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Unite conference - union at the crossroads
The recent conference of Unite in Manchester had the opportunity to establish the framework for a fight against the coalition government. Delegates felt that such a struggle was necessary, as shown by the rousing response to London bus convenor, Steve O'Rourke, who called for a united campaign across the public sector to fight the cuts. However, most resolutions carried did not show a clear way forward on action, partly because they were drafted before the general election.
The executive was overturned on two or three occasions. Its statement on pensions was defeated as not being strong enough to defend state or occupational pensions. Visteon pensioners had submitted one of the original motions calling for industrial action. They organised a lobby of conference, addressed by joint general secretary Tony Woodley and assistant general secretary Len McCluskey, to get the union to force their former employer Ford to pay 100% of their pensions. Conference also called on the union to ask Unite-sponsored MPs to put John McDonnell on the Labour leadership ballot paper.
As mentioned in last week's Socialist, a composite congratulating Youth Fight for Jobs and supporting its work was carried. Later on in the week, a resolution calling for affiliation to the National Shop Stewards Network was remitted; no doubt NSSN officers will contact Unite for further discussions on cooperation.
At the end of the conference, blacklisted electrician Steve Acheson was allowed to speak, having lobbied with other blacklisted workers outside the conference all week.*
Inside and outside conference, Unite members stood foursquare behind the BA cabin crew. Most were prepared to go further than the general secretaries in their support for cabin crew union branch Bassa, and a packed fringe meeting on the dispute reflected that determination to resist the union-busting employer.
The conference had something of an 'end of an era' feel to it: both joint general secretary Derek Simpson (retiring in December) and Jack Dromey (now a Labour MP) bade their farewells. Woodley will also be gone within 18 months. For many on the left there is a feeling that we need to wipe the slate clean and elect a new leadership.
So it was no surprise that, outside the conference, there was some lively campaigning for the general secretary election this year. There are now five declared candidates and the candidate of the United Left, Len McCluskey, organised a lunchtime meeting of 400 to promote his campaign. If McCluskey and a strong left executive (reduced to just over 60 members following a special rules conference) were elected, it could take the union forward. But the right, particularly around former Amicus official Les Bayliss, will put up a strong challenge. It will need a lively campaign around fighting policies to achieve a strong socialist leadership in the union.
Unite stands at a crossroads. A move to the right in the union would be demoralising for those looking to build opposition to the cuts and redundancies facing the working class. Socialists and militants will have to show a way forward in the branches and committees of the union to rejuvenate the union and face the challenges of the next few years.
Support Steve and demand his reinstatement. Write to the employers: General Manager, Fiddlers Ferry Power Station, Fiddlers Ferry Road, Warrington, WA5 2UT. Please send copies to and for more information, ring 07949 335 390, write: 13 Thompson Close, Manchester, M34 2PQ.
In The Socialist 9 June 2010:
National Shop Stewards Network
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party feature
Environment and socialism
News and comment