We should vote for Len McCluskey in the Unite general secretary election for which nominations open on 16 January because it is 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, and get Watson and Progress: 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 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” (as Hicks put it), 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 will be much more aggressively anti-McCluskey than in previous elections (partly using ammunition which, it has to be said, McCluskey has manufactured for them.)
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.
We have many criticisms of McCluskey, including as regards his role in the Labour Party. 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”.
The Unite Executive Council election:
The United Left (UL) has a slate of candidates that we support: a mixture of old and new candidates, some with years of experience on the Executive Council plus a new generation of candidates striving to serve for the first time. All of them are, as far as we can judge, effective lay activists from all regions, sectors and equalities strands who are Rule 6 compliant and determined to ensure UNITE remains strong and continues to grow stronger. We advocate voting for them.
Attached; full slate of UL candidates with branch and membership nos + unite4Len leaflet
For guidance nominating branches should pay special attention to the
following in the UNITE Ballot Guidelines:
- Nominations can be made by branches and workplaces (where there is no
workplace branch). Branches will be sent nomination forms. Forms for
workplace reps will be available from Regional Secretaries and, for branches
only, online. Nominations can only be made at a meeting properly convened
for that purpose during the nominating period. All notices of meetings must
be made available to the Returning Officer when nominations are submitted.
Sample notices which can be used are included here for convenience, as an
- Branches need not give special notice of the meeting if their branch
meeting details are up-to-date on the membership system. Otherwise at least
seven days’ notice of the meeting must be given, and it must be clearly
stated that EC nominations will be considered at the meeting. All workplaces
must give such notice of their meetings. At least five members eligible to
vote must be in attendance at Branch meetings, which may only nominate for
national equalities seats, for the regional seats in the region in which the
branch is located and for the sectoral seats(s) in sectors which the branch
has at least five members. Workplaces may only nominate for the relevant
sector seat and for national equality seats at least three members eligible
to vote must be in attendance at the workplace meeting.
Follow and retweet @ULnational and @uniteforlen see http://www.unitedleft.org.uk for full details of the UL slate
From Martin Mayer:
It is with great sadness that I have to report the death of Brenda Sanders, our first and only woman Chair of the T&G Executive Council. She died in hospital on Saturday after being poorly for some time.
Brenda was a calm and firm woman with strong convictions and steely determination, very often under-estimated by those who did not know her well. She was at the head of the T&G Executive Council in its final period of existence prior to the historic merger with AMICUS to form UNITE in 2008. This was a tense and difficult time for the Executive members as the merger plans developed. She always ensured that the views and concerns of T&G Executive Council members were heard by both General Secretaries – even when that was unpopular!
Brenda was proud and honoured to be the first woman Chair of the union’s Executive Council. It marked a very important stage in T&G women’s fight for equality in our union. She was certainly a credit to her T&G sisters who helped to create some of the most progressive equalities structures in any union.
Brenda we remember you with immense pride and a great deal of sadness.
Chair United Left
The Funeral will take place on the 26th January at 1.30pm, at St Hillary’s Church, Wallasey Village
then 2.30pm at Landican Cemetery
It will only be family flowers. Contributions can be made to a charity – to be confirmed.
Cards and letters of condolence are to be sent to:
10 Primrose Grove
By Ann Field
Len McCluskey launched his campaign for re-election as Unite General Secretary at a meeting held in Glasgow last Saturday. Thanks to Mark Lyon, the International Transport Workers Federation full-timer who chaired the meeting, it ended in a fiasco.
In fact, the fiasco had been built into the meeting before it even started.
Since the summer of last year Lyon has dedicated himself to splitting the United Left Scotland (ULS), the Scottish ‘section’ of the national United Left (UL), which functions as a kind of ‘Broad Left’ within Unite.
Stage one of Lyon’s efforts was a meeting held in late August, which he dishonestly presented as a ULS meeting.
Details about the meeting were sent from email@example.com (not the actual ULS e-mail address, but a close imitation). The e-mail was headed “United Left Scotland Meeting” and signed off as “United Left Scotland”.
Lyon did not inform elected ULS co-ordinators of his meeting. Other ULS activists were also left off the e-mail list used to publicise the meeting. But Scottish Unite full-timers certainly attended the meeting in numbers – at the behest of the Scottish Regional Secretary.
