Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/157/7809

From The Socialist newspaper, 12 May 2000

Will the unions break with Labour?

THE BEGINNING of the trade union conference season and the battle over the selection of Labour's London mayoral candidate has opened up the whole issue of trade union support for the Labour Party. Bill Mullins writes.

NOT ALL unions balloted their members in the London mayor selection contest but around 80% of union members balloted voted for Livingstone (see box)

Most trade unionists who voted for Livingstone whilst he was still in the Labour Party voted for him in the election itself. This is a conscious vote against New Labour by tens of thousand of trade unionists.

Labour's historical grip over the trade unions is beginning to loosen. It demonstrates that the issue is beginning to take hold in the unions and could become even more viable if a credible alternative on the left appears.

Funding

TRADE UNION leaders have agreed to double their donation to Labour's general election campaign fund. In 1997 the unions donated 6 million of Labour's 26 million spending. For the next election they have promised a staggering 13 million. They have also agreed to increase annual subscriptions from 1 million to 2 million.

Individual unions like UNISON spend 1.5 million per year on the Labour Party, others such as the engineering union AEEU and the TGWU donate nearly as much. Smaller unions like the CWU hands over 500,000 per year. Now they have threatened to hold back their promised increase of 100,000 unless New Labour abandon their plans to allow privatisation of the Post Office by the back door.

From 1979 to 1997 the unions paid over 200 million to the Labour Party. In that 18-year period, whilst the Tories were in power, the unions told their members to wait patiently until Labour won the election. The leaders held back their members from industrial action again and again.

Now after nearly three years of New Labour, trade union members are increasingly asking: "What are we getting for our money?"

Ian Aitken in the Guardian examines the relationship between New Labour and the unions with an article entitled: "New Labour may not like us but it needs our money".

After saying strikes to save the Rover jobs are ruled out, he says: "So the unions are effectively reduced to pleading with the government to do something - anything, they know not what - to prevent the remorseless process of cost-cutting at the expense of their members' livelihoods..." "If we can't rely on the Labour government to protect our most vital interests... namely the jobs of our members... why do we give them all that money?"

Compare this attitude to the Blairites, who not long after the general election, leaked to the press that New Labour was about to dump its links with the trade unions. Stephen Byers let reporters know that this was Tony Blair's thinking.

Now Roger Lyons, the general secretary of MSF and chair of "Trade Unions for a Labour Victory" is wined and dined at Chequers. He was reported to be "thoroughly impressed with the contents of the wine cellar".

Membership

LABOUR PARTY membership is plummeting as the mainly middle class who joined after the election are jumping ship. Membership has fallen from 405,000 to 378,000 since 1997. This figure will fall even further as disillusionment with the government develops. One-third of Labour Party constituencies are refusing to send a delegate to this year's party conference as it is seen as a stage-managed conference. "Never mind" said one spin doctor, this gives more seats for the corporate sponsors".

Protests

THE RAIL union RMT London council has censured its deputy general secretary Vernon Hince, for releasing private letters to the press from Livingstone addressed to him as chairman of the Labour Party.

The 28,000-strong London construction branch of the AEEU has called for members to withhold their political contributions to the Labour Party because of the stitch-up for the mayoral election.

Resolutions to the CWU conference, initiated by Socialist Party members, calling for the union's political fund to be changed, will be debated next month. They call on the fund not to be wholly tied to the Labour Party. Similar resolutions have been ruled out of order in UNISON, so afraid are the leadership of rocking the boat for New Labour.

The RMT will be discussing similar resolutions. This is particularly shocking for the union leadership, given the role railworkers played in the founding of the Labour Party.

RMT branches in London have donated hundreds of pounds to support anti-privatisation candidates in the elections despite this being in conflict with the union rulebook.

But this issue is still at its early stage. The FBU, whose general secretary Jim Cameron was widely quoted at last year's TUC conference as being in favour of breaking with New Labour, has recently ordered his London region to reclaim their 3000 donation to Livingstone's campaign.

Three years ago the same union resolved to open up the political fund to other candidates supporting the union's policies but then reversed this at the next conference.

At local level the debate is beginning to take place on the need for the unions to have a new political voice. And it is clear that this will not be easily stopped.

As the general election approaches the union leaderships will be desperate to get the union's members behind New Labour. They will argue against opening up the debate for a new workers' party "when all efforts should be to keep out the Tories".

But this mantra is beginning to have less and less effect. In the public sector, workers are faced every day with hard-faced employers in the councils and in the health service.

