Ahh, Union baiting.

In the last post, Brian Hughes quite rightly upbraids me for my decadent ennui. There are important matters afoot.   I want to talk about Labour and the unions, and how today’s Tory attack on the Labour-Union link is fundamentally dishonest – and worse, a political mistake. 

A few years back the Tory Party was trying to make cooing eyes at the Unions. As one Iain Dale (currently running a one man anti-Union campaign on his blog) said in the Daily Telegraph in Sept 2008: 

“Six months ago, the Conservative leader appointed a special envoy to the trade union movement, former Labour MEP Richard Balfe, who defected to the Tories in 2002. Since then, he has been sidling up to various union leaders, initially to break the ice and then to initiate informal policy discussions…

…There is no silver bullet, no single headline policy with which the Conservatives can lure union members. Instead, party insiders point to David Cameron’s “General Wellbeing” speech, which laid out an approach to policy which trade unionists could identify with.”

Back then, in the dim and distant days of 16 months ago, the Tories had to be nice to the unions because they needed to show they were in touch with the aspirational working class.

How times change!  Now the unions are once again the Tory parties big bad, with their evil militant Air stewardesses threatening to bring Britain to its knees.  The aspirational working class must despise the unions that were so important to them last year.

So Michael Gove is despatched to make a wince inducingly childish speech about an apparent 70s revanchist movement that he has identified, and to create a bogey man called Zinoviev Whelan.  Still, I suppose ol’ Michael’s only doing it because he’s paid to entertain.

Playground stuff.

Now, to be fair, both the left and right of the Labour party sometimes like to play into the image of Gordon as stalwart ally of Trade Unionism,  and he is indeed a friend to the unions, but a much more critical one than this latest nonsense suggests. The attempt to paint Gordon Brown as a latter-day place of strife era Callaghan are woefully misguided.

The idea that Gordon Brown is in the pocket of the Unions because errr, he keeps going around condemning them, and (in the case of the RMT) designs business models that make them so angry they disaffilliate from the Labour party is silly on its face – and therein lies the danger for the Tories.

This false perception leads the Tories to overplay their hand. If  you put up posters condemning the Government for being in the pocket of the Unions,  that just gives ministers the chance to make you look silly by proving they’re not – showing they’re on the side of travellers, not stuck in some bizarro-70s world of the Tories imagining. 

Watch out for Adonis, Mandelson and yes, Balls, Whelan et al to do just that.

Of course, the other reason the anti-Union assault is a political mistake is because the biggest union stronghold is public sector workers, most of whom are women, and who will be unnerved by any implied Tory attack on their rights at work, representation and conditions.

Which is why Cameron put so much effort into oiling up to the Unions a few years back. 

You know, when he was really popular.

Hmm.  Maybe he should go back to that strategy?

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Addendum: Anyone who wants to know what’s really happening, not what Michael Gove imagines is happening,  should pay attention to Patrick Wintour and Events Dear Boy, Events, who have written more coherent explanations of what is happening at Unite than any others I’ve seen or heard. 

Events, in particular, does so from a perspective that is critical of the overall direction of Unite, but who understands how unions function. As a result, his explanation makes sense, when one considers the political interests of all concerns, while the overarching current Sun/Tory narrative of a PM in the pocket of a Union he’s publicly condemning is utterly incoherent.

In part, this nonsensical caricature comes about because Tories tend to make the same mistake when talking about the Unions that Socialists do when talking about big corporations – they assume they’re all the same, all working in the same direction, all have the same interests, and are united, unriven by debate and dispute and monolithic in approach. 

Anyone who’s heard a Union staffer talk about the membership recruiting policy of another union, or the democratic structures of even another branch of the same union, would know how wrong this is, just as anyone who’s heard one businessman talk about the moral standards and working conditions at another company would have to revise their opinions about the uniformity of the interests and values of late era capitalism.

59 Responses to “Ahh, Union baiting.”

  1. Rob Carr

    I like it when you say the same thing on your blog that I do on mine. I dislike that you say it better. Off for a cocktail to cheer myself up.

    Reply
  2. bert

    Hopi, it is a scandal that Unions are given tax payers’ money for “modernisation”. What utter bollocks.

