The relationship between trade unions and the Labour party has always had its difficulties, and it is not uncommon for Labour leaders to be met with criticism at union conferences as Ed Miliband was yesterday. But it is certainly true that the Labour party grew out of the trade union movement, and I think that the link is still crucially important to our party, based on the ideals of democratic socialism.
Because of that link, rights that previous generations of workers fought, and in some cases died for, are now enshrined in law. That didn’t happen overnight; it took years of patient organising, negotiation, and sometimes industrial action.
Of course it is important to try and avoid this when possible. No one is more aware of the double-edged nature of the weapon than someone on the picket lines. Despite the media caricatures, few union members actually want to strike. It is always done as a last resort, when all other options are exhausted. When negotiations have failed, I believe that strikes can be legitimate and sometimes even necessary.
And as far as I can see, that’s what Ed was saying too.