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.”
“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 »
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.
|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.
Letter in Morning Star, May 4 2015
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.
* Buy The State and Local Government at shop.morningstaronline.co.uk
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.
Above: bought-and-paid for traitor Milburn
I was about to to write something about these treacherous scumbags, but Lennie’s saved me the trouble. I’d only add that Milburn (who failed to declare an interest when he sabotaged Labour’s health announcement) should be expelled immediately, and Hutton, Mandelson and Blair himself, put on notice that they will follow if they continue to undermine the Party in the run-up to the election.
I put this proposal forward in all seriousness, and it would have the incidental benefit of shutting-up all those who accuse Ed Miliband of “weakness.”
Even Blairite commentators have been taken aback by these people’s arrogant, bare-faced disloyalty.
Anyway, here’s what Lennie (not someone that Shiraz always agrees with) has to say, according to a Unite press release:
Labour Does Not Need Back-stabbing Blairite Grandees>
With the days counting down to the most important general election in generations, the leader of the UK’s biggest union, Unite, has condemned those within the Labour party who are undermining Ed Miliband’s leadership.
Denouncing the politicians of Labour’s past as >Blairite grandees, Len McCluskey urged Ed Miliband not to be deterred by these
Addressing the union’s 1200 strong officer and organiser core in Birmingham today (Monday, 2 February), Len McCluskey warned that the Tories’ immense spending power, allied to their wealthy backers and a loyal media, means the country faces a one-sided campaign in May placing a duty to democracy’ on the union to support Labour:
“The electorate is today poised between fear and hope. Fear is the basis of the UKIP menace – blame someone else for all the problems, usually immigrants or foreigners, and seek refuge in an imagined past.
“But it is hope that is blossoming today as we have seen in last week’s magnificent election result in Greece. Labour needs to bottle some of the Syriza spirit and take that anti-austerity agenda to the people here.
“What it doesn’t need is the Blairite grandees – the people who sucked the life out of the last Labour government – attacking every progressive impulse, like the mansion tax and saving our NHS.
“So I say to Peter Mandelson, Alan Milburn and John Hutton: stick to counting your money, and stop stabbing Labour in the back.
“And I say to Ed Miliband – have the courage of your convictions and ignore these blasts from the past.”
Len McCluskey continued: “This is a fight for the future of our society, for the poor and vulnerable. A fight for everyone squeezed by the crisis and the cuts, and for everyone who believes that Britain has gone badly wrong, and who wants to live in a fairer country.
“The Tories are plotting a reduction in the scope and role of the state which even Thatcher could only have dreamed of, taking us back to the days of the 1930s, under the pretext of balancing the books without, of course, asking the rich or big business to contribute. They want to tear to bits every advance working people have secured, every protection we have built up, over the years.
“Let me say today – it’s not going to happen. If a government with the backing of less than one voter in four tries to deny the rights of a movement of millions, we will treat that with the contempt it deserves. And if we are pushed outside the law, so be it. If Unite is ever to die, it will not die on its knees.”
On working for a Labour victory, McCluskey said: I’ve asked our Executive to provide donations to Labour’s election fund totalling £2.5m so far. More will most likely be needed.
“I regard this as doing our duty to democracy.
“Let the Tories get their millions from hedge funds and from shadowy dinner clubs of big businessmen. Our money is clean, transparent to the public, democratically-sanctioned and honestly accounted for. It’s the pennies of our members each week, not the ill-gotten gains of the ruling elite.
“There can be no doubt that Labour’s commitments will make a huge difference – there’s no need to be mealy-mouthed or half-hearted about this – and will provide a platform for tackling the crippling inequalities in our society.”
If we lose the election, we understand how much harder that life will be for the people we serve.
“That’s why I’m appealing to each and every one of you – step up to the plate. Get behind your union and its political strategy, and get behind a Labour victory in May. Answer the Party’s call. Do not stand aside from this battle, or let any doubts and reservations paralyse you.
“We are now facing the fight of our lives.”
For further information, contact Pauline Doyle on 07976 832 861
Guest post by Mick Rice
A CUNNING PLAN?
|McCluskey: ultra left?
In 1968 I became a socialist. In 1969 I joined the trade union movement. In 1970 I got a job as a Research Officer for my union, the AEU.
One of my tasks was to prepare a report on what had happened to the union’s policies. In 1969 the union had sent a motion to the Labour party requesting an incoming Labour Government to nationalise the British chemical industry. I phoned the Labour party to find out what had happened. I was put through to Margaret Jackson (subsequently Margaret Beckett ) in the Research Department. Now I have a bit of a soft spot for Margaret Beckett as any politician who admits to ordinary enjoyments (she is a caravan holiday enthusiast) cannot, in my book, be all bad.
