Unions urge Labour MPs to 'roll up their sleeves'

Click to follow

Union leaders yesterday reacted angrily to the Labour Party's charge that they were trying to "buy" government policy, warning MPs to "roll up their sleeves" and begin representing the interests of ordinary workers.

In a further sign of the strained relations between Labour and the unions, Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), said he would meet the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, next month for policy talks and was planning further meetings with other parties, including the Scottish National Party.

He was responding to comments from David Triesman, Labour's general secretary, who accused the unions of using donations to try to influence government policy.

Earlier this week the CWU became the latest union to announce plans to cut funding to Labour. It said it would reduce donations by £500,000 over the next three years to try to make ministers listen to its concerns about Post Office deregulation.

Mr Hayes said yesterday that the marriage between Labour and the unions had seriously broken down. "It's not quite a divorce, but it seems we are living in separate rooms at the moment," he said. "It seems at the moment that nobody seems to care about the fate of the Post Office."

The general workers union, the GMB, which has cut donations to Labour by £2m over four years, said yesterday that Labour had "screwed" union members with its policies on workers' rights and public service reforms.

"Trade unions are not withdrawing funds because they think it is a clever tactical way of obtaining influence. It is because their members feel that in many policy areas they are being screwed by the Government in the same way that they were screwed by the Tories," said a GMB spokesman.

"Our members feel that their money is better spent campaigning for policies they want rather than policies Tony Blair tells them they want."

Mr Triesman, in an interview with The Times yesterday, said that the Government could not be bought by donations. "You cannot have an ethical party or an ethical government if people believe that their donations buy them something," he said. "Unions are saying in an inverse way that money is associated with policies." His remarks provoked charges from union leaders that many Labour MPs were promoting policies that damaged the interests of members.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) is also reviewing its £15m a year contribution and has written to Labour MPs demanding to know their views on workers' rights and the future of the London Underground.

Bob Crowe, deputy general secretary of the RMT, said: "We think it's about time MPs started rolling their sleeves up and fighting on behalf of our members ... What is the point in having MPs if they are supporting views which are totally against ours. Our members have been privatised on the London Underground. Why would our members want to support an MP who supports that privatisation?"