THE GMB trade union is to cut the amount of cash it gives Labour from £1.2 million to £150,000 in response to Ed Miliband’s controversial plans to reform the party’s relationship with its main funders.
The decision by the union’s 65-member executive follows Mr Miliband’s decision to give individual union members the choice of opting to join the party rather than being automatically affiliated to Labour.
This latest move adds weight to estimates that Mr Miliband’s reforms will eventually cost his party at least £9m.
Currently, unions are Labour’s biggest donors. Of the £3.14m the party received in the three months from April to June, the GMB gave £486,000.
A statement by the union made clear its disappointment with Mr Miliband’s plans. “The GMB central executive council (CEC) has voted to reduce its current levels of affiliation to the Labour Party from 420,000 to 50,000 from 2014,” it said.
“This will reduce the union’s basic affiliation fee to the Labour party by £1.1m per year. It is expected that there will further reductions in spending on Labour Party campaigns and initiatives. GMB CEC expressed considerable regret about the apparent lack of understanding [within Labour] the proposal mooted by Ed Miliband will have on the collective nature of trade union engagement with the Labour Party.”
The GMB said the reduction in funding reflected its estimate of the number of union members who would be willing to affiliate themselves to Labour individually following Mr Miliband’s change.
At the moment, the union automatically affiliates 420,000 of its members to Labour, at £3 each per year. It estimates about 50,000 of the 650,000 members would actually choose to affiliate with Labour. This figure is derived from the number who took part in the Labour leadership contest in 2010, it said.
The move comes despite Mr Miliband’s plea to unions to campaign to get their members to sign up.
Labour plans a conference next spring to finalise details of the changes, which Mr Miliband announced following controversy over the selection of a candidate in Falkirk. Unite was accused of signing up members so it could influence the selection, although the union insisted it did nothing wrong.
Shadow Treasury secretary Rachel Reeves said she was “confident” more union members would sign up under the new system. “Most of the money the Labour Party receives comes from small donations and members,” she said.
“Of course, we welcome the support that we get from the trade unions but this is a decision for the GMB. Ed has spoken about the need for greater transparency and openness in that relationship and we are going to be doing more to reach out and get affiliations from individual members directly to the party.”