Unite Executive backs Collins

February 13, 2014 at 6:15 pm (capitulation, Johnny Lewis, labour party, reformism, unions, Unite the union, workers)


By Johnny Lewis (with help from Colin Foster)

The Executive Council (EC) of Unite today voted to back the Collins proposals on the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions. Apparently, just 13 members voted against and the union’s United Left was split three ways, with some voting in favour, some against and some abstaining.

Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey had already made his attitude clear by ensuring that the two Unite full-time officials on Labour’s Executive voted for the proposals on 4 February. The Unite lay rep on the Labour Executive, Martin Mayer, abstained (and is reported to have done the same at the EC), while stating that he does not like the proposals.

It is, sadly, a traditional approach of trade union leaders: to accept bad proposals without a fight because they are pleased with the adroit negotiation which made the proposals not as bad as they might have been, and they think that further “boxing clever” can curtail the remaining evils.

It looks as if most union leaders will follow McCluskey’s lead when the proposals go to a two-hour Labour Party special conference at the Excel Centre in London on 1 March.

Local Labour Party delegates, and as many unions as possible, should still vote against the proposals on 1 March, if only to lay down a marker for the battles between now and 2019 and to register a principle.

The principle is that no-one should vote for a far-reaching package like Collins’s unless they are positively convinced that it is good, and that they have had adequate space to consider, debate, and amend the package.

In fact the Labour leaders have planned 1 March as a “coronation” for the package. Moves are afoot to seek a vote in parts on the package, but that will take a struggle. Scope for amendments? None.

The evil in Collins is not so much in what it proposes immediately (though that includes bad things) as in its projection for 2019:

“After a transitional period of five years, affiliation fees shall only be accepted on behalf of levy payers who have consented to the payment of such fees. At that point, the scale of a trade union’s collective affiliation shall be governed by the number of levy payers who have consented to the payment of affiliation fees”.

That reads bland and technical, but it is not. The gist is the very opposite of the blather about building Labour as a mass working-class party.

Individual not-very-politically-active trade unionists currently have a political say through their unions’ collective representation in the Labour Party and through the right to vote on Labour leader and deputy leader.

Under the Collins plan, from 2019 all those individuals who fail or forget to tick a box on a form will be compulsorily “opted out” from their unions’ democratically-decided, collective, political action in the Labour Party, and form their individual voting rights in the Labour Party.

It is not spelled out in Collins’s text, but the aim here is to engineer smaller affiliation numbers so as to gain leverage for reducing the unions’ representation at Labour conference and in Labour committees.

Such reduction will increase the overweighting in the Labour Party of professional politicians, advisers, researchers, think-tankers, and their business-people friends.

It will firm up the characteristics of the Labour Party that shape the leaders’ current policies for continued pay freezes and cuts after 2015, and a feeble fight against the Tories.

Rumour has it that Unite will reduce its formal Labour-affiliation numbers soon, and the GMB will reduce its numbers too, though not as much as it said it would a few months ago.

The “clever” idea here seems to be that if unions’ formal affiliation numbers have already been reduced before 2019, at a time when unions still have their 50% vote at Labour Party conference, then the reduction to box-ticking numbers in 2019 will not be steep and will give less fuel to the Labour right-wingers who want to reduce union representation.

But the 2019 plan should be contested head-on.

The Defend The Link campaign is preparing material to tease out the detail of the Collins report, and will be active at the conference on 1 March.

And after that the battle must continue. Only two rule changes are to be voted on 1 March. Properly, the proposed shift in 2019 should require a further rule change.

Some Labour Party insiders warn that the leadership may try to make the shift without a rule change, but that can and should be contested.

Defend the Link

Collins report

1 Comment

  1. Jim Denham said,

    From the United Left email list:

    kingsley abrams Feb 14 07:06AM

    13 of us voted against the Collins Review at the Special EC. The Chair of United Left abstained again!

    As usual Unite will continue to do whatever the Labour leadership ask us to do, regardless of the awful treatment that we receive from the Labour leadership. The current leadership of Unite/ United Left will never dis affiliate from the Labour Party even if Labour lose the next general election.

    Len argued that the Collins Review, apart from a few minor changes, is no different from the resolution passed at our December EC. I now wish to apologise for voting for the Collins Review at our December EC! I do not like people insulting my intelligence.

    In the meanwhile the Vice Chair of unite Executive Council is sacked by Ineos and the former Chair of unite Scottish Region resigns from Ineos.

    But I have far more important issues to deal with in my sector than the Collins Review.

    Last week Paul Boskett, Chair of cyw national committee, died of a massive heart attack. Paul’s death comes at critical time for the youth service as Labour Councils continue to cut jobs and services.

    And two days ago Bryn Kennedy our Convenor at One Housing Group was suspended for his trade union activities. A meeting has been called for next Monday at 6pm at Unite House in order to organise a campaign to get Bryn back to work.

    Twitter : @kingsleyabrams
    M: 07932 447 763

    Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2014 19:48:58 +0000
    Subject: [United Left] Unite special executive today
    From: martin.tgw910@talktalk.net
    To: unitedleft@googlegroups.com

    The special UNITE executive council today voted to support the Collins Review document and therefore to recommend the UNITE delegation votes YES at the special Labour Party Conference on 1st March. Many reservations were expressed by executive members about the potential diminution of the collective strength of the trade unions in the party structures as a result of the individual opt-in to the payment of the £3 party affiliation fee once the 5-year transition period ends in 2019. Len McCluskey challenged this view by pointing out that the collective strength i e. 50% at conference etc remains in place and can only changed by a vote of the unions to do so. He said the UNION would commit itself to an ongoing plan to maximise the number of members to sign up to the £3 individual affiliation fee to maintain a high level of affiliation. He believed there would be support to retain the current structure not just from trade unions but from many ordinary party members many of whom are also members of trade unions. He also argued that UNITE’s influence in the party was at a high level and we are influencing policy and getting union members selected as candidates. This may be “last chance saloon” as more than one executive council member said to give the party a chance to offer a real alternative to working people as we run up to the election. We may yet disaffiliate from Labour if they fail and we lose the next election. But Len argued this was no reason to vote against the Collins Review which was in his view in line with much of UNITE’s “red lines” as expressed in our executive response to the consultation. On this basis council voted to support. Martin Mayer
    Sent from Samsung Mobile

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