Momentum-backed NEC member: Labour should cut union links

Christine Shawcroft’s ‘heat of the moment’ remarks anger trade union leaders

Union leaders reacted with fury on Wednesday after a senior member of Labour’s ruling national executive committee called for the party’s link to trades unions to be severed.

Christine Shawcroft, who became the new chair of Labour’s powerful disputes panel in January, made a series of comments on Facebook – later deleted – complaining that the trades unions, “stick it to the rank and file”.

Discussing the fiercely contested race to be the party’s next general secretary, she said, “nothing would induce me to support a candidate from a major trade union, they stick it to the rank and file members time after time after time. It’s also time to support disaffiliation of the unions from the Labour party. The party belongs to us, the members.”

Her remarks sparked a fresh row about democracy in the Labour party, amid claims that the unions have sought to stitch up the general secretaryship.

A director of the pro-Jeremy Corbyn campaign group Momentum, Shawcroft is backing its founder, Jon Lansman, for the post. The pair want to see more involvement of grassroots members in party decision-making.

Lansman announced his candidacy for general secretary, the most senior Labour party official, last week, as leftwing members of the NEC refused to throw their weight behind Unite’s chosen candidate, Jennie Formby. Lansman said he was running against “machine politics”; and urged other candidates to come forward.

Traditionally it has been the right wing of the Labour party that has been more suspicious of the trades unions’ influence; but the race for the general secretaryship has reopened the debate about the power of the party’s swelling membership, which now numbers more than half a million.

In response to Shawcroft’s remarks, GMB leader Tim Roache tweeted: “Our movement is built on collectivism, our party came from the trade union movement. Anyone who thinks the unions don’t have a role in the party we built and have stood by through thick and thin, should ask themselves if they’re in the right place.”

Len McClusky, whose union, Unite, is Labour’s largest donor, said: “Christine Shawcroft is a member of the Labour party. The clue is in the name. We are the party of labour, founded by the trade union movement. Her proposals for disaffiliation aid the most backwards forces in our society and she should withdraw them.”

Corbyn’s spokesman also waded into the row. He pointed out that Shawcroft had deleted the Facebook posts, which he said had been made in “the heat of the moment” – something she later confirmed.

“The trade unions founded the Labour party; they are absolutely at the heart of the Labour party and remain so. They are at the core of what the Labour party is, what sets it apart from other left of centre parties in Europe and elsewhere. It gives the Labour party extra strength to have its roots in workplaces across the country,” the Labour leader’s spokesman said.

“There is almost no one in the entire Labour party who supports any kind of break with the trade unions or disaffiliation. It’s a completely marginal view that has no support”.

It is understood the comments were made after a row over whether Formby had left the room while a vote was taking place over an antisemitism case. The disputes panel, which Shawcroft has chaired since she defeated its longstanding chair Ann Black, in January, oversees disciplinary cases.

A Momentum spokesperson insisted Shawcroft’s remarks did not represent the campaign group’s official view, adding: “We’re very proud of the strong links Momentum has to the trade union movement. From running digital campaigns in support of striking McDonalds workers to making viral videos highlighting Tory cuts to public services with the CWU and the TSSA - we believe Labour is strongest when trade unions and member organisations work together closely.”


Heather Stewart and Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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