Left: Unite’s Len McCluskey; right: Labour Party leader Ed Miliband
Published: 17 January, 2013
by RICHARD OSLEY
ONE of the country’s most powerful trade union chiefs warned on Tuesday how some Labour councillors did not want to “rock their careers” with bolder opposition to government-ordered cuts in public spending.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite union, told an audience at the London School of Economics in Holborn that it would be “fantastic” if Labour councils joined together and simply refused to implement the cuts.
He was taking part in a lecture series at the university held in the name of Ralph Miliband, the left-wing political theorist and father of Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and his brother, David, the former foreign secretary.
Mr McCluskey said: “It is sometimes said there is a common thread linking the generations of the Milibands. The father spent his life trying to convince our movement that there was no possibility of a parliamentary road to socialism, while his sons have been loyally putting theory into practice and proving Ralph right.”
In a 40-minute speech followed by a question-and-answer session, Mr McCluskey said he would not be surprised if civil disturbance occurred as public spending was cut further and warned of a repeat of the 2011 riots.
“It exposed the growing disconnect in a broken society. It was not without reason,” he said. “Young people spoke of their frustration at not being able to find employment. They were excluded from society in the first instance, so what was there to lose. Those events showed that at a certain level of inequality, the whole concept of society starts to be drained of meaning.”
He added: “I would never advocate violence, neither do I preach worship of the law at all costs. My message to capitalism is mend your ways or risk social breakdown and disorder.”
Mr McCluskey is encouraging Unite activists to join Labour and press for more MPs from a working-class background.
“Ed Miliband is a member of Unite and he should be proud of that,” he told the Old Lecture Theatre audience. “The truth is Ed Miliband doesn’t know anything about trade unions. He has never been active or involved in the trade unions. To be fair to him, when I pointed that out to him he said: ‘You’re right, I don’t know anything about trade unions. You need to teach me.’
“We’ve got to explain what our values are. Someone was saying to me that they think the current Parliamentary Labour Party is probably the most right wing we’ve had for a long time, but I see something different in the PLP. There are trade union MPs that have perhaps felt isolated, who now see there is something for them to coalesce around.”
But he warned: “Let me make it clear – crystal clear – if in the future there is any return to the discredited recipes of Blairism, the Labour Party will be over for me and I believe millions more besides. Put simply, workers need a voice and they should not be taken for granted. Working-class politics must grow and develop, based on the socialist education that Ralph Miliband called for.”
Mr McCluskey was asked about the role of Labour councillors when each round of council budgets brings more cuts in valued services.
“I was talking to a friend at the weekend and he was very basic about what he thought of councillors,” he said. “He had two mates who had been elected as local councillors and he had told them: ‘You best not vote for the cuts.’ They said: “We’ve got to’ and he said: ‘You start voting for closing down nurseries, old people’s homes and expect me to have a drink with you – I’d do nothing but spit on you because you’re not there to do that. You should stand up and fight and if that means you get debarred or you lose your seat in some way, then so be it.’
“There’s a problem here. While he shocked me a little bit in his viciousness about what he thought Labour councillors should do, when you think back, that’s what Labour councillors used to do.”
Mr McCluskey warned: “The fact that Labour councillors are paid [means] often some of them see it as a career and they don’t particularly want to rock that career and therefore their engagement in trying to seek opposition and ways of opposing the cuts becomes minimised.”
He added: “I’m not suggesting for one second that this would happen but wouldn’t it be incredible if all Labour councillors said they were not going to make the cuts. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Wouldn’t it be incredible if every Labour council in our nation said: ‘We’re not implementing these cuts?’ What would happen?
“It is right that the majority of Labour councils hit with such massive reductions are struggling. Our message is always that they should engage with the trade unions and work together to see if cuts can be minimised, to see whether there is an opportunity to build a resistance to what the Tories have imposed on them.”