Unite (Scotland): back Davy Brokett!

November 23, 2015 at 9:19 pm (posted by JD, scotland, Unite the union)

UNITE the union - Logo

By Dale Street

The Certification Officer – an unelected official created by the Thatcher government for the purpose of undermining trade union democratic procedures – has ordered a by-election for one of the Scottish territorial seats on the Unite Executive Council (EC).

The seat had been held by Davy Brockett, elected to the Executive Council in April of 2014 for a three-year period. Five months after his election fellow-EC-member Agnes Tolmie formally questioned Davy’s eligibility to hold the seat.

(In the 2010 Unite General Secretary election Tolmie had backed right-wing candidate Les Bayliss, standing on a platform of class collaboration, craft chauvinism, union centralisation, and public denunciations of striking workers.

After Bayliss lost, Tolmie joined the United Left grouping in Unite. She was elected to the union’s EC in 2014 on the United Left slate. Earlier this year she again parted company with the United Left.)

In response to Tolmie’s challenge to Davy’s eligibility, the different factions represented on the Unite EC, along with members of no factions, joined together to support Davy. In December of 2014 the EC unanimously backed Davy’s right to sit on the EC.

To hold a seat on the Unite EC a member must be what is called “Rule 6 compliant”. But, under the Unite Rulebook, the EC is empowered to waive the normal criteria of “Rule 6 compliance” where a member, like Davy, has been victimised and blacklisted.

The EC is empowered to do so because employers – by sacking and blacklisting union activists – would otherwise be able to exercise control over the composition of the union’s EC.

One out of Unite’s 1.4 million members was not prepared to accept the unanimous decision of the highest decision-making lay body of the union and lodged a complaint with the Certification Officer in April of 2015.

The complainant was Ian Murray, Agnes Tolmie’s husband. (Normally one would not define a union activist – or anti-union activist – in terms of their marital relationship. Not to do so in this case would be crass negligence.)

Astonishingly, despite the unanimous support for Davy by the EC, Unite officials chose not to defend that decision and not to contest Ian Murray’s complaint.

In June, Unite – probably in the form of Len McCluskey’s Chief of Staff Andrew (not to be confused with Tolmie’s husband Ian) Murray – wrote twice to the Certification Officer “acknowledging” (sic) and “conceding” (sic) that Davy was not eligible to sit on the EC.

This left the Certification Officer with no option but to uphold the complaint by one lone member against a unanimous decision of the union’s EC. As the Certification Officer wrote in his decision:

“The Union having conceded [Davy’s ineligibility], I so declare. This decision is reached on the basis of the Union’s concession without having heard detailed argument on the correct interpretation of the relevant rules.”

In fact, the Certification Officer went out of his way to stress that his decision, based on the absence of any arguments from Unite, was not to be taken as setting a precedent:

“Should the meaning of those rules be a matter of dispute in any future case, the present decision should not be regarded as providing any authoritative guidance on their interpretation or application.”

By way of remedy, Ian (not Andrew) Murray proposed that the unsuccessful candidate in the 2014 elections should simply take over Davy’s seat. According to Murray, this would “save the division and rancour that there would be should Mr. Brockett wish to stand again.”

In the event, the Certification Officer rejected Murray’s proposal and ordered a by-election be held, with the result announced no later than late January 2016.

Davy is rightly contesting that by-election. And he is doing so not just on the basis of his past record of standing up for members’ concerns but also in order to defend lay-membership democracy.

As Davy’s appeal for nominations puts it:

“At its December 2014 meeting our Executive Council unanimously expressed its support and confidence in me. But this decision was overturned by the Certification Officer.

I am therefore standing in this by-election to uphold the principles of lay democracy, and to send out a strong message that our union should be run by the membership, not unelected officials.”

Questions certainly need to be asked about the failure of Unite officials to defend the unanimous EC decision to back Davy – and their failure to inform the EC about this.

EC members learnt that Unite officials had not defended the EC decision only when the Certification Officer’s decision was published in October. They had not been informed of this at any of the EC meetings held after the complaint had been lodged.

But right now the priority for Unite branches in Scotland is to nominate Davy for the vacant seat on the EC, and to encourage their members to vote for him when the ballot papers go out.

With the election taking place over the Christmas/New Year break, every nomination and every vote could be vital.

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Trident vote: are unions reverting to their traditional role, backing the Labour Right?

September 28, 2015 at 9:10 pm (class, Europe, internationalism, Jim D, labour party, reformism, unions, Unite the union) ()

Above: Trident nuclear submarine patrolling (Getty Images)

Jeremy Corbyn has suffered his first defeat as Labour leader: and it’s been Unite and the GMB who’ve brought it about.

