Unite is at a “turning point” in its historic relationship with the Labour party following the row over the selection of parliamentary candidates, the union’s general secretary said today.
• Labour must address strains between the party and trade union Unite, Len McCluskey says
• Warning comes amid row over selection of parliamentary candidates and changes in arrangements for affiliation to Labour party
Len McCluskey issued a warning to the party that it should not be a “pinkish shadow” of the Government if it is to energise Unite members to join Labour.
Speaking to a meeting of Unite activists, he said strains in the link between Labour and the unions have been building up for years, at least since the advent of New Labour in the 1990s.
“Those strains have been fuelled by the failures and disappointments of Labour in office, not least its refusal to seriously address the unique legal impediments trade unions have to work under in Britain.
“They have been worsened by the feeling that for a long time we have been taken for granted by people who welcome our money, but not our policy input, who want to use our resources at election time but do not want our members as candidates.
“And all this in an environment when ordinary people in all walks of life have become increasingly disengaged from and disenchanted with politics and politicians.”
Mr McCluskey has welcomed changes to the historic arrangements for affiliating union members to Labour which have been put forward by party leader Ed Miliband.
A special conference will be held next Spring to agree details of the changes, under which union members would have to agree to opt-in to Labour membership.
Mr McCluskey added: “Ed Miliband has made some bold and far-reaching proposals for recasting the trade union relationship with the Labour Party. I know that some pundits were expecting me to reject them outright.
“To re-run the experience of the last generation on this issue - the party leader says something, the unions reject it and have no positive proposals of their own, the first plan goes through anyway and we look like not just losers, but conservative losers.
“Well, we all honour our movement’s traditions, but this is one tradition overdue for a change. Unite is doing things differently in one area of our work after another, including politics.
“We need to do things differently here too. We need to engage, rethink and see if we can find better ways to advance our ends.”
The Unite leader said many people were saying that the relationship with Labour had to change even before a row flared over union members being signed up for party membership in Falkirk ahead of a selection meeting.