Unite votes to stay a union: defence workers and McCluskey give ‘Marxists’ a lesson in Trade unionism
Johnny Lewis reports from Unite’s policy conference:
The first big debate of Unite’s conference concerned Trident: conference was confronted with a number of motions, calling for scrapping Trident now and an Executive Statement which argued for opposition in principle to nuclear weapons but; “Unite does not and never will advocate or support any course of public policy which will put at risk jobs or communities. Although in favour of defence diversification “Until there is a government in office ready, willing and able to give cast-iron guarantees on the security of the skilled work and all employment involved, our priority must be to defend and secure our members’ employment”. This Statement was passed overwhelmingly and with it the motions calling for trident to be `scrapped now’ fell.
For the union leadership and the defence workers this debate was not really about trident but the very character of the union, it is fair to say this character was encapsulated in the Statement and in particular no support for policies which `… put at risk jobs or communities’. The resolutions opposing the Statement with their demand of ‘scrap now’ violated that idea of a union’s function. If such a resolution had been passed, while it would not have materially effected defence workers’ jobs, it would have signalled support for a policy which put jobs at risk, and the union would, to use the words of one of the speakers, have “abandoned us”.
Although victory for ‘scrap now’ would have had no material impact on jobs it would have had a very real impact on the union’s unity. Large numbers of defence workers would have left and at best joined the GMB (at worst joining Community or leaving the movement altogether), and who in their right mind could blame them? I don’t think those arguing to ‘scrap’ got the implications for the union – until McCluskey spelled it out in his closing remarks.
With one or two exceptions those opposing the Statement were white collar, from outside manufacturing and from London, while supporters of the Statement were largely manual workers from the industry and from outside of London. This division mirrors Brexit and has been observed within the Labour party. While it is clear the vast majority of the ‘scrap now’ support can be characterised as Corbynistas it is not possible to clearly pigeon hole those supporting the Statement except to say they saw themselves as trade unionists rather than political animals and a majority would not see themselves as Corbyn supporters.
The main problem for the ‘scrap now’ speakers was how to argue a position which if passed would have meant the union’s abandonment of the Trident workers. Unable or unwilling to confront this conundrum they ignored it, speaking in general terms and in equal measure about diversification and the need to support Corbyn – of course the most zealot Corbynistas where those outside the party.
Both these points were easily dealt with by the defence workers: on diversification they pointed out that the ‘scrap now’ advocates were substituting the potential to develop diversification which had been opened up by Corbyn’s victory with the present situation where there are no diversification blueprints and even if these existed the Tory Government is not going to implement them. The diversification argument existed simply as a prop to enable scarp now to avoid arguing there real position `scrap regardless’ of the impact on members or on the union.
The Corbyn argument was of a different order: here the ‘Marxists’ came into their own, and the broad sweep of history and grand strategies alighted on the shoulders of the Unite conference.
Their line of argument went something like this: Unite supports Corbyn; failure to support ‘scrap now’ would be a failure to support him and so give a hostage to Labour’s right. On the other hand supporting ‘scrap now’ would be a massive boost to Corbyn’s struggle in the party and by default the movement which has gathered around him. Needless to say, this missed the mark by some many miles.
If the Corbynistas are a broad socially liberal movement, the self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’ within it should want to move beyond liberalism and build a class-based movement which by definition must include the defence workers. Indeed, building a class movement will largely depend on how far the left wing of the Corbynistas can turn it outward and proselytize among workers such as those in the defence industry. The supposed ‘Marxists’ in this debate provided a master class in how not to build that movement. Most striking was the unintended consequence arising from combining ‘scrap now’ with the Corbyn struggle in the party: the effect was to reduce defence workers to pawns to be sacrificed in the great game that is the left vs right battle within the Party.
That approach illustrates the complete failure of these ‘Marxists’ to recognise the division between the economic and political, and within this division that unions are primarily economic entities. A consequence is these people continually push unions to adopt programmatic demands appropriate to a party rather than a union. In this instance asking conference to supress the union’s core function of defending member’s terms and conditions in pursuit of a political goal, the only possible result was to further repel the defence workers from the left and Corbyn.
The real tragedy in this vignette is that until now the only serious work undertaken on defence diversification has been that of defence industry workers. Now a Corbyn labour party can build on that work harnessing the workers in the industry, their unions and party to formulate diversification blueprints. This approach was central to the Statement:
“Unite commits to campaigning to secure a serious government approach to defence diversification… and urges the Labour Party to give the highest priority to this aspect in it considerations.”
We have then a platform which can not only develop diversification policies but also a process where defence workers will be exposed to the ideas of the left opening the possibility of winning them over to socialism.
Apart from the decisive victory the debate itself was well run and a joy to watch as the defence workers and McCluskey, provided the ‘Marxists’ with a lesson on what is a trade union and how it should function. I hope (but doubt) they will have learnt their lesson.
