Labour to curb costs in return for union cash

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

UNION officials are expected today to acknowledge the need to pump more money into the Labour Party in return for a massive cut in costs. Larry Whitty, general secretary of the party, will make a presentation to representatives of more than 30 union affiliates in which he will promise to reorganise services and get rid of around one-third of the 200 staff employed by the party.

The meeting comes just hours before the electoral college conference which is expected to confirm victory for the 'dream ticket' of John Smith as party leader and Margaret Beckett as his deputy.

Leaders of the largest organisations, the Transport and General Workers' Union, the GMB general union and the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, are thought to be in favour of the deal over finances. The party is in dire need of the extra cash as it eats further into its 2m overdraft facility.

Unions will be expected to increase their subscriptions to the party from the present 1.60 for each member paying the political levy, to 1.70 next January and 1.90 the year after. Those figures, however, do not guarantee a proportional increase in unions' overall contributions because membership is falling. Union concern over the alleged profligacy of the party has been reinforced by their anger at being sidelined in an unsuccessful election campaign.

Some sources point to a 'presentational problem' over today's events, firstly because it underlines party-union links and secondly because Mr Whitty's presentation promising austerity comes before the electoral college meeting which some union leaders believe is a waste of money.

Tom Burlison, deputy general secretary of the GMB and its most senior representative today, will be wearing two hats because he is virtually certain to become the next treasurer of the party.

Attending the meeting of the college, at the Royal Horticultural Hall in London, will be delegates from unions, more than 650 constituency representatives, up to 270 MPs and 45 MEPs, whose attendance will have to be paid for, one way or another, by the Labour movement.

Bill Jordan, president of the AEEU, argues that because all participants know who they are going to vote for, the whole process could have been conducted by post.

In protest at the fact that the only speeches allowed will be made by the successful candidates, The National Union of Mineworkers is sending one member of staff to cast its block vote.