With just over 1.3 million members, Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union. And last night, Len McCluskey, who is Unite’s General Secretary, spoke to a packed room at the Mercure Grand Hotel here in Leicester. Importantly, as far as Leicester’s 52 Labour councillors are concerned, at this meeting Len called upon the Council to refuse to continue carrying out Tory cuts in Leicester!
Len is a proud supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s fight for the heart and soul of the Labour Party, and he repeated the truism that Unite had to “be strong enough never to bend to knee and hope that this would generate the type of confidence we have in days gone by.” Because as he noted: “when working people are confident anything is possible.”
Questions raised from stewards and members in attendance at the meeting were numerous, and were concerned with issues ranging from the need the united industrial action to defend the NHS (which Len supported), to fighting the a real living wage, challenging the Trade Union Act, and concerns about job losses and automation.
On the issue of the brewing dispute at Argos, in Magna Park, Len was firm that it was an “absolute disgrace how workers were being treated,” and he affirmed his support for a ballot for industrial action.
As a Unison steward and a founding member of the Unite Community branch in Leicester, I asked Len a question about his views on Unison city branch’s recent demand for our Labour-led Council to investigate setting a legal no-cuts budgets by drawing upon their reserves. Len was clear that Unite “are opposed to all cuts for two reasons. Firstly austerity is a political choice and there are no need for the cuts, and there shouldn’t be any.” He then added:
“The second reason is that the minute you start saying that, ‘well yes there should be some cuts’ — which, if you remember, is exactly what the Labour Party said at the last election — Ed Miliband and Ed Balls in particular were into what became known as austerity-lite, and we said to them, ‘what are you talking about?’
‘Instead of cutting your wrists deep, you are still going to cut your wrists, either way you are still going to end up bleeding to death.’ And I remember Ed Balls said to me ‘you don’t think there should be any cuts?’ and I said to him ‘no, I don’t think there should be any cuts.’ I said, ‘no, not a single cut.’ And he said ‘that’s unrealistic.’ And I said no it isn’t because as soon as you say ‘yes there should be some cuts’ the next question is, where? Where?
“And that’s when you start playing one worker off against another worker. So we have consistently opposed cuts. We have sent out a call to all our Labour Unite councillors that they should oppose cuts, and in terms of the specific point that you raise about reserves, we support that.
“The idea at the moment is that there are huge reserves that Councils have, particularly in many of the Conservative shires, but within Labour Councils as well there are significant amounts of reserves, and there is an argument that says that Labour Councils should use those reserves in order to stave off cuts, or certainly the most damaging of cuts, until such time as relief arrives, or until such time as the cavalry arrives over the hill. And we support that. And one thing that is another success for Jeremy Corbyn is that in his first nine months as leader, before he got challenged again, he’s turned Labour into an anti-austerity party. No-one in Labour talks about being supportive of austerity anymore, nobody; and that’s to great credit to him. And in terms of Unite’s membership in local authorities, we continue to give whatever support we can against the outrageous attacks that are taking place that are not finished by a long, long way.”