Unite sector conferences: Union delegates seek strategy for resistance

Kevin Parslow, Unite 1228 branch secretary (personal capacity)

Unite the Union held its biennial sector conferences from 11 to 14 November. They took place in the midst of attacks on the union’s methods of campaigning from the Tories, the capitalist press and the Labour Party.

General secretary Len McCluskey said that the union “would not be retreating from the leverage campaign or peaceful protest” that had come under attack in the aftermath of the Grangemouth setback.

He would not “cow this union or its leadership” to the likes of the Daily Mail. Delegates were however warned that such big business mouthpieces were in attendance and would be looking to any incident or quote to stir trouble against Unite.

But delegates were not deterred from looking for answers to the important questions they face. Socialist Party members were to the fore. Should the union be bolder against all its opponents? Health delegate Andy Ford asked when coordinated action with other unions would be organised.

Len admitted that the TUC coordinating committee was not working. He said unions wanted to publicise their own disputes and felt their case would not be heard on a coordinated strike day.

But Unite is the biggest union in the country and if it gave a lead in calling for a 24-hour general strike the impact on workers in other unions would be enormous.

In answer to a question on Unite’s political strategy construction delegate Dave Walsh was told the union “does not exist to bring the government down”; it is working to get Labour elected in 2015. Len said the union was not prepared to be passive and would support protests, although he was guarded as to what that and other comments meant.

Local government delegate Danny Hogan raised the grim prospect of another 144,000 jobs going in his sector even if a Labour government is elected in 2015. In response Len said the union would have to wait and see if it is successful in changing the Labour Party.

But an increasing number of delegates are questioning the political strategy of the union following the suspensions of councillors for fighting cuts and particularly the Falkirk events and the failure to get Unite members selected as parliamentary candidates.


Len did send a message to Ed Miliband: Labour needs a radical programme or it will be defeated. If Labour loses the next election, the union will have to revisit its political strategy.

But any suggestion of a radical programme from Labour was absent as a series of shadow ministers spoke to the individual sectors.

Local Government and Communities shadow minister Hilary Benn only promised Not for Profit sector delegates a redistribution of money from ‘rich’ to poor councils, as if so-called rich areas had no poverty problems at all.

These members, working in organisations that increasingly have to deal with the effects of austerity while having grants cut, were so angry they bombarded Benn with a series of questions, inadequately answered.

There is demand for a bold strategy reflected in this incident and resolutions passed in the local government and health sectors calling for strike action.

An attendance of 20 at the Socialist Party fringe meeting to hear speeches from National Shop Stewards Network chair Rob Williams and Unite Housing branch secretary Suzanne Muna also illustrates this. Angry delegates came to hear socialist explanations for the Grangemouth setback and a real alternative to New Labour. Increasingly, Unite members will turn to socialist ideas that will push Unite towards fighting policies and a break with Labour.

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