The ratio of Unite full-timers to Unite members is around one to 5,000. But at a meeting held in Glasgow last Saturday (27th August), falsely called under the name of the United Left Scotland (ULS), the ratio was around one to six.
The dozen or so full-timers who attended the meeting – supposedly convened to rebuild the ULS as a force which “campaigns for a democratic union controlled by the members” – represented a total annual pay packet of over half a million pounds of members’ dues.
There was nothing surprising about the turnout by full-timers, including several who had never had any involvement in the ULS: the same full-timers had played the leading role in encouraging selected Unite members in Scotland to attend the meeting.
In addition to the effort put in by full-timers, the meeting had been publicised by an e-mail dishonestly sent out in the name of the ULS.
The e-mail was sent from “email@example.com” (not the actual ULS e-mail address, but a close imitation). It was headed “United Left Scotland Meeting” and signed off as “United Left Scotland” (but without an individual’s name attached).
According to the e-mail: “It is important to say that we have a level of support for this intervention from friends within the National United Left Committee.”
Over a month later, not a single one of these “friends” has yet come forward. Nor have the organisers of the sham ‘ULS’ meeting yet been able to name a single “friend” on the UL National Co-ordinators Committee.
The e-mail claimed that “any left-leaning member of Unite” would be “very welcome” at the meeting. But this was just another lie. Whole swathes of the ULS membership, including all members of its elected Co-ordinators Committee, were not sent the e-mail.
The bogus ‘ULS’ e-mail about the bogus ‘ULS’ meeting was dishonest from beginning to end. It is inconceivable that the Unite full-timers who encouraged attendance at the meeting were unaware of the e-mail.
The meeting was a carefully choreographed affair, with a specially prepared ‘narrative’ of the ULS presented by different attendees for the benefit of those Unite members who had no previous involvement in the ULS.
More than a touch of surrealism was added to the affair by the yawning abyss between the criticisms voiced of the ULS and the actual track record of many of those voicing them.
The ULS, it was claimed, excluded people. It was riven by personality clashes. It was only concerned with winning positions on committees. There was a male-macho culture in its meetings. It failed to convene regular meetings. It failed to support Unite members in dispute. Its meetings did not discuss politics. Its meetings discussed abstract political theory.
True, the last two criticisms are contradictory. But what counted at last Saturday’s meeting was not consistency, and even less so honesty. All that counted was launching a barrage of criticism against the ULS in a sorry attempt to justify the staging of the sham ‘ULS’ meeting.
The leading light at the meeting was Mark Lyon, formerly a convenor at Ineos and now an employee of Union Solidarity International. He continues to occupy a seat on the Unite Executive Council for the chemicals industry sector.
In his lead-off Lyon denied that there was anything bogus about the meeting. After all, he said, the meeting was being attended by the Scottish Regional Secretary, other union officers, and workplace reps.
This, of course, sidestepped the basis on which the meeting had rightly been denounced as ‘bogus’: It has been convened as a ULS meeting; but it was not a ULS meeting.
As for the “unitedleft.scotland2016” e-mail, Lyon denied all knowledge of it. He knew nothing about it, he said, and denied that he had ever seen any correspondence from “unitedleft.scotland2016”.
This is simply implausible. (How did Lyon find out about the meeting? By telepathy? In any case, he had been one of the meeting’s organisers.)
Most interesting of all – insofar as Lyon’s Walter Mitty ramblings deserve to be described as interesting – was his attack on the alleged inconsistency of United Left National Secretary Martin Mayer.
According to Lyon: he had met Mayer at this year’s Unite policy conference; Mayer had said that there were people in the ULS who were “problematic and causing difficulties”; Mayer had recommended “a bloodbath”; but now Mayer had changed his story.
(The latter point was a reference to the public statement issued by Mayer calling for last Saturday’s meeting to be called off.)
In a later contribution Lyon ruminated on how best to follow up the meeting.
Lyon claimed that Mayer had suggested that a reconvened ULS AGM be held (the ULS AGM was held just two months ago). But Lyon ruled that out, on the basis that different groups would just bus supporters in to try to win the votes.
The suggestion of a reconvened AGM was not put to the vote. Lyon simply decreed that it would not take place. So much for the avowed ‘democratic’, ‘inclusive’ and ‘participatory’ nature of last Saturday’s meeting.
Lyon then referred to a national United Left meeting being held in early September. No-one from last Saturday’s meeting, said Lyon, would be attending that meeting. This was because “dirty linen should not be washed in public”, and it was “up to Scotland to sort out its own problems”.
Again, the decision that no-one should attend the national United Left meeting was not opened up for discussion. It was simply decreed by Lyon.
Instead, half a dozen of the people attending last Saturday’s meeting would meet with Mayer when he visits Glasgow in mid-September to speak at a Scottish People’s Assembly meeting.
But those half dozen individuals were not given a mandate by the meeting regarding what they should be proposing to Mayer. No doubt Lyon, and the union full-timers behind him, can be counted on to give them a line.
It is true that the ULS has its faults. But the ULS is not under attack for such faults. It is under attack for its positive points.
The ULS has refused to allow union full-timers to decide who should be given places on committees in the union’s lay structures. It has exercised accountability over ULS members who have been elected on a ULS ticket but failed to deliver on ULS policies.
It has stood by its members in the face of attacks by union full-timers, by various right-wing factions and cliques in Unite in Scotland, and by the Certification Officer. It has opened up its meetings to democratic discussion and debate, and democratic processes of decision-making.
Contrary to the absurdity of allegations raised at last Saturday’s meeting, the ULS has always supported workers in dispute: for instance, some of its members were leading figures in the BESNA dispute and the blacklisting campaign.
The ULS has sought to promote political education and campaigning. In fact, the Scottish People’s Assembly rally being held in Glasgow in mid-September, which attendees at last Saturday’s meeting were urged to attend, is a joint initiative of the (real) ULS and the Scottish People’s Assembly.
It has also practiced a commitment to inclusivity. The Co-ordinators Committee elected by the ULS AGM in June included a place for Lyon, even though he did not attend the meeting. But Lyon refused to take up the position. This is the opposite of anyone being “disenfranchised”.
The ULS has plenty of room for improvement. But the reality of the ULS is far removed from the orchestrated criticisms of it voiced at last Saturday’s meeting. In fact, the role played in the ULS by some of the organisers and leading supporters of last Saturday’s meeting has been a purely negative and destructive one.
ULS meetings have opened up with endless orchestrated points of order about so-and-so supposedly not having been informed of the meeting, so-and-so having been informed of the meeting only late in the day, and so-and-so having been ‘prevented’ from attending the meeting because of a clash with another meeting.
(Ironically, the delays that have occurred between some ULS meetings has been the result of attempts to find dates which would suit not just ULS co-ordinators but the bulk of the ULS membership, including those who have displayed a consistently negative attitude towards the ULS.)
Attempts to exercise accountability over ULS members who hold positions on constitutional committees, although eventually successful, have been challenged on the most spurious of grounds. Threadbare excuses have been put forward to try to justify intolerable behaviour.
Some ULS members (or ex-ULS members) have staged theatrical walkouts at meetings after raising all manner of unfounded accusations. They have then walked back into the next meeting as if nothing had happened, and as if they did not even take their own accusations seriously.
Female members of the ULS have been singled out for the most sustained vilification by some supporters of last Saturday’s meeting – a fact which puts into perspective the fanciful claims of a male-macho culture levelled against the ULS.
When the ULS unanimously (apart from abstentions) selected its candidate for an Executive Council by-election late last year, a number of those present at Saturday’s meeting either did nothing to campaign for the candidate or campaigned actively and publicly for the non-ULS candidate – while claiming to still be members of the ULS!
An additional element in this toxic brew has been provided by members of RISE (formerly the Radical Independence Campaign). Their organisational existence can best be summed up as a ‘twin-track strategy’: bag-carriers for the SNP in the world of Scottish politics, and bag-carriers for the Unite bureaucracy in the world of trade unionism.
Although last Saturday’s meeting falsely claimed to be a ULS meeting, it failed at the first hurdle.
However imperfectly it sometimes follows through on it, the foundation of the United Left is its commitment, as stated in its constitution, to “a democratic union controlled by the members”. But last Saturday’s meeting was one long affront to that principle.
Convened on the basis of lies, organised by unelected full-timers (with more than a little help from RISE, for which RISE members were duly thanked at the meeting), and used as a platform to attack Unite activists with a track record of upholding lay democracy, the meeting was the negation of what the ULS should be about.
No-one committed to rank-and-file control of Unite should have any truck with the charlatans who were prepared to lie, lie and lie again in organising last Saturday’s sham ‘ULS’ meeting
BELOW: the email announcing last Saturday’s meeting
From: United Left Scotland <unitedleft.scotland2016@gmail .com>
Date: 27 July 2016 at 21:25
Subject: United Left Scotland Meeting
Following discussions across the Scottish region, it feels like a good time to meet to reframe and refresh our United Left organisation in Scotland.
Comrades are keen to work on industrial and political priorities and this work is increasingly important given recent events.
A meeting will take place on Saturday 27th of August between 10.30am-12.30pm in Renfield St Stephens Centre.
It is important that we all work hard to build attendance for our meeting.
Any left leaning member of unite who you want to invite will be very welcome regardless of previous involvement and the aim is to build a very broad, welcoming and positive organisation where everyone feels free to express their opinion and seek support from others.
Please forward on email contacts of comrades who should be invited to our meeting so they can be involved right away and kept up to date.
We have created a Google Group which you will shortly be invited to join.
It is important to say that we have a level of support for this intervention from friends within the National UL committee.
Please distribute this invitation to your contacts.
Thoughts on the agenda for our initial meeting are welcome.
In Solidarity and thanks
United Left Scotland – Industrial, Political, Together