Build a power station, get a nearly-five-per-cent pay rise

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Last year I blogged here about how, in a climate of austerity, engineering construction trade unions had secured an inflation-busting pay rise.

Well, strike two: they’ve done it again, only in a climate of even more austerity. Workers on engineering construction sites – power stations, gas terminals, motorways and the like – will get a 4.7 per cent pay rise from 2011, it’s been announced.

Phil Davies, who leads on the sector for the GMB union, told me this was a “good deal”. “It’s one of the top ones in the collective bargaining area.”

The deal reflects the fact that big things still need to be built – partly in the energy sector. Last year’s Ofgem report indicated there would be more capital investment, while this week three renewables firms announced they would build new factories.

But there’s also the prospect of big contracts being handed out for the government’s High Speed 2 rail link and the upgrading of trunk roads.

The latest industry reports show that, while orders in the sector fell last year they did not fall catastrophically, and orders are currently picking up. In engineering construction, the pay rises show no sign of abating.

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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…

John Healey for shadow business?

Friday 8 October 2010

One of the highlights of today’s shadow cabinet results is that John Healey, shadow housing minister up to now, has romped home with 192 votes and is now even being talked up as a shadow chancellor. This would mean appointing him over the heads of Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper (who got more votes than anyone – 232, practically the entire Parliamentary Labour party).

A slightly more likely scenario (I would submit) is that Healey receives the business, innovation and skills porfolio held up till now by Pat McFadden (Lord Mandelson’s junior in the business departent when Labour was in government). Why? Because a) Healey has expressed a desire for it and b) McFadden failed to make the shadow cabinet at all. One man’s meat…

Update, 18:42: Okay, I was wrong, and John Healey got Health. Well, my prediction was no worse than several fielded by much better-paid journalists than I. Suggestions that Healey would get Work and Pensions proved equally unreliable.

Unite enters the post-Charlie Whelan age (and what’s next)

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Readers of this blog have got in touch and this week prompted me to return to a well worn subject. This week Unite’s political department enters its first week post-Charlie Whelan since Gordon Brown’s redoubtable ex-spinner joined the union as political director in 2007. It’s likely to remain that way until at least 1 December, when the result of the Unite general secretary election is announced.

“Holding the fort”, as he has described it to those around him, is political adviser John O’Regan. Since he was Whelan’s deputy in the department, and since they both speak with distinctive Cockney vocals, there’ll be continuity for now. O’Regan came up through the GPMU print union which merged into Amicus which in turn merged into Unite. So he’ll be used to managing change, and staying on the right side of new bosses – essential in a union with such complex and sometimes fraught politics.

Who is to be the new political director? It’s been reported (including here) that Joe Irvin, Gordon Brown’s former political secretary at No 10, was likely. Actually, I blogged that he had been chosen, following a Tribune story. This was swiftly denied by Unite.

Truth be told, I was a bit hasty. It’s true that no formal decision has been made. What’s also true, and interesting is that – after the subject came up at Unite’s executive committee three weeks ago – the consensus seems to have shifted towards appointing the new director after the new gen sec is announced.

Which of course makes sense. You wouldn’t want to be appointed and then find, weeks later, that you had a new boss who didn’t have full confidence in you. A view shared within the Unite political department, I’m told.

Both Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, Unite’s joint leaders, have been backing Irvin for the job. But some at Unite are unhappy at his record working for Gordon Brown. In his time at No 10, Irvin reportedly helped to block the implementation of the agency workers’ directive, resisted the introduction of one-member-one-vote for the National Policy Forum (a policy supported by almost all Labour’s unions, as I reported here) and, most emotively of all, supported the Hayden Philips review of party funding, which would have capped union donations to Labour and put the party-union link under severe strain.

A new candidate has arisen in the form of form of Byron Taylor, the thirtysomething national officer of the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation. Having been lead officer in negotiations with Labour over policy issues, Taylor enjoys the advantage of having been on the unions’ side of the argument. He’s also a Unite member and former industrial organiser, with widespread respect in the union movement. My understanding is Taylor has been approached.

Royal Mail, Labour conference and the CWU hit list

Sunday 26 September 2010

Tomorrow the Labour party conference will debate a motion from the Communication Workers Union attacking Business Secretary Vince Cable’s plans to fully privatise Royal Mail, and committing Labour to keeping Royal Mail entirely in the public sector.

Meanwhile, the CWU has drawn up a plan of action for campaigning on the ground against the coalition and its MPs. As general secretary Billy Hayes explained at the TUC Congress recently:

“We’ll be going into 71 marginals where the coalition has a majority of less than five per cent. In these marginals we only need to win over five of every hundred to make progress on defeating privatisation.

