Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/592/7698
Unite election: United Left hustings
Next year, Unite members will elect a general secretary designate who will eventually take over from retiring joint general secretaries Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson.
United Left (UL), the union's broad left, held its hustings on 5 September. Three candidates presented themselves for nomination: Len McCluskey, an assistant general secretary of the union, Jerry Hicks, the victimised former convenor from Rolls Royce and Socialist Party member Rob Williams, reinstated convenor at Linamar, Swansea.
The run-up to the hustings was marred by controversy. UL has no formal membership structure, just regional lists of 'participants', and there was confusion over whether union activists would be let in. A direction a week before from the chair and secretary of UL added to the uncertainty.
Some regions operated a list cut-off date of 18 July (the last national coordinating committee meeting) for eligibility. This meant London and Eastern UL excluded the convenors from Visteon in Enfield and Basildon, for example.
This caused controversy in the meeting and Jerry Hicks and his supporters walked out.
Some members were anxious to avoid a split and to hear all the candidates. Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist moved that all outside should be admitted, which was passed by 109-107.
Most of those present assumed all those originally excluded would now have a vote but under pressure the chair ruled, without discussion, that they would only be observers! With this ruling, Jerry Hicks and his supporters walked out again and did not participate in the hustings.
Len McCluskey gave a left-sounding speech but continued to support the union's backing of New Labour. He argued we should convince workers to join the Labour Party to transform it. This line seemed hollow even a few years ago. Now it's totally out of touch.
Before Rob Williams spoke, he said he could not guarantee to support the eventual UL nominee, given the exclusions and he would review the position later. He showed through his own experiences that workers need a confident, clear leadership. He posed the question of disaffiliation from New Labour - funding Labour to the tune of £13 million was a millstone round the union's neck.
McCluskey won the vote 170-49. This was a creditable vote for Rob, who stood clearly as a Socialist Party member. If Jerry Hicks and his supporters had not walked out McCluskey may not have achieved the two-thirds majority needed to secure UL endorsement.
If McCluskey sticks to his programme, even given his position on New Labour, he could be well placed to defeat right-wing candidates. But he must not make concessions to the right to secure election, otherwise he will lose confidence amongst Unite activists.
This hustings process shows that to help consolidate the left in the union, the members need a fighting, inclusive, democratic broad left with a proper membership structure. It should be a rank and file body, allowing unelected officials to attend and speak, but not to vote as they can at present.
In The Socialist 9 September 2009:
War and occupation
Trades Union Congress
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis
Postal workers strike
Marxist analysis: history
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party review