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Daily View: Trade unions and the government

Clare Spencer | 10:45 UK time, Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Leo McCluskey


Commentators review David Cameron's meeting with trade union leaders yesterday.

The Daily Mail editorial argues that Len McCluskey's demand for widespread strikes shows that the union movement is in denial:

"Predictably, his demand for widespread strikes is born out of the union movement being in a state of wilful denial about the need to shrink the public sector, so the nation can balance the books.
"Indeed Mr McCluskey, quite ludicrously, says there is 'no case for cuts at all' - despite Britain being £1trillion in debt, and facing huge interest payments."

The Telegraph editorial suggests that Unite general secretary Len McCluskey's call to "prepare for battle" could be followed up:

"The outburst had nothing to do with the interests of his membership; it was a purely political attempt to whip up a wave of industrial action to undermine an elected government. If Mr McCluskey confined himself to lurid rhetoric, there would not be much to worry about. But he doesn't. He was the driving force behind the BA cabin crew strikes that caused such disruption to travellers this year."

The Express editorial urges co-operation:

"The meeting between David Cameron and trade union chiefs at Downing street yesterday was historic and immensely important - there has been no such meeting involving a Conservative prime minister for more than quarter of a century and the country's way forward through the hard times depends on sensible co-operation."

Paul Richards says in the Times [subscription required] that Len McCluskey could ruin Labour's chance in the next election:

"It is right for trade unionists to demonstrate against government cuts. I'll be on the TUC demonstration next March. But talk of a first general strike in Britain since 1926 or incitement to break the law is dangerous and wrong. No wonder Ed Miliband was so swift to condemn Mr McCluskey's call to arms. The new Labour leader wants a fair fight at the next general election, not a foregone conclusion."

Benedict Brogan says in the Telegraph that Ed Miliband can't disown the unions because he relies on them:

"He cannot credibly say that he is not implicated in the campaign of national unrest being driven by the unions, students and others who want to challenge Coalition policies with direct action. Mr Miliband looks and sounds naive, but he learned plenty in his long years with Gordon Brown about how politics works. These exchanges between him and the unions are largely choreographed. He is trying to ride the tiger. Tricky."

Ahead of the meeting the Guardian editorial accused Len McCluskey of having "stopped thinking in 1979" after he wrote a piece in the Guardian calling for a battle against cuts.

Sunny Hundal in the blog Liberal Conspiracy says that this Len McCluskey's message has been misinterpreted:

"Len McCluskey's point is that unions need to find a way to plug themselves into new movements, including the students. These also include UKuncut, as Brendan Barber has said. They recognise that action against this government will take different forms and they want to help and get involved in their own ways. That doesn't mean national strikes tomorrow, but perhaps support in different, strategic ways."

Trade unionist Darrell Goodliffe argues in his blog Moments of Clarity that Ed Miliband's critisism of Len McCluskey as ‘wrong and unhelpful’ could be turned back on him:

"Ed Miliband’s Labour is part of the ideological agenda it is attacking. It has brought the ‘debt crisis’ moral panic; hook, line and sinker. I welcome McCluskey’s insistence that he will not tolerate Labour councils that embark on union-bashing under the cover of a fig-leaf ‘responsibility’. Such councils are derelict and failing in their democratic duties to the people they represent. Part of the programme McCluskey is calling for has to be a social budget for Labour councils."

Links in full

Telegraph | Strike back at the unions
Express | A time for co-operation
Daily Mail | Time for the reckless to join the real world
Paul Richards | Times | Students need an alliance with parents, not the unions
Guardian | Trade unions: Leading nowhere
Len McCluskey | Guardian | Unions, get set for battle
Sunny Hundal | Liberal Conspiracy | Guardian today misrepresents unions and the fight against cuts
Benedict Brogan | Telegraph | Ed Miliband can't disown the unions - he relies on them

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