Sunday 27 June 2010

UNITE General Secretary election

This week (from 1 July) UNITE branches and workplaces can start to meet to decide who to nominate for the election for UNITE General Secretary.

This is clearly a very important election for members, because the General Secretary has a very significant influence over what sort of union we will have. The result is also important well beyond our ranks, because UNITE is such a significant organisation in Britain and Ireland - we are already seeing the media seeking to influence the process by carrying articles of widely varying accuracy.

The winner of the election will take office as "General Secretary Designate" when Derek Simpson retires in December 2010. They will then work alongside Tony Woodley, the remaining Joint General Secretary, until he retires in December 2011, at which point they become the sole UNITE General Secretary.

While opinion may be divided about the future direction of UNITE and who should lead it, most activists feel that a single General Secretary can't come soon enough.

The Executive Council (EC) held a special meeting on 18th June to agree the arrangements for the election. This was called at short notice and I was on holiday so unable to attend. However, the output of the meeting is captured in the revised timetable, rules and guidelines for the ballot which are published on the union's web site, which now has a dedicated section for the GS election. It is well worth every activist reading this material, so that they are clear what they need to do (and what they must not do). The arrangements are different to anything in either the former Amicus or TGWU.

Every branch and workplace is entitled to make a nomination, and I would encourage all to do so. This is a good way of engaging members in the election process and increasing turnout. As the nominating bodies will be published on the web site and printed with the ballot paper, nominations will also have a wider influence on the result.

The field of known candidates has now narrowed to four, with the withdrawal of Paul Reuter and Simon Dubbins. The four are:

  1. Jerry Hicks (, a former convenor from Rolls Royce Bristol who was victimised for leading successful unofficial action in defence of a member, and who came second in the last Amicus JGS election
  2. Len McCluskey (, an Assistant General Secretary, backed by the United Left and by Tony Woodley
  3. Gail Cartmail (, an Assistant General Secretary
  4. Les Bayliss (, an Assistant General Secretary, backed by the right-wing "Workers Uniting" group and by Derek Simpson
I am encouraging nominations for Jerry Hicks. To do this you need his name (Mr J R Hicks) and membership number (31247909).

Branches should receive nomination forms by post. Reps will need to request a form from their Regional Secretary, but note that it is one nomination per workplace, not per rep (as it was in Amicus).

Jerry's campaign inevitably lacks the polish and professionalism available to the Assistant General Secretaries who are standing, but the very fact that he doesn't hold high office means his campaign can raise important issues in ways that the others won't. It's quite clear that the courts are making more and more absurd judgements to tighten up the anti-union laws and thwart the democratic decisions of our members. The CBI is even lobbying the Con-Dem government for new and worse legislation. Groups of members are increasingly finding themselves in the position where they can only defend their legitimate interests by taking action in defiance of the anti-union laws. Historically, this has been the main way that such unjust laws have been overturned, rather than by just lobbying government. Jerry has been there and (literally) has the t-shirt. Of course that's not to say that every group of members either needs to or wants to defy the anti-union laws - but how the union raises the confidence of members and supports them is an increasingly important question.

We face the biggest economic crisis in most of our lifetimes, and governments and employers clearly intend to try to make working people pay for a crisis triggered by the greed and irresponsibility of the rich and powerful. Given that most members would feel that the union hasn't been effective enough in protecting and advancing their interests in the recent past, it is clear that significant change is required to match up to the period ahead. Jerry, coming from outside the union "establishment", is best placed to do this.

Jerry's commitment to the grass-roots is reflected in his support for officials being elected by the members, rather than appointed from above, and to take a worker's wage rather than the inflated GS package.

So what of the other candidates?

Len McCluskey is a decent left official, with the support of many good activists. There is much to agree with in his material (including the excellent web site), though the content tends to be rather vague, bland and general, probably as a result of the position he already holds and of trying not to put anyone off.

I can't work out from her material what Gail Cartmail actually stands for, though she is clearly aiming to pick up votes by not being in either of the main UNITE factions and as the only female candidate. Her campaign seems more about herself than what she would do for the union and its members.

