Guest post by Mick Rice
A CUNNING PLAN?
|McCluskey: ultra left?|
In 1968 I became a socialist. In 1969 I joined the trade union movement. In 1970 I got a job as a Research Officer for my union, the AEU.
One of my tasks was to prepare a report on what had happened to the union’s policies. In 1969 the union had sent a motion to the Labour party requesting an incoming Labour Government to nationalise the British chemical industry. I phoned the Labour party to find out what had happened. I was put through to Margaret Jackson (subsequently Margaret Beckett ) in the Research Department. Now I have a bit of a soft spot for Margaret Beckett as any politician who admits to ordinary enjoyments (she is a caravan holiday enthusiast) cannot, in my book, be all bad.
She told me – one researcher to another as it were – that the Labour party conference arrangements committee would have merged all such motions into a great big composite. The composite motion would have been written to sound as radical as possible whilst committing the Labour party to nothing whatsoever. The motion would have been rendered meaningless. I was shocked – I was still quite young – that I actually asked why the Labour party would do such a thing. She told me that an incoming Labour Government always sought maximum freedom to do as it pleased. The Labour leadership didn’t want to be saddled with policies decided by members and the unions. She was just telling me how it was and I do not believe that she was a supporter of such behaviour.
I had suspected that the Labour party was not quite “what you see is what you get”, but I was now made privy to the dark arts of political chicanery and double-dealing. Labour, then as now, was a top-down organisation where the members do the work to maintain a “Westminster elite”.
If anything it has become worse. Shortly before the 1997 election how we all ached for a Labour Government. Eighteen years of Tory rule had almost been too much – immigration or Dignitas beckoned if the Tories won a fifth term!
After a hard day’s campaigning one of my mates opined: “You know after 6 months of a Labour Government we are going to feel terribly let down”. The tragedy was that we all knew that it would be true.
In government, the Labour leadership maintained a vice like grip over the party machine and ensured that only its supporters were selected as parliamentary candidates. Some of us thought that things would loosen up a bit once we were in opposition – but not a bit of it. In Falkirk the disgraced Labour MP announced that he would not stand again following his arrest for a punch up in a House of Commons bar. My trade union, Unite, sought to secure the nomination for a union friendly candidate.
The Chair of the constituency Labour party, Steven Deans, who was also a union convenor at Ineos, campaigned to recruit more trade union members into the party. The right wing leadership was horrified as this would mean that their favoured candidate would probably lose. In consequence Ed Milliband called in the Police to investigate Steven Deans for potential fraudulent recruitment! The Police found “insufficient evidence” for a prosecution (basically he had done nothing wrong). By this time his employer had sacked him. Clearly Ineos were encouraged in their anti union victimization by the way the Ed Milliband treated Comrade Deans.
As far as I am aware the Labour party never apologised for its treatment of Steven Deans!
Political bodies are never willing to amend their constitutions when they are winning elections. After all there can be no justification for improving internal democracy when the electors support you! But next year in Scotland the SNP are likely to do very well – some polls indicate that Labour will lose 37 of its 41 Westminster MPs!
Len McCluskey, forced a fresh general secretary election last year because he believed that the union should not be distracted by an internal election campaign around the time of the general election. His re-election means he has a further 2 years as general secretary. He also said that if Labour loses that Unite could disaffiliate and support a new Workers’ Party. It is not often that union general secretaries can be criticised for ultra-leftism, but McCluskey is wrong, a thousand times wrong! Instead of asking union members to disaffiliate he should ask Unite’s Scottish levy payers the simple question:
Do you want the Scottish Labour party to be an independent body?
With the “vested interests” significantly cut back through electoral defeat in Scotland the trade union component of the party must have greater weight! Accordingly, most affiliated unions in Scotland would follow Unite’s lead and do likewise.
Even if Labour doesn’t lose the election and forms a coalition with the LibDems, or has a confidence and supply deal with the SNP, who have vowed never to support a Tory government, Unite should still raise this with its Scottish members.
