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Unite commits to Labour

Hajera Blagg, Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Unite reaffirmed its commitment to the Labour Party on Monday (July 6), after members from across Unite engaged in a wide-ranging and passionate debate at the union’s rules conference.


An executive statement put to the conference calling to maintain the union’s historic affiliation with the Labour party was carried overwhelmingly, after delegates voiced both their frustrations and hopes about the party’s future direction.


The debate came against a backdrop of changing developments in the country’s political landscape – unanticipated losses at the general election in which Labour all but collapsed in Scotland and the Tories achieved a majority, fast-approaching elections for the party’s new leadership, and a sudden influx of new members signing up to the Labour Party even in the face of May’s defeat.


Unite general secretary Len McCluskey pointed to the legions of Unite members signing up as affiliate supporters to take part in the Labour leadership elections as a clear signal that the union’s continued affiliation to Labour was needed now more than ever.


“Tens of thousands of Unite members have signed up as affiliate supporters…and thousands more are signing up every day,” he told the delegates. “This is not the moment for us to disaffiliate, to walk away from the arguments, and so to deny those Unite members the opportunity to shape the political debate which they’ve just signed up for.”




But there was a clear feeling among delegates that the Labour Party’s stance on austerity was wrong and that it continued to be so – many expressed frustration that the party’s historic commitment to protecting the interests of working people and society’s most vulnerable had sharply diminished.


A delegate from the Scotland region pointed to why the tide had turned in May against Labour, arguing that it was the party’s decisions, and not voters’ decisions, that lead to its trouncing defeat north of the border.

“Scotland voted anti-austerity, and the Labour Party did not put forward any anti-austerity message.”
Many of the delegates held up the growing support of the forcefully anti-austerity MP Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest as the starting point of a turning tide.
A delegate from the West Midlands laid out the scale of the challenge that lies ahead for those fighting austerity.


“Yes, relations in the party have been difficult between us,” she said. “But we don’t disengage with our workplaces when we don’t agree with them. We keep pushing to make those changes in our workplaces. We don’t give up at the first hurdle, or the second. Now is not the time to give up.”


A delegate from the Ireland region, who is also chair of the Northern Ireland CLP, pleaded with members to stay in the fight. It was a plea that resonated throughout the hall as the delegates, despite a contentious debate, solidly moved to stick with Labour as the debate drew to a close.


“I understand your frustrations,” he said. “But to leave the Labour Party now would be a knee-jerk reaction. The Tories want us to do this – they want us to walk away. The only way to change things and move things forward in the direction we want them to go is to be within the Labour Party.


“A colleague told me that the Northern Ireland Labour Party doesn’t exist,” he added. “Our CLP has almost 500 members – 94 of them have joined since the election. Don’t be disheartened. Move it forward. Go for what you believe in.”


Summing up Len emphasised that he shared the frustrations of Unite members who had become disillusioned with the Labour Party and what it had on offer.


But he added that the various new anti-austerity Labour MPs Unite had supported in the most recent election are already proving to be a strong force within the party and within Parliament.


He assured the delegates that Unite’s link to Labour would not be a foregone conclusion, adding that the executive council maintains the power to call a special rules conference if the situation within the Labour Party warrants it.


“I will have no hesitation, as the political sands shift, of recalling you so that you can guide us correctly,” he said. “But in the meantime, let us continue to be in the fight.”




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