The decision by delegates at the Party conference not to have a debate on Trident came about because Unite and the GMB, with tens of thousands of their members’ jobs dependent upon the renewal of the nuclear weapons system, made it clear that they’d vote against any anti- Trident resolution.

Today’s Morning Star front page headline declared ‘Dismay As Trident Vote Is Blocked’ while the story beneath quoted CND’s Kate Hudson, at some length, decrying the decision as “bitterly disappointing, not just for the Labour delegates and members who wanted to see that debate take place, but for many, many others round the country who wanted to see Labour stand up unequivocally against the government’s determination to rearm Britain with nuclear weapons … Failure of Labour to change its policy means that in spring next year , when the government seeks Parliament’s approval for Trident’s replacement, Labour policy will be on the wrong side … Labour will give the Tory government a blank cheque for nuclear rearmament.”

Tucked away at the end of the Star‘s article is a brief reference to the role of Unite, the paper’s main funder: ‘Setting out his opposition to unilateralism, Unite leader Len McCluskey said: “I understand the moral case and the huge cost of replacing Trident, especially in this era of austerity, but the important thing for us is jobs and the defence of communities.”

The embarrassment of the Morning Star aside, the significance of the votes of Unite and the other major unions on this issue, is that they seem to be reverting to their traditional role as bastions of right wing pragmatism, against the leftist idealism of much of the Party’s rank and file (although, having said that, only 7.1% of constituency delegates voted for a debate on Trident). It also points to the failure of the anti-Trident left to deal effectively with the questions of jobs: Unite and the GMB in reality regard Trident as a massive job creation scheme and so far (beyond vague references to the Lucas Alternative Plan of the 1970’s) the left has failed to come up with a convincing answer.

Meanwhile the GMB’s recently-knighted buffoon of a general secretary, ‘Sir’ Paul Kenny has lined up with Labour’s Europhobes (some of the most right wing people in the Party) in urging the Party to “keep its options open” on EU membership and, in fact, campaign for withdrawal if Cameron’s renegotiation results in any weakening of British workers’ rights – quite how leaving the EU will prevent the Tories attacking workers’ rights in Britain is not explained by Kenny or his europhobic friends. In fact, Corbyn’s recent clarification on Europe (stating that he “cannot envisage” Labour campaigning for withdrawal and that the Party will re-instate any workers’ rights bargained away by Cameron) is plainly the only rational left-wing position.

For all his fake-left posturing, Kenny’s position on Europe (like his position on Trident) is, objectively, an attack on Corbyn … from the right.

It’s time for Corbyn’s supporters to start organising seriously in the unions.

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Why (despite everything) I’m supporting Corbyn: a reply to Alan Johnson

August 16, 2015 at 6:50 am (anti-semitism, democracy, elections, internationalism, Jim D, labour party, Middle East, palestine, reformism, stalinism, Stop The War, Unite the union)

Dear Jim,

I’ve always looked up to you, from the days when we were in Socialist Organiser – you the Marx-reading shop steward in a car plant and me the young student. In 2011 you described Jeremy Corbyn in these terms: “Corbyn is now beyond the pale and part of a de facto anti-democratic, pro-fascist and anti-semitic current that claims to be “left-wing” but is in fact, profoundly reactionary and anti-working class.” So why did you urge Unite (my trade union) to back Corbyn? Will you vote for him? Why? Is it democratic centralism? If so, fuck that Jim. Look back at what you wrote in 2011 and, as Dylan sang, ‘Don’t think twice, its alright.’

(NB Alan Johnson is not the MP of the same name! This Alan’s Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn, expanding on many of the points he raises above, can be read here).

Dear Alan,

Thanks for your kind words and because I admire your intellect and evident principles I’ve given some thought to your comments (incidentally, although I was a motor industry shop steward when we first knew each other, before that I’d also been a student and I don’t think our ages are that different …).

Firstly, you are quite justified in drawing attention to what I’ve previously written about Corbyn’s attitude to a number of international issues (ie knee-jerk anti-Americanism) and – perhaps worse – his unsavoury “friends” and/or associates in the Palestine solidarity movement (anti-semites like Hamas and Hesbollah, the Jew-hating Islamist Raed Salah and the holocaust-denier Paul Eisen, for instance).

These “friends” (Corbyn’s own description of Hamas and Hesbollah representatives when he hosted them in Parliament in 2009) are significant, disturbing and a matter that should be (and has been) raised by myself and others within the Corbyn campaign – and we will continue to raise these issues in the event that Corbyn wins.

