`We face the fight of our lives. There can be no third...

'We face the fight of our lives. There can be no third option'

30 June 2014

McCluskey urges full support for Labour to rid Britain of `ruinous coalition’

Working people, their unions and our NHS are facing the `fight of our lives’ to see off a Tory government in 2015, which will set about destroying the remaining rights and freedoms ensuring a voice against austerity and a defence against exploitation.

That will be the message from Len McCluskey, leader of the biggest union in Britain and Ireland, when he opens Unite’s policy conference in Liverpool today (Monday 30 June).

He will urge conference to see the Labour party as the best hope of draining the `swamp of ill treatment’ and reversing the rapacious privatisation of the health service spawned by the coalition - but will warn that these will intensify dangerously should the Tories win the general election next May.

And he will vow that Unite will not send Labour into battle against the party of the rich with `one hand tied behind its back’, promising that the union will not sit on the side lines in the most important general election for generations.

Len McCluskey will tell conference: “We meet on the Liverpool Docks and when I was young, men used to gather every morning in large halls scattered along the docks, hoping for a day’s work. Bosses used to walk amongst them tapping them on the shoulder and giving them a Brass Tally which guaranteed a day’s work.

“And when the bosses tired of that they would take the remainder of the tallies and toss them into the air and watch men fight for them. And I mean fight, because it meant putting food into their kids’ bellies.

“Zero hours from another age – back now to haunt us. Is there any hope amidst this swamp of ill-treatment?

“The most important challenge Unite will face over the next eleven months is winning next year’s general election. There is a time to have heated arguments within the Labour Party about policy. There is even a time to discuss the future of the Party itself. But that time is not now.

"We have a clear and vital choice before us. It’s whether we can evict the present ruinous Conservative coalition from office and get a Labour Prime Minister into Downing Street. There is no third option.

“So let there be no doubt. Unite stands fully behind Labour and Ed Miliband in the increasingly radical agenda he has outlined. It is a people’s agenda and this union will be proud to fight alongside Labour to secure it.

“Is there more to do? You bet there is. Ed has to understand that only by offering hope to our kids; only by being on the side of the ordinary men and women of our nations, only by rejecting the siren voices of austerity lite will he win the trust of the electorate.

“Have conviction, Ed. Ignore the personal stuff, it is trivial nonsense. Our members are not interested in how you eat a bacon butty, only that you bring home the bacon for working people.

‘And we will not let Labour fight for this programme with one hand tied behind its back. We will be up against the Party of the rich, bought and paid for by the rich, with its coffers overflowing with cash from hedge funds, the City and those doing very nicely out of health privatisation.

“Unite will do its bit to make sure that the next election is not financially lop-sided because democracy demands a fair fight.”

Len McCluskey will also address the most difficult and sensitive political issue of our time – immigration – condemning both the Tories and the UKIP for exploiting people’s fears that they are being left out of the economy:

“We must challenge UKIP which uses anti-immigrant rhetoric to mask the fact that it is anti-union, pro-big business, anti-NHS and more Thatcherite than Thatcher herself.

“UKIP are dangerous and not because I believe they will make any significant inroads into the corridors of power, but because they make racism and prejudice seem respectable.

“If others are afraid to enter the battlefield with UKIP, we are not. Unite stands ready to take them on for what they are - a right-wing menace to our communities and our society.”

McCluskey will also highlight how, in the past two years, Unite has been under the most sustained attack that any union has had to endure for a generation or more – indeed, since the great miners’ strike thirty years ago:

“This is a back-handed compliment in a way – the Tories, their media allies and the rest of the establishment would not bother with us if we were not fighting for our members and our values in an effective way. They are afraid of us. We challenge their privileged position in society and they don’t like it one little bit.

“But these attacks form part of a dangerous agenda. The Tories want to be able to reassure global big business that trade unionism is being kept in its box, that the sacred flexible labour market is not going to be challenged, that Britain is open for exploitation.

“If the Tories win we will face a government determined to put many of the normal functions of free trade unions outside the law. But we will be ready. And we will not be cowed.

“The Conservative Party should not assume that we will put respect for unjust laws ahead of our duty to fight exploitation and ruthless employers. We will fight for our members within the law where possible. But let the Tories be in no doubt that if they push us outside of the law, they will be responsible for the consequences, not us.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of our society, and the future of the labour movement, will be in the balance over the next twelve months. Let there be no doubt – we’re now facing the fight of our lives.”

For further information please contact Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 07967 665869.
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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.