Len McCluskey writes….
Why Unite members should vote Labour on 22nd May
Some politicians these days seem to be falling over themselves to criticise Europe.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the European Union is more than just a building in Brussels.
It gives us the laws and legislation that stop you being exploited by your boss and protect you on a daily basis. Amongst other things, the EU makes sure your hours at work aren’t exploited, you get protection at work and you get statutory holidays.
It’s ,responsible for 3.5 million jobs in the UK and brings an estimated £30bn to the UK economy. So Europe isn’t just good for Britain, its good for you.
Europe makes you, your family and Britain better off every day at work. That’s why the European Elections this year are so important for you to take part in.
On 22 May, Unite is asking you to make sure you vote Labour to make work safe, make work fair and make you better off. In these elections every vote really does count and your vote could well make the difference. So don’t miss out!
-Len McCluskey, General Secretary
What has Europe ever done for us?
Quite a lot as it happens…
Safety at work: Every day, thanks to Europe, your workplace is safer
Sickness/Holiday Rights: You don’t lose holiday rights accrued during periods of ill health
Equal Pay: Men and women must be paid for doing the same job or of equal value
Holidays: Thanks to Europe, Uk workers got the legal right to holidays for the first time in 1998
Time off work: Your boss can’t force you to work more than 48 hours a week and must give you regular breaks
Fairness at work: It doesn’t matter if you are full-time or part-time, temporary or permanent, in-house or agency, all workers get the same rights
Maternity rights: Statutory maternity leave of up to a year
Parental leave: New parents are entitled to time off work to look after their children
Discrimination: Protects you from discrimination against your age, gender, race, sexual orientation or if you are disabled
Healthcare on holiday: if you get ill when you are on holiday, you won’t have to pay for your healthcare
[you can download a pdf version of this leaflet here]
Terry Glavin (at Faccebook) writes:
The polls have been open only for a few hours now but the verdict is in, barring some practically unimaginable eventuality: Afghanistan has won the election. The Afghan people are triumphant. Congratulations are owed to the resilient, courageous, long-suffering people of Afghanistan. Hambestagi!
This image seems to be picking up speed all over Afghanistan. A message to the Taliban and to all the enemies of a sovereign and democratic Afghan republic. The universal gesture of defiance:
Today’s Times carries an obituary of Peter Griffiths, who died on November 20th, aged 85. I was astonished to learn that this vile creature lived until so recently, and though he lost his Smethwick seat in 1966, returned as an MP (for Portsmouth North) from 1979 until 1997. Presumably, he remained a Tory to the end. I reproduce the obituary for the benefit, in particular, of readers unfamiliar with the 1964 Smethwick election and the events that followed:
Above: Peter Griffiths at the time of the Smethwick election
In a parliamentary row that galvanised Westminster in in the opening days of the return of Labour to office in 1964 after 13 years in opposition, the newly elected Conservative MP for Smethwick, Peter Griffiths was branded a “parliamentary leper” by the incoming Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. It happened in an astonishing series of exchanges that prefigured the violent language of the race debate conducted by Enoch Powell later in the decade.
Wilson was furious that his intended Foreign Secretary, the scholarly and liberal-minded Patrick Gordon Walker, had been defeated in his Smethwick constituency after a campaign in which Griffiths had shrewdly exploited local tensions over immigration and the housing shortage in the West Midlands.
Griffiths always denied ever using the electioneering slogan “If you want a n***** for a neighbour, Vote Labour”. It was pointed out that he had done nothing to repudiate, much less ban, placards carried by his supporters bearing the offensive electioneering slogan.
In Parliament, in some of the most extraordinary scenes ever witnessed during a Queen’s Speech debate, the Prime Minister upbraided the leader of the Opposition, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, for refusing to disown Griffiths. Castigating the new MP for having run an “utterly squalid” campaign, Wilson told the House: “If Sir Alec does not take what I am sure is the right course, Smethwick Conservatives will have the satisfaction of having sent a member who, until another election returns him to oblivion, will serve his time as a parliamentary leper.”
There was uproar. The Speaker, Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, was urged by the opposition benches to make the Prime Minister retract his remarks. Hylton-Foster declined to do so, although admitting that he deplored Wilson’s comments. Uproar continued for ten minutes and a score of Tory MPs had walked out of the chamber before order was restored.
In the event, Wilson was prescient. At the general election in 1966 Griffiths lost his Smethwick seat to the actor and Labour candidate Andrew Faulds. He did not return to Parliament until 1979, at Portsmouth North. He was never to be such a conspicuous figure in Parliament again.
