Exclusive Uncut poll reveals trade union members overwhelmingly back Ed on reform

by Rob Marchant

As delegates gather in Bournemouth for the Trades Union Congress, one subject will surely be a major topic of conversation for delegates from the larger unions: the future of their relationship with the Labour party.

While the relationship between the party leader and the leaders of the main unions has never been easy for either side, it is safe to say that relations are at a turning point in their 113 year-old marriage. As things stand, a smooth and trouble-free conference season seems an increasingly remote prospect.

To recap, the disastrous selection process for Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Falkirk West, where allegations of malpractice triggered the resignation of Tom Watson MP as its election campaign coordinator – and which even now is subject to wildly differing versions of events – has kicked off a wholesale reform programme of everything from party funding to MP candidate selection and conference voting.

Then, last Friday night on the eve of the TUC, the party suddenly accepted that no wrongdoing had taken place. Simultaneously, candidate Karie Murphy – Watson’s office manager and friend of Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union – pulled out, in what seemed almost certain to be some kind of deal, after threats that Unite could boycott the party’s conference later this month.

Although McCluskey, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, accepted the principle of reform of the union link from the outset, one wonders if this stance will continue. And other union leaders have been notably less enthusiastic.

The GMB responded last Monday by announcing a cut in affiliation fees of almost 90%, estimating that only around a tenth of current levy-paying members would sign up.

McCluskey’s former flatmate Watson, who, insofar as anything has been formally announced, is still party deputy chair and therefore in theory a neutral party, has also blogged that the proposals could be “a very serious development which threatens a pillar of our democracy”.

A number of other affiliated union leaders – perhaps the majority – along with some journalists and Labour activists on the left of the party, have been consistently down on the idea of reform, complaining of “Blairite diehards” looking to “break the link” with the unions. Given the scarcity of Blairites near the levers of power in the party and Miliband’s highly visible efforts to distance himself from New Labour, this narrative seems at best paranoid and quite possibly delusional.

In particular, some are already attempting to use the apparent “clean bill of health” given to Unite over Falkirk – the initial trigger for the reforms, after all – as a clinching reason as to why they are unnecessary.

All these people are probably in for a surprise.

Uncut has some exclusive polling carried out by YouGov, which rather shows that union members agree with Miliband.

An astonishing 60% of members of affiliated unions think that the outline reform proposals are sensible, against only 20% who think the unions should continue to wield more influence.

And a further 10% dislike the proposals because they do not think they go far enough – that Labour should scrap links altogether.

A further 61% also said that union voting power at conference should either be reduced or abolished completely.

51% of members of affiliated trade unionists think the way Labour’s leader is elected should be reformed with the abolition of a separate union segment of the electoral college,

And finally, 63% of union members would scrap union-reserved places on the NEC.

These figures are compelling. Apart from anything else, they certainly call into question the extent to which some union leaders are actually in touch with the opinions of their own members.

The polling was carried out for Uncut’s forthcoming pamphlet for Labour party conference, Labour’s manifesto uncut: How to win in 2015 and why, which aims to use hard numbers to “think the unthinkable” on a range of potential manifesto issues.

In addition, it will include proposals on how a party reform agenda successfully executed, far from being the meltdown scenario being suggested by some, could not only revitalise a somewhat neglected party organisation but provide a springboard for a recovery in Miliband’s personal poll ratings.

Given the revelatory nature of the polling on just this one issue, we think the pamphlet will make for pretty interesting reading when the party faithful gather in Brighton in two weeks’ time.

Whatever happens, one thing is clear. After Falkirk and the reform proposals – not to mention continuing tensions over a perceived lack of Labour support for the unions’ anti-austerity agenda – it is shaping up to be an unforgettable conference season for us all.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left


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25 Responses to “Exclusive Uncut poll reveals trade union members overwhelmingly back Ed on reform”

  1. Robert says:

    I am not convinced that there is a need to change the relationship between the trade unions and Labour. Trade union members have to vote in a ballot for their union to have a political fund and they also have an option of opting out of contributing to the fund. This option is quite prominent on the Unite membership forms, so it is unlikely that anybody would miss it. It is also doubtful if there are any votes in changing the relationship.

