UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Collins Review – a slippery slope leading unions to the margins of politics

The interim report by Lord Ray Collins on the Labour Party’s constitutional review has been rightly ridiculed for its schoolboy error claiming that ‘Margaret Thatcher’s government established a legal right to contract out of paying that (political) levy:’

It makes you wonder who wrote the interim report when you read the evidence given by the same Ray Collins to the 2011 Kelly Commission on party political finance: ‘One final point; contracting in was a highly political thing between 1926 and 1945. No one has attempted to change that since; no one, not even Margaret Thatcher.’
http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/20110215_Corrected_Transcript_6_July.pdf (para 833)

Collins acknowledges the importance of union collective involvement in the Labour Party (unsurprisingly give the strength of feeling at the TUC last week) and poses a number of questions in the consultative document that Labour Party members, branches and trade unions will now consider ahead of the 1 March 2014 Special Conference. But UNISONActive would like to add two more.

- Will a trade union collective voice in Labour be credible and sustainable if as few as 5% of union members are individual contributors to Labour?

- And when the Tories inevitably come to replace opting out of trade union political funds with a requirement to opt in, how will Labour object in principle given that they have made opting in a sine qua non for individual trade unionist contributions to the Labour Party?

The implications of the questions for trade union political influence in Britain are profound.

It’s highly unlikely that the requirement for individual affiliation can be reconciled with formal collective affiliation or even a looser association of unions with the Labour Party. In the continuing absence of any explanation of how this circle can be squared, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Collins Review interim report is the beginning of a slippery slope which will sever the formal organisational links between unions and the Labour Party.