“Facing up to some harsh truths”: statement from United Left Scotland

April 28, 2017 at 7:50 am (elections, left, posted by JD, Unite the union)

 Image result for picture Unite logo

United Left Scotland is relieved that our candidate Len McCluskey has won the General Secretary election and secured a third term.

But welcoming the win by Len must also include facing up to some harsh truths.

A very low turnout of 12% is a major worry and we can only assume that turnout for the Executive Council candidates may be even less, especially given that none of them are household names or have had much mainstream media attention.

We also need a realistic analysis of what can only be described as the collapse of the left vote.

The last time Len stood he got 144,000 votes and the time before that he attracted 102,000 votes – and that was when he stood in the much more crowded list of five candidates and was standing for first time, not as the incumbent.

How come over 1,185 nominations with representation of over 560,000 members only resulted in 59,000 votes for Len – barely 10% of the membership of the branches which nominated him?

Nearly all Executive Council members, the chairs of 90% of national committees, and all but one Regional Secretaries endorsed Len for General Secretary. So how come we were able to inspire only 5% of the union’s membership to cast their vote for Len?

Questions should also be asked about the wisdom of Len choosing to resign and trigger the election, particularly without seeking advice and endorsement from any of the United Left constitutional committees or a United Left all-member meeting. In Scotland, Len’s decision to launch his whole campaign at the breakaway group PULS meeting in January was questioned at the time and remains an issue of concern for United Left members in Scotland and elsewhere- especially given the dominant role of full timers supporting PULS.

Was Len the right candidate, given his age and his original commitment to stand as a one-term-only General Secretary when he was first elected by the merged membership of Unite?

Members from MSF, AEEU and Amicus had all experienced General Secretaries clinging to power long after the rule book and the will of the membership allowed: Roger Lyons, Ken Jackson and, most disappointingly of all, the erstwhile left General Secretary Derek Simpson. Underestimating this reaction to Len seeking a third term was maybe a significant factor?

We must, however, also ask ourselves as United Left activists: Are we out of touch with our members as well?

If nominations at branch and workplace meetings do not result in the members voting for the candidate whom we, as activists in those meetings, have proposed, then we need to shoulder some of the responsibility for this.

Within United Left meetings there has been the view expressed that we have had an excessive focus on elections and people securing or continuing in their positions rather than on the politics and policies that we want to see progressed.

There is nothing wrong with our attention on winning elections, but the win needs to be for the purpose of advancing policies and actions that support working people and their families. The problem is when electioneering for one individual over another in itself is seen as politics.

Instead, we should be engaging with members in workplaces and communities as part of the approach to building a politicised and motivated membership who are then enthused and inspired to take part in the union and all its democratic processes, not just in the postal vote for occasional choices of Executive Council or General Secretary candidates.

If we are to achieve our aims as United Left, then our priority must be: rebuilding grassroots connections; re-establishing lay membership control at all levels of the union; and reversing the trend of a fall in membership, a fall in turnout in elections, and a fall in the numbers of people voting for left candidates.

To do so, we need to make a reality of the election platform which Len stood on in 2010:

“A democratic union, with the ordinary members in charge and taking the decisions, and authority pushed out to branches, workplaces, areas and regions; a tolerant union which welcomes diversity of opinions and in which fear plays no part.”

We should not forget how close we came to disaster in this election. Gerard Coyne, the candidate backed by the right wing media and the most right wing elements within the Labour Party, came within 5,500 votes of victory.

The closeness of the result will have given the forces of conservatism within our union a new confidence, thereby endangering any future progressive agenda for the largest trade union in the UK.

So while, yes, it’s a time to celebrate the victory of our United Left candidate as General Secretary, we must not be at all complacent. This election and the early analysis of the vote tells us there is much work to be done.

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Why the Unite vote should worry the left

April 23, 2017 at 8:04 am (class, elections, Johnny Lewis, left, reformism, Unite the union, workers)

 Image result for picture Unite logo

By Johnny Lewis

I spent a suspenseful Friday afternoon stalking my Unite friends attempting to find out the results, while they tried to imagine what the union would look like under a Coyne leadership – of course everyone understood what it would mean for the Labour Party. However by late afternoon it was clear McCluskey had won by some 6,000 votes on a 12% turnout. I had previously commented that a Coyne victory would demand a high turnout – i.e. he would have to mobilise those who don’t usually vote, as for sure the activists would turn out for McCluskey; this proved wrong, the turnout dropped and still Coyne nearly won!