Left wing anti-EU campaigners have, so far made little attempt to argue their case from an explicity pro-working class, or even trade union standpoint. So it is at least refreshing to see Enrico Tortolano attempt to do this in yesterday’s Morning Star. We republish his piece below, followed by a reply from Johnny Lewis:
Lets’s fight on our terms not EU’s
Enrico Tortolano (campaign director, Trade Unionists Against the EU) argues that Britain’s EU referendum on June 23 is not a choice between two bad options but rather a fundamental choice about the kind of society we want to live in
Trade union negotiators spend their lives between a rock and a hard place trying to make the best of bad options.
This can lead to a habit we like to think of as pragmatism — making the best of a bad job.
However, at key historical moments fundamental principles come into the equation. Sometimes we have to aspire above the unacceptable options we are offered.
Britain’s EU referendum is such an occasion. It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers. We have to express our deeper interests as working-class people.
To say Cameron’s “EU deal” is just as bad as the status quo and in the next breath advocate a vote for Britain to remain in the EU in order to build “another, nicer EU” misses the point. As does former Greece finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who thinks he can reform the EU — something millions of workers over three decades have found impossible.
It shouldn’t be forgotten he advised the Greek government to accept 70 per cent of the EU austerity memorandum and is responsible for much of the present crisis. His failure to understand the system, to grasp the nature of EU institutions and neoliberalism itself, underlies his utopian illusion.
The EU is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a bastion of workers’ rights, nor to support the struggles for equality of women, minorities or young people.
The desperate plight of working-class communities throughout the EU’s 28 member states is clear. Average unemployment was 8.9 per cent in January 2016 — 10.3 per cent in euro-area countries. Incredibly, this is hailed as a sign of recovery by some EU enthusiasts because it represents a 0.1 per cent reduction from the previous month.
Workers in the EU have been trapped in a prolonged crisis of joblessness and falling real wages for over 15 years.
Since 2000 average EU unemployment rates only fell below 8 per cent — 1 in 12 workers — briefly in 2007-8 only to rise to 12 per cent in 2013, before reverting to EU “normality” of around 10 per cent today.
For millions throughout the EU this has meant their lives have been defined by foodbanks, homelessness, debt and precarious forms of employment.
The intended outcome of German ordoliberal policies applied by EU political elites in the interests of big business is to lower wages, “foster competitiveness” and increase worker insecurity.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady (M Star March 9) and some trade union leaders who attempt to put a brave face on what they see as the least bad option, unfortunately risk choosing by far the worst option.
Leaving the EU would tear the Tory Party apart. Of course there would be confrontation, but given the ruthlessness with which they are destroying the welfare state and workplace rights, exiting and taking them down makes sense on all levels. This shouldn’t be outside our movement’s cognitive mapping — the real danger for workers lies in giving up on the idea of meaningful change. EU institutions rule exclusively in the interests of corporations and finance capital and are the main drivers of austerity in our part of the world.
A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda. It would also show British people know the only way to stop TTIP, privatising our NHS and public services, is by leaving the EU. These are precisely the reasons why large corporations, the US and global capital are desperately funding and supporting a campaign for Britain to remain a member of the EU.
This referendum is about class issues, not narrow negotiating issues. If the TUC or European TUC could negotiate a favourable settlement for workers with EU institutions and their masters in the Round Table of Industrialists, why has this not already happened?
This referendum is about whether workers want a future of intergovernmental collaboration based on UN principles of peaceful co-existence and respect for self-determination of nations, or a continuation of the EU’s endless austerity where supranational super-states financialise and privatise all areas of human activity.
In this context, it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights.
This is simply untrue. Decades of EU neoliberal economics have depended on its denial of the most basic of workers’ rights — the right to work. The equivalent of Britain’s entire full-time working population (22.98 million) are unemployed across the EU. It is a low-growth area worsened by EU institutions attacking collective bargaining rights.
Accession states, or countries with odious debt like Greece, have been forced to demolish collective bargaining arrangements as conditions for EU bailouts. The EU as a bastion of women’s rights? Try speaking to working-class Greek, Spanish or Portuguese women resisting the aggressive EU austerity agenda.
The European Court of Justice upholds fundamental EU principles of “free movement” of capital, labour, goods and services. That’s why its rulings automatically trump workers’ rights.
The Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases demonstrate this beyond reasonable doubt. The economic crisis of 2008 was used to push through a raft of policies giving the unelected European Commission the power to veto member governments’ budgets and spending plans.
A concrete road map has been articulated by the EU around an assault on workers’ rights that has led to mass protests in Bulgaria and general strikes in Portugal.
Because some on the left have been starry-eyed about the long-dead myth of “social Europe,” the task of organising real international solidarity with these struggles has been neglected.
Let’s revive the deep internationalism of Britain’s trade union movement. Vote to leave the EU. Make a new world possible.
The left Brexiters are putting workers’ rights in danger – and playing into the hands of the right
By Johnny Lewis (a leading trade unionist)
Comrade Tortolano opens his piece by noting that there are situations for socialists in which fundamental political principles must take precedence over the day to day pragmatism of trade union-style negotiations. In principle, I can agree: I’d argue that getting rid of Trident – even before we have an alternative jobs plan in place – is a case in point. Getting out of the EU most certainly isn’t.