“We know it’s a big task but we’re helped that all candidates have come out against privatisation.”

Two Lib Dem MPs and one conservative, the maverick Daniel Kawczynski, signed an early day motion against privatisation before the election. But the union is hoping to put more MPs with slim majorities under pressure by linking up with community groups and making the issue about public services under threat.

(On the subject of Royal Mail, Ed Miliband told Labour’s affiliated unions: “I believe that we need to show as a party, including in the case of Royal Mail, that we can modernise and improve public services without resorting to privatisation”.)

(from Tribune blog)

Ed, cuts and the union agenda

Sunday 26 September 2010

Perhaps the biggest policy issue for Ed Miliband’s Labour is how they respond to the coalition’s cuts programme and present their alternative economic strategy.

Right here – in Manchester – and right now, that means deciding what stance to take at party conference. There isn’t much time for deliberation.

Labour’s affiliated unions have mostly decided to go for cuts and the economy in choosing their motions for debate this year.

The GMB and train drivers’ union ASLEF are pushing for a motion on tax avoidance, keen to argue that billions can be raised by collecting more tax. Unison is demanding an alternative to attacks on public services and a review of the effects of privatisation, with a view to reversing the New Labour privatisation trend, while Unite and Community want to get conference to agree to an alternative economic and industrial strategy. Community, in particular, will seek to get in a mention of Sheffield Forgemasters, the plant denied an £80 million loan by the coalition government. This should go in, given that the Labour frontbench have been trying to make merry hell for Sheffield MP Nick Clegg.

Everyone at this conference agrees that the coalition’s cuts are wrong. The question is: how wrong? And what would you do instead? Will Ed Miliband agree with wannabe Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls that this is the time or investment, not cuts (contrary to Labour’s pre-election plan to start cutting the deficit this year)? And will he welcome motions calling on him to agree to that?

On the one hand, he risks being seen as a hard-left deficit denier by the media and public. On the other, he risks failing to put blue water between Labour and the coalition, and sounding too much like his brother.

Union and constituency reps are sitting down today to agree composite motions on the economy, taxation and other issues. Ed M and his team will be watching, at very least.

(from Tribune blog)

How Unite members swung behind Ed Miliband

Saturday 25 September 2010

Much will be made in coming weeks and months of the fact that Ed Miliband only beat his brother David for the Labour leadership because of the votes of affiliates – mostly, but not exclusively, trade union members. And it’s true that Unite, the biggest union and Ed M supporter, pulled out all the stops for him, even printing pictures of him on some of the envelopes containing the ballot papers they sent out.

That aside, what looks set to emerge in the union-by-union voting figures is that Unite members must have taken the hint.

A few weeks ago, Team Ed M visited Unite’s co-headquarters in London’s Covent Garden to do some telephone canvassing. They contacted 850 Unite members – over 5 per cent 0.05 per cent of the total membership, not a bad sample size by opinion poll standards.

Of the 850, over 500 said they’d vote for the younger Miliband. The second most popular choice was ‘don’t know’ and the third most popular ‘not voting’. The remaining candidates did pretty badly in the sample’s estimation.

Update: I should point out, not all the membership were balloted, as they’re not all political levy payers. So the ‘sample’ was actually bigger than 0.0005 per cent. The point stands. However the figures now show that Unite members didn’t vote quite as uniformly as the phone poll suggests – although a majority of Unite voters did vote for Ed Miliband.

(from Tribune blog)

A thank you note

Friday 24 September 2010

I don’t normally do blogs of a personal nature, but a word of thanks is called for. I absent-mindedly left my (work) netbook in the security tent at the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool on Tuesday evening. After some enquiries, it turned out that the Lib Dem conference staff had found it and taken it back to their Cowley Street HQ.

Cowley Street is about twenty minutes from where I live on my bike. Liverpool is not. So I’m very grateful to the Lib Dem staff for taking it back – and to responding very swiftly and efficiently to my query. Lost property is hardly a core activity for a political party.

Big thanks to Emma, Sophie and Sonia at Lib Dem HQ for their help, and also thanks to Lorraine and Jason at the ACC Liverpool for putting me in touch with them in the first place.

P.S. Amusingly, the message board at Cowley Street reads more like the coat pegs at an old English public school. Next to signs under sliding covers indicating ‘in’ and ‘out’ are the names in last name and first initial format – including ‘Clegg N’ and ‘Alexander A’ (who is still listed as working in the leader’s office, despite having stopped being his chief of staff some time ago.