Stage two occurred in mid-November, when Lyon sent out an e-mail which proclaimed the existence of the Progressive United Left Scotland (PULS), proclaimed who the PULS candidates would be for the Scottish territorial seats in this year’s Executive Council (EC) elections, and proclaimed himself as elections co-ordinator.
This meant that two PULS candidates would be standing against the two ULS candidates who had been selected at a ULS meeting to contest the Scottish territorial seats. And one of the PULS candidates was not even a UL member.
(In fact, prior to some last-minute juggling by Lyon in his personal selection of the candidates, neither of the PULS candidates he had initially chosen were UL members.)
Stage three followed quickly on the heels of stage two. In late November Lyon circulated a splenetic e-mail on the national UL e-mail address list.
Longstanding ULS members were subjected to personalised abuse, the UL National Chair was denounced for a “deeply personal, vicious and unwarranted attack” on Lyon, the ULS was dismissed as an “oppressive and undemocratic body”, critics of PULS were scorned as “a few self-interested individuals”, and the outcome of ULS-PULS ‘negotiations’ was systematically misrepresented.
Ironically, among the spurious criticisms of the ULS most consistently raised by Lyon were his claims that it was undemocratic and suffered from a culture in which abuse and bullying were condoned.
And yet here was Lyon – in the absence of any meetings of PULS members (insofar as it has a membership in any meaningful sense of the word) – proclaiming the existence of a new organisation, announcing the names of its candidates for EC seats, and launching into a prolonged tirade of personal abuse against ULS and UL members.
In December Lyon sent the first of a series of e-mails publicising last Saturday’s meeting. As had been the case in August, Lyon excluded ULS co-ordinators and a layer of ULS activists from the list he used for all e-mails publicising the meeting.
(Lyon has yet to master the art of blind-copying e-mails. Who he deems worthy, and unworthy, of receipt of one of his e-mails is therefore visible to all.)
But what was the status of Saturday’s meeting?
Was it a PULS meeting? One e-mail publicising the meeting had the header “PULS National Slate and Campaign Materials” and was signed off as “PULS”. An eve-of-meeting e-mail also referred to “our PULS meeting tomorrow.”
Was it another sham ULS meeting? Lyon used the firstname.lastname@example.org address for most of his e-mails about the meeting. And in one e-mail Lyon had declared: “PULS is not a replacement for the ULS. It is the ULS.”
Or was it just a personal venture by Mark Lyon, not subject to any kind of accountability to any broader body? One e-mail publicising the meeting was simply signed off by “Mark” and sent from Lyon’s personal e-mail address.
Another question raised about the meeting was Lyon’s statement in one of his e-mails that the meeting would be attended by “the seven Executive Council candidates we [presumably: PULS] are jointly running in the forthcoming election.”
But who were these seven candidates which PULS was “jointly running”? (And jointly with whom?)
Lyon’s problem was that by the time of the meeting the full UL slate for this year’s EC elections had been published on the UL website.
The two candidates on the slate for the Scottish territorial seats are ULS members, not the PULS nominees. And there are six, not five, Unite members from Scotland listed on the slate as standing for various industrial seats.
Saturday’s 80-strong meeting was no larger than the meeting organised by Lyon in August. In fact, it may have been marginally smaller – despite the presence of an additional five Unite full-timers who had not attended the August meeting.
So much for Lyon’s claim in his splenetic e-mail of last November: “I am part of a group of about 150 people in Scotland and growing. … We grow daily in number and strength in our region.”
It was only towards the end of the meeting, when Lyon announced “our” seven Executive Council candidates, that the fiasco-in-waiting finally came to the surface. Fortunately, McCluskey had left the meeting by this point and was spared witnessing the debacle first-hand.
Lyon introduced “our” five Scottish candidates for various industrial seats on the EC. The sixth Scottish candidate – a member of the ULS, and an official UL candidate – was not asked to address the meeting. In fact, Lyon had not even invited him to the meeting.
Lyon then introduced “our” candidates for the Scottish territorial seats. They were the two PULS candidates whom he had personally selected in November – not the ULS members listed on the official UL slate (whom Lyon had likewise not invited to attend the meeting).
When it was pointed out from the floor that Lyon had failed to mention the ULS members standing for the Scottish territorial seats and officially recognised as UL candidates, Lyon curtly responded:
“You’re in the wrong meeting. They are not United Left candidates. We are supporting our candidates who have been democratically agreed. We are the United Left, we created the United Left, we’re not a different group.”
