Fears Another Trade Union Could Cut Link to Cash-Strapped Labour Party

© REUTERS / HENRY NICHOLLS / FILE PHOTO: British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer arrives at the BBC Headquarters in LondonFILE PHOTO: British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer arrives at the BBC Headquarters in London
FILE PHOTO: British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer arrives at the BBC Headquarters in London - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.02.2022
Train driver's union ASLEF could become the second founding affiliate of the Labour Party in less than a year to walk away over differences with leader Sir Keir Starmer. Meanwhile Britain's biggest union Unite has threatened to withhold funding over workplace disputes at the party's head office and Labour-run Coventry council.
Another trade union could disaffiliate from Labour this year — with the opposition party already weathering a financial crisis.
Rail union the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) will debate a motion to break the link with Labour after 120 years at its Annual Assembly of Delegates (AAD) in May.
Officials fear that the result could be much closer than the 55 to 25 vote at last year's conference in favour of a motion to stay affiliated to Parliamentary opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer's party.
"There has been a sense since Keir Starmer became leader that unions have been pushed to the periphery and that has left some people disenchanted," one source inside ASLEF told the Daily Mirror, adding that the motion came from left-wingers in the union.
"Labour only seem to want us when it’s time to pony up for affiliation fees or fight an election," another told party insider website LabourList.
Retired ASLEF president Tosh McDonald told the Socialist Telly webcast he was "personally quite pleased about it, the way Labour has treated the unions" when he heard of the motion.
McDonald pointed out that while the union has just over 23,000 members, that represents 96 per cent of train drivers — giving the union great power to organise strikes.
"It's hard to say what the chances are" of the motion passing," McDonald said, but pointed out that ASLEF's rulebook states that the union must be affiliated to the party.
"I get the feeling they're almost trying to push unions away" he stressed. "The relationship between the unions and labour is an abusive relationship."
Two ASLEF sources told LabourList that the outcome would depend on which way the union general secretary Mick Whelan leans.
"I think Mick will carry a huge chunk of the vote," one source said, while another said the deciding factor could be "how powerfully Mick speaks."
Some left-wing media commentators also believed ASLEF could walk away from Labour in May.
"Given the party leader only met general secretary Mick Whelan for the first time last month (almost two years after becoming Labour leader) seems rather strong argument to go," tweeted Novara Media editor and co-founder Aaron Bastani. "If you've got no influence now — you definitely ain't going to have any in government. Argument to fund individual candidates, councillors and so on seems pretty compelling. Certainly not surprised if view is the vote could be close."
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Trade Union Issues Second Strike Threat to Labour Party in Five Months
Labour has been struggling to plug a gaping hole in its finances since revealing last July that membership had slumped from 550,000 to just over 400,000, while it had paid out millions in legal fees and compensation to former staff exposed in a leaked report as working to undermine left-wing former leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour general secretary Dave Evans announced 90 redundancies at the party's Westminster headquarters, prompting members of super-unions GMB and Unite — the party's biggest affiliate with 1.4 million members — to vote for strike action.
Unite members again voted to strike last month over the party's pay increase offer of two per cent, when Consumer Price Index inflation was running at 5.4 per cent.
Last week Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham repeated threats to cut funding to the party. "The remaining financial support of the Labour Party is now under review," she warned after Labour-run Coventry city council refused to increase its pay offer to refuse collectors organised by her union.
Starmer insisted to the BBC the next day he was he was "not going to be influenced by those who say we'll only provide money if you do 'x'."
The small Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union (BFAWU) voted to disaffiliate from Labour at a special conference last September — with the announcement of the vote timed to coincide with Starmer's keynote speech at the party conference in Brighton.
That was in protest at the expulsion of the union's president Ian Hodson from the opposition party for his past links with Labour Against the Witchhunt, a campaigning group which the party leadership proscribed — and expelled all members of with retrospective effect — in July 2021.
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