At most, it could be argued that the argument over Brexit v Remain is a dispute between different factions of the ruling class over two alternative strategies for British capitalism, in which the working class has no interest one way or the other. In the past (during the 1975 referendum, for instance), some of us have argued just that, but I will now go on to explain why that approach does not apply in the present referendum campaign, and why trade unionists and the left should argue to remain.
I have argued in a previous piece that those on the left wishing to leave the EU need to be able to answer two questions: whether Brexit will benefit unions and workers in any practical sense, and whether the “left exit” campaign will help develop workers’ consciousness and the left politically. When leaving is put in such sharp terms the idea of a left wing exit rapidly falls apart, particularly around the consequence for unions.
Unions can only progress member’s interests in two ways: industrially and through legislation. As unions’ industrial power has declined so the importance of pro-union and pro-worker legislation has increased. Such legislation creates a floor below which unions and workers’ rights cannot fall. With one major exception (TU recognition) all such post- 1980 legislation originates from the EU.
It is the case our floor of rights is weaker than many other European counties – the result of the way European laws have been introduced in the UK – the Posted Workers Directive being a case in point. Comrade Tortolano cites the Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases as demonstrating “beyond reasonable doubt” his case that the ECJ’s rulings on the implementation of the Directive is anti-worker: in reality the Directive gives member states latitude to determine what constitutes the minimum rate of pay. The Blair Government set the rate at the minimum wage creating a two tier workforce while in Ireland they linked the Posted workers rate to the ‘going rate’ set by collective bargaining. While we may blame many things on the EU the vast majority of problems unions have with EU legislation is a consequence of how successive UK governments have enacted EU legislation – and in directing their fire at the EU people like Comrade Tortolano in reality let the Tory government and its Coalition and New labour Predecessors off the hook.
However weak the present floor of rights may be, post-exit the Tory Government would have the ideal conditions in which to set about dismantling our present laws, further eroding unions’ abilities to defend members and further worsening workers’ terms and conditions. And the consequence of this dismantling of the floor would almost certainly start a European wide race to the bottom as E.U. countries are forced to compete with the rock bottom wages of UK workers. What possible benefit can unions and workers derive from such a development? On this fundamental level of workers’ rights those who wish to leave do not have a leg to stand and so tend to keep quiet on this pivotal matter, unlike the populist right. In fairness to Comrade Tortolano, he does at least address this crucial issue, but only by denying reality and obscuring the real issues with empty rhetoric (“it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights” etc).
The major argument put forward by the exit camp which directly purports to have workers interest at heart comes from UKIP, though it is hinted at in Comrade Tortolano’s piece, where he complains of the European Court of Justice upholding the principle of “free movement” of labour: that foreign labour has reduced wage rates, hence ending immigration will resolve low pay. Such demagogy shifts the blame for the decline in wages from the employer and government to ‘the foreigner’ it also writes out any role for unions in bidding up wages.
We can see from the floor of rights question to the populist right’s emphasis on immigration of the decline in wages there are no trade union based reasons for exit, unless someone wished to contend the floor of rights was irrelevant or believes (like, incredibly, Comrade Tortolano) the Tories will leave it intact. As for those wishing for a left exit, it is b – to put it mildly – worrying that they come close to blaming migrants for low wages.
Unable to put forward any coherent or convincing trade union-based rationale, those left wingers advocating Brexit can only do so from a political perspective. While it’s quite permissible to claim, as does Comrade Tortolano, that “It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers”, he is unable to present any such case, and neither has any other left Brexiter.
The comrade’s rhetoric about “our system of justice, democracy, collective rights” is simply empty guff: as I have stated (above), every single aspect of pro-worker and pro-union legislation in the UK since 1980 (with the exception of TU recognition) originates from the EU. As for “justice”, the EU has forced successive British governments to introduce legislation on parental leave, age discrimination and transgender rights that almost certainly wouldn’t exist otherwise; and in other areas – equal pay, maternity rights, sex, disability and race discrimination, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has improved and extended existing laws, making it more difficult for a reactionary UK government to undermine them.
Comrade Tortolano then puts forward the further argument: that “A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda.” Although it is impossible to say what level of destabilisation exit will have on capital we can say with certainty it will have a detrimental impact on unions and the working class. Moreover the impact of a serious downturn caused by exit is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what people like the comrade believe will happen. Rather than helping the fight against austerity, attacks on unions and workers will be intensified while the labour movement will be divided and unable to respond as a direct consequence of the political chaos exit will sow within its ranks. In truth such chaos will not be down to the left’s intervention, rather an exit victory will build an insurgent populist right and it is that which our movement, including the Labour Party will have to contend with.
The comrade, like all anti-EU leftists, no doubt believes that measures such as renationalising industries or intervening directly in the economy are made impossible by EU membership (I am surprised that this argument is only hinted at in his article): but this is simply not the case – see Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’
All across the EU states have majority shares or own and run their own transport and energy sectors. This is confirmed in this 2013 Estep report, commissioned by the EU: http://www.esparama.lt/es_parama_pletra/failai/ESFproduktai/2_UM_valstybes-valdomos-imones_2013-03.pdf
In particular the report states: ‘SOEs are entitled for public services provision, which can be broadly observed in utility sectors such as transport, telecommunications or energy.’
