Unity is strength

Like many members of the Labour Party I’ve always taken comfort in the knowledge that I’m part of a movement, not just a political party.

There are many people I know, some in commerce and executive jobs, who are in the Labour Party because at the start of their working lives, a trade unionist in their workplace convinced them to join. Some are now even employers but for them the retention of a party card is an expression of a desire to remain part of that great movement of Labour. Some may call this nostalgia and it is often dismissed by those who always wanted to break the link. Yet this force – solidarity – is one of the defining characteristics that distinguishes Labour from say, the Lib Dems, the Tories or the SNP.

If this is the beginning of the end of that historic link, it is a very serious development that threatens a pillar of our democracy that has endured for over one hundred years. Some will scoff but they are fools to do so. That party card stands for something more than confirmation that an annual direct debit has been processed.

Over the next year we have been asked to consider a change to the constitution of the Labour party, though no detailed proposals have been revealed. I’m not opposed to reform but I will fight very hard to retain the fundamental link between the party and Labour movement.

21 comments ↓

#1 Michelle Wareham on 09.04.13 at 9:18 am

It’s sad that this union doesn’t think it needs the Labour Party either… I’m beginning to think a union like GMB has become an unnecessary middle man and can be bypassed and it’s more worthwhile to, just become a Labour member.

#2 John McPartland Cllr on 09.04.13 at 9:33 am

Tom has identified the essential difference between our Party and all the others. Without a deeper meaning at the core of the the Labour Party we mean much less as a Party. In effect, we exist to work for and represent working people, and when necessary to fight for them against the massed ranks of the Conservative Party of selfishness and greed.

#3 Tom Serpell on 09.04.13 at 9:38 am

Yes but… surely in 21st century Britain, where Union membership has become a minority among workers, Labour has to find a new way of engaging and creating solidarity, with the low-paid, dispossessed, unwaged etc too. Then it will be a Movement rather than just the party of the unions.

#4 Jon Morgan on 09.04.13 at 9:40 am

The Labour Party only has itself to blame, It has been hijacked by middle/upper class trendy liberals. It is not a party I recognise any more. I have worked for 35 years, mostly 7 days a week in the ship repair industry, petrochem & power. The Tradesman who keep this country running have been ignored by Labour(until you want our vote).We are the people you should be engaging with to get a real feel for the mood of the people. The party is in its death throes with no one else to blame but its self……….Good luck.

#5 Piltdown Man on 09.04.13 at 9:45 am

And the ties are already breaking down. Does Miliband REALLY know what he is doing?

He will after the GMB statement today:

“The GMB central executive council (CEC) has voted to reduce its current levels of affiliation to the Labour party from 420,000 to 50,000 from 2014.

This will reduce the union’s basic affiliation fee to Labour party by £1.1m per year. It is expected that there will further reductions in spending on Labour party campaigns and initiatives.

GMB CEC expressed considerable regret about the apparent lack of understanding the proposal mooted by Ed Miliband will have on the collective nature of trade union engagement with the Labour party.

A further source of considerable regret to the CEC is that the party that had been formed to represent the interest of working people in this country intends to end collective engagement of trade unions in the party they helped to form.

The CEC also decided to scale down by one-third the level of its national political fund.”

#6 Piltdown Man on 09.04.13 at 9:52 am

In fact I see on LabourList that a ‘senior Labour source’ responds with:

“Our biggest financial contribution comes from small donations and members. While we welcome all support this is a matter for the GMB.”

Put more simply is ‘sod off, who cares? What have the unions got to do with us?’

Not sure this is the Labour party I signed up for.

#7 martin hyde on 09.04.13 at 10:16 am

It baffles me, that the leaders of your party are some how afraid to stand up for the values that this party was first created, with wages dropping, more and more food banks opening and now we are told 4million plus people not being paid enough to live on, and Wonga and their ilk making huge profits, now is the time to shout it from the roof tops that there is a better (much more balanced way) to do things…there again, my frontal lobes haven’t been damaged by the fluoride they put in our water…

#8 Forlornehope on 09.04.13 at 10:43 am

As the vast majority of union members are in the public sector and of those more than half are in professional and managerial grades, solidarity is not with “the workers” but with middle class professionals employed by the state. Good on you mate – as the Aussies would say!

#9 Dick Droxford on 09.04.13 at 11:11 am

It is always interesting to me that Labour continues to claim that it is a movement. It may well be that there was a movement to improve the lot of working people in the UK many years ago, however the Labour Party was merely a component of that. There is now no fundamental difference between Labour, Conservative, or LibDem and therefore no justification for the continued syphoning of Union money into Labour Party coffers. One reason for this is the rise of the career politician. It is almost impossible to plausibly believe in the words of people who’s livelihood depends upon the very doctrines that they espouse. The harsh facts of life are that socialist ideals are only possible in a society that has been enriched by the very capitalists that they so despise. Until politicians of ALL hues take that basic message on board, we will continue falling over the economic precipice that we have made for ourselves. Finally, for all of those folks out there that think that this is just a Tory lie, designed to keep down and oppress the hard working proletariat.. let’s have a chat in another 10 years, or so. There is no point in doing it now, with 75% of the MSM bought into the lie that there are ‘cuts’ of any description happening in this country.

