Socialist Worker

Len McCluskey tells Unite conference, 'the union is behind Ed Miliband'

by Dave Sewell in Liverpool
Issue No. 2410

Delegates at the Unite union conference in Liverpool voted to reaffirm its support for the Labour Party on Tuesday of this week.

The vote came after a day of debates on the question of the Labour Party. In the keynote speech on Monday, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey argued, “The most important challenge facing Unite in the next 11 months is winning the general election.”

Unite is Labour’s biggest backer. When Labour’s leadership turned on the union last year McCluskey suggested that its support was not automatic. 

Now he insisted, “There is a time for having an argument in Labour about policy, there is even a time for debating the future of the party—but that time is not now”.

McCluskey acknowledged members’ “frustrations” with Labour but was clear the union was “behind Ed Miliband and his radical agenda”.

But he warned that Labour should not heed the “siren voices of austerity-lite.” 

Movement

Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham also addressed the conference. He lavished praise on the trade union movement and called for it to unite behind Miliband in an election that would be "a referendum on the NHS".

He warned that “the parties of the right” would be trying to scapegoat immigrants and benefit claimants.

But Labour is committed to Tory spending plans and has been dreaming up policies on immigration or benefits to appear “tougher” than Tories.

In the absence of a real fightback against the Tories, this argument had some purchase - particularly in the afterglow of Burnham's warm words about "building the NHS of the future". Mark Wood, a Southampton council worker and a member of Unite's EC, told Socialist Worker that Labour was "not perfect" but still "the only game in town".

But there were a lot of angry challenges to the executive’s position. 

On Monday's debate about organising against austerity, Eddie Cassidy a delegate from Scotland said, "We can't lose sight of the reason for these cuts. It's pure political dogma - and our party, Labour, has indicated it will continue making these cuts.

 "We have to make absolutely clear that they're not there to represent big business - they should be representing us."

Gwyneth Powell-Davies, a health worker in Bristol, spoke on Tuesday for a motion for conference to discuss working class representation in Labour. She said, “We've got to get rid of the Tories, we know this. But it matters what policies Labour has. There’s frustration in the working class with Labour. If we are not part of those debates, there will be cynicism.” 


Support for migrant workers

Len McCluskey also used his speech on Monday to slam "racism and prejudice" against migrant workers.

He said, "Our position on immigration is a class position. We are for the unity of all workers, wherever they are from". 

Other debates were set to take place this week around the environment, pensions, equalities and international solidarity - with contentious arguments about fracking and the EU. The debate on the NHS - set to be a central campaign priority in the run up to the election - was set to take place on Thursday.


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