Of course, an independent Scottish Labour party must also mean that the English and Welsh parties would become independent also. At one stroke the Westminster elite of careerists, ne’er-do-wells and apparatchiks that has dominated the party for so long would be dealt a death blow! Of course there is nothing to stop the new independent Scottish Labour party seeking electoral packs with its sister parties in the UK but control would be in Scotland and the leadership would be in Edinburgh! It will be somewhat easier to ensure leadership accountability on a more local basis and it will also mean that power right across the party will become regional.
Just at a time when Labour becomes more amenable to trade union interests, McCluskey is suggesting abandoning the historic party of the labour movement and setting up a new Workers’ Party.
Members of Unite should force him to see sense.
Affiliated unions in Scotland can change the party for good
In memeory of Jimmy Ruffin, May 7 1936 – Nov 17 2014
The Council Collective performing the extended version of Soul Deep live on Channel 4’s The Tube, 14th December 1984 at the studios of Tyne-Tees Television in Newcastle Upon Tyne. In aid of the striking miners this single featured Paul Weller, Mick Talbot, Dee C. Lee, Jimmy Ruffin, Junior Giscombe, Dizzy Hites and Vaughan Toulouse.
Press release from Unite:
No re-run of Unite election as regulator dismisses claims against Len McCluskey
The Certification Officer has dismissed attempts to force a re-run of the election which saw Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey elected to hold office until 2018.
Following hearings earlier this month, Certification Officer, the trade union regulator, rejected claims by Unite member Jerry Hicks, the other candidate in Mr McCluskey’s 2013 re-election contest, relating to the eligibility of some members to vote in that election.
The challenge centred on claims of supposed ‘phantom votes’ cast, but this was overwhelmingly dismissed by the Certification Office who ruled against Mr Hicks on the substantial issues he had complained about.
Commenting, a Unite spokesman said:
“Unite was always confident that we had acted within the rules of our union and the law at all times.
“We are pleased that the certification officer has dismissed the key claims against Unite and we hope that media who gave such credence to claims of `phantom votes’ will now give this legal decision comparable attention.
“Unite’s members have had to endure repeated – and as we now are clear, baseless – smears against their union. With this decision our union’s integrity is upheld, and our focus on the vital task of standing up for working people can continue.”
The decision by the Certification Office concludes a year of legal proceedings on the matter.
Let’s make this the start of a real fightback on pay
Local Government and School workers’ unofficial blog (GMB, Unison, Unite), here
Cross-posted from Local Government Worker Activists , a new unoffical blog for Local Government and School workers (whether in GMB, Unison and Unite) to organise to defend members terms and conditions and coordinate a rank and file network against cuts, for decent pay and conditions and against privatisation and the break up of local government.
The pay proposals from the local government employers are rubbish now and rubbish in the future.
In the current year the new pay proposals from the local government employers offer;
- No more money in 2014/15 than if we had accepted the employers’ first offer for everyone who earns more than £430.41 gross a week;
- A pittance extra in 2014/15 for those earning less – barely enough to buy a round of drinks and much less than has been lost by those who took strike action on 10 July;
- Coming nowhere near our objective of a flat rate increase of at least one pound an hour;
- Failing to achieve the living wage for workers up to spine point 10.
Comparing the proposals to the original offer in 2014/15 (national pay spine) at various points demonstrates just how trivial the “gain” for the lowest paid is in these proposals compared to the previous offer;
|Spine point||Value of previous offer £pa||Value of “proposal” £pa||Gain £pa||Equivalent gain per month||Equivalent gain per week|
Even for those who make some gain in 2014/15, this is far less then the cost of having taken a day’s strike action on 10 July (based on the national pay spine);
|Spine point||Gain||Deduction at 1/365th||Deduction at 1/260th|
Rubbish in the future
The proposal doesn’t achieve the living wage or anything like it.
For the low paid, we sought to achieve the living wage of £7.65 per hour (£14,759 a year, for a full-time worker based upon a 37 hour week). The “proposal” leaves everyone on spine point 10 and below earning less than the living wage (set in October 2014) until at least April 2016.
The proposal does nothing to make up for the decline in our earnings.
The UNISON online pay calculator shows how much worse off we are as a result of the pay freeze. A worker earning £12,435 (well below the living wage) is £2,248 a year worse off but is being offered only £1,065 to make up for this, with nothing more until April 2016. A worker earning £24,982 is £4,905 a year worse off but is being offered only £547.62 to make up for this, with nothing more until April 2016.
