Socialist Worker

Unite union rules conference: can Jeremy Corbyn re-democratise Labour?

by Tony Staunton in Brighton
Issue No. 2461

On the day that Greek workers won the vote against austerity, Unite union delegates gathered for a week’s debate on the rules of the union and how to organise in Britain.

One key debate was on allowing support for parties other than Labour who best represent Unite’ s policies and beliefs.

Unite took the decision to support Jeremy Corbyn as the anti-austerity candidate for the Labour Party leadership. The union had taken a lead in supporting the People’s Assembly and the demo of 250,000 in London just weeks before.

But at the conference, general secretary, Len McCluskey moved a statement to delete all amendments seeking support for anti-austerity political candidates.

He wants to maintain the status quo of supporting only the Labour Party. There would be no change before the next rules conference in four years.

After a protracted debate, and despite the general mood of dissatisfaction with the Labour Party and anger over conditions in the workplace, the conference supported the union leadership.

Individual delegates spoke of attacks by employers on jobs, social and health services, and the poorest in society. Some delegates argued for using Corbyn to re-democratise the Labour Party as the base of political opposition.

Challenged 

But many others challenged the idea that the Labour Party could ever be reclaimed to socialist values. They called for support for socialist candidates from a range of left organisations including Left Unity and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Socialist Workers Party members argued that the status quo has been broken apart by Greek radical left party Syriza, and there is an urgent need for new political formations in Britain, and unity on the left.

Len McCluskey demanded the union stays with Labour.

He said, “The Tories would be delighted if Unite announced disaffiliation from the Labour Party now…9.3 million people voted Labour at the last election because they still see Labour as their party – let’s not let them down by walking away from them now.”

The debates outside the conference hall were more damning of any chance of Corbyn winning or Labour changing it’s commitment to an austerity economy. The majority of conference delegates are members of the Labour Party, but know that a fight is coming against the Tory government.

The conference continues all week, with a major debate taking place on Wednesday on the proposal to remove the requirement for the union to stay within the law in order to protect members’ interests and promote union policies.

In the autumn, the Tories plan to bring in serious new laws against union organisation, including making pickets larger than six people a criminal offence and raising the threshold for strike ballots.

Delegates realise that action will have to challenge the unjust laws, and break them if necessary.


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