Unions vote against ending austerity in 2015

July 23, 2014 at 8:51 pm (Champagne Charlie, Cuts, grovelling, labour party, unions, Unite the union)

We’re reproducing another article by Jon Lansman of Left Futures. A behind-the-scenes supporter of Shiraz, who holds a senior position in one of the major unions, recommends Jon’s stuff as the best informed and most incisive commentary there is on the Labour-union link. This secret Shiraz-supporter particularly likes the way Jon brings out the fact (ignored by the likes of the Socialist Party and the SWP) that the trade union leadership is 100% complicit in all the Labour leadership’s “betrayals.”

Embedded image permalink

Above: Unite funds the People’s Assembly, but Len votes for austerity at Labour’s NPF

The climax of Labour’s formal policy process this weekend which had involved 1,300 amendments from local parties to eight policy documents, filtered down and composited by 77 regional representatives, was a debate on austerity. That’s fitting given that it is the foundation of the Coalition’s disastrous economic policy and, unfortunately, in a lighter version, of Ed Balls’s approach too.

What was less fitting, indeed shocking, was that it was a debate in which George McManus, the Yorkshire constituency representative moving the amendment, was given just one minute to speak, and Ed Balls the same. George made a great speech which you can read below. Ed’s speech consisted of a list of those who had withdrawn their amendments in favour of the “consensus wording” as if that was a sufficient argument for the perpetuation of austerity (and he ran over his time). There were no other speakers. The vote was 127 to 14 against the proposal that Labour’s policy be amended to read:

We recognise that the cost of living crisis is inextricably linked to government’s self-defeating austerity agenda. That is why we will introduce an emergency budget in 2015 to reject Tory spending plans for 2015-16 and beyond and set out how we will pursue a policy of investment for jobs and growth.”

Those voting against included some people representing the seven CLPs and numerous NPF members who had submitted almost identical wording and many more who essentially agreed with the amendment including representatives of all major trade unions (I’m told media and entertainment union BECTU voted for). After the vote, some of them, including leading MPs and trade unionists admitted their continuing support. They nevertheless felt compelled to vote against their own preferences and the policies of their unions. Continue reading →

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All Out July 10th!

July 9, 2014 at 12:24 am (Cuts, posted by JD, protest, solidarity, unions, UNISON, Unite the union, workers)

Public sector workers strike

Unison leaflets here

If you can’t get to the London demo, here are the local picket lines and demos:

LONDON & EASTERN

The Woolwich Centre, Wellington Street, Woolwich

Luton Town Centre
5.15 am Morson Road, Depot, Enfield
10.00 am Walthamstow Market Square
(10.45 move to Oxford Circus and assemble outside
Broadcasting House, Great Portland Street for 11.30 am)

Barking & Dagenham
Civic Centre Dagenham
Frizlands Lane Depot
Barking Town Hall
Creek Road Depot

Thurrock
Civic Office, New Road, Grays
Oliver Close Depot, West Thurrock
Curzon Drive Depot, Grays

Redbridge
Ley Street Depot
Town Hall Ilford

Newham
Building 1000, Becton
Town Hall, Barking Road,
Folkstone Road Depot, East Ham

Peterborough
Picket lines:
6.30 am Amey Depot
7.00 am Bayard Place (throughout the day)

EAST MIDLANDS

Northampton
11.30 am Beckers Park, Northampton
12.30 pm Rally at All Saints Plaza

Derby
Picket lines:

5.00 am Stores Road Depot
7.00 am The Council House
7.45 am Middleton House

11.00 am Rally at The Market Square

Chesterfield
11.00 am Rally at Rykneld Square

Leicester
Picket lines:
07.00 am Sulgrave Square
07.00 am Layton Road
07.00 am Blackbird Road

11.30 am Rally at King Street

Lincoln
11.30 am Rally at Brayford Wharf North
12.30 Rally at City Square

Nottingham
Picket lines:
Loxley House
Eastcroft Depot
Eastwood Depot
Nottingham City Homes

10.30 am Rally at Forest Recreation Ground

WEST MIDLANDS

Walsall
Picket lines:
7.30 am Town Hall, WS1 1TW
7.30 am Civic Centre staff entrance & environmental depot
200 Pelsall Road, Brownhills WS8 7EN

10.30 am Sandwell mbc organising a mass demo outside
the council house, oldbury with free transport to the TUC
demo in Birmingham