    It is a scandal that union members cannot choose which political party their funds are given to. Some idiot Labour MP said they could opt out – therefore losing their representation. Nice choice, that.

    “The idea that Gordon Brown is in the pocket of the Unions because errr, he keeps going around condemning them….

    “of course, the other reason the anti-Union assault is a political mistake is because the biggest union stronghold is public setor workers, most of whom are women, and who will be unnerved by any implied Tory attack on their rights at work, representation and conditions.”

    Spot the dilemma Hopi finds himself in – he attacks the Tories for attacking the Unions, then defends – indeed praises – Brown for doing exactly the same.

    By the way, it took Brown four long days to snap out of his malaise, and only then because he was bounced into it by Adonis.

    The Tories are not attacking the workers’ rights, Hopi – they are attacking the funding of the Labour party, and the massive Union influence over the party.

    I would suggest the majority of public sector workers vote Labour anyway – so no, it’s not a politcal mistake to expose the scandal of Union funding.

    Reply
    • tim f

      Union members can choose what political party to give their subs to. That’s why RMT are no longer affiliated to the Labour Party.

      What they can’t do is decide individually which party they’d like to give their subs to. But what would be the point in that? The point in a union is that it’s workers acting as a collective. So they make a collective decision in this case.

      If workers don’t want to act collectively (which raises the issue of why they’re in a TU in the first place) then they can always opt out of the levy and use the money to give a personal donation to a party of their own choice.

      Reply
      • bert

        “Union members can choose what political party to give their subs to. ”

        “What they can’t do is decide individually which party they’d like to give their subs to.”

        Orwell would have been proud of these two statements.

        Reply
      • tim f

        If you think those two statements are contradictory, you obviously don’t understand the principle of collective action, and you obviously don’t know much about Orwell either.

        You are actually against freedom of choice, because you are against allowing people the freedom to bind their will to each other, if they so desire (and always maintaining the right to extricate themselves). For you, freedom means always acting as an individual, even if the individual doesn’t wish to do so.

        Reply
    • Tom

      All that video shows is the kneejerk nature of the Taxpayer’s Alliance. First in looking for job titles that sound like they might be frivolous, and not actually looking at what people do: promoting healthy eating in schools, ensuring community spaces are used productively and not left to rot, running street football sessions that keep young kids out of trouble, helping the police to communicate with the public – those seem like pretty worthwhile things to me, regardless of what the job title of the person doing them is. It would hardly be difficult to find similarly waffling job titles in the private sector.

      The video also reveals the supposedly independent Taxpayer’s Alliance’s politics. What’s the problem with a low carbon programme – unless you don’t believe in man-made global warming? What’s the problem with a gypsy and traveller liaison? Or an equalities project officer? It’s not that these are non-jobs – it’s simply that the right-wingers at the Taxpayer’s Alliance dislike the work they do.

      Reply
  3. cmp

    A political mistake is worse than being fundamentally dishonest? So New Labour.

    Reply
    • hopisen

      See, this is why one should never attempt a jocularly cynical aside. Some people just don’t get them.

      Reply
      • cmp

        Maybe I’m too cynical to spot you were being jocular – put that down to 13 yrs of NuLab.
        Do I believe Labour would choose fundamental dishonesty to losing power? Yup.

        Reply
  4. bert

    Lol that was a good video.

    When I was at school (a long time ago), the aspiration was to be an engineer, or a police officer, or a doctor, or even a train driver.

    In the Left wing malaise we now find ourselves living in, the aspiration (apart from just about learning to read and write under Labour’s deliberate policy of dumbing down), the aspiration is to be a…wtf?? …. an “enviro crime enforcement officer”, or a good old “diversity offcier”.

    See, when public sector cuts come – as they surely will under any government – one-eyed politicos like Hopi, and his Union chums, will vehemently attack the Tories as being the “nasty party”. Perversely, he will praise his own wretched party for taking the “tough measures that are necessary” – like he attacks the Tories for having the temerity to expose the UNITE funding of Labour, and in the same passage lends his support to a man who once again allows his chronic indecisiveness to be his master.

    Reply
    • Tony

      ‘[Hopi] attacks the Tories for having the temerity to expose the UNITE funding of Labour…’

      Attack! Temerity! Expose!

      I do enjoy a good bit of hyperbole. Nicely done.

