My union did not tell me how to vote

By Jill Segger
September 26, 2010

I had two votes in the Labour leadership election. One as a member of the Labour Party and one as a trade unionist.

In neither category did I leave my critical faculties behind, nor did the latter grouping lean on me to vote in accordance with a group mind or unexamined interest.

Critics of the Labour leadership election are portraying Ed Miliband as a creature of the unions; a politician owing his advancement to mindless and partisan choice. In doing so, they choose to ignore the reality of the voting status of members of those unions affiliated to the Labour Party and whose members have freely chosen to pay the political levy. Despite claims from some Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, this was not the discredited block vote of old – it was a free and secret ballot.

My union did not tell me how to vote, it simply offered me a voice as a working citizen and a member of an organisation dedicated to protecting and enhancing the working conditions of its members. As trade unionists, we will all have voted according to our individual consciences and any break-down of voting choices would show that to be true. There is no other agenda.

I have been a trade unionist all my working life – first as a musician and later as a writer. I have never felt under pressure to do anything contrary to my conscience, but there have been many occasions when I have been grateful for assistance and support when contracts were breached or payments withheld. Not all employers treat their workers with fairness and respect.

Modern trade unionism has come a long way from the “everybody out” mentality of the 70s. Its leadership is well informed and generally impressive. Its members are realistic and responsible - ordinary men and women who do not seek confrontation with their employers but who know that as individuals, they are helpless when big corporate interests exercise their financial muscle in an unfair or oppressive manner. Banding together in the interests of justice is hardly a subversive act, although it may suit some strands of business and commerce to portray it in that light.

I regret that Ed Miliband (for whom I voted) has felt it necessary to distance himself from supposed union influence. There is no such influence and it would have been better for him to have made that clear.

There are simply many scores of thousands of working men and women, who, as union members, decided that the younger Miliband brother offered the best hope for the future of the Labour movement – both in opposition and as a future Labour Prime Minister. That they should look to him to lead that movement and to make policy so as to ensure a just balance of power, influence and prosperity between those who commit their capital and those who invest their labour, is entirely reasonable.

The extension of voting rights to citizens who share the values of the Labour movement is a widening of participatory democracy. It is very far from being a 'fix' cooked up in smoke-filled rooms by union barons. Those who have suggested otherwise are either malicious or ignorant.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.