OVER a hundred thousand workers and youth took part in the Durham Miners Gala on Saturday and heard Unite’s McCluskey declare his allegiance to Miliband who has just reported Unite to the police, while RMT leader Bob Crow called for the unions to form a new Labour Party.
The chair of the rally Durham Miners leader Dave Hopper condemned Miliband’s action in reporting Unite to the police as disgraceful.
Len McCluskey, leader of the UK’s biggest union, Unite, used his speech at the historic Durham Miners’ Gala to boost Miliband and spoke like a ‘trustee’ prisoner of the Labour Party leaders.
He called upon Labour to renew its connection to working people by delivering a genuine alternative to the government’s ruinous austerity programme.
He said: ‘The political class has become adrift from ordinary people and has failed to offer an alternative to austerity.
‘Serious opposition to the austerity consensus is scarcely to be seen in Parliament.
‘In David Cameron’s Britain the message is: “If you come from privilege, if you have money, we’ll look after you”. Look at the hypocrisy of a government which scrapped the independent pay review body that protected some of the poorest for a hundred years, the Agricultural Wages Board, yet founds an independent pay review body to give MPs a £6,500 pay rise and dishes out tax givebacks to billionaires.’
Turning to the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party, he said: ‘The Labour Party must understand it can only exist if it remains the voice of ordinary working people.
‘The parliamentary Labour Party today does not look like, or think like, the working class communities it seeks to represent. That is a serious problem.
‘It is increasingly the preserve of people who glide from university to think tank to the green benches, without ever sniffing the air of the real world.
‘That is what Unite was fighting for in Falkirk – to give the working class a stake in our democracy. I make no apology for that.
‘Ed Miliband has now announced the biggest ever shake-up in the trade union Labour link – a link over 100 years old. Yes, it’s a gamble – change worth having always is.
‘But let me say this: I am ready for reform. I am ready to engage with the Labour Party to find a way to re-engage hundreds of thousands of trade union members with the party their forefathers and foremothers created.
‘A vibrant, stronger, more democratic Labour Party will be a good thing.
‘I am ready for reform because the status quo is no longer an option.
‘It has not delivered for those of us represented here today. It did not stop us having a New Labour government that pampered the rich and waged illegal wars, while it left in place the most restrictive trade union laws in the whole of Western Europe.
‘Ed Miliband is at his best when he is boldest, when he challenges the media tycoons like Rupert Murdoch, the corporate giants not paying fair taxes and those who protect privilege yet cause inequality and poverty.
‘But if we are to go out and convince thousands of working class men and women that they want to sign up to be associate Labour Party members they will not be interested in the rule-book, or even the history. They will want to know will Labour make a difference?
‘Will the next Labour government reverse the present Coalition’s disastrous policies? Will it be different not just from Cameron and his crew but from the Blair-Brown years as well?
‘If we can say ‘Yes, Labour has learned, and Labour is on your side’ then this scheme will work. But if our people – our members – are unclear as to the answer then no amount of persuading will get them to sign up.
‘So I say to Ed: Unite – and the people here today – are your supporters. The future is in your hands. Make Labour the Party we all want.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said that while unions’ links with political parties have barely been out of the headlines in recent days, it is unions who are best-placed to start to make politics real and relevant again for millions of ordinary working people.
‘The past few weeks have been a tumultuous time for unions.
Some members of the government seem to think attacking democratic unions is clever but they risk alienating millions of ordinary union members in the electorate.
‘But while our opponents have been trying to dish the dirt, it’s worth remembering that when it comes to the funding of political parties, union political donations are the cleanest in British politics.
‘Let’s not forget that the Conservatives source most of their funding from City banks, hedge funds and big business.
‘Donors like two of the shareholders behind Circle Healthcare, the company which last year was awarded a £1.2 billion contract to run an NHS hospital – Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire.
‘Meanwhile, the government is planning further privatisation of the NHS. That’s the real scandal people should be talking about.
‘But the UK political system needs a better representation of ordinary working people, not less involvement. Our democracy is flagging and is in desperate need of revival. People are fed up with a Westminster clique that seems completely detached from their lives.
‘All the mainstream political parties are struggling to attract members. Voters feel disengaged from a political process which many feel no longer listens to their views.
‘While they struggle to cope with the biggest squeeze on their incomes in a century, many believe politicians simply don’t understand how tough life has become in the real world.