      But as Unite contributions are published each quarter on the Electoral Commission website (and have been for yonks) in what way are these being ‘exposed’?

      Is it not more plausible to see this as a bit of desperate anti-union drum beating by a rattled and adrift Conservative campaign?

      Let’s hear more about the recovery and protecting our hospitals and schools.

      Reply
      • bert

        Tony, I would estimate that a good portion of the public did not know that organisations like UNITE receive public funds – now they do.

        How many of the new Labour PPCs are sponsored members of UNITE, compared to, say, Tory PPCs who are sponsored by private business? The Unions have a direct and tangible influence over Labour – and part of that influence is funded by public taxation.

        “Is it not more plausible to see this as a bit of desperate anti-union drum beating by a rattled and adrift Conservative campaign?”

        Lol. I guess you kept your head down when the hysterical witch hunt aimed at Michael Ashcroft was running a week or two ago.

        Look again at the “adrift” campaign, Tony. Wishful thinking won’t stop Labour’s defeat.

        Reply
    • hopisen

      Bert, I don’t think cutting and pasting the electoral commission website counts as exposing.

      I do like the image of chronic indecisiveness as someones master though. It sounds like the template for a 16th century Bruegel print.

      I’d quite like a master like that. It would be very relaxing.

      Reply
      • hopisen

        dude,

        Convoluted waffle? Too right.

        Why do you think I started a blog?

        Reply
      • AB

        If you can be chronically indecisive, and yet not make chronic indecision your master……(Kipling)

        Reply
  5. CS Clark

    I’ve noticed more than a few nostalgic attempts at getting back to the future recently, from cries of ‘who won the bloody cold war, eh?’ at PMQs to suggesting that anyone who votes Labour is a traitor. Even wossisname’s equating bank taxes with Thatcher smashing the unions and suggestion about social unrest coming from not doing what he says.

    The thing is, while the optimist in me agrees that this is overplaying a hand, the pessimist suggests that this is mood music, unlikely to be dispelled by any kind of logic, reason, counterspin or look at the actual record. And that goes for the union members who might get scared straight as well.

    Reply
  6. Dave

    Just an aside but worth noting that while Michael Gove was giving his union bashing speech Ed Balls and David Laws were at an event hosted by the former Conservative Education Secretary Lord (Kenneth Baker) calling for better vovational and practical education, an area where Gove has made some running. Instead he sent his number 2. Good to know what his priorities are…

    Reply
  7. Tony

    Dale was always a naked Tory partisan (albeit with an attempted fig leaf of ‘sticking it to both sides’ every so often).

    He’s become increasingly hysterical as the election nears. That’s fine and good luck to him.

    But he can’t go back, post-election, and try to re-position himself as anything other than an unthinking shrieker (Staines, Cole, that other one…)

    Reply
    • Charlie

      Whereas Dale and Cole are, I dont think that Guido would regard himself as a Tory partisan.

      Harriet Harman describes him as a nihilist whilst Staines himself says: “The primary motivation for the creation of the blog was purely to make mischief at the expense of politicians and for the author’s own self-gratification.”

      It remains to be seen if he gives a Cameron Government as hard a time as he has given Brown’s.

      Reply
  8. Charlie

    I’m not sure I realised that Unions received Public Funds either as part of some Modernisation Fund.

    So does this mean that of the £11million that Unite gave to the Labour Party, £4million came from Taxpayers ?

    If so, I want my money back !

    Reply
    • Tom

      “does this mean that of the £11million that Unite gave to the Labour Party, £4million came from Taxpayers ?”

      No.

      The money donated to the Labour party is from the political fund, collected especially for the purpose of political activity, and from which members of the union can opt out if they wish.

      Reply
  9. Charlie

    But I, as a taxpayer, cant opt out of giving money to the Labour Party via Unite or any other union that receives money from this “Modernisation Fund”?

    Reply
    • Tom

      You can’t opt-out of donating to Labour via Unite, no. Because you don’t do so anyway.

      The money that unions donate to political parties is collected from their members especially for that purpose, and ring-fenced. It does not come from the modernisation fund.

      Reply
      • Charlie

        If Unite did not receive the £4million from the Modernisation Fund, it would have £4million less funds available to donate to Labour.

