Unite Left launch meeting

February 22, 2009 at 7:45 pm (left, unions, voltairespriest)

Yesterday the Birmingham City Council chamber was packed with Trades Unionists from the former TGWU and Amicus wings of Unite, as it saw the launch of the united left platform within the new union. Representing the fusion of the TGWU Broad Left and the Amicus Unity Gazette, the new left will be a powerful body within the largest trade union in the UK.

The meeting itself was something of an odd affair, however it began with an excellent address from TGWU-Unite General Secretary Tony Woodley, who set out a stall calling for nationalisation to protect jobs, and reminding the assembled members of the importance of a strong, member-led union. We were then treated to a rather odd speech from Labour Left MP John McDonnell, who gave what appeared to be an update on the state of left politics in the UK in general, followed by a call to support the “People’s Charter” which he and others are involved in promoting. The meeting was chaired by the thoroughly affable and genuine Martin Mayer of the TGWU Broad Left, who then gave a possibly over-enthusiastic call for people to endorse the Charter “in principle and in spirit”. This would be all very well were it not for the fact that no-one in the room had seen the document, which as far as I understand it hasn’t even been finalised as yet. McDonnell helpfully gave us a run-down of roughly what would be in it, which appeared to satisfy the crowd. Two of the audience in particular (one of whom is known around this parish) spoke against endorsing a document which they hadn’t seen, yet such was the good will in room that it was endorsed anyway. Mr Denham rather appositely compared this to putting an amendment with a speech which doesn’t say what it is that you’re trying to amend, but there we are. Let’s hope the Charter reads as well as you think, John.

About halfway through Woodley’s speech we were joined by around 15-20 supporters of Derek Simpson, the Star Bird hogging, “British Jobs For British Workers” placard poser currently running for re-election to a 1-year lame duck term in a totally unnecessary ballot precipitated by ex-SWP member Jerry Hicks, who is a rank outsider candidate in the same election. The election has no “good” outcome that most observers can see – Simpson is a lame duck whether he wins or not, Hicks isn’t going to win, and the worst possible outcome is that right-winger Kevin Coyne is elected, giving him a head start over a politically better candidate (probably from the ex-TGWU Broad Left) for the unified general secretary’s post at the next full-term election. Quite what if anything the Simpson people hoped to accomplish is not clear, and indeed their interventions in the meeting did not appear particularly organised.

The meeting had a discussion about the aims and organising principles of the new left, which initially looked like it was about to descend into “can we amend it to replace ‘if’ with ‘but’ in line 444” type nitpicking. However this was cut short by a female delegate pointing out that this really wasn’t the time for such wrangling, and that there would be ample opportunity to debate this out at a later stage. With the exception of one north-western supporter of Simpson saying that he wouldn’t be able to support the documents because he hadn’t had enough opportunity for member consultation (which rather raises the question of why not, given that the documents have been circulating for months), both statements were passed by acclamation. We then all wandered out, TGWU members being slightly perplexed by Simpson and Hicks leafletters glowering at each other across the entrance. The prize for crap slogan of the day goes to the Simpson guy who I am reliably assured regaled one group of departing TGWU members to vote for Simpson (which they couldn’t even in the unlikely event that they wanted to) in order to stop the “loony left”. Perfect pitch for the launch meeting of a union left bloc, not. You provided us with a chuckle in the pub anyway, comrade.

Overall, the meeting went very well and could have been a lot less cordial than it was. However it was unfortunate in my view that a union whose members have been involved in most of the sharp-end industrial relations issues in this country over the past few months, chose to platform only Woodley and McDonnell. Where were the victorious strikers from Lindsay, the sacked workers from Cowley, or the occupiers from Waterford Crystal? It seems to me that a trick was missed there.

Either way, we will see how things progress. The foundation of this new left is an accomplishment in itself, particularly given the balkanised and fractious histories of the lefts in both unions. Let us hope it gives us a platform from which we can continue to rebuild a grass-roots, socialist labour movement in the UK: if ever the protection of that movement were needed, it is now.


  1. John Wiseman said,

    Dear Comrade

    I was that comrade from The North West and National Treasurer of the Gazette I am sorry but the facts are

    This document was not discussed in detail in the regions and that included the North West. The officers were met to be elected from the mass. There is many things wrong here comrade many. The future financial structure also was not discussed with me considering I am the treasuer.

    John Wiseman

    John Wiseman

  2. voltairespriest said,

    “Was” the treasurer presumably comrade: the Gazette was wound up yesterday along with the T & G Broad Left.

    One thing. Given that you were on Gazette executive and the national treasurer to boot, did it not occur to you to ring up and ask about the money and the structures, so that you could report back to your members?

  3. John Wiseman said,

    Yes I know I mean at the time

    We were not consulted thats the truth, remember a coordinating committee was established to do it all, and I can still can’t support it and this wil not be the end of it, as I say we needed more time before the launch!


  4. PW said,

    The Waterford Crystal occupation was invited but had a major event on in Ireland and couldn’t come. We’re hoping to get them over soon for a tour if the dispute remains unsettled and the occupation continues.

  5. voltairespriest said,

    PW – That’s good news, I’ll look forward to it and if the tour stops in Birmingham then I’d like to go along. We’ll certainly publicise any meetings here, if you send us the details.

    John – well how did you get feedback from the committee? The Gazette had more formal structures than the old T & G BL did, so surely you must have had report backs and so forth?

  6. John Wiseman said,

    no that was the problem, lack of communication, it stopped about 4 months ago, and then suudenly a finished document and a slate.

  7. PW said,

    John – there may have problems in your neck of the woods, but I know in my region the document was circulated widely. The proposed slate of officers for the national UL was only circulated to the 10+10 co-ordinating committee in the last couple of weeks.

    The principle of a slate was agreed last October though. The co-ordinating committee thought it was best not to have a first past the post election when many from both sections of the union did not know those from the other side. It was also recognised, as Martin said from the Chair on Saturday, that with a first past the post system there was a danger of meetings having over representation from particular areas – the geography of travel. The slate sought to balance gender and the two sections. It also seems to have a political balance that reflects the UL on the ground.

    The NCC was charged with working out the best voting system for use in the future. It is not expected that a similar procedure will be used in the AGM next January.

  8. Jim Denham said,

    Agreed that it was not a bad meeting and has got the United Left off to a promising start: but -as Volty asks – why the hell was there no-one from the construction strikes or the motor industry on the platform?

  9. John Wiseman said,

    Dear PW

    This is not the case as I was at that meeting. It was the case that the officers were meant to be exofficio and seperate from the NCC, this could allow people with skills to get elected. There was nobody more surprised that the North West including our officers about my non election. The problem is a lack of communication again and the document has had no consultation. There is no document in my opinion until the regions have discussed it, so constitutionally the broad left is no more than a forum at present, we are meeting this weekend in the North West.


  10. Keep Paying The Trade Union, Brothers. « Dickie70 said,

    […] of applause in the general’s HQ, well behind the trenches and the front lines. By using the jargon and adjectives of politics rather than stating practical things to do with £10 a month per member, a millions-strong mailing […]

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