The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness

Yesterday's leading article in The Times on the Labour Party leadership election system more reflects the paper's enduring hostility to trade unionism than a serious concern for Labour's integrity. What other proposal for extending democracy would begin by proposing a radical reduction in the electorate?

Tony Woodley is the joint general secretary of Unite

Yesterday’s leading article in The Times (£) on the Labour party leadership election system more reflects the paper’s enduring hostility to trade unionism than a serious concern for Labour’s integrity. What other proposal for extending democracy would begin by proposing a radical reduction in the electorate?

Trade unions did not vote for Ed Miliband in the leadership election. Trade unionists did, in a secret postal ballot – and they gave the new Leader a far wider majority in terms of the votes of actual individuals voting than the weighted percentages cited by The Times indicate.

The direct votes of Labour-supporting trade unionists in the leadership election should  be seen as a strength not a weakness – they are analogous to the votes cast in US primaries, which no-one seems to object to, and help ensure that the party leader is connected to the broad range of sympathetic voters. Were the vote to be confined to individual members alone, no doubt The Times would claim that it was all in the hands of unrepresentative activists.

On the larger point regarding the future of New Labour, none of the politicians cited by The Times in their reports seem to have grasped the implications of the crash of 2008 for any political project based, as New Labour was, on over-reliance on markets and, in particular, the finance sector.

I would only add that it is odious to read Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, describing unions as “irrelevant in British society” (£) when her re-election this year in the face of a BNP challenge was so dependent on supporters we in the unions mobilised from outside her own constituency, a fact she acknowledged at the time.

This letter was originally sent to The Times but failed to make it into today’s paper.

37 Responses to “The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness”

  1. vitoria

    RT @leftfootfwd: The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness: //bit.ly/ci3Xgl says @UniteTheUnion's Tony W …

  2. Natasha hickman

    RT @leftfootfwd: The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness: //bit.ly/ci3Xgl says @UniteTheUnion's Tony W …

  3. Cllr Afzal Khan

    RT @leftfootfwd: The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness: //bit.ly/ci3Xgl says @UniteTheUnion's Tony W …

  4. Lee Hyde

    RT @leftfootfwd: The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness: //bit.ly/ci3Xgl says @UniteTheUnion's Tony W …

  5. Malcolm Evison

    RT @leftfootfwd: The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness //bit.ly/bYMCO1

  6. Shamik Das

    On @leftfootfwd this morning: Unite's Tony Woodley defends the union link: //is.gd/hpBX8 & more DWP misuse of stats: //is.gd/hpBSp

  7. Chris

    Bang on! The Times article is a cynical attempt to undermine Ed, who won by 30,000 votes, because he wasn’t the establishment candidate.

  8. Ed

    Erm, didn’t the union leadership stuff ballots with Ed’s literature (something other candidates did not do)? Explain to me how that doesn’t constitute undue influence from the unions?

  9. pauline doyle

    RT @leftfootfwd: The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness //bit.ly/bYMCO1

  10. Tory Press HQ

    Tony Woodley takes exception to Johnson and Hodge comments. Unions not happy at attacks while RedEd# is away //tinyurl.com/27gncwy

  11. Pete

    This would be much more impressive if the GMB hadn’t sent out voting forms in support Ed envelopes.
    What was the turnout from the individual union members? Of those that voted how many of them where union activists doing what they where told.

  12. Chris

    @Ed

    No, the unions did not “stuff ballots” with Ed’s literature. In accordance with Labour’s rules each ballot paper was sealed in its own envelope with a candidates booklet (containing a brief statement from each candidate) and a return envelope.

    The ballot envelope was then delivered inside another envelope or shrink wrapping. In the case of unison, inside the shrink wrapping was a union magazine, union-labour link magazine (again containing a statement from each candidate) and a letter stating that unison had endorsed Ed Miliband.

    “Explain to me how that doesn’t constitute undue influence from the unions?”

    Union members aren’t drones without the power of higher level thought processes, a letter stating that they’d endorsed a specific candidate isn’t undue influence ffs!

  13. Chris

    @Pete

    “This would be much more impressive if the GMB hadn’t sent out voting forms in support Ed envelopes.”

    The GMB ballot papers were inside plain sealed envelope.

    “What was the turnout from the individual union members?”

    Look it up on the Labour website.

    “Of those that voted how many of them where union activists doing what they where told.”

    WTF? Unions aren’t authoritarian dictatorships, it was a secret ballot with no way of knowing who somebody voted for.

  14. Pete

    @Chris.

    “This would be much more impressive if the GMB hadn’t sent out voting forms in support Ed envelopes.”

    The GMB ballot papers were inside plain sealed envelope…”

    The Guardian seems to disagree.
    //www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/sep/24/ed-miliband-union-gmb-labour-leadership

  15. Hugh

    Unite certainly tried in May to stave off the Con-Dem coalition by writing to scores of Labour MPs after the election to urge them to back a deal with the Lib Dems. If Reid, Blunkett, Burnham and others had followed their example perhaps the country wouldn’t now be adopting its masochistic economic policy. Of course they’re not perfect, but the unions deserve credit for trying to inject some sanity into the PLP, rather than their influence being questioned.

  16. ide_san

    "The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness" //bit.ly/bYMCO1 Hear hear! Keep Labour unelectable! #RedEd #Fail

  17. Pete

    Comment by Chris on November 19, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    when you come back, it would be interesting to know who was correct about the GMB envelopes, you or the guardian. Because one of you is definitely wrong. It gives a baseline to assess further comments against.

