Unions in Policy

July 25, 2008

Some very interesting developments, See link below:

Union Leader Calls for Gordon Brown to be ‘Backed or Sacked’

The General Secretary of Britain’s General Union (GMB) (a union that has recently said it is cutting funding to 1/3 of its sponsored members of Parliament) is making its presence known at the “Warwick II” policy convention.

The trade unions that are affiliated to the Labor Party have a role in policy formation. Before Blair reformed the policy process their role was slightly larger (approximately 36 percent as part of a group called the National Executive Council- this body still exists, but serves a different role). Today, Britain’s unions have about a 23 percent say in policy formation, as part of the National Policy Forum (NPF). Warwick “I” was a significant turning point in the Party-union relationship; unions had significant demands promised to them in the 2005 manifesto. How this week’s meeting of the NPF goes will be an extremely good indicator of whether unions are increasing their power inside the Party since Blair, or whether they remain impotent.

Next week, I will be speaking with two participants of the conference, and I will post more on their insights.


Labour Party HQ

July 17, 2008

In the afternoon I met with Mr Byron Taylor, the National Officer of the Trade Union Liaison Organization(TULO), at the Labour Party Headquarters, (see below for a look inside HQ operations).

The function of TULO as a liaison between the party and the affiliated unions is a particularly interesting, and ambiguous, one. On one hand, TULO is the organizing muscle of the Labour Party, working to Get-out-the-Vote (GOTV). But it also plays an important role in getting the two parties together to liaise about policy. For instance, TULO played a large role in events surrounding the Warwick convention, and it will play an even expanded role role next week as well. MORE to come as I go through my notes.

The Spirit of the TU-Party Link

July 17, 2008

This morning I met with the General Secretary of the GFTU, Mr Mike Bradley MBE. The GFTU is a particularly interesting organization. It is a federation of 32 unions. Although not officially affiliated to the Labour Party, some of its affiliates are. The GFTU serves three main roles. First, it campaigns and lobbies on issues passed by its affiliated unions. Many of its affiliated unions are on the smaller scale. By bringing them together, the GFTU makes it possible to lobby and campaign to a degree that couldn’t be achieved on an individual level. Second, the GFTU has its own research fund and staff, and has explored issues such occupational asthma and noise.
Third, GFTU officials attend Labour Party meetings on behalf of their affiliates and disseminates information. For instance, Mr Bradley will be attending the Warwick “II” National Policy Forum next week (this is where the Labour Party’s policy is essentially devised, before being voted upon in Conference in the fall), on behalf of a GFTU affiliated union that is affiliated to the Labour Party.
Mr Bradley and I spoke about the policy and funding relationships, and the need for the Labour Party to win general elections to put such policy in place.
Because of electoral realities, much of the GFTU’s policy dialogue goes on behind the scenes (as well as any castigation of Labour Party). Mr Bradley asked rhetorically, “Do we throw the bat away and exit into the wilderness” when we don’t get our way?… or is the glass half full and we do our best at Warwick working towards a Manifesto?” In the end, Mr Bradley is a great believer in the link between the party and promised: “We have a big job left to do”.

Nuances of the modern relationship unfolding LIVE

July 15, 2008

Things you don’t hear in the US

A joint statement between ministers, trade unions and business leaders will be delivered in [the White House] this morning.

This comes from a good article, (with Downing Street in the place of White House, of course) from today’s Times, Click Here for the link, that underscores much of the modern relationship my thesis is exploring.

Brown says publicly that he is “not bowing to union demands”:

“I have made it absolutely clear we are not returning to the 70s or the 80s, we are not returning to the days of secondary picketing, we are not returning to trade union legislation which is written by trade unions themselves”

But certainly the bill is in response to strike waves in the public sector, a new wave of which will occur over the next few days (I’m hoping to get down to the picket lines to talk to people and take some pictures). The article also outlines some of the funding relationships I am exploring.

