A number of shocking revelations have come to light thanks to the Labour Leaks scandal. These include high-level Labour staffers apparently seeking to undermine both the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and the party’s election campaign in 2017. But the fallout from the leaks has also exposed a struggle for the soul of some key Labour-supporting trade unions.
Division in Unison
On Tuesday, hundreds of Unison members – including more than twenty elected members of the union’s National Executive Committee – demanded action from general secretary Dave Prentis after two senior Unison officials were accused in the leaked Labour report that detailed sabotage of Labour’s disciplinary processes and electoral effects.
In an open letter, the members demanded a full investigation and firm action against any staff found to have undermined Labour
When is UNISON going to follow other unions in condemning the anti-black racism revealed in #LabourLeaks? The continuing silence shames our union.
— Joe Sucksmith (@JoeSucksmith) April 17, 2020
Prentis, however, had not commented on the matter on Twitter at the time of writing. Nor had the union’s official account. In fact, one journalist claimed that Prentis had given assurances to the senior officials in question:
I'm told that senior Unison staff named in the report have been personally assured that their jobs are safe. "Dave's told them he'll back them," says a source
Yet issue is already pitting Prentis against section of his members. As with Starmer, seemingly untenable to do nothing. https://t.co/d5cFJMjmDU
— Gabriel Pogrund (@Gabriel_Pogrund) April 14, 2020
On 16 April, Novara Media co-founder Aaron Bastani questioned the priorities of the GMB union’s Labour staff branch after a successful motion called for Labour general secretary Jennie Formby to “apologise personally” to current staff members whose names appeared in the leaked report. This seemed to be a way of placing responsibility on Formby for the leak and the backlash that staff members have reportedly faced in its wake.
If this is the priority right now, then I really have no words. The people in the report should be suspended pending investigation.
What on earth are these people doing? This is existential for the party. https://t.co/tLwCLMmByW
— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) April 16, 2020
The motion also insisted that “staff can no longer be confident that the general secretary has the safety and welfare of staff as her top priority”.
This focus reflected the content of a statement from the branch a day before.
The union nonetheless stressed in its ‘final comment until the completion of an independent investigation’ that:
The allegations in the leaked internal Labour Party document and the reported conversations are unacceptable.
Any racism or discrimination – on any side – based on race, gender, disability or political belief is utterly unacceptable.
Leaking an unredacted report, containing names and personal messages of employees and the names of people who made complaints about racism on the understanding of anonymity is unacceptable.
Trying to block solidarity?
On 15 April, meanwhile, ITV reported that:
A handful of Labour staffers tried to stop the party’s Unite branch from sending letters of solidarity to the BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] MPs who were named in a leaked internal report as victims of racism and racial profiling from colleagues at Labour HQ
Around 100 Labour Unite branch members were discussing how to react to the Labour Leaks scandal and most agreed they should send letters of solidarity to Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, and Clive Lewis. This motion passed, but around a dozen staffers reportedly didn’t vote in favour of it.
I agree with this statement from the Unite Labour Party Staff Branch calling for the Party's investigation into recent revelations "to be conducted swiftly" not "kicked into the long grass" and that its "focus must be on the alleged behaviour and not an attack on whistleblowing." pic.twitter.com/9hOTM3jV2R
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) April 16, 2020
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has said of the leaks:
Let us be clear what the officials whose cynical, abusive and factional conduct has now been exposed were actually doing. In working for a Labour defeat, they were working for a Tory victory
He also slammed the “rancid, and very cruel, political culture” among such officials, while stressing that:
Some of the responses to the report have been deeply revealing.
The battle for the soul of the union movement
As one union organiser (who wishes to remain anonymous) told The Canary:
For many trade unionists, these ‘revelations’ are far from surprising. It has long been common knowledge that some unions are bereft of democratic decision-making. They are plagued by bureaucrats who operate at regional levels and who view the union movement as nothing more than steppingstones in their own personal careers; the interests of workers and members always come last. …
Fundamentally, what these revelations reveal is that there is a rot, not just in Labour, but within the union movement as a whole. And it is only by confronting this rot and the union oligarchies that the movement will advance. Serious discussions need to take place around whether these lumbering and mammoth unions are still fit for purpose in their current form.
Controversy hasn’t surrounded all union responses, though. Because some trade unionists have made clear statements calling for solidarity and suspensions:
The Labour Party and the Labour and Trade Union movement is built on fighting all forms of racism.
Our whole union stands with you
— Dave Ward (@DaveWardGS) April 15, 2020
As the leader of an affiliated union I know that many of our activists worked tirelessly for a Labour government. It is incredible to see how deep rooted the attempts to sabotage that objective were. The strongest action is now required, including membership suspensions.
— Dave Ward (@DaveWardGS) April 13, 2020
Great meeting with @johnmcdonnellMP on Zoom.
Clear that some Unions may disaffiliate if suspensions don’t happen soon.
— Mel (@melaniekmelvin) April 16, 2020
The details revealed in this report are deeply, deeply alarming. We cannot and will not let it be buried.
‘Hostility to Corbyn' curbed Labour efforts to tackle antisemitism, says leaked report https://t.co/OAgkJhKvXD
— Matt Wrack (@MattWrack) April 13, 2020
My initial comment on leaked Labour Party report.
— Matt Wrack (@MattWrack) April 13, 2020
The Labour Leaks have clearly opened a new chapter in the fight to democratise both the Labour Party and the UK’s trade union movement. Now that this is all in the public arena, we can never go back. And we shouldn’t want to.
Featured image via Rwendland
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