24 December is the end of the consultation period for local Labour Parties and trade unions on the proposals about Labour’s trade union link being prepared by Ray Collins.
Much will depend on the stance of Unite, the biggest union affiliated to the Labour Party.
Although Unite is considered a left-wing union, and although its United Left group, which commands a majority on the union executive, has voted for uncompromising defence of existing union representation in the Labour Party, the union’s position is ambiguous.
We understand that the union’s National Political Committee has passed a resolution to defend 50% union representation at Labour conference.
However, a 26 October circular from Unite political director Jennie Formby says that the decision will be taken by the Unite Executive at its December meeting. She says the EC will “consider views... from last week’s NPC meeting”, but does not tell union activists what those views were.
She outlines four “key points”. One will be welcomed by union activists: “The principle of collectivism of trade union affiliation is a red line issue; we will not tolerate any attempt to convert it to affiliation on the basis of individual sign-up”.
Collins was called in by Ed Miliband to draft proposals after Miliband’s speech on 9 July saying that, because of the allegations about Unite union misconduct in Falkirk Labour Party, he wanted to change things.
Both police and Labour Party investigations have since found no evidence of misconduct by Unite in Falkirk, but Miliband is pressing on.
The shape of what he and Collins will propose is unclear.
Everything depends on the unions’ response. With 50% of the vote at Labour Party conference, and large support on this issue from local Labour activists, they have the power to block harmful proposals at the spring special conference planned by Miliband.
So far almost all unions other than Unite have opposed any weakening of the unions’ say in the Labour Party.
Local Labour Parties and union branches should apply maximum pressure for the unions to stand firm.
We should draw the red line firmly and clearly, so that it is not crossed, and insist also on keeping the present level of union representation and that unions should not have changes in their rules imposed by external dictate.