Union and Party Policy: From the Shop Floor to the House of Commons

July 14, 2008

I had a rather exciting day today. In the morning I interviewed Joe Mann MBE, National Officer of COMMUNITY, Labour Party National Executive and National Policy Forum Committee Rep, and Former General Secretary of the NLBD union. We discussed the role of unions, particularly his union, in forming Labour Party policy. The NLBD has had a particularly important history dating back to 1920, when they successfully lobbied for the Blind Persons Act, the first disability legislation of its kind in the world. In 2004, the NLBD merged with other unions that had similar vision, “to give them a louder voice from which to lobby”, and the union has maintained its proactive role. For instance, Community was critical in lobbying for 2005 Disability Discrimination Act. Although I gleaned some acquiescence to the notion that electoral necessity dictates policy, I was actually surprised to hear about the great deal of negotiation that does indeed go on behind the scenes. Mann is in the position where he can see any minister he wants in the week, and the Prime Minister in a fortnight, if he had a policy issue to discuss.

In the afternoon, I met with Rt. Hon. Frank Doran, Member of Parliament (MP) and Secretary Trade Union Group of Labour MPs. This is me and Mr Doran below:

As secretary to the Trade Union Group of MPs, which are the MPs who are directly sponsored by the 16 unions affiliated to the party, Mr Doran and his colleagues are the larynx of unions on the debate floor in the House of Commons. Particularly in contrast with the US model is Mr Doran’s role working directly with unions on a daily basis. We spoke about the role of the TU group in terms of how they maintain independence and Parliamentary Privilege and at the same time be true to the policy inquests of unions. Mr Doran clarified that an MP is ultimately elected on the Party manifesto, and when it comes to a conflict, at the end of the day, the Labour Government must come first; but he also spoke very eloquently to the notion that the TU Group makes sure the union voice is heard. Regarding the current negative sentiment arising in some unions for the Labour-Party link, Mr Doran is convinced in Labour’s record in helping to dramatically improve material wealth and working class mobility. Although Labour’s last 11 years have shown that unions don’t always get what they want, Mr Doran is a poignant paradigm liaison which assures their voice in Parliament, and I believe ultimately speaks to the true heart of the Labour Party’s political sympathies.
After our meeting, Mr Doran invited me to attend a House of Commons debate on an important Employment Bill. I sat in the historic Commons Chamber and listened as Labour MPs made many references to the Labour movement, speaking passionately for the role unions have played in assuring that low paid workers received fair pay and compensation. Even the Tories had to agree with some of it- for instance, the data which show that non-compliance with the Minimum Wage is higher in non-union workplaces.
Click Here for a cool interactive panoramic of the council chamber.

Getting Dusty at the Archives

July 11, 2008

I’ve spent the past week at the TUC archives in London. A great online resource is available here. I’ve come across some very interesting facts and contradictions in my research.

Here’s something that really pays heed to the circle of life. Testimony of J. Toyne of the Miners’ National Unions), in the Report of the Industrial Remuneration Conference (1885) p 491:

money could be found to send troops to Afghanistan… but could not be found to ameliorate the conditions of English people

I am going through my notes and will post more shortly.

Labour: Somewhere between Marxist and Right Wing

July 6, 2008

I spent the weekend at a festival titled “Marxism 2008“, sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which is a large bastion of support for many unionists that have become disillusioned with the Labour Party as the representative party of the working class.

This is a particularly interesting time for labor union-party relationships: in 2004 the Fire Brigades’ Union disaffiliated with the Labour Party, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) was thrown out for supporting other parties. Just this year in June, the GMB voted to end funding to 35 (out of 100 or so) Members of Parliament that they support.

I attended the following lectures:

“Is America Moving to the Left” by Jonathan Neale, spokesman and organizer for Globalize Resistance, the main anti-capitalist umbrella group in Britain, and author of You are G8, We are 6 Billion and What’s Wrong with America?

“The Unions, Resistance and the Rank and File,” given by Alex Kenny, from the NUT national executive committee; Laura Miles (NEC & Bradford College) and Caroline Johnson, , UNISON Branch Secretary

“Pay Cuts, recession and resistance”, Charles Kimber, Journalist International Socialism

“You can’t be neutral on the moving train”, Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the US”

“US Labor in trouble and transition”, Kim Moody, Workers of the World

“Capitalism in Crisis- How should the Left respond?”, by Tony Benn, former MP and President of Stop the War Coalition

“Is Britain moving to the right?” Chris Bambery, Journalist

I had the good luck to speak with an individual from the Fire Brigades’ Union at the conference. He explained to me their new electoral strategy- fund the MPs who support their issues. Rather than just offering support to any Labour candidate, they cherry-pick their candidates. He told me this strategy has so far been successful, managing to secure the integrity of their pensions in recent voting.

