THE annual Durham Miners’ Gala was at the centre of political wranglings as a union boss addressed the sun-soaked crowds.
Union boss Bob Crow sought to exploit Labour disputes with trade unions by urging the movement to break ties with Ed Miliband and create a party that “speaks for working people”.
The RMT general secretary accused the Labour leader of showing unions contempt and “dancing to the tune of Tony Blair”, following plans to end the automatic affiliation of union members to the party.
Although the transport union was expelled from the party in 2004 for allowing Scottish branches to affiliate to other political parties, Mr Crow claimed the shake-up announced earlier this week was an attempt to “hack away at the last remaining shreds of influence held by those who created the party”.
At Saturday’s Durham Miners’ Gala, one of the country’s most traditional trade union events, he attempted to rally support for a “new party of labour” to take on the “anti-worker” agenda of the three main Westminster political parties.
Last year Mr Miliband became the first Labour leader in more than two decades to address the Gala, also known as The Big Meeting, but did not attend this year.
Mr Crow said: “The sad truth now is that on the main policy issues like cuts and privatisation you cannot put a fag paper between Labour and the Liberal-Tory coalition.
“The achievements of Labour in the years after the Second World War should never be underestimated, but they are now history.
“The time for a new party of labour that fights as hard for the working class as the Tories fight for their class is now.”
He added: “It was our forebears in the rail union who created the Labour Party. They were told then that breaking with the then Liberals would be stepping into the wilderness.
“Now that Labour is failing us on the big issues we should have the courage of those brave men and women a century ago to make the break and open up a new political horizon that will give hope to all those sick and tired of the current political elite.
“The poverty of ambition of the Labour Party is staring us in the face. We are crying out for a political alternative and we are kick starting that in Durham today.”
Mr Miliband launched plans for significant reform of the Labour Party’s relations with the trade unions earlier this week.
The measures were designed to draw a line under the biggest crisis of Mr Miliband’s leadership, sparked by claims that Unite tried to fix the selection of Labour’s general election candidate in Falkirk by packing the constituency with 100 or more of its own members - some of them without their knowledge. An internal party report on the allegations has been handed to police.
Mr Miliband said events in Falkirk represented “part of the death throes of the old politics”, and he hoped to usher in an “open, transparent and trusted” system which would engage more union members directly in the party.
Rather than being automatically affiliated to Labour unless they opt out of their union’s political levy, union members should be asked to make an active decision to join the party by opting in.
However, the expected explosive reaction from the unions has not materialised. At the Gala, Unite chief Len McCluskey said there was “some moral justification” to ending the automatic affiliation fee for some trade union members and pledged to work with the Labour leadership.