UK Politics

Labour conference: Len McCluskey in police cuts warning

Miners strike
Image caption Margaret Thatcher 'strengthened' the police ahead of union battles, Len McCluskey claims

David Cameron might live to regret cutting police numbers when industrial action starts, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey has suggested.

The union leader said Margaret Thatcher strengthened the police and security services "in preparation" for her battles with the unions in the 1980s.

But Mr Cameron was doing the opposite "because he obviously thinks trade unions are a bunch of pussycats".

"Maybe we need to prove him wrong," he told a Labour conference meeting.

Mr McCluskey has encouraged trade unionists to get involved in "direct action", as well as more traditional industrial action, to protest against government cuts and pension reforms.

'Outside the law'

The unions are balloting over a planned day of action on 30 November but Mr McCluskey told the fringe meeting it would be just the "beginning of a series of long disputes with a government hell-bent on attacking our public services".

He said successive governments, including Labour, had flouted international law with their restrictions on trade unions.

And he issued a warning to the coalition, which has not ruled out further legislation.

To applause from the audience, he said: "If they push us outside the law, be it on their heads, the consequences because as far as Unite is concerned, irrespective of what laws come in to tell us we can not take strike action, we will not allow that human right to be taken away from us - and we will resist that law with everything at our disposal."

Labour leader Ed Miliband angered some trade unionists by saying in his conference speech on Tuesday that Margaret Thatcher's trade union reforms, such as mandatory ballots and a ban on the closed shop, had been "right".

MP threat

They are angry about the Labour leader's refusal to back strikes while talks are going on between unions and ministers.

However, Mr McCluskey praised Mr Miliband's speech - in which he criticised "predatory" companies and a "fast-buck culture" in business - which did not go down well with some members of his audience.

But he also said Unite and other unions including Unison and the GMB were reviewing the money they put into local constituency Labour parties.

He told the meeting: "There are hundreds of union MPs in the houses of Parliament and a substantial number of them know absolutely nothing about trade unions or our values."

He added: "We want people speaking, or at least understanding, our values."

Electoral Commission figures suggest that Labour's affiliated unions gave a total of £1,163,680.02 in total to 283 local parties in 2010.

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