Miliband offers tough message to unions in key economic speech

Miliband: 'Strikes are always the consequence of failure'
Miliband: 'Strikes are always the consequence of failure'

By Ian Dunt

Ed Miliband offered a stark message to the trade unions today in the most important economic speech of his leadership.

Speaking at the TUC conference in central London, the Labour leader told union members that they had to be "relevant" in order to attract the 85% of non-unionised workers in the private sector.

"Strikes are always the consequence of failure, failure we cannot afford as a nation," Mr Miliband argued, to heckling from some parts of the hall.


"You will never have relevance for many workers in this country if you allow yourselves to be painted as the opponents of change."

Mr Miliband is keen to distance himself from the unions for fear of being branded 'Red Ed' by the tabloid press, a particularly crucial political move given his reliance on union votes when he beat his brother to the Labour party leadership.

But the Labour leader is also keen to harness the anger against spending cuts, as shown by his appearance at the 'march for an alternative' in the spring.

Striking a difficult balance between those two positions, Mr Miliband told the audience that there would be times the leader of the Labour party and union members would disagree.

"Our link is secure enough, mature enough, to deal with disagreement," he said.

"The relationship between party and unions is not about romance or nostalgia. It is about respect and shared values.

"It is a relationship in which we listen to each other when we disagree. And we know that what unites us is greater than what divides us."

Offering a stark message to delegates, Mr Miliband told the audience that a Labour government would also have cut spending in government and that it would not reverse all the coalition's cuts if it returned to power.

"Sometimes I hear it said that Labour opposes every cut," he said.

"Some people might wish that was true. But it’s not. We committed ourselves to halving the deficit over four years. That would mean cuts."

Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary said, “I have to give him credit for his courage in coming here and speaking frankly to us. What comes across is that he is not ashamed of the trade union links to the Labour party.

"I thought it was a pretty good speech which covered a lot of ground with clarity and vision of what needs to be done. He knew that we would not agree with everything he said and proposes." 

The speech received polite, lukewarm applause.

During a question and answer session with union delegates following the speech, Mr Miliband was regularly heckled by delegates, particularly over his stance on public sector pensions and academy schools.

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