Families and members of the TUC attend an anti-austerity demo in Westminster. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Labour must defend the trade union link

A group of Labour MPs write in defence of the party's trade union link. 

There has been much discussion in the wake of the disastrous general election result about the future direction of our party. A full and frank conversation must take place, involving all parts of our party and country – that includes the millions of people in trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party.

The trade union link is the umbilical cord connecting a party of a few hundred thousand to a coalition of trade unions with a membership of over six million.

The whirling cesspool of some of the British right-wing media continues to smear trade unions, their leadership and their links with the Labour Party. While millions of people in the UK face huge hardship, the gutter press keep the stories off the front pages, replacing them with crackpot tales of ‘Red Him’, ‘Red Her’ or ‘Red Anyone’.

Shamefully, there are many in our own party who see the aims of the unions as alien to their own and hurl around the lexicon of our enemies willy-nilly. The phrases trade union ‘barons’, union ‘bullying’ or ‘sabotage’ should have no place in the vocabulary of Labour politicians. Perhaps some of those from the nouveaux wing of the Party should read their history and understand that the unions created the Labour Party and not the other way around.

We can never forget our responsibility towards working people, the people that the Labour Party was created to represent. It is trade unions that give a voice to those people, and it is our obligation to respectfully engage with them and their elected representatives.

Unions will participate in the leadership election under rules agreed just last year to broad approval. It would be ludicrous to suggest any further revisions at this stage could be warranted. Our affiliated trade unions should be encouraged in their endeavours to engage and sign up their members as affiliated supporters of our party, and to treat this with suspicion is absurd. 

We must also be clear that elected union leaders have a right and a duty to express their views on policy and on candidates on behalf of their unions. Those who seek to silence such contributions to open debate within our party only create an impression of intolerance and a desire to limit discussion to a charmed parliamentary circle.

 

 

Ian Lavery MP

Jon Trickett MP

Jo Stevens MP

Roger Godsiff MP

Marie Rimmer MP

Angela Rayner MP

Pat Glass MP

John McDonnell MP

Grahame Morris MP

Ian Mearns MP

Harry Harpham MP 

Rachael Maskell MP

Ronnie Campbell MP

Dave Anderson MP

Richard Burgon MP

Stephen Hepburn MP

Alan Meale MP

David Crausby MP

Dennis Skinner MP

Clive Lewis MP

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Jess Phillips MP

Liz McInnes MP

Kate Osamor MP

Kelvin Hopkins MP

Louise Haigh MP

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP

Paula Sherriff MP

Chris Matheson MP

Catherine West MP

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496