Are these concerns (as you and some other people I know and respect, have argued) sufficient to make support for Corbyn unacceptable or unprincipled? I’d argue not, and here’s why:

We live and ‘do’ politics within a British labour movement that has some pretty awful political traditions within it: craven reformism, nationalism, various forms of racism, sexism and general backwardness. I’ve been on the knocker, over the years, for some truly dreadful people who happened to wear a Labour rosette. The mainstream left of the Labour movement is – in its way- just as bad. Influenced to varying degrees by Stalinism, it takes lousy positions on international affairs, often seems to operate on the bankrupt principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and has a long-standing tendency to allow its (correct) support for the Palestinian cause slide over into indifference to anti-Semitism. It also has a terrible habit (which I think at least partly explains Corbyn’s warm words to Hamas and Hesbollah) of being diplomatic towards people it regards as perhaps dodgy, but broadly “on the right side.”

Corbyn is part of that left – as was Tony Benn, who we all supported when he stood for the Deputy Leadership against Dennis Healey in 1981. Like Benn (and unlike shysters of the Livingstone/ Galloway variety) he seems to be a decent and principled human being, despite his political failings and downright naivety on a range of (mainly international) issues..

Yes, the British labour movement, including the  “left”, has some rotten politics. But it’s our movement and in the assessment of Marxists and serious socialists, the only hope we have of building a decent, democratic society ruled by the working class. We work within that movement to transform it, so that society itself can be transformed. We are consistent democrats who relate to workers in struggle in their existing organisations – organisations that are infused with all sorts of Stalinist, bourgeois, reformist and other reactionary ideas.

The Corbyn campaign is dominated by the politics that dominates the mainstream left in Britain – a soft Stalinism and incoherent “anti imperialism” that also dominates the Morning Star, the Communist Party of Britain, the SWP and Stop The War (the misnamed outfit still, unfortunately, supported by our union, Unite). But the rank and file people (many of them young and new to the movement) who’ve been enthused by Corbyn’s campaign have been attracted by his anti-austerity stance, his opposition to the neoliberal consensus, and his inspiring if not always entirely coherent message that a better, fairer and more equal society is possible. We cannot stand aside from this movement by abstaining or backing the wretched Burnham or Cooper. Just as serious socialists have always argued for active, positive engagement with the actual, existing labour movement as a whole, so we must argue for engagement with that movement’s left – and for now, that means support for the Corbyn campaign. That’s also the best way of making our criticism of his international policies heard by the people who need to hear it – his ordinary  supporters, the young and not-so-young people he’s enthused and inspired and who make up the bedrock of his support.

That’s why, Alan, despite the many harsh words I’ve spoken and written about Corbyn and the kind of politics he represents, I’m supporting him. And that, by the way, is my honestly-held personal opinion, and nothing to do with the AWL, for whom I do not speak on this matter. I don’t suppose we’re going to agree on this, but please feel free to come back at me with any further thoughts or comments.

With best wishes

Jim Denham


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Unite and Labour: an open letter to Nick Cohen

June 7, 2015 at 4:11 pm (AWL, democracy, labour party, posted by JD, red-baiting, socialism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Above: Unite general secretary Len McCluskey: bogeyman for Tories and Blairites alike


I’d guess you still regard yourself as being on the left. So why was one of your first comments after the election an attack on the trade union movement from the right?

You can say you weren’t attacking trade unions as such, but that’s how your Spectator article read – particularly when it was published in the house magazine of the Tory right. At a time when the Tories are proposing new attacks on workers’ right to strike and on trade unions’ right to fund a political voice, you chose specifically to assail trade union involvement in politics.

What struck me about your article was how fluently it combined left-sounding arguments with right-wing conclusions.

What sense does it make to point out that “poverty and inequality are everywhere growing in part because of the shocking failure of the trade union movement” to organise the unorganised – but then condemn, not unions’ lack of boldness and militancy, but “sectarian poses that will stop Labour building broad alliances with everyone from the church leaders to Liberal Democrats”?

In this article at least, you do not criticise more right-wing unions affiliated to the Labour Party – eg Unison, whose leadership is so determined to prevent rank-and-file control of its structures and grassroots campaigning that, to take just one instance, it drove out hundreds of low-paid, precarious outsourced workers at University of London. Instead you focused solely on Unite, the main union being targeted by the capitalist media – targeted for allegedly being too left-wing.

Shamefully, you repeat the Blairite/Tory/media lie that Unite has “used its influence to rig selections”, adding in the same breath that it has “sponsored Labour MPs in Westminster”. (The latter is a problem, why? In fact the problem is that Unite fails to hold most of these MPs to its account.) At the same time you say nothing about the Labour leadership’s continual abuses of party democracy and rigging of internal processes (including in Tower Hamlets – and Falkirk).

