Unite election: Has Les Bayliss been sending out mass spam?

Some union officials thought that last week’s Channel 4 Dispatches programme, “What’s the Point of the Unions?” amounted to a “hatchet job” on assistant general secretary and Unite general secretary candidate Les Bayliss. That’s a bit strong. The programme did highlight controversial donations to a charity, overseen by Bayliss – a story which appeared in Private Eye several years ago – but didn’t level any other charges directly at him.

Now news reaches me from the blog fan club of a slightly more serious charge. Simon Hearn, the returning officer from Electoral Reform Services who are overseeing the election, reports that he’s received 33 complaints from Unite members who say Bayliss has sent them messages without permission. He’s not the only one: Jerry Hicks, the rank and file candidate, says he’s received an unsolicited letter (see above) – and has told me he thinks Bayliss should be disqualified for it. Members of staff also tell me they’ve received the letter, without signing up for it.

Complaints from members about unwanted letters or emails from Bayliss surfaced before Unite had even agreed rules for the conduct of the election; Unite executive committee member Ian Allinson (a Jerry Hicks supporter) mentioned them on his blog in June. Joint general secretary Tony Woodley also angrily wrote to Bayliss around the same time to complain about messages to “a large number of employees including many who have never “signed up” to receive your campaign bulletins”.

Now, the complaints have resurfaced after more letters were allegedly received in September – and this time, the ballot rules prohibit any unsolicited messages from candidates. The issue came up at the last Unite executive meeting, where many executive members expressed unhappiness about it. They were promised an investigation.

Hearns also mentioned several complaints from “three of the candidates” about unwanted newsletters and emails from Len McCluskey. But the biggest and longest-running storm seems to have arisen over messages in Bayliss’ name.

It’s unclear what, if anything will happen over this. If Bayliss is found guilty of a “Les spam mission”, as one disgruntled official puts it, it would be dangerous for Unite to disqualify him from the election. It would be equally dangerous, and unlikely, for Len McCluskey to be disqualified if allegations against him are upheld. Either move would enrage supporters. “Do you risk making a martyr of him?” a senior and well-connected Unite source muses.

However, as Hicks points out, the messages could also be a breach of data protection legislation – which would not be a matter for Unite, but the courts… Unite’s data protection officer has been asked to investigate.

I did ask the Bayliss campaign about the above letter (full version here), and will update this post if I hear from them. They deny sending out any unsolicited messages.

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8 Responses to “Unite election: Has Les Bayliss been sending out mass spam?”

  1. Marco Pierre Black Says:

    Can it be a breach of the DPA when Hicks has already placed his full home address details on his own blog site which is open to the public and for all to see?

  2. René Lavanchy Says:

    As a candidate, Hicks did indeed publish his name, membership number and contact details so that workplaces and branches could nominate him. However he’s not the only person who’s received a letter featuring their home address and membership number. Hence the data protection issue.

  3. Timothy Says:

    Is it true that Jerry Hicks is using the so-called DearUnite.com to send out emails that possibly aren’t solicited and is it true that Len McCluskey’s campaign allegedly sent out unsolicited mail from an Employer’s address?

    If so, it seems a bit strange that there’s a whole load of fuss about Bayliss and much less about the others.

    What does that tell you?

  4. Dr.S.Pin Says:

    Well stated Tim. Let’s have a sensible debate about the candidates policies, as they are all sending out information. For example, McCluskey has stated “members, not ministers or managers”. So what does this rhetoric actually mean? Doesn’t he want any Labour ministers? Aren’t there managers within Unite, both within its own management structures and membership base? How can you say you want one United union and then make such a statement…? Unless you don’t mean what you say…

  5. Timothy Says:

    Absolutely!

    Mud slinging and sniping at fellow candidates is an unfortunate reality of most election campaigns. Every candidate wants to win, but maybe we should all take a reality check.

    The energy, passion and enthusiasm generated across the union during this election can be the key to motivating and rallying our members and activists (who ARE The Union, when all is said and done) around the real issues and struggles we all face together.

    At a time when we have a ruthless, but very focussed Tory Government intent upon attacking not only our jobs, but our trade union rights and everything we stand for; unity around a realistic and progressive agenda is essential.

    This is what the campaign IS really about. Whoever wins will have a massive and formidable task ahead of them.

    “Unite is the union for the 21st century”. Let’s not forget this eh! The Tories would take us back to the 19th if they could.

  6. Miles Says:

    I’ve blogged on Bayliss’s emails today.
    http://the-workers-united.blogspot.com/2010/10/bayliss-emails-attack-woodley-and-ba.html

  7. Selim Says:

    I’ve also blogged on the workers uniting group candidate, namely Les Bayliss, at

    http://les4gswm.wordpress.com/

  8. Colin Adkins Says:

    This is the most significant election in the Union ever. I think that all candidates should be free to campaign provided this is done in their own time and they do not use Union resources as to do otherwise would benefit the “establishment” candidates. Surely we want an informed electorate? If you don’t like the material simply put it in the bin.

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