No to Collins, yes to political trade unionism

When looking at the Collins Report and its implications, we should remember where it comes from, argues Pete Firmin

Page 16_lord_collinsThere was no push from the Labour Party membership, let alone the unions, for “reform” of the relationship between the Party and the unions. Reports of the content of submissions to the Collins “consultation” indicate there never was support.  Yet following on from the spurious allegations into union activity in Falkirk, Ed Miliband chose to announce “there will be change”.

Rather than face down right wing opponents, Miliband chose to attack the unions. The message to trades unionists was “you’re not wanted”. It has been a long-term desire of the right of the Labour Party to get rid of the tiresome link to the unions, they saw this as their chance. Of course, trades unionists are welcome as individual members, but collective affiliation – the very essence of trade unionism – is rejected.

It quickly became obvious that an immediate scrapping of the union link would not win support and result in Miliband losing face for having “backed down”. But the proposals being taken to the recall Labour Party conference have the same effect. Some union leaders have defended this with the argument that final implementation is not automatic. If union leaders were really concerned to stop the final implementation, they would oppose them now.

Miliband has always claimed that these changes are to increase Party democracy. If that was the case then the proposals would have allowed a full discussion throughout CLPs and unions. But talk of increasing democracy is hypocritical from a Party leader who daily makes policy pronouncements with no participation by the Party, and who distances himself from unanimous decisions of Party conference, such as on the renationalisation of Royal Mail and the railways.

To add insult to injury, the process has been used to introduce primaries into the selection of Labour’s candidates. It may only be for London mayoral candidate and a limited conception of primaries at this stage but this is likely to be the thin edge of a wedge for the wider introduction of primaries – taking away what vestige of accountability exists for Party candidates and MPs.

Unfortunately, the proposals are likely to easily pass the recall conference. The task of the Left in the Party and unions is to build a campaign which can stop them being fully implemented in the next years. This process has at least shown who are reliable allies in this fight.

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