Unite: defend the SWP!

May 29, 2011 at 1:32 am (Johnny Lewis, sectarianism, stalinism, SWP, Unite the union, workers)

Defend the SWP!

Now there’s a headline you never expected to see here…

Below: the pwoletawiat:

Anyway, the leadership of the United Left (UL) in Unite seems to be seriously considering expelling the SWP over a Socialist Worker article about the BA dispute; here’s the UL officers’ statement:


Most United Left Executive members were shocked and angry last week at an article entitled “BA workers should reject this shoddy deal” which appeared in the “Socialist Worker” 21 May edition and which was being sold by three UNITED LEFT Executive Council members who are members of SWP outside Congress House whilst the UNITE Executive was in session.

The paper first appeared on Wednesday the day after we had debated the conclusion to our long running UNITE British Airways Cabin Crew dispute. The article caused offence by implicitly criticising  our left General Secretary Len McCluskey and our UNITE BASSA reps for recommending this “terrible deal”.

No-one was more upset by this than our two United Left Executive Council members from BASSA who have lived and breathed this dispute for the past two years, and whom the rest of us had congratulated only the day before for a remarkably good settlement after one of the most bitter and ruthless disputes in recent times. The other members of our UNITED LEFT executive group were also incensed by the article, which was seen as a public act of treachery by the Socialist Workers Party whose members participate in UNITED LEFT and sit on the Executive. At the very least it must be seen as a supreme act of disloyalty towards our left-run Union including our BASSA reps and our left General Secretary.

The article was a typical piece of ultra-leftism which seeks to turn members against their own union, twisting and stretching facts about the negotiated deal to paint the blackest picture possible. We all know that the BA settlement was not an outright victory and that labour cost savings were always going to part of any final settlement. However the recovery of staff travel concessions, a solution to deal with the disciplines and dismissals of both members and reps, and the recovery of trade union recognition and representation rights represented a major climbdown by the Company. For this group of workers to stand up against the bullying and anti-union tactics of this powerful multinational (which had the full backing of the establishment and we understand a £2 billion warchest to “smash BASSA”) had always been the most impressive aspect to this dispute and to conclude it with such credit was widely welcomed at the Executive Council.

What many UNITED LEFT colleagues are now asking is how can we sit alongside SWP members whose party newspaper attacks the union in this way? Who are they to interfere in the details of a collective bargaining agreement which was endorsed not only by the BASSA reps but widely applauded at a special meeting attended by 2000 members? Is the SWP capable of understanding the realities of the industrial relations situation facing these members, or what the collective aspirations are of the majority? Finally why would the SWP want to attack UNITED LEFT BASSA reps – and our left General Secretary –  and try to undermine this latest deal as it goes to the membership for a ballot vote?

The answer to the first question is that our BASSA reps are saying they do not now wish to attend UNITED LEFT meetings if SWP members are present. That view is being shared by an increasing number of UNITED LEFT supporters. Is this now a “step too far?”

The UNITED LEFT National Co-ordinating Committee is meeting on Saturday 11 June prior to the Rules Conference to take a view on the amendments. We therefore invite comments and views especially from UNITED LEFT Regions for our consideration at that meeting on what UNITED LEFT should do with regards to acceptance of SWP members within our organisation.

Martin Mayer                                                               Paul Birkett

Chair                                                                           Secretary



It may be the case that the SWP’s article has upset members of the UNITE Executive, the union’s Civil Aviation Industrial Sector Committee and BASSA shop stewards at Heathrow. It may also be the case that SWP members of the EC behaved in a cowardly and irresponsible fashion in failing to raise their objections at the Exec itself. But to simply boot the SWP out of the UL would be anti-democratic and counter-productive for the following reasons:

1/ It would push the United Left towards being some sort of ‘democratic centralist’ organisation, which it shouldn’t be: it’s a united front;

2/ It would strengthen the most right-wing, anti-“Trot” elements within the United Left, who have long been looking for an excuse to boot out not just the SWP, but also the AWL and anyone else who causes them problems;

3/ The BA “deal”, like all other “deals” done by the union, should be subject to scrutiny. It is a simple matter of *fact* that the BA settlement is not a victory: it is probably the best deal that could be have been done under the circumstances. We should stand in the tradition of Farrell Dobbs, and be honest (to the members) about compromises and retreats. To outlaw criticism of the BA deal would be to set a terrible precedent, outlawing *any* analysis or criticism of the union’s negotiations.

