The Socialist Unity Network

Go left Labour, or face a new party, says union boss

Christine Buckley and Helen Rumbelow

TRADE unions could break away and create their own party unless Labour delivers on their demands by the middle of a third term, one of the "big four" union leaders threatened last night.

A re-elected government must raise the minimum wage, renationalise the railways and restore the right to secondary strike action, as well as allowing new Labour finally to be laid to rest, Kevin Curran, the general secretary of the GMB general union, told The Times.

Mr Curran said that if Labour did not change its values, "we would have to look for a political partner that would advance the interests of people we represent. It really is as simple as that." He appeared to be hinting at a new union-based party of the Left to challenge Labour.

He said that Labour needed the unions' regional network to ensure election success and that there were no safe seats.

"Just imagine if a disaffected, disengaged trade union movement decided to concentrate on 300 seats with independent candidates. The difference we would make in national politics would be enormous," he said. The GMB leader, who works closely with leaders of the T&G, Amicus and Unison, said the idea was hypothetical at present but there was no question that the unions could make the move.

"If the Labour Party turns round and says we don't want the unions any more, we are not going to go away." Mr Curran's words are clearly intended as a warning shot to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown after last weekend's harmonious outcome to the party's national forum, when the unions hailed advances on workers' rights.

They will cause some concern because the main union leaders now tend to plan their strategy together and the others may sign up to the threat. But Labour leaders believe that the unions are coming to terms with their reduced influence as shown by figures showing that the party secured 9 million in individual donations last year.

One minister said privately this week that the unions had understandably made a lot of last weekend's deal.


July 2004


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