‘Now cannot be the time to walk away’

Rules conference 2023: Labour disaffiliation vote rejected

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After a passionate and good-tempered debate at Unite’s rules conference on Monday (July 10), Unite delegates overwhelmingly voted to reject proposals that would have resulted in the union disaffiliating from the Labour Party.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham spoke in support of an Executive Council (EC) statement, which called on Unite to maintain its affiliation, saying, “This is the moment of maximum leverage for the union where we can hold Labour to account. Now cannot be the time to walk away. We would be weakening our own arm.

“It would be the worst time to leave the Labour Party when they are in touching distance of power; if we leave we wouldn’t influence that power,” she added.

“Labour must be Labour and the union must push them to into that position — we must make them take different choices,” Sharon continued. “We will not make the same mistakes of the past; there will be no blank cheques for Labour until we see tangible results.”

Over two dozen delegates spoke both for and against the EC statement.

Delegate Ben Davis (pictured below), an NHS worker from the South East region, urged conference to support the statement, highlighting how Unite is building a political movement from the ground up through campaigns like Unite for a Workers’ Economy.

“We need to build our own politics, but we can’t do that if we sacrifice the power we already have by staying affiliated to the Labour Party. We need a seat at the table to have a voice,” he said. “Without that voice at the table we will not be heard.”

Delegate Gwen Grahl from the London & Eastern region told conference how she and her colleagues were victims of fire and rehire in their workplace.

“And I made a promise to my members to continue campaigning against fire and rehire until it was outlawed,” she said, highlighting that Labour has committed to banning the practice as well as revoking laws that make it more difficult to for trade union members to strike.

“We need a strong voice and a seat at the table [within the Labour Party]” to ensure they keep their promises, Gwen noted.

Delegate Tracey Whittle of the South East likewise said Unite should maintain its influence within the Labour Party.

“We formed the Labour Party so we should stay in it,” she said. “We are all negotiators here – we fight tooth and nail to get what we want from our bosses; we should fight tooth and nail to get what we want from the Labour Party.”

Delegates who spoke in opposition to the EC statement expressed grave disappointment at the direction the Labour party has taken in recent years.

Delegate Veronika Wagner, an NHS mental health worker, said she had “significant reservations” about the EC statement because she believed the Labour Party leadership had no clear stance against privatisation in the health service.

“Privatisation leads to worse patient outcomes,” she highlighted.

Meanwhile, Unite delegate Sharza Dethick (pictured above), who moved one of the motions which stood against the EC statement, warned that Labour is “turning into the new Tory Party”.

In closing, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham reiterated Unite would be focusing on holding the Party leadership’s ‘feet to the fire’ to ensure maximum leverage in keeping Labour to account. Clearly she quelled any fears and concerns delegates may have had as they overwhelmingly voted to support the EC statement after her closing remarks.

By Hajera Blagg

Pics by Mark Thomas