        So despite this talk of Ring Fences, all Taxpayers donate to Labour via the Unions whether they like it or not.

        Reply
      • Newmania

        Tom , money is not discrete , its nature and purpose is “exchange”, it flows . If the Unions receive £10,000,000 from the taxpayer , and they give about the same to the Labour Party ,then they do not have to collect that money from their ,members ,for the purposes of being modern, or indeed antiquarian .
        If, as you would have to claim ,members would cheerfully cough up the additional bit then why , are we , the taxpayer on whom Unite predate obliged to hand over our money ? When you have worked that out perhaps you would have a crack at perpetual motion and turning bas metal into gold . Clue :There is no answer
        Any Conservative must be ready to defend what is from what might work better but there is a limit and that is at the line when legitimacy is irretrievably lost
        The House of Lords cannot go on in its current form , Conservatives accept this as they have done before , suffrage had to be broadened in the 19th century and the necessary reforms were at times driven by Conservatives to draw the sting from a too rapid change.
        You are the Conservative here Tom and what you would call a backwoods man digging his heels in despite of the zeitgeist

        We are not in the era where almost everyone called themselves working class .There is no longer a Labour movement , only about 20% are in Unions and those almost entirely in the protected Public Sector .Their salaries have risen at quadruple private sector rates , they retain pensions the rest of us have lost , they are financing the election fight of a Party committed to letting the private sector take as much of the pain as possible . This is obscene Tom, and if Hopi really thinks Brown is incapable of adopting a stragegicly tough stance towards what is a ridiculous strike then he he should not be allowed out without his Nanny .
        Union membership is unavoidable in a many areas, unions has accrued many functions they should not and from there the pressure to give money to Labour increases . If it were truly voluntary then union members could simply join the Labour Party which they have been leaving in droves .

        I understand the history but it is now history . Why did Blair sell honors and tobacco adverstising exemptions if he felt he could govern without answering to his paymasters ?

        Modernisation
        I wonder what modern thing I have bought for the holding Company ? A brushed aluminium speed boat or a Mondrian in the lobby , perhaps some fusion cuisine ? Its thrilling to speculate that my work may have aquired a Lady Gaga album for some fat old Union loafer to play on his jolly to Cuba. Makes it all seem worthwhile

        Reply
  10. thomasewilliams

    No, because as I’ve said, twice, the money donated to Labour is specially collected for that purpose.

    If Unite didn’t receive money from the modernisation fund, they would still have the same amount of money in the political fund which is collected specifically for that purpose.

    Reply
      • Anon (sorry)

        Charlie, you’ve been pretty comprehensively rebutted here, but you also give the impression of not having spotted this. So let’s try another tack.

        Suppose the Tories came in and scrapped the TU Modernisation Fund (as they have pledged to do). Do you think that Unite would give more money to the Labour Party out of its political fund, or less, or the same amount?

        (Clue: its political fund would be the same size.)

        Reply
  11. Charlie

    Thankyou thomasewilliams and anon (sorry) for your somewhat patronising efforts to educate me as to how this opaque corner of Union finance works.

    As I understand it, what you are trying to say is, in the circumstances you outline above, that the Labour Party will be funded, but Charlie, Jack et al will have to make do with £4million less.

    Reply
  12. Newmania

    If there is no pressure to join the Union and subsequently to give to the Labour Party and the “ring fenced political fund “( see sieve-held water ) does not benefit form taxpayers money a delightful conclusion suggests itself
    We can all agree that banning Unions from buying Policy will only oblige its members to give in other ways, and that they will give just as much. They will probably all join the Labour Party they are so keen on it This is marvelous , can give collectively on the same terms as everyone else then .Fair ?
    If that the case I assume there will be no objections to a £50,000 cap on donations from one source and the end of soaking the tax payer . As you have so brilliantly demonstrated it would not harm Labour Party coffers one bit

    Whose with me !!!

    Reply
  13. Newmania

    Hopi I am not sure the Conservative Party objects to Union bought Policy as much as New Labour and the progressive left do. Do you think Blair was a fan if Union funding , don`t think so.
    When the footling matter of what Lord Ashcroft said and when , is played as evidence of a diabolic covenant ,pointing out that the Labour Party is owned by a sectional interest is pretty fair and muted by comparison. Three fron page spreads for the Guardian on Ashcroft, I mean give over

    Would you accept Union money and if you did do you think you would get away with telling them to sod off ?

