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
Follow us: @DailyMirror on Twitter | DailyMirror on Facebook

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Labour owes Stevie Deans an apology

January 23, 2014 at 11:55 am (democracy, good people, labour party, law, police, posted by JD, reblogged, solidarity, truth, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Jon Lansman (at Left Futures, 22 Jan):

Stevie Deans and Grangemouth

Yesterday [ie 21 Jan], the Scottish police confirmed that they had found “no evidence of any criminality” in their inquiry into the activities of Stevie Deans, who was until three months ago full-time convenor at the Ineos plant at Grangemouth (where he’d worked for 25 years) and Chair of Unite in Scotland as well as the sometime Chair of Falkirk Labour Party.

This is the second time, allegations against Stevie Deans have been investigated and dismissed by the Scottish police, the first referral having come from the Labour Party, the second from INEOS. Unsurprisingly, Unite yesterday condemned the fact that “the police’s time has been wasted by vexatious complaints and their attentions diverted from catching real criminals and solving real crimes“.

Labour regards the whole affair as closed, especially now that Karen Whitefield, the former MSP, has been selected as the Labour candidate for Falkirk, but there is no truth and reconciliation process in Labour’s rule book. Stevie Deans may have lost his job, Karie Murphy denied the opportunity to seek the nomination, Tom Watson lost his place in the shadow cabinet, and hundreds of people recruited to the Labour Party denied any participation in the selection, but no apologies are required it seems.

The whole affair was talked up by politicians (including some then in the shadow cabinet) and bloggers associated with Progress, making allegations of ballot-rigging based on nothing more than rumour and speculation, with the express purpose of persuading Ed Miliband to smash what’s left of union influence in the party.

The Labour Party’s investigators failed to speak to Stevie Deans or Karie Murphy who were suspended without a hearing, on the basis of a secret report, and Unite the Union, and its general secretary, were subjected to months of unjustified abuse.

Ed Miliband, on the back of his condemnation of the “machine politics” he claimed was evident in Falkirk, did indeed propose the most radical change in the relationship between the party and the unions, which he continues to seek in some form in spite of the collapse of the justification for doing so.

Stevie Deans and Karie Murphy deserve some apologies.  So do Labour’s affiliated trade unions. And the biggest apologies should come from those associated with Progress. 

What we are shortly likely to get instead from those associated with Progress, whatever appears in the Collins report, is criticism of Ed Miliband for not going far enough to smash what’s left of union influence.

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Return of the Rat

November 25, 2013 at 6:54 pm (Guest post, labour party, mccarthyism, protest, scotland, Unite the union)

By Roland Wright

UNITE Union Smell A Rat

A decade ago the Scottish Sunday Herald had a circulation of over 60,000. But now it has sunk lower than 25,000.

A decade ago Paul Hutcheon was an investigative reporter. But now he just hunts with the pack.

Could the decline in the paper’s circulation be in anyway related to the decline in the quality of its journalism?

“Leading Labour MSP Urged to Resign After Taking Part in Unite Demo Outside Director’s House,” read the headline above an article by Hutchinson in yesterday’s edition of the paper.

Over five weeks after the event, the giant inflatable rat used in a Unite protest outside the house of an Ineos director had made a comeback: “Smith was one of 13 people pictured. He was standing next to the rat.”

Hutcheon’s use of the hack-journalist technique of guilt-by-association was positively breathtaking. It ran as follows:

The rat was next to Drew Smith who was next to his aide Michael Sharpe who is the son of Cathie Jamieson MP who is part of Ed Ball’s shadow treasury team at Westminster.

Sharpe, luckily for him, was not standing next to the rat. He was “holding a placard.” A very unconventional activity for someone taking part in … a protest.

Not that Hutcheon actually refers to the event as a protest. Deploying his wordsmith skills to the utmost, he writes instead of “the Unite trade union’s notorious ‘leverage’ demo.”

