Unite the Union: Whither the United Left?

July 3, 2017 at 9:46 pm (democracy, elections, left, posted by JD, reformism, Unite the union, workers)

Len McCluskey Len McCluskey  Credit: RUSSELL CHEYNE

This article was written immediately after the re-election of Len McCluskey, and before the general election. It has been published on the United Left (UL) website, and Shiraz has held back from publishing it (until now) on the hope that some serious debate would be generated within the UL: that hasn’t happened, so we publish it now in the hope that it will stimulate a debate amongst serious left wing members of Unite: 

WHITHER THE UL?
By Jim Kelly, Chair London & Eastern United Left

Len touched on the need for organisational change at the last UL AGM in Birmingham. An AGM immediately after returning an incumbent UL GS and majority EC would usually be expected to be well attended and vibrant, especially with the GS speaking. The Birmingham meeting certainly did not meet those criteria. Indeed, in my view it fell well short of expectations and continued a decline in both regional & national officers and industrial based activists which has been noticeable for some time

An election wash up meeting organised in L&E shortly after became a forum for a wide-ranging discussion; one which I think is long overdue and continued the discussion first started by Len in Birmingham. Essentially; whither the UL.

This is not a report of the London meeting rather it puts forward my views on some of the key points raised during that discussion. As I was putting this note together I was struck by the fact how little discussion there is within the UL about what we should be doing and what are our limits.  I hope those who attended the London meeting as well as others from around the country will participate in this discussion.  It is only through discussing and clarifying our ideas in the light of experience we will be able to move forward.

Also, there seems to be a distinct lack of vision or strategy or priorities over the next 5 years. For a third time, we have re-elected a left GS, yet how the UL relationship with the GS evolves in his final term will be critical if we are to continue to rebuild a fighting back union in the UK & Ireland.

I understand that many activists are now focused on the return of a Labour government, but there seemed a clear void before May’s announcement of her cut & run general election & Len’s and the left’s victory.

Understanding the GS election
Self-evidently all were happy with the Len’s victory however there were divergent views on interpreting it. Some saw this as a victory in the face of press hostility and Coyne’s vile campaign.  Both true, but the voting figures tell a slightly different story.  Prior to the results the consensus was the left vote would remain static and for Coyne to win his social media campaign would have to mobilise members who don’t usually vote.

This did not happen; Coyne, despite the vast sums of money poured into his campaign, failed to mobilise these layers, it would seem those voting were the traditional voters. It is likely Coyne won the craft vote and McCluskey the rest. (We have no way of knowing why we lost 80,000 plus votes and there seems little point in speculating).  If you want to put our 12% turnout into perspective in 1985 Ron Todd become T&G General Secretary on a 41% turnout.

A simplistic view which blames the right-wing press obscures not only the reality of the numbers voting but fails to place this vote as part of the broader malaise the Left faces. I think this was rightly described in our meeting as a disconnect between activists and members. Yet when some comrades pushed this point I noted that many, probably a majority, did not wish to face up to this.
Yet where else is there to start? Consider this; our Region, like many others, obtained more nominations then ever for Len – nearly all the major workplaces. What else can this tell us than the existence of a disjuncture between activists and members?

The UL: what it is, its limits and what it can become
While we should be pleased about our record as an electoral machine, the question which rightly came to dominate the meeting was can the UL be anything more than an electoral machine? If it can, what else can we do? It seems to me this is the central question which we should be debating in finding our way forward. This is not an easy question to answer and for me the meeting illustrated this, while nearly everyone had a view little light was shed on the matter.

The most coherent attempt came from many comrades who, however gently attempted to shift the UL focus towards a rank and file-ism. Whether a R&F movement / shop steward movement is possible, the UL cannot possibly undertake such a function.  At a minimum, such organisations goal is to hold the union bureaucracy to account, and to get the union to undertake a militant industrial programme.
While the UL can advise & criticise the bureaucracy, it cannot replace it nor hold it to account in the manner put forward, as the UL already runs the bureaucracy and large numbers of UL members are part of the bureaucracy; including of course the GS.  This plays out on a practical level, as one of differentiation illustrated by the LE Region; it is a left-wing region, it supports all strikes and we want to promote members involvement in the Region so the question becomes how can the UL differentiate itself from the Region? The best the meeting could come up with was a banner on picket lines!

Others at the meeting proposed the UL should promote a political programme, a view which fails to take account of who constitutes the UL. What gives many organisations like the UL a political coherence is when they are dominated by a political grouping, for example in the 70s the SWP ran many R&F organisations (I was a member of one of these) while the CP controlled the union Broad lefts.
In each case the R&F / broad left group is where a Party recruits from and projects its ideas into the wider movement. Today we can see a similar relationship between the SP and TUSC. It should be clear that the UL is not dominated by any political grouping consequently it cannot have a coherent political programme.
Again, we can see this practically; at present the UL is largely united around support for the LP yet post-election, if Labour loses and Corbyn goes, I am sure some of the new converts may be off on a new adventure and many others in the UL will be again calling for Unite to disaffiliate. The UL may once again be consumed with a debate about the LP / new Party.

