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One of Mark Drakeford’s biggest trade union backers considering leaving the Labour party

12 Feb 2022 3 minutes Read
Mark Drakeford giving a speech to the Labour Party conference.

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.

‘Real crisis’

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.

‘Strong voice’

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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Walter Davies
Walter Davies
3 months ago

The RMT was expelled from the Labour Party without citation of the rules. It didn’t disaffiliate.

Cathy Hill
Cathy Hill
3 months ago

It seems a bit mad to me, I may have missed something. It looks to my tired eyes that Aslef has been very cool with Mark Drakeford in the past because Mark Drakeford had a close affiliation with Jeremy Corbyn and he is, compared to most politicians, a socialist. This is the same Mark Drakeford that has recently aimed remarks about Kier Starmer’s cabal and their anti-democratic and certainly anti-socialist actions. The Unions, including Aslef, don’t like Starmer because, yes, it turns out Starmer who has always been a hole is acting like a Tory…. but they want to turn… Read more »

Popsie
3 months ago

Union leaders back the politicians they think will make decisions that favour them. Union members may think differently, and vote for different politicians at General Elections. In the world of trade union politics that is seen as divide and rule by those with revolutionary aims. In my world, it is freedom of choice, and long may that continue in a democratic country.

Rob
Rob
3 months ago

…and how did Labour do at the last election with Jeremy Corbyn as their leader? We could still potentially have at least another two years, if not longer of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Do we really have to have right wing Tories in government indefinitely, because Starmer isn’t let wing enough for some people?

Leigh Richardss
Leigh Richardss
3 months ago

Aslef opposed scottish independence during the 2014 referendum, even going as far as affiliating to the so called ‘better together’ campaign which was choc a bloc with trade union hating tories. Afraid to say that when it comes to recognising Welsh and Scottish nationhood british trade unions have a very patchy record

Cynan
Cynan
3 months ago

Let’s be honest, one person one vote has NEVER been the “democratic” way in these islands. Oligarchy, whether by personal wealth or by Union subs, has always held sway. Money talks.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
3 months ago

Most of the trade union movements problems is with UK Labour. I suggest that Welsh based trade unions back a campaign for The Welsh Labour party to become an independent separate organisation (Affiliated to European Socialists/Social democrats). That would make it possible for Welsh Labour to build on policies for the people of Wales without having to consider how it would go with English electorates. Also, Labour can consider whether it is in Wales’s best interest to be controlled as a colony of the UK or to become an independent nation & member of the UN. To consider: The EU… Read more »

Dave
Dave
3 months ago

Spot on Ernie

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