4/ There is a growing tendency in politics (ironically, supported by the SWP), to outlaw giving “offence”: the fact that the Socialist Worker article “caused offence by implicitly criticising  our left General Secretary Len McCluskey and our UNITE BASSA reps ” would be an absolutely awful basis for expelling the SWP – even if you think the article was bollocks!

5/ Finally, the statement contains a most disturbing suggestion that simply daring to criticise Len McCluskey is unacceptable. As someone who actively supported Len for General Secretary, I personally find that insulting and worrying: we should militantly oppose any cult of The Leader. If the accusations against Len are untrue and unjustified (as I believe they are), we should debunk them and expose and humiliate the accusers – not play into their hands by expelling them from the UL and giving that madman Jerry Hicks some new supporters.

The SWP may well be (well, actually, ARE) a bunch of posturing, unserious, ultra-left/centrist tossers…but they should NOT be expelled from the United Left!


  1. Jim Denham said,

    SWP statement in response to the “SWP and the BA Dispute – A Step too Far”
    statement from Martin Mayer and Paul Birkett of the United Left:

    While the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was aware of the disagreement of
    many United Left members with some of the coverage in Socialist Worker of
    the British Airways dispute, we were genuinely saddened to read your
    statement which has been published on the United Left web site
    (www.unitedleft.org.uk ) and widely

    We are completely committed to working with others in Unite. We believe SWP
    members, working alongside other left comrades, have made a significant
    contribution to the United Left, including helping to secure the recent
    success in the union’s Executive Council elections. We believe it would be
    a setback for the United Left as whole and for the SWP, for our members to
    be excluded. In the face of the onslaught from the Con-Dem government and
    the employers, we need unity in action, and a strong left within which
    robust debate can take place openly.

    1) The stance of the SWP on the BA dispute

    SWP members threw themselves into building support for the cabin crew from
    the start, raising money for the strike fund, arguing against the lies from
    the right-wing media, and arguing for wider support within the union. We
    were part of the widespread agitation against the outrageous injunction,
    which was eventually overturned. We spoke out against the undermining of
    the strike by the right in the union, particularly Derek Simpson and Les
    Bayliss, who derided the strike with comments like “over the top” and
    “suicide strikers” while seeking to stoke divisions with other sections of
    the BA workforce.

    In any dispute we argue for the strategy we believe is most likely to win,
    The BA dispute, clearly of tremendous significance for the movement as a
    whole, was no exception. While Willie Walsh set about trying to mobilise
    the rest of BA to undermine cabin crew, we argued to match this with a
    serious campaign to win over other BA workers and spread the action. We
    believed it was a mistake not to do this and said so. We also warned of the
    dangers of the dispute being dragged out over a long period, giving Walsh
    time to build up his scabbing operation. We challenged the repeated failure
    to call action when members had voted overwhelmingly for it, particularly
    when this seemed at one point to be driven by a desire to avoid political
    embarrassment to Gordon Brown before the General Election.

    We recognised the onslaught faced by BA workers, and particularly the
    victimisation of UNITE activists by a vicious employer backed up by the full
    might of the establishment and millionaire press. The five magnificent
    votes for strike action are a testament to the impressive organisation of
    UNITE members.

