Union leaders are resisting attempts by Ed Miliband to weaken their grip over Labour’s policy apparatus before the party’s autumn conference in Liverpool in a fortnight.
Talks have revolved around a cut in the block vote wielded by unions at the conference from its 50 per cent to nearer 40 per cent.
Party officials refused to comment on the discussions before a deadline of next Tuesday when Labour’s national executive committee meets to rubber-stamp the proposals.
But senior figures in the movement have signalled their resistance to the changes, which they believe unfairly dilute their influence as “custodians” of the Labour party.
Len McCluskey, head of Unite, Britain’s biggest union, said he welcomed the party’s innovative ideas to bring about a “more vibrant grassroots membership”.
“Whether these decisions will be completed by the Labour party conference I very much doubt,” he said.
Mr McCluskey said the reforms were unlikely to resonate outside the party.
“I would also say that while I’m happy to engage in these discussions I would also point out that ordinary working people don’t give a damn about the constitution of the Labour party. They are more concerned about their jobs and futures,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.
Mr Miliband has set up a review of party processes – “Refounding Labour”, written by Peter Hain, the former cabinet minister, – which includes a widening of membership at the expense of the unions. The document criticises “increasing concentration of union votes and a command and control culture” at party conference.
One leader of another large union told the FT that the general secretaries were showing solidarity in opposing the overhaul. “We are standing together,” he insisted. “We are not blinking.”
The leader insisted that the unions’ influence was not excessive given their millions of levy-paying members. “We don’t have a majority at conference, or on the NEC, or on the national policy forum,” he argued.
Another union official said “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas” and it would be a mistake to give away power considering the “many millions” his organisation gave Labour every year.
Mr Miliband is keen to strike an agreement with unions before the conference to avoid any chance of losing a showdown in the public spotlight.
He tried to mollify the TUC on Tuesday by criticising bankers, overpaid FTSE chief executives and the coalition’s desire to scrap the 50p tax rate.
Yet he refused to give wholehearted support to imminent strikes over pension reforms, saying it was a mistake for industrial action to happen while talks were continuing.
Mr Miliband’s comment that strikes were “always the consequence of failure” prompted jeers from some delegates at Congress House.
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