Stoke
Picket lines

07.30 am. Civic Centre, Swann House
Hanley town hall
Cromer Road depot

Kingsway Stoke, outside the civic centre – rally

NORTH EAST, YORKSHIRE & HUMBERSIDE

11.00 am Northumberland Road (next to City Hall), Newcastle
Northumberland County Council, Stakeford Depot
Durham County Council, Meadowfield Depot
Redcar & Cleveland Council Depot
Middlesbrough Council, Town Hall

SOUTH EAST

Southampton
Marlands
Civic (front & back)
City Depot
Shirley
Southampton Common
Woolston School Base

Portsmouth
Picket lines:
07.30 Green & Clean Depot, Port Royal Street
07.30 Civic Offices, Guildhall Square
08.00 City Museum, Museum Road
10.00 Portsmouth International Port
12.00 pm Rally at Guildhall Square

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Unite: going through the motions

May 19, 2014 at 6:13 am (Europe, labour party, Middle East, palestine, Socialist Party, stalinism, Stop The War, Syria, unions, Unite the union, workers)

logo-unite

By Dale Street

No merger with the PCS this side of a General Election. And maybe never.

Although they do not put it as bluntly as this, that’s the substance of two of the motions submitted to the Unite Policy Conference being held in Liverpool late June and early July.

Merger with a union not affiliated to the Labour Party would be “a huge distraction” from winning the election for Labour. Mergers are a good thing only if the unions involved have “similar industrial interests”. Mergers are bad for Unite if its financial situation would be damaged by the pensions liabilities of the other union.

Consequently, there should not even be any discussions about any merger this side of the General Election. And any proposed merger should have the approval of either Unite’s biennial Policy Conference or at least 75% of its Executive Committee.

Given the enthusiasm of the Unite and PSC General Secretaries for a merger – albeit one not shared by broad swathes of activists in both unions – these two innocent-sounding motions are likely to provoke no small degree of controversy at the Unite conference.

And they are not the only motions likely to do so.

Conference will again see a clash over Europe, with one motion calling for opposition to quitting the EU, opposition to a referendum on EU membership, and support for a pro-EU vote in the event of a referendum.

Other motions variously call for the union to demand a referendum and British withdrawal, and to campaign alongside of other unions and organizations such as the RMT and “No to EU/Yes to Democracy”.

According to the latter motions, the EU “blocks any political advancement” (apparently simply by virtue of its existence), the EU is becoming “a NATO-style military force” (given its “involvement” in countries from Afghanistan to Mali), and Unite needs to offer an alternative to UKIP (apparently by saying the same thing as UKIP on the EU).

Given their involvement in the “No to EU/Yes to Democracy” electoral initiative, one wonders whether the Socialist Party will be backing such motions (which no doubt originated with supporters of the Communist Party of Britain / Morning Star).

Conference will also see a re-run of what is becoming the ritual biennial jousting about the union’s affiliation to the Labour Party.

Some motions argue that the Labour Party is the only show in town and denounce “the growing talk about establishing a new party as naïve and dangerous adventurism and question the real motive of those developing this agenda.”

Motions on the agenda which seek to “develop this agenda” include demands for what might be called a sliding scale of disaffiliation (a 10% cut in affiliation fees each time Labour and/or its leadership commit various political misdemeanours).

Other motions of the same ilk call for Unite to convene an open conference “on the crisis of political representation for the working class” in order to “discuss the way forward for working class representation.”

In fact, the real controversy about matters pertaining to the Labour Party will not be triggered by the pro-disaffiliation-but-too-gutless-to-say-so-openly motions but by two other motions.

One of them – a pro-affiliation motion – “applauds the 13 members of the Unite Executive Council who had the foresight to vote against the Collins proposals.”

(It should be remembered that the Unite leadership slavishly backed the Collins Review, and that the bulk of the United Left members on the Executive Council either backed or abstained on the vote on the Collins Review – contrary to United Left policy.)

The other motion commits Unite to encourage councillors to vote against cuts, to support councillors who do so, to defend them against disciplinary action, and to “establish a dialogue” with Councillors Against the Cuts, with a view to possible joint campaigning activity.

(At the moment the Unite “line” effectively amounts to standing on the sidelines, on the grounds that Labour councillors are accountable to the Labour Party, not Unite.)

The vast bulk of the motions on the conference agenda focus on what might be termed “bread and butter issues”, in the positive sense of the expression.