    I`d be interested to know and its wrong to compare Unions with corporations .Unions are and always have been political institutions . I shall assume you know enough about the history of the Labour Party to understand quite how intimately they are entwined .

    Reply
  14. bert

    WHO runs Britain: Labour or the hardline Unite union?
    Frighteningly, it looks like Unite. It has the Labour Party bought and paid for.

    Today The Sun reveals the shocking extent of Unite’s sinister control over the Government.

    Thirteen Cabinet members are in hock to Unite because they take its money towards election expenses.

    They include Gordon Brown, Ed Balls, Alan Johnson, Bob Ainsworth, Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander, who runs Labour’s election campaign.

    In all, 169 Labour MPs and candidates belong to Unite. Of that total, 148 accept Unite cash.

    The Prime Minister himself is taking money from a union intent on DESTROYING British Airways and WRECKING the holidays of hard-working families.

    Unite has kept Labour afloat by giving it £11million in three years.

    In return, under the malevolent influence of its political chief Charlie Whelan – a Brown crony – it has amassed huge power at Westminster.

    Advertisement

    It is virtually a “government within government”, making Labour dance to its tune.

    That means blocking all efforts to modernise public services or welfare.

    The BA strike is Unite’s attempt to reassert hard-Left union power as the dominant force in our country.

    With so many ministers and MPs in its pocket, Unite is confident Labour will stand aside as it tries to break BA.

    The Prime Minister has bent over backwards to avoid criticising Unite.

    He found time to make a statement on David Beckham after just 24 hours but took THREE days to say anything about the BA strike.

    This is a defining moment. The Labour Party has plunged back to the dreadful days before Tony Blair: red in tooth and claw.

    Forget New Labour: it is dead and buried.

    Today’s Old Labour party is virtually owned by the most militant union bullies to emerge since the strike-plagued Seventies.

    Unite is planning industrial chaos not seen for decades. It wants to bring Britain to its knees.

    Who will stand up to it?

    It won’t be Brown. He’s on the payroll.

    Read more: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/sun_says/244723/The-Sun-Says.html#ixzz0iQnSs3dN

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist this.

    Reply
  15. tim f

    lol, we’ll see if Sun readers are intelligent enough to see through this crap. My money is on yes, and on Sun readership continuing to plummet.

    Reply
    • bert

      “Today The Sun reveals the shocking extent of Unite’s sinister control over the Government.

      Thirteen Cabinet members are in hock to Unite because they take its money towards election expenses.

      They include Gordon Brown, Ed Balls, Alan Johnson, Bob Ainsworth, Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander, who runs Labour’s election campaign.

      In all, 169 Labour MPs and candidates belong to Unite. Of that total, 148 accept Unite cash.

      The Prime Minister himself is taking money from a union intent on DESTROYING British Airways and WRECKING the holidays of hard-working families.

      Unite has kept Labour afloat by giving it £11million in three years.

      In return, under the malevolent influence of its political chief Charlie Whelan – a Brown crony – it has amassed huge power at Westminster. ”

      Tim, which part of this passage is untrue? Please enlighten us.

      Reply
      • tim f

        I can’t be bothered writing it all out myself, but take a look at Luke Akehurst’s blog; he does a pretty good demolition of this stuff in his post “Shock horror, Labour linked to unions”

        Reply
      • Tony

        This is very funny.

        I know the Sun was worried about a gay mafia running the country. Have the sinister union fat cats replaced the gays or do they have, like, a time-share or something?

        Reply
  16. newmania

    Is that right Tim if Brown got back with a weeny majority how excatly is he going to control Unite and the left in general. We are in a new world now you have forgotten about back bench MP`s counting for something

    Reply
    • tim f

      Nice to see you finally acknowledging we can win the election, newmania.

      If you look historically at the way unions have exercised their power within the Labour Party, they tend to have been a restraining influence on the Labour Left, so your question is more pertinent to the Campaign Group than it is to UNITE. Brown may have to work with those MPs rather than ignore them & (although I would rather have a bigger majority) that is no bad thing in my view – I’ve always been in favour of a big tent approach taking in the left rather than alienating it.

