Unite and Labour at a historic turning point, says McCluskey

Unite and Labour at a historic turning point, says McCluskey

24 July 2013

Addressing a meeting of Unite representatives and activists today (Wednesday 25 July), Len McCluskey the leader of Britain’s biggest union will say that Unite is at a turning point in its historical relationship with the Labour party. 

Welcoming Ed Miliband’s proposals as an opportunity to recast the trade union relationship with the Labour party, he will say that defending the status quo is not option.

He will go on to warn Labour against being a pinkish shadow of the coalition, if it is to energise Unite members to become affiliate members, saying that voters need a vivid choice for the future of our country, not one that leaves the electorate indifferent. 

The speech, at a meeting of the union executive council and regional political committees at the TUC’s conference centre in London, is being webcast live from 12:30.

On the turning point with Unite’s relationship with Labour, Len McCluskey will say:  “It is clear we are at a turning point in the historic relationship Unite and its predecessor unions have had with the Labour party.

“This will have come as a surprise to many of you – although no one will be shocked by the knowledge that strains in the Labour-union link have been building up for years, at least since the advent of New Labour in the 1990s.

“Those strains have been fuelled by the failures and disappointments of Labour in office, not least its refusal to seriously address the unique legal impediments trade unions have to work under in Britain.

“They have been worsened by the feeling that for a long time we have been taken for granted by people who welcome our money, but not our policy input, who want to use our resources at election time but do not want our members as candidates.

“And all this in an environment when ordinary people in all walks of life have become increasingly disengaged from and disenchanted with politics and politicians.”

Warning that defending the status quo is not an option and the need to engage:

“Ed Miliband has made some bold and far-reaching proposals for recasting the trade union relationship with the Labour party. I know that some pundits were expecting me to reject them outright.

“To re-run the experience of the last generation on this issue – the party leader says something, the unions reject it and have no positive proposals of their own, the first plan goes through anyway and we look like not just losers, but conservative losers. 

“Well, we all honour our movement’s traditions, but this is one tradition overdue for a change. Unite is doing things differently in one area of our work after another, including politics.

“And we need to do things differently here too. We need to engage, rethink and see if we can find better ways to advance our ends.

“No-one has said that the twentieth century should go on forever, and that in 2013 the labour movement should be structured in exactly the same way as in 1913.

“In a nutshell, we have to be interested in outcomes, not processes.

"Why dig in behind a status quo that has not worked for us?

“The block vote didn’t stop a Labour government invading Iraq. 

"Affiliation didn’t keep Labour out of the clutches of the banks and the City. Our special relationship didn’t get the union laws repealed.

“So don’t let anyone say that the status quo is worth defending.

"And don’t let’s be dishonest with ourselves. Before Falkirk, before Ed’s announcement, there were plenty of people in this room today saying, absolutely rightly, that the relationship with Labour had to change.”

Concluding on the Collins review and future of the Labour party:

“So now we have the Collins review. Unite goes into this process with clear objectives, which everyone who cares about the future of the Labour party needs to share.

“Our main aim is to ensure that as many Unite members as possible, already paying our political levy, now sign up individually, by whatever means have transparency and integrity, to be affiliate members of the party.

“For that to work, and for the trade unions to put their shoulders to the wheel to make it work, the offer has to be an attractive one.

“Above all, that means a Labour party that our members want to support, because they believe it can and will make a difference in their lives.

“Not a party that is a pinkish shadow of the present coalition that gives the City a veto over economic decisions and embraces the austerity agenda squeezing the life out of the country.

“But a party that offers real hope, that stands up for the poor and vulnerable, that puts growth at the heart of its agenda, that confronts privilege.

“A party that makes the 2015 election a real and vivid choice as to the future of our country, not one that leaves the electorate indifferent.

“If it does this, then this scheme will work.

“But if our members are unclear as to the answer then no amount of persuading will get them to sign up.

“I believe that Labour under Ed Miliband can be that party – a party that our members want to support because it feels like their party.”


For more information please contact Alex Flynn on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665 869. 

Notes to editors:

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.42 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.