Support the Brum refuse workers!

August 11, 2017 at 9:26 am (Brum, Cuts, labour party, posted by JD, solidarity, Unite the union, workers)

By a member of South Birmingham Momentum

For the past few weeks the refuse workers in Birmingham have been in dispute with Birmingham City Council over proposed changes to pay-grades, terms and conditions, and levels of public safety.

Workers from the Unite union are now beginning a third week of industrial action. I went down to Lifford Lane depot to find out more about the dispute.

There were a large number of workers on the picket line. I introduced myself, telling them that I was a Labour Party member, and that I wanted to find out more about the dispute, but through the workers themselves, and not just those who had the fortune of having their views published, often exclusively, by the local mainstream media. Immediately, one of the striking workers exclaimed, “Where’s the councillors? Why aren’t the councillors here to discuss this with us?” This was an issue that was raised time and again throughout the morning, and contributed to a genuinely angry atmosphere on the picket line. Workers were collectively angry that councillors did not seem to be engaging with them. Moreover, they felt like they were being ignored by the political class who distance themselves from the realities of real worker’s struggles and real working-class life.

Part of the dispute is about a pay and grade review, where previously agreed pay levels linked to skill grades are threatened by council proposals. One worker was disgusted with the language that has been used by councillors. “They call it ‘modernisation’ – we call it job cuts,” he said. “We’re out doing this job year on year, we’ve told the council how we need to modernise, how we need to improve efficiency. They ignore us, yet they have no experience of doing our jobs.” Some workers spoke of the inefficiency of the council’s long-standing policy of relying on agency staff – some who have been doing the job for over a decade – rather than take the workers on permanent contracts. “Hardly modern, is it? But they do not listen,” grumbled another disgruntled worker.

Workers complained at the attitude of the council. “They won’t come to the table,” they said. “They have their view of ‘modernisation’, and that’s it.” Another angry worker told me that the proposed changes will mean the scrapping or downgrading of the grade 3 post. This is a safety-critical post. It concerns the very workers who are trained and skilled to drive the vehicles. One only has to think of the size of the wagons that are used in the huge operation of moving Birmingham’s rubbish to imagine the carnage that could occur if cuts to safety are allowed.

And what for the future? If the council can alter conditions and get rid of previously agreed terms then what is stopping them doing it again in the future? Could councillors simply abolish grades, after, in the words of Unite regional officer, Lynne Shakespeare, “woefully inadequate consultation”?

Council attempts to redefine the job are another slap in the face for the workers. They stressed that the job hasn’t changed at all – people still need to have their rubbish collected – but the conditions have. Expectations of time had been put on workers, especially since the introduction of wheelie-bins, but the council had shown arrogant disregard with a one-size-fits-all policy. The view that there is no difference in removing refuse from a wheelie-bin from two completely different areas in two completely different houses is as ludicrous as it is ignorant. Add to this the policy of side-waste – waste that is left outside of the bins, that workers are not contracted to take, but bosses have instructed them to collect – then the time constraints become even clearer. Furthermore there are special requests from residents, for example, some elderly residents who cannot physically move their wheelie-bin on to the pavement, so leave it at the top of their drive. Both the council and the workers want to get this waste collected, but it is seemingly only the workers who recognise that this takes more time.

The points made by the workers were plentiful and detailed. Previous projects that had wasted many times more than the predicted savings were to make, ignoring the cost-saving advice of the unions and not listening to the solutions offered by the workers, the false offer of equivalent employment, the privatisation of the vehicle mechanics and maintenance, the lack of assessment on a variety of health and safety issues and the failure to correctly survey properties were just a sample of the points that were made.

The workers were clear:

• These proposals will not improve the service, they will make it worse.

• If the workers don’t stand up for their jobs now, the council will move to make even deeper cuts in the future.

• People never noticed the refuse workers……..until they weren’t there.