      But since you ask, how is Cameron going to control the extremists in his party if he has a weeny majority?

      Reply
      • bert

        tim, sorry to pester you again – but are you suggesting that Labour can win a MAJORITY at the next election?

        Is this the same calcualtion that says I can win a Euromillions lottery roll over?

        Reply
      • tim f

        I haven’t given up on a majority. Things can change quickly during short campaigns. Foot made up 6 points during the short campaign in 1983, if we could do that today Labour would be ahead. Still a long way to go though.

        Newmania appears to agree with me if you look at the post I was replying to.

        Reply
  17. bert

    “Thirteen Cabinet members are in hock to Unite because they take its money towards election expenses.

    They include Gordon Brown, Ed Balls, Alan Johnson, Bob Ainsworth, Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander, who runs Labour’s election campaign.

    In all, 169 Labour MPs and candidates belong to Unite. Of that total, 148 accept Unite cash”

    “Unite has kept Labour afloat by giving it £11million in three years.”

    So Tim, all this is fiction? I ask again – what part of the article is demonstrably untrue?

    Reply
      • bert

        No need to Tim – you’ve already answered my question.

        Now back to the idea that Labour can secure a majority.

        I’m not questioning Newmania’s assertion – which was purely hypothetical for the purpose of discussion – I’m questioning your grounding in the real world if you believe Labour can secure a majority.

        Labour would need to get around 36% to do that – ie – the same percentage as 2005. Tim, loyal supporter of a party or not, that is simply not credible. If Blair was still leader, I would say Labour would be in with a shout – just. But Brown? No. No chance.

        Still, if you have the courage of your convictions – William Hill are offering a nice 15/2 for a Labour majority.

        That’s why the bookies always triumph, Tim – because people gamble with their hearts, and not their heads.

        Reply
  18. tim f

    15/2 – sounds like they agree with me: possible but not yet probable. Has no team rated at 15/2 ever won?

    Reply
    • bert

      I suppose a million to one could be classed as possible.

      Probable would be any odds over evens – or when the first number is smaller than the second one.

      A bit like these –

      Conservative majority – 4/6
      Most seats – Tory – 1/6

      or the opposite –
      most seats – Labour – 7/2

      I particularly like these odds for the number of Labour seats won –

      Labour – 300-324 12/1
      325-349 22/1

      Ladbrokes are offering a Labour majority at a whopping 10/1.

      These odds when you consider Labour have supposed to have made some sort of recovery in the polls – which I would question strongly any way.

      Well done, Peter Kellner, for overstating Labour’s position by an average of 2 points.

      There you are Tim – William Hill are waiting for your money.

      Reply
  19. Newmania

    Nice to see you finally acknowledging we can win the election, newmania.

    I have been saying that to anyone who will listen for a long time Tim .That is why every anti Brown vote is needed . The Unions may not be as progressive as the toffs that run the Labour Party but they are very keen on serious left wing policies that benefit their members
    High taxes high regulation and so on. You are thinking of the froth when you call them a moderate influence

    Reply
  20. bert

    “It is absolutely fair to describe the Labour Party as the political wing of Unite…. ”

    BBC Political Editor, Nick Robinson

    Reply
      • bert

        lol thanks for walking straight into a rather crude elephant trap. I KNEW someone would do what you did.

        Reply
    • bert

      Tom, when I posted that quote, I honestly didn’t think somebody would be silly enough to actually dig out the full quote – which I thought everyone knew anyway.

      The four full stops after “Unite” were a teeny clue that I was being mischevious, Tom.

      Reply
  21. bert

    Here’s another one, Tom.

    ” It’s about honesty in politics.”

    Reply
  22. Charlie

    bert,

    thomasewilliams and anon (sorry) say above that any money raised by Unions from its Members for Political donations is ring-fenced and separate from other Union dues.

    This may well be so, but the fact remains that every £18million of Taxpayer money given by Labour to Unite via “Modernisation” and “Learning” Funds is £18 million less that Unite has to ask its Members for in dues.

    This windfall is then available for Union Members to donate to Unites ring-fenced “Political fund” which is available to be donated back to Labour.

    Reply
    • bert

      You have to admit, it’s a fantastic scam.

      Legal money laundering, you might call it.

      Reply

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