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11 March 2020

Book: Why you should be a trade unionist by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey

Derek McMillan, East Grinstead

Len McCluskey's book 'Why you should be a trade unionist' is a lively and accessible account of the role trade unionism has played in the past, and the hope which workers' organisations provide for the future.

It answers in detail the question: "What have the unions done for us?" In particular, he praises those in the so-called gig economy who have organised and fought against some of the most vicious employers in the country, and won significant victories.

It deals with some issues which are not usually thought of as trade union concerns. For example, the Grenfell Tower fire, which he squarely blames on austerity cuts: "Union members were involved from the outset, supporting residents in the immediate humanitarian response. In those painful days after the tragedy we provided a vital link to the wider community, offering legal advice and representation to many residents, in what will be a long road to justice. Grenfell members have also received legal support from their unions in relation to housing, welfare and employment issues arising as a direct result of the fire - injustices that the mainstream media rarely notice."

On 'Unite Community' (of which I am a member) he writes: "This has become a fundamental part of our union's political response to the Tories' aggressive agenda of cuts. It has helped to ensure that we are at the forefront of political, industrial and community opposition to austerity. We invited not only the unemployed through our doors, but all those not in paid work, including students, pensioners, disabled people, volunteers and carers. This is undoubtedly without precedent in British trade unionism, and it adds another dimension to the union's strength, because giving people not in work the opportunity to find their own voice assists us industrially."

Whether it is dealing with anti-union bosses like Ryanair's Michael O'Leary or the climate emergency, this is a text book for anyone interested in the future of society. I enjoyed reading it. It educated an old leftie like me and it can do the same for you.