They are motions which focus on the basic issues which face workers, in workplaces, in Britain, under a Con-Dem government, in 2014:

Attacks on terms and conditions of employment. Declining health and safety standards. Attacks on pension rights. Attacks on effective trade union organization. The privatization of public services. The spread of zero-hours contracts. Austerity. Growing inequalities in employment and in society as a whole. Environmental damage caused by the chase for profits.

It is important to register that fact to counter bogus claims by the right wing – within and outside the trade union movement – that unions have lost touch with their members and focus on esoteric international issues at the expense of their members’ real concerns.

Having said that, the agenda does include a number of oddities.

Motion B27 harks back to the “Buy British” campaign of the Daily Mail of the 1960s by calling for legislation to ensure that multinationals, companies and government departments “buy British goods to support British workers.”

Motion F28 rightly condemns celebrations of the 1914-18 war but claims that the Tories’ celebrations are “at least in part a consequence of their defeat in Parliament over armed intervention in Syria”, and that opposition to militarism requires support for the so-called “Stop the War Coalition”.

(The latest feat of the latter “coalition” was to act as apologists for the Russian militarism’s annexation of Crimea.)

Among various motions attacking “Israel the Apartheid State”, motion F11 condemns the “inhuman conditions” in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria resulting from “the siege” and “military attacks”.

But the forces carrying out the siege and the attacks (i.e. the Syrian army, which enjoys the support of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command)) are not even mentioned in the motion. Instead the real culprit is … Israel! As the motion puts it:

“The situation in Yarmouk is a direct result of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine since 1948 and the failure of the world to address the rights and demands of the Palestinian people.”

(In contrast to the various “End Israeli Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine” motions which advocate ratcheting up the boycott of Israel, motion F12 calls on Unite to encourage Israeli and Palestinian unions “to maintain their strong bilateral relationship as an important aspect of bridge-building for the peace process.”)

Finally, and on a very different note, motion P5 lists a comprehensive and worthwhile series of measures which Unite should take to support lay reps in the workplace.

Never has the aphorism “When I try and get hold of a full-timer, none of the f***ers ever phone me back” been expressed more eloquently and more constructively than it is in this motion.

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No to the PCS-Unite lash-up!

May 16, 2014 at 2:51 am (AWL, labour party, Socialist Party, unions, UNISON, Unite the union, workers)

From the AWL website:

Above: McCluskey and Serwotka

By a PCS activist

The annual conference of PCS, the largest civil service trade union, on 20-22 May will debate a motion submitted by the union’s Executive (NEC) on PCS merging into the big general union Unite.

The motion would instruct the NEC, on completion of talks with Unite, to convene a special delegate conference to debate the terms of “merger” and decide whether to proceed to a membership ballot to authorise the “merger”.

Strictly speaking the “merger” would be a transfer of undertakings. PCS members, staff and assets would transfer into Unite, essentially on the basis of the Unite rulebook (although the PCS leadership is said to be looking for assurances on democracy and PCS membership of Unite decision making committees).

Some PCS members think the leadership is keen on merger because the union’s future looks extremely difficult. With Tory-led Coalition’s austerity drive, PCS has lost a significant number of members since May 2010. In 2013 alone it lost a net average (leavers minus joiners) of 1,600 members each month. Further civil service job cuts are looming.

Moreover the union is under explicit threat of Tory ministers quickly ending the “check-off” whereby civil service departments deduct PCS dues directly from members’ wages and pass them to the union.

The PCS Independent Left, the left wing opposition to the ruling Left Unity/ Democracy Alliance, has said that if PCS is facing financial meltdown then “merger” with Unite has to be supported, irrespective of qualms, simply to keep trade union organisation alive in the civil service and other workplaces where PCS organises.

However the PCS leaders claim that the union is well able to continue as an independent organisation. The PCS Independent Left therefore argues that it should do so rather than transfer members to Unite.

The PCS leaders proclaim that moving PCS to Unite “would create a union able to bridge the traditional divide between unions operating in the public and private sectors so that we can boost our bargaining power.” They do not explain how, for example, the bargaining power of Unite members in a car factory will be boosted by the adhesion of PCS to Unite, or how the bargaining power of civil servants in HMRC or DWP will be boosted by being in the same union as car workers and other trade unionists in the private sector.

