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25 June 2014

Britain's biggest union meets for 2014 conference:

How can Unite lead fight against cuts?

Kevin Parslow, delegate, London and Eastern region (personal capacity)

Around 700 delegates and 100 youth observers will attend Unite's policy conference that begins on 30 June and will set the union's agenda for the next two years.

There are many resolutions calling for campaigns against the cuts, for nationalisation of industries, and socialist policies in general, which should be supported.

In general, Unite has pursued left policies in recent years, including a policy of fighting all cuts. Some of the handful of Labour councillors who have voted against cuts have been Unite members. Unite has also recently launched a campaign against the privatisation and destruction of the NHS.

Unite members in local government are now voting for strike action on pay, to join over one million workers in coordinated action on 10 July. General secretary Len McCluskey has often said he is in favour of a general strike, but has also said most workers do not yet understand the need for one.

Many do, and in any case union leaders have a responsibility to raise support for mass action. Unite could start this at conference by urging meetings throughout the union to explain the need for a 24-hour general strike against austerity.

Working closely with other unions will build effective action. Unite is in merger discussions with civil service union PCS. However, the resolution passed at PCS conference means more serious discussions are necessary and a joint union will not be in existence before the general election.

Socialists in Unite would welcome a merger as long as the democratic structures and processes of PCS could be preserved. A merged union could help consolidate Unite's move to the left. For these reasons, delegates should oppose resolutions to slow down or scupper merger talks.


The events around the attempt to get a Unite-backed candidate selected for Labour in Falkirk ended with Ed Miliband and Labour calling in the police against the union. Then Ineos, the employers at the Grangemouth refinery, took the opportunity opened by Labour's attacks on Unite to force changes in terms and conditions on the workforce and sack the two convenors in the plant.

Disappointingly, Unite accepted the conclusions of the Collins Inquiry set up after the Falkirk events and voted for the constitutional changes that altered unions' relationship with Labour for the worse.

A composite supported by branches LE1111 and LE1228 proposes debate on the union's political links throughout the union and asks Unite's leadership to organise an open conference of trade unionists to discuss political representation for the working class. Labour disaffiliation cannot be discussed at policy conference but will no doubt be an issue at next year's rules conference.

The union must lead the fight against falling living standards and the political instrument for that is the establishment of a new mass workers' party. Unite has the strength and resources to found such a party, with other fighting unions; this conference must ensure it has the tools to carry out these tasks.

Unite conference Socialist Party meeting, Jury's Inn, next to the Liverpool conference venue, Arena Convention Centre, Tuesday 1 July, 6pm, with Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn speaking

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