Lyon clearly thinks that he, rather than the UL, can decree who is a UL candidate. He likewise believes that he, rather than the UL, can decide what constitutes the UL. He even thinks that his own individual personal opinions amount to “democratic agreement”.
And his quip that “you’re in the wrong meeting” might have seemed very clever at the time (if only to Lyon himself). But it is a comment he will hopefully come to regret.
The person who, according to Lyon, was “in the wrong meeting” was an official UL candidate for a territorial seat on the EC. If that UL candidate was “in the wrong meeting”, then that tells you everything you need to know about the nature of Lyon’s meeting.
In fact, if anyone was “in the wrong meeting” – even if he exited it before Lyon’s plea to support non-UL candidates – then it was arguably the United Left’s own candidate in the General Secretary election, i.e. Len McCluskey himself.
The meeting which he used to launch his re-election campaign was one which denied a platform to three Scottish UL candidates, called for a vote for candidates standing against two UL candidates, and refused to call for a vote for a third UL candidate.
Although Lyon made a half-hearted attempt to present the meeting as a UL event, he deliberately withheld information about the meeting from ULS co-ordinators and activists.
And it was a meeting where the disproportionately large number of union full-timers in attendance – including Lyon himself – was at odds with McCluskey’s description of Unite as being primarily about “lay-member radical activism”.
To beat Coyne’s shameless campaign of right-wing anti-migrant populism, McCluskey needs to promote “lay-member radical activism”. But, thanks to Mark Lyon, he could not have chosen a worse event to launch his campaign than last Saturday’s meeting.
Above: McCluskey and Corbyn
By Jack Kincaide
Len McCluskey’s decision to stand for a third term as Unite general secretary, and to bring the election forward by a year (while privately telling confidantes that if re-elected he will stand down after a further three years – ie 2020 – presents the serious left in Unite with a dilemma.
Virtually no-one – left, right or centre – within Unite thinks McCluskey’s decision to stand is a good idea. Even McCluskey’s loyal supporters in the union’s United Left (UL) are unhappy with his tactic of standing down only to stand again … but supporting ‘Lennie’ is a matter of faith for the UL. He is almost a cult figure, and the fact that he is the general secretary is ‘proof’ that Unite is a left-wing union. Even the many people critical of McCluskey’s latest decision would find it difficult to break from the UL, a current to which they have belonged all of their trade union lives (if you include its pervious manifestations as the T&G Broad Left and the Amicus Gazette group).
The excuses made for McCluskey over the £700,000 flat largely paid for by Unite also sums up how politically weak much of the UL is – either unwilling or unable to see just how bad this dodgy deal is, and how bad it looks to many rank and file members. Being ‘left’ is a matter of supporting ‘Lennie’ (who has the advantage of being quite personable), not a matter of actual politics. In fact, a large proportion of the UL members who sit on the Unite EC do not have any clear-cut politics. Hence their readiness to roll over and die on issues such as the Collins Review and Trident.
McCluskey announced his resignation last Wednesday. By Friday the national chair of the UL had already circulated a statement in the name of the UL which backed McCluskey’s candidature uncritically and to the hilt. It is true that if it had gone out to the membership, there would have been a (big) majority for McCluskey. But the fact that the statement was issued without even consulting the UL membership cannot be right.
The Morning Star – predictably – has had no hesitation in falling into line behind McCluskey. Perhaps slightly less predictably, so has the Socialist Party (gist of article: Len’s not perfect, but he’s doing a pretty good job. Advice to McCluskey: He should stand for election on a platform which he is not going to stand on. Real reason to support McCluskey in last paragraph: Four SPers are standing for election to the EC. If the SP does not support McCluskey, its members cannot stand on as part of the UL slate and are less likely to get elected).
There is a left wing candidate who on the face of it might be worthy of supporting against McCluskey: Ian Allinson, a respected workplace activist for 25 years at Fujitsu, playing a leading role in building the union in a largely unorganised industry. He led the first national strike in the industry in 2009-10. He served on the union’s executive for ten years before stepping down in 2014. His own workplace is currently in dispute and taking strike action over pay, pensions and job security.
As Allinson says on his blog, “Unlike the two establishment candidates, I’m in the workplace, at the sharp end like the thousands of other reps and activists who make Unite the fighting union it is today”.