Les Bayliss seems determined to lose the election by irritating many activists with a steady stream of unwanted "spam" email, as he has somehow obtained their email addresses. The content is also deeply worrying. Les has made comments which have been widely interpreted as a thinly veiled attack on our BA Cabin Crew members, just when they need all our support against a bullying and vindictive employer. He seems to want to resurrect the worst aspects of Amicus - the stifling top-down centralised control, the contempt for some parts of our membership, the half-hearted support for members who decide they need to resist their employer and the prioritisation of support for New Labour over support for members.

Whatever your own views - get involved and get members involved. Whoever wins the election, UNITE will be stronger if more members are actively involved and taking an interest.

Friday 4 June 2010

UNITE Special Rules Conference decision

The UNITE Special Rules Conference has been debating the rule amendment from the Executive Council to allow the election of the next UNITE Executive Council. The proposal read:

Rule 14.3
Delete introductory paragraph and clauses 14.3.1 and 14.3.2 and replace with

14.3.1 Election to the Executive Council shall be on the basis of electoral constituencies determined by the Executive Council. These constituencies shall ensure the fair and equitable representation of the working membership and shall include representatives to be elected from the Regions as constituted in the union on the basis of each region with fewer than 150,000 members on the date at which the membership figures are struck having two representatives, each region with 150,000 members but fewer than 200,000 members having three, and each region with 200,000 members or more having four; and shall include representatives from teh national industrial sectors, on the basis of each sector with fewer than 50,000 members at the date at which the members at the date at which the membership figure is struck having one representative, each sector with 50,000 but fewer than 100,000 members having two and each sector with 100,000 members or more having three. The allocation of constituencies based on this formula will be automatically applied to all Executive Council elections henceforward unless the formula is varied by the Rules Conference.
The conference agreed the proposal, with 124 in favour, 92 against, and 2 abstaining.

The rest of rule 14.3 stands as it is, including clauses relating to national seats for women members and BAEM members, and to the designation of seats to ensure minimum proportionality for women and BAEM members.

Based on the membership figures in March, the Executive Council would expect that this would result in an executive of 64 people including at least 17 women and at least 4 BAEM members. It would mean one seat for "IT & Communications" and one seat for "Electrical Engineering & Electronics". The intention is to have one national seat for women and one national seat for BAEM in addition to designated seats within some of the larger constituencies. I gave more detail of the breakdown in my report of the March 2010 Executive Council meeting.

Thursday 3 June 2010

UNITE wants a real contest for Labour leader

The UNITE Policy Conference has just overturned the Executive Council to pass an Emergency Motion on the Labour Party Leadership, which reads:

Sadly our Party, the Party of working people is now in opposition after losing the General Election in May. One of the big issues used by both the Tory Party and the Media that support them is that our then Party leader had not been elected as either the leader of our country or even as leader of our Party.

We must never again allow the Labour Party to be in the position of being portrayed as undemocratic or secretive. We must ensure that there is an open and transparent debate encompassing all the political views from within the party. To do this we must ensure that all declared candidates for the Labour Party leadership receive sufficient nominations to be on the ballot paper so that the next leader can be chosen by all those who are entitled to have a say in the future of the Labour Party and not just by 255 people in Westminster.

Conference call on the EC to request that members of Unite's Parliamentary Group use their nominations in a way that ensures all candidates receive sufficient nominations. To be able to stand in the leadership election and thus allow the members and affiliates a say in the democratic election of the next Party leader.
This was a lively debate, with delegates keen to avoid a restricted contest between what one speaker called "the Milliballs" which didn't allow for a real debate or the lessons of the defeat of New Labour to be learned.

At a fringe meeting last night, John McDonnell MP, the left candidate, said that unions such as UNITE asking MPs to use their nominations to ensure a real contest was his only realistic chance of getting on the ballot paper, given the composition of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

UNITE Policy Conference

There's lots of information about the conference appearing on the UNITE web site, and I won't attempt to rival or duplicate that, but rather provide a few updates from a sectoral slant.

The delegations from both the Electrical Engineering and Electronics (EEE) and IT & Communications (ITC) sectors were small, making me worry that some of our Regional Industrial Sector Committees (RISCs) are not working effectively.