Another problematic aspect to the article was that Smith was not actually taking part in the protest (not that there would have been anything wrong with his participating, especially given that he is chair of the Labour Trade Union Group in Holyrood.)

The Unite protest coincided with the Dunfermline by-election campaign for the Holyrood seat left vacant after the resignation of the incumbent SNP MSP.

Along with two of his aides, Smith happened to be distributing Labour by-election leaflets on the estate where the Unite protest was taking place.

This certainly makes a mockery of the anonymous “senior party source” quoted by Hutcheon: “A trade unionist with any sense would not have gone within a hundred miles of that protest.”

Clearly, there wouldn’t have been much point in distributing leaflets calling for a Labour vote in the Dunfermline by-election over a hundred miles away in Inverness.

But the bigger problem with the article is the headline reference to Smith being “urged to resign.” By whom was he being “urged to resign”?

Why, none other than Eric Joyce MP!

That’s the Falkirk MP with the chequered history of drunken brawls in the House of Commons and Edinburgh Airport, dalliances with a 17-year-old schoolgirl, drink-driving, refusing to take a breathalyser test, and record claims for parliamentary expenses.

When it comes to speaking out about parliamentarians who should resign, Joyce clearly commands no small degree of authority on such matters! In a comment unlikely to endear him to local councillors, Joyce said:

“The image of a Labour shadow cabinet member smiling as he takes part in a leverage squad outside someone’s home is thoroughly nauseating. He should resign immediately.”

“The Scottish shadow cabinet doesn’t feel like a serious prospect at the moment. Members are content to operate at the level of the local councillor which some of them remain.”

A non-story about a man who stood next to a giant inflatable rat over five weeks ago?

It’s hardly investigative journalism. In fact, it’s not even news.

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Unite and the Labour Party

November 25, 2013 at 7:56 am (class, democracy, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reblogged, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Jim Kelly (first posted on the United Left website)

To Be Heard We Need A Voice

The current debate about the Labour Party – trade union link is the most fundamental since the TUC voted back in 1899 to establish what became the Labour Party. It isn’t a debate we asked for, because we’d rather concentrate on winning back millions of voters including our own members to ensure we end austerity and restore the hope, decent jobs and social justice the British people deserve. But it is one we cannot shirk.

In three weeks our executive council is due to consider our position on this debate. Most other major unions have already agreed submissions to Ray Collins’s review, and they have much in common. Whilst they all support strengthening the link, they all strongly defend the principle of collective affiliation rather than a union voice dependent on individuals opting in to some form of individual membership. On this the left and the traditional right are agreed.

On this more than any other issue, it is important that trade unions stand together. As the party’s biggest affiliate by far, Unite should be in the forefront of the campaign for a stronger voice, just as under Len McCluskey’s leadership, we have been in the forefront of the campaign against austerity – against Labour being “a pinkish shadow of the coalition”.

We know that there will be no report available from Ray Collins, but there is no sense in waiting until February for the executive to take a position when it will be too late to change the options and we will be forced to choose only between supporting or opposing them. Len initiated a debate on the issues we face back in July when he set out his thoughts – it is time the union decided what we think about those issues and started arguing our case.

If unions stand together, with half the votes at Labour’s conference, and supported by many constituency parties worried about the severe threat to the party’s finances from Ed Miliband’s proposals, as well as the negative impact on the left within the party, then the link can be successfully defended. The changes that were proposed were not thought through, and they are both bad for the unions and bad for the party. But that is not enough.

As Len said in July, “for a long time we have been taken for granted by people who welcome our money, but not our policy input, who want to use our resources at election time but do not want our members as candidates”. We know that, as the GMB’s Paul Kenny said at the Brighton conference on behalf of all affiliated unions, our experience under New Labour was of “collective voices ignored in favour of free market dogma”.

Len was right in July to argue that “the status quo is not an option” but not because there is anything wrong with collective affiliation, or with the “block vote” itself. In a democratic, federal party, there is no collective voice without block votes – constituency parties have them too.