#10 Chris Johnson on 09.04.13 at 12:01 pm

Unfortunately this is an inevitable consequence of “New Labour”. The designation was intended, with the removal of clause 4 to signify a break from the tradition of being a party founded to support the rights and aspirations of workers to a middle ground social democratic party claiming to speak for all. The unions, on the other hand, still have to represent their members in what is becoming an increasing struggle against capitalist domination.

#11 Carole Reeves on 09.04.13 at 1:40 pm

I agree: our great strength, as the Tory party sinks below 100,000 and the Lib Dems have 50,000 members. What are we thinking of?

#12 ian pritchard on 09.04.13 at 2:43 pm

I fear its been coming for some years,as a working man and a Labour voter all my life i now feel like abstaining at the next election.
The working man no longer has a party he can rely on,I am aware that this may help the tories but better that than give my support to a party that says one thing and does another.

#13 Andrew on 09.04.13 at 4:49 pm

I am a member of the GMB because it was suggested that I join years ago. The union has been useful for me on two occassions – I work in the charity sector where employment practice may not be all that it could be. For that reason I will always be a member of the union as my subs can be used to provide the same support to others who may need it. And, I shall, at present, opt in to ensure that money is also sent to the Labour Party. But, I will not join the Labour Party. Why?

There are times when it seems so inward looking and the domain of ‘politicos’. This is not the movement that Keir Hardie headed, that Fenner Brockway left the ILP for or even that Herbert Morrison served so well. It is not the party that Gaitskill headed and that Wilson/Callaghan took forward. It is no longer the party that Foot ‘non-steered’ and certainly not the one that Kinnock tried to create.

The problem is the leader and his one year’s experience of working life outside of the political bubble. Even Cameron managed slightly longer in the media industry than that. When the leadership can again revert to people who grew out of the cohort that the party was founded to represent and not from the Marxist political bubble it became (Ralph was a theoretical marxist, not a real one) then it may have credibility. Until then it has my vote (a bit useless in a constituency where the labour vote was 7.5% of the vote) but not my engagement.

#14 Steve on 09.04.13 at 5:46 pm

If we are not a movement that gives a political voice to working class people, we are nothing and stand for nothing. it’s about more than the words on a membership card. Not only our values but our purpose.

#15 TerenceH on 09.04.13 at 7:08 pm

Mr Watson,
is this a wise slogan?
Unity is Strength was the slogan of the Mosleyite fascists, of the fictional fascists in “Brazil”, Star Trek’s “mirror Universe” and “V” and is very close the Motto of the old Apartheid South African State (Ex Unitate Vires).
Or have you a cunning plan?

#16 David on 09.05.13 at 1:37 am

I couldn’t agree more Tom. I firmly believe in modernisation but the union link is important: there has to be a party that formally stands for working people. Although union membership has dropped quite signficantly, the link is still relevant because it keeps the party in touch with many who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice, or influence. I think what is needed is a more transparent and democratic system on both sides, and that includes everything from leadership ballots to strike action. But let’s tackle those issues together, not separately.

#17 lee jeavons on 09.05.13 at 8:05 am

It would seem that the party that grew out of trades unionism now regards trades unions as the embarrassing elderly relative that they see at family functions, such as conference, once a year.

Trades unions recognised a while ago that the labour party had “grown up” if you like and that we couldn’t dictate policy. But to treat the largest voluntary organisation in the UK in this way is beyond foolish, particularly when I don’t see the Tories doing anything about their donors.

#18 Dick Droxford on 09.05.13 at 12:51 pm

The funny thing is, that although I disagree with you politically and think that you are often a buffoon in the way that present yourself, i had come to think (following your riteous resignation) that you might have been man enough to not moderate/pull my post. I guess my earlier instincts about you must have been right then lol.
I can only assume given the lack of comments here, that no one so far has agreed with you…

#19 Sharron Adey on 09.06.13 at 7:32 am

Absolutely
Labour=fairness
Unions=fairness
We are of one
Build the trust

#20 Mike Killingworth on 09.06.13 at 8:02 am

I suppose I’m a “Tribunite” – in any case I let my membership lapse over 20 years ago because any manifesto that can win an election in England will be far too right-wing for my taste.

The key point to notice is that Cameron gave up the PM’s greatest power – the right to call a General Election at the time of choice. Depriving Labour of adequate funds to fight future elections is his quid pro quo – I suppose Miliband is trying to shoot his fox.

#21 David Beere on 09.09.13 at 10:42 pm

I wholeheartedly applaud your defence of the Trade Union link. For historical reasons it may be the case that other Social Democratic parties do not have such arrangements. This is irrelevant. It is a matter for great regret that the leadership of the Labour Party is now in a position it may live to regret. Of course there are some actions of trades unions that we do not all agree with. Of course there are still some Trade Union ‘Barons’-or people who have such pretensions! But unions are ,essentially ,democratic and look after the interests of millions. The right wing Reaganite wave that has washed across Europe in the last thirty years has wreaked much damage in society. Small wonder that many young people know little of the work of unions. With goodwill a constructive link between Labour and its affiliates could achieve much. Finally ,we must emphasise that the illsof society are not caused by trades unionists but by the unequal structures in society and the unfeterred free market. Good luck

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