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Solidarity is our strength

Our rulers fear working-class unity. That's why we face smears and jeers from MPs and the media - but we will not be cowed, says LEN McCLUSKEY

This week Unite is holding its third national industrial-sector conferences since the merger which created our union.

In just over six years our union has gone through transformational change, since the large-scale and challenging merger which created it, to become a truly united union with a strong sense of purpose.

Our members can be proud that their union is leading the way through new and exciting initiatives to put effective trade unionism on the road to recovery.

Ever since I was elected general secretary I have made it clear that Unite will always stand shoulder to shoulder with its members in struggle.

For this reason when delegates meet in Brighton this week it will be in the middle of a vast media witch-hunt against our union, reminiscent of the 1970s and '80s.

We are facing unscrupulous smears from within Parliament and the media, which is now colluding in a further attack on ordinary people.

The slogan for our national industrial-sector conferences this week is "fighting back for working people."

I want our members to know that we will not be knocked off course by such tactics from those very elements imposing and cheerleading the disastrous policies that are doing so much damage to families up and down Britain.

I often say that when your enemies attack you it is a clear sign you must be doing something right.

In this case those within Parliament and the media doing the batting for powerful private interests remain fearful of trade unions and have been stepping up their attacks accordingly.

Last week's Prime Minister's questions showed the Lynton Crosby anti-union election machine in full swing - and I repeat my challenge to the Prime Minister to make his defamatory remarks again outside of Parliament without the cover of parliamentary privilege.

But there is a scent of fear in the air for the ruling classes.

Last week New York City, the city of Wall Street, elected Bill de Blasio - the first Democrat mayor for over 20 years.

He won that election on a platform of reversing inequalities and raising taxes on the rich. Most importantly he won with the votes of those people previously rejected by the political elite.

Whether it is winning industrial disputes or pushing ahead with our politic strategy Unite is giving a powerful voice to people long ignored by the Establishment.

Organised labour remains the only means of effective working-class representation in the face of vested power and money.

The Unite industrial dispute at Grangemouth highlighted the vast legal disadvantages trade unions labour under in trying to protect members' pay and conditions.

It revealed the almost unlimited power of private ownership, able to act at will with a vital national economic asset even to the point of closing it down regardless of the consequences as well as the weakness of politicians and their incapacity to act under the conditions of capitalist globalisation.

In fact it sums up the vast inequality of power which is the product of the neoliberal domination of our thinking and our politics.

The outrage of the right-wing media and Tory politicians was aimed at one decent man and trade union shop steward and a handful of men and women holding peaceful protests.

 

Our leverage strategy has come under closer scrutiny as a result but its objectives are clear - telling the bad bosses that they have nowhere to hide and challenging their conduct with shareholders, with clients and customers.

It is important to note that we did not engage in leverage at Ineos. Protests are a separate form of expressing dissent. The silent peaceful protests in the leafy suburbs of a few directors are part of our basic human rights which include freedom of expression.

Ordinary working people do not have the benefit of national newspapers or the floor of the Commons when it comes to expressing their views. Now it seems the Tories want to gag them too.

If we are to learn any lessons from recent weeks then it must be the need for fairer laws governing the relationship between employers and workers.

The severe restrictions placed on trade unions representing their members' interests compared with the almost unlimited power of private ownership should have come to the fore in the minds of anyone following recent events.

That is why Unite will continue to put at the heart of our work the need to secure new laws which guarantee trade union freedoms and the rights of workers to stand up to the outrageous pressure of the employers.

We will also continue to articulate a brighter future for our members.

Rather than be cowed we will push forward with our progressive agenda for a new interventionist industrial strategy with a large-scale investment bank to boost public and private investment.

We need to secure the building of one million new homes to fix the housing crisis and create employment, end the disastrous austerity agenda and in its place demand investment to boost our economy and to give hope to millions of people.

The decline of trade union membership and of collective bargaining coverage has led to the fall in wages at the bottom and an obscene increase in inequality with those at the top destabilising our economy.

On top of this we have seen a renewed attack on employment protections for British workers and the unsustainable growth of underemployment, zero-hours contracts and wage freezes that are making the cost of living unbearable for our members.

Unite is one of the largest voluntary organisations in the country with extensive democratic structures, governed by our elected executive council and rule book.

In the end it is through conferences like those being held this week that we decide our policies. Trade unions in Britain already work under more restrictive laws than in any other European country.

Further attacks on our ability to represent the democratic will of our members would not only be unjust but raise serious questions over the democratic freedoms we enjoy across society today.

I have no doubt that the smears and attacks on our union and myself will grow stronger over the next 18 months as the Tories seek to use us as a baton with which to beat Labour.

They will step up their attempts to silence ordinary people. It started with employment rights, then the Gagging Bill and now they seek to silence peaceful protest.

Unite is a growing union with 3,000 new members in the last month alone. Our members know that our solidarity is our greatest weapon, collectivism our greatest strength.

The ruling classes have never understood this and they are right to fear it.

 

Len McCluskey is general secretary of Unite.

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