Posts Tagged ‘trade unions’

Jack Lesgrin’s Week: Heads, not troops in the sand

21/04/2021, 02:42:15 PM

by Jack Lesgrin

Heads, not troops in the sand 

President Biden’s decision to bring all US troops home from Afghanistan by 11 September risks the Taliban once more taking over the government and reverting to their medieval ways. Our concern should of course be for Afghan citizens, whose hard-won rights are now jeopardised. But spare a thought too for the Anti-Intervention Brigade in the West. Their policy of active inaction is normally very difficult to challenge, even when huge losses of life result from no or minimal intervention, as with Rwanda. On the surface, Biden’s move is their dream scenario: Western troops are out, leave it for ‘the people’ of a sovereign country to ‘work it out’, and if goes pear-shaped follow the mantra of a former Labour leader and ‘get everyone around the table.’ Interventionists are often accused of having ‘blood on our hands’, yet those who favour inaction must be reminded repeatedly of the consequences, should they transpire: women’s and girls’ rights traduced, more violence and perhaps international terrorism, hostility to the international community, an end to democracy and possibility a refugee crisis. You can stick your head in the sand, but the problems of the world will, ultimately wash up around you.

Outragitis pandemic

Political Health England (PHE) has identified a dangerous new e-virus that appears to cause inflammation of ‘outrage’. With the R-number already thought to be above one, meaning that one malign idea will be transmitted to more than one other, PHE has issued a national warning and are conducting surge testing within SW1 postcodes, where a particularly aggressive strain is feared to be transmitting. Those with an interest in current affairs are thought to be most at risk, as the e-virus can probably survive for up to 24 hours in tweets and remain infective in op-eds for as long as two weeks. There are thought to be reservoirs of the e-virus within ancient ideologies of the left and right. Political scientists are currently investigating how the e-virus may have jumped from its original source into the mass-market. The leading hypothesis is that it infected a small number of political activists who found that while ultimately self-defeating and deadly, a short-term uptick in support and electoral advantage arises from claims that everything a government does is part of a Machiavellian conspiracy to undermine the public good and weaken democratic institutions. Another hypothesis is that the e-virus may have spread in the UK through the importation of campaign techniques, political practices and narratives endemic in the United States. PHE has asked the public to be alert in the traditional and social media, in cafes and pubs or at the dinner table, for phrases such as “we’re no longer a democracy”, or “…is no longer fit for purpose”, or “…threatens everything we hold dear”, “…is worse than it’s ever been”, or simply “I hate his/her politics/idea”. Political scientists and private sector companies such as newspapers and media outlets are working on a vaccine, although none has been developed in less than a decade during previous outbreaks.

Resist the Trump Disinfectant Doctrine over lobbying (more…)

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Tiny step by tiny step, the unions reassert themselves as ballast against the hard left

30/09/2018, 04:49:33 PM

by Rob Marchant

If last year’s party conference was an unabashed love-in for Corbynites and the party’s leader, this was the conference where – as always happens eventually in all environments where the far left runs the show – the cracks started to appear.

Ok, it may not be enough to stop the party from self-immolation. But, after the shock to Labour’s system of the tsunami of new members and a leadership dragging it off to the far left, the tectonic plates appear to be slowly, infuriatingly slowly, moving back towards their traditional positions.

There are reasons why the power structure within the Labour Party has grown up as it has. The party came out of the unions and the unions have always had a seat at the top table – some times more powerful than others, but always there.

Now, in general, unions and the union movement have so far been widely supportive of Corbyn. Why? Because the decline in union membership (and thus the accountability of union leaders to their members) has allowed the bigger unions to drift sleepily to the left, into a misty-eyed, 1970s nostalgia where globalisation never happened. Corbyn plays to the worst and most self-indulgent instincts of the left-leaning unions: he tells them they were right all along.

But the smarter ones among the leaders, left and right, are starting to wake up and see that not all is roses. They are realising that, first of all, a strictly member-led party may not pay attention to their views on, say, the leadership of the party. And the more power goes to the members, the less there is for them. Hence why they voted to dilute the rule changes for a more “member-run” party and actually increased their own say in leadership elections.