It is bizarre that you condemn Unite’s forcing out of Jim Murphy – hardly an electoral success story or an ally of low paid workers! Worst of all, your main solution is for the Labour Party to “show Unite the door”.

Whether this means expelling Unite specifically, or ending the Labour’s union link more broadly, what you are promoting is essentially an ultra version of the program of the Blairite right wing of the party.

You’re right that Labour’s program in the election was “incoherent” and “failed to convince millions of voters”. You’re also right that supporting the SNP is wrong; that backing for Lutfur Rahman shows the left going astray; and that McCluskey’s chief of staff Andrew Murray is an extreme representative of the Stalinist politics deeply entrenched in the union.

But such criticisms are useless when combined with de facto support for the Blairites.

The political forces on the right of the Labour Party which, intentionally or not, you are lining up with are enemies of workers’ interests. They are deeply implicated in the weakening of the labour movement, its failure to take opportunities to build its strength, its abdication from struggle after struggle – both through the policies they have pursued, in government and opposition, and their baleful influence over most union leaders (including ones, like McCluskey, who see themselves as being on the left).

Unite needs to be criticised not from the right, but from the left – for insufficient aggressiveness and militancy, for lack of political boldness, for not taking its own agreed policies and strategies seriously, and for failing to inform, inspire, educate and mobilise its members as an essential part of recruiting more. Part of that is its failure to really push forward in the Labour Party, not only declining to campaign for its own policies but more than once voting against them in deference to the Labour leaders (eg voting at Labour’s National Policy Forum in favour of continuing public sector cuts). The latest example is what looks like backing for Andy Burnham over left-winger Jeremy Corbyn in the party leadership race – despite the fact that Corbyn champions numerous Unite policies and Burnham champions almost none.

Issues with what it advocates aside, the fundamental problem with regards to Labour is not that Unite has exercised too much influence over the party, but that it has exercised too little.

For sure, McCluskey et al’s flirtation with walking away from Labour is part of the problem. But this tendency is determined above all by the Unite leaders’ refusal to consider the alternative of launching and carrying through a serious political fight. Least of all is the answer to justify the drive from the Labour right to wipe out union influence in the party. The Unite leadership’s “strategy” should be attacked not for challenging the Labour leaders, but for helping them – in some cases directly and in some through lack of fight.

I would argue that Unite’s current approach has provided ammunition for the labour movement’s enemies, external and internal, without doing much to actually push them back, win gains and make progress. That is very different from regarding Unite itself as an enemy, as you seem to.

You write that after what you regard as “the death of socialism, [many on the left, including in Unite] go along with any movement however corrupt or reactionary… against the status quo”.

Arguing that socialism is dead is bad enough. You also seem to believe that, as a logical corollary, militant trade unionism is and should be dead too. Given that, all that is left is a “non-sectarian” lash up with Blairites, Lib Dems, church leaders – and presumably employers.

This is a recipe to (even) further disorient and demoralise the left. The real left – those who are serious about turning our labour movement around – will oppose and fight the ideas and program your Spectator article suggests.


Sacha Ismail
Alliance for Workers Liberty

PS I just saw your second article, about Unite suing you. Obviously this is absurd and wrong, a scandalous abuse of Unite members’ money. But I don’t think what you write about it changes anything fundamental in the political argument.

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Scottish Labour and Unite: Murphy and the Blairites are the “kiss of death”, not McCluskey!

May 18, 2015 at 8:03 am (democracy, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, scotland, unions, Unite the union)

By Dale Street

When Jim Murphy announced last Saturday that he was standing down as Scottish Labour Party leader, he took it as an opportunity to lambast Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey for his supposedly “destructive behaviour” towards the Labour Party.

Murphy claimed that he had been “at the centre of a campaign by the London leadership of Unite the Union, (who) blame myself or the Scottish Labour Party for the defeat of the UK Labour Party in the general election.”

He continued:

“Sometimes people see it as a badge of honour to have Mr. McCluskey’s support. I see it as a kiss of death to be supported by that type of politics. … We cannot have our leaders selected or deselected by the grudges and grievances of one prominent man.”

“The leader of the Scottish Labour Party doesn’t serve at the grace of Len McCluskey, and the next leader of the UK Labour Party should not be picked by Len McCluskey.”

Len McCluskey has twice been elected Unite’s General Secretary, in 2010 and again in 2013.

If McCluskey really is guilty of “destructive behaviour” and his politics the “kiss of death”, then the Unite members who have twice elected him their General Secretary must be either: really thick not to have seen through him; or willing accomplices of his destructive behaviour.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Keep Unite affiliated! No new Popular Front!