While nationalisation may be restricted it is not banned or illegal. This is a widely-believed myth, promoted by the anti-EU left. But, for the sake of argument, say it were true: are we seriously suggesting that a Corbyn-led Labour government, elected on a clear democratic mandate and manifesto pledging public ownership of the nation’s railway system and ‘Big Six’ energy companies, would be deterred by the objections of EU bureaucrats? This, incidentally, is where analogies with Greece, Spain and Portugal fall down: the UK has the fifth-largest national economy (and second-largest in EU) measured by nominal GDP: the idea that a left wing UK government could be bullied in the way that Syriza in Greece was is simply preposterous.
Across Europe and North America globalisation is causing a rising level of hopelessness among large sections of the working classes who are being galvanised into activity by the demagogy and programme of the populist right. The common denominator across all these movements, and what roots them in workers consciousness is the appeal to their respective nationalism. That’s why the left Brexiters like Comrade Tortolano are so badly – and dangerously – mistaken. It’s also why people like myself , who in 1975 argued for abstention, now say that in the forthcoming referendum, class conscious workers and all progressive people, must argue, campaign and vote to remain.
The referendum is not simply a matter of being about in or out: it is also an episode in the formation of this new, populist right-wing. Not least because the working class base of the Brexit campaign are not concerned with which model of capital accumulation best suits the UK, or for that matter the recent decline in workers’ rights within the EU: rather the referendum is a lightning rod for hitting back against their real and imagined grievances – politicians not listening, growing impoverishment, or the belief that exit will reverse Britain’s decline – not least by stopping immigration. In voting for exit these workers will not have been influenced by the incoherent arguments of the left rather they will cast their vote bound hand and foot to the reactionary leaders of the Brexit campaign.
The above is not to endorse the EU as it is today – far from it: the one convincing claim that Comrade Tortolano makes against the EU is about its undemocratic nature. In fact those on the left and within the unions who advocate Remain not only largely agree about the limits of the EU but also know what to do about its shortcomings; our problem is we have not done it.
Organising industrially and politically is our answer, it is our answer to the limitations of the Posted Workers Directive, it is our antidote to blaming foreign workers, and on a pan-European level it is our answer to the present limitations of the EU. For those of us who wish to remain we need to use the existing European wide union and political institutions and networks to campaign not only to democratise the EU but also to fight for our Europe a social Europe. Our starting point however is to ensure we stay in.
Shiraz Socialist has for some time been in possession of documents that seem to show a conspiracy by Islamists to exploit the Tories’ academy programme in order to take over schools. We have, up until now, refrained from using this material or commenting upon it, because we were not clear on its provenance and not satisfied of its authenticity. There must, properly, be the suspicion that the documents have been faked in order to stir up anti-Muslim feeling. However, this material is now in the public domain (the Birmingham Mail, the Independent, the Daily Mail and the Times have all carried articles), so we’ve decided it’s time for us to cover the story.
Firstly, what do the documents contain?
The documents’ central and most alarming content is what seems to be a letter from a Birmingham Muslim fundamentalist to a co-thinker in Bradford.
This details a five-point guide called ‘Trojan Horse’, for taking over schools and urges the rolling out ‘Trojan Horse’ to Bradford and then Manchester, boasting that considerable success has been achieved in schools in predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham
The documents outline alleged successful plots carried out against a number of Birmingham headteachers and other members of staff.
The documents also give a step-by-step guide for targeting “under-performing” schools with dirty tricks methods, involving the spreading of lies about the school heads.
The recipient is first urged to identify any Salafi (ie: hard-line fundamentalist) parents sending pupils to the school.
‘They are always the most committed to the faith and are hardliners in that regard and once charged up they keep going for longer,’ says the letter.
‘When the parents have been identified, we start to turn them against the headteacher and leadership team.
‘The only way to do this is to tell each parent that the school is corrupting their children with sex education, teaching about homosexuals, making their children pray Christian prayers and mixed swimming and sport.
‘If you can get them to be very vocal in the playground as they drop off or pick up their children that will stir up other parents.
‘The parents MUST be given direction and told not to discuss this with anyone, you only need a maximum of four parents to disrupt the whole school, to send in complaints to question their child’s education and to contact their MP and local authority.’
Once the head has been forced out, Islamist governors push through plans to make the schools academies.
The academy status, as promoted by the Tories, allows them to be run out of the control of the local authority, with funding provided direct from central government.
The letter states: ‘’Operation ‘Trojan Horse’ has been very carefully thought through and is tried and tested within Birmingham, implementing it in Bradford will not be difficult for you.’’
Trojan Horse, the letter states, has been fine-tuned so that it is ‘totally invisible to the naked eye and allows us to operate under the radar. I have detailed the plan we have in Birmingham and how well it has worked and you will see how easy the whole process is to get the whole process is to get the head teacher out and our own person in.’’
The documents propose that schools with poor Ofsted reports and with large Muslim student populations should be targeted for takeover.