It has to be said that Allinson’s political allegiance is to the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century group (aka RS21), an organisation that to its credit, split from the SWP over the ‘Comrade Delta’ scandal three years ago, but still holds to much of the SWP’s crude voluntarism (ie the rank and file are straining at the leash to fight the bosses and only held back by weak leadership), and -in particular – their refusal to engage seriously with the Labour Party.
Which brings us to the strongest argument against supporting Allinson and for a (very) critical vote for McCluskey: the right wing candidate is Gerard Coyne, a capable bureaucrat with a well organised and well funded team behind him. He is standing on a “members must get their union back” platform that is, in reality, an appeal to members who want the union to cease its support for Corbyn and/or to withdraw from active engagement with politics. He is backed by the shadowy anti-Corbyn group around Tom Watson and Reg Race.
There is a growing sense that Coyne could win; this comes from being able to mobilise two groups of people, ex-AMICUS members who vote in elections and a broader anti-Corbyn vote which will be drawn from both sides of the union and who don’t usually vote. This outcome is made more likely with Allinson standing.
While Hicks (the ridiculous “left” candidate against McCluskey in the last two GS elections) pulled together two groups – the far left and skilled AMICUS members who don’t like the T&G tradition – he was unable to go beyond the activists Allinson constituency will solely be the far left which will take votes from McCluskey.
The real difference between McCluskey and Coyne is not industrial (where they don’t appear to have any substantial differences): it revolves around the Labour Party. Coyne’s main selling point will be the union’s involvement in politics, and specifically support for Corbyn. Coyne will have the backing from mainstream labour and the anti-Corbyn organisations, they will also have the press pushing this line: get rid of McCluskey you get rid of Corbyn.
A Coyne victory would see Corbyn’s position unravel in the medium term: the serious left inside Unite has to decide whether to support McCluskey on that basis.
The Story So Far:
In late July selected members of the United Left Scotland (ULS) and a considerable number of non-members of the ULS received an e-mail from email@example.com (a close imitation of the actual ULS e-mail address).
Although the e-mail had not been sent out by the ULS, it was headed “United Left Scotland Meeting” and was signed off as “United Left Scotland”. The e-mail invited its recipients to a meeting to be held in Glasgow on 27th August.
At the same time Unite Scottish full-timers were instructed by the Scottish Regional Secretary to a) attend the meeting of 27th August; b) mobilise members in their sectors for the meeting.
The meeting went ahead despite the chair of the United Left at national level advocating that it be called off. 14 Unite full-timers attended the meeting. The ratio of full-timers to members at the meeting was around one to six.
At the meeting itself Mark Lyon (Unite Executive Council vice-chair and International Transport Workers Federation full-timer) regaled attendees with horror stories about the alleged iniquities of the ULS, each of which was as lacking in substance as the next.
In the course of his ramblings Lyon denied all knowledge of the e-mail which had been sent out inviting people to the meeting.
Announced by a bogus e-mail; falsely described as a “ULS” meeting; invites sent only to selected ULS members and non-members; opposed by the national chair of the United Left; and mobilised for by full-timers – only in the fevered imagination of a latter-day Baron Munchausen could the meeting be regarded as anything other than a sham, organised by charlatans for the purpose of wrecking the ULS.
Now Read On to Learn of Baron Mark Munchausen’s Latest Whacky Escapades:
At the end of last week Mark Lyon issued an e-mail to Unite members he believed had bought into his fantasy. The e-mail he sent out came from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whoops! That’s the e-mail address which the Baron had denied all knowledge of at the 27th August meeting!
The e-mail proclaimed the existence of an organisation called “Progressive United Left Scotland” (PULS), announced two PULS candidates for the Scottish territorial seats in next year’s Executive Committee elections, and declared that Mark Lyon would be running “an amazing campaign” (sic) for PULS candidates.
Lyon’s e-mail showed up the non-democratic, non-inclusive and top-down nature of PULS itself.
There had been no members’ meetings to decide on the creation or name of a new organisation, to select candidates for the Executive Committee elections, or to decide that Mark Lyon should be in charge of an election campaign.
Although Lyon’s e-mail admitted that “having a meeting would be ideal”, it continued: “It is unlikely we will be able to have a general meeting before the end of the year.”
But one of Lyon’s criticisms of the ULS was that its meetings were supposedly too irregular and its members supposedly excluded from decision-making.
This e-mail was small beer compared with another e-mail and attachment circulated by Lyon earlier this week on the national United Left e-mail group.
