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Unite needs strategy to step up fight against austerity
Kevin Parslow, Unite London and Eastern region delegate (personal capacity)
Unite's 2012 policy conference, on 25-28 June, meets as the struggle against the Con-Dem government and the capitalist system it defends is intensifying in Britain and Ireland.
Following two years when the union's members have been at the forefront of some of the most important battles in the labour movement, the conference must discuss a way forward to get rid of this government.
Unite participated in the pensions' battle. It should produce a strategy in all sectors where it is involved to step up and win this battle. It is welcome that Unite has worked with other unions, particularly fighting unions like PCS, to take the battle forward and has refused to sign the 'heads of agreement' in the civil service and health pension schemes. However, it should recommend rejection of the proposals for the local government pension scheme and call further action.
Unite should build for the 20 October TUC demo around the demand for a 24-hour general strike against cuts and austerity. It should also link with organisations, like the National Shop Stewards Network, which are bringing the working class together across unions.
Unite has also been the key union in private sector disputes such as the 'sparks' construction electricians, Unilever and others. It is in the forefront of current struggles, particularly the oil refinery workers at Coryton and the London bus workers.
What has been important, particularly in the construction electrician's dispute, is the way that Unite members have led the way in deciding the pace and direction of their campaigns and were backed by the union. This was crucial in ensuring the vicious Besna proposal was defeated by the sparks, although already construction companies are making further attempts to cut wages.
Fight or flight
These developments have confirmed the Socialist Party's analysis that the election of left general secretary Len McCluskey and a left executive in a period of austerity would force the union to fight or be weakened. The union's executive put forward a policy of opposition to all cuts, a big step forward.
However, while this is linked to a strategy of remaining in the Labour Party in an attempt to change it, it cannot have its full political effect. Unite is trying to get hundreds of its members to join Labour in the hope of reclaiming it.
Yet councillor Kingsley Abrams, a Unite member who abstained from supporting cuts by a Labour council, remains suspended by Lambeth Labour group! Unite must give support to all Unite members who refuse to back cuts. If the current strategy of trying to reclaim the party does not work, then Unite will have to consider an alternative to pro-big business New Labour. A number of resolutions point in that direction by calling for Unite to withhold part of its funding of Labour. The executive has produced a statement to compromise conflicting resolutions.
Similarly, statements on both Trident and nuclear energy attempt to resolve conflicts between the dangers of these products and the workers in these industries, where Unite has a sizeable presence.
Socialist planning of energy and the manufacture of socially useful products are the only way to use the skills of the workers in the industry to make things people need and safeguard the environment without making redundancies.
Unite has gone through a period when it has been partially subsumed in the process of the merger of its predecessor unions. That process is nearly complete and Unite will have fewer internal distractions. This conference must give a lead to workers throughout the labour movement, including those not yet in unions, in continuing the fight against austerity and proposing a socialist programme for the working class.
In The Socialist 20 June 2012:
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