From our archives: Briefing Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Martin Mayer, Chair of United Left and a Unite delegate on Labour’s NEC, reports that Unite is taking on a political role.
Imagine it’s 2015, just before the next General Election. Labour’s new manifesto backs free trade unions and strong workers’ rights. Trade unions are a force for good, it says, giving working people a voice and ensuring justice and equality in the workplace. They play a vital role in regulating wages through collective bargaining. With barely a quarter of workers currently covered by collective agreements, it’s no wonder Britain today is the most unequal society in Europe – and that must change.
Labour slams massive cuts in public funding to our public services and the mad race to privatise what’s left. A decent civilised society needs high quality, accountable public services like health, education and public transport under public ownership and control. Privatisation has been a costly failure and puts private greed before public need. The welfare state was an historic achievement of the Labour Party and we will rebuild one to be proud of.
Labour rejects the politics of austerity which has made working people pay for the crisis whilst the rich and powerful get off scott free. Yet austerity has failed to reduce the deficit. Labour now offers hope rather than despair, a better world rather than success for the 1% and misery for the 99%. We will start by addressing the missing tax billions, estimated at over £100 billion in tax that is evaded, avoided or simply uncollected each year. We will use the public sector as the motor for recovery, getting our economy back on its feet and creating rather than destroying jobs.
Labour will embark on a massive council house building programme, addressing the shocking housing crisis in 21st century Britain. Pound for pound this is the best use of public funds to stimulate the private sector economy, creating jobs in construction, building materials, household goods and furnishings. We will create a million climate change jobs, addressing properly and responsibly that other crisis – the environment. We will invest in renewable energy, insulation, and a much needed expansion in public transport. We will build a better, safer, cleaner and more prosperous Britain for working people.
Is this a pipedream? Policies such as these are supported by the British trade union movement and endorsed by the TUC Congress which represents seven million trade union members. Working people are crying out for an inspiring lead from Labour and would respond in their droves if they heard a message which was addressing their needs. The alternative is that the estimated five million working class voters who failed to vote Labour in the last election, disenchanted and turned off politics, will only increase in number. We cannot allow ourselves to sleepwalk into another electoral defeat.
Can the trade unions change the Labour Party? Have they the will or the capacity to do so? It is a huge challenge, but Unite, Britain’s largest Trade Union, has recently decided it is prepared to have a go. Unite’s Executive Council has unanimously backed a bold new political strategy to rebuild our base in the Party from the bottom upwards.
We will mobilise our shop stewards and activists to rejoin Labour and take active roles in CLPs up and down the country. This will not just be the usual vague appeal to join a party which many of our members have lost faith in. We will have organisers in the regions, materials and back up – and joined up thinking like political education and network support.
Our new Labour Party members will feel they are part of an important movement to change the Party and change Britain. We will identify our best and most committed trade unionists to stand for selection as Labour Party candidates and work as never before to build support in constituencies to get them selected. We will ensure our CLP activists, Policy Forum members and NEC delegates are united and working together for a clear set of aims, and supported by a union which is determined to make a difference to the politics of this country.
There’s one last thing. We have just launched the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS), a new left policy think tank, which is attracting support from other unions and some of the best left academics and economists, eager to fill a desperate gap in left policy development in British politics.
Unite’s Political Strategy is a bold one. Will it work? The honest answer is that we don’t know – but we’ll try. We’re prepared to have a go because we think it is vital for our members’ future that we succeed.