Unite Executive Council discussions show need for political strategy

Unite the Union’s Executive Council (EC) met in the first week of December. Discussions included the Workers’ Plan for Steel, austerity in local authorities, minimum service levels, and preparation for a general election.

The campaign for a ‘Workers’ Plan for Steel’ has been developed because of the threat of mass redundancies. The campaign is intended to demonstrate that investment in the steel industry, particularly green steel, could protect jobs and skills.

General secretary Sharon Graham explained that this campaign includes an intention to make investment in steel an election issue. Socialist Party members argue that we should demand of an incoming Starmer-led government that it nationalises the steel industry, in order to ensure investment in green steel and job protection.

The mood music from across all political parties signals that, whoever forms the next government, they will be planning ‘Austerity #2’. EC member for the South West, Socialist Party member Suzanne Muna, asked that the Workers’ Plan for Steel template be used for local government, ie to change the narrative to ‘we can’t afford to cut local services’. She highlighted some examples such as cuts to youth services. Any such plan should also insist on job guarantees.

Sharon said that she would convene a meeting of reps in local government so that they can develop a plan. Unite already has a policy of calling for no-cuts, needs-based council budgets.

On Minimum Service Levels (MSLs), Sharon reminded everyone that the requirement to act within the law had been removed some time ago from Unite’s rulebook, in anticipation of a moment like this. In discussion throughout the week of the EC, Sharon reiterated that the Labour Party should be saying that where it is the employer it will disapply the MSL legislation ahead of the election, for example in councils and the Welsh Senedd.

There was also discussion about preparation for a general election. Suzanne reminded the EC that in June it had agreed to produce a set of criteria for any parliamentary candidate wishing to qualify for additional support from Unite, similar to what the union has already produced for councillors. Sharon confirmed that there would be a draft set of demands drawn up and discussed.

A comment was made that a group called the New Conservatives is trying to get registered with the electoral commission, and that the Tory Party could be dragged even further to the right by such a development, implying that it is therefore necessary to restrict campaigning to support for Labour. This bolsters the argument that a new left-wing party would likewise drag Labour to the left. As such, Socialist Party members will continue to argue that an important tool for unions to apply pressure on a Starmer-led government would be to support a workers’ list of candidates in the general election, and to take steps towards the formation of a new workers’ party.