Amidst the most vicious attacks on the union movement since the 1970s, the leader of the biggest union in Britain and Ireland has vowed `no retreat’ from protesting against abusive employers.
And with the government using the cover of the slump to lay siege to workers’ wages and rights, Len McCluskey will warn that the Tories’ deployment of the services of Lynton Crosby is a reminder that attacks on workers and their unions will only become more vicious ahead of the 2015 election.
Addressing the third gathering of Unite’s industrial sectors since the union was formed in 2009, the general secretary will say:
“Today, we meet in the middle of a vast media witch-hunt against our union, reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s. We are facing unscrupulous smears from both media and politicians. Every day we read statements and press articles about Unite which do not come within hailing distance of the truth.
“This shows one thing above all: Unite is making a difference. We have served notice on the establishment that fighting trade unionism is back - and the elite don’t like it.
“Of course, there is another agenda behind these attacks too. We are a proxy for smearing the Labour Party and Ed Miliband, since the same elite is now worried that a Labour government which may itself not play by the old rules is a possibility.
“They will continue because that is the Lynton Crosby agenda – the genius behind the racist “go home” vans touring our cities; the man who believes the Tory path back to power lies in demonising the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable; the man imported by David Cameron to poison our national life so he can get a new tenure on Downing Street.
“I have confidence that the British people will not fall for the ugly Toryism that Crosby is peddling – and I am absolutely certain of one thing – Crosby, Cameron and their kind will never break or browbeat this trade union into submission.”
He will accuse the Tories of “taking us back to the 1870s, and the days of pure free-market liberalism, with no role for the state, no social safety net, no curb on the bosses’ power and little or no trade unionism.”
But, he will remind delegates that, with new members joining the union, with 3,000 of them in the past quarter alone, the Tory hate-campaign means workers fed up with low wages and chronic insecurity are turning to Unite.
Len McCluskey will also dispel the nonsensical accusation levelled at Unite that it is only interested in confrontation – with the prime minister himself pleased to celebrate UK car industry success but assiduously failing to commend Unite for helping to deliver it:
“Among the many caricatures of Unite painted in recent weeks is the one that we have no strings to our bow except confrontation. That is not the reality of course. Look at the motor industry – at JLR, Vauxhall, Toyota, Nissan and elsewhere. We have had difficult negotiations, but collaborated with responsible employers not just to protect existing jobs but to secure additional investment which can guarantee skilled manufacturing jobs into the future.
“It is ironic that when David Cameron praises the work of the Automotive Council in reviving the motor industry, he is also praising the work of Unite members, Unite representatives. I guess Lynton Crosby hasn’t explained that to him.
“And what is true in motors is true across industry. We are not toy town revolutionaries. We know that most of the time most workers want a decent relationship with their employer, based on mutual respect, and that they expect their union to work in that spirit.
“Unite’s door is always open to any decent employer who wants to come to us and say – here is our problem, how do we work together to overcome it?
“That is what we do, up and down this country, in one company after another, every day of the week – work to secure jobs and to protect living standards and hard-won conditions. We help save communities from devastation, put food on workers’ tables, presents under the Christmas tree and hope in people’s lives. We do it because that is what our members want.
“And that is the first and last consideration for me, and for Unite.”
But Len McCluskey will also defend those times when a different approach is needed because workers are "being short-changed by an employer who regards workers as simply an expense to be reduced as much as possible, who can only see profit but never people.
“That is where leverage comes in. The most important thing to say about Unite’s leverage strategy is this: Leverage has worked. Leverage has won.
“It won at BESNA, stopping the break-up of a national agreement. It won at Honda, halting trade union derecognition and saving the convenor’s job. It won at London Buses, alongside strike action, in securing an Olympic bonus. It won at MPH in Bootle, securing vastly better redundancy terms.
“And it won at Crossrail, challenging the crime of blacklisting and getting Frank Morris his job back.
“That is why it is now being attacked - because it is working. Leverage is about telling the bad bosses that they have nowhere to hide, challenging their conduct with shareholders, with clients and customers.”
He will warn that Daily Mail `lies’ about protest are walking the country into a Tory assault on basic freedoms:
“The protests which the Daily Mail has targeted are something different. They are as old as democracy – free speech and the right to peacefully demonstrate. For that, our members have been described as “thugs”. We will see what the law makes of that phrase.
“It is, at any event, a lie. These protests were peaceful, mostly silent, and of course had nothing to do with intimidating families, children, or anyone. In more than two years, we have not had a single complaint about our members’ conduct on such protests, nor a single police charge.
“So let me send one clear message to the Daily Mail: This union is not retreating from leverage, or from the right to peaceful protest.
“And we are not taking lessons in proper conduct from a paper which, from its support for fascism before the war to its smearing of Ralph Miliband today, represents a stream of poison in British society.”
Over 1,200 trade unionists from across all twenty Unite industrial sectors will gather this week in Brighton to debate the challenges faced by their members in the changing working environment and against the backdrop of government austerity policies. Fuller details can be found on Unite's website www.unitetheunion.org
For further information, please call Pauline Doyle on 07976 832 861 or Alex Flynn on 07967 665869.
Unite is Britain and Ireland's largest trade union with 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.