Sharan Graham, general secretary of Unite the union (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Leaders of the Unite union have refused to support Labour’s election manifesto, which was expected to be released this week.

At the party’s “Clause V” meeting on Friday of last week, the shadow cabinet, union representatives and Labour’s national executive committee cheered the largely pro-boss and pro-imperialist pledges from Keir Starmer and his supporters.

But Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham said she would not be able to endorse the document.

The good reason was that Labour won’t commit to ending fire and rehire or zero-hours contracts.

The much more worrying reason was opposition to the present policy of not issuing new licences for North Sea oil and gas drilling.

Fire and rehire is when a boss tells workers they are all sacked and can come back only on worse terms—lower wages, harsher conditions or both.

Zero-hours contracts are where a boss demands a worker is available but does not guarantee any minimum number of hours.

They might be employed for 20 hours a week—or none.

Such contracts give managers total control over hours and earnings and make it more difficult for workers to challenge bosses for fear of not being allocated work in the future.

Starmer had promised previously to “end the scourges of ‘fire and rehire’ and ‘fire and replace’ that leave working people at the mercy of bullying threats”.

A policy document published last month committed Labour to change the law to rule out a repeat of the scandal last year when P&O fired 900 workers unless they accepted pay cuts.

Labour now says fire and rehire will mostly be wrong but that if firms say they are in real trouble they have to be allowed to wreck their workers’ lives.

Union leaders have rightly said for years this should be outlawed in all circumstances.

But then all except Unite meekly accepted Starmer’s retreat in order to maintain harmony behind Labour.

There was no formal vote—the document was approved by a round of applause. Unite’s opposition to these retreats is welcome. But words are not enough.

If Graham was serious she should cut off funds to Labour’s campaign and urge support for candidates who are putting forward better policies.

The Labour left Momentum group said after the manifesto meeting that it was “deeply disappointed” that the party had not committed to free school meals or scrapping the two-child benefit cap.

“We need to kick out not just the Tories, but Tory policies too,” a spokesperson said.

“Standing alongside child poverty campaigners and friends across the labour movement, we will continue to push for these policies, which represent the essence of real Labour values.”

But Momentum insists there is no serious political life outside Labour so its opposition is easily brushed aside.

 

Oil bosses lobby Labour

Fossil fuel bosses are already ramping up the pressure on a possible Labour government.

Three oil and gas companies—Jersey Oil and Gas, Serica Energy and Neo Energy—said last week they had decided to delay by a year the planned start of oil production at Buchan.

It’s an oilfield in the North Sea around 120 miles to the north-east of Aberdeen, which the companies jointly own.

Jersey Oil and Gas told shareholders the firms wanted “fiscal clarity from the next government and ensuring that the project remains financially attractive”.

Labour says it wants a “proper windfall tax” on North Sea profits that would increase the total tax take by just three percentage points.

And its commitment to stop new licences for oil and gas fields would not have any effect for many years.

The Unite union says it wants guarantees for workers affected by Labour’s plan. It’s right workers should not suffer as energy moves from fossil fuels to renewables.

There should be alternative work on the same or better pay and terms and conditions. But that should not stop a move away from fossil fuels.

Unite’s position gives oxygen to the bosses’ claim that tens of thousands of people will be thrown on the dole if real action is taken to dump the climate-wrecking fossil fuel economy.

 

Elections are a perfect time to strike

During elections union leaders often call off strikes or seek to avoid them.

That’s because they wrongly think that striking puts people off voting the Tories out.

In fact strikes are the best way for workers to raise their issues during an election campaign—and to put pressure on whoever is next in Number 10.

Junior doctors are leading the way. BMA union members are set to walk out from 27 June to 2 July, in the week leading up to the general election.

Labour has already said it won’t support the BMA’s pay claim and will increase private sector involvement in the NHS.

So the strikes also need to be a call for action as soon as Labour wins. The Unite and Community unions ought to call steel strikes.

Workers have voted overwhelmingly for action, and Tata company bosses have not backed off from devastating plans to destroy 2,800 jobs.

Unite has scheduled action short of a strike from Tuesday next week, but has not yet called a strike. Community has called nothing.

In reality the unions are pinning their hopes on Keir Starmer. Action is a much better way to win.

In the current season of union conferences, trade unionists must push for strikes before and after the election.

Winning ballots so groups of workers have mandates to strike will also be crucial to the fightback needed immediately after 4 July.

Across large parts of the public sector, unions are now considering whether to prepare for strikes or to hope Labour will arrive and deliver something that can be presented as acceptable.

A deal from a Labour government that fails to recoup the losses of the last 14 years ought to be rejected in the same way that it would be from a Tory minister.

There can be no “honeymoon” with a Labour government that holds back demands over pay, jobs and services.

 

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