Harriet Harman to urge unions to back reform

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  By Lynda Williamson

Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman is expected to use tonight’s speech to the TUC annual dinner to put forward a plea for unity between the Labour Party and the trade unions.

Ms Harman will warn that continued public feuding can only play into the hands of the Conservative Party.

She will say:

“We need to remember that fundamentally we’re fighting for the same things – that we are on the same side.

“If we don’t have unity there are going to be winners and losers. The winners will be the Tories and the losers will be our constituents and your members. This is a dangerous moment.”

Ed Miliband’s proposed radical reform to the relationship between Labour and the trade unions is likely to dominate the TUC annual conference in Bournemouth this week and Ms Harman’s speech is seen as an attempt to pour oil on troubled waters ahead of Ed Miliband’s address on Tuesday.

The row was sparked by allegations that the Unite union had tried to buy up members in order to influence the candidate selection process in Falkirk following the departure of Eric Joyce.  Some commentators have accused Mr Miliband of jumping the gun in his reaction to the debacle but others have said that the row is symbolic of the troubles between the Labour Party and the unions.  Troubles which go to the heart of how working class people can assert political influence in the face of plutocratic funding of the Conservative party.   

The reforms which would involve trade union members opting in to give money to the Labour Party, would end mass membership fees and mass affiliation resulting in a considerable loss of funds for the Labour Party and a loss of influence for the unions.  They are expected, however, to appeal to voters in Labour/Tory marginals in the south east of England.

Ms Harman will explain that the reforms are not designed to “weaken the relationship between Labour and the trade unions” but to “make it a reality.”  

The leader of the Unite union, Len McLusky, whose row with the Labour Party was the catalyst for the reforms has stated that he is ready to move on saying:

“It is time for us to move on from Falkirk and make sure that we are involved in uniting the party so that we can move forward.”

Unison leader Dave Prentis is less concilliatory and has warned that the number of members which his union affiliates to Labour would fall from 500,000 to 430,000 under the new rules.  This would cost the party £210,000 a year on top of the £1.05million reduction announced by the GMB union last week.

Mr Prentis addressed a press conference in Bournemouth warning that:

“We look like a disunited party.  Where I grew up, in Leeds, we were told never to wash your dirty linen in public.

“We have seen only yesterday what happened in Australia.  It will happen to the Labour Party in this country if it doesn’t get its act together.”

Mr Mliband is expected to tell the conference:

“We need to build a party truly rooted in the lives of all the working people in Britain once more.  That is what my reforms are about.  It is the right thing to do.  We have to change.”