The Left Unity/Democracy Alliance has run PCS for eleven years. Over that time it has totally failed to overcome successive governments’ divide-and-rule policy of carving the civil service up into a huge number of “delegated bargaining units” and to regain civil service national bargaining. Yet that same leadership now asserts that merely by joining Unite it will overcome the bargaining divisions between public and private sector workers.

The PCS leadership effectively assumes that union “merger” is a shortcut to the development of wider working-class political awareness and industrial militancy.

The PCS leaders state that “merger” (transfer!) would create “a new, powerful force in the public sector adapted to today’s changing industrial circumstances that can deliver more for members” but has not explained precisely what it sees as the changing industrial circumstances and precisely how this new force within Unite would be better able to deliver for Unite and PCS public sector members. They do not say how the awful defeats PCS has suffered under their leadership would have been avoided if we had been Unite members.

The underlying and only very partially stated argument would seem to be that:

• PCS cannot “win” against the state on its own (winning is rarely defined by the PCS leadership),

• Public sector workers must therefore strike together on pensions, pay, jobs and services (and presumably keep striking until the demands of all the different occupational areas of the striking public sector workers have been satisfied – not a model the PCS leadership followed in the pensions dispute with the last Labour Government)

• Unison and other unions cannot be trusted to do so, as shown by the pensions debacle in November 2011

• If PCS “merges” with Unite and a large public sector group is created, then Unite will be able to call out its civil service, NHS and local authority workers at the same time, and thereby put pressure on Unison and other unions to join with it.

There is plenty of talk about a “new powerful force”, “making a difference”, needing “a more effective trade union fightback in the public sector” and PCS and Unite sharing the same basic approach of being genuine fighters for members. However, nothing has prevented Unite and PCS from calling such joint action before now if they wanted to.

In reality, Unite remains a relatively minor player in the NHS and local government. A fully united public sector fightback would require Unison to play an effective and committed role. That is extremely unlikely under the current Unison leadership.

PCS should certainly agitate for joint action, but has to develop its own independent strategy for winning on issues facing PCS members. There is no short-cut through merger with Unite.

The PCS leaders hint that they see themselves (in Unite) as competing with Unison for authority in the TUC and members in the NHS and local government. They say, “A merged union would become the second largest public sector union. It would be the first public sector union to hold substantial membership in…the NHS, local government and central government.” PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka spoke at last year’s PCS conference of creating a “left wing pole of attraction” in the union movement.

But competition with Unison is unlikely to attract its membership in mass numbers. If a few left-wingers are won over, that will be at the price of them abandoning the fight to replace the leadership in Unison of Dave Prentis or a successor in the same mould chosen in Unison’s next General Secretary poll in 2015.

Mark Serwotka or the Socialist Party, the dominant group in the PCS leadership quite clearly see themselves running Unite’s public sector group. They are certainly not going to give up the leadership of an independent trade union just to play second fiddle in one sector within Unite.

And Socialist Party must have high hopes of dominating Unite’s “United Left” through the much bigger PCS Left Unity membership.

Merger is likely to mean losing PCS’s democratic structures and its actual and potential industrial coherence.

PCS has annual elections at all levels; annual national and group conferences; delegates directly elected by branch members; and a widespread membership understanding of the key industrial issues.

Delegates to Unite’s national conferences are indirectly elected by regional committees and regional industrial sector committees; national policy conference takes place every two years; national rules conference every four years; industrial sector conferences every two years. Elections for the Unite NEC, Regional and Branch Committees are held every three years.

PCS’s very different circumstances enable direct relationships between members and the different levels of the union and within the single “industry” that is the civil service and the private sector support companies that provide services to the civil service. The end result is a membership with common workplace experiences and issues that gives national PCS an explicit and (potentially) unifying coherence of trade union purpose. That makes accountability (potentially) easier to judge and deliver.

There is simply no real industrial logic to merger with Unite.

There is some opposition on the left and right to merger with Unite because of its relationship to the Labour Party. It’s an opposition which either sees PCS in apolitical terms (a union for state employees!) or sees politics purely in terms of standing would be left-wing independent candidates in opposition to the Labour Party. Both are wrong and fail to outline any way in which PCS can help remove the Tories from government, ease the considerable pressures on members, and replace them with a trade-union based party whose leaders need to be opposed and tested with positive working class policies.

For certain an alternative to Labour will not be found through TUSC or similar candidates. Serious socialists opposed to the merger should not get caught up with opposition on sectarian grounds.