Conference agreed motion 11 from the Coventry Area Activists Committee dealt with the need for investment and R&D, highlighting the decision of Ericsson to close its Ansty site with the loss of 700 jobs.

Motion 35 from the EEE National Industrial Sector Committee (NISC) promoted the idea of a European Minimum Wage policy, building on the national minimum wages in many countries, and helping prevent the "race to the bottom" where countries try to undercut each other. The motion was agreed (despite nobody standing up to propose it).

The text of all the motions is on the web site, but there is a sentence missing from the end of motion 35.

Composite 8 comprised motion 42 from the ITC NISC and motions 43 from the East Midlands ITC RISC, both of which proposed affiliation to the Right To Work campaign. Since the motions were submitted, the Executive Council had decided that it didn't want Policy Conference to decide on any affiliations at all (which seems wrong to me personally) and would oppose any motion that included affiliation. The movers decided that rather than removing the bits about affiliation, which was really the point of the motions, they would remit it for the EC to consider.

Conference agreed motion 59 from London & Eastern ITC RISC, which called for a positive right to strike, noting the difference between European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgements supporting the right to strike and contrasting them with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings which put free trade ahead of human rights.

Many members in EEE may be affected by the decision to try to find a way to revive the "drive for 35" campaign for a shorter working week through the Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions. The campaign in the 1980s had successfully reduced the working week for large numbers of workers in engineering and beyond. The levy which formed a vital part of the campaign had left a fund of many millions of pounds, which is now almost impossible to access. Conference agreed an Executive Council (EC) statement that (subject to legalities) should allow the fund to be used and the campaign revived. Conference was given a commitment that the EC will be kept regularly updated on progress.

Another highlight was a packed fringe meeting with BA Cabin Crew, standing up against their bullying boss Willie Walsh in a campaign that is vital for working people in every industry.

UNITE response to Israeli attack on aid convoy

Support for the Palestinian cause has been growing in recent years.

Firstly, as millions of people protested against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they learned more about the damage that US and UK foreign policy has been causing the Middle East, and the central part that Israel has played as the USA's belligerent proxy in the region.

Secondly, we saw the barbaric attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, which few could defend as "proportionate" to any grievance that Israel could point to.
This week, the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla to Gaza has awoken many more people to the terrible injustices facing Palestinians. Exactly what level of violence would have been a "proportionate" a response to people bringing desperately needed humanitarian aid?

Last night a lot of the delegates to the UNITE and UCU conferences, which were taking place in Manchester, joined a huge and angry protest outside the BBC, which has become a focal point because of its biased coverage of Middle Eastern affairs. One protester managed to hoist a Palestinian flag on a flagpole high on the building:

This morning, UNITE conference agreed an Emergency Motion:

Conference condemns the hostile unprovoked attack in international waters by the Israeli forces on the humanitarian convoy which was on its way to aid and relieve the suffering of the people of Gaza.

We urge this Conference to do everything in its power to lobby the UK Government, Labour Party, TUC, European Parliament and all other relevant organisations to outright condemn the actions of Israel and lobby for immediate sanctions.

We ask this Conference to send a letter of support to the Palestinian trade union movement (PGFTU) to let them know that we stand shoulder to shoulder, side by side in their struggle to free themselves from oppression.
While only a few years ago raising the plight of the Palestinians was controversial, there now seems to be an overwhelming consensus that we need a mass solidarity movement on the scale of Anti-Apartheid to stop the UK and US governments propping up this racist and violent state.

At the Palestine Solidarity Campaign fringe meeting today, I heard three UNITE Executive Council members talk about their experiences having visited Palestine earlier in the year. What brings the issues home most often isn't the numbers dead or other horrific statistics, but the every-day harassment and oppression that Palestinians have to put up with. The delegates described in a very matter-of-fact way some of the examples they had seen with their own eyes. It was both moving and an unanswerable case for action.

Motions are a start, but a mass movement needs many individuals and groups to take practical steps. What can you do in your workplace or community? Can you join the national demonstration on Saturday?