The option presented by the Executive to the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) Special Virtual Conference on 7-9 November, to maintain the union’s affiliation to the Labour Party, is right. But the detail it contains, a focus on lobbying and supporting the Labour metro mayors, makes no sense.
Dave Ward, the CWU general secretary, has moved on a little, but essentially this is a reprise from when Dave Ward pushed disaffiliation to gain profile against Billy Hayes, whom he defeated for general secretary in 2015. He did that to appear more left-wing, though in fact Hayes, for all his flaws, was running a political campaign in the Labour Party against Royal Mail privatisation.
Public ownership is a cutting-edge issue in the Labour Party. The union should be campaigning for public ownership of Royal Mail and for free publicly-owned broadband.
The push for the conference came not from industrial concerns and workplace activists, but from political people in the Head Office communications department. They’ve picked up that lots of people don’t like Starmer, and they’re going for a half-in, half-out policy. It’s an accommodation to Corbynite left populism rather than proper political action.
The right wing in the Labour Party, Labour To Win, hasn’t got the strength it claims. At the Brighton conference, the unions mostly backed left motions. There is space for the unions to change things in the Labour Party. The unions pushing back Starmer on the electoral college is more significant than the bad rule changes than were passed in Brighton.
The Labour leadership tries to play unions off against each other, but there is less scope for that than there was in the early Blairite heyday, when there were a lot of very right-wing union leaders.