CommentLinda Wilde

Building a union presence in the Party

CommentLinda Wilde
Building a union presence in the Party

FOR THREE YEARS we have been building up a strong trade union partnership in our Dulwich and West Norwood (DaWN) CLP. In 2016, as an active member of Unite, I was elected joint TULO officer. TULO, the Trade Union Liaison Organisation, is the group that organises affiliated trade unions at national and local levels of the Labour Party.

Our CLP organises as a General Committee based party and, as is the normal practice at the AGM, the affiliated trade union delegates meet together to elect their TULO officer who has a position on the Executive Committee (EC). My first meeting in 2016 had eleven union delegates present. Today our GC has 134 trade union delegates affiliated. It is one of the largest CLP TULO groups in the country. How did we do it?

Firstly we were forced to organise. DaWN CLP, most of which lies in Lambeth, was a bastion of the Progress faction which dominates our councillor group as well. When new Corbynsupporting members poured into the party, they were not welcomed into the wards and soon drifted off. The AGMs of wards were dominated by the slate system and even the most active members and trade unionists were kept off the GC if they supported Corbyn. The Lambeth Campaigns Forum (LCF) did the same thing in selecting potential councillors, excluding all Corbyn supporters after interviews for ‘suitability’.

We started the fightback by talking to every Corbyn-supporting member organised in our Momentum/Labour left group. We found out what union they belonged to, encouraged them to join a union if they were not already in one, and contacted their trade union branch secretary or regional official.

In some unions, Unite for example, you are knocking at an open door. Unite is very keen to increase union representation in the Labour Party at a local level. In other unions it depends on the attitude of regional officials. One thing we learned is that it is very important to be methodical: learn the system of getting delegates for each union, make sure members are in their appropriate branch, ensure you have the right forms, and work with members having difficulty contacting or attending their branch meetings.

Some union branches meet regularly and have a tradition of sending delegates to local Labour Parties. Each union branch that has members living/working in a particular CLP is entitled to send five delegates to a GC – so one branch for example might send several delegates each to two or three CLPs. We always insist that party members who represent their trade unions as delegates should attend their trade union branches regularly and make reports on what is happening at their CLPs. It is important to keep the trade union link strong.

We held fairly regular TULO meetings in our CLP. Our first meeting had the vice-chair of TULO, talking about “Trade Unions in the Corbyn Era”. This was followed by a speaker from the Ritzy Picture House strike where the Cineworld chain had just sacked four trade union reps in a dispute over the living wage. Later we had Billy Hayes reporting on the Labour Party conference and speakers from the McDonald’s strikers. We have held other meetings on the Employment Rights Charter and precarious workers. These meetings have had 20 or 30 attendees and are a useful way of building support for trade union struggles in the party.

We have also struggled to get trade union representation on the Lambeth Campaign Forum (LCF). At some point in the Blair era the LCF reduced trade union representation from three, representing each CLP in Lambeth, to one. So to get even one representative we had to organise a general meeting of the three TULO organisations - Vauxhall, Streatham and DaWN - to elect a delegate. Over 60 delegates turned up to hear the Unite convenor from Kings College Hospital talk about the threat of privatisation in the NHS and then elect Ted Knight as our TULO representative on the LCF.

After a few meetings the LCF has suddenly announced that because Streatham CLP has moved to all member meetings from a GC structure there will no trade union delegates to the LCF any more! Obviously we are mobilising against this outrageous decision.

One result of the success of our work with the trade unions has been to consolidate DaWN CLP as a Corbyn supporting constituency. At our last AGM we won 12 out of 14 EC officers even though we only control two out of eight wards. I moved on to become vice-chair membership while a meeting of over 100 TULO delegates elected new joint TULO officers.

It has been hard work and the job is not yet finished, but building our links with the trade unions and their everyday struggles is a vital part of Labour Party activity.

Dulwich and West Norwood CLP