The trouble with the block vote is that in the last twenty years, the trade unions have used them, however reluctantly, to undermine the very party democracy we now need and miss. We voted away the right to submit motions and amendments and the right for Labour’s national executive to oversee policy-making, until the party conference was left with almost no purpose at all, except as a circus where bag-carriers and careerists tout themselves in a political version of X -Factor.

We allowed power to be centralised. And even where we did manage to extract a few policy concessions, we have to vote for all sorts of bad policies alongside them to get that little benefit.

We need to restore democracy to the party. We need a Labour conference that makes policy again. We need a Labour executive that manages the party. And Unite is the union that should be leading the way. So it is wrong to say “don’t let anyone say that the status quo is worth defending” because some aspects of the status quo are worth defending:

• The Labour Party itself is worth defending. There is no better option for Unite and the other trade unions. • What levers of power we have in the party are worth defending. Trade unions have half the votes. That means a veto on changing the rules of the party. A level of influence we should use to restore democracy. Without more democracy, we can never have enough influence on what Labour does.

It is true that “significant numbers of Unite members do not support Labour” but far fewer support the Tories than in the general population, and the vast majority of our members favour having a political fund and a political voice which they know perfectly well is used to support and influence the Labour Party. The real problem is that too many of our members don’t vote or are seduced by false hopes like those offered by UKIP, or the SNP (even though it is far closer to big business than Ed Miliband’s Labour Party).

We cannot agree that our main aim should be “to ensure that as many Unite members as possible, already paying our political levy, now sign up individually, by whatever means have transparency and integrity, to be affiliate members of the party.” Whilst it is right to encourage Unite members to join the party and become more active, it is inconceivable, especially after our experience in Falkirk, that we will succeed in large numbers, until we have succeeded in changing Labour.

And to do that we need to make Labour more democratic. That should be our main aim.

Jim Kelly (chair London & Eastern region, Unite) in a personal capacity

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Grangemouth: the left’s unserious response

November 16, 2013 at 7:31 pm (AWL, ex-SWP, left, political groups, posted by JD, scotland, Socialist Party, SWP, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Given the importance of the Grangemouth dispute, the scale of the defeat and the implictions for British trade unionism, we make no apology for returning yet again to the subject. This article by Dale Street, analysing the pathetically inadequate, self-deluding and unserious response of much of the British left, first appeared in the AWL‘s paper Solidarity.

Stevie Deans inside Unite's office at the Grangemouth facility, September 2013.

Above: Stevie Deans in his Grangemouth office

The Unite union’s defeat by Ineos at the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemicals plant in Scotland merits serious analysis and discussion by socialist organisations. We need to understand what happened and draw appropriate lessons in order to minimise the risk of such defeats in future.

Much of the left press has been desperate to spin a narrative of a militant workforce champing at the bit to take radical action, but being held back (and, ultimately, stitched up and sold out) by a capitulatory bureaucracy.

Workers Power told us: “The workers and their shop stewards, who bravely campaigned for a ‘No’ vote (i.e. rejection of the new terms and conditions), refused to be blackmailed.” By contrast, “McCluskey shamefully fled the battlefield at the first threat from Ineos billionaire boss, Jim Ratcliffe.”

The WP version of reality continued: “What followed (after Ineos announced closure) was an utter disgrace to trade unionism and a total betrayal of the loyalty of the workforce to its union. So-called socialist general secretary and darling of most of the left, Len McCluskey, not only accepted all of Ineos’ demands but ‘embraced’ a deal that extended the strike ban for three years.”

A common pattern. But is it what happened in this case? A statement by Ineos Unite convenor Mark Lyon said: “I made the call to accept the company terms and it was not at all easy. The decision was made by me but with the full endorsement of our stewards and our members. I make no apology to anyone for this decision.

“It is our judgement that they (Ineos) were prepared to close the site down and our members preferred to keep their jobs and take a hit on terms with the plan to work our way back.”

“Len McCluskey came to Grangemouth to give us support and solidarity. He did that but did not make this decision… we did.”

The eventual deal at Grangemouth represents a huge setback for workers, but it is simply not consistent with facts to suggest it was foisted on an unwilling workforce from above by Unite’s national leadership.

Both Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Network paint a similar picture, with both deeming Unite’s affiliation to the Labour Party a central cause. Socialist Worker said: “Despite McCluskey’s often fiery rhetoric, his strategy rests on winning a Labour election victory, not on workers’ struggle.” And, according to the ISN, “Unite’s leadership was still distracted, playing games in the Labour Party. Not only did they lose those games, they took their eyes off what was happening to their actual members.”

The SWP and ISN’s starting point is not an analysis of the actual events at Grangemouth, but their own position on the Labour Party (that it is an irrelevance and a diversion, and that no struggle against its leaders using the existing Labour-union link is possible). The facts are then interpreted to justify the preconceived position.

Such an approach entails ignoring events in the real world which contradict that “analysis”. Thus, when Mark Lyon’s statement was posted on the ISN website over a week ago, the response from the ISN was… not to respond at all.

This was despite the fact that the person who posted Mark Lyon’s statement was the author of the article which it contradicted! But what did reality matter for the ISN when compared with an opportunity for (inaccurate) denunciation?

And if events at Grangemouth unfolded as claimed by the SWP and the ISN, then one would expect no shortage of Unite members in Grangemouth to be criticising their leadership (at plant, Scottish and national level).

But neither the SWP nor the ISN articles (or any other article written from the same angle) carry any quotes from Unite members in Grangemouth criticising their leaders for having sold them out.

In fact, the best that the SWP could come up with by way of a Unite activist providing the obligatory statements about “bullying bastard bosses” and “what was needed was to occupy the plant” was a Unite convenor in Donnington in Shropshire (who has been providing similar on-cue and on-message quotes to the SWP for over a decade).

The ISN’s references to “playing games in the Labour Party” and Unite taking its eyes off “what was happening to their actual members” merit particular attention.

The mainstream media, the Tory leadership, and Tory strategists like Lynton Crosby have launched countless attacks on Unite’s alleged activities in Falkirk Labour Party, using them as their central conduit for their attacks on the Labour Party.

But the ISN majestically dismisses the focus of those attacks (i.e. Unite’s involvement in the local Labour Party) as a mere case of Unite “playing games”.

ISN is right to insist that Unite focus on what’s happening “to their actual members”. But one of those “actual members” is Stevie Deans.

When Unite defended him — not just in Ineos against management’s attacks. but also in the Labour Party against attacks by party officials — it was not getting bogged down in “playing games in the Labour Party”. It was defending one of its “actual members” — which is what trade unions are meant to do.

In contrast to the above analyses, the Socialist Party (SP) focused heavily and sympathetically on the dilemma facing shop stewards in the plant itself. But it too approached the situation by looking for opportunities to justify its own dogmatic and sectarian position on Labour. Labour’s pro-capitalist policies, the SP said, were “holding the union back,” Labour “does not support workers in struggle,” and Unite should therefore “come out clearly in favour of a new mass workers party.”

In other words: Unite should pull out of the Labour Party in exchange for… the SP’s spectacularly unsuccessful Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.

The other curiosity about the SP’s analysis was what was not in it: a call for a general strike.

This was not an oversight. The SP leaflet distributed at the rally in Grangemouth on 20 October also made no mention of a general strike. Nor did the SP’s model motion for union branch meetings, drafted in response to Ineos’ announcement of closure of the plant.

For the SP, a general strike is something to demand in motions to TUC congresses and trade union conferences or when Cameron suffers a defeat in Parliament (e.g. over Syria). But when a potential major industrial and political dispute looms on the horizon — the call for a general strike suddenly disappears. Perhaps the reason is that it’s a sloganistic article-of-faith designed to catch a mood, rather than a serious strategy proposal.

