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Ed Miliband’s manoeuvre is an attack on unions

This article is over 7 years, 11 months old
Issue 2389

Ed Miliband is pushing ahead with his plan to weaken the union link to Labour. The proposals need agreement at a special conference but it’s pretty much a done deal.

He is proposing that members of affiliated unions opt in to party membership in future rather than opting out. 

Union leaders initially bounced between outraged rhetoric at Miliband’s plans and conciliatory noises. Now it’s just consolatory.

For all the talk of “opening up the party” the plan is really aimed at breaking the collective influence of unions and moving to a party based on individuals.

This is a way of watering down the influence that union leaders have on the Labour Party.

It will reduce money spent on Labour but more importantly it will reduce even further the influence unions have over Labour policy and candidate selection.

Trade unions will continue to affiliate collectively to Labour. But for the first time, the payment of affiliation fees moves the union members to an individual basis. 

Affiliated supporters will be attached as an individual to their constituency party—but with no rights over local or parliamentary selections. 

The role of MPs in the nomination process of party leaders would be strengthened so that only those who secured 15 percent of nominations from MPs will be allowed to contest.

The proposals will introduce US-style primaries where supporters choose the candidates for the London mayor.

Some Blairites are upset that MPs would no longer have one third of the vote in leadership elections. But they will only be satisfied if there are no union members in the Labour Party.

Labour is pushing for the party to be more like the US Democrats. Importantly Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman has suggested that slashing the union block vote at party conferences could be the next change.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “I am not so concerned with the block vote at conference.

“I’m more concerned with the conference meaning something.  At the moment they are stage-managed pretty much like Conservative Party conferences. 

“You pass resolutions and the leadership of the party then ignores them.”

That’s true—but union leaders seem to have little response to the situation.  They cling to the idea, despite all evidence to the contrary, that their link to the Labour Party is the way to get a government that meets workers’ aspirations.

There should be a debate on how unions spend their money. But that should not mean bowing to the Labour leadership. 

Unions should be political but they should also fight. Not doing that is the one thing the union leaders and the Labour leadership seem most in agreement on.


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