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Scottish vote should herald policies for working peopl...

Scottish vote should herald policies for working people, says Len McCluskey

22 September 2014

A clarion call was made for policies to reflect the interests of working people in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey at the Labour party conference today (Monday 22 September).

Len McCluskey, leader of the UK’s largest union, told delegates in Manchester: “Let the Scottish referendum be the tombstone on 20 years of our party’s indifference to the interests of the working class.

“It took a referendum campaign to remind us that you ignore the hopes of working people at your political peril.

“This was not an upsurge of narrow nationalism. It was an upsurge in defence of our NHS; an upsurge against illegal wars; an upsurge against endless austerity; and an upsurge against inequality.

“It was a triumph of hope against apathy and fear. And our party has to be the party to bottle that hope. 

“In the last week we have seen our politics turned upside down and inside out.

“We have seen our political establishment – including, let’s be honest, our own party – have a near-death experience in Scotland. We have seen an elite in a panic.

“Because the Scottish people played the role of the child in the fairy story, telling the Westminster Emperor that it has no clothes.”

Commenting on the aftermath of the Scottish referendum vote, he said: “Let me also say, that we don’t want a constitution made by posh boys at Chequers – we want one made by political debate with the people.”

Len McCluskey was speaking during the Work and Business debate when he argued that strong labour market institutions, trade unions and collective bargaining are vital in tackling inequality.

He added: “Enough with caution and hedging our economic bets. Over the next few months we must mobilise the imagination and aspirations of millions to defeat this ruinous coalition.”

ENDS

For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940 and/or the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065.

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.

Speech by Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary to Labour party conference

Working people matter
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Thank you, Chair

Sisters and Brothers 

There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. So said a famous Russian revolutionary a century ago. He could have been speaking of our times.

In the last week we have seen our politics turned upside down and inside out. We have seen our political establishment – including, let’s be honest, our own party – have a near-death experience in Scotland.

We have seen an elite in a panic. Because the Scottish people played the role of the child in the fairy story, telling the Westminster Emperor that it has no clothes. There will be a lot of comment and debate over the referendum outcome.  I just want to underline one lesson here today. For me, the most important lesson of all.

Working people matter – their views, their voices. And their votes.

For a generation there have been pundits – including too many in our own party – saying we can forget about class. They said the working class aren’t interested in politics – well go up to Scotland and see. They said the young don’t vote - well go up to Scotland and see. See how they’ve been electrified by the engagement

Let me also say, that we don’t want a constitution made by posh boys in Chequers. We want one made by political debate with the people. The last few weeks have been the answer. Suddenly the scales have fallen from the doubters’ eyes as they realised that it was working people – our people – who were turning their backs on Labour’s advice. We can’t say we weren’t warned.  

But even after the SNP started winning Scottish parliament seats in the east end of Glasgow, some in the Scottish Labour party clung to the mantra of wooing the middle classes

It took a referendum campaign to remind us that you ignore the hopes of working people at your political peril.

Conference, let’s not be mistaken. This was not an upsurge of narrow nationalism. It was an upsurge in defence of our NHS. An upsurge against illegal wars. An upsurge against endless austerity. And against inequality.

It was a triumph of hope against apathy and fear. And our party has to be the party to bottle that hope and maybe, while we’re at it, bottle a bit of whatever Gordon Brown has been taking. 

We have to lead the fight for those aspirations, in every corner of our nations, over the next eight months, because it’s not just Scottish working people that want change. Working people, young and old, throughout England and Wales have also had enough. 

Had enough of the attack on the health service and the gains of 1945.

Had enough talk of economic credibility which means credibility with the bond markets - but not with the unemployed

Had enough of policies trimmed and tailored to a few marginal voters in southern England

So, let the Scottish referendum be the tombstone on 20 years of our party’s indifference to the interests of the working class. Ed Miliband has said that Labour gets it.  That we know we must change if we are to win. The last few weeks show us how:

• Let’s capture that energy

• That faith in the possibility of democracy making a difference

• That confidence that where they see the possibility, working people can shape a more equal, just and caring society

And let’s take it to every voter in the land 

As Labour’s offer in 2015

This motion suggests just a few of the ways. Strengthening the collective rights of workers. Using trade union strength and collective bargaining to tackle inequality. Recognising that strong trade unions are not just a necessity to balance the power of the employer in the workplace, but to balance the power of the moneyed elite in society.

But of course, conference, our agenda goes much wider. So I say, enough with caution and hedging our economic bets. Over the next few months we must mobilise the imagination and aspirations of millions to defeat this ruinous coalition. And when we sweep away the Tories and elect the Labour government the country desperately needs. 

Let’s also sweep away the fear and inertia which have shackled us for too long. And stand before the British people as the party of peace, - equality - and socialist change.