A further consequence of our lack of a political programme makes us extremely vulnerable to being used, and we can see this in two very different ways. First there are those individuals who join the UL to progress within the union. For example, over the last month I have been approach by a few people who have recently got involved in the UL demanding we support them in becoming prospective parliamentary candidates, these people had no track record in the movement and had just joined the UL. Personally, I am disappointed, but not surprised, at this type of behaviour, but I recognise we have no rules which can stop such people signing up.

A different type of problem we face are those who decide to leave the UL for example the Allinson group and after standing against may well want to be readmitted. The cynical & opportunist attacks on our left by BASSA/Unite Alliance are one more example, in my view these types of people should not be tolerated or allowed back in, but need to be vigorously opposed.

But there was another type of activist, genuinely frustrated with the record of EC UL incumbents, who stood as individual Left candidates. This raises the issue of sitting EC delegates not being opposed at reselection.

I am now firmly of the view that if a sitting EC/UL delegate has done a good job they have nothing to fear by being part of a reselection process.

When we turn to the EC elections we need to abandon the present policy. The hustings in a few cases also turned into who could simply bus in the most supporters on the day. I am unsure if there is a better forum for democratic choice, but it’s clear we could tighten up in many areas.

The above then may provide some boundaries which we cannot cross, however we can focus on taking on the disjuncture between Left activists and members. We only have one way of doing this and that is through UL supporters talking to members – UL activists need to become propagandists for Unite the left union.

Boring meetings
Another issue raised at our meeting was the perennial problem of the boring nature of UL meetings, (some comrades raising this may want to reflect on their contribution to this problem). I am not alone in having had to chair meetings where a small group often can be like broken gramophone records, repeating choreographed mantras, and raising issues which many industrial activists do not instantly relate to. This can often be one reason many good industrial activists fail to be energised and do not return.

At a time when some branches struggle to raise a quorum for monthly or even quarterly meetings; when the best attended meetings are usually linked into action in the workplace or against an employer, what would motivate hard working activists to attend a regular UL meeting, if many do not see the need or importance of attending their own branch meetings on a regular basis?

It is also clear that many UL supporters attending both national or regional meetings see the UL meeting as a substitute branch meeting. If UL meetings are to help develop a new cadre of activists perhaps our meetings should be based on sectors or other industrial criteria, such as the ideas developing around a UL Bus workers group in L&E?

Already UL activists on the buses in London are developing this, the main aim of which is to reach out to new activists, some of whom will not hold union positions. Industrial issues are being promoted in tandem by UL supporters to address issues facing bus workers in TfL.  Issues, such as industrial action and solidarity work may be better prioritised at this type of meeting, maintaining interest levels and more regular attendance. This may also help to isolate any careerist element.

Our committees are reconstituted from June 2018. This type of new periphery needs to be encouraged to become UL supporters, activists and leaders. The UL can make a turn to propagandising in the workplace around the values and ideals of a left union, and in doing so our activists can be developed into workplace leaders. Undertaking this in a consistent and systematic manner will see us begin to address the gap between activists and members. For some this task may seem trivial or an irrelevant matter, however I would argue far from being trivial challenging the disconnect between activists and members is our central task and for those who don’t wish to see this, I would point them again to our election result.

In the short term, we also have sector conferences in November and a policy conference in July 2018 to focus on. Calls for motions for conference should be circulating at the end of the year.

In the medium term unless we make a shift back to our industrial base the issue of who the next UL GS candidate is may be academic.

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Corbyn’s weakness on Brexit endangers Labour’s revival

June 30, 2017 at 8:51 am (Europe, Jim D, labour party, reformism, TUC, unions, Unite the union, workers, youth)


Cartoon: The Economist

Corbyn and his team risk jeopardising Labour’s election success because of their backwardness over Europe and de facto commitment to supporting the Tories over Brexit.

It was always a fundamental political weakness waiting to be exposed, although during the general election campaign the Corbyn team skilfully maintained a policy of studied ambiguity.

Corbyn’s capitulation to the Tories over Brexit and the sacking of three front benchers who voted for the amendment to stay in the single market and customs union, is a big mistake, because:

  • It will dismay and disillusion the overwhelmingly pro-EU internationalist and anti-racist youth who rallied to Labour and Corbyn at the election
  • Labour’s mistaken but just about plausible argument that it is bound by the referendum result to support leaving the EU has been stretched to arguing that the referendum also binds it to oppose the single market and customs union
  •  This position has enabled opportunist right wingers like Chuka Umanna and Meg Hillier to take a different stance from Corbyn and thus generate headlines about Labour division just at a time when the Tories are weak
  •  Newly-elected left Labour MPs like Lloyd Russell Moyle and Alex Sobel have been put in a position of going against Corbyn alongside right wingers
  • This risks alienating unions like Unite, which are acutely aware that their members’ jobs in manufacturing will be put at risk outside the single market and customs union: Unite has policy to stay in both, as does Usdaw and the TUC.

