UK Politics

GMB union's Paul Kenny: Labour is 'unrepresentative'

Paul Kenny
Image caption Paul Kenny is head of the GMB union - the third biggest in the UK

A senior union leader has warned the Labour Party it is "unrepresentative" of working people and dominated by a "political elite", ahead of its annual conference this weekend.

The general secretary of the GMB union, Paul Kenny, urged the party to reconnect with workers through policies on jobs, pay and public services.

This follows shadow chancellor Ed Balls' decision to support government curbs on public sector salaries.

The GMB gives Labour about £2m a year.

'Not tenable'

Speaking before the Labour Party conference - which begins in Manchester on Sunday - Mr Kenny said the party would be under pressure to show it could relate to millions of people.

In particular, he said, Mr Balls - who was recently heckled at the TUC Congress for backing pay restraint in the public sector - should be "standing up for the lower paid" and that his speech at the conference would be "an important moment for trade unions".

"I think that Ed Balls's position in relation to a number of things is frankly not tenable with the trade unions.

"You can't talk about solving the problems in the economy by continuing to squeeze down on some of the lowest-paid workers in our society. It's just not feasible."

In recent weeks, unions have pressed the party to condemn the coalition's pay freeze for public sector workers, with Unison submitting a motion to debate the issue next week.

Mr Kenny said he would be unhappy if anyone in his delegation jeered the shadow chancellor at the upcoming conference, but he added: "If it's no change, I'd advise him against looking for a standing ovation."

'Put off by politics'

Mr Kenny went on to say the public had warmed to Labour's leader, Ed Miliband.

But he warned the party needed to develop strong policies in the coming year for Mr Miliband to be seen as a credible future prime minister.

Mr Kenny warned Labour had become "unrepresentative", with few MPs having any previous links with unions.

"Everyone agrees it looks too much like a political elite.

"Working people have a lot to offer, but most are put off by politics," he said.

"Even good trade unionists don't engage with the Labour Party."

The GMB union is the second biggest affiliated union to the Labour Party, providing it with, on average, about £2m a year through affiliation fees and other activities.

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