The Labour party must step away from the `squalid coup’ that has engulfed the party in recent weeks and pull together for the sake of working people, Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, the biggest union in the UK and Ireland urged today(Monday 11 July), in his keynote address to the Unite policy conference.
In a powerful speech to an audience made up of the representatives of working people from right across the UK economy, Len McCluskey said that with an early general election looming, a divided Tory party in government and Brexit talks which will see workers’ living standards and rights up for negotiation, the Labour party should be seizing the opportunity to present a government-in-waiting – not `turning inwards in its own leadership row’ with a `cowardly attack’ on the leader.
McCluskey also warned that efforts to keep Jeremy Corbyn off the ballot paper in the upcoming leadership challenge will only serve to deepen the divisions within the party.
Placing the blame for the instability presently embroiling the Labour party firmly at the feet of those within it who have never accepted Jeremy Corbyn’s victory last summer, McCluskey urged the party to work with the unions to find a negotiated settlement to deliver a strong Labour party determined to hold the Tories to account.
He also turned his fire onto the Conservative party, angrily denouncing a rudderless government that has thrown the country into a `pit of uncertainty’ over Europe, and the Leave campaign for creating a climate of uncertainty and division for people and their communities.
Addressing Unite’s policy conference in Brighton, Len McCluskey said:
“It is time for everyone to commit to a democratic and dignified procedure as the only way to avert a disaster for working people.
“There could yet be an early election. Whenever it comes it is an opportunity - not a threat as some see it – an opportunity to get rid of a hopeless, hapless, divided Tory Party which has led the country to disaster and then walked away.
“Our country is riven after the EU referendum. Our movement is divided – bitterly and unnecessarily. Jobs are in jeopardy, and long-established rights could be under threat. Millions of working people are looking for urgent answers to the crisis engulfing us. Our members and many besides are looking for a way forward.
“Just a year after being elected, a government rudderless and to blame for dispatching the country, via an unprepared referendum, into a pit of uncertainty. How ironic that a manoeuvre designed to overcome Tory divisions has ended up creating the mother of all splits.
“What a chance for Labour to step forward and speak for the country. To offer itself as the strong opposition and government-in-waiting that millions are looking for in this situation. It was time for unity and a calm voice.
“Instead we have seen a cowardly attack launched against the party’s elected leader which has deprived the country of all parliamentary opposition and let the Conservatives off scot-free in their moment of turmoil.
“This is the responsibility of people who had never accepted Jeremy Corbyn’s victory last year – they never accepted his overwhelming democratic mandate.
“But whatever doubts there may have been, surely the whole movement could agree that here was an opportunity after the referendum. To speak for Britain. To provide real opposition to a broken government.
“Instead, some powerful interests saw it as a different opportunity – one to overturn a vote of just ten months ago by launching a squalid Westminster bubble coup.
“This was an attempted political lynching, designed to bully and bludgeon Jeremy Corbyn, this deeply decent and kind man, out of the job he was elected to do. It has snowballed into a wrecking operation against the Labour Party itself, destroying it at least temporarily as a parliamentary force.”
Turning to the conduct of the shadow cabinet, Len McCluskey said:
“I know some of those who quit did so with a heavy heart, and some with a measure of dignity. But the instigators of this will be branded forever with the mark of infamy for betraying their party and their country, for putting their selfish personal interests first when the times called for solidarity and statesmanship.
“Let me ask Angela Eagle, who I regard as an old friend, but who resigned as Business Secretary a question – did you give thirty seconds thought as to how this would help the workers at Tata, fighting for a future made still more uncertain by Brexit? Or the oil and gas industry facing obliteration? Or have they been abandoned in their moment of need?
“On the other hand, I have nothing but praise for those people who stayed in the Shadow Cabinet and those comrades who stepped forward – often unprepared – to fill the gaps in order to make sure that there was something like a functioning Labour front bench able to hold the Tories to account. They are heroes of the movement and they too will not be forgotten.
“Jeremy Corbyn has always – always - stood by us, stood on the picket lines, joined our campaigns, argued our case in parliament, advocated for workers’ rights.
“He stood by us. What sort of people would we be, had we joined in the witch-hunt?
“Never mind that I could not have come to this conference, I could not have looked myself in the mirror, had this union done anything other than stand by Jeremy.”
Pressing once more for a negotiated way out of the present turmoil within the party Len McCluskey urged the Labour party to find a way back to working together:
“There needs to be a reconciliation with the Parliamentary Labour Party. We must re-establish mutual respect and unity and address real concerns over campaigning, policy, image and the rest. That is what I was working for over the last week – to try and hold our Party together, as the trade unions have done so many times in the past when politicians have let us down.
“It is regrettable that these efforts have been sabotaged. I will however continue to work with trade union colleagues and others to chart a way forward, including meeting the legitimate concerns of Labour MPs. Since there is now to be a leadership election, I must warn that any attempts to keep Jeremy Corbyn off the ballot paper risks a lasting division in the Party.
“And for that Labour must unite, and speak both for those in its heartlands who, in despair, voted for Brexit as well as those millions deeply angry and fearful at the way the Tories have taken us out of the EU.
“This union is up for the struggle, both to reunite Labour and take the fight to the Tories. In doing so we will be expressing the profoundest interests of all working people in our country.”
He also turned his fire on the Leave campaign for the upsurge in racial attacks since the EU referendum, taking the opportunity to send a message to migrant workers in the UK that they are welcome in Unite:
“We must condemn with all the force we can muster the disgusting upsurge of racist attacks on migrants and black Britons alike undertaken by racists emboldened by the referendum result.
“The moral responsibility for these outrages rests squarely with those elements of the “Leave” campaign who chose to conduct their campaign from the sewer.
“But let me say on behalf of this union – Unite stands shoulder-to-shoulder in unconditional solidarity with all workers, wherever they come from, now facing abuse and violence in our country. Together with our whole movement and all decent men and women we say – no to the racists: yes to workers’ solidarity.”
For further information please contact Alex Flynn on 07967 665869 or Pauline Doyle on 07976 832861.
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.