‘But our democracy could indeed be stronger and more vibrant if our parliamentary ranks included more bus drivers, cleaners, engineers, nurses, teachers, car workers and miners. And as a grassroots movement of ordinary workers, unions are uniquely placed to make this happen.
‘But that’s not what our political opponents want. They don’t want to see union members sitting in Parliament and are also inclined to see unions as an inconvenient burden on business, believing bosses should have the right to manage and employees shouldn’t have a proper voice at work.
‘And as if that’s not enough, the same individuals who have been laying into unions are also relentlessly attacking the living standards of millions of working people and their families, seemingly blind to the austerity which is hurting so many.
‘For millions of people in Britain today, life is a desperate struggle to make ends meet. As the TUC’s Austerity Uncovered bus tour recently revealed, ordinary people are suffering. What little work is available is often insecure and won’t pay the bills, the bedroom tax is ripping families’ lives apart, many in our communities are forced to rely upon food banks, and the lifelines that so many depend upon are being heartlessly withdrawn.
‘Nowhere is the harsh reality of the government’s punishing economic policies starker than here in the North East. This is a region being savaged by the cuts, with 65,000 public sector workers – nurses, dinner ladies, classroom assistants – losing their jobs.
These redundancies will mean a huge reduction in the spending power of thousands of local households. And high streets across the North East will pay the price as families rein in their spending.
‘The wages here are the lowest anywhere in England, leaving North East workers struggling to get by. If wages had kept pace with prices since this government came to power, full-time workers in the North East would now be almost £2,000 a year better off. The North East is long overdue a pay rise and so is the rest of Britain.’
O’Grady did not mention the TUC’s alleged discussions about the practicalities of a general strike, that were unanimously decided on at the last TUC Congress last December.
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow issued a call to the trade union movement to support the creation of a ‘new party of labour’ to challenge head on the pro-business, anti-worker agenda of the three main political parties, Tory, Labour and Liberals.
Crow said that Ed Miliband was ‘dancing to the tune of Tony Blair and the rest of the New Labour conspirators as he seeks to hack away at the last remaining shreds of influence held by those who created the Party that he leads, the trade unions.
‘The sad truth now is that on the main policy issues like cuts and privatisation you cannot put a fag paper between Labour and the Liberal-Tory coalition.’
He added: ‘The achievements of Labour in the years after the Second World War should never be underestimated, but they are now history.
‘The time for a new party of labour that fights as hard for the working class as the Tories fight for their class is now.’
He added: ‘It was our forebears in the rail union who created the Labour Party. They were told then that breaking with the then Liberals would be stepping into the wilderness.
‘Now that Labour is failing us on the big issues we should have the courage of those brave men and women a century ago to make the break and open up a new political horizon that will give hope to all those sick and tired of the current political elite.
‘The poverty of ambition of the Labour Party is staring us in the face. We are crying out for a political alternative and we are kick-starting that in Durham today.’
Before the rally began he said: ‘If others want to stick around and be insulted by those whose only interest is our money and not our ideas then that’s a matter for them, for the rest, there is a whole world of opportunity outside the constraints of the Labour Party and RMT would urge them to embrace it and join us in this new political project.
‘RMT was expelled from the Labour Party almost a decade ago and in that time we have actually increased our political influence as we have had the freedom to back candidates and parties who demonstrate clear support for this trade union and its policies.
‘If others now join us after the contempt that they have been shown by Ed Miliband then together we have a world to win.
‘This is a moment of huge opportunity for all those sick and tired of Labour’s embrace of pro-business, pro-EU, neo-liberal policies and we should seize it with both hands.
‘While this rotten ConDem Government seeks to impose punitive charges on anyone seeking justice at the Employment Tribunal from this summer the Labour Party have said nothing.
The whole programme of Labour now is to try and sneak into Government by default on the basis of a manifesto that could trade under the title ‘Carry on Cutting.’ Our job is not to prop up the political class behind this racket, our job is to sweep it away.
‘With the latest assault by Labour on the unions the time is right to start building an alternative political party that speaks for the working people and the working class communities that find themselves under the most brutal attack from cuts and austerity in a generation.
‘Clinging to the wreckage of a Labour Party that didn’t lift a finger to repeal the anti-union laws despite 13 years in power is a complete waste of time. The time for the alternative party of labour is now.’
However many workers at the rally were expressing the view that the trade unions should not just walk out of the party that they founded, and still finance, but should instead launch a campaign to force to quit all Labour Party leaders who support Tory austerity policies and attack the unions instead of the Tories.