Lyon’s three thousand words of delirium read like a latter-day version of “The Singular Travels, Campaigns, Voyages and Adventures of Baron Munchausen.”
Or, more aptly, like a later edition of the same work: “The Vice of Lying Properly Exposed, Containing Singular Travels, Campaigns, Voyages and Adventures … Also, An Account of a Voyage into the Moon and Dog-Star”.
The Vice of Lying Properly Exposed:
A blow-by-blow rebuttal of the Baron’s fantasies would be nearly as tedious as reading the three thousand words of dreary prose in which they are couched. But some prime examples should suffice:
“We have tried every avenue to avoid conflict, including … not forwarding new members’ details to the national list.” Fact: PULS has been asked by national and Scottish United Left office-bearers to forward names on the PULS address list. It has simply refused to do so.
(In fact, Lyon’s own record of the decisions taken by the sham ‘’ULS’ meeting of 27th August includes the action: “To inform national UL of new members welcomed to our organisation.” Lyon has refused to do what his own meeting instructed him to do!)
“We have tried every avenue to avoid conflict, including … opening our meetings to everyone.” Fact: A whole raft of ULS members were not informed of, and thereby excluded from, the sham ‘ULS’ meeting of 27th August. And since 27th August PULS has not even had a meeting.
“We have tried every avenue to avoid conflict, including … honouring the agreements reached with the help of Martin (ULS national chair).” Fact: PULS agreed with the ULS national chair that it would pass on the e-mail addresses of its ‘members’, but has failed to do so. (See above.)
“We have tried every avenue to avoid conflict, including … not requesting seats on the United Left national co-ordination committee.” Fact: United Left national supporters’ meetings and national co-ordinators meetings have recognised the ULS as the only body in Scotland entitled to send delegates to the national co-ordinators committee.
“The vast majority of comrades in Scotland are not supportive of the minority ULS grouping.” Fact: Whenever there were differences of opinion in debates and discussions in the ULS, Mark Lyon and his followers lost the argument. The most obvious example: Their defence of Agnes Tolmie’s conduct and attacks on Unite Executive Council decisions.
(And if the ULS has only minority support but PULS has the support of the majority of ULS members, why did the inner circle which runs PULS walk away from the ULS? Answer: They walked away because they lost the arguments and were consistently in a minority.)
“Instead of attending our meeting of 27th August, [a member of the ULS] led a group of people in the street giving out offensive and insulting flyers discouraging people from attending.” Fact: The flyer did no more than point out that the meeting had not been convened by the ULS, quoted concerns about the meeting expressed by the United Left national chair, and explained to its attendees how to join the ULS. No-one complained about it.
“Our United Left Scotland candidates were finalised this week as Eddie Cassidy and Ann Crozier.” Fact: Eddie Cassidy is not a member of the ULS. And while Ann Crozier is a member of the ULS, until the end of last week the second PULS candidate was to have been Linda Pollock – also not a member of the ULS.
“Over 60 people from both ‘groups’ in Scotland agreed to run four recognised candidates at a meeting in Edinburgh on 12th November. It was agreed by everyone that we would run four recognised candidates.” Fact: This was not agreed by anyone. The 12th November meeting was NOT a decision-making meeting. No vote was taken on the proposal for four candidates.
The only person to advocate four candidates for the two Scottish territorial seats was Mark Lyon. And that sums up the essence of Baron Mark Munchausen: He substitutes his own fantasies for reality, and hopes that if he exudes sufficient bluff and bluster then no-one will notice how detached from reality he now is.
The following resolution was passed by the last Unite EC:
“On the back of the referendum vote to leave the European Union, the decisions taken by the British Government on the shape of Exit could have profound implications on this [union]’s members. Therefore we believe nationally and locally Unite should be campaigning on the following:
– To ensure at the very least all workers rights currently in EU law come into force in UK law.
– To ensure European works council structures are not affected and we continue and we continue to increase our co-operation and solidarity with our sister trade unionists in the EU.
– To defend the free movement of people as it currently exists including our right to work in the EU and European workers rights to do the same here. The best guard against employers using Brexit as an excuse to attack pay and Ts and Cs not putting up new borders but strong trade unions organising all workers regardless of where they are from.”
Given that Unite continues to fund the Morning Star, which advocates a withdrawal from the single market, perhaps the union should make its democratically decided view known a bit more clearly – especially to the CPB and the Morning Star: and if the paper and the party continue with their reactionary stance, Unite should cease spending members’ money supporting them.
