Alex Halligan wants the unions in the race

We need trade unions as a country and as a party. Trade unions have consistently been the biggest contributors of activists, of finance and of dedication since Labour’s formation at the turn of the last century.

With the leadership battle already well under way, the question for the rank and file is quite simply: who will represent the interests of working people?

The union vote will be very important in the coming contest. Unions carry nearly 30% of the electoral college vote; whoever wins would be wise to seek their support. A North West TUC official claimed that the big trade unions “all have a different choice in terms of their preferred candidate.”

Pressure from the grass roots is reaching fever pitch. The flurry for branch nominations has already begun. Demands are being mounted upon the ruling committees of the sixteen affiliated unions. A Unite regional organiser said that his union “is actively encouraging members to participate in choosing a new party leader.”

Over the last week or so, the Labour Party has gained over 12,000 members.

In a speech in Devon last week, Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said that a “sizeable chunk of these are trade unionists.  This shows we are still at the beating heart of the party. Unison has recruited thousands to the party since the election”.

Reports from the TUC conference in Blackpool over the weekend made it clear that the rumour mill is well and truly grinding. Before Jon Cruddas ruled himself out of the leadership contest, Unite and CWU were lobbying other unions to back his leadership bid. Cruddas’ exit from the contest was very disappointing for the Unions and progressive forces in the party such as the pressure group Compass.

It is difficult to judge who the unions will endorse. Unite insiders have been claiming that a decision to back Ed Balls is being stitched up by the unions’ high ranking officials. Unison and GMB are both rumoured to be supporting Ed Miliband. Veteran Left-winger John Mcdonnell is said to have support from the smaller unions. Diane Abbott’s entrance may yet change the dynamic of the election.

David Miliband’s likely victory has struck fear into the hearts of General Secretaries and lay members alike. Miliband senior has gone head to head with the unions on a number of issues: from Israeli boycotts and internal democracy to union funding of the Labour Party. If opinion on the ground is anything to go by, it is clear that the unions don’t like David Miliband.

Anxiety is high amongst the unions. Rank and file members fear that the right to strike has been virtually outlawed. On Monday, two landmark cases reached their conclusions. Unite’s BA cabin crew strike was over-ruled for a second time, while NUJ’s strike against Johnston Press was squashed. It is feared by many that David Miliband will fail to protect the unions from these kinds of attacks.

One nurse and shop steward based at Salford Royal Infirmary claimed that “ordinary members don’t know who to support now Cruddas is out.  They are all the bloody same.”

It is essential that any future leader of the party respects trade unionism and doesn’t forget that the party was forged in the bowels of Britain’s industrial world. The unions must be united in their choice of candidate and fight for a more progressive party to lead the country into the next general election.

Alex Halligan is youth rep for the north TUC.

Tags: , , , , , ,

One Response to “Alex Halligan wants the unions in the race”

  1. Red Bandits says:

    who will represent the interests of working people?

    It wont be the Labour Party, their too busy using anti union laws, attacking our pay,pensions and conditions, increasing inequality,sending their kids to private school, and sucking up to the wealthy.

Leave a Reply