    I have a feeling of dread about the Uncut pamphlet. I suspect that Labour would lose my vote if it followed much of it!

  2. jaydeepee says:

    Written by a member of Progress.Enough said.

  3. swatantra says:

    Which just proves that Union Bosses don’t really understand what their Union members actually want. EdM’s brave stand could lead to Reform of the Unions and the Party. Its only by standing up against unfairness and injustice, you can actually bring about Reform, and that is what Labour is all about standing up against unfairness and injustice. EdM may never get to be PM but like Kinnock he will have served the Party well by forcing change for the better; Kinnock kicked out Militant and the Trots and EdM will have modernised Union practices and cleaned up the Party.

  4. Ex-labour says:

    As far as I’m aware Labour did not release the report on Falkirk and now we have the classic fudge / cover up and everyone lives happily ever after……well nearly.

    As an ex trade union member and ex Labour supporter, the polls are no surprise. Most people are sensible and take a pragmatic approach to events and so do trade union members. The only agitation I ever saw was from the union people themselves who had there own agenda, pushing members to support their objectives.

    It will be financially painful for Labour to sever the links with the unions, but not to do so will leave Labour at the mercy of the McClusky’s of this world, but the question remains is it too late for the public perception of Labour to change for the next GE ? I think so.

    There is of course the potential nuclear option for Unite to withdraw their funding as have the GMB if things turn nasty at conference. Now this really would make things interesting.

    On a personal note I hope that pompous twat Watson gets what he deserves.

  5. I’m puzzled as to how one-third of your “nat rep sample” of GB adults (532 out of 1593) manage to be trade union members when only 12% of the UK population are (6m out of 49.7m).

    That aside, the lengthy preambles for each question, as they are written, are bound to distort the results in favour of the proposals. You would certainly get a quite different answer if you were, for example to change the preamble to the first question to:

    “Ed Miliband wants to change the trade unions ‘ relationship with the Labour Party. He wants to stop trade unions whose members have voted to have a political fund and which have decided to use part of that fund to affiliate to the party from doing so. In future only those individuals who join the party individually can do so.”

  6. Fred says:

    Please can we have less sensible articles? Where’s McCurriedCrap when you need him?

  7. Rob says:

    Well MIliband can of course come to conference state proudly he does not intend taking anymore money from the Unions, the political levy will not be accepted by the labour party and the Labour party will ban all MP’s from taking donations.

    Then perhaps Labour can make the big break call it’s self the Progress party, maybe sell the Labour name back to the Unions for say ten million and let the Union do as it wants with it.

    That’s it a total beak.

    Ed is the chap to do this he has come from a working class family, he has worked hard all his life in the building trade and has held a lot of jobs in the Labour party hence the Unions needed Ed to be the leader rather then his brother who has done little in Labour.

    Nobody else to blame for this bickering except the Unions who tried to fix an election for what they thought was a working class lefty who turns out to be another little man with about as much socialism as Blair…

  8. steve says:

    I’m looking forward to the poll asking if there should be any place for the shadowy, privately funded and undemocratic Progress organisation within a mainstream political party.

  9. Labour Supporter says:

    Great piece, Rob. he proposals in the Uncut manifesto perhaps you could give a way a few tips! Ed needs to be bold and put himself on the line. Needs to the following:
    Abolish union seats on the NEC
    Abolish union seats on the NPF
    Abolish union electoral college and vote at conference
    End affiliations nominations at Conference
    Affiliates should not be allowed to sponsor or support a Labour candidate
    OMOV for internal Labour elections
    Parliamentary selections should be closed primaries
    Parliamentary selections in safe seats should be open primaries
    Mayoral selections should be open primaries
    Community organisations could be able to join the Labour Party (as suggested by Arnie Graf)
    Party members should be members of the Co-operative Party, a union and a community organisation
    That way we can have a system whereby Labour and the unions can have a healthy relationship based on mutual support but no dominance of power and a genuine modern relationship. The father cannot keep on paying pocket money to his son and the son cannot keep on living in the father’s house otherwise they will fall out, as we have seen in recent months.

