The Guardian put out an article yesterday highlighting the ongoing security problems Labour conference is still having. In doing so, it revealed just how great the rift between Unite and GMB has become.
To summarise a messy situation as best as one can: under Corbyn’s push, the NEC decided to stop using G4S, the company which had provided security to Labour conferences for the last two decades, due to their apparent ties to the Israeli governments. Then, this was left to fester until they put the conference security out to tender – and found only one company, Showsec, wanted the gig. Okay, crisis averted, right? Unfortunately, Showsec take a less than Labour friendly approach to having their staff being unionised. Unite seem to want to overlook this for the sake of immediate pragmatism (and to continue backing Corbyn); the GMB, already annoyed at Corbyn because of Trident and a few other bits and bobs, seem happy to stand on principle. They say they might even picket the conference if it goes ahead with Showsec. This would be a disaster for Labour – the third largest union in the country picketing its very own conference.
A leaked letter from Tim Roache, general secretary of GMB, to Len McCluskey (the fact that these kinds of letters are being leaked shows how bad the situation has become between the two unions) contains this stinging section:
“As you know, we are the dominant union in the security sector, and we will not tolerate any attempt by other unions to find a solution by dreaming up an inferior recognition agreement. If Showsec do not sign our standard agreement, GMB will be forced to boycott and picket conference and many friends and colleagues will find themselves unable to cross our picket line.”
Like all splits within the Labour movement at present, Corbyn is both at the heart of this and is the main driver of the whole fight in the first place. He was the one who wanted to pick a fight with the GMB over Trident, just as he was the one who presided over this complete mess regarding conference security provision. However as usual he is taking a backseat to what could be an even worse division within the Labour movement than the one between the leadership and the PLP.
A permanent battle between the first and the third largest trade unions would have consequences that are hard to map. We aren’t there yet, but consider the battle over conference and then the fact that Unite have fiercely backed Corbyn while the GMB have backed Smith in the leadership contest and you have the makings of something larger than just a temporary kerfuffle. Corbyn should sort this out. Let’s not hold our collective breath on that one.