The GMB trade union has reacted to Ed Miliband’s planned changes to Labour’s relationship with the unions, announced back in July, and has said it is to cut the affiliation funds it gives the party from £1.2m to £150,000.
The union said there would also be cuts in spending on Labour campaigns leaving Miliband and Labour with a massive financial shortfall.
Rather than consult members the GMB has decided to cut the 420,000 members it currently affiliates to Labour to 50,000 based on the idea that this is number who would choose to support Labour.
The figure might well be accurate, but jumping before being pushed (so to speak), leaves Miliband and the party in a growing financial and organisational mess.
The changes will take effect from the start of next year and it precipitates Miliband’s move to reform union funding so individual union members have to opt in to support the party, rather than being automatically affiliated. Certainly the right move for a modern political party.
Shadow Treasury minister Rachel Reeves told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Most of the money that the Labour Party receives comes from ordinary donations. Of course we welcome the support we get from the trade unions, but this is a decision for the GMB. I’m confident more people will sign up and get involved in the Labour Party and get out campaigning. That seems a tad optimistic.
The BBC quoted a statement from the GMB that expressed “considerable regret about the apparent lack of understanding the proposal mooted by Miliband will have on the collective nature of trade union engagement with the Labour Party”.
The GMB said it was concerned that members felt the union was still giving large sums of money to the Labour Party, they might vote to scrap the political fund altogether.
Miliband unveiled his plans to reform Labour’s union links earlier this year after the row over alleged ballot fixing in Falkirk, which cost Tom Watson his job.
Unite was accused of signing up members so that it could get its preferred candidate selected. Miliband has claimed giving members the choice about joining Labour will increase the party’s legitimacy. He also thinks it could push up membership although there is no evidence to support this.
Labour MP Ian Lavery has described the affiliation reform as the “biggest political gamble” in the history of the party. Lavery, who chairs the trade union group of Labour MPs, said he believed fewer than 15% of union members would opt to join.
“People are not queuing up to join Labour – quite the opposite. They are waiting to see what the party will bring to the table in its manifesto,” he said.
LABOUR’S BIGGEST DONORS – APRIL TO JUNE 2013