The government’s attack on pensions and the response from union members have already had an extraordinary political impact.
At the end of last week the Unison union’s Labour Link committee issued a statement suspending its support for the Labour Party.
The statement read, “In the circumstances of the union taking national industrial action against the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, named as regulator and decision maker regarding the local government pension scheme, it is felt that it is not appropriate or politically sensible to be organising, on one hand, for industrial action by the union while sending out letters and leaflets to many of the same members asking them to vote Labour.
“The decision has been taken to suspend our election campaigning work for Labour in the May elections while the industrial action is going on.
“Labour Link will not be giving any further donations or support to the campaign until we reach a solution to the present LGPS issue.
“This is a decision that affects our work for Labour’s election campaign in May nationally and locally.”
The Labour Link committee has the role of selling Labour Party involvement to the union’s members, who have to specifically sign up if they want part of their subs to go to the party.
As recently as 14 March, the link’s national committee was claiming that, “The major obstacle to a deal being struck over pensions was the Tory leadership of the Local Government Association (LGA) who refuse to move from their current position of opposing further protection and savings being made available.”
That analysis was always wrong, because Prescott can overrule the LGA at any time. As that became clear, the anger against Labour grew so strong that this committee felt forced to act.
This break from Labour, even if only temporary at this stage, is of great significance. The unions that have already been expelled or left Labour (the RMT rail workers and the firefighters’ FBU) are small. Unison is Britain’s biggest union.
Every three months it pumps half a million pounds into Labour’s coffers and supplies key personnel and organisational facilities for the party.
Many of the people who have loyally served Labour are enraged that low paid workers, many of them women, are being sacrificed on the altar of Labour’s determination to wreck pensions for everyone but the very rich.
We need militant unions, but also ones with a strong political voice.
That means funding organisations such as Respect and the Scottish Socialist Party which reflect the unions’ policies, not shovelling more and more money into the coffers of a Labour Party which is attacking the unions.