Unite conference debates union’s Labour link

Rob Williams

There was a vibrant debate on the relationship between Unite and the Labour Party at the union’s policy conference.

Because it was a policy conference and not a rules conference, motions could not discuss disaffiliation from Labour and setting up a new party.

But a composite that came from motions from LE1228 and LE1111 branches called for a conference to be organised so that the political strategy of the union and the relationship with Labour and alternatives could be discussed.

Seconding the motion, Socialist Party member Suzanne Muna made the point that the “not now, not now” anti-disaffiliation argument would still be made if Labour came to power and implemented cuts. But whereas Tory leader David Cameron looks over one shoulder at right-wing Ukip, Labour leader Ed Miliband doesn’t yet have to look over his shoulder at a mass left alternative that could put pressure on him.

The last speaker in the debate, Jamie Cocozza, a Glasgow Socialist Party Scotland member and rail worker, explained to conference that the successful $15 Now campaign in Seattle – already mentioned at the conference – involved, as well as the struggle of unions, the election of city councillor Kshama Sawant, a socialist representative of workers on a socialist programme.

This showed that having an alternative could put huge pressure on Labour.

As Jamie explained, even the Democrats now have had to discuss the idea of a $15 an hour minimum wage.

The executive put forward a statement, which was passed by around three votes to one, that maintained the union’s existing strategy within Labour and opposed the call for a conference.

But during this debate, and when delegates listened to general secretary Len McCluskey putting forward this strategy and praising Ed Miliband, there didn’t seem to be enthusiastic support for that idea.

It was more that delegates at this stage don’t see any alternative to the idea of supporting Labour in the 2015 general election. There were no real illusions that Labour would be a radical alternative to the Con-Dems.

Even McCluskey, and members that supported the executive statement, have to accept that this issue will remain central for Unite whether Labour win or lose next year’s election.

Reflecting on this, a motion encouraging Labour councillors to vote against cuts passed, with two delegates who are also Labour councillors speaking against the motion.

So far Labour has expelled or suspended the handful of councillors who have voted against Labour council cuts.

The National Shop Stewards Network 2014 conference will include a workshop to discuss ‘political representation for workers after the Collins Review’, with TUSC national chair Dave Neillist and BFAWU union president Ian Hodson.