Unite(d) with Workers or with the Party?

(First published by the Gibraltar Politics site)

The Gibraltar branch of the Unite trade union organisation has declared official alignment with the GSLP/Liberals for the upcoming Gibraltar election on the 26th November, with some top officers publicly signing on as members of the party.

This announcement was preceded by a majority vote in the Unite executive, omitting the views of ordinary members. As a Unite Youth Committee member (though probably not for long), this news came as a surprise, as it was to many others who were not notified of this vote.

The public declaration occurred on the 19th November with GBC covering the event, commenting ‘this is the first time in living memory that Unite, or any union in Gibraltar, has openly declared themselves in favour of a political party’.

It was met with an almost instant backlash on social media by disappointed members of the Unite branch, as well as election candidates themselves. First-time candidate for the GSD Lawrence Llamas called the partnership between Unite and the GSLP as ‘incestuous to say the least! Political parties and unions should have a healthy yet independent relationship’.

One of the two female candidates in the GSD lineup (which make two of the three females in both parties combined) has also expressed her concern: ‘The Union has decided to prioritise and cosy up to a political party over keeping neutral for its supposed purpose – that of representing its workers! What an irony and what a shame and how pathetic for the members. And how disgraceful on the political party in question to cook this up! Sad day for Gibraltar’s politics’.

John Linares, son of the late Bernard Linares who disaffiliated the AACR (Association for the Advancement of Civil Rights) Party with the TGWU (Trade and General Workers Union) during his time in politics, is critical of this move because: ‘it becomes a struggle against a political party rather than a struggle against capitalism. The role of the union is to win the best deal for its members within a capitalist or socialist outfit or whoever is the government of the day and they can’t if there are political or careerist interests at play’.

The news raises the subject of the interactions between trade unions, usually impartial bodies representing the interests of workers and members, and political parties. In democracies where large trade unions have aligned themselves with parties, the end result tends to lead to a politicisation of the movement which has had a dangerous effect on not just the economy, but the progress of democracy in the country concerned – for example, as in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s. Therefore, this not only raises questions of legitimacy but also about the state of the democratic process in Gibraltar.

This comes a day after the GSD and the GTA (Gibraltar Teachers Association) agreed to enter into a ‘Social Partnership in order to work together for the good of teachers and the education system in general’.

MM

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