Labour-supporting union leader faces challenge

Alan Ritchie

Alan Ritchie

No, not that one. Belatedly I see from Socialist Unity that Alan Ritchie, general secretary of construction union UCATT, is to be challenged at his next election by Mick Dooley, a London region organiser. Dooley first stood for election in 2004, and polled about half as many votes as Ritchie. If you believe Socialist Unity, which supports Jerry Hicks for Amicus gen sec, then Dooley is the staunch lefty candidate challenging the complacent Blairite that is Ritchie. I am sure the Ritchie camp will have something to say about that.

This is interesting for a number of reasons.

UCATT, which says it has 125,000 members,  is an unswerving supporter (including financially) of the Labour Party. After the second Warwick Agreement last year, it put out a press release declaring that they had made “significant progress” in persuading the government of the wisdom of their demands, and that “An outline of proposals to radically transform the construction industry was agreed.”

They declined to mention what any of this progress was, which is just as well because over six months on that progress is hard to see. The Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority still does not regulate the construction industry, which UCATT says means lots of workers being employed on a casual basis with no rights. The Health and Safety Executive is still far too light-touch for their liking, and doesn’t carry out nearly enough inspections. And so on.

But UCATT takes the loyalist union line: we pay our dues, we make our arguments but we don’t do cash for policies. UCATT is notable, in fact, in rebuffing the advances of Tory trade union envoy Richard Balfe – the only other union I know that hasn’t spoken to him is the T&G section of Unite.

It’ll be interesting to see if any of this comes up in the election campaign. Unite and UCATT are not the only unions where the left-of-Labour political caucuses are mobilising for a fight back this year. We could be witnessing the emergence of a new awkward squad (but it’s a big ‘could’).

Update: Oh yes, I forgot to say, Dooley has allegedly done the Aslef thing of getting into a punch-up with a union colleague.

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