Labour MPs, MEPs and peers have launched a group opposing hard Brexit and in favour of staying in the single market and customs union. They’ve signed a statement arguing, amongst other things, that young voters backed the party in the general election because they wanted it to “stop the Tories in their tracks” over Brexit. Some of us here at Shiraz might disagree with some aspects of the statement, but it’s considerably better than Corbyn’s position.

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Unite: 10 good reasons to vote Labour

June 7, 2017 at 10:42 am (elections, labour party, posted by JD, Unite the union)

10 good reasons to vote Labour

On Thursday 8 June 2017, this country goes to the polls. This election will decide the future direction of our nations and regions for generations to come. Our jobs, homes, and living standards, our children’s education, our NHS, how we care for our vulnerable, and our place in the world will be all determined by the vote on 8 June. Never before has your vote mattered so much.

Unite believes that only the Labour party has the policies that will protect and advance the lives of ordinary people. Only Labour will invest in skills and training.  Only Labour will build the homes so urgently needed. Only Labour can be trusted with our NHS and children’s education.  Only Labour can make work in this country pay.

On Thursday 8 June 2017 only Labour deserves your VOTE.

 

Great reasons to Vote Labour

Unite’s members know that Conservative rule hurts working communities.  We also know that under Labour, working people get ahead.
On 8 June, there are many great reasons to vote Labour.  Here are just a few that will make a real difference to our members and their families.

1. Real investment in skills and training.
Labour will grow our economy, investing in skills and infrastructure through a national investment bank

2. Under Labour, work will pay
Labour will eradicate insecure zero hours contracts.  Labour will ensure that nobody earns less than £10 per hour.

3. Only Labour can be trusted with our NHS
Labour will stop the pay cuts to NHS staff.  No more will nurses be so poor that they turn to foodbanks.  Labour will halt the cuts to A&E services.

4. A better chance of a better home
The average home to buy now costs almost 8 times the average salary. Only Labour will ensure that renting is affordable, and that one million new homes will be built, council and private, over the next five years.

5. The best education for ALL our children
Conservative plans for grammar and free schools are elitist and a waste of resources.  Labour will stop the education cuts, keep class sizes under 30 and ensure our youngest children have a nutritious free school meal.

6. Public transport that supports our communities
Only Labour will end chaotic and costly rail privatisation and support communities to run their own bus services.

7. A stronger voice for YOU
Labour will modernise trade union laws and ensure that unions can negotiate collectively on behalf of some of the most vulnerable workers. Labour will remove the punishing Tory tribunal fees that have denied justice to so many at work.

8. A stronger Britain in the world
Labour will pursue the trading arrangements our economy needs – access to the single market, and barrier-free trade.  Labour will honour the rights of the three million EU workers here already, and defend the rights of the million or so UK workers in the EU.  Only Labour will target the bad bosses who exploit migrant workers, drive down wages and destroy community cohesion.

9. Affordable, responsible energy under Labour
Labour will invest in new forms of energy to tackle climate change, create the well-paid decent jobs of tomorrow – and keep energy bills low.

10. A fix for our broken economy
Under the Tories, UK living standards have slumped.  Among EU economies, only Greece has suffered a harder hit.  Labour will tackle the low wage, low skill economy the Tories have created, to build a stronger economy that works for the many, not the few.

On 8 June vote for the party that will build the best future for Unite’s members and their families.

On 8 June, Vote Labour

Type Name Size
Link Type Icon 10 reasons to Vote Labour flyer 0.04Mb
Link Type Icon The choice at the 2017 general election 0.04Mb
Link Type Icon A3 Vote Labour poster 1.39Mb
Link Type Icon A5 Vote Labour window poster 2.34Mb
Link Type Icon Unite Vote Labour manufacturing flyer 0.54Mb
Link Type Icon 5 good reasons Scotland 0.04Mb
Link Type Icon 10 good reasons Wales 0.04Mb
Link Type Icon Life is tougher under the Tories – get the facts N/A

#GE2017 shareable images

Not our friends in the north
Here for you not the few
 

Unite members make a difference#GE2017 – shareable GIFS

001 A Britain we can be proud of
003 Only Labour will save our NHS

– See more at: http://www.unitetheunion.org/campaigning/unitepolitics/10-good-reasons-to-vote-labour/#sthash.ptLHRWIf.dpuf

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“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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