Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Holding the line on defending the link?

"Labour aims to reassure trade unions by easing in party funding changes" according to the Grauniad headline, although the full story suggests a slightly more complex story emerging from discussions between Ray Collins and the unions (and UNITE in particular).


It would appear that a selective drip feed of information to the Guardian Political Editor is being used to float ideas which might form the basis of a hoped for compromise, thereby avoiding a major row at the unnecessary Special Conference in March.

The unions need not to fall for "phasing-in" of anything other than cosmetic change - and Constituency Parties should have an eye not just to the potential consequences for party funding of adverse change, but to the political consequences of cutting the Party adrift from its trade union moorings.

It will be ironic if the "one Union, two sections to our political fund" fix which was brokered more than twenty years ago to enable a merger between affiliated and non-affiliated unions now emerges as a favoured model, but the UNISON approach is at least consistent with collective affiliation, as opposed to the total individuation of the relationship between trade unionists and our Party hinted at by Ed Miliband in his 9 July speech.

The battleground may be shifting to the arrangements for voting at Party Conference, where the 50% of the vote for affiliated organisations has to be a red line which we do not cross. No amount of concessions on policy questions in the here and now (up to and including a pledge to bring the Trade Union Freedom Bill into law) would be worth a further dilution of union influence in the Party.

UNITE is "seen as the swing union" (which hardly amounts to praise for the clarity of the approach of its officials on this issue up to now). Jim Kelly, lay chair of UNITE's London and Eastern Region, has it right when he says that the link can be defended if the unions stand together. The forthcoming meeting of the UNITE Executive will be critical and I hope that the good sense expressed (for example) on the website of UNITE's United Left will prevail.

I was pleased to speak last week to Party members in Edmonton, North London, on behalf of the Defend the Link campaign, and some positive suggestions were made by sympathetic Party members about how to renew and strengthen the link at a local level. If we can defend the link we need to move the debate on in that direction.

First though, we have to defend the link.

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