The battle for Amicus is over. The battle for Unite is about to begin.
Well, actually that was the state of play as soon as Derek Simpson was re-elected Unite Amicus general secretary by a resounding 4.88 per cent of the membership. A quiet campaign for who should become the first single leader of Britain’s biggest union – and biggest donor to the Labour party – has been running since then, with the election a year away. And this weekend should see some interesting developments. Bear with me, there’s a lot to digest and I’m going to name a name which, for some of you, may be a surprise…
The contest for Unite seems rather more open than that for Amicus, because then there’s no single clear establishment candidate. Part of the reason is that Unite, although officially merged in May this year, is still in spirit two unions, Amicus and the T&G.
On the T&G side the candidate with the most ballast seems to be assistant general secreatary Len McCluskey, widely thought to be supported by his boss Tony Woodley. On the Amicus side is another AGS, Les Bayliss, who is jointly in charge of the finance department with the T&G’s Ed Sabisky. Trouble is, Bayliss does not seem to have the same backing from his boss, Derek Simpson, as McCluskey has from Woodley. Some would say that makes a T&G victory more likely – and make no mistake, there are elements in Amicus who want to stop that.
Both Bayliss and McCluskey would consider themselves leftist candidates, but only McCluskey is seeking the nomination of United Left, the left-wing political faction within Unite formed out of two caucuses in Amicus and the T&G. Bayliss is seeking the nomination of Workers Uniting Group, which Derek Simpson helped found. Both groups are holding meetings this weekend, and United Left is set to pick a candidate.
But both support Labour. Two more candidates, Jerry Hicks and Rob Williams, don’t however. Hicks has form, as regular readers of this blog will know: he ran against Derek Simpson earlier this year. Williams doesn’t; he only rose to prominence after being sacked by his employer, Linamar in Swansea, and then reinstated following a union campaign (ironically involving Len McCluskey). Interstingly, both men are past or present union convenors and both are active members of socialist parties (Respect Renewal and the Socialist Party). Perhaps they will strike a deal? Who knows. Only Williams has said he wants Unite to disaffiliate from Labour, but as he comes to this contest as an outsider I doubt Labour HQ is too worried about that right now.
Oh, and did I mention deputy general secretary Jack Dromey, aka Mr Harriet Harman? I know he’s said to covet a parliamentary seat, but if he fails to get selected, well… Dromey ran against Tony Woodley in 2003 for T&G general secretary.
So what do I predict? McCluskey looks most likely to get the UL endorsement this weekend. That may lead to a flurry of activity as Amicus tries to find a “stop Len” candidate. Bayliss is currently negotiating with ex-Amicus GS candidate Paul Reuter, who has said for a while he wants to run.
But there’s another possibility. One insider predicts that United Left will break down due to the “tribal instincts” of its T&G and Amicus components. Unite, they say, is not united and never will be until it has one leader. And it’s true that the factions that merged to form it, T&G Broad Left and Amicus Unity Gazette, didn’t see eye-to-eye. In which case… more infighting before the candidates list is narrowed. Infighting which could draw in Unite’s current general secretaries – who won’t even be resigning at the same time. Simpson goes in December 2010, Woodley in January 2013. What if Woodley ends up having to work alongside Simpson’s preferred choice of successor and not his? I can already hear Jim Pickard sharpening his BlackBerry.
Whatever happens, it’s hard to see how Unite isn’t going to divide down Amicus/T&G lines, if only for one last time.
Update: Having linked to Hicks’ blog, I’ve been asked to point out that Paul Reuter has a blog too, right here.
Workers Uniting group didn’t like my article in Tribune, and have taken particular offence at my use of the term ‘more right-wing’. They also say they’re not having a hustings meeting. The ‘ more right-wing’ tag wasn’t perfect I admit but then no label ever is and I doubt any label I might use for them would be above criticism. Note that I said ‘more right-wing’ not ‘right wing’. As for the meeting, well, candidates are turning up, so is it a hustings or not? Decide for yourselves.