Unions tell Labour: defend the workers

by Caroline Colebrook

A GROWING group of major union leaders have voiced serious criticism of Labour leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls for their tame acceptance of the Con-Dem Coalitions cuts to jobs, wages, services, pensions and benefits.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of the giant union Unite, which provides substantial funding for the Labour Party, initiated the attack on Monday.

Writing in the Guardian, McCluskey says: “Ed Balls’ sudden weekend embrace of austerity and the Government’s public sector pay squeeze represents a victory for discredited Blairism at the expense of the party’s core supporters.

“It also challenges the whole course Ed Miliband has set for the party, and perhaps his leadership itself.

“Unions in the public sector are bound to unite to oppose the real pay cuts for public sector workers over the next year. When we do so, it seems we will now be fighting the Labour front bench as well as the Government.

“The political elite, which was united in promoting the City-first deregulation policies that led to the crash is now united in asserting that ordinary people must pick up the tab for it. It leaves the country with something like a ‘national government’ consensus where, as in 1931, the leaders of the three big parties agree on a common agenda of austerity to get capitalism — be it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ — back on its feet.

“Where does this leave the half a million people who joined the TUC’s march for an alternative last year, and the half of the country at least who are against the cuts? Disenfranchised.”

McCluskey also rejects the argument that pay restraint will help create jobs and criticises Labour for its failure to consult the unions before making the shift: “Notwithstanding that it impacts on millions of our members, it is hard to imagine the City being treated in such a cavalier way in relation to a change in banking policy.

“This confronts those of us who have supported Ed Miliband’s bold attempt to move on from Blairism with a challenge. His leadership has been undermined as he is being dragged back into the swamp of bond market orthodoxy.

“Having won on the measures, ‘new Labour’ will likely come for the man sooner or later. And that way lies the destruction of the Labour party as constituted, as well as certain general election defeat.”

On Tuesday Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB general union added his voice. He said the GMB would consider its affiliation with Labour over public sector pay stance, while the civil service union PCS says policy will cost the party the election.

Kenny warned that backing a one per cent pay cap could have a “profound impact” on the union’s relationship with Labour. In a letter to union officials, Kenny said the weekend speech by Ed Balls could have negative consequences for the union’s affiliation to Labour.

He said: “I have spoken to Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to ensure they were aware of how wrong I think the policy they are now following is. It is now time for careful consideration and thought before the wider discussions begin on the long-term implications this new stance by the party has on GMB affiliation.”

GMB is Britain’s third-largest union, with 620,000 members compared with Unite’s 1.4 million. Unison, the second largest, has not commented yet.

Mark Serwotka, the leader of PCS, which is not affiliated to the Labour Party, said that Labour would lose the next general election if it did not reverse its policy shift.

He told the Guardian: “This guarantees, probably, that Labour will lose and lose badly. And that is a disaster for everyone because we will have the Tories coming in and doing the same thing [cutting public spending], except even further.”

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, said: “By lining up with the Tory-led coalition on the assault on public sector pay, Ed Balls has today signed Labour’s electoral suicide note as he alienates his core voters in their millions”.

Labour MP John McDonnell, who leads the left-wing Labour Representation Committee, expressed “the general feeling amongst Labour party supporters of overwhelming disappointment”.

McDonnell said: “Len McCluskey’s article sums up the general feeling amongst Labour party supporters of overwhelming disappointment. Most people are reacting more in sorrow than in anger to what they see as Ed Miliband and Ed Balls’ capitulation to Cameron’s economic analysis. The economic crisis is a game changer and for Labour leaders to react to it with the same old failed policies that mean ordinary people will pay for the crisis is such a crushing disappointment.”