Labour, the unions and Warwick II

About time I posted – not just because this blog’s been gathering dust, but because I’ve something to shout about. And if trade unions bore you, please bear with me.

I’m chuffed. My unremarkable reporting has landed an inadvertent scoop: to wit, some of the demands that the Labour Party’s affiliated trade unions – who give the party most of its funding – are making in the run-up to “Warwick II”, the successor to the 2004 Warwick Agreement. For the uninitiated (and that was me a few months ago), this was an policy agreement that helped form Labour’s 2005 election manifesto and contained demands on everything from paid holidays to keeping the Royal Mail nationalised to use of ASBOs.

One element of the agreement – equal treatment for both permanent and temporary workers – has only just been implemented, and others are still waiting. But with another election on the horizon, Labour and the unions are preparing to sit down and thrash out another agreement. The agenda was drawn up this week, and that’s what my story was about.

I thought it was an important issue, but I wasn’t expecting Labourhome and Labour Outlook to link to it; much less for Sam Coates, The Times’  redoutable chief political corrspondent (and far more frequent blogger than this one) to link to it and quote a large chunk of my article. Not bad on the week of David Davis’ resignation. Seems nobody else was chasing up their contacts in the unions.

Warwick II is important because it’ll be part of the election manifesto, and although it represents the interests of unions the scope is far from narrow and will affect the lives of just about everybody. For instance, the last agreement contained a commitment to award NHS cleaning contracts on the basis of the standard of work done and not just cost.

Now, above and beyond what I wrote in my story  (and bear in mind that there are many, many details of Warwick II yet to emerge), there are two elephant-in-the-room questions. One: are these union demands being made in return for promises to fund the Labour Party out of its approaching bankruptcy? And two: why have Warwick II (it sounds like a computer game, doesn’t it) when Warwick I isn’t fully delivered yet?

In answer to the first, the union sources I’ve spoken to don’t see it that way. But if they did, you might argue, they wouldn’t want to let on about it. It obviously does the Labour Party no favours to appear to be in thrall to the demands of the unions – apart from anything else, it allows critics and enemies to conjure up parallels with the 1970s and the Winter of Discontent, however far-fetched they may be. However, unions such as the GMB have made clear that they are unhappy with Labour’s policies and will respond with adjustments to funding of the party. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown, who has been forced to hold crisis meetings over Labour’s terrible finances, is planning to meet unions next week to discuss Warwick. I’d be suprised if funding didn’t come up.

Mr Coates on his blog says the unions will not let Labour go bust. Maybe not; but Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, a major Labour donor, told his members very firmly at his annual conference last week that he wouldn’t allow any union money to pay for Labour’s debts. Other unions such as Unite – Britain’s biggest – will take a softer view, however. On balance I think Coates (who knows a lot more than I do) is right.

As for the second point – what about Warwick I? – the fact is, unions haven’t forgotten. The GMB, again,  put Labour on notice at their conference to honour their commitment to Warwick. Otherwise, a motion said, the union will reconsider its support for the party. But the idea that all 16 unions will demand full implementation of Warwick I at a time when Labour is so vulnerable to the Tories seems unlikely.

Watch this space, and read Tribune – first with the news…

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One Response to “Labour, the unions and Warwick II”

  1. John Miles Says:

    Glad to help in flagging the story up.

    Would you be able to drop me an email at editor@labouroutlook.com ?

    John Miles
    Labour Outlook

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