The crisis of British capitalism is reflected in the war waging inside the Labour party between Ed Miliband and Len McCluskey General Secretary of Unite, the biggest Trade union in Britain. Unite donates large sums of money to the Labour party. According to Channel 4’s FactCheck:
Unite the union is Labour’s biggest donor by far. It has provided 20 per cent, or £11.9m, of party donations since the election. Unite says it has given Labour £8m in fees in the last three years. The union told FactCheck that the remaining £3.9m (that makes up the £11.9m) “lumps in everything” across Scotland, England and Wales: sponsorship, conference fees, any funding to re-elect Ken Livingstone, regional campaigns – every last leaflet. 
Miliband in a letter to Labour Party Members is propagating the idea of “one nation”, so that Labour can prepare for coalition government with either the Tories or Liberal democrats. Miliband states “A hundred years the Trade Unions helped to found the Labour Party” . In 1902 the working class through the trade unions founded, built and financed the Labour party to advance the cause of the working class by representing it in parliament. The block vote was used to protect the party from the influence of the ruling class. Miliband further comments “The organised Trade Unions are no longer part of the Labour party, we are changing that relationship between the Labour party and the trade unions” . The actions of Kinnock who drive out the Militant Tendency and Blair who removed Clause 4 from the Labour party constitution were designed to kill off the last vestige of socialism in the Labour party. Miliband takes up the right wing offensive anew and wants to turn the Labour party into an open capitalist party with no connection to the trade unions or the working class, although he wants to continue receiving big donations from unions like Unite.
And in the compromise that McCluskey is accepting we see that the game is not to starve the Labour party of funds but to abolish the political levy. The levy is taken from each member’s contributions and amounts to £3 per year on an “in if you do not opt out” basis. As we can see from the exact same debate in the middle 1920s (see front page) all Tory and Liberal politicians want an “out if you do not opt in” position which would cost the party millions of lost subscriptions if that was the only option. But there is a third way which works so well in the relations between the trade unions and the Democrats in the US; The TU bureaucracy donates millions of dollars to the Democrats in the main (although some money also goes to the Republicans) but they do not get any votes at conference, of in local associations of the party. And here is the target of the Cameron/Clegg assault which now looks like it might bear fruit. McCluskey might agree to the Unison position (two funds, two boxes to tick when joining, if not ticked 50% is allocated to the Labour party and 50% to the general political fund). Miliband might consider this as a compromise.
Ending the political levy would abolish the block vote at conferences and in local associations. But, our ultra left opponents will argue, that block vote is totally undemocratic, signalling a relationship between the bureaucracy and the Labour leaders, who fundamentally agree with defending the capitalist system and all its profits and privileges in private, whatever they say in public. This allows little democracy to the members. True enough (but ‘consultations’ sometimes happen) but that only means that the task is to democratise the TUs and get value for union funds to Labour above the pathetic pre-election Warwick agreement between Labour and the TUs which yielded almost nothing. From the unions we must take the fight into the Labour party in the course of building a new revolutionary leadership for the class. “Those who cannot defend current gains will never make new ones” Trotsky said and the political levy does allow the membership of the TUs to put pressure on their leaders to get value for the millions spent on Labour.
Let us not forget that it was the response that Jerry Hicks got on this very question from 80, 000 Unite members, 36% of the vote for Unite General Secretary, that aerated McCluskey to make his stance against the dead hand of the Labour party leadership who effectively dominate the inner lives of the trade unions politically. Now we must be on our guard against McCluskey’s attempt to abandon this fight.
This attack on trade union influence in the Labour party is being orchestrated by Cameron and Osborne. The introduction of the bedroom tax and attacks on benefits through welfare reform means that it is necessary to purge the Labour party of the trade unions so that Miliband and Balls can be ‘responsible’ members of a future Coalition government.
McCluskey as leader of Unite has put a different perspective on the link denying that Miliband wants to sever it. It is clear from McCluskey’s recent statement that the trade union bureaucracy will not fight to defend the link. McCluskey said on Unite’s website “But Ed is onto something, participation in politics in this country is at an all-time low” . This is desperation politics from the leader of Unite. Later on in his statement McCluskey capitulates fully to Miliband and his politics of coalition. We do not expect any help from the trade union bureaucracy to defend the political levy or the historic link with the Labour party. He comments “It is a link, Ed’s changes do not signal a break in the Union/Labour party link” . What started this war of attrition and has now led to McCluskey’s climb down was Unite campaigning to get Labour parliamentary candidates whom the trade union supports.
Trotsky in 1925 “Where is Britain Going” explained the role of the block vote and the political levy: “the trade unions are for the unconditional right to the enforced collection of the political levy” .
Later on Trotsky comments “We regard the trade unions on the one hand as militant economic organisations , after all if the citizen has the right to vote for any party, then workers organisations have the right not to allow into their midst citizens whose political behaviour is hostile to the interests of the working class” .
The working class through the trade unions founded, built and financed the Labour party at the beginning of the last century to advance the cause of the working class. Miliband and all the opportunists and careerists are on a path to purge the Labour Party of its proletarian base and drive the trade unions out of the Labour Party.
The Unite leadership and other must tell Miliband to halt this attack. At the forthcoming Labour party conference the Unite leadership must put proposals to defend the historic link, support the political levy and campaign to drive out of the Labour party all those who are intent on turning the Labour Party into a mark 2 Tory party.
Socialist Fight No.19
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