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Len McCluskey signals potential Unite exit from Labour

01/04/2014, 04:39:01 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Big news from Len McCluskey’s turn before the press gallery this afternoon. Speaking to journalists, he said that he could envisage Unite changing its rules on funding to support other parties and leaving Labour, if the Labour was to lose the next election.

“Only if we change our rules, within Unite’s rules, we are affiliated to the Labour party. We cannot give any financial support to any other political party. So the rules within Unite would need to be changed, not by Len McCluskey – I know some of your papers think I have this huge power to flick switches on and off – but by our rules conference. Can I ever envisage a rules conference voting to disaffiliate from Labour? I can, I can, and that’s a challenge to Ed Miliband because I believe the Labour party is at a crossroads, this is a watershed…if Labour lost the election next May I fear for the future of the Labour party and so these are serious debates at this point in time in our history we have to kind of consider all of those issues, at the moment, though that’s not on our agenda.” (h/t Isabel Hardman)

This is potentially an enormous shift in Labour politics. If Unite were to disaffiliate, three points are relevant.

First, the balance of the party would shift towards the right. Unite are the most vocal and powerful of the unions on the left and without their seats on the NEC, votes at conference, financial leverage and members’ role in any future Labour leadership election, the party would likely move more to the centre.

Second, it suggests the Collins union reform proposals, passed with much fanfare in February, were only a stop-gap for Unite, pending the result of the next election. If Labour loses, then all bets are off.

Third, it would mean that the total number of trade unionists affiliated to the Labour party would drop below half the total number of trade unionists in the country for the first time.

At the moment there are 6.5m trade unionists in Britain and according to the latest figures on the TUC website, the 15 trade unions affiliated to the Labour party represent 4.2m of them. If Unite disaffiliated, with a membership of 1.4m, the number of trade unionists affiliated to Labour would drop to 2.8m or 43% of all trade union members.


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

08/09/2013, 09:55:24 PM

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.


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Ed Miliband needs a big win today and Len McLuskey should give it to him

09/07/2013, 06:30:56 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Today, Ed Miliband will set out a series of bold reforms to Labour’s relationship with its affiliated trade unions, in a bid to draw a line under the disastrous fallout from the botched Falkirk selection process.

He will propose an end to affiliation fees from the unions, switching to a system where individual trade unionists “opt in” to pay towards the party. Miliband will argue that trade unionists need to make “a more active individual choice on whether they affiliate to the Labour party”.

Fee income under the current system is said to be worth around £8 million a year to the party. The risk is that many fewer trade unionists choose to opt-in, with some estimates predicting the change could cost the party as much as £5 million in income

Miliband is also set to announce the greater use of primaries to select parliamentary candidates, especially where a local party’s membership is small. The party will also use a primary selection to choose Labour’s candidate for the London mayoralty in 2016.

There will be a new code of conduct for those seeking selection, with stricter spending limits, both on individual candidates and the trade unions and other affiliates backing them.

Miliband will say that Falkirk represented “the death throes of the old politics” and that he wants to build “a better Labour party – and build a better politics for Britain.”

Party reform is a familiar expedient for Labour leaders in opposition. Neil Kinnock’s is best remembered for driving through vital policy and organisational changes which brought Labour back from the brink. Later, John Smith took the gamble of driving through one member, one vote and curbing the union block vote.

And of course Tony Blair scrapped Clause Four of the party’s constitution back in 1995 – with its ambiguous commitment to public ownership – in a bid to “say what we mean and mean what we say.”


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Why has Ed allowed the unions to stitch up the euro candidate selections? What happened to the new politics?

11/04/2013, 07:00:44 AM

by Peter Watt

There has been a lot of retrospective going on recently.  Obviously the death of Baroness Thatcher has meant that we have all been reflecting on the politics of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  And politics has changed a fait bit since then and Labour politics in particular; long gone are the days when Labour ripped itself apart with splits and division.

