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Len responds to the media witch-hunt of Unite

Targetting Len McCluskeyThis is an abridged version of a speech delivered today to Unite’s industrial conference in Brighton at which 1200 trade unionists from across all twenty Unite industrial sectors will gather this week.

Today, we meet in the middle of a vast media witch-hunt against our union, reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s.  We are facing unscrupulous smears from both media and politicians.  Every day we read statements and press articles about Unite which do not come within hailing distance of the truth. This shows one thing above all: Unite is making a difference.

We have served notice on the establishment that fighting trade unionism is back – and the elite don’t like it. They see Unite as too big for its boots. A union not prepared to play by the cosy consensus rules which sapped the life out of our movement for so long. A union that is about action, and not just rhetoric.

Of course, there is another agenda behind these attacks too.  We are a proxy for smearing the Labour Party and Ed Miliband, since the same elite is now worried that a Labour government which may itself not play by the old rules is a possibility. They will continue because that is the Lynton Crosby agenda – the genius behind the racist “go home” vans touring our cities; the man who believes the Tory path back to power lies in demonising the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable; the man imported by David Cameron to poison our national life so he can get a new tenure on Downing Street. 

I have confidence that the British people will not fall for the ugly Toryism that Crosby is peddling – and I am absolutely certain of one thing – Crosby, Cameron and their kind will never break or browbeat this trade union into submission.The Tories are taking us back to the 1870s, and the days of pure free-market liberalism, with no role for the state, no social safety net, no curb on the bosses’ power and little or no trade unionism.

Among the many caricatures of Unite painted in recent weeks is the one that we have no strings to our bow except confrontation. That is not the reality of course.  Look at the motor industry – at JLR, Vauxhall, Toyota, Nissan and elsewhere.  We have had difficult negotiations, but collaborated with responsible employers not just to protect existing jobs but to secure additional investment which can guarantee skilled manufacturing jobs into the future.

It is ironic that when David Cameron praises the work of the Automotive Council in reviving the motor industry, he is also praising the work of Unite members, Unite representatives.  I guess Lynton Crosby hasn’t explained that to him. And what is true in motors is true across industry.  We are not toy town revolutionaries.  We know that most of the time most workers want a decent relationship with their employer, based on mutual respect, and that they expect their union to work in that spirit.

Unite’s door is always open to any decent employer who wants to come to us and say – here is our problem, how do we work together to overcome it? That is what we do, up and down this country, in one company after another, every day of the week – work to secure jobs and to protect living standards and hard-won conditions. We help save communities from devastation, put food on workers’ tables, presents under the Christmas tree and hope in people’s lives. We do it because that is what our members want. And that is the first and last consideration for me, and for Unite.”

Where a different approach is needed it is because workers are being short-changed by an employer who regards workers as simply an expense to be reduced as much as possible, who can only see profit but never people. That is where leverage comes in. The most important thing to say about Unite’s leverage strategy is this:  Leverage has worked.  Leverage has won.

It won at BESNA, stopping the break-up of a national agreement.  It won at Honda, halting trade union derecognition and saving the convenor’s job.  It won at London Buses, alongside strike action, in securing an Olympic bonus. It won at MPH in Bootle, securing vastly better redundancy terms. And it won at Crossrail, challenging the crime of blacklisting and getting Frank Morris his job back. That is why it is now being attacked – because it is working. Leverage is about telling the bad bosses that they have nowhere to hide, challenging their conduct with shareholders, with clients and customers.

Daily Mail ‘lies’ about protest are walking the country into a Tory assault on basic freedoms: the protests which the Daily Mail has targeted are something different.  They are as old as democracy – free speech and the right to peacefully demonstrate.  For that, our members have been described as “thugs”.  We will see what the law makes of that phrase.

It is, at any event, a lie. These protests were peaceful, mostly silent, and of course had nothing to do with intimidating families, children, or anyone.  In more than two years, we have not had a single complaint about our members’ conduct on such protests, nor a single police charge. So let me send one clear message to the Daily Mail: This union is not retreating from leverage, or from the right to peaceful protest. And we are not taking lessons in proper conduct from a paper which, from its support for fascism before the war to its smearing of Ralph Miliband today, represents a stream of poison in British society.


  1. Robert says:

    Unions have to stop the love affair with the labour party and work on it own to fight for the workers, poor, the sick the disabled, for a time I was wondering why it was the Unions and the TUC were backing Blair’s welfare reforms. I was just about to pack it in and give up after 46 years in the Union when it became pretty obvious Unions hoped to make money from labour promise Union would be give the chance to help the disabled and sick back into work.,

    But that soon ended as Labour love affair with A4e showed up and off they went.

    Unions have to come back to whom they are in business to help the working class not the rich now Blair not Brown but people who are paid up Union members and people in work who are not, you have to help the sick the disabled and the working class sadly you got lost for a while.

  2. w ch says:

    Fair call on Lynton Crosby. However as an Australian, I would strongly argue that Crosby is a result of imports himself. A result of the import of Thatcherite ideology that increasingly wiped out moderates from the conservative side of politics, starting from the late 1980s onwards. This resulted in the ascendancy of John Howard where Crosby did his early work before infecting the UK.

  3. Dave Roberts says:

    Watching the slow motion train crash which has been your handling of the Grangemouth affair I have no sympathy for you whatsoever. You played totally into the hands of the owners and the reason your man resigned is because he was doing Union and Labour business on company time, it’s as simple as that.

    It also looks as if the selections process is going to go the same way with a police investigation in the offing. You have done inestimable damage to unions generally and the Labour Party in particular.

    The site of you on the UK journalist Ted Joery’s blog with Lutfur Rahman the Mayor of Tower Hamlets who has been exposed on TV as linked to Muslim extremists as well as with another Bangladeshi who has been convicted of fraud over wine in his restaurants will be used to hammer the trades union movement and the Labour Party.

    You can blame the Tories as much as you like but you have handed them valuable weapons at the next election and you have nobody to blame except yourself.

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