  10. @Robert: so, you’re arguing for “no change”, on the basis of what – that it’s working perfectly? Like it did in Falkirk?

    @jaydeepee: oh yes, evil Progress. Evil evil Progress. Have you got any arguments against the polling, or is that ad hominem really the best you can do?

    @Swatantra: quite.

    @Ex-Labour: is it too late? Quite possibly. But that does not mean we should not do it.

    @JonLansman: Jon, I realise you may not like the findings, but I’m struggling to understand how you can take issue with the methodology of a professional, international polling company. As to your two separate points:

    (i) you correctly highlight that there are more union members than in the population at large. This is down to what’s known as a “boost” of trade union numbers in the sample, deliberately done to allow additional segmentation by providing an adequate sample in the desired segment. It’s a perfectly standard polling practice. You will see this noted in the YouGov files when we release them at conference, along with the boosted sample size, which I don’t have to hand right now.

    (ii) the “lengthy preambles” you object to are simply trying to make the questions objective as possible. They make absolutely no difference to the outcome. Yours, on the other hand, is couched in quite emotive terms of “stopping” people doing something, on which I’d agree with you, would probably provide a different response. Besides, they have been worded with the help of and supervision of YouGov – professional polling companies deliberately avoid questions which are leading, for obvious reasons.

    With respect, the points you make on methodology seem to be rather clutching at straws. The answer is what it is, whether we like it or not.

  11. David says:

    I think these figures back up what many believe. And that is – big money is buying too much influence and it is unhealthy. I don’t doubt, if similar questions were asked about large donations to the Tories, the results would be the same – big money is buying too much influence and is unhealthy.

    I think there is strong public support for Labour distancing themselves from these big donations and then getting stuck into the Tories to do something similar to limit their own funding. Always presuming that Labour can actually afford to turn the money down though.

    If all that happens is that the same money turns up again in a slightly different format and the Unions still hold influence and voting power, there is a danger that the public will just become even more cynical.

    I think the party is between a rock and a hard place on this and it needs very careful management……….

  12. Fred smith says:

    “jaydeepee says: Written by a member of Progress.Enough said.”

    Standard baseless hatred from the left.

  13. I generally agree that it is desirable for the Labour Party to have close links with trade unions and that trade unions are a vital part of the wider labour movement; however I happen to think that the proposals outlined by Ed Miliband are a good thing to do.
    The unions, much like the PLP, are representatives not of the whole movement but of their particular personal biases. The actions of the GMB executive are indicative of this; I understand that they have decided to cut the funding to the PLP without first balloting their 370,000 members.
    Andrew Rawnsley has written an interesting piece on this topic for The Observer; I agree with what he is saying.
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/07/ed-miliband-cant-retreat-battle-union-bosses

    Outside from the different Labour cliques the bigger picture is that for the sake of our democracy the issue of party funding needs reforming. It just so happens that Falkirk was a turning point; the details of the Falkirk melodrama are not interesting or important for the majority of people but the ramifications of any consequences hopefully will be.

  14. John p Reid says:

    Well said Fred Smith, Jon Lansman, I think Swatantra proves where your points are wrong

    Labour supporter, I’m not Infavour of union pmembers coming off the NEC, but maybe as they’re not giving the money, their influence could be reduced,

  15. Ex-labour says:

    @Rob Marchant

    Just to clarify when I said ” too late” I was referring to the public perception that Miliband is a union flunkie.

    @ David

    I think you will find that the biggest political donations this year have gone to Labour via the unions and John Mills of JML.

    @Rob

    Miliband working class ? Yeh……right ! He worked in the building trade …..new to me ? I’m after a good brickie if his rates are as low as the Eastern Europeans he let in. Has anyone got his number ?