The proposal does not break the Government’s 1% pay policy.
The appearance of a 2.2% increase in 2015/16 can only be achieved by sleight of hand, ignoring the fact that this is a two year deal (paid nine months late) and that the very worst we could have expected anyway, without any campaign or industrial action, would have been two successive 1% pay awards, which together would have been worth a combined 2.01% anyway. A settlement on the basis of this “proposal” would be gambling away our opportunity to fight for a decent pay rise in 2015 (a year in which a General Election will be fought in large part on the issue of living standards) in return for an increase 0.19% larger than the worst we could otherwise have expected.
|Spine point (national pay spine)||Annual salary in 2015/16 under the “proposal” £pa||Annual salary in 2015/16 based upon two 1% increases £pa||Benefit of the “proposal” £pa in 2015/16||Monthly benefit of the “proposal” in 2015/16||Weekly benefit of the “proposal” in 2015/16|
* facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Local-Government-workers-deserve-a-decent-pay-rise/590019704361076?fref=ts from which people can download placard covers, leaflets for the TUC demo, etc.
Support the online campaigns!
- International Union of Foodworkers – http://www.labourstart.org/go/hkiuf
- Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions – http://www.labourstart.org/go/hkctu
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) – the only independent union in China – has called for workers to strike in support of the democracy movement as mass civil disobedience actions come under heavy police attack. The Swire Beverages (Coca-Cola) union and the HKCTU unions of school teachers and dockers are striking and will be joined by other member unions.
Tensions have been building in Hong Kong since the August 31 government announcement that candidates for the position of Chief Executive would have to be vetted and approved by a pro-business, pro-Beijing committee.
The protests, originally organized by the students’ federation and the Occupy Central coalition, have drawn increasing numbers of supporters. The mainland government has harshly condemned the protestors’ demands and the “illegal” protests.
On September 28, the HKCTU declared “we cannot let the students fight alone”, and called for workers to strike in support of 4 demands: the immediate release of all the arrested, an end to the suppression of peaceful assembly, replacing the “fake universal suffrage” formula with the genuine political reform workers have been demanding, and the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying.
The HKCTU has been the backbone of the democracy movement, before and following Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. Their courageous action deserves the support of trade unions everywhere.
Show your support – click on the links above.
Then, spread the word – via facebook, tweets, etc.
* Breaking News: the strike of Local Government employees on October 14 has been called off after an improved offer from the employers’ side.
“It is true that an informal offer has been made to unions of an average 2.2% pay increase which will mean some members getting less than 1% to pay for a better increase for others.
“The offer will need to go to NJC. I imagine there will be a call for a lobby of NJC. This is a lot more than I thought we’d be offered early on. I don’t know exactly how it’s being divided out, but it appears to involve a rise of 2.2 % from 1st of January with one off payments ranging from £250 for lowest grades. going down to £100 for other grades which will be paid in December.”
The march starts on Embankment 1pm , with form up from 11am. We suggest joining from the rear at Blackfriars to avoid a crush further up Embankment. After moving off, the march will go along Embankment to Northumberland Avenue, across Trafalgar Square, along Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus, and then along Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner, where it will enter the park. The rally in Hyde Park will start as the march reaches the stage.
I ran into Comrade Clive Bradley over the weekend, and he was warm in his praise for the film Pride, which depicts (albeit in “feel-good” style à la The Full Monty and Made in Dagenham) the role of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) during the great 1984-5 strike.
Clive was a prominent member of LGSM at the time, although he’s not portrayed in the film.
Here’s an interview that Workers Liberty’s paper Solidarity did with Clive a couple of weeks ago, just after the film’s release. There is also a review of the film, which I haven’t republished, but which can be read here.
“The miners needed solidarity”
Solidarity: What was LGSM and what did it do?
Clive: It was a group that was set up of lesbians and gay men set up to support the miner’s strike. It has to be said it was initially mainly gay men, but more and more women got involved over the time. Practically it raised money for the miners who were on strike for a year. Mainly by standing outside lesbian and gay pubs rattling buckets, it raised quite a lot of money. This was sent to a particular mining community in south Wales, in the Dulais valley, with which connections had been made.