  18. Norrie

    Just discovered Left Foot Forward by chance, will certainly make future visits to the site as it seems to reflect the political views I cherish. In saying that, I must admit I have voted SNP of late, as a form of protest; damned if I’ll vote for a party that caused wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I voted Labour in every election from 1959, when I became eligible to vote, until 1997, then Blair & Co. turned me off completely. Killing off Clause Four was utterly inexcusable! Good luck to your cause!

    Norrie.

  19. Norrie

    Oops, just noticed a slight mistake in my user name, a stray t has crept in, please amend to Norrie. Apologies for oversight!

  20. janie_s

    I agree Norrie. Blair was the end of Labour. I don’t feel I can vote for anyone at the moment. Let’s hope Ed takes the party back to its roots.

  21. Tim Swift

    I have not got a problem with union members having a vote in future leadership elections as long as 1. It is not allowed for the unions to send out material promoting one candidate in the same mailing as the ballot paper, and 2 . All candidates are given equal access to union members for campaigning purposes. I would have thought these were basic democratic safeguards that everyone in the party would support

  22. Tony Burke

    Tony Woodley on Labour Party Leadership.//bit.ly/cPPogG

  23. Chris

    @Pete

    Read the guardian caption it clearly states that was the *larger* envelope, the ballot paper itself was in a plain envelope inside that larger envelope. That is in accordance with the rules.

  24. Finchampstead Boy

    RT @ide_san: "The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness" //bit.ly/bYMCO1 Hear hear! Keep Labour unelecta …

  25. Pete

    #

    @Pete

    Read the guardian caption it clearly states that was the *larger* envelope, the ballot paper itself was in a plain envelope inside that larger envelope. That is in accordance with the rules.
    Comment by Chris on November 19, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    So you have no problem with the GMB placing the envelope containing the ballot papers within another envelope carrying propaganda for Ed?
    You don’t feel that its just a tiny bit out of order?

  26. Pete

    @Pete

    Read the guardian caption it clearly states that was the *larger* envelope, the ballot paper itself was in a plain envelope inside that larger envelope. That is in accordance with the rules.
    Comment by Chris on November 19, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    So you have no problem with the GMB placing the envelope containing the ballot papers within another envelope carrying propaganda for Ed?
    You don’t feel that its just a tiny bit out of order?
    Comment by Pete on November 19, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    P.S. forgot to add, that you have just repeated exactly what I originally said which was “sent out voting forms in support Ed envelopes.”. Your attempt to split hairs by saying the voting forms where in plain envelopes may be correct as far as it goes, but is totally incorrect in the fact that they were subsequently placed in GMB Ed propaganda envelopes, as I originally said.

  27. Mr. Sensible

    I think it is entirely right that union members should have a say; wasn’t it the unions who founded Labour in the first place?

  28. Chris

    @Pete

    See comment #4, I have no problem with the ballot paper being sent with other literature. It was entirely within the rules. The extra literature sent with the ballot papers in contained information about all the candidates.

    “You don’t feel that its just a tiny bit out of order?”

    Nope.

    “Your attempt to split hairs by saying the voting forms where in plain envelopes may be correct as far as it goes, but is totally incorrect in the fact that they were subsequently placed in GMB Ed propaganda envelopes, as I originally said.”

    No, it is a very important distinction between sending out ballot papers with vote Ed on/in the same envelope with nothing else and sending out ballot papers sealed in their own plain envelope with a non-aligned candidate booklet detailing *all* of the candidates.

    Your latching onto something and trying to make an issue out of it, Ed won fairly and completely within the rules of the contest. Trying to undermine his victory and thus undermine him is a dirty trick.

  29. Demolition Government

    “Blair was the end of Labour” = Blair led us to 13 years in power..surely that can not be sniffed at?

  30. Derek Simpson

    Has anyone questioned how the newspapers and media generally also tried to influence the outcome in favour of David Milliband …. and see obviously why they are concerned that their influence failed!!

  31. Pete

    Chris, we are obviously not going to agree. You feel it is okay for the GMB to take all that nicely plain packaged election material then stuff it into an envelope with VOTE ED emblazoned on it, before sending it out to the electorate. I don’t. It is the equivalent of having a vote Tory poster displayed at the entrance to a polling station, which I am certain you would not be happy with.
    But hey, obviously your man won, so you are happy with the outcome.

  32. Rick Coyle

    Tony Woodley responds to the Times attack on Labours Union links //bit.ly/cPPogG

  33. Paul Schroder

    RT @leftfootfwd: The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness //bit.ly/bYMCO1

  34. william

    If the electorate,in due course,perceive that EM is in the job thanks to the unions, which may or not be true, you can say goodbye to the next two general elections. Look at the electoral map of the UK.

  35. Anon E Mouse

    Pete – This guy Chris above is a compulsive liar – I would trust a Guardian reporter over him any time. He has no evidence for his comments so don’t take him seriously.

    Just as no one will take Little Ed, the property millionaire, union stooge seriously. Can anyone really see the little fella as Prime Minister?

    Tell you what though I bet he advocates policies for Labour similar to the ones I’ve been banging on about and unlike the ones people on this blog wish for…

  36. David Forman

    RT @leftfootfwd: The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness //bit.ly/bYMCO1

  37. New European Industrial Workers Federation looms | Left Foot Forward

    […] The votes of trade unionists are a strength to Labour not a weakness – Tony Woodley, November 19th […]

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