May 12, 2015 at 5:58 am (Champagne Charlie, class collaboration, John Rees, labour party, stalinism, unions, Unite the union)

Andrew Murray: Popular Frontist

” … the [Labour] party’s leaders in parliament know that if they were to lose Unite, there could be an English Syriza formed with more resources and dynamism than the party it would replace” – Counterfire

It hasn’t been widely publicised, but for the last couple of years Unite leader Len McCluskey has been saying that in the event of Labour losing the general election, Unite would seriously consider disaffiliating from the party.

Many of us considered this a bizarre position to take: surely the aftermath of a Labour defeat, and the ensuing ideological struggle between the Blairite right and various more left-wing currents, is precisely the time when affiliated unions should be exerting their influence?

McCluskey’s strange position seems to have been a concession to anti-Labour forces within the union, which include the Socialist Party (and their pathetic TUSC electoral front), various free-lance syndicalists within the United Left, a significant number of Scottish members (antagonised by Miliband’s handling of the Falkirk row, and now pro-SNP), and -perhaps most importantly – his  ‘Chief of Staff’ Andrew Murray, to whom he has in effect sub-contracted the running of politics within the union. Murray, a member of the Communist Party of Britain who is on record supporting North Korea, has a record of deciding the union’s political “line” without reference to the union’s executive, in accordance with his own Stalinist predilections.

Murray is part of the current within the CPB that favoured closer links with Galloway and Respect and, through his  prominent involvement in the Stop The War Coalition also has a close relationship with John Rees, Lindsey German and their small ex-Trotskyist organisation Counterfire.

This influence over the union’s leadership accounts for the enormous resources Unite has poured into Counterfire’s initiative The People’s Assembly, the union’s declared (but undebated) support for Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets, and also for McCluskey’s unwillingness to call for a Labour vote in Scotland.

Counterfire and its Stalinist friends have two prominent supporters in the mainstream press, Seumas Milne (in the Guardian) and Owen Jones (in the Independent and New Statesman), both of whom, immediately prior to the election, were promoting the idea of a popular frontist anti-Tory coalition, and the idea that a Tory minority government would be, in effect, a ‘coup’ against the anti-Tory parliamentary majority. There was even a ‘Counterfire’-inspired proposal for a demonstration against the ‘coup’, although this didn’t take place under its planned slogans, due to the reality of the Tory absolute majority.

Counterfire is a small and politically insignificant outfit, but via Murray, it wields influence within Unite (despite the fact that it has only one known member within the union!) Therefore when articles like this and this appear on the Counterfire website, Unite activists who understand the vital political importance of maintaining the Labour link, should prepare for battle against the defeatists, class collaborationists and syndicalists  who’ll be arguing for a break with Labour and the creation of  a lash-up with the SNP, the Greens and even (according to the schema put forward by Murray’s pal Seumas Milne) sections of the Lib Dems! They may present it as “an English Syriza” reacting to the “Pasokification” of Labour (“English” because the SNP’s autonomy in Scotland must be respected), but in reality it would be a new variation on an old, class-collaborationist theme: the Popular Front.

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McCluskey: don’t pander to the SNP!

May 4, 2015 at 8:37 pm (AWL, elections, labour party, populism, posted by JD, reformism, scotland, Unite the union)

McCluskey: soft on nationalism

By Ann Field (cross-posted from Workers Liberty)

“I didn’t come to Scotland to criticise the SNP,” said Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey at a public meeting in Saltcoats a fortnight ago, organised by North Ayrshire and Arran Labour Party as part of its campaign to retain the seat for Katy Clark.

McCluskey was as good as his word.

He called for a vote for Labour. He called for a Labour government. He called for, if need be, a minority Labour government rather than one which entered pacts or a coalition with other parties. But he was not prepared to attack the SNP.

Unite’s Scottish edition of the “Unite Works” general election broadsheet is equally uncritical of the SNP.

Its eight pages have much to say about how bad the Lib-Dem coalition has been for working people. And a personal message from Len McCluskey warns Unite members not to be taken in by the “frauds and charlatans” of UKIP.

But the only criticism of the frauds and charlatans of the SNP in the broadsheet consists of eleven words contained in a statement from a Labour candidate: “The SNP would leave Scotland with a £4bn shortfall in public services.”

This is amazing stuff by any standards.

Unite has a policy of boycotting Israel, which it defines as “an apartheid state”. This is despite opposition to a boycott and the description of the country as “an apartheid state” from the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union movement.

So, Unite can boycott a country on the other side of the world, despite the opposition of that country’s trade union movement. But when the Unite General Secretary travels 400 miles north from union’s headquarters in London, he cannot bring himself to criticise the SNP!

