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'Awkward Squad' Gains Another Member
TONY WOODLEY'S victory as general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) is a big defeat for Tony Blair and the Blairites in the trade unions.
Blair's preferred candidate, Jack Dromey, was heavily defeated - which confirms that anyone seen to have the Prime Minister's backing in union elections can kiss goodbye to their chances of getting elected.
Woodley's victory, coupled with his public statements, will raise expectations amongst workers everywhere and not just amongst TGWU members, that some union leaders are prepared not just to talk radical but to put their promises into action.
Woodley says that he will, as general secretary, campaign for an increase in the national minimum wage which he declares as poverty pay. He has said that his priority is the repeal of the anti-union laws which "tie one hand behind our backs" when fighting the employers.
And, he told The Independent: "No other country outlaws solidarity action, places so many obstacles in the way of lawful industrial action, or makes trade union recognition almost a privilege instead of a right".
In a phrase that will resonate with many, he says that: "There is no guarantee that if you fight for your rights you will win but if you don't then you never will".
He rejects the idea that the way to build the unions is just by offering better services (a method used unsuccessfully by the right-wing). This is borne out by the growth in trade unions like the RMT and the NUT who have been in battles with the employers.
But he also points out that the battle to win concessions for his members is not down purely to the industrial front - it will take politics as well.
He has promised to let the TGWU conference decide on whether the union should support the euro or not "because of the political issues involved".
Another commitment he makes is opposing the so-called partnership deals between the unions and the bosses - a much-loved issue for the TUC.
His attitude to New Labour is summed up by his promise to organise a 'council of war' with other Left leaders to produce a united front against New Labour. If nothing comes of that, then his plan B is withdrawing financial support from constituencies where Labour MPs are opposed to TGWU policies.
UNFORTUNATELY TONY Woodley says that the campaign to break the link between Labour and the unions is a right-wing agenda. We do not believe that this is the case at all.
How will the success of "bringing Labour back into the Party" be measured? Will it be when the anti-union laws are repealed by a Labour government or when the minimum wage is raised substantially?
What will be the line in the sand which says the campaign to win Labour back to its roots has failed?
The TGWU gives £1 million every year to the Labour Party. The unions as whole have paid a colossal £250 million in the last 25 years. What have they got in return?
Unfortunately precious little. On the contrary, working people have faced a diet of cuts, privatisation and the obscenity of the PFI as well as New Labour keeping intact Thatcher's vicious anti union laws.
It will be nigh-on impossible for Woodley to convince his members, never mind anyone else, to rejoin a Labour Party with the Blairites still firmly in control.
Trade unionists are voting with their feet and leaving the Labour Party in droves. The socialist believes that he, along with most of the trade unions' new Left leaders, is mistaken on this vital issue. And bitter historical experience will only underline that this is the case.
What did the Labour Party do for the sacked Liverpool dockers? What has the Labour government done for the Friction Dynamics workers in north Wales, 300 of whom were sacked three years ago after organising a legal ballot and strike action.
This futile attempt will come to nothing. Nevertheless Woodley's election marks a new situation with the unions and their historic link with the Labour Party, at the same time as Blair is looking more vulnerable than ever.
The election of left trade union leaders, the so called "awkward squad", is an indication of the changes taking place on the shop floor and in the unions. However this new leadership is yet to be tested by events, but Woodley's victory is another nail in the coffin of New Labour and its supporters in the trade unions.
Now for a Left executive
TONY WOODLEY'S decisive victory over the other three candidates was a real kick in the teeth for the national full-time officials.
Teresa MacKay, chair of RAAW [agricultural] national trade group
Woodley had 66,958 votes. Yet the regional secretaries had made it clear they would not back him. The regional barons' preferred candidate, Barry Camfield, was trounced into third place with just 28,346. Jack Dromey, No 10's favourite candidate, got 45,136 votes.
Throughout both elections Tony Woodley emphasised the need to reclaim the union for its members. For too long control freakery has ruled but if he is to be able to deliver he will need a general executive council that will work with him instead of the right-wing clique dominating it.
In The Socialist 7 June 2003: