Miliband wooing the workers at the TUC

LABOUR leader Ed Miliband arrived at the TUC conference in Bournemouth this week on the back foot, with the investigations into his accusations against the giant union Unite of trying to fix the candidate selection in Falkirk shown to be untrue and Unite completely exonerated.

Nevertheless Miliband went ahead with a call to the unions to “show courage” and accept his proposals for changes to the relationship between the Labour Party and the unions. That will probably cost the party dearly.

He wants individual union members to apply to be affiliate members of the party, rather than becoming automatically affiliated members if they agree to pay the union’s political levy.

In his speech delivered to a largely quiet audience, Miliband said: “We have three million working men and women affiliated to our party. But the vast majority play no role in our party.

“They are affiliated in name only. That wasn’t the vision of the founders of our party. I don’t think it’s your vision either. And it’s certainly not my vision.

“That’s why I want to make each and every affiliated trade union member a real part of their local party, making a real choice to be a part of our party so they can have a real voice in it.”

Miliband told the TUC that this “historic” change would strengthen his chances at the general election. He also predicted Labour’s membership could swell to more than 500,000.

Union leaders are very doubtful of this. One union leader accused him of “living in cloud cuckoo land”, while others have also voiced concerns.

But Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, has welcomed the proposal, arguing that it would force the party to win union members to want to join by putting forward worker-friendly policies.

But it would risk the total collapse of Labour if it did not move to the left.

And, as the Falkirk investigation showed, Unite has been running a big campaign to get its members to join Labour as full members in order to influence policy-making at constituency level in favour of the working class.

small steps

Miliband has taken a few small steps in the right direction. A week ago he hinted that he may scrap the hated bedroom tax and at the TUC he pledged to crackdown on zero-hours work contracts.

He also told the TUC conference: “We have a prime minister who writes you and your members off, who doesn’t just write you off, but oozes contempt for you from every pore. What does he say about you? He says your members are a ‘threat to our economy’. Back to ‘the enemy within’.

“Six and a half million people in Britain who teach our children, who look after the sick, who care for the elderly, who build our homes, who keep our shops open morning, noon and night. They’re not the enemy within. They’re the people who make Britain what it is.

“How dare he? How dare he insult people, members of trades unions as he does? How dare he write off whole sections of our society?”

On zero-hours he said: “We need flexibility. But we must stop flexibility being used as the excuse for exploitation. Exploitation which leaves workers carrying all of the burdens of unpredictable hours, irregular pay, no security for the future.

“And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to zero-hour contracts.”

But perhaps Miliband’s biggest step in the left direction was in refusing to back the Anglo-US attack on Syria until United Nations investigators had had time to report on evidence as to who was behind the poison gas attack in Damascus last month.

That Parliamentary defeat for Cameron had a global impact and delayed the rush into a new war.

TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, used her speech to the Congress on Monday to ask union activists to “roll up their sleeves” and influence Labour’s policies, while opposing the Conservatives.

The TUC conference also heard TUC research that showed Britain’s total unemployment is currently 4.78 million, close to double the headline unemployment figure.

Women are particularly badly affected, with total female unemployment more than double the headline unemployment measure.

Headline unemployment in Britain, which is defined by the International Labour Organisation as those who have sought work within the last four weeks, are available to start in the next two weeks or have accepted a job that they are yet to start, is currently 2.51 million.

far higher

But TUC analysis of official figures shows that unemployment is actually far higher once wider measures of joblessness are included. A further 2.26m people in Britain want a job but are not classified as unemployed.

The TUC also announced a day of action against blacklisting, Wednesday 20th November. Protests will be held up and down the country and there will be lobby of Parliament in London.

The TUC and unions are calling on the Government to introduce the following measures: