Ed Miliband Stands By His Union Reforms
Ed Miliband has warned union leaders they must have the "courage to change" as he rejected criticism of his controversial reforms.
The Labour leader told the TUC Congress he is "absolutely determined" to drive through the plans to overhaul his party's union links.
Union leaders are furious at the plans, accusing the Labour leader - who was elected to the top job on the back of their votes - of living in "cloud cuckoo land".
MPs have also warned Labour faces financial meltdown because of the changes, which have already prompted the GMB union to slash its funding by more than £1m.
Mr Miliband, in a speech made without notes, admitted ending the automatic affiliation of union members to Labour would be a "massive challenge".
But he told delegates in Bournemouth, who included some of his toughest union critics, that sticking with the current system was a "bigger risk".
Mr Miliband claimed party membership could soar to 500,000 or more if his plans are embraced by union chiefs, making Labour a "genuine living, breathing movement".
"It will be a massive challenge for the Labour Party to reach out to your members in a way that we have not done for many years and persuade them to be part of what we do," he said.
"And like anything that is hard, it is a risk. But the bigger risk is just saying let's do it as we have always done it ...
"We have to have the courage to change ... It is the right thing to do ... and I am absolutely determined this change will happen."
In an attempt to mollify union chiefs, Mr Miliband also gave a robust defence of trade unionism as he accused David Cameron of ignoring ordinary workers.
He used the word "friends" at least three times in the address and hailed union members as "the backbone of Britain".
The leader claimed the Tories only looked out for the rich and vowed to build an economy for working people if he wins power in 2015.
His pledge to ban zero-hours contracts was the most warmly received part of the address, which otherwise only generated polite applause in the hall.
He also outlined plans to help young people out of unemployment with a greater focus on apprenticeships, and for a new British investment bank to fund small businesses.
But during a follow-up Q&A session, a delegate who accused him of giving "contradictory" messages on the economy was applauded for speaking out.
Janice Godrich, from the PCS union, said: "Ed Balls says this is the wrong sort of recovery but you are also fundamentally committed to the Tories' spending plans.
"You say the next election will be about living standards but you are committed to extending the pay cap.
"Your policies seem contradictory and they are confusing people. Can we get a clear answer: are you for or against austerity?"
Mr Miliband said he was "absolutely clear" that the party was anti-austerity but warned Labour would face tough choices if it regained power and had to be "credible".
Unite boss Len McCluskey expressed his support after the address, hailing Mr Miliband for looking like a "real leader" and laying down lots of "flags" for the future.
He said he was "beginning to seal the deal" with workers, adding: "We look forward to getting more meat on the bone in the coming months."
Unison's general secretary Dave Prentis also welcomed the measures on the economy but warned talking about reforming union ties was a "turn-off".
"He talks about having the 'courage to change' but I was always told if something ain't broke, why fix it?," he said.
Bob Crow, leader of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, called the speech a "wasted opportunity" and claimed Mr Miliband looked "like a terrified rabbit caught in the glare of of the Tory headlights."
The party leader unveiled proposals to change Labour's relationship with the unions after allegations of ballot-fixing by Unite in Falkirk surfaced earlier this year.
There was immediate concern about how this would affect party coffers and last week the GMB and Unison both cut their funding.
The row intensified over the weekend after an internal Labour investigation cleared Unite and its preferred candidate of any wrongdoing in the Scottish selection race.