The June 2012 congress of the GMB, Britain’s third biggest union, will debate the union’s political activity and its relationship to the Labour Party after a large number of branches submitted motions on the topic.
The GMB has historically been a “Labour-loyal” union and its leadership has found ways to prevent its relationship to the party being openly and frankly discussed at its Congresses. But a recent statement from its Central Executive Committee said:
“The CEC noted that over a quarter of motions to GMB Congress from branches across the whole of the UK relate to the political stance of the union. The CEC determined that the union’s relations with the Labour Party and what GMB members expect and want from the Party will form a major plank in the debate at GMB Congress in Brighton in June.”
The statement comes in the wake of press statements by union leaders including the GMB’s Paul Kenny, Unison’s Dave Prentis and Unite’s Len McCluskey criticising Labour Party leaders and indicating that their unions would be reviewing their relationship with the party.
It remains unclear what the parameters of the GMB’s debate will be. A debate at its 2008 Congress explored the possibility of withdrawing funding from sponsored MPs that had failed to support the union in key industrial battles; motions proposing the withdrawal of funding were defeated after GMB leaders said that Labour ministers “sometimes have to answer to higher priorities than GMB policy.”
Workers’ Liberty members in unions where the issue is debated will argue against precipitous disaffiliation and for unions to use their weight to assert independent working-class political interest, both within the Labour Party and outside of it.