“A plague a’ both your houses.” ~ Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet Act 3, Scene 1, 91.
As I type this article, the election for the General Secretary of UNITE the union is in full force. Candidates have decided on a their strategy and sent out literature to decide the who will be the most powerful person in the UKs biggest Trade Union.
Numerous Labour factions have decided who should be that person and have thrown their weight behind candidates mainly based on who that person is likely to support or not support for the Labour Leadership. Not content with having two leadership elections in two years, the party is now effectively entering a third in the shape of a proxy election, ignoring the inalienable truth that this hurts all sides of the movement let alone the party.
Imagine the average member of a trade union. Depending on your perspective, you could well imagine they joined in a route cause of solidarity and believing in collective power, but throughout my years of recruiting members to various unions I can count on one hand the amount who have said that’s the reason they are joining, compared with the large scale amount who simply joined for protection in their workplace.
You may imagine that this average trade unionist is bound to be a Labour voter but again, alas, you’re just as likely to be wrong. In reality most, trade union members vote alongside their peers across the country and there is very little evidence to suggest that trade union membership is a guarantee of a Labour vote.
There is no reason to suspect the pub bore who consistently complains about immigration and proudly declares their allegiance to UKIP would not be a member of a trade union compared to the person who tells them they are talking rubbish. Basically, trade union members are no more likely to be interested in the political chicanery of the Labour Party as anyone else who isn’t a member of the party.
And what have we learned from the last two leadership elections? Surely, if we have not understood the simple premise that the public at large do not like a political party who screams and yells at itself rather than talks and engages with the public they are hoping to represent then we are frankly on a hiding to nothing.
Yet, this is what we present them with.
Not satisfied with dragging the party name and brand through testing times, we now start to drag in the Trade unions, organisations which have seen their membership plummet over the last 30 years, many of which will not survive to see the end of this half of the century. That’s a pitiful shame that – rather than help support the cause of membership to the unions, we instead put another obstacle in there way.
Ultimately, in this writer’s opinion, Coyne has used a strategy that has made this all possible. Highlighting McCluskey’s close links to Corbyn may have made sense in a short term way but it was always likely to pen the contest up to being about more than what it should have been about, namely the benefit of members of UNITE the union and making sure the union can progress in the modern world.
We have, as a party, a skewed view of the trade unions, forgetting that to most people they are not a political beast, but simply their local workplace rep who helped them through difficult times when they felt scared and alone in the workplace, who supported them when they feared for their job and as a consequence their house, who was there for them when they felt bullied.
Simply put, most members are not concerned with our own internal squabbles and we owe them the simple respect to allow this election to be about something other than our own party.