Momentum should approach unions as industrial organisations, not political clubs

by Simon Hannah

Many Momentum members will have seen an email that was sent out to members just before Christmas urging them to join Unite and to vote for Len McCluskey. This email – and the subsequent posts on Twitter and Facebook advocating the same thing – is a very worrying development and a sign of the problems Momentum is facing.

Some people might not see a problem. After all, people should be in a union and McCluskey has backed Corbyn in the recent internal struggles in Labour, so why not endorse him? The problem is this, who made the decision to send out that email? Momentum is urging people to vote in an internal election in a trade union without any consultation with the membership. No doubt there are many members of Unite in Momentum – were they consulted? We already know the answer – no they weren’t. People at the top of Momentum use the organisation as their own personal property to endorse the politics and campaigns that they want to endorse.

Moreover, asking everyone to join Unite is ridiculous and undermines the very basis of what trade unionism is. Unite is not some play ground that people should join on a whim just to take part in an election. People should join Unite because it is a trade union that covers their particular industry or workplace. I am in Unison as that is the biggest trade union in my workplace, should I join Unite as well just to vote for the General Secretary? Should everyone just join everyone else’s union just to vote for particular candidates in elections?

When Labour First sends out an email urging similar tactics the left rightly condemns such activity as blatant manoeuvres by people who just see unions as a forum for a political fight and not as independent organisations in their own right. Why does the left then stoop to similar tactics?

What kind of organisation?

The recent Unite instruction is only the latest in a long line of initiatives from the office, for instance the “Your Party” campaign and the “Grassroots Now!” campaign that were not discussed at Steering Committee of National Committee. Where do these come from, who approves them and how can rank and file members have any say in what is promoted by the organisation? So far there is only silence when people raise these questions.

Momentum should be taking the trade unions seriously. Why doesn’t it encourage people to join the appropriate union for them depending on their workplace? Why doesn’t it try and organise networks in unions to advocate certain policies, based on the already existing members?

The sad irony is that this kind of top down behaviour comes from people in Momentum who allegedly advocate online votes to encourage participation. What we have seen is what some of us feared – behind the democratic rhetoric of some people lies the reality of a machine that is run from the office in which your participation – let alone ability to hold people to account – will be at an absolute minimum. People weren’t asked to engage in a meaningful debate about who to endorse for Unite leader, they were simply given their marching orders – delegate structures were ignored and no attempt was made to involve a wider discussion on the issues.

Welcome to the new politics – for some of us it looks just like the old.

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