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27 June 2012

Unite conference: 'The renaissance of trade unionism'

Kevin Parslow Unite London and Eastern delegate, personal capacity.

The first day of Unite's 2012 policy conference was dominated by general secretary Len McCluskey's address.

Speaking of the "renaissance of trade unionism", Len highlighted key disputes for Unite over the last two years. In particular, he mentioned the BA cabin crew, the construction electricians, the pensions' battle, and the current London bus workers' dispute.

Len warned London mayor Boris Johnson and the bus companies to come up with the money or there would be further action, including during the Olympics themselves, if necessary.

He condemned the use of unelected judges to try to stop strikes. If the bosses and the government forced unions to go outside the law, they should: "Beware what you wish for, for you will rue the day."

He confirmed that union officers had signed no 'repudiation letters' of unofficial action in the last six months.

He also announced there was a 25 million dispute fund, "another clear sign that this union means business".

On union mergers, particularly with PCS, he said he was not in favour of them purely for mergers' sake but to strengthen workers rights and power.

Len explained that Unite was not a political party but had "political responsibility". He even mentioned how Marx had talked about "the conquest of political power"!

Unite is the Labour Party's biggest funder, donating around 3 million a year.

Len said he shared the frustration that the last Labour government took union members' money but treated them with disdain, and that the party needs to adopt a "radical alternative" to win the next election.

He described Labour leader Ed Miliband as a "decent man" and claimed that Labour has started to change. But he admitted that it had not gone far or strongly enough. Workers facing cuts from Labour councils will certainly not have noticed much change.

And New Labour's pro-big business leaders are unlikely to implement Unite's first policy resolution of the conference, which included the demand for nationalisation of the banks.