What comes first – Government or Union members?

I was at a Unite branch meeting tonight – not my own branch, but a London health branch I was visiting in my role as an NEC member.

I spoke about the problems we face in the NHS – the fake financial crisis of 2005/6, the loss of at least 26,000 jobs, the threat to pathology and other diagnostic services through privatisation, and the rapidly escalating attacks on primary care. I also talked about the way Unite has ended up putting the interests of New Labour ahead of the interests of our members – the recent NEC decision that our Union’s priority is ‘two years peace for Gordon Brown’, for example, and the threats to call off the national NHS demo if Brown had called his snap General Election.

Most people in the meeting agreed with me. There was one New Labour supporter, a local councillor, who disagreed. He couldn’t come up with a single argument to justify the Labour Government’s attacks on the NHS, and made no attempt to defend the Union’s subordination to Labour. He didn’t even bother to try – instead, all he could do was to snidely make clear he would not support me in the forthcoming elections for the new Executive.

It seems to me to be fundamental to trade unionism that you put the interests of your members first. Unions must make it an absolute priority to defend their members when it comes to pay, conditions, equalities and so on. If unions can’t do that, then everything else is just so much fluff.

It’s sad to see individual union activists putting loyalty to Labour ahead of their commitment to the members they represent. It’s even sadder to see many General Secretaries in our movement so devoid of vision that they throw their weight behind Gordon Brown irrespective of the compromises and capitulations they are expected to make.

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