They add: ‘’The poor performing schools are easy to disrupt, the better performing with strong head teachers is much harder and so we have to manufacture a strong enough reason, but rest assured we have not failed yet, no matter how difficult removing the head teacher may be. You just have to be clever and find the most appropriate way to deal with the school.’’
The documents add: ‘’This is all about causing the maximum amount of organised chaos and we have fine-tuned this as part of operation Trojan Horse. You must identify what the heads strengths are and build a case of disruption around that.’’
One passage reads: “We have caused a great amount of organised disruption in Birmingham and as a result we now have our own academies and are on our way to getting rid of more headteachers and taking over their schools … Whilst sometimes the practices we use may not seem the correct way to do things you must remember this is a ‘jihad’ and as such all means possible to win the war is acceptable.”
Yesterday’s Times (11 March) drew attention to “glaring errors” in the letter, suggesting that it might be a fake. The main “glaring error” is a reference to the ousting of the former head of Springfield School in Sparkhill/ Moseley, Birmingham. The letter states “We did this perfectly to Noshaba Hussain from Springfield School. However, the Governors reappointed her so now we have another plan in place to get her out.” In fact, Ms Hussain was dismissed in 1994 and was not reinstated. The Times also states that “the crudeness of the apparent forgery is underlined by another error. It identifies two Birmingham schools where the plotters claim credit for removing head teachers late last year. However, the author seems to have muddled up their departure dates.”
The Times goes on to quote Tahir Alam, a former “education chief” at the Muslim Council of Britain, and named in the letter as involved in the plot: “This ridiculous assertion is based entirely upon a leaked document nonsensically referred to as ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ … the authenticity of which any decent and fair-minded person would question and quickly conclude as a hoax. Any reference to me is a malicious fabrication and completely untrue.”
As against this, Shiraz can report that we’ve spoken to a number of teachers from some of the schools named in the documents, and they are of the opinion that the documents are probably genuine – if only because their content tallies with verifiable events in at least two of the schools named in the documents. The former headteacher of Saltley School, Balwant Bains (who we have not spoken to) is reported as saying he was “bullied and intimidated” in the months before he resigned last November after clashing with the school’s governors. The Birmingham Mail (10 March) reported that “Friends claim the respected head, of Sikh origin, was undermined when governors over-turned his decision to expel a Muslim pupil found with a knife. The harassment of Bains included an anonymous text message branding him a “racist, Islamophobic Head teacher.” Five non-Muslim governors of the school have resigned, leaving 12 Muslim governors out of 14. The problems at Saltley School began, according to our sources, when Mr Bains was asked by governors to make curriculum changes, including the scrapping of sex education and citizenship classes because they were allegedly deemed “un-Islamic”. He was, we’ve been told, instructed to introduce Islamic studies into the curriculum and told that only halal food should be served to pupils, even though Saltley is a non-faith school. Mr Bains resigned after an Ofsted report concluded that he had a “dysfunctional” relationship with the school’s governors.
Shiraz has also been told by Birmingham teachers that at another school named in the documents, Adderley Primary, four Teaching Assistants have been forced out following the school’s receipt of resignation letters that the four denied having written. As a result of the ‘Trojan Horse’ documents the police have now re-opened their fraud investigation into the letters. At least one of the Teaching Assistants is now pursuing an unfair dismissal claim.
Shiraz Socialist will be following this bizarre affair and will report on developments. In the meanwhile, whether or not the ‘Trojan Horse’ documents prove to be genuine, what is clear is that the Tories’ academy programme is opening up education to religious fanatics, sectarians and bigots, making a mockery of the government’s proclaimed commitment to social inclusion.
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.
Steve Hedley is the London Regional Organiser of the RMT and, by all accounts, a good left wing militant who in the past has been victimised (and denounced by the Daily Mail ) for union activity. For the record, I do not agree with the label “hideous racist thug” on the clip below.
However, in October 2011 he was accused of antisemitism as a result of what he said to a Jew in the audience (who’d heckled him) at an RMT public meeting entitled ‘Palestine’s fight for Freedom.’ That is where the clip above was filmed (by the heckler, who is also responsible for the label above the clip).
This is a transcript of what was said on that occasion:
SH: We oppose the Israeli government because of the racist policies they are carrying out on the Palestinian people. You can cover it up for so long with your friends in the media but the attack on the Mavi Marmara and the attacks on those innocent women and children have turned into the biggest concentration camp on the earth. This is the reality. You’re an absolute disgrace to the Jewish people. You are a modern-day fascist, you are a modern-day Nazi, by supporting those policies that oppress [inaudible] minority in your own state. No wonder the EDL are flying the flag of Israel. The modern-day Nazi EDL are flying the flag of Israel because it’s the state that they associate with. What the Nazis did to you, you’re doing to the Palestinians.
[Chair calls next speaker who begins]
Heckler: Feel better?
SH: Better than you obviously. But then again you’re the chosen people so you might feel better than me, huh?
Heckler: So its about being Jewish?
SH: It’s about being Zionist.
Most of the left, at the time, ignored this incident, perhaps because the heckler (one Richard Millett) is, supposedly, a “right winger” and because there seems little doubt that Hedley was, to some extent, provoked. On the organised left, only the AWL criticised Hedley, and that was in a very mild and low-key statement.
