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
As the Skwawkbox reported on 15 April, many Unison members have written to general secretary Dave Prentis demanding action over the Labour Leaks scandal:
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
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:
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.
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.
Formby has reportedly asked constituency parties not to share the leaked document.
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.
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 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