'IN JUST three days we've had 78 emails from trade unionists wanting to take part in and sponsor the conference.'
So reports David Wilson from the Socialist Alliance national office about the amazing response to the conference which will debate one of the key issues for the trade union movement. The conference, on Saturday 16 March, will discuss whether the unions' political fund should all go to the Labour Party, as now, or whether it should be opened up for union members to give money to other parties.
Here are just some of the comments made by trade unionists signing up to the conference: 'Rank and file trade unionists and socialists have always agreed to pay the political levy to the Labour Party, because prior to New Labour the Labour governments assisted workers and their trade unions in a limited way,' says Kevin Flynn, secretary of Tyne and Wear Trades Council.
But now 'this is a middle class government without concern for the workers, the unions or socialism. 'Unions should only give members' money to a political party that is committed to the same value principle as their members have.'
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) in Cardiff is sending a delegation of four to the conference, and other CWU branches are raising the issue. Fran Choules is a postal worker in the CWU in Exeter, and was a Socialist Alliance candidate in Exeter at the last general election. 'It is obvious that our interests do not lie with the Labour Party,' he says, 'especially considering their tacit approval of backdoor privatisation for the Post Office.'
Paul Hampton, president of Hammersmith and Fulham NUT, says, 'The working class needs political representation. The trade union movement needs socialist politics. The Socialist Alliance needs to hammer out what this means.' Patrick Yarker is president of the Dereham and Fakenham association of the NUT, and is backing the conference because he is 'opposed to the creeping privatisation of education'. There have also been messages of support from trade unionists in MSF, Connect, PCS, NATFHE and many other unions.
Mark New is the joint branch secretary of UNISON at Dudley Group of Hospitals and a member of the union's national executive committee. He urges trade unionists to join the conference: 'The UNISON national executive has been instructed by our national conference to consult the wider union for opinions about how we should spend our political funds. This conference could not have come at a more appropriate time.'
The debate over the funding of Labour is raging throughout the trade union movement-even in trade unions not affiliated to the Labour Party. Every trade unionist should sign up for the conference today. Better still, raise the issue among your workmates, or at your next trade union branch or workplace meeting.
All quotes in a personal capacity.