Griffiths did not count himself among far Right Tories. Yet he supported Smethwick council, of which he had been a member since 1955, when it tried to buy up a row of houses to let exclusively to white families. The purchase was blocked by the Labour Housing Minister Richard Crossman.
After his defeat at Smethwick in 1966, Griffiths returned to teaching. He had been head-master of a primary school, Hall Green Road, West Bromwich, at the time of the election. In 1967 he became a lecturer in economics at Portsmouth College of Technology where he spent the next dozen years. In the meantime he had published A Question of Colour? (1966) in which he claimed “no colour prejudice”. The book blamed the spread of disease on immigrants and praised South Africa as a “model of democracy”.
Griffiths unsuccessfully contested Portsmouth North in the February 1974 election which returned a minority Labour administration to office.
In the general election of 1979 which propelled the Tories back to power under Margaret Thatcher, Griffiths captured the seat with a large majority. For the next 18 years he was an assiduous backbencher, making his opposition clear to his constituents and the government on such issues as defence cuts as they might affect Portsmouth Dockyard. In the general election of 1997 which brought Labour to power under Tony Blair he lost his seat.
By Jim Kelly (first posted on the United Left website)
To Be Heard We Need A Voice
The current debate about the Labour Party – trade union link is the most fundamental since the TUC voted back in 1899 to establish what became the Labour Party. It isn’t a debate we asked for, because we’d rather concentrate on winning back millions of voters including our own members to ensure we end austerity and restore the hope, decent jobs and social justice the British people deserve. But it is one we cannot shirk.
In three weeks our executive council is due to consider our position on this debate. Most other major unions have already agreed submissions to Ray Collins’s review, and they have much in common. Whilst they all support strengthening the link, they all strongly defend the principle of collective affiliation rather than a union voice dependent on individuals opting in to some form of individual membership. On this the left and the traditional right are agreed.
On this more than any other issue, it is important that trade unions stand together. As the party’s biggest affiliate by far, Unite should be in the forefront of the campaign for a stronger voice, just as under Len McCluskey’s leadership, we have been in the forefront of the campaign against austerity – against Labour being “a pinkish shadow of the coalition”.
We know that there will be no report available from Ray Collins, but there is no sense in waiting until February for the executive to take a position when it will be too late to change the options and we will be forced to choose only between supporting or opposing them. Len initiated a debate on the issues we face back in July when he set out his thoughts – it is time the union decided what we think about those issues and started arguing our case.
If unions stand together, with half the votes at Labour’s conference, and supported by many constituency parties worried about the severe threat to the party’s finances from Ed Miliband’s proposals, as well as the negative impact on the left within the party, then the link can be successfully defended. The changes that were proposed were not thought through, and they are both bad for the unions and bad for the party. But that is not enough.
As Len said in July, “for a long time we have been taken for granted by people who welcome our money, but not our policy input, who want to use our resources at election time but do not want our members as candidates”. We know that, as the GMB’s Paul Kenny said at the Brighton conference on behalf of all affiliated unions, our experience under New Labour was of “collective voices ignored in favour of free market dogma”.
Len was right in July to argue that “the status quo is not an option” but not because there is anything wrong with collective affiliation, or with the “block vote” itself. In a democratic, federal party, there is no collective voice without block votes – constituency parties have them too.
The trouble with the block vote is that in the last twenty years, the trade unions have used them, however reluctantly, to undermine the very party democracy we now need and miss. We voted away the right to submit motions and amendments and the right for Labour’s national executive to oversee policy-making, until the party conference was left with almost no purpose at all, except as a circus where bag-carriers and careerists tout themselves in a political version of X -Factor.
We allowed power to be centralised. And even where we did manage to extract a few policy concessions, we have to vote for all sorts of bad policies alongside them to get that little benefit.
We need to restore democracy to the party. We need a Labour conference that makes policy again. We need a Labour executive that manages the party. And Unite is the union that should be leading the way. So it is wrong to say “don’t let anyone say that the status quo is worth defending” because some aspects of the status quo are worth defending:
• The Labour Party itself is worth defending. There is no better option for Unite and the other trade unions. • What levers of power we have in the party are worth defending. Trade unions have half the votes. That means a veto on changing the rules of the party. A level of influence we should use to restore democracy. Without more democracy, we can never have enough influence on what Labour does.
It is true that “significant numbers of Unite members do not support Labour” but far fewer support the Tories than in the general population, and the vast majority of our members favour having a political fund and a political voice which they know perfectly well is used to support and influence the Labour Party. The real problem is that too many of our members don’t vote or are seduced by false hopes like those offered by UKIP, or the SNP (even though it is far closer to big business than Ed Miliband’s Labour Party).
