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UNITE’S sector conferences meet this week at an extraordinary time in our politics. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to elect a government that gives working people hope. We must fight for it with all we have.
Our union will do everything it can to win a Labour government with a programme that will give workers and their trade unions the strongest rights in the world and will transform the lives of our members, their families and their communities.
A government that will give our industries a fighting future, protect jobs, secure investment and start to heal our divided country.
That’s why ultimately this election is about trust. Who do we trust to charter our communities out of the troubled waters of our nations, to a better future?
Is it Boris Johnson, a man whose privileged upbringing has given him such an arrogant sense of entitlement to rule that he would appear to be prepared to stop at nothing to keep the keys to No 10?
Or is it Jeremy Corbyn, the only leader able and determined to speak for our whole nation, on Brexit as on other issues?
Indeed, Labour is the only party trying to bring the country together on Brexit. Our party’s policy is honourable and principled and doesn’t just speak to half of the electorate, while dismissing the other half, in stark contrast to the Tories and Lib Dems.
But this election is not the Brexit election. It’s about what kind of Britain we want to be and what kind of society we want to live in.
To have that debate we must get beyond Brexit, and for me that means rejecting the labels people seek to put on us, of being Leavers or Remainers.
Because whether we’re in or out of the EU, it is the class questions that matter. Social justice doesn’t recognise Leavers or Remainers, it only recognises working people and the capitalist elite.
For us as trade unionists, we are united under one banner, and with this comes the responsibility to advance our values at this election, our values of solidarity, community, equality and justice.
And that’s how we should judge the parties’ offers, not solely on Brexit, but on the issues that affect the lives of ordinary people every day. To win this election Labour must concentrate on the issues where we are streets ahead in the opinion polls.
Let’s take take public ownership of our energy companies. How the energy of our nation is controlled should be central to any political debate, but the Tories and Lib Dems have nothing to contribute. I would be absolutely confident if in government Labour took control of our energy, because the protection of jobs and the protection of communities is central to party policy.
We’ve got foreign companies and hedge funds ripping off ordinary British citizens and the money they take is not being reinvested in our communities. This is a debate about fairness for consumers, defending working people in those places that the energy companies are based and how we utilise the massive profits that are made in order to invest in a green approach to the integrated energy system and the green jobs we need for the future.
Look also at the additions to Labour’s radical manifesto of 2017. Free prescription charges for example, and free parking in hospital car parks. That may seem to be a small matter, but I know that in working-class areas across the country this will make a real difference and that people will welcome it.
Employment rights too. Laura Pidcock, the shadow employment rights secretary, is proposing the same kind of worker protections that exist throughout Europe and which British workers desperately need.
Employment rights from day one, releasing unions from the shackles of the Thatcher years by rolling back anti-union laws and rolling-out sectoral collective bargaining, putting workers on company boards, banishing zero-hours contracts, dealing with agency labour and clamping down on bogus self-employment, a £10 minimum wage, ending the public sector pay cap and rebuilding our public services.
Coupled with real investment in our manufacturing industries through regional investment banks, these are policies that will reinvigorate our run-down towns and cities.
It is only Labour that will end the brutal austerity thrust on us by the Tories and their Lib Dem partners 10 years ago, only Labour that will protect our NHS, provide better education and transform the areas of our country that feel let down and left behind.
I for one can’t wait to get out and start putting our message and our deal to people and I believe that we will get the message across to come home to Labour.
Because when Labour wins we all win, wherever we work and wherever we live.
Len McCluskey is general secretary of Unite.
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