Socialist Worker

The CWU union slashes its funding for Keir Starmer’s Labour Party

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2780

Postal workers have fought both Tory and Labour governments

Postal workers have fought both Tory and Labour governments (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Members of the postal and telecoms workers’ CWU union have voted to end all but their most basic national funding to the Labour Party.

The decision, taken at a special online conference on Sunday, comes after another union—the food workers’ Bfawu—split completely from Labour in September.

The vote shows that many union activists are angry at Labour’s shift to the right under leader Keir Starmer.

CWU general secretary Dave Ward said, “The current Labour leadership is failing to connect with working class communities and that was made clear by the scores of our members who spoke passionately in the debate.” But the vote is also a sign of tensions between Labour’s leadership and the union leaders who support and fund the party.

The motion, proposed by the union’s leading national executive council, said, “In more recent years, our relationship with Labour has always been underpinned by the idea that the Party will not get something for nothing.”

Promise

It echoes the promises of the Unite union’s recently-elected general secretary Sharon Graham, who has promised a “return to the workplace” over a focus on Labour.

It’s also similar to Ward’s message to Labour when he was elected CWU general secretary in 2015, while Ed Miliband was still Labour leader. Miliband and previous Labour leaders Gordon Brown and Tony Blair had marginalised union leaders’ influence in the Labour Party.

They also rejected even the limited reforms and protections that union leaders fund Labour to deliver.

That’s why Ward and some other union leaders backed Jeremy Corbyn as leader. As Ward told Socialist Worker in 2016, “I stood for general secretary on a ticket that said Labour’s not going to get something for nothing.”

Union leader Sarah Woolley defends split from Labour
Union leader Sarah Woolley defends split from Labour
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Now some union leaders worry that Starmer will marginalise them again—and will return to attacks on workers.  The CWU’s motion also complained that “the Labour Party is failing to break through and seems more concerned with factional infighting than it does reaching out to working people.”

But despite their anger at Starmer, most union leaders won’t break from Labour. 

Ward opposed outright disaffiliation from Labour. Instead, the motion said the union would only fund Labour candidates “that support CWU industrial and political aims.”

Breaking from Starmer can’t simply mean relying on other Labour politicians working under his leadership.

The alternative is the power workers have in unions—to fight over low pay, workers’ rights, against racism, and climate change—with strikes and mass struggle.


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