardless of the merits of this particular proposal, the process is clear: no say for ordinary people, the elite rule.

        Trundling out a ritual denouncement of Progress is a condescending empty gesture. And it does nothing to address the absence of political representation for a growing section of the UK population.

        Miliband will most likely go for state-funding if, as looks likely, he wins in 2015. He has already suggested a max donation limit of £5K to political parties. The opportunity for trade unions to engage collectively within the political process will over once the Implementation Group have finished their work.

        I have a letter by my side telling me my Labour Party membership ends this month. I first joined when Harold Wilson was PM. As with my Unite membership – I won’t be renewing it.

  • Steve38

    “Party membership currently stands at around 187,000 members. Unite alone
    would only need to persuade 13 per cent of our membership – just one in
    eight – to tick the relevant boxes to double that number.”

    In my experience as a union recruiter you will be lucky if you get even 1% to opt into Labour party membership. And these days it will be even harder. Why? Well the discussion here is about what the trade unions can do to support the Labour party. In reality it needs to be put the other way round. What is the Labour party doing for trade unions and their members? Precious little in recent decades. When the Labour party starts adopting policies that actually support and encourage trade unionism it might attract a few more members.

    • Jennie Formby

      If you’ve heard Len McCluskey speaking, he’s very clear that the Labour Party must make itself attractive to trade unionists if it’s going to become a mass membership party and to be fair to Ed Miliband, he’s said the same thing more than once including yesterday. We want more of our members to get active so it becomes more representative, including at PLP level, but you’re spot on, policies are the key

  • Bill Clegg

    It’s quite simple really…one only needs to remember (esp Ed Miliband) that Labour was formed as the political voice of workers by the “trade unions…for the trade unions”…not the other way round. Labour has done nothing to support the trade unions, particularly on the question of anti-trade union legislation. At this point in time, the trade unions should have been given assurances that ALL anti-trade union legislation would be removed.And that collectively we could move forward towards a joint venture in securing a Labour victory at the next elections. On the contrary…Ed Miliband has indicated his desire to have things appear more democratically. Who is he trying to appease? The press, employers, or is he simply afraid of the people who elected him to office?

  • fenderman

    I despair of the Labour party to be honest. It’s a long time since they were the party of the working man as far as I’m concerned. When I became a BIFU rep many years ago I tried really hard to be fair and not see my engagement with management as something black and white. Unfortunately the longer I spent as a rep the more it came home to me that it was them and us. As it was and always will be. What depresses me most is that I now see the Labour party as just another representative of “them” and I’m not sure who is going to be representing the average bloke anymore and the cutting of links with the unions is just bowing to Tory sneers. I think he’s made a mistake and although you’ve tried to put a positive spin on it I see another nail in the coffin of the working class. Then again I’m just an old leftie cynic who is thankfully out of the world of work now but still a retired Unite member. I believe in the union and I believe in the reps that work hard to really make a difference for our members. I no longer believe the Labour party is going to help though.

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