We cannot agree that our main aim should be “to ensure that as many Unite members as possible, already paying our political levy, now sign up individually, by whatever means have transparency and integrity, to be affiliate members of the party.” Whilst it is right to encourage Unite members to join the party and become more active, it is inconceivable, especially after our experience in Falkirk, that we will succeed in large numbers, until we have succeeded in changing Labour.
And to do that we need to make Labour more democratic. That should be our main aim.
Jim Kelly (chair London & Eastern region, Unite) in a personal capacity
Most readers will know that the outrageous decision by the Labour leadership to refer Unite to the police has resulted in the police now stating that there is not enough evidence to even launch an investigation.
A comrade from United Left has drawn my attention to an interesting report on BBC iPlayer:
It’s very telling that the national Labour Party refused to take part in the BBC report, but on hearing the police decision issued a statement that they would pursue disciplinary action. It will be interesting to see how far that gets, as Unite insiders assure me that, at worst, any irregularities that took place in Falkirk were utterly trivial.
My United Left comrade adds:
“Also has anyone reminded Ed Miliband of his USDAW video? Oh and also that USDAW nominated his Blairite brother David for Labour Party leader. If you get USDAW to pay for you to join the Labour Party (a rule/policy that was introduced by Tony Blair) it appears to be OK and is fully supported by Ed, but not OK if you are in Unite.”
Paradoxically, the ‘Falkirk’ business seems to me to have demonstrated just how politically important and potentially powerful the unions’ Labour link can be. But some dunderheaded sectarians just don’t get it: ‘TUSC‘ and its ideological sponsor, The Socialist Party, are now stepping up their campaign to get Unite to disaffiliate (spelled out bluntly here). This madness needs to be knocked on the head very, very firmly.
And it’s not true that “Unite is at a turning point in its relationship with the Labour Party” (as you may have read elsewhere), if what is being suggested is that disaffiliation is now on McCluskey’s agenda. What is happening is that the Unite leadership, together with a wide-ranging group of left wing thinkers (bringing together some unlikely allies) is working on a proposal to put forward at Labour’s special conference. The proposal will address any legitimate concerns raised by the Falkirk affair, but will clearly reaffirm the right of affiliated trade unions to use the structures of the Labour Party to promote their policies and support union members seeking selection as elected representatives of the Party.
More on this shortly…
The best-informed comment so far on Falkirk. Re-blogged from Left Futures
By Jon Lansman
The contents of the secret report into what happened in Falkirk have now been revealed. Seumas Milne in the Guardian comments that “given the thin gruel offered up by way of evidence” it’s not hard to see why it hasn’t been published. Nevertheless, the report does find that Unite is not directly responsible for what took place, which makes the direct attack by Ed Miliband on Len McCluskey even harder to understand (“Len McCluskey should be facing up to his responsibilities. He should not be defending the machine politics involving bad practice and malpractice that went on there, he should be facing up to it“). And the paucity of evidence of “serious wrongdoing” makes it even harder to understand now why the matter was reported to the Police than when we previously commented, unless it was a deliberate attempt to escalate the conflict still further to justify a fundamental reform of the party-union relationship.
According to Seumas Milne:
The most significant allegations are that a handful of members were signed up without their knowledge (by family members), and that “there are discrepancies in the signatures” of four others (suggesting some may have been forged).
It isn’t right to sign up family members to a political party without their knowledge but it undoubtedly happens in every winnable constituency in the country in every party. It clearly isn’t what Unite intended, and you can’t expect Unite’s leaders to have been aware that it happened.
Nor is it right to “forge” signatures but, if the person concerned wanted and intended to join the party, it isn’t “serious wrongdoing” . This is the action of one or two individuals rather than Unite and it certainly isn’t something to waste police time over.
So we can now see why Unite centrally had no idea what they had done wrong. And what was done wrong certainly doesn’t justify the biggest-ever shake up of the party-union relationship by a Labour leader. And yet some people on the right of the party are still claiming:
For all the talk of democracy and the new politics, this was only ever about dealing with the fall-out from Falkirk.
That is nonsense. I was at the Progress annual conference at Congress House in London on 11 May. An afternoon workshop entitled “How do we get a parliament that looks more like Britain?” had a constructive debate about the lack of working class MPs whose participants had included our own Michael Meacher and Steve Hart, then Unite’s political director, but, by the day’s end, that all fell apart. Read the rest of this entry »
Below is an edited version of the speech given by Jim Kelly, the Chair of London and Eastern Region of Unite, at a Unite ‘Reconnecting with Labour Forum’ in April. It was previously published on the United Left email list, and obviously pre-dates the present row over Falkirk and Miliband’s proposed changes to the unions’ relationship with Labour:
Living in the world of Neo-liberalism
From 1979 onwards successive governments have been dismantling the institutions of the welfare state and replacing them with those of a no-rights, deregulated market economy – what has become known as neo-liberalism.
