Meanwhile, back at the Unite election…

Two fiercely competitive frontrunners, disputed figures, cries of “bollocks” – the election for the next leader of the Unite union has it all. And reports back from the TUC Congress suggest that rivalry and policy are being doled out in roughly equal measure. Here, behind the News of the World headlines, is what is going on.

Les Bayliss predictably caused a slight sensation on the eve of Congress when a newspaper article appeared quoting him as criticising British Airways cabin crew for their planned 12-day strike over Christmas, saying: “If I am general secretary of Unite there will NEVER be any strikes called over Christmas”, and “Public sector strikes will only deprive the vulnerable of services the Tories want to cut. We’ll be doing the bad guy’s job for him. Strikes will also turn the real victims, our members, into the villains.”

And yes, he did actually say all that. Not to the News of the World, but in a speech – the full version is on his website. Bayliss’ argument is that strikes in the 1980s were counter-productive, lost sympathy for unions and encouraged the introduction of laws to curb their power.

Unfortunately for Bayliss, some Unite members assumed that he had given an interview to the NoW. “You’re kidding me!” a senior source said when told of the article, adding: “To use News International as a mouthpiece, whose owner sacked six thousand members in the move to Wapping, is quite a disgrace”. Fair or not, it’s the impression some have got.

However, the line peddled by the NoW’s David Wooding – “He appealed to the moderate majority to stand up to hardliners hell-bent on leading them over the cliff edge” – is a fair summary of Bayliss’ pitch to Unite members, particularly the skilled professionals that he is targeting. Many of these are far from dyed-in the-wool lefties; nearly a third of Unite members intend to vote Conservative.

Rival Len McCluskey’s rhetoric is scarcely less colourful. The day after the NoW article, speaking to a plenary Congress session on employment rights, and calling for resistance to the restrictive use of union laws, he said – no, he shouted: “Let me be clear again, especially to anyone in Unite who understands the cuts won’t be stopped by pandering to the Murdoch press. In the words of Henry V, he that hath no stomach for this fight, let him depart.” “Not  too over the top, then,” sniggered a Unite official next to me as he spoke.

So, anyway – now that nominations have closed, and the ballot begins next month, who is ahead?

According to McCluskey’s website, it’s him, and according to a Financial Times piece too – except that the piece’s author, Brian Groom, didn’t actually want it published; he thought the figures weren’t solid. McCluskey is claiming over 650 nominations from branches compared to (he says) Bayliss and Jerry Hicks, who are unlikely to get more than 100 nominations apiece. Nominations don’t count as votes, but they do help influence members and allow candidates to receive funding from branches.

Word among McCluskey’s supporters is that he does indeed have well over 600 nominations. Meanwhile, friends of Bayliss dismiss the figures as “bollocks”. They aren’t official – true enough – and they’re two weeks out of date. the complaint goes. Since then, Bayliss has picked up nominations, I am told. I took this rebuttal back to camp McCluskey. “Bollocks”, I was told. Hmm.

Jerry Hicks, however, does agree with McCluskey’s analysis: he is telling supporters that he has won 102 branch nominations, as well as 35 workplaces, and he thinks he is close to Bayliss, ahead of Gail Cartmail and behind McCluskey. Go figure.

Official figures for nominations will be released soon. Watch this space…

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6 Responses to “Meanwhile, back at the Unite election…”

  1. Captain Sensible Says:

    Branch nominations don’t mean votes. Ken Jackson found that out, and Reuter achieved about 30k votes from a small amount of branch nominations. Also the size of the branch needs to be taken into consideration, some branches may have small numbers in them whilst others have thousands. Also I have read that no branch funds can be used to support a candidate in this election.

    McCluskey will get more branch nominations because of the number of former T&G branches, former Amicus branches were gegeographical and there were less of them, and don’t forget, Woodley will still be around after the election so former T&G officers may deliver branch nominations but they will not necessarily get the vote out. Workplace and branch nominations can be traced back to the officer but votes can’t…

    I am quite surprised that the right wing media haven’t run more on the Bayliss position, but there again, if you want to draw unions into a fight and then turn the general public against them you wouldn’t want to would you…!

    As for striking over Christmas, you can’t always predict the timing of when negotiations break down and when such ballots and the time period in which you have to take the action will take place. I think the point being made is that if Unite members are going to take action they have to balance that action with public opinion, and this will be more important going forward with attacks on the public sector, as it is not uncommon within the private sector to have close down periods over the Christmas period anyway making industrial action ineffective.

    The point being made is probably not about not having the stomach for a fight, but about strategy and tactics and you don’t have to have read “The Art of War” to understand that…

    Sadly, rightly or wrongly, what normally happens is that the branch nominations put the candidate in the race and then the well funded machines kick in, if this election runs as previous union elections it will be a two horse race, Bayliss v McCluskey, and with Hicks taking some of McCluskey’s potential far left vote this could be a very close contest.

    Bayliss has clearly distanced himself from the others, and he now has a chance of winning, but only time will tell, and that, believe it or not, is not “bollocks!”

  2. Steve Miller Says:

    You are correct when you say that nominations don’t convert to votes but to have more than double the other 3 candidates is pretty significant.
    Amicus branches are gepographical but this election also allows for workplace nominations a process that was present in past Amicus elections and McCluskey appears to hyave picked quite a few of those.

    The article that appeared in NOWT came on the 25th anniversary of the Wapping dispute. A dispute that saw 6,000 jobs disappear and a ban on trade unions at that plant. It also led to the no strike agreements negotiated in latte 80s and throughout the 90s.
    Bayliss should be ashamed of himself for using the Murdoch press and he has motivated the majority of the GPM sector of Unite against him.
    He is now definitely aligned on the right and the group that chose him, Workers Uniting Group can no longer call themselves progressive left if they continue to back this man.

    As for Hicks splitting the left vote he performed well in the last Amicus election gaining 40,000 votes and I suspect that this time his vote will increase especially as Simpson is backing Bayliss. Just how many votes Hicks gets from T&G remains to be seen but from what I have heard it won’t be significant.

    Personally I think McCluskey will win despite Bayliss sending unsolicited mail which contravenes the election guidelines

  3. Anon Says:

    You seem to know a lot of details about McCluskey’s nominations seeing that they haven’t been declared yet so you may be close to him and therefore biased.

    You don’t need to remind members of those job losses, how could reps and officers in both the former AEU and GPMU sections forget that, but to try and infer that Bayliss gave an interview is just misleading.

    The NOTW must of lifted a press release statement from one of the numerous sites out there so to try and turn that around and say that Bayliss is a lover of the Murdoch press is just daft.

    Using that logic you could ask “has McCluskey ever been on Sky TV or been quoted by the Murdoch press, yes, oh well, that must mean that he must be a supporter of Murdoch.”

    Hicks will split the loony left vote just look at the infighting taking place on some of the loony left blog sites.

  4. Anon Says:

    Hey Steve,

    thank you for reminding readers that Les Bayliss is the progressive left, and not one of the loony lefts, candidates.

    For your information he was, and still is, supported by the Workers Uniting Group.

  5. Ian Allinson Says:

    Actual nomination figures here:
    http://www.iansunitesite.org.uk/2010/09/unite-general-secretary-nominations.html

  6. charliethechulo Says:

    Bayliss is an out-and-out right winger. Hicks has problems…and I mean PROBLEMS. He needs help.

    McCluskey is the left candidate.

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