Posts Tagged ‘Derek Simpson’

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.

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.

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…

Unite’s Tony Woodley: I did it my way

Monday 31 May 2010

Listening to Unite’s joint leader Tony Woodley addressing the union’s first annual policy conference in Manchester this morning, you couldn’t help but be struck by how much he wanted to impress on delegates the right – and wrong – ways of leading a union. And he picked on one of his favourite words in trade unionism: organising.

Woodley said: “Why should an employer listen to a union representing a minority of employees? Of course they won’t and they don’t. That’s why we need to push… for 100 per cent membership [in a given workplace]”.

“…So I make no apology for having our commitment to properly resourced organising written into our rule book. I know some may have doubts. Is it working? Is it cost effective? I would put that question, comrades, another way. After the experiences of the last 20 years or more of decline, can we afford not to do this?”

Most strikingly, he warned: “If this union ever, ever retreats from organising and it does go back into a comfort zone of sweetheart deals, managing decline, then this union will have wasted the vast potential that we’ve built in Unite.” Hardly comforting words. But decline is what Unite has to deal with: its membership has been falling for decades.

Woodley’s words require no inference. He is clearly proud of the approach he has backed in the T&G before it merged with Amicus to form Unite: that of relentlessly organising. Harvesting workers and raising the density of union membership in workplaces. In this approach he differs from fellow joint general secretary Derek Simpson, who has traditionally placed more of an emphasis on mergers and collaboration (the formation of transatlantic union Workers Uniting, an alliance of Unite and the US United Steelworkers, is very much his project). That’s not to say either man is right or wrong, or that their views are mutually exclusive (this blog takes no sides in the matter of Unite policy).

So Woodley’s message to conference in a nutshell was: I did it my way, it’s the right way, and don’t screw up the union after I’ve gone

Listening to Unite’s joint leader Tony Woodley addressing the union’s first annual policy conference in Manchester this morning, you couldn’t help but be struck by how much he wanted to impress on delegates the right – and wrong – ways of leading a union. And he picked on one of his favourite words in trade unionism: organising.

Woodley said: “Why should an employer listen to a union representing a minority of employees? Of course they won’t and they don’t. That’s why we need to push… for 100 per cent membership [in a given workplace]”.

“…So I make no apology for having our commitment to properly resourced organising written into our rule book. I know some may have doubts. Is it working? Is it cost effective? I would put that question, comrades, another way. After the experiences of the last 20 years or more of decline, can we afford not to do this?”

Most strikingly, he warned: “If this union ever, ever retreats from organising and it does go back into a comfort zone of sweetheart deals, managing decline, then this union will have wasted the vast potential that we’ve built in Unite.” Hardly comforting words. But decline is what Unite has to deal with: its membership has been falling for decades.

Woodley’s words require no inference. He is clearly proud of the approach he has backed in the T&G before it merged with Amicus to form Unite: that of relentlessly organising. Harvesting workers and raising the density of union membership in workplaces. In this approach he differs from fellow joint general secretary Derek Simpson, who has traditionally placed more of an emphasis on mergers and collaboration (the formation of transatlantic union Workers Uniting, an alliance of Unite and the US United Steelworkers, is very much his project). That’s not to say either man is right or wrong, or that their views are mutually exclusive (this blog takes no sides in the matter of Unite policy).

So Woodley’s message to conference in a nutshell was: I did it my way, it’s the right way, and don’t screw up the union after I’ve gone (Woodley is due to retire at the end of next year, a year after Simpson). Several officials close to him privately expressed support for this view.

He said a lot more of course, which this blog will return to. Alan Jones of PA has a good summary here.

. Several officials close to him privately expressed support for this view.

He said a lot more of course, which this blog will return to. Alan Jones of PA has a good summary here.

(from Tribune blog)

Labour leader can influence Unite election, but not the other way round

Thursday 20 May 2010

Bill MorrisFirst Labour, now Unite: Britain’s biggest union has finally agreed a timetable for electing its first single leader this year. I say “finally”; admittedly it was agreed last Thursday, but only at the very end of Unite’s three-day executive council meeting, and in a bit of a rush I hear.

They’ve opted for an even longer timetable than Labour has for the leadership (see below). I mention Labour because what this means is that Labour will have a leader in place before Unite members even start voting.

Candidates will have from 1 July to 5 September the end of August to nominate themselves. Ballot papers will be sent out from October, and the ballot will run to the end of the month. Curiously, though the count takes place at the end of October, the winner won’t be formally announced till 1 December. Time to allow for challenges and recounts? Who knows?

Anyway, it looks as though the new Labour leader will have a fair bit of time to throw their weight behind a candidate, overtly or covertly, if they so wish*. That’s not to say nobody in Unite has thoughts about who the next Labour leader should be, of course – Derek Simpson has suggested Ed Miliband in the past, and of course Ed Balls and Charlie Whelan are close, both having worked for Gordon Brown.

*If you think I’m exaggerating the effect a Labour leader could have, consider the 1995 re-election of Bill Morris as general secretary of the T&G (now part of Unite), when he beat Jack Dromey. Dromey’s perceived status as Tony Blair’s favourite candidate worked against him, and on winning Morris famously declared, “We have stopped a juggernaut in its tracks”. He meant New Labour.

More on Unite later…

Update: I am told that the nomination window is actually 1 July to 31 August, not until 5 September as I originally wrote. 5 Sept is the deadline for the nomination forms to be received.

Not everybody is happy. One leading participant in the election tells me: “Normal people will be scratching their heads at calling for nominations when many members will be with the kids as far from the daily grind of work as possible”  – i.e. during the school holidays.

Jerry Hicks and an ‘entente cordiale’

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Yes yes, I know I’m late with this… sorry. The man who came a surprise second in the Unite Amicus election earlier this year has finally announced he will indeed stand for the big job in next year’s poll.

I spoke to Jerry today where he was canvassing (alongside Len McCluskey) at Unite’s sector conferences in Brighton. He reported an “entente cordiale” seemed to have broken out between himself and the leadership, whom he has gone out of his way to criticise in the past. And he’s still at it:

“As was with the last election it is likely that all the other candidates will be senior officials of the union… I have been a critic of Derek Simpson but truth is he has been allowed to get away with far too much with too little opposition from the same senior officials who would have us believe they should run our union. Our members deserve a better choice than simply more of the same.”

Mind you, he was quite restrained about Derek Simpson, attacking his pay package as “in excess of £130,000” when it went through the £200,000 mark last year.

Unite election: Dubbins wades in

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Yesterday Simon Dubbins, the Unite union’s head of international affairs, announced his intention to stand in next year’s Unite general secretary election (see blogposts below passim ad nauseam). I picked this up through out-of-work chitchat with my burgeoning blog fan club (ahem) and thought I’d pass it on.

Below is Dubbins’ statement of intent. I republish it unedited and without comment. Two factual observations though, again gained off duty:

1) Dubbins is son of Tony Dubbins, former general secretary of the GPMU union which merged to form Amicus, which then merged to form Unite. Dubbins senior attacked Derek Simpson earlier this year during the Amicus GS campaign, and the Simpson camp wrote off his attack as “bizarre”.

2) When he heard about Dubbins’ intentions, Derek Simpson sought to persuade him not to stand. Simpson is thought to support assistant gen sec Les Bayliss, though whether it’s just because of that I do not know.

Statement of intention to stand for the position of UNITE General Secretary 2010
 
Dear Colleagues,
During the last few weeks and months I have been approached by numerous people asking whether I would be prepared to stand in the forthcoming election for UNITE General Secretary.
I have been very moved and encouraged by the number of people that have urged me to go ahead, and have been equally encouraged by the range of reps from different sectors and regions that have expressed this view.
The common theme that has been emerging is the need for a new start for UNITE, to end the internal divisions, to build unity, and to get on with building the great union that UNITE is capable of becoming.
Many have referred to their frustration that the next General Secretary election is already becoming defined as an Amicus v T&G show down.
I have therefore decided that I will seek nominations for the position of General Secretary when the election takes place next year.
In order to avoid becoming labeled as an Amicus candidate I have decided not to seek the nomination of the Workers Uniting Group and will instead candidate outside of this group and on the basis of a Unity Campaign.
With a group of committed supporters I have already been working on a set of policies for the key areas of the unions work. The intention is to put these forward in the coming weeks and to engage in a comprehensive discussion with members, activists and officers concerning their content. Any suggestions and inputs into these ideas will be warmly received.
Aged 42 and already with a wealth of experience, I believe that I can inject fresh impetuous and bring new ideas into UNITE, which will shape the future policies, structure and direction of the Union.
We have been advised that this is an open, honest and fair election and that no repercussions or reprisals will take place against anyone for simply deciding to stand in this election.
We trust that this is the case and look forward to the coming campaign.
I will be launching a new interactive web site shortly, which will provide a platform for debate and discussion.
Kindest Regards
 
Simon

Update: Further to Dr S. Pin’s comment below*, and since (s)he doesn’t mention it, I should point out that Paul Reuter’s blog is here. He’s put a bit of an essay on it here. Would be nice to see some speeches.