My initial thought is that the lower poll numbers come from two sources: first Unite changed its rules excluding a certain category of retired members, who traditionally voted in high numbers, second some 85,000 deserted McCluskey. It is possible these voters deserted McCluskey rather than the idea of a left union. They may well have thought he should not have stood for a third term, unable to vote for Coyne (and why in God’s name would they vote Allinson?) so they abstained. Coyne’s vote would seem to reflect a failure to garner members who don’t usually vote – rather he rallied the craft vote to his banner, just as the left winger Hicks had done in previous elections.

Whether this speculation is right or not in big picture terms it is secondary to the real issue which is the turnout Anne posted and the voting numbers for Unite’s previous elections but even this does not give the full measure of decline, if you go back to the T&G when 30% plus voted. Of course Unite’s 12% turnout is a towering victory for democracy when compared with the GMB’s last General Secretary election.

For both McCluskey and the union’s left wing organisation the United Left (UL) the question which should be uppermost in their minds is how was this result possible when the left has run the union since its formation, and when there has been no serious internal opposition to the left’s policies? How do they account for this yawning gap between the activists and the members  -and more importantly how can they overcome it?

The UL, looking at it from the outside, it is a hugely successful electoral machine comprising officers and members, and since Unite’s formation the majority of lay Executive members and both General Secretaries, Woodley and McCluskey, who identified as UL supporters. It is however unlikely the UL will be able to face up to this question, based on two assumptions: firstly when it comes to big issues the UL takes its direction from the GS and in reality is his creature; second and of far greater importance, is the dominance of conservative elements within its ranks. The first such group are UL members who sit on committees – the  ‘committee jockeys’. It is through the mechanism of the UL that lay members can progress onto the committee structures. (For those who are unaware of ‘how these things work’ all unions have a means by which members progress into the structures. In the GMB for example it is achieved via officer led cliques).

While UL supporters populate large swathes of the committee structures my guess is if one was to inspect the ‘left’ credentials of many of these UL supporters you would find they are bogus. I am not saying all UL representatives should be harden bolshevikii but the root by which many enter the committee structure is not through workplace activism but because they adopted left credentials as their passport to get onto committees. While I have no idea of their proportions within the UL, for sure such people have no interest in change – as long as their positions are not threatened.

A second conservative group are the routinists who simply don’t get it: for them Unite under a left leadership can do no wrong and they will explain away McCluskey’s narrow victory as the result of Coyne’s negative campaign and the press. A sub-set of such conservatives will be Allinson supporters and much of the organised left whose rationalisation will boil down to McCluskey’s shortcomings as a left winger – if only he had led the charge against Trident and if he really committed the union to support Corbyn … etc, etc …

Undelying all this is a complete misunderstanding of the state of the union, class and class consciousness – a misunderstanding which is becoming increasingly delusional. Ranged against these two blocks are those who recognise the divide between activists and members and desperately want to change matters. My guess is they feel pinned down by the weight of the careerists and routinists and so do not have the space to explore how to tackle this burning question. The only force that can come to their’s and the union’s rescue is the General Secretary sponsoring change from above. When I mention this to my Unite friends there was a deadly silence.

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Unite voting numbers in comparison with previous years

April 21, 2017 at 6:47 pm (elections, Unite the union)

Image result for picture Unite logo

Many thanks to Anne Field for this:

2010 result;
 
McCluskey 101,000 votes 42% 
Hicks  52,000 votes 22% 
Bayliss  46,000 votes 19% 
Cartmail 39,000 votes 16%
Turnout: 15.8%.
 
2013 result:
 
Len McCluskey 144,570 votes
Jerry Hicks 79,819 votes
Number of ballot papers found to be invalid 1,412
Total number of valid votes cast 224,389
Turnout: 15.2 per cent
 
2017 result:
 
Len McCluskey 59,067 votes,
Gerard Coyne  53,544 votes
Ian Allinson 17,143 votes
Turnout: 12.2%.
 
Decline in Unite membership:
 
238,000 votes cast in 2010 equals 15.8% of membership.
 
130,000 votes cast in 2017 equals 12.2% of membership (And I think I’m right in saying that the ex-UCATT people all got a vote in the General Secretary election as well).

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Unite suspends Coyne

April 20, 2017 at 8:00 pm (elections, posted by JD, reblogged, unions, Unite the union)

The Skwawkbox reports (20/04/2017):

The Guardian, Daily Mirror and others have announced this afternoon that Gerard Coyne, Len McCluskey’s main challenger for Unite General Secretary, has been suspended by the union from his position as a regional organiser.

coyne

Suspended Unite challenger Gerard Coyne

Unite‘s press office was unable to offer a comment at this time, but the SKWAWKBOX understands from union sources that the suspension may be connected with the alleged data breaches broken by this blog and the excellent Evolve Politics and will last while a formal investigation is carried out.