On any indices – workers’ rights, the gulf between rich and poor, we are increasingly living with the consequences of the rise of the neo-liberal state. For example child poverty:
· 3.6 million children living in poverty in the UK .
· 27% of children, – more than one in four.
· Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one member works.
Contrast this with the obscene profits and greed epitomised by the bankers. Rather than an aberration poverty and greed are the foundation stones of the neo-liberals’ creed. When the likes of Johnson or Osborne defend bankers’ bonuses they are then defending a principle on which the society they wish to rule is organised. Such people are out to privatise the world and they are winning.
In my opinion we are near the end game; the institutions of neo-liberalism are all but in place… Such an assertion may seem alarmist, however consider the raft of measures which were enacted on April 1st – Welfare reforms, access to legal aid and of course the Health and social care bill the privatising of the NHS, what other litmus test do we need to signal this change? We have arrived at this place due to the bankers’ crisis, which facilitated a radical acceleration in the pace of change.
Some members of Unite viewed the crash, foolishly in my opinion, as sounding the death knell of neo-liberalism. Clearly it is a broken form of economics, but the idea the elites which rule us would simply give up on it with the concentration of wealth and power it affords them over working people was mistaken. Underneath the ConDem’s smokescreen of ‘we are all in it together’ of austerity Britain we have seen the embedding of the deregulated market over the state and people.
Strikes campaigns and politics
We are then at a tipping point, and the only question is what should we do about it? Our starting point is necessarily to defend union rights and working people in any way we can – strikes, protests, campaigns, demonstrations all are the tools at our disposal. Unite members are fortunate in that our General Secretary has supported all such forms of activity, and your Region has been in the forefront of fighting back…
Unite is then fulfilling the basic principle then, to defend our terms and conditions and our basic rights such as the NHS we have to struggle against those who wish to take them away – no one will do it for us….
Through strikes demonstrations and campaigns across the county we have then the beginnings of a movement. However if this is to go beyond being a protest movement it can only culminate, outside of a general strike, in a movement to change the law.
We need legislation to get rid of the anti union laws, we need legislation to end the reign of the loan sharks, legislation to throw out the privateers. So while some legal changes directly impact on the unions we also need laws which impose wider social controls over the vagaries of the market.
Unite then is driven not just to protest, campaign and undertake strike action to defend and advance workers’ rights, we along with the rest of the labour movement need wholesale legislative change which can only come about through a political party enacting such change through Parliament. It was this need which drove unions into politics at the turn of the 20th century and what is driving us now.
Labour Party and change.
Trade unions and working people need a party that is electable and is going to act in our interests in the here and now. Within Unite there are many who are unsure about engaging in any form of political activity. It is incumbent on all of us who understand the pressing need for a political solution to explain to these members why they should actively support our union’s policy.
There are also many Unite members – often the activists, – who have given up on Labour. You just need to consider New Labour’s role in the march from the welfare state to neo-liberalism to understand this. While New Labour was never its architects, they put their shift in, working overtime to dismantle the post-war state and establish the institutions of neo-liberalism. For example PFI or the NHS internal market, New Labour was up to its armpits in shaping the institutions and political consensuses that dominate the second decade of the new century.
Of course those Unite members opposed to working with Labour would say what do you expect? However such policies did not come out of thin air – they came out of a struggle within the Party which Blair won and the left lost…There are however a number of problems with this ‘what did you expect’ approach. Firstly it is fatalistic, as if the outcome was pre-ordained, second, it has seen them leave the field; if they were attempting to organise a factory would they give up on the war after losing a battle. To put it clearly such a stance is not serious. Third it fails to look reality squarely in the face. Someone needs to tell me what other party is there? So while we must talk and convince Unite members who are unsure that we should be undertaking any form of political activity, we should also ask all those disillusioned with Labour to stop sitting on their hands and get involved and help us in reconnecting with Labour.
In spite of these differences within Unite our drive to reconnect with the Party has met with a number of initial successes most notably the election of Ed Miliband. It is also extremely welcome that the present Labour leadership have distanced themselves form some of the worst excesses of New Labour not least with Ed Miliband’s statement on the Iraq War.