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The Unite/PCS deal and the danger of a divided labour movement

May 9, 2014 at 6:56 pm (labour party, posted by JD, reblogged, socialism, unions, UNISON, Unite the union, workers)

We republish, below, an important article by long-standing Labour and Unite leftist, Jon Lansman, from the  Left Futures blog. Jon Seems to share my misgivings about the proposed merger/’transfer’ between PCS and Unite:

 Above: McCluskey and Serwotka discuss a new union … and party?

Discussions are, we hear, proceeding apace between Unite and civil service union, PCS, about what has until now been described within PCS as a merger but at the recent Unite executive (at which Len McCluskey got its backing for formal talks) was described as a “transfer of engagements“, aka “a takeover“. Many details remain to be discussed, but what has already been agreed is that, if it happens, PCS would in January 2015 become part of Unite, under the existing Unite rulebook, with its current Labour Party affiliation arrangements.

It is clear that both Len McCluskey and Mark Serwotka are personally very committed to it. As an active Unite member, I’ve been a strong supporter of Len McCluskey in both elections he has fought for General Secretary. I also admire Mark Serwotka, who is an excellent communicator, with progressive and non-sectarian politics, and who is clearly popular with a very large section of his members. But I’m unconvinced of the case for bringing the two unions together, for which there seems to be little industrial logic.

The main motivation for merger talks, according to the pre-conference briefing recently produced for PCS members, is “the creation of a new, powerful force in the public sector adapted to today’s changing industrial circumstances that can deliver more for members.” But Unite is predominantly a private sector union. Whilst it has important groups of workers in health, local government and education, it is a relatively small player in those sectors. The vast majority of PCS members would join Unite’s relatively tiny number of civil service members (mainly in the MoD) in a new civil service sector. But Len McCluskey, interviewed in the same briefing, says:

If you did decide to join us, you would bring invaluable experience. In my opinion it could be the catalyst to creating a very powerful public sector force, linking central and local government, health, and education, to build a much stronger coalition.”

My interpretation of this is that there is no pretence that there is necessarily an industrial logic for a merger today. But creating “the second largest public sector union” today, “a fighting-back union” unafraid of backing workers prepared to take strike action to defend pubic services and their jobs, could be a “catalyst” to becoming the largest public sector union sometime soon.

Certainly, that’s the way some people in Unison see it. It is “a statement of intent to launch a competitive challenge to UNISON in the public services” says the Unison Active website. Some may see that as sour grapes for failing to achieve what Unison Active describes as the”impeccable trade union industrial logic” for the creation of “a single public service union” with the merger of PCS and Unison (never mind Unite & the GMB, but did they forget the teachers? – Ed). Others argue that Unison has brought it upon itself. Jon Rogers, left member of Unison’s executive, argues that “friends in UNISON need to reflect upon why no other union … ever wants to consider merging with us“.

Read the rest of this entry »

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PCS to ‘join’ Unite?

April 23, 2014 at 11:01 am (posted by JD, unions, Unite the union)

 Above: Len McCluskey of Unite (left) and Mark Serwotka of PCS

A report (below) that should be of interest and, perhaps, concern, to members of both Unite and PCS. I have yet to be convinced of the industrial logic of this proposed lash-up. In addition, as PCS is not affiliated to the Labour Party, it could give a boost to those stupid/sectarian elements within Unite who want to disaffiliate from Labour:

“The Special Executive on Thursday agreed to sanction the commencement of
formal talks with PCS, following a period of exploratory talks. This will
not be a merger but a transfer of engagements, in which PCS will agree (or
not agree?) by ballot to join UNITE. Therefore there is not expected to be
any significant change to the Rule Book though it may require minor
technical changes. In other words there is not expected to be any disruption
to UNITE and/or its members and officers/staff as a result of the transfer
of engagement.
  
“PCS would bring with it some 200,000-230,000 members almost all of whom
would form a new industrial sector in UNITE for civil servants. The
remaining private sector members would be allocated to the appropriate UNITE
industrial sector e.g. GPM and IT Comms? One of the attractions is that
UNITE would be a stronger voice for public sector workers linking up Health,
Local Authority, MOD & Gov Depts with PCS’ Civil Servants. Politically PCS
sees itself as a fighting back union like UNITE and we do not expect
difficulties there. We still do not know what financial liablities this
would bring but due diligence would apply in formal talks and if the
implications are not acceptable this could of course be a deal breaker
  
“There was a small vote ( 5 or 6?) against the proposal from some UNITE NOW
and other non-UL exec members.”

(From the United Left email list)

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Unite the Union on Europe and the European elections

April 10, 2014 at 5:42 am (elections, Europe, labour party, posted by JD, unions, Unite the union, workers)

logo-unite

Unite the Union and Len McCluskey take a refreshingly  pro-working class approach, in marked contrast to the Faragist idiot- “left

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]

 

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Unite: Hicks has crossed class lines

March 29, 2014 at 6:27 pm (apologists and collaborators, Asshole, capitulation, class collaboration, ex-SWP, grovelling, law, Murdoch, posted by JD, SWP, unions, Unite the union)

Above: Jerry Hicks

The following article from today’s Times requires little comment from me. I am by no means an uncritical supporter of Len McCluskey, but the developments described in the article (which, like previous pieces in the Murdoch press, has clearly been written with the full co-operation of Hicks) vindicate my assessment that Hicks was not worthy of support in last year’s Unite election and is entirely unfit to lead a trade union. If Hicks had any genuine concerns about the conduct of the election, he could have raised them within the union, which whatever its faults under McCluskey is at least a fairly open and democratic organisation. Those leftists (not just the SWP) who supported Hicks should now be hanging their heads in shame. Incidentally, anyone who knows anything about Unite will know that any “phantom voters” would have been, overwhelmingly, from the ex-Amicus side of the merged union – precisely the constituency that Hicks was appealing to in his campaign. A shameful indictment of a man (Hicks) who can no longer be considered even to be a misguided part of the left:

Union leader faces re-election inquiry after ‘ghost’ vote claim

-Laura Pitel Political Correspondent

The head of Britain’s biggest trade union is to face a formal hearing over claims that his re-election to his post was unfair.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, has been accused of a series of irregularities by Jerry Hicks, his sole rival in last year’s contest.

Most serious is the allegation that ballot papers were sent to 160,000 “phantom voters” who should not have been allowed to take part.

Unite is being investigated by the independent trade union watchdog over the claims. The Certification Office has the power to order a re-run of the race if Mr Hick’s concerns are upheld.

This week it announced a formal hearing into the claims, provisionally scheduled for July.

Mr Hicks, a former Rolls-Royce convenor who was backed by the Socialist Workers Party, believes that Unite’s decision to include 158,824 lapsed members in last year’s vote was in breach of the rules. The charge emerged after the discovery that there was a mismatch between the number of people granted a vote and the number of members cited in its annual report.

It has been claimed that some of those who were sent a ballot paper for the election, which took place in April 2013, had not paid their subscriptions for several years and even that some of them were no longer alive. The Times revealed in January that fewer than 10 per cent of the disputed members had renewed their subscriptions.

The hearing will listen to eight complaints, including allegations that Unite resources were used to campaign for Mr McCluskey and that it refused  to allow Mr Hicks to make a complaint.

All the charges are rejected by Unite, which says that the rules were adhered to throughout the contest. It argued that it sought legal advice on sending ballot papers to those in arrears with their membership and was informed that excluding those who had fallen behind with their payments would be against the rules.

If the complaint about the disputed voters is upheld, Mr Hicks will have to persuade the watchdog that it could have had a significant impact on the outcome if he is to secure a re-run. Failing that, the ombudsman may instruct the union to take steps to ensure that the breach does not happen again.

The outcome of  the vote was that Mr McCluskey won 144,570 votes compared with 79,819 for Mr Hicks.

Mr Hicks said he was “very buoyed up” by the news that he had been granted a hearing. He lamented the low turnout in the race, when only 15 per cent of Unites 1.4 million members voted and said he hoped that his complaints would lead to a more democratic union.

The last time a re-run of a general secretary contest was ordered was in 2011, when Ucatt, the construction union, was found to have sent ballot papers to only half of its 130,000 members.

* the use of alleged “extreme tactics” by trade unions is to become the sole focus of an official inquiry into industrial relations, ministers have revealed (Michael Savage writes).

The investigation, announced last year, was originally ordered to examine bad practices by employers as well as the controversial “leverage campaigns” wages by some unions. However, it will now only focus on the alleged intimidatory tactics used by unions.

 

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Unite Executive backs Collins

February 13, 2014 at 6:15 pm (capitulation, Johnny Lewis, labour party, reformism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

logo-unite

By Johnny Lewis (with help from Colin Foster)

The Executive Council (EC) of Unite today voted to back the Collins proposals on the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions. Apparently, just 13 members voted against and the union’s United Left was split three ways, with some voting in favour, some against and some abstaining.

Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey had already made his attitude clear by ensuring that the two Unite full-time officials on Labour’s Executive voted for the proposals on 4 February. The Unite lay rep on the Labour Executive, Martin Mayer, abstained (and is reported to have done the same at the EC), while stating that he does not like the proposals.

It is, sadly, a traditional approach of trade union leaders: to accept bad proposals without a fight because they are pleased with the adroit negotiation which made the proposals not as bad as they might have been, and they think that further “boxing clever” can curtail the remaining evils.

It looks as if most union leaders will follow McCluskey’s lead when the proposals go to a two-hour Labour Party special conference at the Excel Centre in London on 1 March.

Local Labour Party delegates, and as many unions as possible, should still vote against the proposals on 1 March, if only to lay down a marker for the battles between now and 2019 and to register a principle.

The principle is that no-one should vote for a far-reaching package like Collins’s unless they are positively convinced that it is good, and that they have had adequate space to consider, debate, and amend the package.

In fact the Labour leaders have planned 1 March as a “coronation” for the package. Moves are afoot to seek a vote in parts on the package, but that will take a struggle. Scope for amendments? None.

The evil in Collins is not so much in what it proposes immediately (though that includes bad things) as in its projection for 2019:

“After a transitional period of five years, affiliation fees shall only be accepted on behalf of levy payers who have consented to the payment of such fees. At that point, the scale of a trade union’s collective affiliation shall be governed by the number of levy payers who have consented to the payment of affiliation fees”.

That reads bland and technical, but it is not. The gist is the very opposite of the blather about building Labour as a mass working-class party.

Individual not-very-politically-active trade unionists currently have a political say through their unions’ collective representation in the Labour Party and through the right to vote on Labour leader and deputy leader.

Under the Collins plan, from 2019 all those individuals who fail or forget to tick a box on a form will be compulsorily “opted out” from their unions’ democratically-decided, collective, political action in the Labour Party, and form their individual voting rights in the Labour Party.

It is not spelled out in Collins’s text, but the aim here is to engineer smaller affiliation numbers so as to gain leverage for reducing the unions’ representation at Labour conference and in Labour committees.

Such reduction will increase the overweighting in the Labour Party of professional politicians, advisers, researchers, think-tankers, and their business-people friends.

It will firm up the characteristics of the Labour Party that shape the leaders’ current policies for continued pay freezes and cuts after 2015, and a feeble fight against the Tories.

Rumour has it that Unite will reduce its formal Labour-affiliation numbers soon, and the GMB will reduce its numbers too, though not as much as it said it would a few months ago.

The “clever” idea here seems to be that if unions’ formal affiliation numbers have already been reduced before 2019, at a time when unions still have their 50% vote at Labour Party conference, then the reduction to box-ticking numbers in 2019 will not be steep and will give less fuel to the Labour right-wingers who want to reduce union representation.

But the 2019 plan should be contested head-on.

The Defend The Link campaign is preparing material to tease out the detail of the Collins report, and will be active at the conference on 1 March.

And after that the battle must continue. Only two rule changes are to be voted on 1 March. Properly, the proposed shift in 2019 should require a further rule change.

Some Labour Party insiders warn that the leadership may try to make the shift without a rule change, but that can and should be contested.

Defend the Link

Collins report

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Labour/union link: Maguire of the ‘Mirror’ joins the defeatists

February 3, 2014 at 6:49 pm (Jim D, labour party, reformism, Socialist Party, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Reports in the mainstream media that Ed Miliband is about to “break the link” with the unions, are somewhat exaggerated – or at least, premature. The main thing about the Collins report (examining the Labour/union link in the aftermath of the Falkirk non-“scandal”) is that, while it doesn’t change union representation in the LP immediately, it contains a “time bomb” promising to change it in 5 years’ time. It’s obviously important to oppose that, and the ‘Defend The Link’ campaign’ will be producing a briefing in the next few days. However, silly people who think there’s something “progressive” about breaking the link will, no doubt, seize upon the Collins recommendations (to be pushed through the Party NEC tomorrow, before a special Party conference on 1st March) to pronounce the link either dead already, or not worth defending.

