UNITE's Executive Council has an excellent paper policy against the cuts:
- It rejects the "too far, too fast" approach in favour of opposing all cuts
- It says "councillors must know they will receive the full support of this union if they face disciplinary or other action for supporting union policy. We must ensure Unite fully supports councillors who oppose cuts to local services"
The reality is that when the Labour Party hasn't hesitated to discipline UNITE councillors who have voted against the cuts, or even just abstained. Kingsley Abrams is a councillor in Lambeth and a UNITE Executive Council member. Kingsley was suspended by the Labour group, but our union raised barely a whimper. Kevin Bennett is a councillor in Warrington and a former UNITE Executive Council member. He was suspended from the Labour group indefinitely last month for voting against cuts. UNITE's response to this has been a bit better. There's a "Why Councillors Should Oppose Cuts" public meeting at 7pm on Wednesday 22nd May at the UNITE office in Liverpool - with Kevin speaking. Everyone should support this.
But as long as the unions leave it to the consciences of individual councillors as to whether to "oppose the cuts" by voting for or against them, we're hardly likely to see enough taking a stand to give a real boost to the anti-cuts movement.
A group of councillors opposed to the cuts have set up "Councillors Against Cuts" to support those councillors who do vote against cuts and to campaign for more to do so. If Len McCluskey is serious about opposing the cuts he needs to throw his weight behind this initiative and stop sitting on the fence.
The March 2013 Executive Council meeting discussed Councillors Against Cuts, with an EC member from the Local Authorities sector arguing that UNITE should support it. Steve Hart, UNITE's Political Director, argued that urging all councillors to vote against cuts without qualification would be "problematic".
Len McCluskey argued that UNITE had to be "careful" and claimed that there was a conflict between Councillors Against Cuts and UNITE's policy on the successor to Trident was an issue. The campaign group's statement includes the sentence "Taxing the rich and business, taking the wealth of the banks and cutting Trident are all rich sources of funds". If this really was an insurmountable problem, why not just ask them to amend the statement so that UNITE could back them?
UNITE's policy on Trident is a fudge promoted by McCluskey and the Executive Council at the 2012 Policy Conference. But even this statement says "It cannot be right to spend large sums on weapons of mass destruction when essential services are facing cuts". What's the difference between this and the Councillors Against Cuts statement? Is McCluskey really going to use the minute difference between these statements as an excuse to avoid campaigning for councillors to vote against cuts?
No vote was taken on Councillors Against Cuts at the March Executive Council in order to delay a decision until after the General Secretary election.
The excuses have run out - it's time for Len McCluskey to get off the fence and argue for UNITE to affiliate to Councillors Against Cuts. UNITE should only be supporting MPs and councillors who stand up for our policies and for working class people. If a policy of opposing cuts doesn't mean voting against them it isn't worth the paper it's written on.
Why not send a motion from your branch demanding that UNITE affiliates to Councillors Against Cuts?