Unite union says more strikes ‘inevitable’

Len McCluskey has warned Labour to be ready for an early election.

By John Moylan, Industry correspondent, BBC News

More strikes and industrial action are “inevitable”, according to the leader of Britain’s biggest union Unite.

“I think it’s inevitable that there will be further campaigns, further strikes,” he said, adding that it may roll on “for the next few years”.

Len McCluskey also warned Labour to be ready for an early election.

And he told the BBC that he did not regret his controversial comments about the Olympics being a legitimate arena for protest.

Mr McCluskey was speaking ahead of his union’s biennial conference this week in Brighton.

He will address the conference on Monday for the first time as general secretary.

Unite has been at the centre of a series of high profile disputes this year involving tanker drivers and London bus workers. Its members have also taken part in the strikes and demonstrations on the issue of public sector pension reform.

Mr McCluskey said there would be more to come, with that campaign widening to take in other issues such as pay and jobs.

“This has to be a long, drawn-out campaign involving – yes – industrial strike action,” he said.

“It will manifest itself in more disputes and I think it can only get worse.

“I think it’s inevitable in the current crisis, where workers are being asked… to pay the price of the crisis, and where many companies are using the crisis to claw back concessions from workers.”

‘Get act together’

He also warned Labour to be ready to fight the next general election early.

“The Labour Party need to get their act together, and be prepared for an election… anytime in 2014.”

Asked what might prompt an early election, he pointed to the growing divisions in the coalition. But he warned that the eurozone crisis could also “spin out of control”.

“We stumble from week to week in the eurozone. I think it is inevitable that Greece will have to exit the euro. My fear at the moment is that might happen without it being properly managed.

“I’m not predicting an election in 2014, but I think the Labour Party would be sensible to prepare for one.”

Unite is the biggest donor to the Labour Party. It is also one of several unions that criticised the shadow chancellor Ed Balls and the Labour leader Ed Miliband for backing the ongoing pay restraint in the public sector.

“I think they made a mistake,” he said.

He says the party needs to “put some flesh on the framework of an alternative” and warns that if that alternative is not radical enough, Labour will lose the next election.

In recent weeks the Blairite think-tank Progress has come under attack from some in the trade union movement. The GMB leader Paul Kenny has suggested the group should be outlawed.

Mr McCluskey said that the funding of the group “does raise a concern”, but he added “I believe in beating people in argument rather than banning”.

No regrets

Earlier in the year, Mr McCluskey was heavily criticised for raising the possibility of protests during the Olympics.

“No I don’t regret saying it,” he says, despite the subsequent backlash.

“There was no question of stopping the Olympics or disrupting the events. It was a question of: Are the Olympics a legitimate arena for protest?”

He says he wants a successful Olympics, but he expects protests against the government’s austerity programme to continue long after the games are over.




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