Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/644/10515
Unite general secretary election: Right wing candidate on another planet
Backed by Murdoch's press and somehow able to fund full-page adverts in newspapers, it's not surprising that Les Bayliss, right-wing candidate for Unite general secretary, condemns strike action, particularly that of the BA cabin crew recently. In an interview with the Guardian he said the BA dispute: "Demonstrated that the union militancy that characterised the 1970s and 1980s did not work... It was like looking at an episode of Life on Mars."
But it's Bayliss who must be living on another planet if he thinks the trade union movement can stand idly by and watch hundreds of thousands of jobs go in the Con-Dem assault on the working class. It would be dangerous to immobilise the largest union in Britain at this crucial time for our class. That makes it necessary to vigorously campaign for the United Left candidate Len McCluskey as the first general secretary of the 1.5 million-member union.
There is clear support for Len in the union's ranks. In nominations he won by far the most, 829 branch and workplace nominations, compared to 214 for Bayliss, 137 for Jerry Hicks and 96 for Gail Cartmail. But victory cannot be guaranteed as it is clear that Bayliss does not appeal to the activists but is attempting to win over the more inert members who are not involved in day-to-day struggles.
That is why Socialist Party members have warned that, despite his radical programme in this election, we cannot support Jerry Hicks in this first-past-the-post election. Jerry is putting forward, amongst other policies, the ideas of the election of union officials and a workers' wage for them. The Socialist Party supports these demands but we fight for them in the union's structures and the United Left organisation within the union. Socialist MPs implemented this policy in the 1980s and early 1990s.
On the other hand, Len has raised the Liverpool struggles of the 1980s and the poll tax campaign as examples of how Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher, whose government in the 1980s was far stronger than the current Con-Dem coalition, could be forced to back down and even to resign by mass struggles of our class.
The danger is of Jerry's intervention splitting the left vote and letting in Bayliss. Jerry won a very credible 40,000 votes in last year's Amicus election but Bayliss's sponsor, retiring joint general secretary Derek Simpson, got 60,000! Bayliss has support in the ex-T&G side too. So socialists have to battle to ensure that the right wing is removed from power in the union.
But socialists will not give Len or Jerry a blank cheque. Neither supports disaffiliation from the Labour Party, but even Len has been forced to say that if his proposal to increase resources into the party doesn't work, he will have to consider another strategy!
Extra 'resources' can only mean human ones, as the union has thrown millions of pounds down the Labour Party drain, so where will he find new members? Not amongst workers disgusted by the New Labour government or by Labour councils carrying out cuts.
Despite Ed Miliband being elected as Labour leader with the votes of trade unionists, it is already clear that he is distancing himself from the unions' demands. He and many other Labour MPs were absent from the vote on John McDonnell's private member's bill to eradicate technicalities as a reason to thwart strike action.
Whoever is elected general secretary of Unite now will face a period of struggles on the industrial and political scenes. This will put enormous pressure on all union leaders to deliver and fight, therefore the prospect of having a left union leader elected is important.
Unite members' participation on the demos on 23 October was welcome and working with the other left-led unions will be important in the battle against the cuts. Only a victory for Len McCluskey could begin to move Unite in this direction.
In The Socialist 27 October 2010:
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news