Beaten time after time by the Tories, Labour finally realised that it needed to change if it was to win.  First Neil Kinnock, then John Smith and finally Tony Blair and Gordon Brown gradually enforced a degree of central control and discipline within the party.  There was an understanding that controlling process meant controlling the party.  Conferences, policy making and of course selections were all ruthlessly managed.

On the whole the party welcomed it, even if reluctantly at first.  There was a significant minority who always complained of course, but most were prepared to overlook what they didn’t like as we kept winning.

Working for the party throughout this period, we were loyal to the Leadership and we worked hard to keep control.  Centralisation was the name of the day.  But the world moved on and the time for command and control was over.

But at the centre we were slow on the uptake and so the culture of control was hung onto longer than it should’ve been.  As the rest of society was opening up and more open sources of information were becoming the norm in business, online and in the media, the Labour party stubbornly refused to change the way that it ran itself.  Keeping control meant keeping order.

But then we lost a general election and rightly our new Leader demanded a new approach to our politics.  There was talk of reaching out beyond our closed ranks: of allowing creativity and innovation and welcoming the possibilities that there may well be differences in tone and approach in different parts of the country.

As an old school control freak you would expect me to be sceptical.  But no; I am hugely supportive of an approach that begins to break down the barriers to our politics.  I can see just how remote and closed our politics actually is and how unattractive it is to most voters.  I wholeheartedly agree with Ed when he says:

“It’s not just about winning elections… It’s about constructing a real political movement. It’s a change from machine politics to grassroots politics.”

So I welcome the opening up of the party; except that is not what is happening.  The words are all well and good but the reality is that nothing has changed.  Actually that isn’t true.  If anything it is getting worse.


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The latest party funding figures tell us we can’t go on like this

23/08/2012, 07:00:00 AM

by Peter Watt

I’m on holiday at the moment and have both limited internet access and limited interest in all things political.  Normal levels of political obsession will no doubt return once the holiday is over.  One thing has caught my attention though this week and I felt the need to write about it.  It’s an old favourite of mine, something I feel passionately about – party funding and the trade unions.

The Electoral Commission has published its latest quarterly report on the donations to political parties.  The first thing to note is that overall levels of donations to all political parties were down almost £1 million when compared to the first three months of the year.  The Tories were down £250,000 receiving £3.8 million whilst Labour was down £450,000 receiving just under £3 million.

So it’s clear that Labour, already receiving less than the Tories, appears to be feeling the squeeze even more. The detail of the figures goes on to show that that even more of party’s income is now derived from a single source: the trade unions.  Of all of the donations received by Labour in this reporting period more than £2 million, or about 70%, came from the Trade Unions.  And of this £2 million, Unite gave over £840,000 almost double that of the next biggest, USDAW, at £429,000.

Our opponents have once again tried to make mischief and claim that this means that 70% of our income comes from the trade unions.  This is simply not true.  As I have blogged on Labour Uncut several times before, the Labour party does not in fact receive the majority of its income from the trade unions.

In an average, non-general election year income comes roughly from the following sources:

  • £8  million in affiliation fees from trade unions;
  • £7 million from the tax payer in short money;
  • £5 million from individual membership subscriptions.

This gives a “definite” income of about £20 million per year.  In addition the Labour Party gets:

  • £2 – 5 million in donations from individuals, companies and trade unions;
  • £5 million or so from other things like commercial income, legacies and dinners.

So while the attacks of our opponents are an exaggeration, we should not pretend that they do not have a point.  Labour’s financial position remains precarious and we need to face up to it.


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In defence of trade unions and Labour’s union link

06/04/2012, 03:42:17 PM

by Amanda Ramsay

When Ed Miliband published his list of meetings with party funders, unsurprisingly several were with Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey.  This was widely reported in the press but in the articles there was scant mention of the myriad of sectors a huge union like Unite represents: millions of individuals, working people, 20 sectors at the last count including agricultural, health as well as industrial.

