Unite(d) Left to debate EU

September 5, 2014 at 6:35 pm (AWL, Europe, Jim D, Unite the union, workers)

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:

******************************************************************************************************

Dear comrades,

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

Permalink 2 Comments

Tom Cashman’s funeral

August 11, 2014 at 3:54 pm (good people, love, posted by JD, RIP, secularism, socialism, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Hi all,

Please forward on to union brothers and sisters.

Thanks,

Ruth Cashman

Dear Friends, Comrades and Family,

As you know, Tom died on the afternoon of Tuesday 5 August 2014. The funeral will be held at  Clandon Wood Natural Burial Reserve, at 2pm on Thursday 14th August (details of how to get there below). It will be a secular celebration, followed by a natural burial, in the woodland. The reception will be held at the Fox and Hounds, Surbiton from approximately 5 p.m

Dress however you feel most appropriate, please bear in mind the burial will take place in woodland, so you should wear shoes which are relatively easy to walk in. 

Flowers: We ask that if you would like to bring / send flowers, they be hand-tied rather than wreaths (no plastic, please). Tom was not a man who would have been hugely concerned with his own funeral but would have approved of flowers; if you would prefer to recognise the occasion in another way, you might like to make a donation to Keep Our NHS Public or the Doncaster Care UK strikers, as Tom was passionately committed to public healthcare and we appreciate all that the health professionals did for him toward the end of his life. 
 
Thank you to everybody who has already contacted us to send love, solidarity and support, it really is appreciated. 

With love and solidarity, 

 Johnnie Byrne and the Cashman Family

If you have any questions, please email ruthycashman@gmail.com

Getting to Clandon Wood Natural Burial Reserve

By Car

Clandon Wood Natural Burial Reserve,
Epsom Road,
West Clandon,
Guildford
Surrey
Set Sat Nav to Epsom Road, GU4 7TT

Parking available at the Burial Reserve

Click here for map

By Public Transport

Train

Nearest train station is Clandon, which is served by trains from London Waterloo and Guildford.

Bus

478 GUILDFORD to LEATHERHEAD – Operated by Reptons Coaches
462 / 463 GUILDFORD to WOKING – Operated by Arriva
479 / 489 GUILDFORD to EPSOM – Operated by Excetera

It is a thirty minute walk from Clandon Station to the burial ground, unless you prefer to walk we will be arranging to collect people from The Onslow Arms, a pub on The Steet, West Clandon, very close to the station. Click here for map of The Onlow Arms

Getting to the reception at Fox and Hounds.

By Car

60 Portsmouth Rd
Surbiton
KT6 4HS

Click here for a map of the Fox and Hounds

Parking: Small car park at rear of pub, free street parking from 4pm locally, if both are full there are a number of local public car parks.

We hope to arrange to drive, all or most people travelling by public transport, to the reception. Please speak to Alastair, on the day, if you have space in your car.

By Public Transport:

Nearest train station is Surbiton (5 mins walk), trains run direct from Clandon.

Click here for a map of the walk from Surbiton station to the Fox and Hounds 

We hope to arrange to drive, all or most people travelling by public transport, to the reception. Please speak to Alastair, on the day, if you do not have a car.

Permalink 1 Comment

Tom Cashman: R.I.P.

August 7, 2014 at 8:15 pm (good people, humanism, Jim D, Marxism, RIP, secularism, Unite the union, workers)

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)

With comrades cashman,Byrne,Denham andO'Sullivan
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:

Hi comrades,

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.

In solidarity,

Ruth

“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.

Jim

 

Permalink 6 Comments

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 →

Permalink 1 Comment

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

Permalink 3 Comments

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.

Permalink 2 Comments

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.

Permalink 3 Comments

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 »

Permalink 7 Comments

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)

Permalink 6 Comments

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]

 

Permalink 1 Comment

Next page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 479 other followers