She told me – one researcher to another as it were – that the Labour party conference arrangements committee would have merged all such motions into a great big composite. The composite motion would have been written to sound as radical as possible whilst committing the Labour party to nothing whatsoever. The motion would have been rendered meaningless. I was shocked – I was still quite young – that I actually asked why the Labour party would do such a thing. She told me that an incoming Labour Government always sought maximum freedom to do as it pleased. The Labour leadership didn’t want to be saddled with policies decided by members and the unions. She was just telling me how it was and I do not believe that she was a supporter of such behaviour.
I had suspected that the Labour party was not quite “what you see is what you get”, but I was now made privy to the dark arts of political chicanery and double-dealing. Labour, then as now, was a top-down organisation where the members do the work to maintain a “Westminster elite”.
If anything it has become worse. Shortly before the 1997 election how we all ached for a Labour Government. Eighteen years of Tory rule had almost been too much – immigration or Dignitas beckoned if the Tories won a fifth term!
After a hard day’s campaigning one of my mates opined: “You know after 6 months of a Labour Government we are going to feel terribly let down”. The tragedy was that we all knew that it would be true.
In government, the Labour leadership maintained a vice like grip over the party machine and ensured that only its supporters were selected as parliamentary candidates. Some of us thought that things would loosen up a bit once we were in opposition – but not a bit of it. In Falkirk the disgraced Labour MP announced that he would not stand again following his arrest for a punch up in a House of Commons bar. My trade union, Unite, sought to secure the nomination for a union friendly candidate.
The Chair of the constituency Labour party, Steven Deans, who was also a union convenor at Ineos, campaigned to recruit more trade union members into the party. The right wing leadership was horrified as this would mean that their favoured candidate would probably lose. In consequence Ed Milliband called in the Police to investigate Steven Deans for potential fraudulent recruitment! The Police found “insufficient evidence” for a prosecution (basically he had done nothing wrong). By this time his employer had sacked him. Clearly Ineos were encouraged in their anti union victimization by the way the Ed Milliband treated Comrade Deans.
As far as I am aware the Labour party never apologised for its treatment of Steven Deans!
Political bodies are never willing to amend their constitutions when they are winning elections. After all there can be no justification for improving internal democracy when the electors support you! But next year in Scotland the SNP are likely to do very well – some polls indicate that Labour will lose 37 of its 41 Westminster MPs!
Len McCluskey, forced a fresh general secretary election last year because he believed that the union should not be distracted by an internal election campaign around the time of the general election. His re-election means he has a further 2 years as general secretary. He also said that if Labour loses that Unite could disaffiliate and support a new Workers’ Party. It is not often that union general secretaries can be criticised for ultra-leftism, but McCluskey is wrong, a thousand times wrong! Instead of asking union members to disaffiliate he should ask Unite’s Scottish levy payers the simple question:
Do you want the Scottish Labour party to be an independent body?
With the “vested interests” significantly cut back through electoral defeat in Scotland the trade union component of the party must have greater weight! Accordingly, most affiliated unions in Scotland would follow Unite’s lead and do likewise.
Even if Labour doesn’t lose the election and forms a coalition with the LibDems, or has a confidence and supply deal with the SNP, who have vowed never to support a Tory government, Unite should still raise this with its Scottish members.
Of course, an independent Scottish Labour party must also mean that the English and Welsh parties would become independent also. At one stroke the Westminster elite of careerists, ne’er-do-wells and apparatchiks that has dominated the party for so long would be dealt a death blow! Of course there is nothing to stop the new independent Scottish Labour party seeking electoral packs with its sister parties in the UK but control would be in Scotland and the leadership would be in Edinburgh! It will be somewhat easier to ensure leadership accountability on a more local basis and it will also mean that power right across the party will become regional.
Just at a time when Labour becomes more amenable to trade union interests, McCluskey is suggesting abandoning the historic party of the labour movement and setting up a new Workers’ Party.
Members of Unite should force him to see sense.
Affiliated unions in Scotland can change the party for good
By Andrew Coates (from Tendance Coatesy):
The biggest trade union in Britain, UNITE, has issued a statement of support for the Kobane resistance.
The statement came after representatives from Centre for Kurdish Progress met with UNITE officials and briefed them on the developments in the town of Kobane, where Kurdish fighters have been holding off an ISIS onslaught for the past 48 days.
In the statement, UNITE said it “offered its support and solidarity to the brave people of Kobane” and that “The bravery shown by the Kurds in Kobane in defence of the entire community is to be commended”.
The statement also highlighted Turkey’s role in the developments and said, “we were appalled that the Turkish government put its own nationalist politics ahead of the plight of Kurdish people”.
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