As if one meeting every year or so would be enough time to discuss the huge swathe of complex issues that unions like Unite, the GMB and Unison are dealing with on a daily basis.

The contrast with the elite vested interests of the Tory party, as personified by the  likes of Lord Ashcroft and former Conservative Party Treasurer Peter Cruddas, could not be more stark.

But it’s not just the so-called right-wing press who are complicit in the misrepresentation in the media. Last Saturday, the Independent referred to Len McCluskey donating £5million, as if it were a personal donation, like he just wrote a cheque out of his own money!

“The Labour Party has benefitted from the publicly known link to working people and their views and needs,” Esther Pickup-Keller, president of the Aspect group of the major professionals’ and managers’ union Prospect tells me. “This type of democratic channel is a long, long way from secretive private dinners and meetings with senior politicians by capital corporate interests and donors.”

It’s offensive to hard-working people that the very small amounts of money paid by individual trade union members to the political funds of our unions are portrayed as somehow wrong by certain right-wing commentators and MPs. Where’s the balance?

I’m no militant, but let’s remember what this is all really about. One of the most poignant stories to learn as a teenager, to spark my imagination and social conscience, was that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs; their story speaks about something universal, way beyond party politics – shock and awe that these men could be shipped-off to be imprisoned on the other side of the world, for standing-up for their rights in the workplace, civil rights, human rights, call it what you will.

This is still the case today, for those of us who believe in trades unionism, the relevance of trade union membership is as relevant now as it’s ever been.


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United we stand – keep the link

26/01/2012, 01:00:25 PM

by John Spellar

John Healy has produced an excellent article on the unpleasant Tory group launching an attack on trade union rights and their ability to represent their members.  Also this week, Jim Sheridan, chair of the Unite group, rightly expressed his concern at what he sees as “some within the party constantly looking for ways to break the link”.  So the trade union movement and its links with the Labour party are once again under serious attack. It’s déjà vu all over again.

My only difference with Jim’s analysis is that there are also those on the ultra left who are looking at ways of weakening the link, and they always have. Both they and the latter day Jenkinsites have a very weak grasp of the realities of progressive politics, and not only in Britain. The Jenkins heresy always lamented the breach between Labour and the Liberal Democrats at the beginning of the last century.  He harkened back to what he saw as a “progressive century” in the nineteenth century.  Actually looking at the years in government of the two parties that century, and even regarding Palmerston as a progressive, he was wrong, but the most important error in his analysis is that it implied that the creation of the Labour party as a sovereign party, was a critical mistake.

On the other side, the ultra left, excepting their entryist phases, have always regarded the Labour party and the trade union bureaucracies as obstacles to their Leninist fantasies.  The reality for working people today is that under a major onslaught from an economic tsunami and a vindictive and incompetent government, it is now more than ever that they need effective unions at the workplace, strong union campaigning in national issues and a Labour party in, or preparing for, government; and they very much need them working together.

The reality is that  in every country with a successful Labour, Social Democratic or even Democrat Party is that there are strong longstanding links with the unions.  They are founded on our shared history, values and interests.

There may be nuances in the detailed constitutional arrangements, but they are far less relevant than the community of Labour. So it is right for us to make clear the indissoluble relationship between us. After all, the clue is in our name. So let’s have done with the delusions of both these groups and reaffirm our determination to “keep the link”.

John Spellar is Labour MP for Warley and a shadow foreign office minister.

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The Kelly proposals: eminently sensible and workable

24/11/2011, 08:00:40 AM

by Peter Watt

The reaction to the report “political party funding – ending the big donor culture“, by the committee on standards in public life, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, has been depressing if not surprising.

I feel strongly about this issue. I was caught up in “cash for honours”. I had to instigate swingeing budget cuts and redundancies to avoid bankruptcy at the Labour party. I was part of Labour’s negotiating team in the failed Haydn Philips inter-party talks on party funding in 2006 and I was embroiled in a pretty major funding scandal that lead to my resignation as general secretary and another police investigation. I also gave evidence to the Kelly enquiry.

So let’s start with some cold hard facts.


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