Posts Tagged ‘Len McCluskey’

Week 5 of the campaign: the good, the bad and the ugly

03/05/2015, 12:20:13 PM

Uncut’s weekly review of the campaign looks back at the events of week 5.

The good

Labour’s sharpened up its act in Scotland

Labour nationally finally focuses on the SNP threat, and zeroes in on the exactly right message against nationalism: its fundamental pettiness.

As Tom Harris MP, sometime of this parish, put it:

While the best line of the Glasgow rally from Miliband reflected the same theme: “Nationalism never built a school”. A genuinely superb encapsulation of all that’s wrong with the SNP.

New arrivals

Uncut sends our congratulations to Lisa Nandy, Labour’s candidate in Wigan, and her partner Andy Collis on the birth this week of their son, Otis. A Wigan party spokesman has said that the shadow minister for civil society, “is incredibly grateful to the NHS staff in Wigan for their amazing care and dedication. Lisa would also like to thank people across Wigan for their kind words and support during a very busy time.”

For better or worse, Otis won’t generate the same volume of media coverage as the Royal baby. Whether this torrent of national and international reporting will have any impact on the 2015 election remains to be seen but at least Labour should (hopefully) have a future voter in Wigan, ready for the 2035 election.

Celebrities for Labour

Labour is winning the celebrity war. Where the Tories have Katie Hopkins, Labour has Stephen Hawking. Tom Watson will be taking Steve Coogan campaigning in Battersea, Croydon Central, Bermondsey & Old Southwark, Brentford & Isleworth, Harrow East, Ealing Central & Acton and Hornsey & Wood Green on Monday and Tuesday. I’m sure Coogan used to mock Ross Kemp as part of his stand-up routine but that didn’t stop Kemp giving Wes Streeting’s campaign to re-take Ilford North for Labour a boost.

The celebrity intervention to generate most headlines was, of course, Russell Brand interviewing Ed Miliband. As Brand reflected on the compatibility of capitalism and democracy, Miliband’s mind might have wondered back to discussions around the kitchen table as he was growing up. Nonetheless, he seemed more at ease in a video released by the Labour Party akin to something from Question of Sport. Simon Hattenstone painted Miliband well in a Guardian interview in March, which revealed Miliband’s eagerness to converse with Ronnie O’Sullivan. The video shows that Miliband has not only had his chat with O’Sullivan but used it to win him over to Labour.

It may be that Labour needs snookers to get back into government. In which case, Miliband could have uncovered a new guru at a most opportune moment.

The Bad (more…)

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Horse-trading in Halifax

25/03/2015, 09:55:41 PM

by Rob Marchant

Union money: “the cleanest in politics”, as some Labourites describe it, misty-eyed. To be fair, sometimes it is. There are decent unions who donate money because they actually want a Labour government. On the other hand, the cliché is that business donations always come with strings attached.

Let’s decide which of the two the following is.

Exhibit A: the Halifax selection, where Len McCluskey’s friend Karie Murphy was working hard, with the backing of the considerable weight of Britain’s largest union, to be its MP. The Sunday Times (£) wrote a couple of weeks ago that her place on the shortlist was being horse-traded for a previously-pledged donation of £1.5m to Labour’s election fund. Surely not?

After her failure to be shortlisted by the party’s Special Selections Panel, there were two possible outcomes: that Unite’s donation would then be delivered, and that it would not be delivered. Naturally, the outcome couldn’t possibly related to the Halifax selection. We’re talking about the cleanest money in politics, after all.

Oddly, the Telegraph reported last week that “a senior Unite figure said the union could withhold any further funding for final two months of the campaign and demand Miss Murphy is allowed to run for another seat this election.”

It is also important to note that Labour is perfectly entitled – and always has been – to select shortlists close to an election. The party has never pretended that this first stage is democratic – it can’t afford to be, when you only have weeks to establish a candidate and try to win – it is only afterwards that the local party gets to choose from the shortlisted candidates.

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Unite leverage squads turn attention to private sector providers in the NHS

19/08/2014, 05:54:39 PM

Last year, Unite’s leverage department generated a storm of publicity with its actions during the Grangemouth dispute. Directors of the employer, Ineos, were targeted in their homes, with one executive calling the police after a leverage squad of 25 protesters arrived on his road, complete with banners and a giant, inflatable rat.

Now, word reaches Uncut that the union’s leverage squads will be turning their attention to private sector involvement in the NHS.