However, despite the pronouncements by Labour’s leaders, the banker’s crisis and election defeat it is clear many in the party remain wedded to New Labour
There are many reasons why they cling to the wreckage; timidity, routinism, conservatism, lack of vision all play their part. However behind the bureaucratic edifice that Blair created are human actors and for them it is a simple matter of self-preservation. The positions and lifestyles of those who put the shift in to build New Labour are absolutely dependent on the continuation within the party of Blair’s neo-liberal agenda. This grouping finds its main organisational expression in the Progress faction…. This conservative faction is already dominant within the PLP. The time, effort, and money they have spent on orchestrating the nomination of ‘their’ people as PPCS, show clearly their intention to try and continue their dominance of the PLP.
I should point out that many Unite members may well be supporters of Progress and of course that is their right. The position taken at this forum is based on union policy.
We are then, as in the 1980s moving inexorably to a struggle over the direction, shape and function of the Labour Party. However this will not be a simple rerun, there are some very important differences.
Firstly the impact of the left losing that struggle in the 1980s not only shaped policy it also enabled the imposition of a hugely undemocratic structure within the party…. Second the bankers crisis has not gone away we are not as in the 1980s entering a period of prosperity. Third rather then being at the start of the neo-liberal project we are now at its conclusion… and finally unlike in the 1980s when the drive for change came from the CLPs and with some notable exceptions the unions were on the side of the status quo today the biggest union in the country is leading the demand for change. Read the rest of this entry »
At last some sense about Falkirk in the mainstream press:
Falkirk Labour selection: Party must calm down not melt down or Tories will be only winners
Cops should be catching muggers, burglars, rapists and murderers – not deciding who may or may not be a member of a political party
Ed Miliband and low rent Tory MP Henry “who?” Smith deserve a rocket for wasting police time.
Dragging the boys and girls in blue into Labour’s Falkirk selection row is a ludicrous abuse of the police.
Cops should be catching muggers, burglars, rapists and murderers – not deciding who may or may not be a member of a political party.
Internal rules should be investigated internally, preferably with the report published.
Instead Labour is a party suddenly suffering a nervous breakdown, dis-United when it should Unite.
The battle over Falkirk is a war extending way beyond who will stand for Labour in that seat.
“Red Ed” is unwisely seeking to use it as a moment to prove he isn’t in the pocket of unions who helped crown him Labour leader.
Blairites in the Shadow Cabinet, particularly Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander who backed Ed’s brother David, want to change Labour’s direction.
So too does Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary, although “Red Len” thinks it should swerve left not right.
McCluskey, a quietly spoken Scouser, accused Miliband of twisting Falkirk into a Tony Blair Clause IV moment to impose his authority as leader.
There is something in that, as there is in McCluskey’s jibe that Miliband is allowing the Tories to call the shots.
The Conservatives are loving it and Grant Shapps’ smugness reminds me I must chase up the investigation into his get-rich-quick internet scheme under the alias “Michael Green”.
Labour needs to calm down, not meltdown in the summer heat.
The only winners are the Tories. David Cameron will be laughing into his Pimm’s.
Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey yesterday (4 July) issued the following statement, in the form of a letter to Labour Party General Secretary Iain McNicol. McCluskey denounces Labour’s internal report into alleged malpractice during the Falkirk selection process as…
…“Simply a ‘stitch-up’ designed to produce some evidence, however threadbare, to justify pre-determined decisions taken in relation to Falkirk CLP.
“Even on the basis of this flimsy report, it is clear that these decisions cannot be justified. There is no emergency which would justify imposing these undemocratic restrictions, since any real problems could easily be addressed before embarking on a parliamentary selectionprocess.
“The report has been used to smear Unite and its members. Even if the allegations of people being signed up to the Party without their knowledge were true, this had nothing whatsoever to do with my union.
“It is noteworthy that members of the shadow cabinet have been in the lead in initiating this attack upon Unite. Have they had sight of this report while I, the leader of the union put in the frame, has not had the courtesy of a copy?
“The mishandling of this investigation has been a disgrace. I, however, am obliged to uphold the integrity of Unite, and I can no longer do so on the basis of going along with the activities of a Labour Party administration in which I can place no trust.
“I will therefore be publicly proposing that an independent inquiry be held into all circumstances relating to Falkirk CLP and the conduct of all parties involved, including Unite, the Labour Party centrally (including the Compliance Unit) and in Scotland, the officers of the CLP itself, and all those who have sought or are seeking nomination as the Labour PPC.
“Unite will cooperate fully with such an inquiry, and draw appropriate conclusions from any findings regarding our own behaviour. I trust that you will support such an inquiry, will direct all Labour Party employees to cooperate with it and encourage other individuals to do likewise.”