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.


Anonymous said...

How on earth you refer to the Les Bayliss campaign as "right wing" is beyond me, especially given some of the support enjoyed by Len McLuskey. A former NW Regional Secretary, for example...! Not that this comment will get posted - I've had that experience on your website before!

Ian said...

Anonymous, obviously I have no idea whether what you say is true about not publishing a comment before, as you hide behind anonymity.

I'm perfectly open about not publishing every comment, particularly if they are offensive. I do, however, publish comments I strongly disagree with, as anyone can see.

I say "right wing" about Bayliss mainly because of what he stands for, not just who's backing him. In some ways more importantly than left/right he's for a more top-down, centralised, officer-led approach, which I'm dead against.


Anonymous said...

Ian, you seem to know a lot about the candidates can you answer this question? McCluskey was described in the Observer as working in the docks. I thought at first that he was a hands on docker, but the article states that he was a draughtsman, which is something totally different where I come from! Is this true?

Ian said...

I have no reason to doubt it - why not ask him directly if it matters to you?

Anonymous said...

Fear of reprisal, he may turn out to have been an office clerk or something more embarrassing and then start to make my life hell

Ian said...

Anonymous - the fact that you even think that says a lot about how much needs to change in the union - part of the reason I'm backing Jerry.

As it happens, my experience of Len gives me no reason to believe he'd bully or victimise an activist in the way many of us have seen from some other senior figures in the union.

Nothing wrong with someone being an office clerk anyway, is there?


Anonymous said...

Jerry can't win. And Anon has a point, don't over look the fact that Woodley will still be around after the election whether Len wins or not...there is nothing wrong with being a clerk,if that's what he was, but if you want to keep that quite and someone exposes it there is...

Ian said...

I remember being told Derek Simpson couldn't win when we were campaigning for him against Ken Jackson.

We clearly have an uphill battle with the other candidates having chunks of the union machine behind them. But that shouldn't stop us.

The election is a great opportunity to engage members in the debate about the future direction of our union.

I'm not publishing any more anonymous comments with paranoid speculation about Len McCluskey's former job. It adds nothing to the debate and is getting boring.

paul said...

the rank and file of our union wants and needs change voting for les len and gail is not the way forward we need some one like jerry hicks who will return this union to the members i was at manchester for unites first policy conference len mcclusky was giving away teeshirts trying to get activists to his fringe meetings les bayliss well if you think you can buy any of us with food and beer think again! did not see gail? i have no axe to grind with any of these 3 candidates but some of these candidates sounded like my manager or employer beware!!! at least with jerry hicks and i am supporting jerry what you will get is a hard working trade unionist who will fight any goverment for members jobs and pay

Anonymous said...

Jerry is my man, Bayliss is past his sell by date or something smells rotten round here.