Socialist Worker

Why do the unions bankroll New Labour?

Trade unionists spoke to Socialist Worker over what they feel about New Labour – they raised questions about the unions funding the Labour Party.

Issue No. 1784

WORKERS ACROSS Britain are beginning to voice their anger and frustration with the New Labour government. They see continuing privatisation and the government pandering to its big business friends while workers have to battle over pay, conditions and job cuts. Trade unionists spoke to Socialist Worker over what they feel about New Labour. They raised questions about the unions funding the Labour Party.

'ANYONE who thinks people are happy with the government should come to where I work. There are things like the hospitals. I had a minor operation before Christmas and had been on a waiting list for two years.

Another bloke's girlfriend was waiting months for a brain scan. But it's also about other issues like the schools and the war in Afghanistan. I am angry at pretty much everything the government has done. There is also transport. We get lots of lorry drivers coming through the warehouse where I work and they are always moaning about the state of the roads and the chaos.

My workmates think we should renationalise the railways. I hardly speak to anyone who doesn't think that. People also talk about things like pay and long hours. We work 12-hour shifts. Some of them are nights including Saturday nights and now we have to work Sundays.

We get £5 an hour basic pay. A lot of people aren't happy about it. Then they look at the big issues, they see things are all going wrong and they know it's because of what this government is doing. But they also aren't happy with the leadership of our union Usdaw. I mean, people in the workplace are really pissed off with New Labour.

Yet during the last election a double decker bus went round with New Labour MPs urging people to vote Labour. Half the people on the bus were officials from Usdaw. Our workplace was non-union before the last election. Now about half the workers are in the union but most don't contribute to the political fund. We had to fill in extra forms to stop paying the political levy. The union doesn't make it easy for you to do this. But people didn't want to give their money to New Labour.

I've since joined the Socialist Alliance. I think the conference they have organised in March over the political fund is a good thing. It's an opportunity to say to people there is an alternative. You don't have to think this is the way things have to be.'
MATHEW DANAHER, Christian Salvesen, Southampton

Things have got worse

'PRIVATISATION is what I hate most about the government. I have been working for 11 years in catering in the health service. When the government brings in private companies they just whittle down the workforce.

The NHS have closed hospitals and there is just nowhere for people to go. I think things have got worse in the last five years. My partner is off work sick and the government has cut his money. My daughter is a single parent with three children. I work to keep all of us.

Tony Blair should open his eyes to what's happening in Britain before he goes off bombing other cities. And that war in Afghanistan has just brought suffering to the people there. I was pleased when I heard about the rail workers' strike. Privatisation on the rail caused accident after accident-how many more people have to be killed before the government does something? It's just because all those rail companies care about is making money.'
PAULINE KEMPSTER, St Clement's Hospital, east London

Let down and furious

'I FEEL really let down by this Labour government. When they got elected in 1997 I didn't think things would happen straight away. But I did hope a renationalisation project might come back in or at least be talked about.

But the government have snubbed us and they are not listening. Now they are in their second term and things don't seem to have changed at all. On Stagecoach buses where I work the bosses know they can get away with the way they treat workers and the public. Stagecoach employ workers for a 'rapid response system'.

That means workers travelling around the country and blokes are working 50 to 60 hours a week. The government seems to be okaying that. I'm in the TGWU union. I feel terrible that some of our union money goes to New Labour.

I think it is one of the issues that should be talked about. Labour MPs are subsidised by us. We put in all this money and we aren't getting any help back. Then there are our union leaders who seem to worry more about what Tony Blair wants than their own members.

When I heard about the rail workers' strike I thought, 'Great, perhaps things have really started to get going.' We have been trying to do it for a while on the buses, not winning massive victories but getting a few little digs in.

I think people are starting to realise that they have to stand up and take action for what they want.'
RICHARD HAWES, Stagecoach bus driver, east Kent

'I THINK what is really frustrating is, the government announces all these new initiatives but it doesn't fund them. I can see the problems this causes in the council where I work. It means a lot of workers suffer from stress, people leave work and there are a high number of agency workers. It affects the services too. They talk about supported living for disabled people but the funding isn't there.

New Labour want to PFI all the non-teaching services in schools across Luton. I'm totally opposed to this. Does it mean McDonald's will be providing school meals for children? I voted Labour in 1997 and I'm really disappointed. I've not seen any change. I didn't bother to vote last time round. I just didn't have any enthusiasm. I wish now I had voted for the Socialist Alliance.'

TINA BEDDOWS, UNISON officer in Luton council

'AT MY union branch there was a unanimous vote to support the Socialist Alliance conference on the political fund. We have voted to send five delegates just from our committee.

I had expected there to be some opposition-at least three of the people in the room were Labour Party members. But for people the issue is clear. It is obviously not the case any more that union funds should automatically go to Labour.'
TOM HICKEY, NATFHE, Brighton University

Have your say

WORKERS UP and down the country echo the comments from trade unionists. That is why a conference has been organised in March to discuss, should the money in the unions' political fund go exclusively to New Labour? It will debate whether that fund should be opened for union members to decide to give money to other parties.

The Socialist Alliance, an organisation that brings socialists to the left of Labour in England together, has called the conference. It is an opportunity not only to voice the bitterness people feel at New Labour, but to debate what the alternative is.

Union members and branches across the country are raising support for the conference. In the last week the Unison branch across London's UCLH hospitals has voted to back the conference, as have RMT members on London Underground in Neasden. You do not have to be delegated by your trade union branch to attend the conference.

You can register straight away. Forms are available to take round your workmates to get them to sign up too. There is also a model motion to get support for the conference raised at your union branch.


The political fund: where should it go? Saturday 16 March, 11am-4pm Camden Centre, Bidborough Street, London WC1 Called by the Socialist Alliance. Registration is £4 waged, £2 unwaged. To register phone 020 7791 3138 or email [email protected]

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Article information

Sat 26 Jan 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1784
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