What characterises much of the left analysis of Unite’s defeat in Grangemouth is:

• Substituting a simplistic notion of workers-want-to-fight-but-leaders-sell-out for serious analysis (and, even if that simplistic notion were true, failing to explain how the leaders managed to get away with selling out such a highly organised workforce).

• Adapting their analysis in order to fit in with their own pet themes and hobbyhorses.

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Hicks and the Murdoch press: a tale of vanity, stupidity, treachery and dishonesty

November 11, 2013 at 1:32 am (class collaboration, Guest post, labour party, Murdoch, strange situations, SWP, Tory scum, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Anne Field

Another Sunday. Another issue of the Sunday Times. Another attack on Unite (on pages 1, 4, 16, 17 and 33).

But this time Jerry Hicks – the founder, leader and mouthpiece of the “Grass Roots Left” in Unite – has given a helping hand. According to the front-page article:

“Hicks said this weekend: ‘Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi? There are serious questions that need to be answered about these tens of thousands of non-members of the union who were sent ballot papers.’”

The reference to “tens of thousands of non-members” receiving ballot papers relates to Hick’s complaint to the Certification Officer , alleging that in the Unite general secretary election held earlier this year 160,000 ballot papers were sent to former members not entitled to vote.

Unite’s response is that the members’ subscriptions had lapsed but they were still entitled to vote. Under rule 4.1 of the union’s rulebook members can be up to 26 weeks in arrears before being removed from the membership lists.

“Hicks says that it is not credible that nearly 160,000 members were in recent arrears of membership,” continues the Sunday Times article. But in a union with 1.4 million members it is entirely credible. Annual membership turnover in a union is 25%.

(See para. 9 of the recent government report: “Amendment to the TULRCA 1992: Trade Unions’ Registers of Members: Impact Assessment”.)

But the issue here is not – yet another – complaint by Hicks to the Certification Officer. It is his statement: “Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi?”

The starting point for that statement can only be that Unite committed vote-rigging abuses in recruiting its members to the Labour Party in Falkirk. The sole question for Hicks is whether it was “an aberration or a modus operandi.”

This was no slip of the tongue by Hicks. In an earlier statement about Grangemouth Hicks wrote on his website of Unite’s “infantile, unfunny comic capers of infiltration through recruiting members to the Labour Party.”

Hicks’ line of argument is: Unite engaged in vote-rigging in Falkirk – isn’t it credible, therefore, that it engaged in the same malpractices in this year’s general secretary elections?

In fact, one of the comments on Hicks’ website is much more straightforward and makes explicit was Hicks merely insinuates:

“An investigation should have been launched to establish who in Unite cheated which resulted in McCluskey winning. Another investigation should be launched by the police into data protection issues over the use of Unite membership lists.”

(Clearly, one must assume that Hicks and his supporters were 100% supportive of Labour Party officials handing over the dodgy ‘Falkirk dossier’ to the police.)

Hicks is very proud of the Sunday Times coverage of his complaint to the Certification Officer. On his website he boasts:

“Jerry Hlcks (sic) challenge to validity of Unite General Secretary election makes ‘Sunday Times’ front page. The ‘Sunday Times’ (01/11/13) (sic) front page article ‘Union Boss Len McCluskey Elected by Phantoms’ carries my complaint to the Certification Officer.”

Hicks is either too thick or too callous, to be quite blunt about it, not to recognise that the Sunday Times front page article is nothing but another vicious witch-hunting attack on Unite, drawing parallels between supposed malpractices in Falkirk and supposed malpractices in Len McCluskey’s re-election.

It is also another disgraceful attack on Stevie Deans. The article makes a ‘linkage’ of Stevie-Deans-Unite-convenor (nearly lost everyone their jobs), Stevie-Deans-Falkirk-Labour–chair (vote-rigging) and Stevie-Deans-election-campaigner-for-McCluskey (vote-rigging).

