How can we stop the Tories’ assault? That was the question asked but not answered at this year’s TUC Congress in Bournemouth.
For many union leaders Plan A was simple. Push Labour to be a bit more left than it was in government last time and wait for it to be elected.
But Plan A has gone wrong. Labour leader Ed Miliband seems determined to spurn union advances.
Labour accused the Unite union of corruption in the parliamentary candidate selection process in Falkirk.
Unite has since been cleared.
But this row revealed a deeper crisis. At its heart is the question of whether the Labour Party looks after the interests of workers—in however a limited way.
Miliband wants to get rid of union affiliations to Labour to encourage more people to join the party. This has sparked outrage among union leaders, partly because it directly attacks their influence.
The GMB union has cut £1 million of its funding to Labour. This is intended as warning as to what the changes will mean for Labour’s cash flow.
Unison leader Dave Prentis denounced Miliband’s plans as “living in cloud cuckoo land”.
Unite’s Len McCluskey is generally more conciliatory.
He said, “We want to engage in a proper debate and discussion to see whether we can strengthen the relationship and make sure that we create a Labour Party that is on the side of ordinary working people.”
Miliband told delegates at the TUC, “It is you who have been telling me year after year about a politics that is detached from the lives of working people. We need to build a party truly rooted in the lives of all the working people of Britain once more.”
But Labour is at best aloof on the things that matter. At worst it agrees with the Tories.
Union leaders are rightly furious at Labour announcing it would stick to the coalition’s spending plans for 2015-16 if it wins the next election.
Prentis called it “madness”.
Union leaders need promises of change from Labour so they can focus on re-electing the party, not calling action, as a way to beat the Tories.
But Labour is refusing to reverse the cuts. And this is leading to repeated crises.
So, there is much discussion of the evils of zero-hours contracts. Striking Hovis workers (see page 18) have beaten them in Wigan.
That is a better approach than spending millions of pounds to get Labour to think about doing something about employment law.
There was much rhetoric on the importance of standing up for union members at the TUC.
But until enough pressure is put on union leaders to call and support action against the Tories and the bosses they will remain paralysed.