The SKWAWKBOX is awaiting confirmation from the union of the impact the suspension will have on his candidacy. Although Coyne is considered to have little chance of victory, voting in the contest has now closed so it may be that the contest will be allowed to run to its natural conclusion to prevent right-wingers claiming he was suspended because he stood a chance of winning – like this premature conclusion by Progress‘ Richard Angell:

angell coyne.jpg

However, it’s unlikely that Coyne would be able to take up the role in the event that he wins, until the investigation is completed. Should he be dismissed from his organiser role as a result of the investigation, of course, it is unlikely that he would be qualified to act as General Secretary even if he were to win the ballot.

If the suspension is indeed connected to the Labour data use, then yet again, the SKWAWKBOX has broken information with a high-level national impact. No wonder the right has been trying to undermine us.

The SKWAWKBOX is provided free of charge but depends on the generosity of its readers to be viable. If you found this information helpful and can afford to, please do click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal. Thanks for your support so this blog can keep bringing you information the Establishment would prefer you not to know about.

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Unite: vote McCluskey – then fight to transform the union

March 28, 2017 at 3:58 pm (elections, labour party, reformism, stalinism, Unite the union)

 Unite members stage a protest against Len McCluskey outside the union building in Holborn.   Coyne  supporters ‘expose’ McCluskey’s ‘skeletons in the cupboard’

By Anne Field

Ballot papers for Unite the Union’s General Secretary and national Executive Council elections have now been sent out to the union’s 1.4 million members.

West Midlands Unite full-timer Gerard Coyne is the right-wing challenger to Len McCluskey, the incumbent General Secretary seeking re-election for a third time. Ian Allinson is also standing as the candidate of rank-and-file democracy.

The basis of Coyne’s campaign is to make right-wing appeals to disengaged members of Unite. Apart from a promise to freeze union dues for two years, Coyne is standing for election on a largely policies-free platform. The vacuum is filled by mud-slinging.

Coyne has homed in on Unite putting over £400,000 into a share equity deal which enabled McCluskey to buy a £700,000 London flat. Coyne’s conclusion: “The man who talks about greedy bosses is a greedy boss himself.”

Another of Coyne’s targets is the £75,000 which Unite lent to Jeremy Corbyn’s 2016 Labour Party leadership campaign, and subsequently wrote off as a donation. Coyne’s response: “I’ll focus on saving the jobs of our members, not the job of the leader of the Labour Party.”

More recently, Coyne teamed up with Tom Watson to portray McCluskey as being in cahoots with Momentum in a plot to take over the Labour Party. Coyne’s criticism: “Unite members’ money should not be used to prop up the ultra-left. This is not what trade unions are for.”

Coyne’s strategy is to portray McCluskey as being engrossed in Labour Party politics and out of touch with ordinary Unite members: “Luxury flat loans and propping up the hard left: McCluskey is losing touch with Unite members.”

According to Coyne, “Len McCluskey and Jeremy Corbyn are yesterday’s men.” A victory for Coyne would be a chance for Unite members to “take back control” of their union.

Coyne’s campaigning methods have corresponded to the substance, or lack of substance, of his campaign. He is not interested in arguing with McCluskey and winning over his supporters. His target is the most passive and inactive layers of Unite’s membership.

In early March Coyne’s supporters staged a publicity stunt by lobbying a meeting of Unite’s Executive Council at the union’s head office, wearing skeleton masks and carrying model skeletons. (Theme: McCluskey’s skeletons in the cupboard.)

In mid-March his campaign mailed copies of a freebie broadsheet entitled Unite Herald to all Unite branches. The broadsheet covered the usual ground and appealed to members to “give McCluskey the two-fingered salute” by voting for Coyne.

In late March Coyne was given space in the Sun, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Express to attack McCluskey and promote his own campaign:

“McCluskey is obsessed with Westminster power games rather than looking after the real needs of Unite’s members. A low turnout (in the election) would suit Len and his supporters. But if the majority of Unite members vote, his time at the top is over. Unite is not the private property of Len McCluskey and friends.”

The response of McCluskey’s campaign to Coyne’s attacks underlines its limitations: McCluskey is relying first and foremost on the Unite apparatus and the United Left election machine, rather than on political argument and membership engagement, to turn out the vote for him.

Coyne’s alliance with the right wing of the Labour Party has not been used by McCluskey as an opportunity to open up a political debate among the Unite membership about implementation of the union’s own political strategy.

Instead, McCluskey’s response has been to argue that a political strategy plays no role in his campaign and that his only concern is members’ bread-and-butter issues. His supporters boast that just 3% of his tweets have mentioned politics.

When Coyne’s Unite Herald was sent to branches, Unite Acting General Secretary Gail Cartmail wrote to branch secretaries warning them that they could be “exposed to legal proceedings for defamation” and also disciplined under the union’s Rulebook if they distributed the broadsheet to their members.