Solidarity: Why did this get started, and how did you get involved?
Clive: It was the idea of two people in particular, Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson. Both are dramatised in the movie. They put out a call at Pride in ‘84 and organised a meeting at “Gay Is the Word” bookshop in London. At that time I was just moving to London from Manchester and was a member of Socialist Organiser [forerunner of the AWL]. It’s not rocket science to see how I got involved.
I went to the second ever meeting of LGSM. I was active in supporting the miners and thought it was a brilliant initiative. It proved to have a very powerful effect on lesbian and gay men and on the miners. The NUM went on to lead the pride demonstration in August 1985. The NUM, a traditional union, not famous for its view on matters such as lesbian and gay rights, became quite prominent in the changing policy on gay rights in the Labour Party.
Solidarity: What impact did it have in the gay community, and what arguments did LGSM make about why gay people should support the miners?
Clive: The strike lasted for a whole year and divided the country, divided everybody. A lot of people supported the miners and didn’t need to be persuaded, but we argued that we needed the miners to win. If the miners lost then the Tory government would be going for everybody, and these lesbian and gay communities would be an easy target. People would put a lot of money into the bucket to show solidarity — presumably a lot of money they didn’t have in many cases. LGSM was the first really concrete example of how an “autonomous” movement of the “specially oppressed” (as we used to say) could struggle alongside the organised working class, and transform working-class consciousness in the process.
Solidarity: Were other left groups involved in LGSM? What was their attitude to it?
Clive: Some members of different left groups were personally involved, even members of Militant [forerunner of the Socialist Party] and the SWP, whose organisations were more hostile to the project. Militant , for example, generally argued that any kind of autonomous organisation was necessarily divisive. LGSM and Women Against Pit Closures, etc. showed that quite the reverse was true.
Solidarity: How was LGSM received in the mining communities?
Clive: The film does this quite cleverly. It is basically a rom com between two communities. The film shows you both acceptance and hostility, but a growing acceptance. That isn’t far off what actually happened.
I went to South Wales twice, the second time when the strike was actually finishing in March ‘85. That was very emotional for all of us. My own experience was that people couldn’t really have been more welcoming.
The first time we went down, there was a minibus load of us, we were being put up in people’s houses, that was the deal. We all went down to the miner’s welfare in the evening to sing songs and get drunk. It was completely fine, no hostility at all.
The reality was we were raising money for them. The miners needed solidarity, and I’m sure if people were at first dubious about where the solidarity came from, need overcame that. And, of course, as you make contact with people you realise that you have more in common than you initially thought. Why the suspicions broke down, as I’m sure there were some, is no mystery. It was the nature of people meeting each other and the power of solidarity.
Solidarity: What do you think members of LGSM learnt from the experience?
Clive: For many people it was their first time going to that sort of working-class community, though certainly not for everyone. We were a mixed group and certainly there were people from working-class backgrounds, it was not all middle class lefties. The vast majority were just people who wanted to do something.
When you have a big confrontation between a section of the working class and the government you have to take sides, more than just in your head.
There have been reunions [of LGSM] recently and many people still seem to hold broadly the same views that they used to. You can tell for many people in LGSM it was an absolutely formative experience in their lives, and very important to them.
Solidarity: Do you think there was rolling back after the defeat of the dispute, both in the gay community and in the mining community?
Clive: The miners were beaten and most of them lost their jobs. Generally speaking in the class struggle, the defeat of the miners had a hugely bad effect. We’re still living with the consequences of it.
I doubt miners’ attitudes rolled back too much with regards lesbian and gay rights. You started to get stories of miners coming out. At reunions we get visits from miners. We often hear “it turns out my son is gay”.
Ex-miners and their families came up from south Wales for the film premiere.
In the lesbian and gay community, struggle wasn’t rolled back. You got growth of the lesbian and gay movement after 1985. Not long after was “Section 28” [the Tory law which prevented the “promotion of homosexual lifestyles”] against which you had enormous demonstrations. The pride parades in the early ‘80s were relatively small, but by the late ‘80s and certainly the early ‘90s they were enormous.
Solidarity: What do you think about the film?
