Trade Unions and the Labour Party

Prominent Nottingham Trade Union activist Liam Conway tells Periscope Nottingham about the regrettable lack of collaboration within the labour movement.

On Thursday February 27, not long before the Covid-19 crisis exploded, I spoke at a meeting of Mansfield Constituency Labour Party. This was only the second time I had been invited to speak at a CLP meeting in my capacity as the Secretary of Notts TUC. I have been the secretary or president of Notts TUC for about 10 years, so whilst it’s great to be invited to speak at these meetings, we need greater interaction and collaboration, from the bottom up, between the trade union movement (union branches, Trades Councils etc) and the Labour Party.

There is clearly a lot of interaction and collaboration between the unions and the Labour at the top end, between union leaders, Labour leaders and various national executives. In fact, at the Labour Party Conference policy is too often based on discussions between party and union leaders rather than emerging from the rank and file of the unions and the Labour Party. The big unions particularly dominate compositing processes.

I don’t believe it is an accident that the two CLPs at which I have spoken, Broxtowe and Mansfield, have both moved to the left in recent years. Neither is it an accident that in 2017 and 2018 respectively we have held very successful May Day rallies in those constituencies as a result of close collaboration with the Labour Party. We need more of this.

Notts TUC has organised a significant number of events in the Nottingham area in recent years. Though a delegate-based body, Notts TUC aims to be open and inclusive as our meetings testify and we try to establish close links, using our resources, with other progressive campaigns in the locality. We have particularly tried to develop positive relations with the Labour Party and many Labour Party members are recipients of our frequent communications. However, it must be said that in most cases we have been unable to get either interaction or collaboration with local Labour Party branches or CLPs, or indeed with the left in the Labour Party, such as Momentum. This is despite Notts TUC being one of the few Trades Union Councils that openly backed Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Party. I think this lack of mutual aid is regrettable.

The Labour Party was created by the Trade Union movement from the struggles of the late 19th Century. Other forces played a role, such as Cooperative Societies, Socialist Societies and prominent individual socialists, but it was the Trade Unions – particularly those new unions representing ‘unskilled’ workers, such as the Match Girls and Dockers – that recognised the urgent need for a party of Labour, one that would take the fight for workers rights and improved living conditions into the British Parliament. 

What emerged did not reflect the radicalism of the Match Girls or Dockers, nor the wider social, cultural and material interests of the working class, but it did retain, often in muted or controlled form, an organic link to the trade unions. Blair tried to permanently remove the link to both socialism and the trade unions. He failed to finish the job and the emergence of the Corbyn ‘Movement’ still presents the opportunity to establish a party based in the community and workplaces, democratic to its core, fighting for equality – in short a party worthy of the name Labour.

Liam Conway (Communications Officer, Nottingham TUC)

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