Real Co-op campaigners vow to fight on to break Labour link

End the Labour link: the Labour Party doesn’t have a monopoly on co-operative values

End the Labour link: the Labour Party doesn’t have a monopoly on co-operative values

by David Eyre For the last few months, I’ve been helping the Real Co-op campaign try to end the exclusive link between the Labour Party and the Co-operative Group. Unfortunately, at the Group AGM in Manchester on Saturday 16 May, it became clear that we had lost. By a margin of 55 per cent to 45, Co-operative members had voted to keep the link. So the Co-operative Group will continue its subscription to The Co-operative Party, giving it hundreds of thousands of pounds every year.

The Co-operative Party will spend that money on developing policy and helping to elect and support Co-operative Party politicians—all of whom are in the Labour Party.

The Real Co-op campaign started because we believe that’s wrong. We want real co-operative politics. There has been a transformation in political life in this country, and we can no longer pretend that the Labour Party has a monopoly on co-operative values.

We believe the Co-operative Groups should keep political funding, because it’s important to protect and promote the co-operative model, but it should not be restricted to one party and it should be under the open, democratic control of members.

It was always going to be a difficult fight to win. This is the first time that the Co-operative Group has had direct one-member-one-vote decision-making, and many people just didn’t understand what was happening. Out of around 3 million eligible members, only around 900,000 actually voted.

We were also up against The Co-operative Party, the Labour Party, a well-funded PR and advertising campaign, and—in the final weeks—the Unite trade union, who wrote to its members urging them to vote in favour of the Co-op Party subscription.

We lost. We’d like to thank every member of the SSP who supported the campaign and the Voice for helping us get the word out. It’s important that socialists support co-operation—it’s one of the building blocks of the economy we’ll build and run together, putting people’s needs in place of private profit.

And the Real Co-op campaign is not going away. Several people elected onto the Co-operative Members’ Council are Real Co-op supporters. We will have the opportunity to return to the issue of political funding in the future. And there are other important issues that we have to deal with.

The Co-operative Group’s democracy is under threat by corporate interests, eroding the control that member-owners have over the business. For example, we had to endure a phoney election for the posts of Member Directors on the Co-operative Board. There were three vacancies and just three candidates, making it certain that they would all be elected unopposed.

Shockingly, one of those directors is the disgraced former New Labour MP Hazel Blears: a woman who had to resign over flipped houses and dodgy expenses now represents ordinary Co-operative members and is supposed to uphold co-operative values like honesty and fairness. You couldn’t make it up.

So the Real Co-op campaign will continue. And—with the help of socialist co-operators—we will make member control and real co-operative politics a reality in the Co-operative Group.

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