Coyne was (rightly) denounced for having written for the Sun – above all in a widely circulated article published in the Morning Star: “Collaborating with Murdoch is a taint that never fades”.

So, writing for the Sun is an irremovable stain. But writing for a paper which acts as an apologist for Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, left anti-semitism, Brexit, attacks on freedom of movement of labour, and anti-Trotskyist witch-hunts in the Labour Party is an honour and  a privilege.

(Coyne doesn’t care about the opprobrium heaped on him for having written for the Sun. Metaphorially and literally, it is the readership of the Sun which is his target audience.)

In many ways such examples sum up McCluskey’s campaign: based on a bureaucratic machine, averse to a real debate among the membership, and ‘left wing’ only insofar as the politics of the Morning Star can be deemed to represent what counts as ‘left politics’.

Despite lacking the vast resources which Coyne and McCluskey have at their disposal, Ian Allinson secured enough nominations to be included on the ballot papers which have just been sent out. This is no small achievement in itself.

But while his campaign has challenged McCluskey from the left and raised basic ideas about what a lay-member-led union – in which full-timers are properly accountable to the membership – would look like, his campaign has not really ‘taken off’.

It also suffers from three basic problems:

He has not suceeded in defeating the argument that his campaign will achieve no more than taking votes way from McCluskey, thereby increasing Coyne’s chances of winning. But Allinson himslef accepts that a victory for Coyne would be a disaster.

Nor has he suceeded in defeating the argument that his boast of being more pro-Corbyn than McCluskey himself is incoherent – given that he is not a Labour Party member himself and refuses to even attempt to join the Labour Party.

In fact, Allinson’s support for Corbyn amounts to a particularly crude version of Corbyn-cultism. It is not part of any strategy for transforming the Labour Party. And it defines what the Labour Party is in terms of who its leader is at any particular moment in time.

Allinson also makes support for freedom of movement a major feature of his election campaign. But he is also reported to have tweeted in January: “I wasn’t in Lexit campaign. Did vote out. Most arguments on both sides rotten. Key issues now workers rights & movement.”

Allinson’s current position therefore amounts to defending migrant rights which are under attack as a result of the course of action which he supported last June.

(The tweet is no longer visible in his account. If reports of the tweet are inaccurate, Allinson can correct them and clarify the position which he took in last June’s referendum.)

Unite members should vote for McCluskey. But that is no more than the first stage of the campaign needed to transform Unite into an organisation capable of promoting its members interests both industrially and politically.

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Why are non-members of Unite receiving mailings from Gerard Coyne?

March 26, 2017 at 7:14 pm (elections, labour party, posted by JD, reblogged, Unite the union)

Image result for picture Gerard Coyne Sian Simon

Sarah AB (at Harry’s Place) reports:

You are receiving this email as a member of Unite the Union.

It invited me to unsuscribe from future emails from Gerard Coyne. Looking back, I now see that I received an earlier email from the Coyne campaign on 20 March. It begins:

Your union should focus on the day job – protecting you at work and fighting for better pay and conditions for our members.

But Len McCluskey has been obsessed with playing Westminster politics. That’s why he gave £225,000 of your money to Jeremy Corbyn to get him elected as Labour leader.

Now this weekend we have learned of plans to link your union Unite with far-left political faction Momentum if Len McCluskey is re-elected.

If you support me for General Secretary, I won’t let Unite become a political football. I won’t spend your money on political games.

I have been a member of AUT, NATFHE and UCU – but never Unite.  It has been reported that many Labour members are receiving these emails, and that this could represent a breach of data protection legislation.  I would welcome more information on this issue.

Update This article from earlier in March reports on a possible sharing of data between Coyne and a Labour mayoral candidate:

“The final decision rests there. However, Unite has been provided with overwhelming evidence that Mr Simon’s campaign and Mr Coyne’s campaign have entered into some form of a mutual support arrangement, which has included the shared use of Labour party membership data.

“The Labour party has acknowledged that this has happened, that it was unauthorised and that it should be halted.

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Unite: the stakes are too high to indulge Allinson’s vanity project

March 21, 2017 at 6:09 pm (campaigning, elections, Johnny Lewis, labour party, Unite the union, workers)


Above: the threat from Watson’s man Coyne is too serious for “leftist” gestures

By Johnny Lewis

The latest concocted row about an alleged “hard-left plot”, supposedly orchestrated by Momentum and supporters of Len McCluskey, to “seize permanent control of the Labour party” is palpable nonsense, being cynically used by Tom Watson and the right wing candidate in the Unite general secretary election, Gerard Coyne. The claims don’t stand a moment’s scrutiny, but nevertheless the way they’ve been seized upon by Watson, the right of the PLP and most of the media, demonstrates exactly what’s at stake in the current Unite election. And it demonstrates quite decisively why a victory for Len McCluskey is of crucial importance to the serious left, and why Ian Allinson’s left-wing challenge to McCluskey is an irresponsible indulgence.

