Trade unionism matters more than ever. With the economy still in a slump, the Tories in power and the shadow of Brexit hanging over millions of jobs, unions are the only line of defence for working families.
So the future direction of Unite, the biggest trade union in Britain and Ireland, is vital. It is far too important to be reduced to an extension of the rows in the Labour Party.
I am standing for re-election as Unite’s General Secretary for two reasons: My record – and my vision.
Bad employers have come to fear Unite. Just ask Mike Ashley, after we shone the spotlight on atrocious working practices at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook facility.
Or ask the mean restaurant chains which have had to pay up after our Fair Tips campaign stopped them docking gratuities meant for waiting staff.
And we have secured justice for blacklisted building workers, challenging the scourge of employer victimisation.
Unite now has a dispute fund of over £35million, ready to take on scrooge bosses wherever and whenever members want.
We have campaigned to protect our NHS from the consequences of secretive trade deals geared to business interests. And we have saved jobs in the beleaguered steel industry.
‘Members first’ has always been my philosophy. That is why I have committed to supporting workers in the defence industry, including those making nuclear submarines, despite political pressure, and why I launched this year the ‘Work Voice Pay’ campaign to focus on the industrial sharp end.
And I have campaigned in support of investment in our infrastructure, whether it is HS2 or a new runway at Heathrow.
Unite has changed too. We have more than 15,000 unwaged members, connecting us to communities that the elite forget. And there are more women than ever before in leading roles in the union.
But there is much more to do. We face three great challenges in particular.
First, Brexit. In all the talk of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’, of market access and so on, workers need to know that someone is looking out for them. We are putting protecting jobs, as at Nissan, and workers’ rights at the top of the agenda – but that work is just starting. We can’t let the City and the CBI settle our economic future without hearing from working people.
Second, the emergence of the ‘gig economy’. That is a trendy term for the age-old problem of a casual labour market, now reaching epic proportions in Britain. That millions of workers have no security and few rights is a blight on British society.
The trade union challenge is to offer these workers the same protections as we do to those in better-established industries.
I aim to use digital technology to revolutionise how we reach out to and support workers across the economy. Unite will also be in the forefront of legal and political campaigns to end the abuses of the “flexible” labour market.
Third, free movement of labour. Unions understand that workers have always done best when the labour supply is controlled and communities are stable. While we must reject any form of racism, and help refugees fleeing war, we must also listen to the concerns of working people.
They understand that the free movement of labour means downward pressure on wages, in some sectors at least.
That’s why I have called for new safeguards that would ensure any employer recruiting from abroad must be covered by a proper union or collective bargaining agreement, stopping companies cutting costs by slashing workers’ wages and transforming a race-to-the-bottom culture into a rate-for-the-job society.
From my days on the Liverpool docks, I have understood what ordinary workers look for from their trade union – a focus on pay, job security and health and safety; with guarantees against discrimination and victimisation.
That is as relevant and important in the 21st Century as it was in the twentieth. And as ever, unions require unity and clear leadership to deliver. The last thing we need is for Unite to become a political football for factions in the Parliamentary Labour Party. I think we heard maybe a little too much from them this summer.
For the last six years, Unite has started to deliver on its promise. In the years ahead, I promise to deliver still more.
Len McCluskey is running for re-election as the general secretary of Unite the Union
Follow Len McCluskey on Twitter: @UniteforLen