    All this is clear to comrades who have read Socialist Worker’s full coverage
    of the dispute; for example
    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=24808 and

    The article in the 21st May edition went through the details of the latest
    BA offer – and the problems there are with it. It did not attempt to go
    through the whole context of the dispute or fully set out the SWP’s position
    on it. We accept that this has allowed some comrades to interpret it in
    ways which we never intended. Criticism of the offer is an attack on BA
    management, not the activists who heroically held the dispute together.
    While we disagree with the recommendation to accept BA’s offer, this is a
    political argument, not a personal attack. Far from seeking to denigrate
    Unite, we raise questions and criticisms about the offer because we are so
    committed to making sure that there continues to be a strong Unite presence
    at BA.

    We are worried that the criticism of the SWP has at times sunk to personal
    attacks, particularly on Sara Bennett, a woman comrade attending her first
    EC meeting. We don’t believe this is the central issue, but would like to
    set the record straight. EC members did not “leak” information to Socialist
    Worker – indeed the details of the offer were never given to the EC. In the
    debate at the EC, before the Socialist Worker article came out, our
    supporters did raise serious concerns about both the offer and the way it
    was being presented – and received a comradely response. All our supporters
    (as well as others in the movement) are encouraged to write reports or
    articles for the paper. As Sara explained to the EC, no EC members are
    journalists for, or on the editorial board of Socialist Worker, and none had
    been involved in writing the BA article. Sara’s last report for Socialist
    Worker was about May Day in Tunisia. Finally, and most seriously, the
    allegation (made in writing by a United Left supporter who wasn’t at the
    meeting) that Sara was involved in an “attack on our BASSA reps” is
    completely untrue.

    There have been allegations that the 21st May article was factually
    inaccurate, but nobody has contacted Socialist Worker with any specifics –
    otherwise we would of course have corrected inaccuracies immediately.
    UNITE, any BASSA rep or the United Left National Co-ordinating Committee
    (NCC) can have equal space in Socialist Worker for a right to reply. We
    would genuinely welcome this. We recognise that there is a debate and are
    happy to engage in it.

    The major problems with BA’s offer highlighted by the article should concern
    us all. In particular, there is a risk that the inclusion of a new
    “Customer Support Programme” which would permanently ensure other BA staff
    are trained to operate as cabin crew, the acceptance that they can be used
    as part of main crew complement during “disruption”, and the ability of BA
    to “advise” (rather than agree with) reps when the Disruption Agreement
    applies, could end up being a scabs charter. On this basis, we continue to
    argue that cabin crew should vote to reject BA’s offer, but it will be for
    UNITE’s BA cabin crew membership to decide in the ballot. If UNITE members
    vote to accept the offer, they can be proud of having prevented Walsh’s
    attempt to smash the union, but they will need to campaign hard to overcome
    the two-tier workforce created by Mixed Fleet and the threat posed by the
    Customer Support Programme.

    2) Freedom of expression within the left

    Many United Left comrades clearly do not agree with the our position on the
    BA dispute. However, we hope that most comrades will accept that opposing
    an offer from BA management is a legitimate position, and that freedom of
    expression and debate is vital within Unite and particularly within the
    left. We believe this has been one of the most positive characteristics of
    the United Left since its formation.

    The United Left statement includes phrases like “The article caused offence
    by implicitly criticising our left General Secretary Len McCluskey”, ” the
    article, which was seen as a public act of treachery by the Socialist
    Workers Party” and “it must be seen as a supreme act of disloyalty towards
    our left-run Union including our BASSA reps and our left General Secretary”.
    We respect the right of other United Left comrades to disagree with us, and
    we understand BASSA comrades who have faced unimaginable personal pressure
    over the years of the dispute being angry. But there will always be
    disagreements within the left over many issues, including the conduct or
    outcome of important disputes. We don’t believe the United Left should
    start treating such disagreements as treachery or disloyalty, or regard
    disagreements with our left General Secretary or anyone else as “offensive”.
    To do this would be a fundamental change in the nature of the United Left.