Managers are encouraged by New Labour councils to "take on the unions". The governments "best value" contracts for council services are already causing widespread resentment, even though it only began last month.

Privatisation continues with a vengeance under New Labour. Public sector workers see little difference between the New Labour Party and the Tories.

Under these conditions, active trade unionists will demand that their union does not blindly give its loyalty to a party whose leaders have opposite and conflicting interests with the mass of trade unions Britain today.

Socialists

SOCIALISTS IN the unions will have to put themselves at the head of developments which lead to a break from Labour - now an openly pro-capitalist party - and begin the task of creating a new mass working-class political alternative.

However the union's leaderships will defend tenaciously their cosy links with New Labour whose outlook and ideology they share. So the breaking of the unions' link with Labour will not be a straight process or happen in one swift break.

At first there could be an tendency to loosen the link or donate less to Labour and use the union's political funds for other purposes or parties. In Spain unions ended their affiliation to PSOE in the 1980s but this did not see the creation of a new workers' party. Instead they adopted a 'neutral' or 'non-political' stance.

In Britain socialists will argue that a break from Labour must be to give a political voice to the disenfranchised millions of ordinary workers and trade unionists who have been let down by New Labour.

That means a campaign will have to be launched throughout the unions, whose aim would be to effectively disaffiliate from Labour and to begin the real process of building a new mass workers' party.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 12 May 2000:

Labour's Running Scared At Socialist Success

Elections 2000: Looking for an alternative to Labour

Socialist success panics Labour in Coventry

Left lessons in London elections

Putting socialists on the map in Carlisle

Election analysis 2000

Labour's meltdown is Left opportunity

Northern Ireland: Why the IRA shifted on arms

Will the unions break with Labour?


 

Home   |   The Socialist 12 May 2000   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  




Related links:

Labour:

triangleSheffield Labour council threatens peaceful protesters with prison

triangleHundreds turn out for rally aimed at removing west Wales Tory MP

triangleTories torn - bin them now

triangleSwansea Socialist Party: Mother Jones - A US labour pioneer

triangleThe end of the Tories?

Unions:

triangleRoyal Mail bosses block strike - back postal workers

triangleTories scrap the NHS pay cap: now fight for real-terms pay rises!

triangleNasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

triangleWaltham Forest Socialist Party: Black workers and the British trade unions

London:

triangleNorth London hospital workers fight cuts and job losses

triangleNo cuts - hands off King George A&E!

triangleTower Hamlets Socialist Party: "You can't have capitalism without racism" (Malcolm X)

Labour Party:

triangleUnite local government sector plans strike ballot

triangleHousing crisis: Corbyn's positive measures blanked by Labour's right

Election:

triangleThe Tories must be driven out

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns

19/10/17

North West

Arriva North West bus drivers strike over pay

18/10/17

Democratic rights

Conference on state spies: who's watching who?

18/10/17

Leeds

Striking back against sackers' charter at Leeds Uni

18/10/17

PCS

PCS ballots members on the pay cap

18/10/17

Royal Mail

Royal Mail bosses block strike - back postal workers

18/10/17

Art

'Dazzling' Bad Art show points to socialist future

18/10/17

Council

Sheffield Labour council threatens peaceful protesters with prison

18/10/17

South West Wales

Hundreds turn out for rally aimed at removing west Wales Tory MP

18/10/17

NHS

Uprising to save the NHS!

18/10/17

Socialism

Can you donate to the Socialism 2017 appeal?

18/10/17

East London

No cuts - hands off King George A&E!

18/10/17

North London

North London hospital workers fight cuts and job losses

18/10/17

BAE

Nationalise to save jobs at BAE Systems

18/10/17

Schools

Schools "can't go any further" - stop the cuts: set deficit budgets now

18/10/17

Swansea

Socialist Students 'welcome' Hillary Clinton to Swansea

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle19 Oct Arriva North West bus drivers strike over pay

triangle18 Oct Russia, October 1917: When workers took power

triangle18 Oct Tories torn - bin them now

triangle13 Oct The end of the Tories?

triangle11 Oct Nasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

triangle11 Oct CWU fights court attempt to stop national strike

triangle11 Oct The fight against racial discrimination is tied to fighting against...

More ...

triangle19 Oct Waltham Forest Young Socialists: Deaths in police custody

triangle19 Oct Swansea Socialist Party: Spanish revolution 1936-37

triangle19 Oct Cardiff East Socialist Party: Is equality for women possible under capitalism?

triangle19 Oct Wirral Socialist Party: The October 1917 Russian Revolution

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2