Now Hedley has involved himself in a further row over “Zionism” and related matters. This time, however, Hedley’s targets are leftists, including well-known and outspoken anti Zionist Jews, several of whom are associated with the extreme (“absolute“) anti Zionist and anti Israel blog Jews sans frontiers.
The row took place on facebook and began when Toby Abse commented on former SWP leader Martin Smith’s association with the notorious antisemite and jazz musician Gilad Atzmon:
Tobias Abse Interesting reminder of the close friendship between Martin Smith and Gilad Atzmon, the notorious proponent of rabidly anti-semitic world Jewish conspiracy theories. During Smith’s leadership of the party Atzmon, a jazz musician, often did gigs for the party or its front organisations. Readers of the article below will note Atzmon’s aggressively sexist and anti-feminist views ( not I think coincidental).
Jews sans frontieres: Bookmark this!
Steve Hedley offs the closet Zionists are now attacking Martin smith,any diversion to stop people condemning the Israeli states atrocities,Abse your politics are lower than a snakes belly you opportunist runt.
Tobias Abse Did the Christian Brothers teach you antisemitism at school – yes, we are all Christ killers aren’t we?
Charlie Pottins Steve, these comrades were fighting Zionism before you had even heard of it. And quite frankly the way you go off like a Pavlov’s dog I think you have a problem. PS, Toby, wrong stereotype, Steve is from a proddy background. But did have a strong Stalinist injection if that is any relevance. Still, he has now uncovered the conspiracy hatched no doubt in the old cemetery at Prague behind the SWP’s little difficulty. I’m surprised the plotters took their time, mind, it would have been more effective if they had gone for Martin Smith while he was still SWP national secretary, rather than giving Smith’s comrades the chance to take their distance from him. I blame that Yigal Gluckstein myself, he was obviously sent over here with a long-term plan.
Steve Hedley You are the one with the problem Charlie i suppose coming from the wrp who were accused of being anti semetic(not that i agree with that by the way) yoy may feel that you need to prove a point by jumping to the closet Zionists defence.I have really not been following the internal rift in the SWP and have little knowledge of how the accusations made were handled and no comment other than to say that they should be investigated by an appropriate outside body.I do feel though that it is very wrong for people who call themselves socialists to gloat over these issues.To top it all
closet Zionists like Tobias Abase are now attacking Martin smith for his alleged links with a Jazz musician(who he claims is anti Semitic),.Smith has an impeccable record of anti racist anti fascist campaigning but this doesn’t seem to matter to Abase and his ilk who it seems will use any diversion to stop people condemning the Israeli states atrocities,Abse your politics are lower than a snakes belly you opportunist runt.
Roland Rance Steve Hedley: You’re not seriously arguing that JsF is a Zionist blog, are you? The SWP, under the leadership of Martin Smith, promoted the antisemitic chauvinist Atzmon long after nearly else on the left had rumbled him. When we picketed Bookmarks because of Atzmon’s lecture there, it was not because of the SWP’s (correct) position on Zionism and Palestine; it was because of their unconscionable support for and promotion of this charlatan.
Luke Cooper That is the most hideous piece of anti-semitism I’ve seen on the left. Ok, I have seen much of it but it is shocking and appalling coming from a leader of a progressive trade union.
Steve Hedley im objecting to guilt by association of an anti racist/anti fascist campaigner by a load of zionist charlatans if the cap fits wear it
Steve Hedley luke who?
Steve Hedley And just how are my comments anti semitic
Roland Rance Steve Hedley:
> how are my comments anti semiticBy your assumption that anyone who objects to Atzmon’s antisemitism is ipso facto a Zionist. In fact, by equating “Jewish” with “Zionist”, you are echoing both antisemites and Zionists. Enjoy your company!
Steve Hedley No Roland you made that assumption not me and by your own reasoning your an anti semite now
Roland Rance Where did I make that assumption? JsF exposed (many years ago) Atzmon, and protested at the SWP’s links with him. You describe them as “closet Zionists” (one of Atzmon’s pet phrases) for this. They are not Zionists, and unlike you I know very well the distinction between the two.
Steve Hedley You see you Zionists deliberately misconstrue any attack on the Israeli state as anti semetic Margaret Thatcher is a Christian Zionist so is George Bush enjoy your illustrious bedfellows.You really have to come up with better tactics to defend the murderous Israeli stae these ones frankly make you look daft.You made the assumption in your last post obviously the memory od a goldfish and the same debating skills.
Roland Rance The claim that I am a Zionist is false. Either you know this, and are delibarately lying in order to smear me, or you do not know this, which means that you have not been involved in Palestine Solidarity work for the past thirty years and have no idea what you are talking about. In either case, I demand that you retract and apologise for this defamatory statement.
Steve Hedley As i said if the cap fits wear it im retracting nothing ,ive posted here in an individual capacity but feel free to run to the bourgeois courts if you like.You on the other hand have labelled me anti simetic which im clearly not.Unlike you ive fought fascists politically and physically just where were you when AFA was fighting the BNP ,i don’t remember you ever putting your welfare on the line ,could it be your just another keyboard warrior?
