The trade union movement is close to setting up an anti-austerity alliance, with one aim being to help protect Jeremy Corbyn’s grip on the Labour Party.
Trade Union Momentum has been floated as an alliance of more left-leaning unions, including the Public & Commercial Services Union, the Communications Workers Union, the Bakers, Food & Allied Workers Union, and the Fire Brigades Union, which recently re-affiliated to Labour having quit the party under Tony Blair’s leadership. Most of the unions involved are not affiliated to Labour, but are supportive of the way that Mr Corbyn and his shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, argue against Conservative cuts.
Despite the name, the alliance is not linked to Momentum, the Labour grassroots network established by Mr Corbyn’s supporters after his victory. The trade union version would involve events and protests against public sector austerity, and some involved believe it has the potential to be bigger than Momentum itself.
Matt Wrack, the FBU’s general secretary, said: “At the present time we’re having discussions with people about how we might do it [Trade Union Momentum]. One idea is you just call a big initial conference-type event. You ask some unions to sponsor it officially, but you also open it up to local trades councils, to local branches of other unions who might want to attend as well… I think there is a case for the left being better organised.”
John McInally, the PCS vice-president, said: “Trade Union Momentum has the potential to draw together big forces, not just inside the Labour Party but outside as well, based on a clear ‘no to cuts’ policy. It would be committed to help Jeremy and John in their project and would have the potential to organise throughout the country.”
There have been suggestions that the PCS could affiliate to Labour, but this would be hugely contentious because many civil servants want to be considered politically neutral. Mr McInally also ruled this out, saying: “Why would we want to give money to the Blairites who control the Labour Party bureaucracy? We support Jeremy and John, not the bureaucracy of the Labour Party.”
One of the general secretaries involved in the talks said the name of the new group needed to be changed, because Momentum was seen as a purely Labour organisation while this body would be broader. “Trade Union Momentum is in its infancy. The terms of reference has been passed around this month. The issue of the name has cropped up – I’m not sure that calling this Momentum does anyone any good. It’s absolutely nothing to do with Momentum.”
Mr Wrack said the original Momentum, which has suffered internal splits, “needs to be clearer about what it’s doing”. Labour centrist MPs fear the organisation has been set up to get them deselected before the next general election.
He also urged Mr Corbyn to repeat the tactics he used in the Labour leadership election last year and address crowds across the country. The would-be Labour leader stunned seasoned political observers by attracting large crowds at a time when the country was thought to be politically apathetic.
Labour membership is currently 388,000 and Mr Wrack said this could break one million if Mr Corbyn undertook another tour of the country during the summer recess. He added: “It [last year’s rallies] was probably something we’ve never seen, a genuine mass politics.”