And when the same union produces a Scottish edition of its general election broadsheet, it likewise omits – eleven words apart – any criticism of the SNP.

(But Len McCluskey is not alone. A fortnight before McCluskey’s meeting Owen Jones spoke at another election meeting organised by North Ayrshire and Arran Labour Party. He too has no qualms about holding forth on Israel and Palestine, and many other things as well.

Even though Jones is of Scottish descent – as he explained at some length in an introductory genealogical treatise – he too felt it “inappropriate” to make any comment about Scottish politics. Because, you see, he lives in London.

Where does this kind of nonsense end? Should an indigenous Scot exercise political self-censorship when in England? And how about the Welsh? Should they too keep quiet when in Scotland? Or, as inhabitants of the Celtic fringe, are they allowed to have a pop at the SNP?)

The failure of the Scottish election broadsheet and the union’s General Secretary to criticise the SNP is all the more amazing in that it is at odds with Unite’s own Political Strategy and its stated goal in this general election.

The Political Strategy, adopted in 2011, commits the union to “growing Unite membership in the Labour Party”, ending discrimination against working-class candidates by “securing the adoption of trade union candidates by Labour”, and “mobilising our members to vote, and then to vote Labour.”

The Political Strategy also commits Unite to “do everything in our power to organise and mobilise our membership, working people in general and the broadest possible forces to the cause of victory for a transformed Labour Party (in the general election).”

For reasons so obvious that they do not need to be spelt out, in Scotland such goals require challenging the SNP, and forcefully so.

And it’s not as if that’s a difficult thing to do.

The SNP government in Holyrood spends a lower proportion of its budget on health than even the Lib-Dem coalition. Its attacks on Further Education mean that working-class youth in Scotland are less likely to attend university than their counterparts in England. Its council-tax freeze has proved to be a massive tax cut for the rich.

The SNP has opposed re-regulation of bus services, continued with privatisation of the railways, and privatised half of Scotland’s ferry services. In power in Holyrood, where its MSPs have crossed PCS picket lines, it has not implemented a single redistributive policy.

In the referendum campaign it promised a cut in corporation tax for big business and no tax rises for the rich (all financed by infinite amounts of North Sea oil at a price of $113 a barrel). And in this general election campaign its fiscal policies amount to more austerity over a longer period of time.

When Blair carried out similar right-wing policies, Unite (or its predecessors) was rightly critical of him. When Jim Murphy, a consistent Blairite, stood for election as Scottish Labour Party leader, Unite rightly backed his opponent. When Miliband and Balls propose ‘austerity-lite’, Unite is rightly critical of them.

And all of those criticisms by Unite in general and by Len McCluskey in particular were public criticisms.

Surely it’s not too much to expect Unite’s General Secretary – in the run-up to what Unite itself describes as the “the most important general election in a generation” – to show the same willingness to publicly attack and expose the SNP’s right-wing charlatanism?

At the Campaign for Socialism AGM last February Neil Findlay MSP – backed by Unite in last year’s Scottish leadership contest – pointed out that the goal of the SNP is to destroy Labour in Scotland.

Not because the Murdoch-backed SNP does not find Labour left-wing enough, or because of Miliband’s disgraceful role in Falkirk. But because it needs to destroy Labour in order to implement its sole goal in life: its nationalist project of independence.

McCluskey’s failure to criticise the SNP and to campaign to persuade Unite members thinking of voting SNP to vote Labour instead gives the SNP free rein to carry out its own agenda of attacking the very principle of working-class political representation.

And the rise in support for the SNP is also a threat to bread-and-butter trade unionism.

Politics in parts of Scotland are already beginning to resemble Northern Ireland, where voting based on national identities and conflicting attitudes to a border squeezes out voting based on class identities and conflicting attitudes to ideologies of left and right.

But wherever the working class is divided and weakened by questions of national identity and a border, then trade unionism is divided and weakened as well. As the biggest union in Scotland, Unite is the union which can least afford to allow such divisions to become entrenched.

(And when the supposed ‘intellectual’ wing of the nationalist movement – the Bella Caledonia website – carries article likening the position of Scots in Britain to that of Elisabeth Fritzl (imprisoned and raped by her father over a period of 24 years) and to that of Jews in early Nazi Germany, the descent into absolute political irrationality has already commenced.)

Len McCluskey spoke at the meeting in Saltcoats to underline Unite’s support for Katy Clark. But local SNPers denounce her as a ‘Red Tory’.

Michael Connarty was given space in the Unite general election broadsheet to underline the union’s support for him. But on his way into last Friday’s rally in Glasgow with Ed Miliband, he was denounced by SNPers as a ‘Red Tory’ as well.

