Trade union leaders reacted angrily today to proposals by Ed Miliband to distance Labour from its union founders through a radical change to the way they fund the party.
Union bosses raised the prospect that they would seek to block the plan to force union members to “opt in” to paying the £3-a-year donation to Labour, replacing the present system under which they have to “opt out” if they not wish to pay.
As Mr Miliband prepared to spell out his plan in a keynote speech, Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU postal workers’ union, dismissed it as “a very old fashioned idea.” Asked whether he could stop Mr Miliband pushing through the reforms, he replied: “Well, let's see. Let's just see what happens in the process.” He added: “We are going to make sure our voice is heard. We live in a democratic society and as I understand it we are entitled to have our say in the party.”
Mr Hayes recalled that the same change was introduced by Stanley Baldwin, the then Conservative Prime Minister, in 1927 and overturned by the Labour Government elected in 1945.
He told BBC Radio 4: “It was introduced to weaken the trade unions' link with Labour, so I don't think it's good idea. People have the right to opt out if they want to. This is all about dog whistles. It’s about signalling to people there’s a problem with the relationship with the trade unions. I don’t think there is.”
He added: “Nothing excites the political class more than an attack on the trade union movement... Steps like this don’t do anything to solve the problems of ordinary people in this country.”
Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, the union which sparked the row with Labour, urged the party to investigate Progress, the Blairite think tank, which is partly funded by Lord Sainsbury, the millionaire supermarket boss and former Labour Science Minister. Mr McCluskey said: "It is past time that the spotlight was shone on the activities of Progress, largely funded by Lord Sainsbury, which has been sparing no expense to get its candidates adopted. The Sainsbury 'block vote' has been used to create a parliamentary Labour party that does not look like, or think like, the party more broadly."
Watch below a clip of Ed Miliband's speech: