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
By Andrew Coates (from Tendance Coatesy):
The biggest trade union in Britain, UNITE, has issued a statement of support for the Kobane resistance.
The statement came after representatives from Centre for Kurdish Progress met with UNITE officials and briefed them on the developments in the town of Kobane, where Kurdish fighters have been holding off an ISIS onslaught for the past 48 days.
In the statement, UNITE said it “offered its support and solidarity to the brave people of Kobane” and that “The bravery shown by the Kurds in Kobane in defence of the entire community is to be commended”.
The statement also highlighted Turkey’s role in the developments and said, “we were appalled that the Turkish government put its own nationalist politics ahead of the plight of Kurdish people”.
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.
JD adds: shame on those irresponsible and/or opportunist leftists who’ve supported Hicks and the campaign he waged in the Murdoch press against Unite.
Let’s make this the start of a real fightback on pay
Local Government and School workers’ unofficial blog (GMB, Unison, Unite), here
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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.
Analysis of the proposal -
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;
||Value of previous offer £pa
||Value of “proposal” £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);
||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.
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We carried a piece honouring Comrade Tom shortly after his death in August. But this appreciation, which also appears in the AWL’s paper Solidarity, is the best and most politically astute article about Tom I’ve yet seen. It is also very moving and the author, Mick O’Sullivan, was probably Tom’s oldest and closest political friend. I’m proud to be able to post it here at Shiraz, with the author’s unhesitating agreement:
I knew Tom as a friend and comrade since the early
Tom was someone who had a hinterland; his interests
spanned good whiskey, particle physics, a love of Sean
O’Casey’s plays, modernist architecture, and an encyclopaedic
knowledge of schisms in the Catholic Church,
which quite frankly bemused me. Tom was a very rounded
person and a very humorous one.
But I want to say something about Tom the public man.
Tom was a Marxist, an atheist and trade unionist who dedicated
his life to the working class and had an unwavering
conviction that socialism was the only hope of humanity.
Tom’s main arena of activity was within the unions and
in particular the T&G [later Unite].
Although he was active in the 1970s, his misfortune was
to come of age when the union movement was in decline.
That, however, was the movement’s gain. It meant much of
his activity was about holding the line; he did this by explaining
to those who had forgotten, and those who had
never known, what a trade union should do, and how a
trade unionist should conduct themselves.
He often made the point to me that there were no shortcuts,
no tricks to this, all we can do is talk and explain.
What I think gave his approach such a sharp edge was his
decision to consistently tell the truth. Now some may say
so what, what’s the big deal about telling the truth? Well,
all I can say is, you try it inside a trade union.
Talking, explaining and saying what needs to be done
next is what Tom did, and others will testify to his importance
within the T&G and its left.
However Tom was also vilified for his views. While we
often joked about this, the wellspring of this enmity towards
him arose from what he stood for.
If you think about it, there were always going to be those
who did not like the fact he was principled, that he fought
against Stalinist influence within the union, that he was incorruptible;
the idea that a trip to Cuba or America would
turn his head and him into someone’s creature was never
going to happen, although I have seen people try. On the
most mundane of levels there were those who resented
him because he always turned up to meetings having read
the paperwork, and they had not.
For all these reasons people kicked against Tom, yet in all
the years I knew him I never once heard him get angry
about such people; his duty was to explain. His political
enemies and comrades were a different matter. He was always
ready to have the argument.
Of course there are many trade unionists with similar
qualities. However no-one exhibited these qualities in quite
the same way or with quite the same mix as Tom.
In our world where we measure our actions and our victories
in a lower case, Tom played a huge role in holding
the movement together and provided real insights in how
we should rebuild it.
I cannot think of anyone who has acquitted themselves
in our cause with greater dedication. As for me
I have lost a dear friend and the staunchest of comrades
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Tomorrow (Saturday 6 Sept), the United Left (the ‘broad left’ group within Unite the Union) will debate the European Union.
This debate will be interesting, because until Unite’s June 2012 Policy Conference, both the two constituent unions that make up Unite (The T&G and Amicus) had toed the Stalinist/Labour-left ‘line’ of calling for withdrawal. This was overturned, largely because rank and file Unite members (especially those in Passenger Transport) understood the need for a co-ordinated European-wide response to the economic crisis and the bosses’ attacks. Thus the change of ‘line.’
The Stalinist and semi-Stalinist forces within Unite are, of course, anti-EU fanatics, but dared not openly attack the existing policy. Instead, at this year’s Policy Conference they put forward a resolution calling for an incoming Labour government to hold a referendum on EU membership. This is, in reality, a thinly disguised call for withdrawal, but I think it’s safe to say most delegates didn’t realise this, and it was passed.
So those of us who recognise the profoundly reactionary nature of “left” anti-EU posturing cannot afford to rest on our laurels within Unite. Here’s the text of the leaflet I’ve put together for the Alliance for Workers Liberty at tomorrow’s debate:
The possibility of a serious unravelling of the patchwork, bureaucratic semi-unification of Europe, slowly developed over the last sixty years, is more real today than ever before. The decisive push for unravelling, if it comes, will probably be from the nationalist and populist right.
Right now in France, an economic and political crisis is rocking Hollande’s weak, pro-capitalist socialist government and with the mainstream right also in crisis, there is a real possibility of Marine Le Pen of the Front National winning the 2017 presidential elections. Her recipe is for France to leave the EU, close its borders to immigrants and to embark on policies of economic autarky in the name of patriotism. Le Pen presently leads in opinion polls.
The EU could not survive the departure of France and would collapse into beggar-my-neighbour economic policies, competitive devaluations, trade protection and slump. Inevitably, wages would be driven down and workers’ rights would go by the board.
And that calls the bluff of a whole swathe of the British left.
For decades, most of the British left has been “anti-EU” as a matter of faith. In Britain’s 1975 referendum on withdrawing from the EU, almost the whole left, outside AWL’s forerunner Workers’ Fight, campaigned for withdrawal. Since then the left has hesitated explicitly to demand withdrawal. It has limited itself to “no to bosses’ Europe” agitation, implying but not spelling out a demand for the EU to be broken up.
The agitation has allowed the left to eat its cake and have it. The left can chime in with populist-nationalist “anti-Europe” feeling, which is stronger in Britain than in any other EU country. It can also cover itself by suggesting that it is not really anti-European, but only dislikes the “bosses’” character of the EU.
As if a confederation of capitalist states could be anything other than capitalist. As if the cross-Europe policy of a collection of neo-liberal governments could be anything other than neo-liberal.
As if the material force behind neo-liberal cuts were the relatively flimsy Brussels bureaucracy, rather than the mighty bureaucratic-military-industrial complexes of member states. As if the answer is to oppose confederation and cross-Europeanism as such, rather than the capitalist, neo-liberal, bureaucratic character of both member states and the EU.
As if the EU is somehow more sharply capitalist, anti-worker, and neo-liberal than the member states. In Britain more than any other country we have seen successive national governments, both Tory and New Labour, repeatedly objecting to EU policy as too soft, too “social”, too likely to entrench too many workers’ rights.
As if the answer is to pit nations against Europe, rather than workers against bosses and bankers.
When Socialist Worker, in a recent Q&A piece, posed itself the question, “wouldn’t things be better for workers if Britain pulled out of the EU?”, it answered itself with a mumbling “yes, but” rather than a ringing “yes”.
“Socialist Worker is against Britain being part of a bosses’ Europe”. Oh? And against Britain being part of a capitalist world, too?
Britain would be better off in outer space? Or walled off from the world North Korea-style? “But withdrawing from the EU wouldn’t guarantee workers’ rights — the Tories remain committed to attacking us”. Indeed. And just as much so as the EU leaders, no?
As recently as 2009, the Socialist Party threw itself into a electoral coalition called No2EU. Every week in its “Where We Stand” it declaims: “No to the bosses’ neo-liberal European Union!”, though that theme rarely appears in its big headlines.
The RMT rail union, in some ways the most left-wing union in Britain, backed No2EU and today backs the “People’s Pledge”. This “Pledge” is a campaign to call for parliamentary candidates to demand a referendum on British withdrawal from the EU, and support them only if they agree.
It was initiated by, and is mostly run by, right-wing Tories, but fronted by a Labour leftist, Mark Seddon. It is backed by many Tory MPs — and by some Labour left MPs such as Kelvin Hopkins, John Cryer, and Ronnie Campbell, and by Green MP Caroline Lucas.
The referendum call is a soft-soap demand for British withdrawal, based on the hope that a majority would vote to quit. (In a recent poll, 55% of people agreed with the statement “Britain should remain a full member of the European Union”, but 55% also agreed with the statement “Britain should leave the European Union”, so…)
Even the demand for withdrawal is a soft-soap, “tactical” gambit. In principle Britain could quit the EU without disrupting much. It could be like Norway, Iceland, Switzerland: pledged to obey all the EU’s “Single Market” rules (i.e. all the neo-liberal stuff) though opting out of a say in deciding the rules; exempt from contributing to the EU budget but also opting out from receiving EU structural and regional funds.
That is not what the no-to-EU-ers want. They want Britain completely out. They want all the other member-states out too. A speech by RMT president Alex Gordon featured on the No2EU website spells it out: “Imperialist, supranational bodies such as the EU seek to roll back democratic advances achieved in previous centuries… Progressive forces must respond to this threat by defending and restoring national democracy. Ultimately, national independence is required for democracy to flourish…”
For decades “anti-EU” agitation has been like background music in the left’s marketplace — designed to soothe the listeners and make them more receptive to the goods on offer, but not for attentive listening. If the music should be played at all, then it should be turned up now.
But do you really want the EU broken up? What would happen?
The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. “Foreign” workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face disapproval at best.
There would be a big reduction in the productive capacities of the separate states, cut off from broader economic arenas.
Governments and employers in each state would be weaker in capitalist world-market competition, and thus would be pushed towards crude cost-cutting, in the same way that small capitalist businesses, more fragile in competition, use cruder cost-cutting than the bigger employers.
There would be more slumps and depression, in the same way that the raising of economic barriers between states in the 1930s lengthened and deepened the slump then.
Nationalist and far-right forces, already the leaders of anti-EU political discourse everywhere, would be “vindicated” and boosted. Democracy would shrink, not expand. The economically-weaker states in Europe, cut off from the EU aid which has helped them narrow the gap a bit, would suffer worst, and probably some would fall to military dictatorships.
Before long the economic tensions between the different nations competing elbow-to-elbow in Europe’s narrow cockpit would lead to war, as they did repeatedly for centuries, and especially in 1914 and 1939.
The left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neo-liberal European Union, but forward, towards workers’ unity across Europe, a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe.
Alliance for Workers’ Liberty
He was … “a friend and partisan of all good causes, always ready to circulate a petition, help out a collection or get up a protest meeting to demand that wrongs be righted. The good causes, then as now, were mostly unpopular ones, and he nearly always found himself in the minority, on the side of the under-dogs who couldn’t do him any good in the tough game of making money and getting ahead. He had to pay for that […] but it couldn’t be helped. [He] was made that way, and I don’t think it ever entered his head to do otherwise or live otherwise than he did.
“That’s just about all there is to tell of him. But I thought […], that’s a great deal. Carl Sandberg said it in this way: ‘These are the heroes then – among the plain people – Heroes, did you say? And why not? They gave all they’ve got and ask no questions and take what comes to them and what more do you want?’ “ – James P.Cannon (The Militant, June 1947)
Above: Tom towards the end, with old friends and comrades.
I’ve just heard that Tom Cashman is dead.
His daughter, Ruth, got in contact to say:
My dad died yesterday. Though he had differences […] he considered you all comrades.
We will send round details of the funeral once it has been arranged.
“For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try and avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth…”
Leon Trotsky — the Last Testament of Leon Trotsky, Mexico, 27 February 1940
Tom had been ill with a brain tumour for a couple of years, so at one level his death is not a shock.
But Tom’s mental and physical strength meant that he’d hung on for much longer than would normally have been the case.
Not necessarily a good or merciful thing, but there we are.
I’ll write more about Tom shortly.
But for now, I’d just like to say:
He was about the finest and most principled person I ever knew.
He introduced me to real socialist politics.
He understood the interaction between trade unionism and socialist politics.
He – together with Graham Stevenson, who had completely different politics – devised the plan that kept union organisation intact on London buses after privatisation.
He was the voice of political sophistication and Marxism on the T&G -going into -Unite Executive, while he was on there.
Best wishes and solidarity to Ruth, Johnnie and all Tom’s friends, comrades and family.
I’ll write more soon.
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.”
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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