Martin Linton spoke at Labour’s Special Conference 2014, a conference to debate and decide on the reforms that Ed Miliband called to make Labour more deeply rooted in the lives of working people and their communities. Here is his speech:
I’ve got 3 minutes to tell you two stories which I hope will show you why this reform is needed and why it should have been done years ago.
I’ve always found it ludicrous that we have 3,000,000 affiliated trade union members of the Labour Party, but we’re not allowed to know their names and addresses.
Their affiliation fees are very welcome, but if we have 3 million trade union members it means we have on average 4,600 per constituency and their names and addresses would be gold dust to any MP, candidate or organiser, as would their participation in the local party.
When I was an MP I used to ask my union, the GMB, sometimes to mail their levy-paying members on our behalf, which they did.
But we could never come face to face with them because we don’t have any large work places, or even work places where the majority of employees live in the constituency,
In the end we asked the unions to invite members with postcodes in our constituency to a reception.
And at this reception, for the first time, we met lots of working-class Labour voters who were affiliated members, paid money to the Labour Party, voted in Labour leadership elections, the very people who are missing from our membership.
Secondly, in the 1980s I wrote a Fabian pamphlet in which I described the way trade unions affiliated to the Swedish Social Democrats – whole branches affiliated and all the members of the branch became members of the local constituency party – except for those who were opted out.
I got a phone call from a newly-elected MP who invited me to lunch at the Commons to talk about changing the system of trade union affiliation. He was really keen on it.
Now this MP – I don’t think I need to tell you his name – he did a lot of things I agree with, a few I don’t agree with – particularly on the Middle East, but he never got round to changing the affiliation system.
So I think it’s to the credit of Ed Miliband and Paul Kenny and the other union leaders that they have done what Tony Blair failed to do.
Of course we won’t keep all of our affiliated members. But the unions will still have political funds and they will still have an interest in getting a Labour government elected.
That’s the glue that holds us together. It’s in the interests of the Labour Party to win trade unionists’ votes and it’s in the interests of the unions to get a Labour government elected. We don’t need the belt and braces of an antiquated system.