I was chatting to some friends who are foot soldiers in McCluskey’s re-election campaign and I innocently asked if now Allinson is on the ballot and he’s proved a point will he step down and throw his weight behind McCuskey? I was met with laugher and a look which I can best describe as pity. Not a chance, I was told: he’s out for his fifteen minutes minutes of fame. They also believe Allinson actually thinks he can win (whereas I’d put any statement Allinson may have made about winning down to hyperbole rather than the man being delusional).

Although they were laughing it was clear they are very angry with Allinson as they consider Coyne could take it if he is able to mobilise those who don’t usually vote. To get to these passive members Coyne is relying on social media and will surely see the red tops back him, and if anything will win it for him it will be The Sun. Also, as pointed out in a previous post Coyne will pick up numbers from the old AMICUS section who voted Hicks last time, viewing Coyne as far closer to their craft ethos than McCluskey. Although a Coyne victory is unlikely its very possibility is the context in which Allinson’s candidacy has to be judged and is the source of the anger of McCluskey’s foot soldiers.

While the consequences for Unite of a Coyne victory are not that easy to quantify, the impact on the broader movement is a known quantity. Unite is the buckle which holds the Labour left together: a Coyne victory would see that left unravel. A victorious Coyne would in quick order ensure Unite delegates on Labour’s Executive would vote with the right giving the anti Corbyn forces an inbuilt majority. All this is known to everyone, so why does Allinson continue to press his case?

Given the stakes in this election, the justification for left winger to stand against McCluskey needs to be pretty good. Allinson’s core reasons for standing can only be a combination of a belief that McCluskey has fallen short / sold out the members industrially and therefore needs to be challenged and, secondly, a desire to make propaganda for his vision of socialism through demonstrating an alternative to the supposed industrial shortcomings of McCuskey.

Self-evidently these reasons for standing do not have equal weight: the cornerstone of Allinson’s challenge must necessarily show McCluskey has failed to pursue a militant industrial policy; I don’t think that would be difficult to show – I think it is impossible. Apart from some lacklustre sallies at some of the union’s industrial activity Allinson has nothing to say on this matter. While the industrial ethos of McCluskey’s tenure has been one where the union supports all workers who take industrial action, refuses to repudiate strikes, and has set up a substantial strike fund. Of course it is quite possible to have a different assessment from McCluskey of what is possible but that is a matter of judgement / tactics rather than principle.

On this fundamental issue there is no difference in substance between Allinson and McCluskey, yet the context in which this election takes place means this industrial question is the only conceivable rationale for standing a left candidate. Unable to make any sort of case of ‘McCluskey the sell-out’, his campaign can only turn tactical differences into major concerns and invert the relationship between McCluskey’s industrial record and Allinson’s desire to propagate his socialist views so that the latter dominate.

While my Unite friends tell me that at nomination meetings the SWP and other Allinson supporters have tried to squeeze every ounce out of any real or imagined failure on the union’s part, it is Allinson’s broader socialist musing which dominate the debate – and those musings really are not to be taken seriously. To give one example:

While Allinson is clearly a Corbyn fan he is more ambiguous about the Labour Party he tells us:

‘…if there is a real movement of resistance to Tory policies at grass roots level, “wait for Jeremy” is not good enough when our rights, jobs and services are under attack every day’.

The political literacy of this statement is, to say the least, suspect. To start with the idea that Unite is ‘waiting for Jeremy’ originates from the socialist stricture that unions should not curtail industrial demands to placate an existing Labour Government or, indeed, to maximise the likelihood of a future Labour Government. The idea Unite is being held back from industrial action by the possibility of a Labour Government is palpable nonsense. Perhaps it is a propaganda point to show that Allinson has no illusions in Labour or Corbyn?

Then there is the question of what Allinson calls ‘a real movement of resistance’: now this is instructive because Unite has been at the centre of the People’s Assembly and I think it is doubtful whether that body would have much life without Unite’s support. So Unite under McCluskey has been central to building ‘resistance’ and it seems to me as an outsider it is the cornerstone of McCluskey’s general political approach. In fact Unite has done more to develop political activity outside of the Labour Party than any other union or political organisation. Allinson may well have done this or that aspect of campaigning differently but in the broad sweep of things he can have no serious difference with the present Unite leadership. The final point is his silence on what to do in our failure to date to build such a movement.