Up until now, the only people within the labour movement publicly arguing for breaking the link have been the Socialist Party and the treacherous Blairite scum of ‘Progress’. But now, some serious people ostensibly on the left within the labour and trade union movement seem to be taking up what is, essentially, a defeatist position. Some influential people around Len McCluskey are taking about disaffiliating if Labour loses the next general election, and the Daily Mirror’s respected columnist, Kevin Maguire, argues, in today’s edition, for unions to break with Labour and “issue bold agendas and seek to radicalise Labour from the outside, instead of swallowing abuse on the inside. ” In other words, a “left wing” version of the relationship that US unions have with the Democrats. It sounds very radical, doesn’t it? In reality, it means giving up on the idea of the working class having a party of its own. We republish Maguire’s piece (below) so that activists know the sort of arguments to expect from so-called “left-wingers” in favour of breaking the link:

Mirror columnist Kevin Maguire argues that it’s time the unions left what he calls “their abusive relationship”:

It’s time for the trade unions to march proudly out of Labour’s front door instead of being slowly bundled out of the back.

Rather than enduring a thousand indignities, organised labour should take its money and people and abandon institutional links with the party it fathered, nurtured, saved and continues to sustain. However Ed ­Miliband dresses up these far-reaching reforms, which were triggered by his blind panic over the selection of a parliamentary ­candidate in Falkirk, the truth is he wants union cash but not the unions.

The Labour leader elected on the back of members is terrified of the “Red Ed” tag, never forgiving those who awarded him the top job. Miliband’s treatment of the unions reminds me of the Tony Blair era when the general secretary of the TUC, John Monks, complained they were treated like “embarrassing elderly relatives” by an ungrateful leader.

Votes were fixed weeks ago to pass Miliband’s package at this week’s meeting of Labour’s national executive committee and a shamefully short two-hour conference on St David’s Day.

Yet speaking to very senior figures in the biggest unions, including Unite, Unison and the GMB, I know they feel they get poor value for money as they begin contemplating a moment when they could formally break from the party. They shouldn’t be afraid when a split might benefit both, mutual ­interests better served by space when living in each other’s pockets creates an unhappy marriage.

It’s an issue I’ve wrestled with for years, listening to the arguments from both sides.

The great Jack Jones counselled “murder yes, divorce never” but I believe Labour and the unions are a couple who need to go their separate ways.

The argument for one member, one vote in Labour will always trounce justifications of creaking federal structures. Miliband changing how leaders are elected prompts questions he hasn’t thought through about his own ­legitimacy under a discredited system.

And he’s in La-La land if he thinks anything short of outlawing union membership and transporting activists to Australia would end Tory smears.

But Miliband can do his job and union leaders can negotiate policies for donations rather than handing over millions of pounds in return for sniping and ingratitude. The party over the past few decades got more out of the link than the unions. A prominent Labour figure, a supporter of party ties, told me it was ­frustrating that ­unaffiliated unions such as the teachers, cops and nurses were courted while ­affiliated unions were vilified. A Labour MP, a champion of the union link, ­whispered that he was afraid Ed is opening a Pandora’s box.

Left-wing unions ­withholding up to £4million from Labour under a new ­membership system, he said, would have the resources to fund a rival party. Creating a UKIP of the Left would be self-defeating for indulgent unions, with Tories the only winners if a weakened Labour is electorally drained. The challenge for independent unions would be to issue bold agendas and seek to radicalise Labour from the outside, instead of swallowing abuse on the inside.

Miliband’s reforms are essentially a power grab dressed up as democracy.

He is a leader who strengthened his patronage by abolishing elections for Labour’s Shadow Cabinet and Chief Whip. Emperor Ed raising from 12.5% to 20% the number of MPs required before a candidate may stand for the leadership is a narrowing of Labour politics intended to stop a Leftie winning a party vote.

The rule would’ve barred Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott, limiting the last contest to a family affair, with elder brother David likely to have beaten the younger Miliband the most delicious irony of the reforms.

Tellingly, not one union has affiliated to Labour since the Second World War and a couple, the RMT railworkers and FBU firefighters, departed. The other unions should call ­Miliband’s bluff and leave by that front door. Once out, they’ll never want to go back in.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/unions-should-ones-using-eds-3106474#ixzz2sHHx6tWE
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