Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/648/10674
The Socialist 23 November 2010 |
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McCluskey elected Unite general secretary
Len McCluskey has been elected as the general secretary designate of Unite. He will take over from Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson by the beginning of 2012.
His election and the combined vote for Len and Jerry Hicks are a massive rejection of the right in the union. Almost two thirds of members who voted, in a turnout of about 16%, opted for the left candidates who wanted to fight the Con-Dem government's attacks, and those of the Irish government, where Unite is also organised.
Len said following the declaration: "My first task will be to bring our union together and unite it in a campaign against the devastation the government is unleashing against working people and their communities throughout the land."
This result will be welcomed by socialists throughout the union, the largest in the TUC. The United Left (UL) ran a campaign explaining the importance of getting a left candidate elected. It was never certain that Len would win, given the large number of ballot papers going to inactive and pensioner members who might have received Bayliss's material and seen 'red scare' articles in the press. But Bayliss's anti-strike comments, aired in many papers, generally repulsed union activists and would have been a signal to the government and the bosses that the union would roll over and accept the attacks. A general hatred of the policies of the government and the need for a fightback have led to Len's election.
As general secretary and hopefully with a left executive to be elected next spring, Unite's leadership will now be in a position to align itself with those unions such as PCS, RMT and FBU already in the forefront of attacks and leading struggles. Unite's participation on the 23 October demonstration in London against the cuts was a welcome development and hopefully the shape of things to come. This is the best way to prevent a comeback for the right, who may be down but are not totally defeated. Len and the UL must also consider the union's relationship with New Labour, given some of the comments by Labour spokespersons supporting elements of the government's cuts package.
Jerry's vote should only reinforce the struggle for fighting policies. He gained a slightly smaller percentage of the vote than in last year's Amicus election, although still a good vote. But his result raises the question of how to take the left forward in the union. Those UL supporters who chose to back Jerry were excluded from that organisation for the duration of the election.
So now there is talk of Jerry setting up a new 'network' to rival the United Left. Similarly, many UL supporters are angry that Jerry stood following the hustings from which he walked out and could have jeopardised the election of a left general secretary. Some would like to see Jerrys' supporters excluded permanently from UL.
Socialist Party members feel that both those positions would be a mistake. It would be best for the left in the union if Jerry and his supporters rejoined the UL, put forward socialist policies and demands like the election of officials and for them to receive only a workers' wage, as the Socialist Party has been doing. This would help to consolidate the UL as a body fighting our enemies outside and inside the union. Jerry and Len's supporters should also consider whether it is in the interests of the left to have two competing organisations.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility to create a strong left slate for the executive council elections. UL regions are already selecting territorial candidates and the sectoral and national candidates will be selected at the UL meeting on 4 December. It would be a setback if, having won the general secretary election, two 'left' slates were to appear in some or all constituencies, leading to the election of a right-wing executive by default. That would be an obstacle to the needs of the union's members.
Nevertheless, the election of Unite's first general secretary will be seen as a shift to the left in Unite and the trade unions as a whole; however it must be used to lead the struggle for fighting, socialist policies throughout society. The TUC resolution for co-ordinated action to defeat the attacks would receive a resounding boost if its largest union was actively to implement it.