While he reckons the best means of defending Corbyn from right wing attacks attacks is to build ‘a real movement’, Allinson has no idea what to do in the absence of such a movement except make propaganda for building one. This of course betrays a passivity towards the Labour Party. While that may be OK for a political organisation it is not OK for a trade union. Whether he likes it or not the battle to support Corbyn and to get a Government that supports unions is taking place inside the Labour Party and among union members – and the crucial job of the left within the unions is explaining to them why they should vote Labour.

Two tragedies

The Unite election encapsulates two tragedies for the left: first that a large number of activists think it is quite permissible to split the left vote on what is to all intents and purposes an indulgence, and second that it is the right whose victory is contingent on mobilising sections of the passive membership. Or perhaps the nub of the left’s problem is that few people outside the ranks of the committed really care.

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‘The Battle Of Grangemouth’ – a worthless exercise in self-righteous posturing

March 20, 2017 at 8:55 pm (Beyond parody, class collaboration, fantasy, scotland, Unite the union)

Book review by Anne Field

The Battle of Grangemouth – A Worker’s Story, written by former Ineos convenor Mark Lyon, is as “a vital new book”, “a book which had to be written”, and “one of the most important books in modern working-class history.”

That is what Unite claims in its advertising campaign for the book, published last week by Lawrence & Wishart in association with Unite itself.

In one of the multiple endorsements which preface the book Unite General Secretary candidate Len McCuskey describes Lyon as “one of our most respected activists”. By writing the book he has “done the movement another service”.

McCluskey’s Chief of Staff, Andrew Murray, is of the same opinion: “Mark Lyon’s credit rating is triple A. Through his part in the struggle (at Grangemouth), and then through this memoir, Mark has laid two stones on the highway to the future.”

Lyon finished writing “one of the most important books in modern working-class history” in January of 2016. Fourteen months were then allowed to pass before this “vital new book” saw the light of day.

But every cloud has a silver lining. By the purest of coincidences, the book’s publication conveniently falls just ten days before ballot papers go out in Unite’s General Secretary and Executive Council elections.

“Why don’t we start out on the story – and I will see you on the other side for your thoughts,” writes Lyon in the book’s Introduction. This invitation soon turns out to be as enticing as an offer by Charron the boatman to ferry the souls of the dead across the River Styx into Hades.

The book begins with a potted history of the Lyon family dating back to the beginning of the last century, reminisces of the author’s childhood, and self-congratulatory memories of his apprenticeship and earliest years of paid employment.

The tenor of Lyon’s autobiographical sketches is the usual ‘life was tough, but that didn’t stop us having a good laugh’: “Hardy folks with gallows humour were clearly the order of the day.”

The book concludes with more reminisces on the part of the author: his experiences as a guitar player and member of a band, his musical tastes, a visit to evening mass in his local church, and random half-thought-through comments about the Scottish referendum of 2014 and the general election of 2015.

Unfortunately, what fills the gap between the opening and concluding sections of the book does little to enhance the style or content of Lyon’s literary endeavour.

The book is peppered with homespun homilies (“I think everyone should see Auschwitz at least once during their life”), useless titbits of information (“you can enjoy cherry vodka, fine beer and jazz in Krakow”), new paradigms of Scottishness (“Scottish is a condition and a philosophy; there is no automatic qualification by birth”) and some particularly excruciating turns of phrase:

“The only things missing were sackcloth, ashes and a pig’s bladder on the end of a stick as Tom tried to cajole and humour his master like a seventeenth-century court jester. … They may take our bicycles but they will never take our freedom! …”

“They had been smashed, wasted and destroyed and now lay prostrate and face-down in the street before the majesty and might of Unite the Union. … Even without reference to Old Moore’s Almanac, you can tell that the future is littered with certainties.”

A variety of themes run through the substance of Lyon’s literary endeavour. One of them is the contrast between Good People and Bad People. Good People are simply brilliant:

“As a contract welder I met some brilliant people … (Scottish Regional Secretary) Pat Rafferty and all the union sections were just brilliant … our brilliant members at Grangemouth … our brilliant Unite officer Scott Foley … individual Labour Party members were brilliant … it was brilliant for our members to know that Len was there beside us … Thompsons Solicitors have been brilliant … Canon Leo is the most brilliant man you could meet … we were given brilliant support.”

That’s a lot of brilliance. And things “fantastic” and “magnificent” do not lag far behind:

“Our fantastic political department … the response from our branch was nothing short of magnificent … it was a fantastic response from our members … our branch was simply magnificent … our magnificent branch members.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Unite: for a critical McCluskey vote

March 18, 2017 at 3:14 pm (elections, Jim D, labour party, reformism, Unite the union, workers)

Image result for picture Len McCluskey Jeremy Corbyn

Serious leftists should vote for Len McCluskey in the Unite general secretary election for which voting begins on 27 March, because it’s a first-past-the-post poll, and without left-wing votes going to McCluskey there is a real risk Gerard Coyne will win.

