How Trade Unions in Leicester Can Fight to Win this General Election

The Tories must be kicked out! Theresa May and her corporate benefactors are literally devouring our NHS, our education system, and the future of all our essential local services. May is ramping-up longstanding attacks on workers and their unions that, unfortunately, were already being carried out with much gusto by the Tories toxic predecessors, New Labour.

But New Labour is not what it used to be; and now with a general election thrust upon our doorstep, the trade union movement has everything to fight for: that is, if we want a Labour government that will defend and extend the rights of the 99 percent instead of the 1 percent.

Labour’s non Blairite leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is thankfully a principled socialist, who has the backing of the overwhelming majority of his party’s membership — if not the support of many remaining Blairite MPs and councillors.

Yet, it is precisely because of the sizable opposition that still opposes Corbyn from within his own parliamentary ranks, that it is now absolutely essential that as much external pressure is brought to bear upon the Labour Party from the trade union movement. We need to give Corbyn as many reasons as possible to adopt a fighting manifesto for this election, an inspiring manifesto that is in keeping with his own progressive politics. Indeed, it is only such a manifesto which can win support.

Last week’s re-election of Len McCluskey as General Secretary of Unite demonstrates the popularity and urgent need for leaders who, like Corbyn, are willing to fight. McCluskey’s victory over Gerard Coyne, the much-hyped favourite in the Tory press, is a defeat for the Tories as well as for Labour’s Blairite faction.

In recent months Unite’s General Secretary reaffirmed his call upon Labour Councils, up and down the country, to refuse to carry our Tory cuts. McCluskey made it clear that until a Labour government comes to power, Labour-led Councils should be spending funds presently set aside in their Reserve Accounts instead of cutting services. In fact, when McCluskey was in Leicester just last month, he threw his full support behind Unison’s proposal that Leicester’s Labour Council act with haste to set a “no cuts” budget to stave off further service cuts.

Unison no cuts 2017

With the general election just weeks away, it is more important than ever that Leicester City’s Unison branch helps to coordinate local political action to encourage the national Labour Party to commit to a radical anti-austerity manifesto. If union leaders choose to take a back seat at this critical moment, the Blairites will no doubt take this as a signal that public support for anti-austerity demands are unpopular, which will give them more leeway in weakening their Party’s electoral manifesto.

A weak and uninspiring manifesto would be a nightmare for the people of Britain, and could easily prevent a Labour government coming to power. That is why Labour’s manifesto will need to include popular demands like: ending all cuts to public services, creating an education system that is free for all, the commitment to launching a mass council housing building program, the nationalisation of the rail and energy companies, and the immediate introduction of a real socialist NHS – a well-funded, comprehensive, high quality NHS, under democratic control, with care free at the point of use.

When Unison’s Local Government Service Group Conference met last June, union delegates from across the country democratically decided that the union’s policy position on matters of campaigning was to fight against public service cuts. Holding local Unison leaders true to this policy is therefore of critical importance in the coming weeks. As one critical motion (“Defending Local Democracy and Local Government Jobs and Services”) that was backed at the conference noted:

“Conference welcomes the campaigns led by UNISON to oppose the austerity policies and notes UNISON Scotland’s Combating Austerity publication which puts forwards ideas as to how councils can mitigate cuts such as the management of borrowing, re-negotiating PFI deals and use of reserves.”

Conference delegates also agreed to call upon the Local Government Service Group Executive to “Resist further cuts to local government funding” and call upon Labour Councils “to pool reserves across local authorities” to prevent further service cuts. The motion highlighted the urgent need to “reboot” anti-austerity campaigns at all levels of the union; while the conference drew special attention to the “need to build campaigning alliances at all levels linking trade unions, councils and communities against the austerity programme that is decimating our services and diminishing our local democracy.”

All of these pressing concerns are certainly fulfilled by the innovative “no cuts” campaign (see the full proposal here) that was initiated by Unison Leicester City branch in February this year. Moreover, support for launching a broad campaign that raises these issues within Leicester and the Labour Party (both locally and nationally) has also already received unanimous support from other trade unionists in the city. Therefore, there couldn’t be a better time for Leicester’s trade union movement to act in unison in raising Unison’s demands.

The lives of tens of millions of people are at stake. A Labour government could potentially come to power on June 8, but this will be much more likely if trade unions push Corbyn to adopt a bold socialist program that can fire up the publics’ imagination and ignite the collective fightback against Tory and New Labour austerity!

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