Clive: It gets an awful lot incredibly right. It’s in the broad ball park of something like The Full Monty, but much more political. Over the credits you have someone singing Solidarity Forever. It takes for granted that the strike was right. It’s absolutely about the importance of class struggle and solidarity between communities. The portrayals of the real people are very close and a good tribute.
Its good that for the anniversary of the strike, this particular act of solidarity will be remembered.
By Dale Street (cross-posted from Workers Liberty):
“Don’t mention the war!” — that well-known line from an episode of the 1970s sitcom “Fawlty Towers” — should have been the header for the emergency motion entitled “Situation in Ukraine” passed by last week’s TUC congress. (1)
The motion ignored Russia’s ongoing political and military attack on Ukraine’s right to self-determination. It misrepresented the (real but limited) influence exerted by fascist organisations in Ukraine. And its concluding demands sounded left-wing but were in fact politically incoherent.
The motion noted comments by the NATO General Secretary that its recent summit in Wales had been held “in a dramatically changed security environment”. It further noted that this statement came only a day after a Pentagon announcement that 200 US troops were being sent to Ukraine for “training exercises”.
But there is a deliberate triple omission here. The “dramatically changed security environment” is the fact that for the first time since the Second World War the territory of a European country has been seized by that of a neighbouring big power.
In March Russia annexed Crimea. This was followed by Russia supplying separatist forces in south-east Ukraine with weapons, munitions, “volunteer” fighters, military instructors, and political leadership.
In August, with the separatists staring eventual defeat in the face, Russia launched an invasion of south-east Ukraine. It still has troops there. All of this has been omitted from the motion.
The second omission is that the “training exercises” now underway are indeed “training exercises”, and were planned long before Russia launched its campaign of military aggression against Ukraine.
The final omission is that while the motion condemns the presence of 200 US troops in Ukraine it fails to mention the tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks periodically concentrated by Russia at the border with Ukraine.
After briefly expressing concerns about the human suffering caused by the conflict, the motion expressed further concerns about “attacks on trade unionists and the empowering of fascist groups, including the Odessa Massacre which saw that city’s trade union centre burned to the ground.”
The fact that the Odessa trade union centre was not “burned to the ground” is a side issue. More issue is the misrepresentation. Trade unionists should indeed oppose attacks on trade unionists and the empowering of fascist groups. And there are organised Ukrainian-fascist groups in Ukraine, even if they currently enjoy only very limited support: in last May’s presidential elections their candidates each secured only around 1% of the vote.
But there are also pro-Russian and ethnic-Russian fascist organisations in Ukraine. These organisations figure prominently in the separatist leadership, which includes members of the fascist “think tank” Izborsky Club. Russian and French fascists have also been identified in the ranks of the separatist armed forces. (2)
The motion concluded with three demands.
The General Council should consider how best to support those fighting for trade union rights and against fascism in “the Ukraine”.
But this would mean support for Ukrainian trade unions, whose leaders have repeatedly condemned the separatist movement and Russia’s attacks on their country. In fact, given the role played by fascists amongst the separatists, it amounts to a call for support for the Ukrainian military!
There should be an immediate permanent ceasefire and a peaceful negotiated settlement.
But this would require willingness on both sides. As the TUC adopted this motion separatist leaders declared that they were not bound by the terms of the ceasefire agreed in Minsk (3) and that their goal was to sieze the bulk of Ukrainian territory in order to create “Novorossiya”. (4)
And the use of British forces in the Ukrainian conflict should be opposed.
Given that there are no proposals to use British troops in the “Ukrainian conflict”, the purpose of such a clause is – at first sight — unclear.
In fact, the clause fits into the overall politics of the motion.
A few Dave-Spart left-wing truisms (support for trade unionists, anti-fascism, opposition to NATO) grafted onto a Basil-Fawlty attitude of “don’t mention the war” (no mention of Russian troops, Russian weaponry, Russian fascists, or Russian invasions).
Trade unionists should argue for their unions to adopt policy based on events in the real world: Russia, Hands Off Ukraine!; Ukrainian-Russian workers unity against oligarchs and neo-liberalism in both countries; Against fascism — both Ukrainian and Russian!
NB: Eric Lee adds