An article in today’s Financial Times confirms that the Unions got virtually no concessions from Brown at last weekend’s Labour Party Policy Forum in Warwick. The article points out the the Union leaderships’ 130 demands were virtually ignored. Big business was happy with the outcome:
Gordon Brown was on Monday praised by business for resisting “the worst” union demands on policy, but urged to stand his ground in the run-up to this autumn’s politically charged party conference season. Business reacted with undisguised relief to the measures for Labour’s next manifesto hammered out at the party’s National Policy Forum over the weekend. Reports on Monday claimed the prime minister had “caved in” to the unions, which represent the sole funding lifeline for his cash-strapped party. But employers pointed out that the reality was somewhat different. Facing a list of 130 union demands, Mr Brown rejected the vast majority outright and gave little ground on the remainder.
“Everybody appears to have seen some sense and understood the current economic climate,” David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, told the Financial Times. “The business community must be heartened by this.” Richard Lambert, director- general of the CBI employers’ body, said the government had “resisted the worst of the union demands”.
Employers said the document that emerged from the weekend talks between ministers, unions and Labour activists – a central plank of the party’s policymaking machine – contained little to cause them alarm.
After stripping out union-friendly rhetoric and vague assurances, the document was notable principally for the lack of substantive new commitments. The main exception was the pledge to lower the age threshold for paying the adult rate of the national minimum wage from 22 to 21, subject to advice from the Low Pay Commission.
“We’re pleased that this agreement appears to be mainly a rehash of existing policies,” the EEF manufacturers’ organisation said. Stephen Alambritis of the Federation of Small Businesses told the FT: “We’re keeping a beady eye on this [area] but there’s nothing earth-shatteringly new that would worry us in it.”
The relaxed business reaction was in stark contrast to a Tory briefing document that on Monday proclaimed the resurrection of a Labour party in hock to its historic paymasters. “The unions are regaining control of Labour’s agenda, demonstrating that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Brown’s government is lurching to the left in response,” the opposition party declared.
But the Tories’ citing of the “huge list” of union demands made before the policy forum served only to highlight how few of them were ceded. Rejected policies included the abolition of the ban on secondary picketing, the reopening of public sector pay deals and higher taxes for people earning more than £40,000.
Business is keeping a wary watching brief. “All we can do is absolutely stiffen their [the government’s] resolve,” Miles Templeman, Institute of Directors director-general, told the FT.
“They’ve stressed how important pay restraint is – now they’ve got to stick to it. We just can’t afford a further movement in that direction [of union demands] or we’ll harm our competitiveness.”
I have yet to see a statement from either Tony Woodley or Derek Simpson on the Policy Forum. We know it has been reliably reported that Unite voted against an amendment that would have stopped further privatisation of the NHS – but what happened to the other 129 demands? And what was the Unite vote on re-opening public sector pay deals, given that our members in the NHS and local government are now in dispute?
We need an explanation of what policies our members’ money is going to support. I don’t accept the argument that unions who provide 90% of the funding for the Labour Party should not be able to dictate policies that are in the interests of our members. I certainly don’t accept representatives of Unite voting in favour of privatisation of public services, or for pay cuts for our members.
After all, the Labour Party only has about 150,000 individual members. We have more than double that in the London & Eastern Region of Unite.