*the doctor is kind, but I suspect I have not made much of a contribution to “industrial relations”. Well, not in the sense of calming them…

No beer, no sandwiches – what now?

Sunday 13 September 2009

It’s TUC Congress time again! Unfortunately, extra unwanted distractions have prevented me this year from getting much of a grip on the inside track around this year’s congress in Liverpool. Which is a pity, because the top story this year is the Labour-union link.

Sam Coates’ intriguing interview with the GMB’s Paul Kenny and the Daily Mirror’s Derek Simpson scoop (quickly retracted) in which he wrote off both Labour amd Gordon Brown, have kept me busy wondering. What is the mood like in the no man’s land between Labour and its unions?

We could start by looking at the menu dished up at Friday’s lunch at Chequers for ten union bosses, including Brendan Barber, whose TUC is not actually affiliated to the Labour Party, despite the attitude of some of its staff and friendly hangers-on.

The Sun reports that balti was served, except for the “vegetarian” Derek Simpson who had non-meat lasagne. Vegetarian? Shome mishtake shurely? Simpson is a pescatarian: he eats fish and chips. In fact he loves fish and chips, and tends to insist on being served it wherever he goes – including last year’s TUC general council dinner, where his staff wrote “fish and chips” on his dietary requirements form.

In fact, the fact that he didn’t demand it on this occasion suggests Simpson might have been in a more conciliatory mood than his Mirror interview suggested (perhaps because by the time he turned up, his union was trying so hard to backpedal from what he’d said.)

I wonder what’s on the menu for this year’s general council dinner?

Actual news when I can find some. Sorry but life is hard right now.

The fight for Unite the Union is on

Thursday 3 September 2009

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.

Unite Amicus election results in full, and what happens next

Saturday 7 March 2009

Derek Simpson (pic: Martin Rathfelder)hicksresultKevin Coyne

Please credit me if you use any of this report, thanks. I’ll be adding to it as information comes in.

The votes have been counted, and here are the results I’ve received, unconfirmed as yet by Unite the Union or Electoral Reform Services:

Derek Simpson 60,048 – 37.85%

Jerry Hicks 39,307 – 24.84%

Kevin Coyne 30,603 – 19.34%

Paul Reuter 28,283 – 17.87%

Total valid votes: 158,241 (approximately 12.9% of Amicus membership)

Spoilt ballots: unknown 1031

Initial reaction: “I’m elated,” said Jerry Hicks when I rang him at half past two today. Elated, of course, by the fact that he has placed second behind Derek Simpson. Six months ago, he likes to say, no-one gave him a chance.

“I finished second on the back of being told I had lied, and that Simpson was the honest broker”.

Jerry said he would now discuss with his supporters whether to complain to the Certification Officer over the conduct of the election. Kevin Coyne has already complained to the CO over Simpson’s letter. “I can’t possibly think it’s been free and fair”, Hicks added.

He put the “very poor turnout” down to discontent in the union. I don’t know how many unspoilt ballots there were but turnout seems to have been no more than 20%.

I must say, I expected more turnout for such a high-profile election. It remains to be seen what the Certification Officer says…

Update: I haven’t got through to him yet, but it seems Coyne won’t be contesting the result according to the post on his website. In that case, the only possible new threat to Simpson’s continued reign can come from Jerry Hicks.

This result will surprise some in Unite. Coyne came third despite coming second in the nomination round, whereas Reuter’s fourth place confirms his low nominations and relatively low profile.

According to Coyne there were only 1031 spoilt ballots, so less than 15% of Amicus voted. A shockingly low turnout, except that union elections always suffer from low turnouts.

The FT’s Jim Pickard is saying that Labour ministers are relieved at this result, and that Tony Woodley is seen as less loyal to the Labour government. He’s not wrong.