In a letter sent to union members, Unite leader Len McCluskey states,

“Our Leverage Department has now turned its efforts towards protecting our NHS…Unite will not stand by as the vested interest groups carve up the NHS for private gain and our Leverage Department has begun work to protect accident and emergency wards in your community, to protect hospitals and GP centres under threat in your community, and to expose and prevent the vested interest groups who tender for NHS work, those groups who have profit before patient care.”

On the Unite website, the work of the leverage department is described as,

“…a process whereby the Union commits resources and time to making all interested parties aware of the treatment received by Unite members at the hands of an employer. Those interested parties may include shareholders of the employer; competitors of the employer; communities within which the employer operates; customers of the employer and the market place of the employer…”

This latest move seems to represent an escalation of leverage activities. While in previous cases, leverage squads were deployed in industrial disputes like Grangemouth, it appears that ideological battles – such as the role of the private sector in delivering health services –  will now be fought using these same tactics.

While many on the left in the Labour movement would support Unite’s expansion in the use of leverage, it is likely to cause the Labour leadership a headache in the run up to the general election.

The inevitable question that will be asked of Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham will be whether they back Unite’s decision to deploy leverage squads over the NHS.

If they condemn it, the story will be about another Labour-Unite spat. If they do not, then the old headlines about Labour being in the pocket of Unite and trade union militancy, will be recycled.

Either way, Labour is about to be put on the defensive.

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Unite’s takeover of PCS will have big implications for Labour if Ed doesn’t make it into Number 10

30/04/2014, 07:00:32 AM

by Rob Marchant

While we all want the morning of 8 May, 2015 to be defined by a triumphant Miliband glad-handing a crowd of jubilant supporters in Downing Street, it is worth taking a moment for a cold, hard look at the opposite: the Armageddon scenario of Labour returning to opposition.

Although this may be seen as a distasteful or even a disloyal task, neither is it, if the direction of travel of poll lead continues, one that is unthinkable in an election still far too close to call. Forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.

What will surely weigh heavily in the minds of all the major players at that point are the desires of one man, who over the last couple of years has shown himself to be the party’s trickiest stakeholder. That man is Len McCluskey.

While the furore of the Falkirk selection disaster has died down and the party reform agenda has largely gone through for the long term, Unite has been quietly preparing itself for a post-election world. It seems fairly obvious that, should Labour win, the chances of a split with Unite look remote; it would be a short route to instant marginalisation. As Prime Minister, Miliband could afford to face down a little union cage-rattling, and potentially even expand his party reform agenda.

But were Labour to lose – and presuming losing were deemed a “hanging offence” for the current leader, though we should not rule out, by the way, that Miliband might not look to hang on as a unity candidate –there would be a leadership election in which, as Uncut has observed before, it would be politically impractical to preclude unions from taking part “in the old way”. That is, such that candidates would need to court them just as they did before the Collins reforms. McCluskey would, at this point, have three important levers at his disposal.

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Axelrod won’t make a difference as long as Zombie Labour marches on

18/04/2014, 01:33:10 PM

by David Talbot

The charge was made infamous by Unite’s Len McCluskey who, in typically robust style, refuted comments made by the Labour MP and former Shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson.

That the former general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union had the audacity to attack the trade union movement in the organ that they most despise, Progress, ensured that this former comrade had joined the dead roll-call of “Blairite zombies”. Indeed, the moniker is seemingly used to tar anyone who is either proud of the work of three successive Labour governments, or who is not an instant adherent of whatever ‘One Nation’ Labour purports to be.

The imagery is powerful, as those who deploy it clearly acknowledge, and the connotations serious. It is used a weapon of instant dismissal, not on the merits of the argument being put forward but on the political relevance, or not, of the person articulating them.

For we know that happens when movements, parties or politicians continue to stagger forward, limp-like, dead behind the eyes. They become “zombies”. Unable to articulate any coherent political thought they mindlessly harp back to better days, presumably when they were at least alive, and stick cult-like to their dogma.

For the left of the party, who have monopolised this attack on the perceived wickedness of the Labour right, this interpretation allows them to, at a stroke, blame them for all the party’s woes. It is the swivel-eyed, walking-dead platoon of Blairite ultras holding Labour back, so the argument goes.

The living dead in the Labour party are, though, not the target often cited. With their clammy dead hands it is not the Blairites who have a zombie grip on the direction on the Labour party. The political lobotomies belong solely to the left of the party who, with the recklessness of those about to die, have realised they could do everything they ever dared for.

When deciding whether to sign on the dotted line, its unlikely that Labour’s newest guru, David Axelrod, had full sight of these legions on the undead left. But as he gets to work, he will soon understand their power.

