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Union chief hits back over 'smears'

The leader of Unite has vowed not to retreat from protesting against abusive employers in the face of "unscrupulous smears" directed at his union.

Len McCluskey said attacks from the Conservatives and sections of the media will increase in the run-up to the general election.

The level of the onslaught in recent weeks was reminiscent of right-wing attacks against trade unions in the 1970s and '80s, he told a Unite conference in Brighton.

"Every day we read statements and press articles about Unite which do not come within hailing distance of the truth.

"This shows one thing above all: Unite is making a difference. We have served notice on the establishment that fighting trade unionism is back - and the elite don't like it.

"Of course, there is another agenda behind these attacks too. We are a proxy for smearing the Labour Party and Ed Miliband, since the same elite is now worried that a Labour government which may itself not play by the old rules is a possibility," he said.

"Among the many caricatures of Unite painted in recent weeks is the one that we have no strings to our bow except confrontation. That is not the reality of course. Look at the motor industry - at JLR, Vauxhall, Toyota, Nissan and elsewhere. We have had difficult negotiations, but collaborated with responsible employers not just to protect existing jobs but to secure additional investment which can guarantee skilled manufacturing jobs into the future."

The Unite general secretary challenged the Prime Minister to make recent remarks against the union, outside Parliament without the cover of parliamentary privilege.

Unite, which holds national industrial-sector conferences this week under the slogan, "fighting back for working people", has been attacked over the bitter dispute at the Grangemouth oil refinery, and the selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk.

Mr Cameron said at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons last week that the Government will consider acting to stop cases of industrial intimidation, following claims that bosses of the Grangemouth petrochemicals plant in Scotland were targeted by trade union activists for protests at their homes.

The Prime Minister told MPs he was shocked by allegations that children of executives had had "wanted" posters put through their letterboxes, while their neighbours had been told they were "evil".

Mr Cameron's official spokesman told reporters today: "Intimidatory behaviour is wrong and that is one of the reasons why the Prime Minister said the Government would consider what might be done about it.

"The way the Prime Minister sees it is that we have seen intimidatory behaviour affecting individuals and their families. He believes that that is wrong. Given that, I don't think it is particularly surprising that the Government would consider what action needs to be taken."

Mr McCluskey added that Unite had increased its membership by 3,000 in the past three months.

He added that the union's so-called leverage strategy would continue because it had achieved results, fighting derecognition and winning pay rises.

The protests which had been highlighted in recent weeks during the Grangemouth dispute, were "as old as democracy - free speech and the right to peacefully demonstrate".

He added: "For that, our members have been described as 'thugs'. We will see what the law makes of that phrase.

"It is, at any event, a lie. These protests were peaceful, mostly silent, and of course had nothing to do with intimidating families, children, or anyone.

" In more than two years, we have not had a single complaint about our members' conduct on such protests, nor a single police charge.

"This union is not retreating from leverage, or from the right to peaceful protest."


From Belfast Telegraph