Unite – insulting the intelligence of the members

You might call it a Hamlet moment, though in this case it’s not so much “to be or not to be”, as whether to laugh or cry, or blow a gasket. I have just received a survey for Unite members, of which I am one. Apparently my view counts. I hope so. However, the letter signed by Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley can only be described as other-worldly.


Fair enough, they want to know the opinion and priorities of members. It’s good that they ask us. However, the content of the survey itself appears designed to provide a steer for Labour MP’s to avoid defeat at the next General Election, rather than asking us what we want done. It asks us to rank in importance fourteen categories (such as Economy, NHS, Transport etc). This is not really asking us our views. What use would it be if I put NHS and local hospitals as number one, when our Blairite MP in Swindon South supports PFI, the privatisation of the NHS services, and the introduction of a ‘health market’? Likewise if I put Housing number one, what use would this be when she is opposed to Councils building Council housing?


Frankly, the letter from Derek and Tony insults the intelligence of members. They explain:


“The Labour Party policy making process has been reformed so that we have more input into the policy making procedure, and as part of this process the Prime Minister wants to ensure that his government listens and delivers on matters that concern Unite Members.”


So that the union can relate members’ priorities to the Prime Minister, they say, “we want to know what you in South Swindon parliamentary constituency think”. This summer Gordon Brown will be meeting Unite to discuss our views, “so your input could help form part of the next Labour manifesto”. Good God things must have changed if I can write the manifesto.


Now, it’s one thing to ask Unite members’ their opinion. But please don’t tell us fairy tales. The idea that Brown wants to “listen” and “deliver” on matters of concern to Unite members is risible. It is one thing our Leaders calling on members to vote Labour to keep the Tories out; that we should not forget the Thatcher years and so on. But painting the government and the Prime Minister as friends of the unions and the workers is, what shall we call it, a factual in-exactitude.


As for the “reform” of the policy making process, our union capitulated to Brown by giving up the right to move contemporary resolutions at the Annual Conference of the party, so as not to “embarrass” the government by defeating it in debate on the conference floor.


So how is Brown ‘delivering’ on policy issues for Unite? Take the case of housing. Year after year the Labour conference passed resolutions opposing the government’s policy of eradicating Council Housing, and in favour of building new Council Housing. When Brown was given his ‘coronation’, courtesy of our union leaders, we were told it was going to be a ‘listening’ government, unlike that headed by the dastardly Blair. We were even told that the day of the Council house had arrived once again.


So what happened with the Housing Regeneration Bill? The effective ban on Councils building Council housing was maintained. Funding of Councils is predicted to be insufficient to maintain the existing Council housing stock. When MP’s who are supporters of the Defend Council Housing Campaign moved amendments to the Bill, including the right to start building Council housing once again, the government predictably opposed them. Yet despite the hundreds of union sponsored MPs, only 30 supported the amendments.


Of the more than 100 Amicus-Unite sponsored MP’s (I haven’t been able to find out the TGWU-Unite figures) precisely six of them decided to support Council housing rather than a government which has sought to eradicate it! Maybe I missed the odd one, perhaps a few were unable to attend for acceptable reasons. However, the overwhelming majority of our sponsored MP’s refused to support Council tenants and Unite policy. Isn’t it time we dumped these people rather than wasting our members’ money of those who refuse to oppose the government’s privatising agenda?


If ‘Gordon’ wants to ‘deliver’ for our members here are a few things he could do:


  • End the government’s privatisation of public services;
  • End injustices in the workplace by giving employment rights from day one;
  • End the ‘health market’ in the NHS, and remove the private companies from it;
  • End the means test and go back to a progressive tax system;
  • End New Labour’s infatuation with home ownership, and provide funding for a crash Council house building programme in order to address the housing crisis.


For brevity I’ll end the list there. Of course, in reality there is as much chance of Brown doing these things as there is of Tony Blair declaring that capitalism is a bankrupt system.


After more than10 years of New Labour it should be clear that rational argument cannot convince a leadership which is ideologically committed to the ‘free market’ and the ‘benefits’ of globalisation to abandon its fundamental political orientation. Our members are involved in a struggle with the government and its neo-liberal policies. Our leaders should be telling our members the truth instead of fairy tales. They will not convince traditional Labour voters to vote for New Labour on the basis of a misrepresentation of the reality of government policy, because their lives contradict the fairy tales. Our leaders should be calling for a fundamental break with the politics and ideology of New Labour and not pretending that Brown and his government is something which it is not.

1 Comment

  1. Martin,
    Interesting that in Gordon Brown’s own constituency in Dumfermline, Fife, and across Scotland, the right to buy has been abolished and Councils have once again been mandated to build social housing. Word is that Fife’s social housing program is likely to be particularly ambitious. Brown knows it is popular but nevertheless has stated his opposition to similar legislation South of the border.
    Ronnie McDonald


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