Unite announces £25m war chest to fund strike action and challenge employers’ injunctions

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Unite’s general secretary yesterday hinted at a campaign of mass civil disobedience if trade unionists were banned from taking strike action.

Announcing the existence of a £25m war chest, Len McCluskey said the money would be used to fight legal challenges by employers, such as the last-minute injunctions granted to London bus companies on Friday.

“Governments of both parties and judges have combined in recent times to make some of the basic functions of trade unionism all but illegal in Britain,” he said.

“If they wish to go further and put the basic union freedoms which are normal across the rest of Europe and most of the rest of the world, beyond the law, then we are not going to submit to that.

“To protect, above all, the right to take proper industrial action, Unite will take whatever steps are necessary to support our members, come what may.

“We will no longer lie down before injustice like that displayed in the High Court last week when London bus companies got another injunction on spurious grounds to stop our members going on strike.

“As Bob Dylan once sang – don’t worry, I’m not going to sing – ‘to live outside the law you must be honest’.

“So I will be honest and tell anyone in government thinking of putting unions effectively outside the law – beware what you wish for.”

McCluskey was speaking at the union’s policy conference in Brighton, from where he warned London Mayor Boris Johnson to expect more bus strikes.

“This is Unite in action, leading the way at fighting back,” he said. “

Organising legal, campaigning and financial resources being put behind our members when they need it.

“I pledge to put an end to the days when workers could sit out on strike for months on end before being starved back to a miserable settlement or outright defeat.

“We have shown we can do it, and we are doing it again on the London buses.

“A straightforward dispute about fairness, giving hard-working bus drivers the same bonus payment that has already been awarded to every other transport worker, and a fraction of the bonuses being paid to Transport for London bosses.

“I say this to Boris Johnson and the bus companies: ‘sort it out now, or more strikes are inevitable’.”

He went on to tell the 1,000 delegates the union would next year hold a ballot to maintain a political fund.

“Trade unions cannot achieve our objectives without political action,” he said.

“If the workplace is the heart of Unite, and the wider working class community the next circle out, then politics is the next level. We speak for people who have ambitions that go beyond what are normally regarded as trade union bread-and-butter issues, whose ambitions are to live in a peaceful world which looks after its young and its old, which has values that go beyond profit.

“If trade unions like Unite don’t give voices to those aspirations then they will go unheard. That does not make us a political party, but it gives us a political responsibility.

“If we shrug and walk away, the only effect will be to make politics still more the exclusive preserve of a small, rich and powerful elite ruling over us but nor for us.”

He praised Ed Miliband for taking steps in the right direction, but urged the Labour leader to be more radical, including looking at measures that proved popular in France, such as publicly-owned banks driving investment, early retirement, more teachers, higher tax for millionaires and building more homes.

“That’s the sort of agenda we could do with here – I would only add that if we could have French standards of union and employment rights too, it would be almost perfect,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, he saved his strongest attack for the coalition, saying: “Most of the time this is a government at war with much of the British people.

“A cobbled-together coalition united on only one thing – that the poor must pay for the bankers’ crisis through lost jobs, a destroyed welfare state and falling living standards.

“A government that sits and watches as another forgotten generation of young people proceed straight from school to the dole queue. A government which has changed almost everything in its own budget – except the plan to cut taxes on the richest.

“A government that did not hesitate to stoke up a phony panic over petrol supplies to try and give themselves a ‘miners’ moment’ at the expense of oil tanker drivers and Unite.

“This is a government forfeiting the right to rule, and the TUC’s demonstration on October 20th is out chance to tell them so, in our hundreds of thousands.”

Also in his speech, McCluskey said:

Unite was not looking at merging with other unions for mergers’ sake, but would welcome approaches from other unions where a merger would give working people more value for money at the sharp end

Unite has recruited 25,000 new members in the last six months

Unite is to send into secondary schools tutors to explain what trade unions are about to 15-year-olds

Unite would join other unions in setting up CLASS – an independent left think-tank


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