The biggest union in the UK and Ireland has today (Monday, 2 July) pledged that its £35 million strong strike fund will support workers standing up against workplace abuse.
Addressing the fifth policy conference of the decade-old union in Brighton, Unite’s general secretary said that the union wins for workers because it has the courage to take on concentrated power, and that it offers hope of an alternative.
Len McCluskey told delegates to the conference, drawn from workplaces across the economy, that the union’s £35 million strike fund is forcing bad employers to think again about mistreating Unite members.
He said: “£35 million is now sitting in our strike fund, ready and waiting. That fund has already won many victories for Unite members, often without a penny of it being spent.
“The mere fact that we are willing as a union to set aside so much money to win justice in the workplace is enough to bring employers to their senses because smart companies realise the game is up.
“Unite’s resources are an indication of our determination to win for our members, and speak to the bad bosses in the language they understand best – cash.
“As Bob Dylan sang ‘money doesn’t talk – it swears’, so let’s say that our dispute fund, our strike pay, sends a message that is well understood in the boardrooms.”
With one in five workers now in insecure or outsourced work, Len McCluskey pointed to Unite’s recent victories at Birmingham council and Bombardier, which saved the jobs and wages of thousands of workers, and to the landmark recognition deal at Ryanair as proof of a determined union winning for the working class.
He continued: “We don’t seek confrontation. Most of the time we deal positively with our companies, but we are afraid of no one and will always take on bullying bosses.
“Take a look at what is happening at TGI Fridays. The first ever strike by waiting staff in a restaurant for a generation, fighting against a greedy chief executive who wants to take 40 per cent of the tips away from them.
“With growing public sympathy, a win at TGI Fridays will fire a shot that will be heard around the whole huge restaurant and hospitality sector.
“And with union recognition at Ryanair, even the most entrenched anti-union employer can be brought to see sense and understand that cooperation with unions is better than confrontation.”
However, Len McCluskey reserved his strongest words for those who had sought to use last year’s general secretary election for darker political purposes.
“In the last week, details have emerged of the vast extent of the interference in our union by organisations and individuals outside it – right-wing Labour politicians, a mysterious data company providing individual Unite members’ details worth in commercial terms huge amounts of money. And others – pouring money and resources into trying to change Unite’s leadership,” he said.
“They - a shadowy conspiracy of big money and Westminster intrigue took aim at Unite but their real target was Jeremy Corbyn.
“So, let me say loud and clear to the tawdry tabloid lie specialists, and the shady machine politicians who sought to hijack Unite – get out of our union and stay out. We don’t need you. Our solidarity will always be stronger than your smears."
Turning to the political world McCluskey said: “This wretched Tory government is reeling and on the ropes. We have to be ready to be rid of them when the opportunity arises.
“So in that constructive spirit let me say two things. The first is addressed to the small but noisy group of backbench Labour malcontents: Get behind our leader and put a sock in it.
“The only people being served by the constant disloyal sniping, the feral smearing of our own party and leader, are the Tories. If you disagree with a particular policy, say so. Otherwise, try saying nothing.
“My second message is to Jeremy and our comrades in the party leadership. We all know that the next election is far from in the bag. One problem is a weakness in some industrial areas outside the big cities, among older working-class voters in particular. There is a broader sense of disconnect between London and the often run-down and ignored industrial areas.
“Extra seats in London are not going to get Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street. So test every policy against how it is going to play in Walsall and Wakefield, Mansfield and Middlesbrough, Glasgow and Gateshead. In the Welsh valleys and the Yorkshire coal fields.
“Put the necessity of decent secure jobs, skilled work, at the heart of everything. If you’re talking about any policy which cuts against that, it is almost certainly a mistake.”
Len McCluskey also urged the union’s members to send a message to the far-right Football Lads Alliance which has been building links with neo-fascist groups in order to spread instability and division across working class communities. He said: “The message from this conference is this: Get off our terraces and out of our communities.”
For further information please contact the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065 or Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 07967 665869.
Notes to editors:
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.