Archive for the ‘Unite’ Category

What is Len McCluskey to do now?

Wednesday 8 December 2010

The short answer is: unite Unite the union, win the argument on public sector cuts vs. investment and stop the union’s membership from collapsing any further (I hear Unison general secretary Dave Prentis is going around telling activists that his union’s membership – over 1.37 million at the last count – is now higher than Unite’s – over 1.57 million last year).

The first will be hard enough. See my post below for a comment from a Unite member complaining that McCluskey’s victory amounts to a coup by the T&G half of Unite and its former general secertary’s preferred candidate. Not everyone will oppose that – the Amicus officials shunted around by Derek Simpson, for instance, or the officials of the MSF union who felt that their merger with the AEEU (to form Amicus) amounted to an aggressive takeover by an undemocratic Simpson.

There’s also the ‘fear factor’ – which McCluskey mentioned in his speech at his victory party. Accusations of bullying and harassment within Unite, among full-time and lay officials are not hard to come by, although I wouldn’t suggest it is the norm. And they can’t all have appeared out of thin air. These claims often have their roots in trade union politics – like which general secertary candidate you support, for example.

At least one national officer of Unite is convinced that their phone is tapped – yes, tapped – by the leadership. Even if they are wrong, this suggests paranoia on a grand scale. It is these sorts of obstacles that McCluskey will have to overcome.

And all the while, he’ll have to persuade non-members that the unino is worth joining and win industrial battles – not least at British Airways, where the dispute, now over a year old, drags on, to the weariness of cabin crew who complain of sackings and bullying.

McCluskey, who used to be in charge of the dispute but whose name does not appear on the now-scrapped draft agreement between BA and Unite, has been taunted by election runner-up Jerry Hicks over the dispute and other things, like his union’s support for Labour.

Hicks told me after the result: “Our campaign is the official opposition within Unite, because our election address was so different from the others. Our priority is to resist the cuts. Our eyes are on him [McCluskey]. He needs to do the right thing.” Hicks doesn’t think McCluskey is any good at doing the right thing though, and scorns the McCluskey camp for, he claims, not expecting him to come second. “When are people at  least going to give me credit for at least having a better analysis than them?”

So is Hicks really going to be a thorn in McCluskey’s side? I asked what his “official opposition” amounted to (would he encourage lay officials not tocarry out union policy if he thought it was wrong?), but didn’t get an answer.

Friends of the departed Les Bayliss and almost-departed Derek Simpson may also be seen as a source of opposition. The Workers Uniting Group faction soldiers on under the leadership of officials like assistant general secertary Tony Burke. No doubt they would say that they back the new leader, but will the bitterness of the election campaign – and the long, hidden battle for the future of Unite that preceded it – be forgotten so easily?

Belated update, 24 Dec: I’ve been asked, strenuously, to clarify matters. Workers’ Uniting Group has been wound up, according to a notice on its website (which was not there when I wrote this piece – the site and its blog were live and being updated at the time). The officials behind it, I am equally strenuously told, are right behind Len McCluskey. They were, of course, right behind his arch-rival Les Bayliss less than a month ago. But this blog shouldn’t speculate about people’s motives without any facts  – so I won’t.

I’m also told that Les Bayliss has not walked into a new job – my blogpost below mentioned an unconfirmed report that he had a new job. I never insisted that Bayliss did have a new job; that’s why I said it was an unconfirmed report. Right now, I’m told, he has no job. Whether  he’s totally bereft or taking a break is another matter. More to the point, he’s out of Unite – I did say that, and it was right.

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So. Farewell then, Les Bayliss

Wednesday 1 December 2010

As I write, Les Bayliss, former Unite assistant general secretary for finance and third-placed candidate in the general secretary election, has quit his job and supporters of Len McCluskey are celebrating their election victory at a Central London hotel. Bayliss was of course the preferred candidate of joint gen sec Derek Simpson, who leaves his post formally on New Year’s Eve, leaving McCluskey and his backer Tony Woodley in charge.

Unconfirmed reports say that Bayliss is to join the Joint Industry Board for the Electrical Contracting Industry, which regulates relations between electrical contracting companies and one union (guess which).

A Unite official tells me: “The general secretary’s [Simpson] gone. The power base has gone. If they stay on after that, they risk getting insulted.”