The ratio of Unite full-timers to Unite members is around one to 5,000. But at a meeting held in Glasgow last Saturday (27th August), falsely called under the name of the United Left Scotland (ULS), the ratio was around one to six.
The dozen or so full-timers who attended the meeting – supposedly convened to rebuild the ULS as a force which “campaigns for a democratic union controlled by the members” – represented a total annual pay packet of over half a million pounds of members’ dues.
There was nothing surprising about the turnout by full-timers, including several who had never had any involvement in the ULS: the same full-timers had played the leading role in encouraging selected Unite members in Scotland to attend the meeting.
In addition to the effort put in by full-timers, the meeting had been publicised by an e-mail dishonestly sent out in the name of the ULS.
The e-mail was sent from “email@example.com” (not the actual ULS e-mail address, but a close imitation). It was headed “United Left Scotland Meeting” and signed off as “United Left Scotland” (but without an individual’s name attached).
According to the e-mail: “It is important to say that we have a level of support for this intervention from friends within the National United Left Committee.”
Over a month later, not a single one of these “friends” has yet come forward. Nor have the organisers of the sham ‘ULS’ meeting yet been able to name a single “friend” on the UL National Co-ordinators Committee.
The e-mail claimed that “any left-leaning member of Unite” would be “very welcome” at the meeting. But this was just another lie. Whole swathes of the ULS membership, including all members of its elected Co-ordinators Committee, were not sent the e-mail.
The bogus ‘ULS’ e-mail about the bogus ‘ULS’ meeting was dishonest from beginning to end. It is inconceivable that the Unite full-timers who encouraged attendance at the meeting were unaware of the e-mail.
The meeting was a carefully choreographed affair, with a specially prepared ‘narrative’ of the ULS presented by different attendees for the benefit of those Unite members who had no previous involvement in the ULS.
More than a touch of surrealism was added to the affair by the yawning abyss between the criticisms voiced of the ULS and the actual track record of many of those voicing them.
The ULS, it was claimed, excluded people. It was riven by personality clashes. It was only concerned with winning positions on committees. There was a male-macho culture in its meetings. It failed to convene regular meetings. It failed to support Unite members in dispute. Its meetings did not discuss politics. Its meetings discussed abstract political theory.
True, the last two criticisms are contradictory. But what counted at last Saturday’s meeting was not consistency, and even less so honesty. All that counted was launching a barrage of criticism against the ULS in a sorry attempt to justify the staging of the sham ‘ULS’ meeting. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: the reality of Brexit … and ‘Lexit’
The following letter appears in today’s (July 20) edition of the Morning Star. We republish it here because (a) letters do not appear on the MS website; (b) it’s from an active and well-respected Unite member, and (c) it states some simple truths very bluntly. I might also add that as the MS is under the political direction of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), and campaigned for a supposedly “left” exit vote in the referendum, it is to the paper’s credit that they’ve published such a stinging rebuke:
Brexit vote has encouraged racists
AS A delegate to Unite’s policy conference in Brighton, I was disappointed to find in the Communist Party’s conference bulletin no mention of the spike in racist attacks on migrant workers.
Many trade unionists actively campaigned against leaving the European Union because we knew the racists and right would use the referendum to whip up hostility to migrant workers. Exit from the EU has shifted politics to the right, not the left.
In my local shop a Romanian worker who has been in the country for many years is fearful for her children walking home from school and now sleeps with a bucket of water in her hall in case there is an arson attack in the night.
Many of the rights and protections gained by European trade unions through campaigning in the EU will be lost as directives relating to the workplace fall away.
This right wing government will move increasingly to a low-wage, low-corporation tax economy.
It is disappointing that the CPB is adopting a Little Englander approach and turning away from European solidarity. I struggled at times during the referendum campaign to separate the political positions of the CPB and Ukip
Chair, Lewisham Town Hall Branch LE/1183
Unite votes to stay a union: defence workers and McCluskey give ‘Marxists’ a lesson in Trade unionism
Johnny Lewis reports from Unite’s policy conference:
The first big debate of Unite’s conference concerned Trident: conference was confronted with a number of motions, calling for scrapping Trident now and an Executive Statement which argued for opposition in principle to nuclear weapons but; “Unite does not and never will advocate or support any course of public policy which will put at risk jobs or communities. Although in favour of defence diversification “Until there is a government in office ready, willing and able to give cast-iron guarantees on the security of the skilled work and all employment involved, our priority must be to defend and secure our members’ employment”. This Statement was passed overwhelmingly and with it the motions calling for trident to be `scrapped now’ fell.
