One of Mark Drakeford’s biggest trade union backers considering leaving the Labour party
One of Mark Drakeford’s biggest trade union backers is to consider leaving the Labour party.
Rail union Aslef will debate a motion on disaffiliation from Labour after almost 120 years of membership at its conference in May, according to the Mirror.
With around 21,000 members, it is one of the smaller of the 11 unions affiliated to the party, but it has an outsized influence. Its general secretary, Mick Whelan, is chair of the Labour’s union liaison organisation. And in Wales, Aslef has been one of the closest allies of the First Minister.
Aslef supported Drakeford’s Welsh Labour leadership campaign in 2018 with a donation of £2,000, which was the largest cash donation given to the Cardiff West MS. Unite paid for staff while the Communication Workers Union provided office space.
The fact that Drakeford was a “strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn” was cited among the reasons he has won Aslef’s support. Whelan said at the time: “We believe he will ensure the Welsh Labour Party, and the Labour Party nationally, remains a radical, democratic, socialist party.”
Aslef’s donation to his leadership campaign remains the second most recent political donation made to the Labour party by the union, according to Electoral Commission records.
The Senedd register of interests shows Aslef also contributed £500 to Drakeford’s campaign in last May’s Senedd elections.
Aslef’s debate over disaffiliation comes amid discontent about the leadership of Keir Starmer. “There has been a sense since Keir Starmer became leader that unions have been pushed to the periphery and that has left some people disenchanted,” a trade union source told the Mirror.
The BFAWU union which represents food workers and also supported Drakeford in the 2018 leadership contest left Labour last September over changes to the rules used to elect Labour leaders.
“We have a real crisis in the country and instead of leadership, the party’s leader chooses to divide the trade unions and the membership,” BFAWU said in a statement explaining its decision.
Drakeford himself aimed a number of thinly-veiled digs at the changes to the rules during his conference speech, as Nation.Cymru reported at the time.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham too this week threatened again to cut funding to the Labour party over a strike by refuse workers at Labour-led council in Coventry. That comes at the same time as Unite members picketed County Hall in Cardiff over a “bullying culture” at the Labour-run council’s refuse department.
Aslef members in Scotland are “keen to build a relationship” with the SNP, according to the Mirror.
It comes some 20 years after fellow rail union, RMT, left Labour to work with politicians from other parties including Plaid Cymru in a move which was brokered by Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price.
Speaking of the RMT’s decision to break with Labour at Plaid Cymru conference in 2003, its late general secretary Bob Crow said: “I am not going to pay for my own assassin… I have got to say we have been treated absolutely shabbily.”
However, commenting on speculation over another disaffiliation, a Labour spokesperson said remaining in the party would “ensure Aslef continues to have a strong voice.”
“Of course, unions have other members who are anti-Labour and want to break the link,” they said.
“We need to stop them achieving the Tory dream of separating the industrial and political wings of the labour movement.”
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