Corbyn Embodies Trade Union Principles of Democracy

18/07/2016 17:22 | Updated 18 July 2016
Rob Stothard via Getty Images

Trade unions are rooted in democracy and when Labour arose from them it took on those values - its party card is still imprinted with a commitment to "solidarity, tolerance and respect". But these principles have been sorely tested by the undemocratic attempt to force Jeremy Corbyn to resign.

At least there will now be a leadership election and a proper democratic debate and, while this will inevitably be robust, all abuse and threats must be condemned. I look forward to being able to discuss what Jeremy in his short time as leader has offered affiliated and unaffiliated unions, and the people I represent.

As well as moving the party onto a genuine anti-austerity footing, he has promised to scrap the government's new vindictive anti-union law, end pay caps and restore the negotiating rights in the civil service that the Tories removed and New Labour refused to reinstate.

My union PCS is working with shadow chancellor John McDonnell on a major review of HMRC - the government department that collects and administers the taxes that fund the public services we all rely on, but a department wracked by years of cuts under successive administrations.

And we are getting involved in Labour's Workplace 2020 initiative - a bold and intelligent bid to work with unions, workers and businesses to repair our fractured employment market where insecure work, zero hours contracts and the stripping away of working rights are becoming embedded.

We should not take these things for granted, and for me it paints the unedifying events of the past few weeks in an even more surreal and unnecessary light.

Democracy demands that if you are dissatisfied with an elected representative you challenge them by democratic means. What we saw instead was not only undemocratic, it was irresponsible. It has humiliated and destabilised Labour at a time when we desperately need a united and strong opposition to a government wedded to a failed economic experiment called austerity and charged with implementing a highly contentious withdrawal from the European Union.

Of course, no one genuinely believes the attempt to unseat Jeremy was not premeditated, cooked up for months in the corridors of Westminster. I know something of being subjected to this sort of treatment and it is not pleasant.

In 2002 after I had been democratically elected as general secretary, the outgoing post-holder - from the right wing of the labour movement - decided with his supporters behind the scenes that he wanted to stay on and called a national executive meeting outside of the rules and at short notice in a bid to force me to step down. It took a High Court judge to rule he had no right to cling to power and that the meeting he convened had no validity.

The whole episode was illustrative of how some in our movement are happy to subvert democracy when the vote does not go their way, but also of the difference a grassroots campaign can make. It was this that gave us the impetus to continue the legal fight, energising our union and ultimately transforming it into a democratic one after the coup was defeated.

Jeremy's detractors like to scoff that he prizes his principles over power. This, of course, is nonsense. Jeremy wants to lead a truly transformative Labour government. But it is important to have principles and to stick to them.

The principles of democracy - of solidarity, tolerance and respect - are what our trade unions and the Labour party are built on. They are Jeremy's principles. They drive the policies that inspired 250,000 people to elect him by a landslide just 10 months ago. And I hope and believe they will again.