On the streets and on the doorsteps that’s the tenor of the SNP’s election campaign. Again, it’s surely not too much to expect Unite’s General Secretary to denounce full-throat the SNP’s ‘Red Tory’ campaign – especially given that ‘Red Tory’ Katy Clark was the Unite-backed candidate for Scottish Labour Party deputy leader?

The SNP is a party concerned about a flag. Trade unions are not concerned about the flag but the people who live under it. That’s the difference between separatism and solidarity, between nationalist division and workers’ unity, between the politics of nation and the politics of class.

Unite should be tough on nationalism, and tough on the causes of nationalism. And that means that in the few days left before Thursday’s general election its General Secretary should combine calls for a vote for Labour and demands on a future Labour government with explicit attacks on the SNP.

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CP’s local government expert agrees with Denham over Tower Hamlets

May 4, 2015 at 8:15 pm (corruption, democracy, elections, Galloway, Livingstone, London, Unite the union)

Letter in Morning Star, May 4 2015

Image result for morning star logo

Rahman’s office is the problem

I agree with Jim Denham’s critique (M Star April 29) of the editorial (M Star April 27) defending directly elected former Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfar Rahman.

However, as both fail to point out, the Communist Party manifesto calls for “abolition of  … directly elected mayors.”

As I wrote in The State and Local Government, such mayors should be abolished. These offices lead to cronyism, patronage and corruption. They are the optimal internal management arrangement for privatised local services.

Moreover, they remove the working class from this layer of local democracy, favouring full-time career politicians.

This undemocratic system has not increased voter turnout or support, only being recallable if there is proof of law-breaking.

The support for Rahman by Unite, George Galloway, Ken Livingstone and Labour’s Christine Shawcroft does not invalidate Mr Denham’s detailed arguments exposing double standards on the left, which has in the past also praised the archaic electoral court, which should be replaced with a simpler mechanism.

Power in Tower Hamlets, even before the commissioners, was too concentrated. Cabinets and directly elected mayors should be replaced with a committee system, giving all councillors the right to make policy again.

London SE19

* Buy The State and Local Government at shop.morningstaronline.co.uk

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‘Blacklisted’ review

April 26, 2015 at 6:30 pm (AWL, Civil liberties, class, class collaboration, cops, corruption, good people, Human rights, Jim D, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

This review should appear in the next issue of the AWL’s paper Solidarity, as (I understand) part of a feature on blacklisting:

Blacklisted – The secret war between big business and union activists

By Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain (pub: New Internationalist)


Trades unionists have known for decades that employers operated blacklists, whereby records were kept on militants and activists (and, indeed, not particularly militant or active trade unionists) in order to exclude them from employment. The practice was especially rife in the construction industry, where simply raising a concern over health and safety could be enough to ensure that you never found work. Countless working class lives were destroyed by the blacklist.

For many years a central blacklist was managed, operated and sold to major employers by an outfit called the Economic League, which in the 1970s employed around 160 staff and was receiving over £400,000 a year in subscriptions and donations. When media exposure (notably the campaigning journalism of Paul Foot in the Mirror) lead to the collapse of the League in 1993, its work was taken over by an organisation called the Services Group (formed by the big construction companies as it became apparent to them that the League might not survive), and then The Consulting Association (TCA), which obtained the Economic League’s database, and expanded and updated it, with files on thousands of workers, including National Insurance numbers, vehicle registrations, press cuttings and comments from managers.

Again, it was construction companies who were the main (but not only) subscribers, using the organisation as a covert vetting operation to monitor job applicants. All the biggest names in construction – Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Keir, Costain and McAlpine – made use of TCA information to exclude job applicants and to sack workers already on site.

TCA was eventually exposed and brought down in 2009 following a raid on their premises by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the body that enforces the Data Protection Act. Blacklisting was not, then, in itself illegal, but breaches of the Data Protection Act were. TCA’s database was confiscated and found to contain the details of 3,213 construction workers.

As a result of the raid, the subsequent publicity and dogged lobbying by the construction union, UCATT (and to a lesser degree, Unite), the Labour government finally introduced legislation (the Blacklists Regulations 2010 – an amendment to the Employment Relations Act 1999) making it unlawful for an employer or employment agency to refuse employment, to dismiss, or to cause detriment to a worker for a reason related to a blacklist and provides for a minimum £5,000 compensation award at a tribunal. But this was , at best, a very small step forward and contained at least one major loophole: as it is civil, not criminal, legislation, it can only be enforced by an individual to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal; and (as the Blacklisting Support Group pointed out when the legislation was under consultation), blacklisted workers can only bring claims against the companies that refused to employ them, which will often be small sub-contractors, and not the big companies actually doing the blacklisting.

