ADDRESSING a meeting of the Unite Executive Council and Regional Political Committees yesterday, General Secretary Len McCluskey made clear that he intends to surrender the block vote.
McCluskey welcomed Labour leader Miliband’s proposals to ‘recast the trade union relationship with the Labour party’.
Speaking at the TUC’s conference centre in London, McCluskey said: ‘It is clear we are at a turning point in the historic relationship Unite and its predecessor unions have had with the Labour party.
‘This will have come as a surprise to many of you – although no one will be shocked by the knowledge that strains in the Labour-union link 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.’
Warning that defending the status quo is not an option, he stated: ‘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.
‘And 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.
‘No-one has said that the twentieth century should go on forever, and that in 2013 the labour movement should be structured in exactly the same way as in 1913.
‘In a nutshell, we have to be interested in outcomes, not processes.
‘Why dig in behind a status quo that has not worked for us?
‘The block vote didn’t stop a Labour government invading Iraq.
‘Affiliation didn’t keep Labour out of the clutches of the banks and the City. Our special relationship didn’t get the union laws repealed.
‘So don’t let anyone say that the status quo is worth defending.
‘And don’t let’s be dishonest with ourselves. Before Falkirk, before Ed’s announcement, there were plenty of people in this room today saying, absolutely rightly, that the relationship with Labour had to change.
‘So now we have the Collins review. Unite goes into this process with clear objectives, which everyone who cares about the future of the Labour Party needs to share.
‘Our main aim is to ensure that as many Unite members as possible, already paying our political levy, now sign up individually, by whatever means have transparency and integrity, to be affiliate members of the party.
‘For that to work, and for the trade unions to put their shoulders to the wheel to make it work, the offer has to be an attractive one.
‘Above all, that means a Labour Party that our members want to support, because they believe it can and will make a difference in their lives.
‘If it does this, then this scheme will work.
‘But if our members are unclear as to the answer then no amount of persuading will get them to sign up.
‘I believe that Labour under Ed Miliband can be that party – a party that our members want to support because it feels like their party.’