Tami Peterson @ Steve – Roland and I certainly have our differences but to call him a Zionist and ‘keyboard warrior’ is ludicrous! In my time in politics in the UK Roland was one of the most consistently active and outspoken anti-Zionist activists that I met. You have no idea who you are talking about or you wouldn’t be making such ridiculous statements.
Roland Rance I was in AFA, Steve. In fact, I organised the first AFA conference in Bradford thirty years ago. We had stewards around the town to prevent a possible fascist attack, but had to call them back to conference in order to protect members of the local Asian Youth Movement from physical attacks by members of Red Action. I know all-too-well about racism masquerading as leftist anti-fascism.
Steve Hedley Tami I dont know either of you from Adam and Eve but anyone who throws the Label anti semite at me or inded Martin Smith is not in my opinion a laudable individual anyway your entitled to your opinion ,Roland Rat are you really calling AFA racist youve really lost the plot,
Steve Hedley That should have been Rance not rat
Roland Rance No, I’m not calling AFA racist. Learn to read.
Steve Hedley Your obviously just a middle class patronizing prat there will be no retraction and if the cap fits wear it . I’ve wasted enough time talking to you but feel free to run to the bourgeois courts like the other toy town revolutionaries Rat
Steve Hedley oh dear predictive text again Roland Rance
Tami Peterson Well Steve I personally met Roland, Charlie and the others you are attacking here on many anti-fascist demos. I never, however, had the pleasure of meeting you.
Steve Hedley Same here Tami ive never met you and AFA in which i served ten years didn’t hide behind police lines having demos
“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” -Second Amendment, the U.S. Constitution
Whatever the merits of such notions about personal and national security (they are, to say the least, highly questionable in this day and age), it is important to note that the only kind of militia the Second Amendment expressly regards as consistent with security is a “well-regulated” militia. One may rationally and reasonably conclude that this applies both to an organized militia and an unorganized one. Otherwise, an armed citizenry consisting of men and women using guns for presumed high purpose according to their respective dictates of personal whim and political fancy is the stuff from which anarchy could result, and in turn the tyranny against which the private possession of guns is supposed to protect Americans.
The right to keep and bear arms (a term that connotes a military purpose) stems from the English common law right of self-defense. However, the possession of guns in the mother country of the common law was never an absolute right. Various conditions were imposed. Britain today has one of the strictest gun laws in the world.
There is nothing absolute about the freedoms in our own Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech is not freedom to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. Freedom of religion is not freedom to have multiple spouses, or sacrifice a lamb in the local park, as religiously sanctioned practices. Similarly, whatever right the Second Amendment protects regarding the private possession of guns, for whatever definition of “militia,” is not an absolute right. It must serve the overall public interest, including (from the preamble of the US Constitution) the need to “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare.” Whatever right there is to possess firearms is no less important than the right of every American, gun owners included, to protection against the possession of guns by persons who by any reasonable standard lack the crucial credentials for responsible gun ownership.
– From a 1977 article by David J.Steinberg, Executive Director, National Council for a Responsible Firearms Policy: “Does The Second Amendment Mean What It Says?”
– Socialists debate gun control here: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/4681
The ‘United Left’ (UL) grouping within Unite the Union meets tomorrow (Saturday 8th December) to discuss the proposal to hold an early election for General Secretary. This has been agreed in principle at the union’s EC last week, but unless the UL support it, Len McCluskey’s bid for early re-election will be in difficulty. McCluskey’s enemies within the union have already denounced the EC’s decision. The reasoning behind going for an early election has not, so far, been widely publicised within the union, so as a service to Unite members we’re publishing the case that will be put to the UL tomorrow:
WHY THIS ELECTION?
Unite is – at last – making a difference. As the GS told the Policy Cnference this year, for too long Unite was just a promise, a hope. In the last two years that promise has started turning into a reality.
A FIGHTING BACK UNION: Leading from the front and standing shoulder to shoulder with our members, Unite has shown that it is possible to fight and win, in both the private and public sectors. Pioneering a new and developing leverage strategy we have won a series of major disputes over recent months, including those on London buses, the electrical contractor and wider construction industry and in manufacturing at Honda. We have also given a lead in the public sector, particularly in the fight for pension justice.
AN ORGANISING UNION: the 100 per cent campaign has been an outstanding success, already bringing in more than 45,000 new members in Unite-organised workplaces. No other union is attempting anything like this, let alone succeeding at it. While our organising strategies aimed at presently unorganised sectors of the economy continue to bring not only new members to our union, but a new confidence and developing strength to union organisation across the economy.
A PROGRESSIVE UNION: with our new political strategy we are at last starting on the hard work of making Labour a vehicle for working people’s aspirations once again. Working systematically across our regions to identify constituencies where we can take positive actions to ensure our values of solidarity, dignity, respect and fairness are once again at the heart of our party. Further, Unite has led in setting up the new think-tank CLASS which has received a broad welcome for its project of reviving radical thinking.
