Fight the Tory witch-hunt against Unite

Editorial of the Socialist

Fight the Tory witch-hunt against Unite

Tory Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an investigation into Unite’s use of ‘leverage’ when trade union members are defending jobs and conditions. ‘Leverage’ is the name for a detailed and high-profile campaign designed to apply pressure to employers and their clients. Socialist Party members and the National Shop Stewards Network have been proud to participate in many of Unite’s leverage protests.

Leverage has often been effective, particularly when it backs up strike action. In 2011-12 the Sparks, construction electricians, defeated an attempt to cut their wages by 35%. Leverage supplemented the unofficial and planned official strike action of the workers.

Last year it was key to getting Honda convenor Paddy Brennan’s suspension lifted, and this year exposing the blacklisters helped sacked construction electrician Frank Morris get his job back on Crossrail. It was also a major factor in sacked MMP workers winning a decent redundancy pay-off.

The BBC reported that Con-Dem axe-man Francis Maude said “protest is fine” but it should not be allowed to move over “into intimidation and clearly inappropriate activity,” with the management being treated as “the enemy”. This is utter Tory hypocrisy.

Working class people who have spent years and even decades fighting injustice – over blacklisting, the Shrewsbury Pickets, the miners at Orgreave and the families of the dead and maimed at Hillsborough, in the aftermath of Grangemouth – will be disgusted that Cameron is rushing out an inquiry into this legitimate and peaceful leverage strategy. In a feeble effort to distance himself from the Tories, Vince Cable has insisted that the Lib Dems only supported the move because the probe will also look at the practices of employers.

But while Unite has been put into the spotlight by ministers and the increasingly virulent union-baiting press, there is no mention of an investigation into the real bully-boy Jim Ratcliffe of Grangemouth company Ineos who put a loaded gun to the head of thousands of workers and blackmailed a workforce and a community, even a nation. No, he actually gets £134 million in government grants and loan guarantees and even £40 million off the plant’s fuel bills!

Cabinet Office Minister Maude gave the game away when he stated: “This forms part of our long-term plan to ensure Britain remains competitive and to secure an economic recovery for hard-working people.” For ‘competitive,’ read continuing to drive down the living standards and rights of workers to maintain and expand the profits of big business.

Despite Tory claims over the last couple of decades that the unions are finished, their enormous potential power is still seen by the bosses and their representatives as the major threat. Therefore the Tory view is that, on top of Thatcher’s anti-union laws, maintained throughout New Labour’s reign, the unions have to be further emasculated.


This attack unfortunately also shows that the enemies of the labour and trade union movement often have a more realistic appraisal of or concern for the latent strength of the organised working class than the union leaders. They are dimly aware of the seething anger and frustration that exists within large sections of the working class, and also the middle class. This anger will explode at some stage – but it needs the trade union leaders to provide a strategy for effective action.

The bosses and the Tories have been emboldened by the Grangemouth setback. That is the motivation for this ‘review’. Ratcliffe had clearly been preparing for years to take on and defeat the workers at Grangemouth. Similar preparation by the workers’ movement could have ensured Ratcliffe’s defeat.

However, this was not a decisive defeat. Now, many union activists there and throughout the country will be digesting the lessons and considering the type and scale of action necessary to prepare for future struggles of this character. Militant tactics such as occupation can be posed as well as the call for nationalisation.

But the call for a 24-hour general strike would have a huge response. The steady stream of lively and determined local strike action shows that where a lead is given, workers respond. Generalised strike action is the most effective way to shift the balance of forces in society, and could have stayed the hand of Ratcliffe.

Now, in the face of the Con-Dem onslaught, the working class must give its full support to Unite and its members. If any measures are taken against Unite or the union movement in general, there should be solidarity across the trade unions in the same spirit as the mass action in 1972 that freed the Pentonville dockers. Then, in the face of mass rank and file strikes forcing the TUC to call a general strike, the Tory government of Ted Heath backed down.

Labour conference

One of Cameron’s main motives in initiating the investigation is probably to put pressure on Labour and Ed Miliband. After all, the inquiry is scheduled to report around the time of Labour’s special spring conference. That conference forms part of Labour’s own attack on trade unions.

Called in the wake of Falkirk, where Labour brought in the police to investigate Unite, this conference is to decide on the Collins Review into the union link with Labour. It will recommend further weakening of the unions’ collective voice in the party, if not its elimination.

Unfortunately, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has appeared to be prepared to comply with Miliband’s proposals. This strategy leaves working class people politically defenceless in the face of the austerity offensive. As a result Unite members are grappling with how they can secure a political voice.

On Labour, as he has admitted, Len is increasingly out of kilter with many Unite members, particularly those who live and work in areas with Labour-run councils who are passing on all Osborne’s brutal cuts. The Observer reported this weekend that the price of Miliband and Balls’ acceptance of Tory austerity is a further £40 billion of cuts that they will have to implement if elected. No wonder that they are not committed to repeal the anti-union laws!

The seven million trade unionists need a party that is not only not embarrassed to be linked with the unions, but has the defence of union rights and the commitment to fight all cuts emblazoned on its banner. The building of such a party, which the initiative of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is an important preparatory step towards, is even more urgent in the light of this developing witch-hunt.