27 Sep 2011

Unions call for civil disobedience

Channel 4 News learns union bosses are calling for a campaign of civil disobedience and sit-ins as well as strikes over the spending cuts, with one leader saying he is “prepared to go to jail”.

Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, said activists should “rule nothing out” as they prepare to fight the coalition’s austerity measures with increasing militancy.

He blamed this summer’s riots on the cuts and predicted worse violence next year as the effects of spending cuts take effect. Addressing a fringe event at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis called the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats “b******ds” and ended his speech to union members by declaring that a revolution “starts here”.

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey (Getty)

GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny said he was prepared to go to jail as part of a wave of non-violent protests and occupations.

Mr Kenny said: “I want direct action – I’m not talking about violent direct action. If that means I go to jail then I’m prepared to go to jail. I’m not prepared to be a martyr. But when I look at my kids and grandchildren I want to be able to say I did everything I did to protect them and their inheritance.”

Mr McCluskey accused the coalition of “peddling fear” before predicting that government measures would lead to a repeat of the riots seen across England earlier this year.

Civil disobedience is the oldest form of protest in our democracy and we should rule nothing out. Len McCluskey

He said: “You’ve only got to look around as these attacks start to take place and social cohesion breaks down. We have one million young people out of a job and without hope, and people wonder why in our inner cities they get drawn into gang culture. There’s nowhere else to go. There’s nowhere else to belong.”

He went on: “I don’t take any pleasure in what we’ve seen in our inner cities”, but added that as the cuts continue to bite, “next summer we could find ourselves with even worse riots on our streets”.

The Unite boss urged the coalition to consider alternatives to cutting public services, saying: “Find the money. We’ve found the money for illegal wars. We found the money to bail out the banks. By the billion, we’ve found the money when it suits them.”

He accused the media of scaremongering in reports of his earlier calls for civil disobedience but refused to tone down his language. Mr McCluskey said: “Civil disobedience is the oldest form of protest in our democracy and we should rule nothing out as we build this particular alliance. If they close a library, I think we should occupy it. If they close a hospital, I think we should occupy it.”

In some of his most strident criticism yet of the Labour leadership’s failure to back plans for a wave of massive public sector strikes in November, Mr Prentis said: “It just can’t be right to that our leadership should be sitting on the fence at such a crucial time in our history.”

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He said that the leaders of the party under New Labour ignored the unions when they voted against policies like foundation hospitals, which he said the Coalition had built on. Mr Prentis said: “We will not allow that to happen again, if we are talking about refounding Labour, and I am all for it. New Labour built the bridge over which the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are now marching.”

To cheers from conference delegates, the Unison leader said it was the duty of the unions to help “keep those b*****ds in the Tory party and the Liberal Democrats out of office. Mr Prentis added: “Paul gave me a book – the Art of Revolution. It starts here.”