Unite-PCS merger back on. Unite exit from Labour draws nearer

The attention of the Labour party might be focused on the general election campaign, but in the background, changes that will fundamentally restructure the Labour movement are in motion. Uncut has learned from PCS sources that the stalled merger with Unite is very much back on the agenda, and with it, Unite’s ultimate disaffiliation from Labour.

The merger ran into the sand following PCS’ conference last year when delegates rejected the leadership motion to continue unconditional negotiations with Unite. However, recent manoeuvres by the PCS leadership suggest that merger wheels are once again rolling.

PCS has been wracked by well documented financial problems. The sale of the union HQ, which was agreed at the union’s national executive meeting at the start of December, was meant to have placed PCS on a more sustainable financial footing.  But just days later, an emergency executive meeting was called for the 18th December.

With one hour’s notice before the meeting, executive members were given papers that included a proposal to suspend next year’s internal election. The reasoning was that the £600,000 cost would sink the union and delaying it by upto year would help enable PCS’ survival. The motion was passed but with no wider debate across the membership.

PCS insiders have taken this as the clearest sign that merger plans are being revived.

Few believe their leadership’s explanation that this is about cost. Why wasn’t suspending the election discussed as an option along side sale of the HQ? What changed in the week following the scheduled NEC meeting in early December? Many view the emergency meeting as a means to railroad the suspension of internal democracy, which in turn allows the core leadership to fast-track negotiations with Unite, unencumbered by the accountability of elections in 2015.

The power of the Socialist Party cabal at the top of PCS, and their desire to link up with their party comrades in Unite is viewed as the primary driver for merger. The financial crisis merely provides a convenient rationale.

Post-merger, the unified PCS and Unite contingent from the Socialist Party (SP) would take control of the left of the new union, building SP support, much in the same way that its predecessor – Militant – once dreamed of building out its support from the left of the Labour party, if and when the Bennites took over the leadership.

The expectation is that a merger proposal will be put to PCS’ annual conference in May, just days after the general election. The motion will likely be wreathed in warnings of imminent financial disaster (unmet pensions obligations, redundancies and insolvency) if it isn’t supported and, in an atmosphere of panic, passed.

For Labour this would have profound implications. The Socialist Party would need Unite to disaffiliate from the Labour if it is to achieve its goal of growing on the left of Unite.

The ground is already being prepared within Unite by SP operatives for disaffiliation. It has been informally discussed regularly at executive level and the increasingly tenuous nature of Unite’s link to Labour was evident today with union insiders briefing the Scottish Daily Mail on the prospect of the union backing some SNP candidates at the Holyrood elections in 2016.

To be clear: any support for SNP candidates by Unite in an official capacity would require disaffiliation from Labour.

In Alan Roden’s Mail piece, the official Unite spokesperson’s stance is that supporting SNP candidates would require a change in union rules, which could only be passed at their conference and that is not until after the election. Hardly a resounding denial.

The result for Labour of Unite’s exit would be twofold.

First, Labour’s biggest donor would be gone, and a financial hole of several million pounds would have to be filled. In the aftermath of a costly general election, with the party likely to be deep in debt, this would potentially cripple the effectiveness of Labour in the next parliament.

Second, for the first time since the early 1900s, less than half of the TUC will be affiliated to the Labour party. No longer would Labour be the political voice of the majority of trade unionists.

Debates about the Collins reforms and the relationship with the unions would be largely moot.  Labour would need to re-examine its identity and redefine itself as a party independent of the bulk of the union movement.

In terms of Labour’s long term future, the Unite-PCS merger, rather than the general election, could be the most consequential act of 2015.


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16 Responses to “Unite-PCS merger back on. Unite exit from Labour draws nearer”

  1. janice godrich says:

    Your report is inaccurate and designed to be mischief making. Pcs conference 314 passed a motion that asked for pre conditions to be raised with unite. The executive are progressing this democratic policy. If you want a view from pcs on this issue I suggest you contact our press officer or general secretary’s office. Janice godrich president pcs

  2. Robert says:

    I really doubt that Unite will disaffiliate from the Labour Party. On a personal note, I left the Civil Service in 1998 and left CPSA to join MSF. I might be in the same union as my former colleagues very soon.

  3. Sounds about right. The Socialist Party have wrecked PCS, kept us members in the dark about the sate of the unions finances until it was far to late, even selling the HQ building and even cancelling elections to avoid immediate accountability.

    Unite would be well to steer clear of PCS and it’s useless leadership. The Socialist Party wants PCS to support the TUSC and help the Tories get back in.

  4. Dave Roberts. says:

    All this is very esoteric to most of us, definitely so for me. I take it The Socialist Party are the former Militant Tendency expelled by Kinnock? Why do they want to leave Labour, some kind of revenge?

  5. swatantra says:

    State Funding must be the first thing on the card for an incoming Labour-led Govt.
    And the Economy, somewhere there as well.

  6. Dave Roberts. says:

    This post has opened up a world I didn’t know existed. I googled Janice Godrich and came up with a mass of stuff including this. http://www.hurryupharry.org/2013/09/16growing-divisions-in-the-socialist-party/ Truly amazing stuff.

  7. At one stage all 6 of th Chairs and Secretaries of Hornchurch and Upminster,Romford and Rainham ( havering) Labour Party were all PCS
    I find it odd that TUSC want PCS support, when PCs is the Union for police staff AnD Army staff

  8. Unison did not disaffiliate when the affiliated NUPE and COHSE merged with the unaffiliated NALGO. The two funds model is there to be adopted.

  9. 07052015 says:

    Militant split in the early 1990s and the majority became the socialist party who have been dominant in pcs for some time.

    Whilst I agree it brings a unite disaffiliation marginaly closer there is no chance of that happening if labour is the next government.

    If labour loses unite could descend into an internal war over labour affiliation and the election of the next unite general secretary .

  10. Tafia says:

    State Funding must be the first thing on the card for an incoming Labour-led Govt.

    On the contrary, that must never happen. It would be so unpopular with the public what dregs of credibility politics still has left would vanish in an instant. Donations should be banned and parties should have to live off their membership fees, levels set buy the Electoral Commission. If they are relevant and have appeal they will survive, if they are garbage they will persish.

    No political party has a right to exist unless it can do so on it’s own merit and oit’s own two feet.

  11. steve says:

    “Unite exit from Labour draws nearer”

    Excellent news.

    Why on earth does my trade union provide political assistance to the electoral wing of Progress?

    It’s time to pull the rug from beneath the feverishly ambitious, pro-corporate careerists.

  12. Steve why does your Union assist progress(labour) ,members vote too affiliate, on the condition Mcklusky picks labours policies

  13. steve says:

    @John P Reid

    If you read the Unite newsletter at election times you’ll see how Unite provides assistance to the Progress/Labour Party in addition to donations.

  14. paul barker says:

    A Labour Party that was no longer The “Voice of The Unions” would not be The Party founded in 1900, it would be a sort of SDP 2. I dont see the point.

  15. Tafia says:

    paul barker – “I dont see the point.”

    I’ve not seen the point since Iraq.

  16. Paul barker the voice of the unions, as most people upto 1988 were in unions and the Tories kept winning most elections since 1950 ,when we’re unuons the voice of labour, a Union leaders told labour what policies to have there was clear pressure for workers to join unions after the war, either Union leaders had different views on political affiliation than their members or union leaders didn’t represent their members interests politically

    For the record there won’t be a merger between Unite and PCS, and Mcklusky will have to tolerate the next leader won’t be his choice, or leave

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