Revealed: the secret of Labour's union task force

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The Independent Online
A secret team of 9,000 trade unionists was deployed by the Labour Party during the election campaign.

The existence of the trade union task force was kept secret to avoid criticisms from the Tories about the links between Labour and the unions, which remain an important source of funding for the party.

Even when the party discussed its organisational structure of task forces at its Millbank campaign headquarters, it never revealed the existence of the trade union force.

A Millbank insider, who sat near the team, said: "They were told not to reveal their existence and not to discuss their work. It was very successful as nobody realised how important the volunteers were."

The Independent has discovered that a group of 10 full-time staff at Millbank co-ordinated an enormous team of trade union volunteers, which included many trade union staff.

They were deployed, as necessary, to go on the stump in key seats and staff the phone banks which were used for much of the canvassing. The number of willing activists was a major weapon in key seats.

As well as co-ordinating this little army, the unit, headed by John Mann, the national officer responsible for links between the party and the unions, liaised with the trade unions over their support for the campaign and kept them informed about it.

According to Millbank staff, "the trade union leaders were not gagged. They just knew what was expected of them and kept quiet. But we did tell them about what was going on".

Labour was surprised that the Tories never really attacked the party about its links with the unions.

After a flurry in the third week of the campaign over Labour's commitment to allow unions to force companies to recognise them, if a majority of workers want recognition, unions were one of the several dogs that did not bark in the Tory campaign.