Solidarity with his own union in the face of this witch-hunt? Solidarity with a fellow union member who has been hounded out of his job and his union and Labour Party positions?

Of such solidarity there is not a word in Hicks’ piece. Instead, narcissism trumps solidarity. “The media are responding to our (sic – should read: my) press release of 9th September,” claims Hicks.

No. The Sunday Times was not responding on 10th November to a press release issued by Hicks on 9th September. It was engaged in an ongoing witch-hunt.

And Hicks’ complaint to the Certification Officer, backed up by Hicks’ allegations about Unite’s role in Falkirk Labour Party, was just another ‘peg’ on which to hang the ongoing witch-hunt.

If there is hard evidence of vote-rigging in this year’s Unite general secretary elections, Hicks is perfectly entitled to raise it. Socialists would defend him for doing so, even if the right-wing media were to exploit such a complaint for its own ends.

But that is not the case here.

Hicks is endorsing gutter-level accusations about vote-rigging by Unite in Falkirk Labour Party in order to try to lend some credibility to allegations about vote-rigging in the Unite general secretary elections.

The Sunday Times picks up on these allegations. In three articles on five pages it attacks Unite and its links to the Labour Party. Hicks’ response is not to condemn the witch-hunt but to say: “Hey look, they’re talking about me!”

(Footnote: Hicks makes allegations about Unite’s recruitment practices in Falkirk Labour Party and about non-members of Unite being given a vote in the general secretary elections.

But according to Hicks’ website, the Grass Roots left national conference, held the day before the appearance of the Sunday Times article, was open to “members of Unite the union, their families and friends.”)

Ross Harper adds:

Well, just fancy that!

Enter Jerry Hicks, stage right, furiously backpedalling.

It’s all been a terrible mistake, he now claims in a new post on his website. See: http://www.jerryhicks4gs.org/

He has made no linkage, he says between events in Falkirk and his complaint to the Certification Officer. Good heavens, no!

And brother Hicks piously stresses that he is “opposed to any attempt to use my complaint in any witch hunt against my union.” Good to hear it, Jerry!

Mind you, there’s still a few things that Hicks needs to explain:

1) The article which he posted on his website this morning made NO criticism of the Sunday Times article. So why did he not say this morning what he is saying now? Could it be that he is saying it only now because of the flak he’s received, because of people ‘unfriending’ him, and because of the nasty things that have been written about him?

2) Hicks does not deny having said “Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi?” This quote is, in any case, entirely consistent with what he has said elsewhere on his website about Falkirk, i.e. that Unite was engaged in “infiltration” of Falkirk Labour Party.

3) Hicks says that he has made no linkage between events in Falkirk and his complaint to the Certification Officer. Problem, for him, is that he claims that Unite was involved in “infiltration” in Falkirk (which the average person would consider to be vote-rigging) and that people who were not members of Unite received ballot papers during the general secretary election earlier this year, presumably in order to help Len McCluskey win (which the average person would consider to be vote-rigging). So it’s pretty pathetic for Hicks to claim that he is making no linkage between the two.

4) Hicks does not deny having said what the Sunday Times says that he said. Let us be charitable and suppose that the Sunday Times has run two different statements together from Hicks into a single quote. But what did Hicks think the Sunday Times was going to do? And this is someone who wants to be a union general secretary (where you need to know how to deal with the media)!

5) Hicks now writes: “I am opposed to any attempt to use my complaint in any witch hunt against my union.” But what about his allegation of “infiltration” into Falkirk Labour Party (and his rhetorical question about whether it was a one-off or established practice)? How can such allegations be used for anything other than a witch-hunt against Unite?

6) Even now Hicks cannot bring himself to utter a single word of support for Stevie Deans (although I very much doubt that Stevie would welcome support from such a source).

The next time Hicks throws his hat into the ring in another general secretary election, Unite members should remember this scurrilous fiasco.

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