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We will support our members who wish to take action against the cuts

As you know, I have today been confirmed as general secretary designate of Unite, following the election result announced at the weekend. Let me say first of all that I am honoured and humbled by the confidence shown in me by Unite members.  I have a mandate to lead and, indeed, unite our union, the largest in our country. More people voted in this election than voted in the election for David Cameron to lead the Conservative party.

Indeed, Unite in many senses is the “big society” which the prime minister likes to talk about. It is a million and a half working men and women.  Our tens of thousands of activists play a vital role not just in workplaces, but in communities throughout the country, helping their fellow workers, contributing to society in many ways.

I have a huge agenda in front of me, which I intend to tackle with the support of our executive council, all my colleagues working for the union and, above all, those activists I have just mentioned. Let me just mention a couple of the major points on that agenda. Firstly, working people are under massive attack now.  This government is expecting them to pay, through job losses and spending cuts, for the crisis made in the City.  Resisting that assault must be priority number one for any trade union leader.  What Thatcher tried to do to the unions, the Con-Dems are trying to do to the welfare state – erase it from the nation’s life.

Britain’s first Cameron Christmas is going to be a time of bleak uncertainty for millions of people – not just those who work in the public sector, but anyone in any way dependent on them.  Only the bankers with their bonuses will be celebrating.

That is why at the start of 2011, Unite will be launching its Don’t Break Britain campaign aimed at uniting everyone fighting to maintain the elements of a fair society and a cohesive community in the face of this onslaught. Unite will support any of its members that wish to take industrial action to save the one million jobs at threat across the public sector and to protect their pay and conditions.  Indeed, I believe such action will likely prove inevitable.

But we will also campaign alongside those who cannot go on strike – those dependent on benefits, people on NHS waiting lists, school children deprived of sports facilities, pensioners anxious about fuel bills.  Don’t Break Britain will be about our union with its roots in the communities placing itself at the heart of the growing movement of resistance to the cuts. And let me also say that Unite is a major trade union in the Republic of Ireland, where we can see today what the consequences are of savage cuts and hoping that the private sector picks up the slack – economic meltdown.

I would also like to make clear straight away my full support for the Labour party and for Ed Miliband’s leadership of it.  I believe Unite members want and expect Labour to unite behind Ed, not to listen to the Blairite undead trying to drag Labour back to a failed past, and to work might and main to defeat the Tories and Lib Dems at the local elections next May and at the next general election.

That is where I stand.

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