  16. Robert says:

    I honestly cannot see what was wrong with Falkirk. Unite were trying to get their candidate elected within the rules that existed at the time. My recollection is that the rules that caused the problems were agreed in the 1990s, which shows that “reforms” are not always a good idea.

    My main problem with Miliband’s proposals is that they are giving the Tories an open goal. They probably cannot believe their luck.

  17. Rob says:

    The simple fact of the matter nobody is making the Labour party take donations from the Unions. Ed can today state that’s it we will make a clean break from the Unions we do not want the political levy or any other funding.
    From today the Unions are not part of the Labour party and we no longer will accept donations or funding. The issue then would be could Labour find money or as Miliband has said live within their means …

    But hold on a minute was it not a few years ago that I think it was Blair that told Jack Straw to work out a means of getting the levy paid to labour in full.

    Over the past few years more and more unions have been paying less and less money into the labour party and in fact using the political levy for themselves.

    Could it be that anyone who now opts into paying the levy would be deemed of paying the money to the Labour party and that Labour would demand that levy payment in full. problem is of course you have to hope that the majority of Union people want to opt in, and that the Union would not decide the political levy was worthless and ended it.

  18. David says:

    @ex-labour

    I don’t know (or care) who got the biggest political donation. The point is that they both get big donations.

    Now why would anyone give either of them really big donations? I suppose the Unions give the donations to buy influence and help select and sponsor labour candidates so they can pursue their left wing political objectives whilst those giving big money to the Tories do so out of a sense of altruism and desire to give something back to Society. Heaven forbid they are anything like those on the left and have any hopes of also exerting some influence or maybe harbour hopes of a peerage!

    Whilst there are likely to be some benevolent souls on both sides of the divide you can’t escape the conclusion that the vast majority of the big donations are given with ulterior motives. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

  19. Rob says:

    Ex Labour, sarcasm not hot on your radar mate, the bloke has not done a days work in his life, he’s not done anything in the Labour party either, and without the Unions he’d be sitting on the back benches by now because his brother may well have decided he had enough lame ducks.

    Labour can proudly state that Blair won them three elections sadly those three elections left us in a real mess.

    Now while the Tories are proudly saying the country is getting better the green shoots are now seedlings the Labour party are back to internal arguments.

    This kept us out for twenty years.

  20. steve says:

    Rob (commenter, not Rob Marchant): “the bloke [Ed Miliband] has not done a days work in his life”

    Lol. And he wants to jettison the link with those who have actually worked.

    But it’s worse than that, now, instead of attacking the Tories, he’s going to waste months and months discussing a pet project of absolutely no concern to anyone outside the Westminster bubble. It’s a fine old mess.

    If Ed wins in 2015, it won’t be because want of trying to lose.

  21. Dan McCurry says:

    I think the wisest comment here is the very first. What are we going to achieve by this reform? The unions were misbehaving, but they have since been contrite. What’s the point of carrying on with a confrontation?

  22. Ex-labour says:

    @Rob

    Rob, you are being a bit dimwitted…..I was playing along with your sarcasm……doh !!

    @ David

    My point was that the finger always gets pointed at the Tories (as you did) for large donations, when in fact Labour enjoy constant largesse from the unions and the occassional large donor. Moreover they are not averse to asking for large donations.

    According to the biography of Bernie Ecclestone after he had given a donantion to Blair’s government he was asked by Levy if he would like to “loan” the Labour party £800,000 per year for 3 years. This “loan” would not be paid back according to the author.

  23. John p Reid says:

    Dan Mc curry, you’re right, but as the unions have now started to take the bait and wirhdrawl funding,it gives unite,a open run, to be the only real union contributing ,as such , not letting unions try to influence seats, or other pressure groups, or let unite get the party arguing,is what needed.

  24. Rob says:

    John for god sake, can you not see a stitch up.

  25. David says:

    @ ex-labour

    Pointing the finger??? I think, if you read my posts, I am saying that big money finds its way to all the political parties. I said Labour should sort itself out from the union money and then get stuck into the tories for their big donations.

    If you are suggesting that all the funny money is only on the labour side you really need to get a reality check.

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