Reports in the mainstream media that Ed Miliband is about to “break the link” with the unions, are somewhat exaggerated – or at least, premature. The main thing about the Collins report (examining the Labour/union link in the aftermath of the Falkirk non-”scandal”) is that, while it doesn’t change union representation in the LP immediately, it contains a “time bomb” promising to change it in 5 years’ time. It’s obviously important to oppose that, and the ‘Defend The Link’ campaign’ will be producing a briefing in the next few days. However, silly people who think there’s something “progressive” about breaking the link will, no doubt, seize upon the Collins recommendations (to be pushed through the Party NEC tomorrow, before a special Party conference on 1st March) to pronounce the link either dead already, or not worth defending.
Up until now, the only people within the labour movement publicly arguing for breaking the link have been the Socialist Party and the treacherous Blairite scum of ‘Progress’. But now, some serious people ostensibly on the left within the labour and trade union movement seem to be taking up what is, essentially, a defeatist position. Some influential people around Len McCluskey are taking about disaffiliating if Labour loses the next general election, and the Daily Mirror’s respected columnist, Kevin Maguire, argues, in today’s edition, for unions to break with Labour and “issue bold agendas and seek to radicalise Labour from the outside, instead of swallowing abuse on the inside. ” In other words, a “left wing” version of the relationship that US unions have with the Democrats. It sounds very radical, doesn’t it? In reality, it means giving up on the idea of the working class having a party of its own. We republish Maguire’s piece (below) so that activists know the sort of arguments to expect from so-called “left-wingers” in favour of breaking the link:
Mirror columnist Kevin Maguire argues that it’s time the unions left what he calls “their abusive relationship”:
It’s time for the trade unions to march proudly out of Labour’s front door instead of being slowly bundled out of the back.
Rather than enduring a thousand indignities, organised labour should take its money and people and abandon institutional links with the party it fathered, nurtured, saved and continues to sustain. However Ed Miliband dresses up these far-reaching reforms, which were triggered by his blind panic over the selection of a parliamentary candidate in Falkirk, the truth is he wants union cash but not the unions.
The Labour leader elected on the back of members is terrified of the “Red Ed” tag, never forgiving those who awarded him the top job. Miliband’s treatment of the unions reminds me of the Tony Blair era when the general secretary of the TUC, John Monks, complained they were treated like “embarrassing elderly relatives” by an ungrateful leader.
Votes were fixed weeks ago to pass Miliband’s package at this week’s meeting of Labour’s national executive committee and a shamefully short two-hour conference on St David’s Day.
Yet speaking to very senior figures in the biggest unions, including Unite, Unison and the GMB, I know they feel they get poor value for money as they begin contemplating a moment when they could formally break from the party. They shouldn’t be afraid when a split might benefit both, mutual interests better served by space when living in each other’s pockets creates an unhappy marriage.
It’s an issue I’ve wrestled with for years, listening to the arguments from both sides.
The great Jack Jones counselled “murder yes, divorce never” but I believe Labour and the unions are a couple who need to go their separate ways.
The argument for one member, one vote in Labour will always trounce justifications of creaking federal structures. Miliband changing how leaders are elected prompts questions he hasn’t thought through about his own legitimacy under a discredited system.
And he’s in La-La land if he thinks anything short of outlawing union membership and transporting activists to Australia would end Tory smears.
But Miliband can do his job and union leaders can negotiate policies for donations rather than handing over millions of pounds in return for sniping and ingratitude. The party over the past few decades got more out of the link than the unions. A prominent Labour figure, a supporter of party ties, told me it was frustrating that unaffiliated unions such as the teachers, cops and nurses were courted while affiliated unions were vilified. A Labour MP, a champion of the union link, whispered that he was afraid Ed is opening a Pandora’s box.
Left-wing unions withholding up to £4million from Labour under a new membership system, he said, would have the resources to fund a rival party. Creating a UKIP of the Left would be self-defeating for indulgent unions, with Tories the only winners if a weakened Labour is electorally drained. The challenge for independent unions would be to issue bold agendas and seek to radicalise Labour from the outside, instead of swallowing abuse on the inside.
Miliband’s reforms are essentially a power grab dressed up as democracy.
He is a leader who strengthened his patronage by abolishing elections for Labour’s Shadow Cabinet and Chief Whip. Emperor Ed raising from 12.5% to 20% the number of MPs required before a candidate may stand for the leadership is a narrowing of Labour politics intended to stop a Leftie winning a party vote.
The rule would’ve barred Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott, limiting the last contest to a family affair, with elder brother David likely to have beaten the younger Miliband the most delicious irony of the reforms.
Tellingly, not one union has affiliated to Labour since the Second World War and a couple, the RMT railworkers and FBU firefighters, departed. The other unions should call Miliband’s bluff and leave by that front door. Once out, they’ll never want to go back in.