    Given that there has been no debate or decision on a “United Left position”
    on BA management’s offer, we don’t believe this is an issue of breach of
    discipline. If any disagreement with the policy of a left-led union was
    treated as a breach of discipline, the United Left would be transformed from
    its current role as a force for positive change within UNITE (demonstrated
    so well by the recent anti-cuts statement), into an organisation for the
    defence of the status quo.

    We remain absolutely committed to working with other left comrades in UNITE.
    We hope that those BASSA reps who say they do not wish to attend United Left
    meetings if SWP comrades are present will recognise the real difficulties
    this creates, and reconsider this position. We also hope that the NCC will
    recognise the dangerous precedent that would be set by a “them or us”

    3) The future of the left in Unite

    The United Left statement invites views on what the United Left should do
    with regards to acceptance of SWP comrades within the organisation. Our own
    view is clear. We want to remain within the United Left, working with
    comrades with a variety of views, in an atmosphere of free and open debate.

    Our United Left has secured real influence within UNITE, at a time when
    workers face crucial battles. The importance of a strong left has never been
    clearer., We hope the National Co-ordinating Committee can take a decision
    which avoids precipitating a split in the left by excluding us and
    transforming the United Left into an organisation where passionate debate is
    no longer tolerated.

  2. charliethechulo said,

    A comrade writes:

    The SWP in favour of freedom of expression on the left?? I laughed so much I cried…

    B R
    Sent from my HTC

  3. charliethechulo said,

    Lest there be any doubt about the SP position on this within UL the following statement was put out be Keven Parslow, convener of the SP Unite caucus on the UL mailing list:


    I’d like to begin by congratulating all the members of the union in BASSA who fought magnificently over the 20 months of the dispute. They have shown what the basics of trade unionism are all about and will come out of this dispute battle-hardened and hopefully more resolute in their determination to defend trade unionism in BA.

    That spirit and determination should be utilised by assisting the transformation of Unite into a fighting union at all levels and I’d also like to welcome the Executive Council statement on the cuts as being a real step forward.

    On the statement by Martin and Paul, it is clear that there is anger at the Socialist Worker article, which from what has been reported, boiled over at the Executive Council meeting. The Socialist Party feels that this article was too one-sided and didn’t draw a true balance sheet of the dispute, which we tried to do in our article. Geoff Collier posted a link to our article earlier but I’ll add it here again: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/671/12043/18-05-2011/ba-dispute-mass-meeting-votes-to-put-latest-agreement-to-membership. The SWP’s unbalanced approach follows on from their role in the ‘Right to Work’ adventurist invasion of the BA talks last year.

    To have won the dispute would have taken determination from all sections of the union and particularly those at BA but it would also have meant taking on the anti-trade union laws regarding secondary action. It is a debate we have had many times in the UL and the union but this is a concrete example of the need to confront them when it is vital to our members’ interests.

    However, the Socialist Party recognised that the dispute had reached an impasse and that defeating the changes to rosters was now unlikely, given that management had taken huge measures to crush the union. The emphasis was therefore on recovering some of the ground lost during the dispute. On talking to one BASSA rep, it seems that staff believes that this is a victory in the sense that the attacks on the union during the dispute are or will be largely redressed by this agreement. That they end this dispute together is to be welcomed. Nevertheless it will take constant vigilance and determination to ensure that management do not renege or come back for more at a future date.

    The anger at the Socialist Worker article has led to calls for the expulsion of the SWP members from UL. While it was correct to give them a final warning for breaking discipline over the GS election, despite our criticisms of their article, I don’t agree with expelling the SWP from UL. It would set a dangerous precedent that could be used against others who make criticisms of the leadership of the union, even when made in a constructive fashion. I can understand how BASSA members would be loathe to work alongside SWP members but would it not be best for the SWP to hear their criticisms from the inside rather than from outside the ranks?