South Birmingham Momentum sends its true solidarity to the Birmingham refuse workers and supports their action 100%. We don’t want a city with a fourth-rate, underfunded refuse collection service. We don’t want the safety of all of us to be jeopardised in the name of austerity. We don’t want the council to attack Birmingham’s most valuable assets – those workers who I met today. If we want to reduce pay, perhaps we should start at the top, those in senior council positions with fat-cat salaries that are in excess of ten-times the amount of some of the workers I spoke to today.

We do want to show our solidarity with the refuse workers. We can do this by attending the picket lines every day until we win this dispute. Workers will be on strike outside Lifford Lane depot every weekday morning between 6am and 8am and every weekday afternoon between 1230pm and 130pm.

Members of the Labour Party can further show solidarity by passing resolutions at ward and constituency level that support the industrial action of the refuge workers and oppose the council proposals that amount to nothing more than an assault on the working-class of this great city, and a guarantee of a worse service.

NB: Unite statement here

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Unions challenge Corbyn’s Brexit delusion

July 31, 2017 at 8:38 pm (Conseravative Party, economics, Europe, Jim D, labour party, populism, TUC, unions, Unite the union)

Steve Bell cartoon
Above: Labour shouldn’t back this Tory obsession (cartoon: Steve Bell, The Guardian)

Watching the Tories tear themselves apart over Brexit is excellent spectator sport, but some on our side seem determined to follow them into the right wing, nationalist mire. Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn has been showing signs of revisiting his anti-EU past, apparently committing Labour to hard Brexit, and capitulating to the anti-immigration camp.  Since then, John McDonnell has softened the position, suggesting that Britain could stay in the single market under some circumstances.

It’s becoming clear that the Labour leadership and PLP are almost as split on this as the Tories, though the rank and file membership (including those who identify as Corbynites) are overwhelmingly anti-Brexit. It may not be an accident that just lately, the delusion of a “left exit” (or “Lexit”) from the EU has been canvassed in left of centre publications (here and here) and expertly demolished here.

But as well as the rank and file of the party, another powerful constituency has been horrified by Corbyn’s apparent capitulation to the ideas of a hard Brexit: the unions. The TUC remains committed to staying in the single market and customs union (even if it uses some dodgy arguments) as does the biggest pro- Corbyn’s union, Unite.

But the most outspoken (and perhaps, surprising) union attack on “Lexit” so far has come from Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, a union that supports both Corbyn and Momentum. In an article on the New Statesman website, Cortes tears into the “Lexit delusion” and concludes by raising the possibility of Labour coming out against any kind of Brixit – soft or hard – and campaigning to stay in the EU:

“We don’t know yet what Brexit will look like. By the time the deal – or no deal – is finalised, almost three years will have passed since the vote to leave was made. That’s a lot longer than the Tory 2015 majority lasted. Let’s treat the voters as grown-ups not ideologues. If what’s on the table damages our livelihoods and/or is a simply a free trade deal in which the EU makes all the rules, why can’t we can’t change our minds?

“Voters want reality and honesty over delusion. That’s why it’s important that Labour keeps all options on the table. If as I suspect, staying within the EU is the best deal on offer in 2019, we should not deny voters the possibility of taking it. Jeremy’s past Euroscepticism, his vote against both the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, actually makes him the best person to renegotiate a new future for Britain in the EU, not a Brexit deal which will harm the implementation of our manifesto and our vision of a People’s Europe.”

Cortes is to be congratulated for posing the issues so plainly, and for breaking an emerging  taboo within the labour movement: the idea that we might just campaign to overturn the referendum result.

(NB: and before anyone mentions it, none of this changes Shiraz‘s past criticisms of Cortes and the way he runs the TSSA)

  • Acknowledgements and thanks to Peter Ryley for an excellent piece that gave me some ideas for this post.

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“A perplexing, confused, contradictory and controversial book” … or, more simply: it’s shite

July 27, 2017 at 3:15 pm (crap, publications, scotland, stalinism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Anne Field

I’ve just been idly browsing the internet looking for reviews of “The Battle for Grangemouth”, penned by former Ineos (Grangemouth) Unite convenor and current International Transport Workers Federation full-timer Mark Lyon.

