A Q&A on where next following the Labour party special conference held at ExCeL London on Saturday 1 March 2014.
Q&A The Collins Review: Let’s now rebuild our party
In September 2013, Lord Ray Collins was asked by Ed Miliband to look into the Labour-union ‘link’, the relationship between the Labour party and its affiliated trade unions
Lord Collins has proposed that only those trade union members who actively declare support for the Labour party should be affiliated to the party.
Unite is the biggest Labour-affiliated union in the UK. At present we affiliate one million members at £3 per member. In the spirit of the Collins Review, Unite’s Executive Council will shortly consider whether this level of affiliation is justifiable.
Unite is very positive about the Collins’ changes. They present our movement with a real opportunity to directly involve trade union members – the greatest body of ordinary men and women in the country - in politics.
Politics – and the Labour party - needs this shot in the arm. Public disaffection with all the main parties is at an all-time high, and with the Tory party manifesto being written by six wealthy men, five of them Eton educated, Labour is the only chance the people of this country have to get their voices heard.
Why does Unite back these proposals when they came after attacks on the union and its members in Falkirk?
Unite welcomes the opportunity this review presents to look at our relationship with the Labour party; all relationships must be dynamic and open to change if they are to stay healthy.
The new proposals fit in with Unite’s political strategy, which is to encourage as many of our members as possible to join and get active in Labour. In Falkirk, our members were doing just that – getting involved in their local Labour party, which had been dying on its feet, to revive its place in that community.
Unite did nothing wrong in Falkirk, as two police reports and the Labour party itself agree. However, vexatious briefing by those hostile to this union nearly destroyed the faith those members had in their party. That is why Unite will not walk away from this – we will be standing and fighting for what we believe in, which is a Labour party of and for the ordinary, decent people of this country.
Labour, remember, is OUR party. We – the trade unions - started it and this is a chance for six million ordinary men and women to really make their voices heard.
Unite has said that the `status quo’ wasn’t working very well for either side
Yes, our recent internal polling tells us that only half our members vote Labour. Our general secretary has said that it is right that only those that want to be active supporters of Labour should be affiliated.
But aren’t you giving away union ‘power’ - at conference or on the NEC?
No. We are renewing our link with party.
Crucially, Ray Collins made no mention of changes to conference or NEC composition in his report.
Once passed by conference, this is the settlement agreed by our party. We urge all to now to recognise this and get behind it, to respect this renewed union link and work now to ensure a Labour victory.
Unite will be working hard to engage directly with our members to build their support for Labour.
Will union members see Labour as their best chance?
If the Labour party wants the support of ordinary working people, it needs their unions. But it can’t just be left to us; Labour must demonstrate it offers a real alternative that will make a difference to our members’ lives, to their families and to the communities they live in.
Won’t cutting funds hamper Labour’s general election bid?
Unite wants Labour to be elected in 2015. They are the only alternative to the Tories and their destructive austerity policies.
So we will not let them lose the election through lack of cash, but the money we can give will be targeted very much at the campaigns and issues that matter to our members, such as the defence of the NHS and the urgent need to create jobs for our kids.
Are you worried that the Collins Review leaves the unions out in the cold during any leadership election?
There will only be a leadership election if Labour fails to win the support of ordinary working people and loses the general election. If Ed Miliband is allowed to take the policies of jobs, homes and hope to the nation, then he won’t just be Labour leader, but leader of our country too.
After the special conference on 1 March, the hard work begins. The ‘Implementation Group’, accountable to Labour’s NEC, will be charged with taking the Collins proposals forward. It will be these discussions that map out maximum engagement during the five year transition period, including for the London mayoral primary in 2015.
For Unite, the hard work now begins. We will be working hard to persuade Labour to go to the people of this country with an agenda of change and hope, which will result not just in the financial support of Unite members, but their vote.