by Kevin Halpin
ALLEGED IRREGULARITIES by Unite in the Labour Party parliamentary selection in the Falkirk constituency were exploited with glee by Prime Minister Cameron to put Party funding back on the agenda; to add justification to the ConDems latest attacks on trade union rights and freedoms, and generally embarrass opposition leader Ed Miliband.
Unfortunately Miliband went on the defensive suspending local party members and calling in the police and, even though they found there was no case to answer, did not lift the suspensions. In this he was supported by Mandelson, Blunkett and their cronies in the right-wing think tank, Compass.
His response was ill judged; he should have attacked Tory Party big business funding including donations as high as £12 million from one family alone, the Bamfords, owners of JCB.
Instead of this he set up his own internal consultation on reviewing the trade union link and reforming party funding with any constitutional changes being put to a special conference next spring.
This obviously antagonised trade union leaders who, like Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, have been urging Labour to abandon its policy of promising only fewer cuts and over a longer period than the ConDem regime. It is the bankers and tax-avoiding and tax-evading billionaires who are the enemy, not the millions of loyal trade union members who continue, as I do, to pay political levy and afﬁliate to the Labour Party.
Going back to Falkirk, it is worth remembering that the Unite members locally were working within the context of the union’s political strategy, endorsed last year by its policy conference, to win back the millions of Labour voters lost by the unpopular decisions of New Labour. The aim being to make Labour electable, supporting progressive and left policies and representing the interests of working people.
Only four per cent of MPs are former manual workers; which is not really representative of core Labour voters. This is just one of the challenges facing affiliated trade unions in their local constituencies and highlights the current crisis of political representation where the collective views and interests of the labour movement are not being properly represented in parliament. No wonder trade unionists who pay the political levy question why they give millions of pounds to Labour when they get so little in return; promises of fewer cuts over a longer period will not end austerity.
Set against this background, Miliband’s decision to seek to reform Labour Party funding seems even more foolhardy with a general election less than two years away. He is not proposing to sever the historic link completely but favours restricting Labour Party affiliation to the number of those who opt to pay the political levy who also then choose to become individual Labour Party members.
A very bad proposition because, given the lack of anti-big business policies, there are not going to be queues to join. In fact, it is estimated that only between five and 10 percent would take out individual membership.
But while unions could still choose to make one-off grants (from the political fund) to the Labour Party at election times, the unions’ collective voice in the party’s democratic processes and policy formulations would be immeasurably diminished. So, in effect, this is disaffiliation in all but name because it would be no more than a number of individual and disparate groups of members scattered unevenly around Britain.
Clearly, defending and saving the historic link between the Labour Party and its founders is crucial for working women and men to win a government with the policies to end the misery of austerity.
I am in no doubt that only a Labour victory can oust the Tories and their partners in crime the LibDems at the 2015 general election. And if (?when) Labour win then the affiliated unions must still be there to combat any backsliding and attempts to water down radical policies. So, despite Miliband’s attacks on the link, calling for disaffiliation is wrong.
This is a diversion at this stage as is any premature or sectarian attempt to set up a new workers’ or ‘left’ party.
The Communist Party accepts, as Lenin recognised over 100 years ago, that the working class needs a mass party of labour and we are committed to the struggle by the labour movement to reclaim control of the Labour Party.
We also recognise that there are no guarantees of success and, if the Labour Party cannot be reclaimed, the movement will then have to re-establish a party of labour.
The Communist Party will continue to assess the situation, including considering how the decisions of the Labour Party’s special spring conference – and indeed the outcome of the 2015 election – might affect our strategic positions.
Kevin Halpin is a retired engineering worker with over 50 years as a shop-floor activist and was founder chairman of the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions (now amalgamated into the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom)
This article appears in Unity@TUC published daily to delegates at the 2013 conference of the Trades Union Congress