I came across four reviews of the book:

http://www.cercles.com/review/r79/Lyon.html

https://rs21.org.uk/2017/04/08/review-the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-workers-story/

https://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-worthless-exercise-in-self-righteous-posturing/

http://www.counterfire.org/articles/book-reviews/18924-the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-worker-s-story

Without doubt, the most damning review is that written by Keith Laybourn – Huddersfield University Diamond Jubilee Professor, former Huddersfield University Professor of History, author of 47 books (that’s 46 more than Mark Lyon), and successor to the late Eric Hobsbawm as President of the Society for the Study of Labour History:

“This is a perplexing, confused, contradictory and controversial book. … It is written in the form of a pantomime sketch to the extent that one can almost join in and boo and hiss when the ‘devious’ and ‘greedy’ Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of Ineos, appears on the page, and cheer when the ‘brilliant’ Pat Rafferty, the Unite Scottish Secretary, and others of the Unite union enter the stage.

 Lyon also adopts an anecdotal style which makes it very difficult to establish the details of the events in a clear manner, especially when his anecdotes about individuals cut across some major points of discussion, and even more so when dates seem to fluctuate. … Obfuscation is often present with the result that a smokescreen descends over the script.

 This could have been an important and perceptive book. What a pity that Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, should seek to endorse a book which throws little light on the events of 2013 and little honour on his union, of which Mark Lyon is vice-chair. The story of Grangemouth deserves a detailed and worthy study. This is not it.”

(As an aside: Laybourn’s review was published by the French magazine Cercles, which describes itself as a “Review of British Civilisation”. How sad to think that Lyon’s tawdry oeuvre should be regarded as an exemplar of the state of our national culture.)

 The book review published by Counterfire is not quite as damning. But Counterfire does not do damning. And it is a review in which criticism of Unite runs in parallel with criticism of the book itself:

Lyon and his colleague Stevie Deans soon found themselves extremely deep in helping to further Ineos’ corporate lobbying. The results were about as unappealing to socialists as you could imagine.

Unite was involved in helping Ineos get tax breaks from the government, get tax-payer-funded subsidy from the government and get around environmental legislation that might have cost it money. 

I really don’t think anyone will be coming to this (book) looking for a ‘how to’ guide. Given the serious mistakes the union made lobbying for a ruthless company to achieve its socially and environmentally unfriendly goals, only to be severely attacked for its trouble, this is probably just as well.

The book is a history of things lost by our labour movement, not least because of a faulty strategy of colluding with an employer. For ideas about how to take struggle forward, you will have to look elsewhere.”

The other two reviews linked to above are no less critical.

The question which all this is leading up to is the following: Can anyone point me in the direction of a review of Lyon’s book which actually has a good word to say about it?

(Other than a ‘review’ published in a certain daily newspaper which is the recipient of substantial financial assistance from what used to be Britain’s biggest union.)

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Unite the Union: Whither the United Left?

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

Len McCluskey Len McCluskey  Credit: RUSSELL CHEYNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Corbyn’s weakness on Brexit endangers Labour’s revival

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


Cartoon: The Economist

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

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

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

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

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

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Unite: 10 good reasons to vote Labour

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

10 good reasons to vote Labour

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

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

On Thursday 8 June 2017 only Labour deserves your VOTE.

 

Great reasons to Vote Labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On 8 June, Vote Labour

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

#GE2017 shareable images

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

Unite members make a difference#GE2017 – shareable GIFS

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

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

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

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

 Image result for picture Unite logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why the Unite vote should worry the left

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

 Image result for picture Unite logo

By Johnny Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unite voting numbers in comparison with previous years

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

Image result for picture Unite logo

Many thanks to Anne Field for this:

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

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Unite suspends Coyne

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

The Skwawkbox reports (20/04/2017):

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

coyne

Suspended Unite challenger Gerard Coyne

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

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

angell coyne.jpg

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

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

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