    Kevin Parslow

  4. charliethechulo said,

    For once, we must thank that champion of the self-employed, Mr David Beaumont for a useful contribution to the class struggle. This extraordinary blog post from an ex-Amicus official is simply awsome in its self-serving arrogance and class-treachery. At one level it merely confirms what we’re up against, but at another it gives the picture of bureacratic complacency a great deal of first-hand colour::

    A day in Tony’s dungeon

    Posted on 20 April 2011 by unitefto

    Tony Woodley held a ‘motivational’ meeting at Congress House on 14 April 2011, ostensibly on organising. The response from his audience, sadly mostly muttered under the breath, is unprintable.

    Around 200 people, every officer, staff member and organiser from the London & Eastern Region of Unite had been told to attend comrade Woodley’s address on his perspective on what organising means, some being compelled to attend during annual leave. I call him ‘comrade’ because that is what he called us, his unwilling audience, repeatedly. Although this may have been to impress the London Regional Committee ‘representative’ in attendance. This was (nearly) a first for me. In January, ‘comrade’ Jim Kelly, that fine organiser of proletarian black cab drivers, had been present and even been given a slot on the agenda to address officers on developments in the union, including his view that the Amicus initiative to invigorate local activism, Area Activist Committees, ‘don’t work’, although he failed to explain why or what other initiative he has in mind.

    But this was a bit different. The T&G’s nominated man, Len McCluskey, had his feet well under the top table and, four months into his reign, was getting into the swing of restoring everything his former union had agreed to put to one side for the merger with Amicus. One of the things everyone, T&G and Amicus employees alike, had hoped would be put aside was one Mr T Woodley, formerly Joint General Secretary of this parish. Unfortunately, Len had made the decision that Tony was indispensible and had put him in charge of organising. At times Woodley had to remind himself vocally that he was no longer GS, but that didn’t stop his condescending pontification.

    Woodley let us into his vison. A new emphasis on large workplaces and getting everyone into the union. Sounds familiar? That’s because it is simply a regurgitation of his T&G 100% Campaign. Tony found it hard not to contradict himself. At one point his plan was an ‘organising strategy, not a campaign’, but at other times he let slip and referred to the ’100% campaign’.

    When Woodley stood for GS of the T&G he stated that ‘we cannot grow and sustain the union by simply placing greater demands upon full-time officers’ (his campaign website is still online – check for yourself). We got a very different message from him last week. According to Woodley we are a hair’s breadth from the annihilation of the trade union movement in the UK (despite the evidence that many other unions have turned the corner on growth through realistic organising strategies) and the only way to stop decline is for every employee to work harder because we clearly had not been working hard enough. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to work hard. What I don’t expect is to be insulted.

    Yet insulted we were. Firstly, Woodley said that if you don’t monitor officers’ work ‘more than once every two months’ all your get is ‘seven weeks of slacking and a week of bullshit’. I had to check my diary when I heard this, but the seven weeks of slacking weren’t in it. As for bullshit, there was plenty more from comrade Tony.

    Apparently, ‘being dead did not prevent membership of Amicus’ and he could ‘bet his life that any Amicus officer didn’t know what his real membership was’. I know my Amicus colleagues spend a lot of time getting membership records right, and this was a gross insult to our professionalism. Despite Woodley’s apparent lauding of his former union, there’s no doubt the T&G’s membership system was unreliable, as anyone who has tried to find members on will attest.

    Amicus, according to Woodley ‘was broke, and you had to merge with us’. Amicus actually had a sound financial footing and was actually in net growth at the time of the merger.

    Sadly, the biggest insult of all is that Woodley is still in a position of high influence in Unite. Despite Len McCluskey’s promises that under his stewardship Unite would not become T&G Mark II, it is increasingly looking that way, with all the former T&G processes and structures being re-imposed without any critical analysis.

    Unite was an opportunity to build a union fit for the 21st century. It now looks like that opportunity is being cast aside, through lack of imagination and creativity, in favour of a retreat into the T&G bunker.

  5. Geoff Collier said,

    Has the AWL taken any position on the actual deal? I saw an interview with one of the Unite members involved who reluctantly accepted the deal – but nothing in terms of what the AWL actually think. I suspect that they wouldn’t like it, as it creates a two tier workforce with new entrants on worse conditions. That sounds a bit like the pensions deal in the civil service that the PCS accepted.
    In fact, I’m slightly puzzled by the AWL’s position in Unite. The paper published a sympathetic plug to jerry Hicks’ new grouping and I haven’t seen any indignant response from cde Denham yet. What’s going on then?

  6. Jim Denham said,

    Geoff: the AWL has not (yet) taken a position of the deal. For what it’s worth, my personal view is that the deal is most certainly no kind of “victory” and the two-tier workforce that will result is particulary undesirable. But, given the balance of forces and the present economic/industrial climate, it is probably the best outcome that could realistically be achieved. I certainly woudn’t denounce it as a sell-out. The important point now is to be *honest* about the deal and not try to dress it up as any kind of “victory.”

    The tone of the ‘Solidarity’ article about Hicks and the so-called “Grass Roots Alliance” was more sympathetic than I’d have been had I written it, but did not amount to a “plug” and contained no matters of fact that I would disagree with. That’s why there has been no “indignant response” from me.

    Below is a statement (that appeared on Nooman’s Socialist Unity’ blog) from a well-respected member of the United left. I don’t agree with all (or even *much*) of it, but I’m certain that it is representative of the way the majority of UL people (including many of the better ones) feel about the SWP:

    ( Comment #137) :

    “This isn’t simply about the SWP’s view on an outcome of a dispute. No,
    this goes deeper than that. It’s about the constant digs at Unite as
    an organisation. It’s about an arrogance they possess when
    pontificating on all matters political, economic, social and
    industrial. It’s about the overbearing way in which they attempt to
    educate the rest of the labour movement. It’s about a refusal to
    accept that the other person has a valid view. It’s about their
    inability to work within the accepted structures of either Unite or
    the United Left.

    “My reading of the article in the SWP newspaper differs from that
    expressed by other Comrades. The piece isn’t at all balanced, but
    then, why would it be, balance and objectivity are not the aims of
    this party. No, their aims are at all times to sow discord while
    looking for the main chance to inveigle their way into and onto
    structures in order to give the party a greater platform.

    “Everything they do is party driven; and as history has taught us their
    party aims and objectives do not chime with the majority within the
    trade union movement. Yet, they maintain the right to interfere in the
    business of others, even when and where they don’t have party members,
    or so few as to be insignificant – remember the invasion of ACAS; an
    action which they still maintain they were right to carry out.

    “There is a grave danger in my Region, the L&E, that this latest breach
    by the SWP will drive out good committed United Left supporters. Some
    UL supporters in the L&E region are expressing deep concerns with the
    SWP. It is likely that an SWP presence at our future meetings will see
    a drift away from our group; a drift away by the very people we need
    in the Left.

    “These aren’t people who want to sit around discussing how many angels
    can dance on the head of a pin. No, they want to attend meetings where
    they feel they can contribute; meetings that address their industrial
    concerns. Not meetings where a few practiced politicos deign to
    lecture them on arcane and esoteric party dogma.

    “For my part I don’t agree with my friends from the North. We’ve tried
    the inclusive way. How many times does the hand of Comradeship have to
    be shunned before the penny drops? In the past the appeasers have
    pleaded a case of non-exclusion on the part of the United Left. We’ve
    been told that it’d be better if they excluded themselves rather than
    us using the ultimate sanction.

    “The article, the intervention by an SWP Executive member on the
    subject, and her ensuing attack on our BASSA reps, our union and its
    leadership is a step too far. These actions do in my view constitute
    the SWP excluding themselves from the United Left. However, we have a
    democratically arrived at process, which I’m willing to follow.”

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