This scandal is described in meticulous detail in the new book ‘Blacklisted –  The secret war between big business and union activists’ by Blacklisting Support Group (BSG) founding member Dave Smith and investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain.

Perhaps the most fascinating revelations in the book are interviews with HR managers and bosses involved in blacklisting, several of whom claim that they obtained information from officials of UCATT and the EEPTU. It should be emphasised that both UCATT and Unite (the union that now includes what used to be the EEPTU) have cleaned up their acts and now both take a firm stand against blacklisting. However, the book describes a meeting of the Blacklist Support Group in February 2013, at which a BSG speaker, Steve Acheson, was barracked by senior members of UCATT, who accused him of making allegations of union collusion without evidence and demanded he “name names”: in response, Acheson held up a handwritten note from former TCA manager Ian Kerr and said: “If you want me to name names, I will: the name that appears on this note is George Guy” (Guy is a former senior official and acting General Secretary of UCATT: the book notes that he “vigorously denies” the allegation).

This superbly-researched and very readable book was launched in March at a meeting in Parliament at which John McDonnell MP read out a statement from Peter Francis, a former undercover cop who spent four years as part of the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad. Francis’s statement said he infiltrated Unison, the FBU, CWU, NUT and NUS. He had previously infiltrated anti-racist organisations and the Militant Tendency. The Economic League and The Consulting Association may be gone, but blacklisting, spying and dirty tricks against trade unionists and other activists continues – often, it would seem, by the forces of the state.

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Open Letter to Socialist Party members in Unite: you have crossed a line by standing candidates in marginals

February 26, 2015 at 1:49 am (elections, labour party, posted by JD, Socialist Party, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Socialist Party logo

From the United Left’s email list:

Dear Comrades,

This Coalition government has been responsible for attacks on our class  that go far beyond anything Thatcher would have dreamed of. Their austerity  policies have been targeted on the poor and vulnerable in our society. They  have lined the pockets of their Hedge Fund backers and speculators in the  City with billions of public money. They have been responsible for attacks on the organised labour movement and have been open in their support for  even more draconian legislation if re-elected. New proposed laws which
would make effective trade union action virtually illegal-The Tories are  not campaigning in this election as the Hug- A-Hoodie, party that can be  trusted with the NHS, they are back as The Nasty Party fighting on a class  war programme.

While Unite policy is to support Labour, in fact to do all we can to elect a Labour Government, your organisation has decided to stand candidates in  the forthcoming general election. Of course that is your right; we are a  trade union not a political party, we do not have any disciplinary means to  force you to support union policy and rightly so.

Within the UL there is then a clear political difference; on the one hand  the majority, working for a Labour victory who are also intent on developing the left within the Party and your goal, of standing candidates in the election as part of becoming the political alternative to Labour. In our view a big claim for some 1,000 -2,000 people, whose track record in elections is derisory.

While we know we can’t dissuade you from standing candidates we consider you have crossed a line by standing candidates in marginals. We would ask you to withdraw your candidates from the 100 Labour must win marginals. In our view standing in these seats is a breach in a working class front against the Tories.

You are not a rival to Labour. While Labour are standing to win every seat and form a Government, you know very well you will not win one seat let alone form a government. Rather your goal is to recruit to, and make propaganda for your organisation.

By standing in marginals you are not just ‘building the party’ you are also taking votes from Labour – those who vote for you, and those you influence not to vote Labour. While the numbers you convince will be small, in such a tight election where every vote counts you must realise it may mean Labour losing seats, in effect allowing seats to be won by the Tories or their partners in crime the Lib Dems.

The logic of your position goes further; it is to argue, where there is no SP candidate, workers should abstain. If of course we have misunderstood your position then why are you fielding candidates in marginals Labour can win?

The only rationale for this cavalier attitude is because you believe there is no difference between Labour and the other capitalist parties. This is blind sectarianism, yet Labour is supported by nearly every union, and unions are the mass organisations of workers, do the unions not count for anything?

We urge you then as fellow UL members to reconsider standing in marginals and so not breaking the front against the Tories.


Tony Woodhouse UL, Chair Unite Executive Council

Mark Lyons UL, Vice Chair Unite Executive Council

Martin Mayer Chair Unite UL

Terry Abbott UL, Chair North-West Regional Committee

Dick Banks UL, Chair North-East Regional Committee

Liam Gallagher UL, Chair Unite Ireland

Mike Jenkins UL, Chair Unite Wales

Jim Kelly UL, Chair London & Eastern Regional Committee

Gordon Lean UL, Chair South-East Regional Committee

Kev Terry UL, Chair South-West Regional Committee

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