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Len McCluskey signals potential Unite exit from Labour

01/04/2014, 04:39:01 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Big news from Len McCluskey’s turn before the press gallery this afternoon. Speaking to journalists, he said that he could envisage Unite changing its rules on funding to support other parties and leaving Labour, if the Labour was to lose the next election.

“Only if we change our rules, within Unite’s rules, we are affiliated to the Labour party. We cannot give any financial support to any other political party. So the rules within Unite would need to be changed, not by Len McCluskey – I know some of your papers think I have this huge power to flick switches on and off – but by our rules conference. Can I ever envisage a rules conference voting to disaffiliate from Labour? I can, I can, and that’s a challenge to Ed Miliband because I believe the Labour party is at a crossroads, this is a watershed…if Labour lost the election next May I fear for the future of the Labour party and so these are serious debates at this point in time in our history we have to kind of consider all of those issues, at the moment, though that’s not on our agenda.” (h/t Isabel Hardman)

This is potentially an enormous shift in Labour politics. If Unite were to disaffiliate, three points are relevant.

First, the balance of the party would shift towards the right. Unite are the most vocal and powerful of the unions on the left and without their seats on the NEC, votes at conference, financial leverage and members’ role in any future Labour leadership election, the party would likely move more to the centre.

Second, it suggests the Collins union reform proposals, passed with much fanfare in February, were only a stop-gap for Unite, pending the result of the next election. If Labour loses, then all bets are off.

Third, it would mean that the total number of trade unionists affiliated to the Labour party would drop below half the total number of trade unionists in the country for the first time.

At the moment there are 6.5m trade unionists in Britain and according to the latest figures on the TUC website, the 15 trade unions affiliated to the Labour party represent 4.2m of them. If Unite disaffiliated, with a membership of 1.4m, the number of trade unionists affiliated to Labour would drop to 2.8m or 43% of all trade union members.

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Labour’s right is rumbling. Not before time.

27/03/2014, 10:23:02 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Since 2010, one of the most successful operations mounted by Ed Miliband’s team has been to convince journalists that the party is at peace. That Labour has avoided the type of bitter in-fighting that characterised past ejections from government and is united around the leader.

This point is so core to the Miliband narrative that he repeats it in his stump speech to Labour audiences.

However, while it is true the 1980s haven’t been re-run, the absence of conflict is not the same as the presence of unity.

The reason Labour’s divisions have not been visible has been  a temporarily effective but ultimately unsustainable party management strategy; one that has combined Ed Miliband avoiding taking definite positions on the most contentious political questions with a concerted marginalisation of Labour’s right-wing.

When Gordon Brown was defeated in 2010, his electoral demise bequeathed two questions to Labour.

In a world of limited spending, what would Labour prioritise and what would it cut?

And how could more, be achieved from less, in the areas where money was to be spent?

From day one, Ed Miliband has run from these questions, in part for good reason.

Hamstrung by a lack of support in the parliamentary party and reliant on the unions’ succour to bolster his position, he has had to tack left to retain his union support while not straying so far from the more centrist concerns of the electorate that Labour’s poll rating collapses.

For Ed Miliband, to answer has been to lose – either the electorate or his political life support system on the left.

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The real reason Labour is petrified of re-opening the Falkirk inquiry

05/11/2013, 02:16:13 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Tomorrow is prime ministers’ questions. At the despatch box, when David Cameron faces Ed Miliband, political reality will collide with the la-la land Labour is living in on Falkirk.

As in July, David Cameron will use the fiasco to hammer Ed Miliband.

Labour MPs are dreading it. The Tory backbench barrackers can barely wait. Journalists are gleefully expecting great copy.

Already today, George Osborne crow-barred Falkirk into Treasury questions, such is the Tories’ eagerness to use it as a means of attacking Labour.

Come what may, the post-PMQs story tomorrow won’t be about energy or the living wage, but Ed Miliband’s leadership and the power of Unite over the Labour party.

Over the past few days the shrieks of “nothing to see here” from Labour’s high command have become ever louder and more desperate. We are long past the stage where rationality seems to drive the party’s actions.

It is politically unsustainable for the party to continue insisting all is well when figures as senior as Alistair Darling are calling for the inquiry to be re-opened and news reports related to Labour are increasingly dominated by this one issue.

And on the evidence that has emerged from the cache of over 1000 Ineos mails that were passed to the Sunday Times, the party appears to be wilfully averting its gaze. Ed Miliband was wrong today when he said that no new information had come to light on Falkirk.

