Unite ups the ante….

Len McCluskey’s interview in the Sunday Times will no doubt cause furore on the Labour right. It is the kind of interview only a self-confident and assertive union leader can give and its a sign of Unite’s growing assertiveness within the Labour Party. The significance for me was not so-much in the headline-grabbing disagreements over public sector pay nor the somewhat rhetorically over-blown implication that Mr McCluskey would want to start ‘purging’ Blairites (I don’t agree with ideological purges, as every regular reader will know) but in the strategic nuggets. Its campaign to bring Unite members into the Party and its role in the formation of Class were what really caught my eye because they show clear evidence of long-term, strategic deep-thinking going on right at the top of the union.

In terms of bringing union members into the Party, who can possibly object? More members means more activists and more revenue raised and a greater impact on the wider electorate. The fact that these members would seek to influence the people around them in a certain direction is surely a given and ultimately there is nothing wrong with anybody seeking to win a democratic majority for their arguments through persuasion. Ditto when it comes to McCluskey’s pledge to only support Labour candidates who are in broad agreement with the aims and objectives of the union and who come from manual labour backgrounds. Who, after-all could reasonably expect the case to be anything else? Selecting candidates from a more diverse pool of backgrounds also strengthens our ailing democracy as well, not just the Labour Party.  Class represents a concerted attempt by Unite to be involved not just in lobbying, by wielding the financial stick, but to seek to persuade and develop a coherent policy agenda which is in line with its long-term aspirations.

However, in presentational terms, the interview also highlighted an area where the unions consistently fall short of the mark. McCluskey seems perfectly happy to give the Times the story it wants, sinister plot by the unions to engineer a putsch. Rather than frame the debate in a different, more subtle and democratic, fashion he all too often seems happy to play into the narrative the paper wants;

“Asked whether the strategy could be viewed as an attempt to take over the Party, McCluskey replied; Of course we are trying to influence the Party again.”

He should have challenged the very premise of the question, that bringing activists into the Party was some kind of attempted hostile take-over. It isn’t, but McCluskey never challenges the implied assertion that it is, in fact, he seems to happily concur with the questioner. In letting things like this lapse, he gives the impression of being more clunking fist than sincere champion of his members (the job he was elected to do). This is a shame and it is an area where Unite, and indeed the trade unions in general, need to catch-up with the political classes, who long ago relised the importance of getting the presentation, framing and narrative right. We are at a point of record disengagement with the political process and most of those people that do engage do not bother to investigate the marco-level nuances of policy of what people are saying.

The growing influence and assertiveness of Unite can only be a good thing for the Labour Party and the country in general which is crying out for a strong challenge to the failing austerity agenda, for alot more equality and a lot less liassez-faire. So, I welcome the broad strategic thrust of what McCluskey said, let’s see alot more of this assertiveness and hope it will transform the Labour Party back into one that is true to itself and its core values.


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6 responses to “Unite ups the ante….”

  1. Robert says :

    Good old fashioned political hype, in the main Miliband looks weak, so the Union comes out with this, so Miliband and Balls can come out fighting to show the public in case they needed to know that Miliband is in nobodies pockets..

    If Unite really wanted to put pressure on labour then calling for a vote on disaffiliation or even ending the political levy, would see labour having meetings with the Unions.

    But this just before a conference last year it was the GMB giving labour ammunition this time it’s Unite, good old fashioned political spin.

    We all know Union are angry over the wages and the wage restraint because the Public servants are racing backward, before long people will again be back to pre New labour.

    But this of course is the payment we at the bottom have to make for the bankers and the very poor leadership of the labour party and now the Tory party.

    But with the EU courts looking at the strike ballots in the UK, are they fair, well of course not, but you would have expected labour to have done something about that, you would have expected the Unions to have demanded they do something but they did not.

    I do not know really as a Levy payer and Union man would I wish to be an associate member of Labour, no not really if I wanted that then I’d join the party, so I suspect many people who are in Unions are not always Labour people many maybe non political.

    But it does make me smile anyway, will it help make Miliband look like a great leader, I very much doubt it he just does not have the media or political presence, he’s what we use to call a wet…..


  2. john P reid says :

    Robert, But Miliband hasn’t come out fighting, apart from One phrase saying He think’s Mcluskey is wrong, He hasn’t said ‘ah, but getting people in is like when Militant infiltrated the party and purging the Blariites is like when the Trots deselected 25 Labour M.P.s in 1981 so they went off ,formed the SDP and took 2 million votes with them’, regarding the Union affiliation I know several Tories who are in Unions some of them have a vote on labour policy as they’re affiliated with labour, some are affiliated with respect, and Mcklusky just got applauded at the labour conference,

    In all fairness it’s not just ex labour union members who are coming, back some who voted Libdem, green ,respect, or are part of the Fabians, the Co-op , occupy movement


    • Robert says :

      If you say so John I do not much care really.


      • Rob the cripple says :

        Labour’s Liam Byrne has outlined the need to “reinvent social security for modern times” as he signalled the party intends to make savings in the welfare budget if it returns to power in 2015.

        Pointing to the growing resentment of benefit claimants by some sections of society, the shadow work and pensions secretary said he believed the fact that social security no longer enjoyed “widespread support” was linked to the fact it did not offer the same level of security as it once did.

        He said in an era in which “jobs for life” had gone, the system needed to work differently to reflect the fact that different things were needed from social security, with a “much bigger push” to get people back into work, new investment in areas such as childcare, and being “much smarter” about how the system set up to help disabled people worked.

        Miliband looks back at an old Tory peer to get his fix, while the rest of have to live in the real world of Newer labour, which it seems is not a lot different from the old New labour.

        We are to think that MIliband is untouched by the mess we are into day, problem is I doubt to many really believe this.


  3. A Very Public Sociologist says :

    Have you gone all quiet blog-wise?


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