Union leaders start to bark, but will they bite?

Submitted by Anon on 26 June, 2009 - 7:45 Author: Martin Thomas

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB general union, used his speech to the GMB congress in Blackpool (15 June) to call for the Labour Party to select “fresh working-class candidates that people can relate to”.

“Now is the time to select and elect 40 to 50 fresh real people, real trade unionists, people who actually know how much a pint of milk costs, and what it is like to get on a bus, MPs driven by commitment rather than being worried about being driven by a chauffeur”.

As ever, the question is, what will Kenny do about it? The Labour Party leadership obviously wants to limit the number of new candidate selections forced by the expenses scandals. Will the GMB push for more selection contests? To be done democratically?

And will the GMB push for the new candidates?

Will the GMB push for the Labour Party to restore the right of unions and local Labour Parties to put political motions to Labour Party conference? And use that right aggressively?

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public services union Unison, also used his speech at his union conference to lambast Labour. He declared that Labour MPs and candidates at the next election who backed further privatisation of public services should have funding withdrawn by Unison.

The intricacies of Unison’s constitution means that what the union’s political arm, the Labour Link, does cannot be directly debated by delegates on the floor of the union conference, so Prentis has pretty much a free hand in the precise meaning he gives to what his union website called “a barnstorming speech”. Will Unison use its weight at Labour conference this September/ October to push for public services, or even to restore the right of unions and local Labour Parties to put political motions to the conference? That remains to be seen!

Union activists should demand the leaders give bite to their bark.