England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Unite to review funding of Labour as Coventry dispute escalates

At an electric rally held last Wednesday in support of striking HGV drivers, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham announced that all future funding to the Labour Party would be ‘under review’.

This is in response to some of the most despicable actions from Labour run Coventry City Council against its own staff. The Unite members have been taking action since the start of the year and are now in their third week of all out industrial action. 

Not only have the Council refused to give their drivers a decent pay increase, they have distributed outright misinformation about real rates of pay to the general public, in an attempt to turn the people of the city against Unite and the striking workers. The Council have set up ‘drop off sites’ around the city, where people are supposed to take their own rubbish. Not only is this to undermine the strike, but gives a glimpse of where the Council would like to take public services! In other words do it yourself, in your own time, at your own expense!

They further decided to up the stakes by employing agency workers on higher rates of pay than the rate Unite are asking for, and are using a council owned company (Tom White Waste) to collect rubbish. This outrageous strike breaking behaviour has been roundly condemned by Unite and other trade unionists. 

Coventry Tories praise the Labour Party

Their actions have however gained some support. Leading Coventry Tory, Cllr Gary Ridley gave his backing by stating ‘I don’t say this often, but the Labour leadership deserve credit for bringing in strike-breakers and standing up to the unions. People just want their bins emptying and they don’t care if it’s a private company that does it.’ 

Labour are acting like the worst Tory employer and this is not lost on those taking industrial action. As many have said it is ‘Labour by name, Tory by policy’!

Funding under review

During the online rally Sharon Graham gave her full support to the strikers and to Unite members across the union involved in disputes. 

In widely reported comments she stated

‘“Until this strike is settled, the remaining financial relationship with the Labour party is now under review.

“There will be no Labour politician in the Midlands or party office who will get one single penny from my members, or any practical support of any kind, while this strike is going ahead. Not one penny will pass from our coffers until you sort out this mess that you have created.

“No longer will my union accept being treated like dirt by those who have their hands in our wallets at election time. Act like Labour, and we will treat you like Labour.”

This has been met with huge support from the strikers and from many working class people across Britain with many asking why is it that our unions are giving money hand over fist to a political party that does not support pro trade union policies, and in cases like Coventry, actively attacks its own workforce? 

Labour – under new management

The Labour leadership have acted in a characteristically arrogant manner. Quoted on the BBC website Starmersaid Labour was

‘not going to be influenced by threats from anybody”.

“That’s a matter of principle for me. It’s not about the particulars of a dispute here or dispute there, the Labour party I lead is not prepared to be threatened by anyone. Period. Full stop.”

In a further response a Labour Party spokesperson added We would have hoped that Unite would have got the message that the Labour Party is under new management”

The response to the cut in funding shows extremely clearly where Starmer has taken Labour – a party that is not in the slightest bit interested in representing the interests of working class people.

What next?

In the context of the dispute, it is absolutely correct that pressure must be applied in every single way possible, including the review of the funding as outlined by Sharon Graham. Labour politicians should never get support from the unions (financial or otherwise) if they are attacking union members!

What this dispute exposes once again is that there is a need for an organised debate within the trade union movement and more widely about the need for working class political organisation and what form that should take. 

Unite members have received support from Jeremy Corbyn (still suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party) which has been welcomed. Imagine the impact if Jeremy and Sharon called a conference of all those who want to debate and discuss political representation for trade unionists and whether a new party is needed. A very concrete issue is the battle to defend Jeremy Corbyn’s seat in Islington North and this could be a clarion call to begin to mobilise an army in his support. It could also discuss how best to support MPs such as Zarah Sultana who have visited the picket line to show support. This is also not just about Unite. Other trade unions firstly need to publicly condemn the Labour council and show support for the strikers. Furthermore, all trade unions should follow Unite and review their funding arrangements, and develop discussions around working class political representation. 

Socialist Alternative believe that what is desperately needed is an organisation that is rooted in battles like the HGV drivers dispute and the many others taking place, in working class communities, in the campaigns to stop climate change and to end all forms of oppression. A new party could be a vehicle for different disputes and struggles to come together on the basis of a common programme. In our view a mass left party, with a socialist programme and based on the struggles of working class people, would be a big step forward in the battle against this exploitative capitalist system. If you agree, we urge you to join us. 


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