This is a family blog, and my mum reads it, so I won’t report some of the other things said about Bayliss by his critics at McCluskey’s leaving party – you can probably guess. The serious point is: now he’s gone, will the union be able to unite around McCluskey, his bitter adversary for the top job? On which more later.

P.S. The number of Unite election casualties now stands at two. The first was Richard O’Brien, former joint head of communications for Unite and PR man for the Bayliss campaign, who resigned, and walked, as soon as the result was announced.

Another Unite official (and McCluskey supporter) asked if anyone else from the Bayliss camp should quit, said: “I don’t think it should go any further” and denounced the practice of purging officials in the former Amicus section.

Unite election: decoded

Monday 22 November 2010

I didn’t get a chance to blog yesterday about Len McCluskey’s victory in the Unite election, which has now been covered everywhere from the Morning Star to ConservativeHome*. However I did gather some thoughts and views…

1) Len McCluskey’s impressive vote share – 42.4 per cent, about 101,000 votes – was (just) more than Jerry Hicks and Les Bayliss combined, which will have surprised some. Hicks and McCluskey were vying for the left-wing vote, and for one reason or another the insurgent didn’t persuade nearly enough supporters to desert the favourite.

Asked why, Hicks says: “McCluskey had a thumping great army of officers working on his behalf.” It’s true that a lot of full-time officers supported McCluskey; whether they ‘worked’ for him I can’t really say. This impressive list of McCluskey supporters left out two key people – Simon Dubbins, director of the international department and former candidate, and Andrew Murray, director of communications and long-standing right hand-man of Tony Woodley, who anointed McCluskey as his successor.

2) That said, Hicks has again pulled off the trick of beating a full-time officer into third place in a leadership election (last year it was Kevin Coyne, this year Les Bayliss). Speaking to me yesterday, Hicks was full of scorn for those who though the election was a straight fight between Bayliss and McCluskey: “If the United Left [the McCluskey faction] and their candidate see Les Bayliss as their threat, they’re not going to get the analysis right beyond the union.”

3) We shouldn’t overlook Gail Cartmail,  who was only three percentage points behind Les Bayliss (16.4 per cent to his 19.3 per cent) despite a rather lower profile. “I think this shows I ran a very strong campaign”, the Star quotes her as saying.

4) But overshadowing all this, as I noted on Saturday night, is the low turnout of 16 per cent. Unite executive member and blogger Ian Allinson bemoans the “worrying sign of the lack of engagement of members with the union”. There could be any number of reasons for this low turnout, only slightly more than the 13 per cent for the Amicus election despite more publicity. But the fact is that many Unite members don’t subscribe to their leadership’s politics, whichever brand of leader they get – as evidenced by the fact that, when asked, many vote Conservative.

I will post more views from the blog fan club when I get the chance…

*I wonder which is more pleased about McCluskey’s victory? ConHome quotes Conservative chairman Baroness Warsi saying it marks the end of a “terrible week for Ed Miliband” because Unite will, she argues, force Labour to dance to a far-left tune. Whereas last time I looked, Les Bayliss sat on the Morning Star’s management committee… Just a passing thought.

Update: It’s been pointed out that Simon Dubbins’ name does in fact feature on a later version of McCluskey’s campaign advert. Andrew Murray’s does not.

 

Unite election flash: McCluskey ahead as count begins

Saturday 20 November 2010

The count is underway in the Unite general secretary election, after thee ballot closed on Friday. I’m told that – to no-one’s surprise – frontrunner Len McCluskey is ahead on an initial count. Counting proper begins tomorrow.

Whoever wins, what no candidate will crow about is the low (16 per cent) turnout – although it’s still better than the 13 per cent who voted in last year’s Amicus election.

Poles apart as Unite election voting begins

Wednesday 27 October 2010

The battle lines are drawn as ballots start dropping on the doormats of some 1.5 million Unite members this week.

The three with the biggest stacks of nominations, Les Bayliss, Len McCluskey and Jerry Hicks, have spent the past weeks on a fortress strategy. Not triangulating, not reaching out to each other’s supporters, but digging in, reinforcing and restating their positions.

Thus Les Bayliss took a pot shot at his boss Tony Woodley this month, saying that watching him conducting the British Airways dispute was “like looking at an episode of Life on Mars”.

