Hoping to claw back some semblance of control as the Falkirk debacle unfolds, Ed Miliband has launched a "reform" of trade union levies going into the Labour Party.
Whilst the aim of "opting-in" is entirely laudable, and to a certain degree already operates in practice within UNISON, a key statistic not widely reported in the media is that over 360,000 UNITE members do not pay the political levy to Labour.
Other Trade Unions correctly take the view that their political fund should be used to fund campaigns of candidates of various political parties - for example the Fire Brigades Union who have funded campaigns of the last two parliamentary elections campaigns I have been involved in. The RMT similarly fund campaigns in this way, both unions choosing to support candidates who have a track record in supporting fairness at work.
The problem,( depending on your point of view), is that explicitly funding a candidate of a political party other than that of the Labour party results in that trade union being expelled by Labour.
I am prepared to wager that the above scenario will remain the case in this so-called Labour reform.
UNITE have a point when they criticise their arch-nemesis Progress for indulging in the same sort of candidate fixing that they are accused of in the Falkirk case. Actually, a glance at any Left labour blogs can provide chapter and verse on the inglorious history of New Labour fixing to purge any candidates with anything other than strict adherence to centre right orthodoxies. Ironic that Falkirk is the seat under the spotlight as the deliberate exclusion of Denis Canavan in the run up to 1999 is the prime example of this so the double think airbrushing of history that the current leadership are hoping to achieve.
All of which leads to the following conclusions;
Firstly with New Labour, supporters of austerity, taking a similar path to the Tory-led Government, why shouldn't trade unions, in this age of multi-party politics not fund campaigns of those seeking political office whose views and values are sympathetic to the Trade Union Movement - SNP, Plaid Cymru, the various Socialist Parties, and indeed Labour candidates. It's tempting to label those as "what's left of the left" in the Labour party, but it's simplistic and trite to label those who support workers rights, decent working conditions and fair pay as "Left" - but let's leave challenging the language of the right wing media for another day.
Secondly, if candidate fixing is ok for Progress and not the Trade Unions, what legitimate voice and role remains for the trade union movement in todays British Labour Party?
Thirdly, if this is a step to reduce trade union influence (openly admitted by the leadership) then surely it is time for unions to look elsewhere? Members may wonder what precisely their hard earned subs are going toward if unions will carry less influence than a think tank or lobbying firm when looking to advance their cause of protecting jobs and conditions ?
Surely now, more than ever, it is time for trade unions to ditch New Labour.