For the union leadership and the defence workers this debate was not really about trident but the very character of the union, it is fair to say this character was encapsulated in the Statement and in particular no support for policies which `… put at risk jobs or communities’. The resolutions opposing the Statement with their demand of ‘scrap now’ violated that idea of a union’s function. If such a resolution had been passed, while it would not have materially effected defence workers’ jobs, it would have signalled support for a policy which put jobs at risk, and the union would, to use the words of one of the speakers, have “abandoned us”.
Although victory for ‘scrap now’ would have had no material impact on jobs it would have had a very real impact on the union’s unity. Large numbers of defence workers would have left and at best joined the GMB (at worst joining Community or leaving the movement altogether), and who in their right mind could blame them? I don’t think those arguing to ‘scrap’ got the implications for the union – until McCluskey spelled it out in his closing remarks.
With one or two exceptions those opposing the Statement were white collar, from outside manufacturing and from London, while supporters of the Statement were largely manual workers from the industry and from outside of London. This division mirrors Brexit and has been observed within the Labour party. While it is clear the vast majority of the ‘scrap now’ support can be characterised as Corbynistas it is not possible to clearly pigeon hole those supporting the Statement except to say they saw themselves as trade unionists rather than political animals and a majority would not see themselves as Corbyn supporters.
The main problem for the ‘scrap now’ speakers was how to argue a position which if passed would have meant the union’s abandonment of the Trident workers. Unable or unwilling to confront this conundrum they ignored it, speaking in general terms and in equal measure about diversification and the need to support Corbyn – of course the most zealot Corbynistas where those outside the party.
Both these points were easily dealt with by the defence workers: on diversification they pointed out that the ‘scrap now’ advocates were substituting the potential to develop diversification which had been opened up by Corbyn’s victory with the present situation where there are no diversification blueprints and even if these existed the Tory Government is not going to implement them. The diversification argument existed simply as a prop to enable scarp now to avoid arguing there real position `scrap regardless’ of the impact on members or on the union.
The Corbyn argument was of a different order: here the ‘Marxists’ came into their own, and the broad sweep of history and grand strategies alighted on the shoulders of the Unite conference.
Their line of argument went something like this: Unite supports Corbyn; failure to support ‘scrap now’ would be a failure to support him and so give a hostage to Labour’s right. On the other hand supporting ‘scrap now’ would be a massive boost to Corbyn’s struggle in the party and by default the movement which has gathered around him. Needless to say, this missed the mark by some many miles.
If the Corbynistas are a broad socially liberal movement, the self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’ within it should want to move beyond liberalism and build a class-based movement which by definition must include the defence workers. Indeed, building a class movement will largely depend on how far the left wing of the Corbynistas can turn it outward and proselytize among workers such as those in the defence industry. The supposed ‘Marxists’ in this debate provided a master class in how not to build that movement. Most striking was the unintended consequence arising from combining ‘scrap now’ with the Corbyn struggle in the party: the effect was to reduce defence workers to pawns to be sacrificed in the great game that is the left vs right battle within the Party.
That approach illustrates the complete failure of these ‘Marxists’ to recognise the division between the economic and political, and within this division that unions are primarily economic entities. A consequence is these people continually push unions to adopt programmatic demands appropriate to a party rather than a union. In this instance asking conference to supress the union’s core function of defending member’s terms and conditions in pursuit of a political goal, the only possible result was to further repel the defence workers from the left and Corbyn.
The real tragedy in this vignette is that until now the only serious work undertaken on defence diversification has been that of defence industry workers. Now a Corbyn labour party can build on that work harnessing the workers in the industry, their unions and party to formulate diversification blueprints. This approach was central to the Statement:
“Unite commits to campaigning to secure a serious government approach to defence diversification… and urges the Labour Party to give the highest priority to this aspect in it considerations.”
We have then a platform which can not only develop diversification policies but also a process where defence workers will be exposed to the ideas of the left opening the possibility of winning them over to socialism.
Apart from the decisive victory the debate itself was well run and a joy to watch as the defence workers and McCluskey, provided the ‘Marxists’ with a lesson on what is a trade union and how it should function. I hope (but doubt) they will have learnt their lesson.