Unite and Labour….choppy waters ahead?
Unite, my own union, is unquestionably the biggest donor to the Labour Party so the relationship between the two is a pivotal one for both parties. Len McCluskey’s now infamous interview with The Guardian seemed to indicate of a hardening of at least his attitude towards the Labour Party.
As well as complaining, rightly, about the conduct and sociological composition of Labour’s Parliamentary caste, McCluskey had this to say;
Within Unite we have been planning our political strategy, which is to have a common narrative with other unions and other like-minded people to reclaim the Labour party for our values, the values of decency, fairness, justice and equality. We intend to make certain that we try to persuade thousands and thousands of our activists to rejoin the Labour party, to play a role within the constituency Labour parties, and make certain that people who are elected speak with our values.
It’s a good thing for Unite to be encouraging its members to join the Party, however, I really would like to know what he means by ‘like minded people’. He surely cannot mean Mark Serwotka of the PCS who is hostile towards Labour. Incidentally, McCluskey’s refusal to rule out a merge with the PCS should worry the Labour high-command, even if a formal merger doesn’t take place, it’s clear that Unite is drifting away from the other two components of the big Labour 3, Unison and the GMB, and towards the PCS in-terms of its attitudes and campaigning priorities and strategies.
Who McCluskey should mean is rank-and-file members of the Labour Party who you would think would be his most natural allies in his fight to reclaim the Party for what he mistakenly calls Unite’s values. They are, in-fact, core Labour values and as such belong to the Party and the movement more than one specific union. This is part of the problem, never do I see union leaders seriously address themselves to Labour members as equal partners in the joint enterprise of making the Party great again. Either they are suggestively tapping their cheque book, casting a threatening look in the leaderships direction, or saying they will join people up to get their own way. When have you last seen the trade unions seriously weigh into, for example, the fight to make our Party more democratic? They mistakenly support things like the electoral college for electing our leader because it gives them a false sense of empowerment. When, for example, have you seen a trade union leader stand up and seriously say what we need is a larger, more representative, National Executive Committee elected on a regional basis or that the National Policy Forum should really be meeting and discussing issues like the proposed public sector pay freeze that McCluskey is so angry about? The irony is if they did, then they would find their position would probably win the day and gain popular traction quickly. In their conduct and proclamations, major union leaders enforce the false dichotomy between being a trade unionist and a member of the Labour Party.
McCluskey should be paying more attention to Labour members because I note that within the pages of Progress, Luke Akehurst is leading the charge for Unite’s moderates against the Unite leadership and its ‘stooges’. Luke ends his piece with this thinly veiled threat;
Len, we on the moderate wing of Unite and Labour are proud trade unionists too. You do not represent the totality of viewpoints among your membership. And in the years to come we will demonstrate that.
Luke wants to invert the goals and strategic approach of Len; calling on the Labour MP’s Unite sponsors to;
grow some balls and collectively and publicly tell Len they expect him to behave in a way that is consistent with Labour’s philosophy and policies and promotes our chances of winning a general election.
In other words, he wants to use the Labour Party to rein Unite in. For Luke therefore the Labour membership is actually a key constituency to win his arguments in. Sadly, I am not convinced that Len McCluskey takes the Labour membership as seriously. If he did, then dialogue with them would form a central plank of Unite’s new strategy. I think this is a grave tactical mis-judgment on the part of Len and the Unite leadership. I have alot of time for Mark Serwotka, his attitude to Labour aside, but conversations with him should not take precedence over the one that needs to happen between Unite and the Labour membership. If they are allowed too, then Unite and Len McCluskey might well find themselves dancing to the tune that the likes of Luke Akehurst play; not the other way around.