By a Newsnet reporter
With the Labour conference in Manchester only just beginning, party leader Ed Miliband has provoked a furious row with union leaders after insisting that he would not back down from his support for a public sector pay freeze. Union leaders responded by calling Mr Miliband’s decision “crazy”.
Len McCluskey, general secretary Unite, said: “I am deeply disappointed because they have got it wrong.
“They have found themselves trapped as they try to demonstrate to the media and the chattering classes that they have intellectual credibility in their economic thinking.”
Mr McCluskey said his members were “furious” with the Labour leader. Unite is one of the largest funders of the Labour party through the political levy paid by many of its members. Mr McCluskey said that Unite may stop funding the Labour party if its leadership did not change their minds on the issue.
In an article in yesterday’s Sunday Times, Mr McLuskey argued that Mr Miliband needs to “kick the New Labour cuckoos out of our nest” and demanded that the party leadership reconnect with ordinary union members, and to stop following the policies of “the Blairite dead”.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr McLuskey confirmed reports that the Unite union was about to embark on a strategy to “reclaim Labour”. The union intends to persuade 5,000 trade union members to join the Labour party this year, in order to put pressure on constituency parties to select “union-friendly” candidates and to depose those who have voted against the interests of union members.
Asked what he thought about those who might claim this was an attempt by the unions to take over the Labour party, Mr McCluskey replied:
“Of course we are trying to influence the party again.
“It really is a question of us having to go to our activists and get them to join the Labour party. The answer we get back is ‘why?’ and we have got to be able to say that we are trying to win Labour back for our core values: a belief in collectivism, a belief in fairness, justice, equality, decency and respect and to kick the New Labour cuckoos out of our nest.”
Commenting in response to the Unite general secretary’s statements, Mr Miliband said:
“He’s entitled to his view, but he’s wrong.”
Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, also had harsh words for Labour, and scathingly dismissed shadow chancellor Ed Balls. Speaking to the BBC, Mr Kenny said: “Ed Balls, he would give an aspirin a headache, wouldn’t he?
“Being truthful about it, he comes here and he’s not really in touch with the argument. He really needs to get closer to what’s happening on the ground.”
At the TUC conference in Brighton in September, shadow chancellor Ed Balls was booed and heckled by delegates saying he supported the pay freeze on public sector pay, and refused to commit a future Labour government to repealing the measure.
The union leaders’ comments come just a few days after Johann Lamont, leader of the Labour party in Scotland, stunned party supporters and trade union members by rejecting Labour’s traditional commitment to universalism, in what many saw as a take-over of the Labour party in Scotland by Westminster and local authority sectional interests.