Tonight we have a party of us from the GMB going to “an evening with Dennis Skinner”, a fund raiser for the two Swindon CLPs. We have all the officers of Wiltshire and Swindon W15 branch going, and all the Full Time Organisers from the Swindon office
Following a 2008 Congress decision all GMB branches are expected to affiliate and play an active part in their local Labour Parties; and this policy was unanimously endorsed by the Southern Regional Council. Indeed this policy is seen not as unconditional support for the government, but as a long overdue and serious attempt by a major union to try to restore the social democratic soul back into the party.
It has taken a while for our branch to put this into operation due to a lack of members of our branch eligible to be delegates to the CLP General Committee, (because that also requires individual membership of the LP), but after a bit of arm twisting we have overcome that obstacle.
Myself and the branch president had a meeting with Anne Snelgrove MP just before Xmas, and it was agreed that non-LP members were also welcome to their social events, which gives the GMB branch networking opportunities, for example the chance for us to point out informally to local Labour councillors areas where we as a union branch feel they might be able to help us. The branch has 800 of our 3000 members in Swindon, so we should try to punch our weight.
There is clearly a debate within the union between those who believe that working with the Labour Party is flogging a dead horse, and those who believe that GMB can still achieve benefits for our members through the party. It would be tempting to say that the nearer people are to the lay membership the more sceptical they are about the Labour Party.
Personally I believe that the important issue is that the union is taking very seriously the need to play an active political role, and independently articulate policies that would be of benefit to our members, and to the wider working class. Given the history and make-up of the union, then that political role has to take place primarily through the Labour Party, and that is unlikely to change in the forseeable future.
There are serious contradictions here, for example that very, very few members of GMB are actually LP members nowadays, and that even extends to some full time officers. It is also true that the Labour Party is much less susceptible to trade union influence than it used to be. And with the Labour vote close to collapse in local elections in Swindon, there is very little scope for improving the composition of the Labour group on Swindon Borough Council.
But GMB has started a process of trying to become more independent in the political arena, and that is entirely a good thing.