Letter  No 12c by Mike Allott: back to directory

18 September 2004


Unions' influence on party politics

Peter Riddell (report, September 14) concludes that “for Mr Blair, the unions are part of the problem, not the solution”.

Only a handful of public sector unions are causing the problem — and these aren’t really representative of ordinary working people. Most workers don’t belong to any union. Others are in unions or associations not affiliated to the TUC. And of the 70 unions that are affiliated to the TUC, more than two thirds are apolitical (in that they are not affiliated to Labour or any other party).

When Labour modernised itself in 1994, it promised to bring an end to class-based politics. The party manifesto in 1997 assured us:

"We aim to put behind us the bitter political struggles of left and right that have torn our country apart for too many decades. Many of these conflicts have no relevance whatsoever to the modern world — public versus private, bosses versus workers, middle class versus working class. It is time for this country to move on and move forward."

The same manifesto declared:

"We have changed the way we make policy, and put our relations with the trade unions on a modern footing where they accept they can get fairness but no favours from a Labour government".

It surely is an anachronism that a small group of public sector unions are still able to influence party politics, often over non-industrial matters. Unless the unions affiliated to Labour can show they are able to deliver a broader membership base, state funding of political parties has to be considered as the more democratic option.

Depoliticising the unions in this way might even encourage more people to join.

Yours sincerely,
Chandler’s Ford,