Friday, February 28, 2014

How Miliband called McCluskey's bluff

If Len McCluskey were an investment banker, he surely would have been fired a long time ago. Instead, his position as general secretary of the Unite union is secure even though the return on capital invested in Labour leader Ed Miliband is beyond measurement because it’s so low.

Tomorrow, McCluskey and fellow union bureaucrats from affiliated unions will, not unlike turkeys at Christmas, vote for their own slaughter at the hands of Miliband and his party leadership.

Miliband will formally complete a process of “reform” – was ever a word so misused – in party structures that began in the early 1990s, and carried on by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown when they got the unions to vote to abandon the socialist Clause 4 of the constitution.

This time Miliband has gone when even Blair feared to tread. Out goes the historic links by which members of affiliated unions had a portion of their subs handed over to Labour. Out goes the way Labour leaders are elected, with the unions having a substantial say through a ballot of members.

Out goes the collective and in comes individualism. Margaret Thatcher would be the first to applaud, especially as Miliband gave her a glowing reference recently.

Labour’s national executive confirmed the plans earlier this month with only two votes against. Tomorrow, a special half-day conference will rubber stamp the proposals. After the Nec, one shadow cabinet member is reported as saying:

"At the start, the unions were shocked, but in the end the unions had no option. Ed Miliband was their choice for leader and he wanted these reforms and, 18 months out from an election, they could not defeat him. Unite may be in a different place, but Falkirk [the constituency troubled by a selection row] meant it was impossible for them to lead a rebellion. They feel they have done nothing and are badly bruised.”

McCluskey, in particular, has egg all over his face. Miliband was his choice as leader and in return he has been humiliated. In a belated attempt to recover some poise, McCluskey is now threatening to cut his union’s affiliation fees by £1.5 million because a poll shows that only 40% of Unite’s members vote Labour.

He said: "I know there are some people internally in the Labour party that are beginning to panic because of what we are considering. I am not sure why because it was self-evident from last summer when Ed Miliband made his proposals that there would be consequences. I said that having been challenged by Ed to consider the status quo, I suddenly felt it was untenable. We have one million members paying into the political fund and affiliate the full one million members to the party…. Looking at it, I thought it was difficult to justify even from a moral standpoint".

Last October, the company that owns the Grangemouth petrochemical plant threatened to pull out unless the union agreed to new harsh terms and conditions. McCluskey’s bluff was called and he rushed up to Scotland to overrule local officials and impose a shocking deal on his members.

So perhaps Miliband knows that the Unite union leader is mostly bluster and that when push comes to shove, McCluskey will not rock the boat with just over a year to the general election. In any case, McCluskey has said: “Even if we reduce our affiliations we can still give direct donations to the national Labour Party".

The truth is that investment in Miliband has produced precious little for Unite and its members. One Nation Labour as it prefers to be called as it careers further and further into naked populism, is pledged to uphold austerity and ConDem spending cuts, a public sector wage freeze and to retain markets in the NHS and other services.

Vote for that? You have to be joking!

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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