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TRADE UNIONS are in crisis. Collective bargaining is in decline. Jobs are under threat. Pay and conditions are being cut. We need a co-ordinated fightback and a clear industrial plan for the workplace.
If political rhetoric takes the place of hard industrial work, then the left will face a real existential crisis.
The unions can be lost as surely as Labour has lost the red wall.
Now is not the time for more empty sloganeering and factional battles within Labour. To save a progressive base, the trade unions must now return to the workplace.
Let no-one kid you on. Unite members are not lemmings, they are not following a line.
We have to face the fact that it looks like 40 per cent of Unite members voted Tory at the last election.
Credibility must be earned. We have to fight for jobs. We have to show working people that left unions can deliver a pay rise and protect their conditions — top-down politicking will only drive a wedge between the union’s leaders and its members.
As far as I know, the Parliamentary Labour Party has never won an industrial dispute or won a pay rise at the bargaining table, so it is difficult to understand why there is such an obsession with the Labour Party among sections of the union’s leaders.
For too long now, it seems to me that the political tail has been wagging the industrial dog.
Delivering on jobs, pay and conditions
The left lives and dies by its connection to and strength within the working class — and the way we can strengthen those links is by building Unite as never before, at the workplace — and delivering what it says on the tin: jobs, pay and conditions.
When I was 17, I led my first walkout. We’d gone to the employer time after time to say an issue was occurring, and every time he would just say he wasn’t interested.
It went on and on. The realisation that your weight of argument doesn’t move an employer — I found that out at the age of 17. We walked out and we won, in the middle of a banqueting hall.
We cannot lose that focus as a trade union. Our bread-and-butter issues have to be the workers, what they are facing, their pay, terms and conditions of employment. If we don’t refocus on that, we are risking the entire future of the struggle for a better deal.
We need to get back into the workplaces, focus on the jobs, the pay and the conditions of our members — if we do that, if we build the union, the politics will look after themselves.
At the moment, we’re asking for aviation investment and we’ve got nothing, because the government is not listening. We need to change that and make the workers’ voice heard in the corridors of power.
We are at a tipping point. Do we deliver a progressive strategy to transform Unite or retreat? None of the other candidates have any plan to build power at the workplace. No plan to rebuild our shop stewards and reps movement. That is what Unite needs now.
Instead of just talking about the gig economy and the service sector, we need to start organising it — not piecemeal, but wholesale. It can be done, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
A clear plan
I have a clear plan for our union. When I am general secretary we will unionise every major employer within our industries. We will stop the undercutting of our agreements by non-union employers.
I will bring our shop stewards and reps together to build real industrial plans centred on a joined-up strategy for collective bargaining.
No empty promises on green jobs: we will bargain for a just transition through agreements delivered by members.
It is possible to create a vibrant, radical union that is growing and fighting for jobs — it just takes political will.
That is why I would never do a deal for votes. I will not sign up to anything that makes it harder for our members to defend their jobs or improve their pay and conditions.
I will not play factional games on the backs of the workers.
We need fundamental change
For me this election is about change. fundamental change, not tinkering around the edges.
Unite members have a clear choice to make. Do we grasp the nettle — or retreat? Do we build a union that delivers at the shop floor or focus on parlour games in Westminster? Do we organise millions of workers in industries that need it or find endless reasons for why that can’t be done?
We need a union with a plan delivered by someone with a real track record — or do we turn our backs on the struggle? That is the choice. It’s time to build Unite. It’s time to get back to the workplace.
Sharon Graham is a candidate in the ongoing general secretary elections in Unite — www.sharongraham.org.
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