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