Tony Benn offered a particularly interesting speech. When pressed about voting Labour, or many of the alternative Left parties, like the Socialist Worker Party (SWP), he recognized that parties are supposed to represent the interests of the membership, and much of the public was to the Left of the Labour Government.

But he emphasized that without winning the Labour Party, you will not get what you want. This is somewhat surprising from someone considered far to the Left.

Indeed, this was echoed by Chris Bamberry, a bona fide socialist, who expressed concern that by not voting for Labour, this may create a vaccuum for far Right forces to gain power. Although some in the Left certainly want this, thinking (I believe wrongly) that it will create the opportunity for Left groups to take power in the longer run.

TUC Headquarters

July 3, 2008

Today I met with Bert Clough at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Headquarters (see picture- the statue is particularly symbolic. A robed figure is extending his hand to a fallen comrade). The TUC is the main umbrella group for all of Britain’s unions, akin to the AFL-CIO in the US. Bert Clough is Senior Policy Adviser on Learning and Skills to the Trades Union Congress. We spoke about the relationship of New Labour with trade unions.

A key tenement of the modern day relationship is Social Partnership. (The unions like the term “Social” Partnership, while business prefers just to omit the preceding term, but no matter). Unions play a key role in terms of the government’s skill agenda. New Labour has placed skills as the centerpiece of a new co-operative strategy.

A key idea of New Labour policy (at least in the first two administrations) is Union Capacity Building, which involves strengthening unions to open up opportunity to members.

Two main examples of this include the Union Modernization Fund and the UnionLearn program, the latter of which Bert plays a large role in conducting. The program offers ₤15.5 million to unions to deliver things as part of government skills agenda. Examples include offering ICT training through unions.

Another key concept of the present Labour government’s approach is “Post-Voluntarism”. This is not the unbridled voluntarism seen under Thatcher, but indeed is not statutory recognition of union involvement in government agenda. For instance, a major question is whether programs like the Union Modernization Fund and UnionLearn are ephemeral. When the contracts run out in 2011, the continued existence of the program will most likely depend on who is in office. If a Conservative government gains power in 2009, these programs will most likely be abolished.

This is a key point that speaks to the heart of my research. The New Labour government has at least changed the role of unions with programs like those described above. Whether this new relationship is largely symbolic, or has qualitative consequences for the Labour movement, is another issue.

Union Density in Britain

June 19, 2008

Union Density in Britain from 1945-2005 (see chart below)

The Largest Fall in Union Density Came under the Conservatives, Beginning with Thatcher in 1979, and later with John Major (see chart 2). Labour did not regain power again until 1997.  A picture says a thousand words.

If you look up again (Chart 1), you will see that density has since stabilized since New Labour took office in 1997. As you can imagine, the climate has been much more favorable in terms of union compliments, an idea which my thesis is exploring.

TIGMOO – A word about the British Labour Movement

June 18, 2008
In contrast to the U.S., the position of unions in Britain vis-à-vis the state is notably different. Particularly, British “labour” has had broader political aims. This led to the formation of a political party at the turn of the 20th century, the Labour Party, to represent workers’ interests, and the party has been a defining influence for the working classes when it comes to progressive politics. The main union umbrella organization, the British Trade Union Congress (TUC), has always had a hand in Labour Party policy, and the individual unions strongly supported the Labour Party through direct electoral and financial links.

Some history:

On 27 February 1900, at Memorial Hall, London, a committee of trade unions and three socialist societies began a political experiment based on the idea that

“… working class opinion (should be) represented in the House of Commons by men sympathetic with the aims and demands of the Labour movements, and whose candidatures are promoted by one or other of the organized movements”

This experiment led to the founding of the Labour Party (from 1900- 1906 it was known as the Labour Representative Committee or LRC)
The sub-title of this blog comes from a quote by Arthur Henderson, one of the founders of the Labour Party, an MP, and later Nobel Peace Laureate, made at the 1904 Labour Party Conference:

“What we want is to get away as far as possible from mere trade representation.We want Labour representation in the proper sense of the term”

The title of the post comes from an acronym that the British Labour Movement uses to describe their movement-

“This Great Movement of Ours”

No one seems to know what the “i” stands for, but no matter, it does have a good ring to it. TIGMOO


I ??