Coyne is heavily backed by the Labour right wing around Tom Watson and Progress. If he wins, he will swing Unite decisively to the anti-Corbyn camp. That could close down all the openings for Labour revival opened by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victories.

Vote Coyne to help Watson and Progress get rid of Corbyn: that’s the deal.

In the 2013 general secretary election there was no right-wing candidate. In the 2010 poll the right-wing vote was split between two right-wing candidates. Their combined vote was only 16,000 less than the vote for McCluskey.

A good chunk of the 53,000 votes won in that ballot by supposed “left-winger” Jerry Hicks will have been by no means tightly anchored to the left. Many members who voted Hicks because they saw him as closer to the old AEU strand in Unite, or because they backed his promise to boost the role of retired members, or because they liked his complaint about “the relationship with Labour being put ahead of members’ interests” (Hicks’s words), may be seduced by a well-crafted Coyne campaign.

Coyne probably has a better “machine” behind him than Bayliss or Cartmail did in 2010. The media has already been much more aggressively anti-McCluskey than in previous elections (partly using ammunition which, it has to be said, McCluskey has handed to them on a plate).

If there were no difference between McCluskey and Coyne, then we could dismiss the “splitting the left vote” argument. But there is a real difference.

There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of McCluskey, and many on the left in Unite felt it was a great pity that he felt it necessary to stand again, for a third term. But McCluskey is right about one thing: Unite’s backing for Corbyn “in 2015… was a decision of our elected lay Executive Council, and in 2016 of our 600-strong Policy Conference, by a vast majority… Gerard Coyne’s campaign is not being driven by concern for Unite and its members’ interests. It is being scripted by the failed plotters in the Parliamentary Labour Party… in their political project to bring back Blairism”.

During his time in office McCluskey can rightly claim credit for the re-organisation of the union’s branch structures (replacing amorphous and often moribund geographical branches by workplace-based ones) and building the union’s Organising and Leverage Department.

He has presided over the development of Unite community branches, targeted at bringing community activists, the unemployed, and students into the trade union movement, and bringing trade union resources to bear in support of their campaigning.

McCluskey backed Corbyn in the 2015 Labour Party leadership contest, and did so again in 2016.

Leftwinger Ian Allinson is standing as “an experienced workplace activist”, “the grassroots socialist candidate”, and “the only candidate who knows first-hand the experiences and frustrations of our members”. By contrast, writes Allinson, Len McCluskey and Gerard Coyne have both been “been paid officials of Unite for many years.” McCluskey stands for “more of the same” and Coyne stands for “turning the clock back”.

Allinson criticises the current Unite leadership for its failure to build a serious campaign against the Tories’ latest anti-union laws, its (alleged) shortcomings in a succession of industrial disputes, and its concessions to the ideology of “partnership” with employers. Allinson also unreservedly defends freedom of movement of labour, cites “increasing the participation and power of workers” as his “number one priority”, and has promised to remain on his current wage (i.e. not take the General Secretary salary of £130,000 a year).

Having Allinson in the race will be a good thing. It will mean that his arguments about Unite’s shortcomings under McCluskey and his alternative ideas about rank-and-file control will reach a much wider audience than just the branches which have nominated him.

That could help open up the debate about what a lay-member-led union would really look like and how it would function in practice — something which does not figure in either McCluskey’s or Coyne’s election material. So far, so good. But there are problems with Allinson’s election platform and campaign.

Allinson claims to be a better supporter of Corbyn than McCluskey. But Allinson is not even a Labour Party member and has made clear that he has no intention of joining. He advocates “extending Unite’s support for Jeremy Corbyn”, including “through Unite’s role in the Labour Party”. What that means is not spelt out. At a minimum, it must include encouraging more Unite members to join the party, which Allinson himself refuses to join.

Given Allinson’s defence of freedom of movement of labour, he ought to be critical of Corbyn (from the left): Corbyn has retreated from demanding access to the Single Market (and the freedom of movement which goes with it) and has backed the Tories’ Brexit Bill. But Allinson is silent about this. In fact, he does not seems to have ever spelt out own position on Brexit. (The group of which Allinson is a member, RS 21, took no position on the EU referendum — it was too divided internally to have done so.)

Allinson campaigns for a million “green jobs” to help protect the environment, as opposed to “costly and destructive vanity projects”. But he includes in those “vanity projects” Hinkley Point (although even George Monbiot sees a role for nuclear power) and HS2 (which could be developed into a much more environmentally friendly project). Allinson’s proposals for greater lay-member-control in Unite certainly provide a basis for discussion. But they lack a focus.