Thus Tony Woodley hit back last week, calling Bayliss’ remarks about the BA dispute “nothing short of scandalous”.

But it was ever thus. Last year, in an interview with lobby correspondent Ian Hernon of the Liverpool Echo, McCluskey said that he’d supported the Militant Tendency [while not joining them] and “on the chief issues they were right.”

While on his website, Les Bayliss says that his “favourite book of all time is Left Wing Communism & Infantile Disorder [sic] by Lenin”, a coded message to students of left-wing politics that he has no time for Trotskyists, Militant supporters and the like.

McCluskey is ever portraying himself as the young-at-heart insurgent, Bayliss as the head-screwed-on moderate.

Meanwhile, Jerry Hicks attacks both of them as guilty of breaking election rules (I first broke the news of Hicks calling for Bayliss’ head on this website, below) and reiterates that he is the rank and file candidate. Bayliss, McCluskey and Gail Cartmail are in “jobs for life”, he says; whereas Hicks hasn’t even got a job to lose.

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

Sunday 10 October 2010

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.

And they’re off: Unite election candidate addresses

Friday 8 October 2010

I’ll return shortly to the highly contentious issue of communications from candidates in the Unite election. But first, the officially sanctioned 600-word statements from the candidates have now been posted online and sent to members.

Les Bayliss’ message is straightforward to the point of terseness: “Fellow Members, in two weeks time you will be receiving ballot papers along with an election address in which I will be setting out my request for your support in the election for General Secretary. All candidates have been given this opportunity by the Executive Council…” Quite why this is stressed is unclear; maybe to allay concerns over unsolicited letters. It’s a far cry from his divisive remarks quoted in the News of the World, or his recent sniping at Len McCluskey, accusing him of “infantile politics” after he shouted “rubbish” during Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour conference. A change of strategy, perhaps.

He goes on to say he will support strong industrial sectors and that members in each sector should “have a voice” in which officers manage each sector – but he doesn’t go as far as saying officers should be elected; he’d continue to appoint them himself. Bayliss reiterates his call for a 24/7 members’ support centre, a policy he says has been copied by other candidates.

Gail Cartmail picks a fight with Jerry Hicks by calling herself “the only progressive and independent candidate”, presumably referring to Hicks’ support from the Socialist Workers Party. Her “number one priority” is a campaign to protect members’ jobs. Like Bayliss, she supports a Labour government, but one which “promotes a living wage and one that delivers trade union freedom”. She also says she’ll speak out for equality, but there’s less mention of the macho domination of trade unions that she’s complained of in the past.

Jerry Hicks: Some fun at last. When Hicks ran in the 2008 Amicus general secretary election, his statement to members was sent alongside a notice from Unite HQ taking issue with some of what he said. This time, it seems no official objection has been voiced, and he’s let rip at the leadership and his opponents (all assistant general secretaries), lumping them together as “the establishment” and responsible for the “mismanagement of Unite”.

He calls for election of union officers and berates the other three for not doing so; re-iterates that he’d refuse a six-figure salary and take an average wage; and lambasts Unite for having “thrown £10s [of] millions at Labour in return for so little”. However, he probably over-reaches himself when he promises to, er, scrap Trident. Not even Jack Jones could have done that.

Incidentally, Bayliss, McCluskey and Cartmail can worry about something else if Hicks is elected: he’s suggested to me that he’d like to cut their salaries. “I think it’s outrageous that the packages of Gail Cartmail and Les Bayliss add up to £138,000”, he said, while admitting he’s not sure how. “My view is those contracts should be changed. I would support that position, that they should be changed”.

Len McCluskey: “THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPERIENCE”, the Scouse ex-T&G man writes, seeking to turn his relatively advanced years (60) into a plus point. He trumpets getting “over 830” nominations, although according to the returning officer he only got 829. He stresses the need to bring Unite together once and for all, and distances himself from the lurid stories of lavish meal, helicopter trips and so on by railing against “extravagances at the top of the union”, for which read “by Derek Simpson” (he is Tony Woodley’s man, after all). His call for a “24/7 one stop shop” for members is very similar to Bayliss’ and he says, a bit vaguely, “no more blank cheques for New Labour” (would he give New Labour cheques at all?)

More follows…