Unitemare: Dispelling union myths

Labour unions' blank cheques to the British Left are spittle in the face of representative democracy, and the shilling by Leftist commentators by their union paymasters must end now

Len McCluskey, Left-wing puppet-master
Alex Wickham, UK Politics Editor
On 7 July 2013 22:38

David Cameron famously said that lobbying would be the next big scandal faced by British politics. He was right, though not in the way he predicted.

The likes of Tim Yeo and Patrick Mercer have recently revealed that corrupt practices can still flourish within Cameron's own Conservative Party. But they have rightly paid dearly for their abuses of power, and for their contempt for those they represent. 

They pale however in significance when compared to the developing scandal of the relationship between Britain's trade unions and the Labour Party.

Labour, effectively paid to ask questions, table amendments and change policy by the unions that bankroll them, has reached a point of no return. This is lobbying scandal at its very core.

In the end, it didn’t take a ruthless, ideological, Thatcher-esque figure for the truth about trade unions to achieve cut-through to the British public. They did it all themselves.

Over the past week, Labour has been forced to refer its own parliamentary candidate selections to the police due to evidence of rigging by Unite, the union that has funded Ed Miliband to the tune of £8 million. Tom Watson, the Deputy Chairman of the party who is up to his neck in the story, has resigned in disgrace.

And so of course Owen Jones has been enlisted - or perhaps has enlisted himself - to lead the fightback. As with almost all defenders of unions, he has a vested interest. His pseudo-think tank CLASS is funded almost entirely by Unite, the GMB and the Communications Workers Union. In fact, laughably, all but £150 of £103,650 received in donations by CLASS comes from trade unions. Jones himself has been paid by these unions for his work there in the past.

The Labour Members of Parliament who have done the rounds in TV studios defending the unions, to the man, are also in their pockets.

Chuka Umunna has been leading the pack; his insistence that the Falkirk candidate rigging scandal is a “one-off” has the ring of famous last words. Umunna has personally received £25,000 from trade unions in the last year. They are quite literally paying him, a Labour Shadow Cabinet minister, to act as their spokesman. He is but the tip of the iceberg.

Online, the digital campaign to hit back is funded entirely by union gold. “Britain’s (self-described) leading left-wing blog” Political Scrapbook refuses to talk about the major political story of the moment because it could not exist - and admittedly even now it only does so limply - without the tens of thousands of pounds it receives from unions. Search the Money, a slick but partisan website that has frantically and in vain been trying to shine the light on donors to Tory MPs, is funded by Unite. 

These union-backed mouthpieces for Len McCluskey peddle a host of myths that, until now, have not really been questioned by the British public. They say unions are democratic. They say unions bring diversity to politics, that they give the working class a voice. They say that without unions the British Left - the Labour Party - could not exist. As if breaking the union link would have disastrous implications for our democracy and our political system.

These are all untruths. McCluskey won election as General Secretary of Unite with 101,000 votes. Unite has more than 1.4 million members. Turnout was 16 percent. Its democratic credentials would be convincing in a banana republic. In a developed, progressive, modern democracy they are frankly a disgrace.

What’s more, as proven by leaked internal documents last week, only between 35 and 40 percent of Unite members actually vote for the Labour Party. Some estimates suggest around a third of union members vote Conservative. Despite this, Unite requires members to opt-out of its Political Fund that donates millions to the Labour Party. Owen Jones says “trade unions are the biggest democratic movement in the country, representing millions of working people”. By definition, this is simply not true, and he knows it.

Robert Halfon, the campaigning Tory MP who it is a crime to criticise in many circles, says the large number of Tory voters in unions is a reason we should lay off them. He could not be more wrong. It is a reason Conservatives should fight to expose their anti-democratic, utterly unrepresentative nature. 

When we look at the specific allegations made against Unite in the last week, we see the truth about how much its leaders really value democracy.

Unite is accused of rigging the selection in Falkirk for its preferred candidate, Karie Murphy. She was a staffer in Tom Watson’s office, and a “close friend” of McCluskey. It is claimed that Unite bought Labour memberships for dozens of people in the constituency, in many cases against their knowledge. A potentially criminal subversion of democracy. 

Even their working class credentials are suspect. Union leaders spend the money their hard-working, low-earning members pay in subscription fees on six-figure salaries for themselves. While their members live modest lives, McCluskey and his fat cat union  baron friends plot ideological attacks that do nothing to help those they are supposed to represent.

All the decisions are made by the wealthy leaders, members of the 1 percent no less. They are no more men and women of the working classes than the bankers who donate to the Tories.

Yet the attempt to shut down the debate on unions with the suggestion that breaking the Labour link would damage democracy is perhaps the most insidious argument of all. As things stand, even Ed Miliband, a man who is only leader of the Labour Party because of the unions, concedes serious reform is needed. Plenty of other developed, Western democracies have strong, burgeoning Left-wings, without a comparable union link.

The status quo is simply unacceptable. If the union link cannot exist without the corrupt, anti-democratic practices outlined above, that is evidence there is no place for trade unions in our politics. The suggestion that the British Left cannot survive without maintaining the existing broken system is pure scaremongering. They just have to change. And who knows... they might even become electable as a result. 

Alexander Wickham is the UK Politics Editor for The Commentator, as well as being a Senior Reporter at the Guido Fawkes blog

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