Alongside some specific demands, such as the ill thought-out ritual call for election of officers, there are vague proposals such as “fortnightly e-mail bulletins [from whom, about what?] to all activists, not filtered through officers and committees” and “involving members, officers and staff in a major review of Unite’s structures”. So officers should be by-passed when a fortnightly e-mail is sent out, but participate in a major review of Unite structures? Allinson “opposes the exclusion of Community and retired members from participation in Unite structures”. This smacks far more of Jerry-Hicks-style electioneering than a thought-through analysis of the role of Community and retired members’ branches. (In the 2010 and 2013 General Secretary elections Hicks ran shamelessly opportunist campaigns, to pick up both right and left votes. The most damning statement in Allinson’s election material is surely: “In previous Unite elections, Jerry Hicks, standing on a similar basis to me ….”)

In order to justify his own candidacy, Allinson refers to previous Unite General Secretary elections “when left challengers beat the right.” But 2013 was a straight clash between McCluskey and Hicks (i.e. no right-wing candidate, although Hicks certainly picked up votes from the ex-Amicus right). In 2010 Hicks came second to McCluskey — but only because two right-wing candidates split the right vote. And when Mark Serwotka beat Hugh Lanning to become PCS General Secretary in 2000, which Allinson also cites, it was a straight left-right clash.

Allinson is not always consistent in his critique of McCluskey and Coyne. McCluskey’s defeat and Coyne’s victory would be “a disaster for Unite,” writes Allinson. But he also argues that there is no real difference between them: “Far from my candidacy splitting the left vote, McCluskey and Coyne are splitting the establishment vote.” At the same time, Allinson declares that if he was not standing himself, he would vote for McCluskey: “There will be some members who will support me who would support McCluskey if there were no better option. I would be one of those members myself.”

In fact, the real problem confronting Allinson is a different one. Because there is a worse option (Coyne), members who would otherwise support Allinson, or at least be sympathetic to his ideas, are more likely to vote for McCluskey in a first-past-the-post poll. The shortcomings of Allinson’s campaign, especially in the context of the threat posed by Coyne, outweigh the case for voting for him. Even so, the argument at the core of Allinson’s campaign is the right one: for a member-led union in place of a bureaucracy-led union which pretends to be a member-led one. And that is a message which needs to be pursued beyond the current election campaign.

LINK TO COMPLETE UNITED LEFT EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE AND GENERAL SECRETARY SLATE.

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Unite on sale of Vauxhall to the PSA Group: ‘we need access to the single market and customs union.’

March 7, 2017 at 6:51 am (engineering, Europe, posted by JD, Unite the union, workers)

Image result for picture Unite logo“We need every assistance from the government to give this sector a fighting chance. That absolutely includes committing now to securing access to the single market and customs union. This is the signal that the car industry needs in order to know that the UK government values this sector.”

-Len McCluskey

06 March 2017

Reacting today (Monday) to the news that General Motors has sold its European car interests to the French PSA Group, including the UK sites at Ellesmere Port, Toddington and Luton, the country’s biggest union, Unite has said that the fight begins now to secure a future for our plants.

General Motors’ sale to the makers of Peugeot brings to an end 35 years of manufacturing in the UK, but, said Len McCluskey, the UK plants are the most productive in the company’s stable, earning them the right to a future under the new owners.

Commenting Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “This has obviously been a very difficult time for the workforce, but their union has been and will continue to work day and night to fight for their interests.

“Now that General Motors has disposed of its UK sites, our focus switches to working with the new owners to persuade them of the evident merits of our plants and this excellent, loyal workforce.

“I am determined that we can convince the new boss, Mr Tavares, that it makes sense for him to continue to build in Britain. Our plants are the most productive in the European operation, the brand is strong here, the market for the products is here, so the cars must be made here.

“But there is also a role for the government to play.  The uncertainty caused by Brexit is harming the UK auto sector.  Wednesday’s Budget is a perfect opportunity for the government to make is clear that it will preserve our trading arrangements and that it will invest for our auto sector’s future now, beginning with assistance for the reshoring of components.

“We need every assistance from the government to give this sector a fighting chance. That absolutely includes committing now to securing access to the single market and customs union. This is the signal that the car industry needs in order to know that the UK government values this sector.”

Commenting on the future of the GM pension scheme, Len McCluskey added: “I have sought and have received urgent assurances from the PSA Group and General Motors as to their intentions towards the pensions of the UK workforce.

“It is vital that those who have saved hard for their retirement receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

“Unite will not allow our members to lose out, not by a penny.”

For further information please contact Pauline Doyle on 07976 832 861

– See more at: http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/unite-on-sale-of-vauxhall-to-the-psa-group–now-we-need-to-secure-a-future-for-our-plants/#sthash.XtdHvx6T.dpuf

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