A DEMOCRATIC, TOLERANT UNION: Unite is at ease with itself – united, without the factional politics of the past; but also open and democratic, a union run by its members where fear and intolerance play no part. A union without the excesses and abuse at the top of the recent past.
A UNION IN THE COMMUNITY: We have launched our community membership plan to great enthusiasm. Reconnecting with our communities and offering a home in Unite to all those not in paid employment. Our community strategy is developing a new confidence and a collective voice that will only strengthen our organisation over the coming years; in addition we have extended our structures for retired members and youing npeople.
A CAMPAIGNING UNION: Unite is leading the way in its campaigns for justice and fairness for all. We are the leading voice in thew labour movement fighting austerity and the attacks on our NHS, Welfare State and Public Services. To support this we are developing a sweeping new e-communications strategy which will tap into the campaigning energies of our members.
IN ADDITION: Unite has completed its constitutional integration, bedding in a structure of around 400 constitutional committees and reorganising our branches to root them more firmly in the workplace.
As a result, Unite is now playing the leading role in the entire labour movement. It is pioneering the revival of the organised working class at a time of great economic and political difficulty. No other trade union is even attempting the range of initiatives Unite is undertaking.
THIS WORK IS UNFINISHED: Indeed, in some respects we have only just begun. Many of these initiatives are still in their early stages. In some – like our political work – final achievement of our objectives is till uncertain. All depend for their success on a continuation of the leadership that has been given over the last two years.
That leadership has embraced activists at all levels of Unite, but above all it has come from the Executive Council and the General Secretary. Without that united, collective leadership, it would be easy for our union to to lose momentum and fall back into the easy routines of managing decline.
That is why the issue of renewing the General Secretary’s mandate should now be considered.
As things stand, the next General Secretary election would take place in 2015. That means that in 12-18 months in jockeying for succession would start. The authority of the present General Secretary would inevitably start to erode as officers and activists look to the future beyond.
Under normal circumstances that would not be the end of the world, it is an unavoidable price of democracy. But these are not normal circumstances. For all the reasons stated, Unite’s potential still hangs in the balance, and it is no exaggeration to say that the future of our movement depends on the continuation and extension of our leadership.
SO THERE ARE TWO PATHS:
1. WE STICK TO THE EXISTING ELECTORAL SCHEDULE
This means that Unite will start to drift in a relatively short period of time. Probably the first casualty would be a loss of impetus in the 100 per cent campaign, which has required a big culture shift for many officers. Our united impact into the Labour Party in a crucial time leading up to the next General Election would also be disrupted and diluted.
It is also important to note that the existing schedule means a General Secretary election more-or-less simultaneously with the next General Election. Whatever the outcome of the General Election, this is bound to be a particularly demanding time for Unite’s political work. Either we will (as we hope and believe) be dealing with a new Labour government which we will be seeking to hold to an agenda of working people’s interests, or we will have to deal with the fall-out of a defeat which might raise the most profound questions about the future of the Labour-union relationship. Either way, it will be no time for a leadership vacuum or instability at the top of Unite.
2. WE SEEK A REFRESHED MANDATE FOR THE GENERAL SECRETARY NOW, ASSURING THE CONTINUITY OF UNITE’S LEADERSHIP FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS
It is now possible, because of legal changes, for the General Secretary to serve past the the previous limit of sixty-five years of age. If re-elected, Len McCluskey’s new term would end while he is sicty-seven.
In the future, serving slightly past 65 will surely come to seem a normal, unexceptional, situation. However, today this inevitably gives rise to comparisons with the recent past, when various General Secretaries in Unite’s predecessor unions tried to extend their terms past the age of 65.
There are two significant differences today. First, Ken Jackson, Roger Lyons and Derek Simpson all sought to extend their terms without consulting the membership (Derek it must be said, with some justification because of merger arrangements). That is not the case here – we are talking about asking the membership to renew Len’s mandate in a democratic election.
Second, this is about ensuring the continuity of left progressive leadership in the labour movement’s leading organisation. This decision is not about Len: it’s a much bigger decision you are being asked to make, about the wider interests of the left in our movement. If elected Len would remain as General Secretary of Unite and the leading voice for working people across the labour movement for two years beyond his current term. Importantly, Len has pledged that if elected, his extended term to 67 will be at no additional cost to the union beyond him reaching the age of 65.
It could also be argued that an early election constitutes an unnecessary expense for the union. That is not the case except in the very short term – any money spent on a GS election in 2013 will be money saved by not having one in 2015.
In summary, this is an opportunity for Unite to reaffirm its present dynamic, progressive course, and settle its leadership for a vital five years ahead. That is why the Left is asking Len to stay on for another five years (two more than originally envisaged), and why the Left should be asking the Executive Council to sanction a General Secretary election early in 2013. This move will no doubt be attcked by our enemies among the Tories and the employers and most likely within “New Labour” too. But it should be welcomed by everyone with our union and our movement’s best interests at heart.
McCluskey’s own statement, here
Above: Len McCluskey
Jerry Hicks, the unsuccessful (and somewhat eccentric) candidate who stood against Len McCluskey for general secretary of Unite in 2010, has put out this press release: