THE SENSE that New Labour has betrayed its working class supporters ran throughout the GMB union’s congress in Blackpool this week. Delegates voted unanimously to review the donations to MPs who do not share the ‘aims, values and priorities of the union’.
According to a GMB spokesperson this could see financial support removed from one third of the 100 MPs sponsored by the GMB, including Peter Mandelson. The first days of the congress were dominated by the debate about the union’s links with New Labour.
Leading figures in the union clearly recognised the depth of the bitterness against Labour. They had to devote a lot of energy to arguing why members should stick with the party. Retiring general secretary John Edmonds used his farewell speech to administer stern criticisms of the government:
‘I still have the persistent feeling that this Labour government feels more comfortable with the employers’ agenda,’ he said. Nevertheless Edmonds argued that trade unionists should work to reclaim Labour from the likes of the Hinduja brothers and Bernie Ecclestone, and for socialist values.
This message was reinforced by the GMB’s newly elected general secretary Kevin Curran. Curran had to reflect his members’ anger at Labour and he proposed a far-reaching review of the union’s links to the party.
Ian McCartney, the chair of the Labour Party, told delegates that if they pulled behind the government Labour could stay in office for a generation. But McCartney’s defence of Labour found little echo among delegates.
In the debate on the conference floor Keith Rowley from London backed a motion calling on the union to switch funds from Labour to union-backed campaigns. He argued, ‘I supported Labour for years, until Blair. I swallowed my revulsion and voted for them in 1997. But in 2001 I voted Socialist Alliance. This motion came from frustrated Labour members in my union branch. How can we back Blair, a man so hollow it’s a wonder he doesn’t explode?’
Chris Leary said, ‘Labour is opposed to our interests, with tuition fees, attacks on asylum seekers and a war no self-respecting socialist or trade unionist could support. The Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance have been making gains. They support our aims. We should be able to support them.’
The GMB leadership managed to win a vote against weakening the union’s link with Labour. Speech after speech from the conference floor denounced the impact of Labour policies – on the minimum wage, long working hours, the decimation of manufacturing industry and privatisation.
And the debates over the link with Labour will continue to grow. As delegate Danny Faith said at a Socialist Alliance fringe meeting, ‘Two years ago we moved that the union should stop supporting MPs who didn’t support union policy. They wiped the floor with us. ‘This time the motion was passed unanimously. This is a step forward.’
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