How to resist the Tory attacks was the theme of the GMB Congress in Brighton this week. But the key terrain of that battle for the union is the Labour Party’s conduct in opposition.
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny says the union has refused to give Labour some £500,000 since the party backed a public sector pay freeze.
Apart from the union’s £1.4 million affiliation fees, and the money to campaign at local elections, the “money box was shut and will remain shut until we see major changes”, he added.
“I don’t believe the public will vote for a Tory-lite approach from a Labour government,” said Kenny. “We want Labour to be the party of working people.”
There were numerous motions criticising Labour for “punching below its weight”. Delegates repeatedly spoke of being “saddened” and “angry” at Labour.
They also complained that Labour hadn’t backed striking public sector workers. Linda Millar said she “expected all Labour representatives to show 100 percent support for workers’ action. We have been loyal and received little in return.”
The reality of how Labour will take the criticism could be seen when shadow chancellor Ed Balls defended the stance on a public sector pay freeze.
Balls received a cool reception to his rather dull speech. When he said “I have to apologise” a heckler shouted, “You’re right, you do.” Balls didn’t.
The GMB union is recommending the local government pensions deal and intends to ballot in August.
A lacklustre debate at its annual conference saw little enthusiasm for the deal, but only subdued opposition. The union has also accepted the civil service deal.
GMB members in health overwhelmingly rejected the deal, but are unlikely to strike again soon.
There is already another threat on the horizon for local government workers.
Brian Strutton, GMB’s national secretary for public services, said, “As we move forward from one challenge—pensions—so we face another—national conditions.”
Local government bosses want to scrap the “green book” of terms and conditions that covers 1.6 million local government staff.
Their proposal is to “terminate the current bargaining machinery” and replace it with what they openly describe as a “much reduced” agreement.