The Executive of the Unite union meets from 8 December. It will decide the union’s attitude on Ed Miliband’s drive to change union members’ Labour political-levy payments to “opt-in”.
Jim Kelly, chair of the London and eastern region of Unite, told the Guardian on 3 December: “Our executive has got to keep a collective voice, and that... has to be expressed through the block vote at a decision-making party conference where unions keep 50% of the vote....
“If unions stand together, with half the votes at Labour’s conference, and supported by many constituency parties worried about the severe threat to the party’s finances from Ed Miliband’s proposals, as well as the negative impact on the left within the party, then the link can be successfully defended.”
The United Left grouping, which holds a majority on the Unite Executive, met on Saturday 30 November. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was to due to come to the meeting and speak about the “opt-in” issue, but didn’t show. Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner spoke instead.
Turner said that the “red line” issues are the same for all the affiliated unions, that the affiliated unions will put a common position to Ray Collins (who is charged by Miliband with working out details), and that he expects the Executive to ratify that stand.
Up to now, all the affiliated unions have opposed the “opt-in” plan outright — with the exception of a few maverick right-wing unions and... Unite. So Turner’s speech marked progress.
Collins is scheduled to finish consultations by 24 December and then produce proposals to go to a special Labour Party conference in the spring. It is certain that the proposals will include some fudge or face-saver, rather than be simply “no change”, but there is now a real chance of making the fudge relatively harmless.
The Guardian on 3 December carried a report based, as we understand it, on “leaks” from Collins’s discussions supplied by Blairites who fear too soft a fudge and hope through the leak to stir up pressure for hard proposals to weaken the union link.
Maybe trade unionists will be asked to “opt in” to the political levy, or not, only when joining the union, and existing payers will continue on the basis of “opt out”. Maybe plans will be eased in over five years.
The Guardian also reports that Collins backs the long-voiced demand of Labour right-wingers that the union vote at Labour Party conference be cut to below its present level of 50%. There is a danger of “opt-in” being introduced for new union members only, the number of levy-payers thus being gradually reduced, and that reduction being used to cut the vote.
“Defend The Link” is campaigning to keep the current level of union representation, and against rule-changes imposed on the unions from outside.