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.