Quite apart from whether key witnesses have or have not withdrawn their original complaints, if the Sunday Times e-mails are true there are several other potential rule breaches now in the public domain that merit further examination by the party.

For example, the Sunday Times reports,

“Separately, an email from Karie Murphy, the hard-left candidate Unite was trying to parachute into Falkirk, reveals a secret system that gave Labour members colour-coded star ratings based on their perceived loyalty to Unite.

It gave red stars to those considered the union’s opponents, yellow stars to female members who might back it and double green stars to those the union had specifically ‘recruited for the selection’.”

If the last phrase, “recruited for the selection” is accurate, then it seems Labour party procedures have been broken. The party rule-book is quite clear that members cannot just be recruited for selections. In Appendix 2 NEC procedural guidelines on membership recruitment and retention, the rule-book states,

“The health and democracy of the party depends on the efforts and genuine participation of individuals who support the aims of the party, wish to join the party and get involved with our activities. The recruitment of large numbers of ‘paper members’, who have no wish to participate except at the behest of others in an attempt to manipulate party processes, undermines our internal democracy and is unacceptable to the party as a whole.”

If the party was serious about its own rules then this one potential breach alone would have been cause at least for some further investigation.

But clearly the party is not interested, regardless of the damage or the new evidence that has emerged.

The question is why? Why would the Labour leadership indulge in such an apparent act political of self-harm by pretending nothing has changed on Falkirk?

The answer is that there is a far greater fear of the consequences for Ed Miliband if the inquiry is re-opened and a civil war with Unite ensues.

Beyond the potential financial cost to the party of withheld union donations, the leader’s office is scared about what will happen at the special conference next year on Ed Miliband’s proposals to reform the union link.

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Why I’ve left Unite

01/11/2013, 10:11:35 AM

by Jonathan Roberts

It was early in 2006 when I first joined Unite the Union (or Amicus, as it was then known).  I was active in my constituency Labour party, was running a blog and was ambitious to learn, grow and participate as fully as I could.

Soon afterwards I was encouraged to attend a residential course run by Unite to ‘educate’ those they felt may one day become a politician – as mad as the idea of my participation now sounds.  The surroundings seemed a little odd for a trade union HQ.  The huge mansion in Esher (“modelled on a French Chateau” as the Unite website describes it) was set amidst acres of sprawling Surrey countryside, slap bang in the middle of the banker belt.   It was so posh I swear it took me a week to shower off the smell of quinoa.  I don’t say that disparagingly – I’d love to live somewhere just like it.

It was a fascinating experience.  It started with a debate with German trade unionists, and moved through mock Newsnight-style grillings, writing and delivering a speech bestowing the virtues of the Labour-Union link and concluding with an interview conducted by two Labour MPs who questioned me on my ‘labourness’.

Everyone was very nice to me.  And as I was the youngest in attendance, I was genuinely grateful for the experience, not least because it prepared me for the unexpected media attention given to Thirsk and Malton at the general election in 2010, for which I was the candidate.

It was a few years later that I first publicly criticised union behaviour.  I was promptly told off by one of my fellow Esher students – didn’t I remember that a union had put me up in a mansion?  I should show some gratitude and toe the line.

That was the beginning of a journey that concluded last night when I resigned from Unite.

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TSSA’s merger with Unite off

09/10/2013, 05:41:39 PM

Rumblings from within the union movement  – just four months after the Transport Salaried Staff’s Association (TSSA) conference in June overwhelmingly backed a merger with Unite, the wedding is officially off.

When contacted by Uncut earlier today, TSSA formally confirmed that talks had ended without agreement. The union executive will meet in a fortnight’s time to consider a detailed report on the matter and it seems some of the findings will be of interest across the union movement.

TSSA insiders have suggested the union walked away following Unite’s refusal to agree to Manuel Cortes, general secretary of TSSA, becoming the head of a new stand alone rail division within Unite.

Although TSSA is a relatively small union with 23,000 members, it is asset rich, with £21m of assets according to the latest set of accounts filed in August this year, making it an extremely attractive merger target.

As a small, and comparatively wealthy union, TSSA officials wanted to ensure that its resources were safeguarded as part of the move into a larger union. Insiders suggest that without the current general secretary, or executive team, taking on a similar role in the new division within Unite, this would have been near impossible.

If it is the case that talks broke down over Unite’s refusal to countenance Manuel Cortes taking a lead role in the running of the new rail division, then several other union general secretaries of smaller unions, currently pondering merger with Unite, will think hard on their next steps. Merger is one thing, total assimilation another.

For TSSA, this is the second engagement to have been broken off. Between 2011 and 2012 the union was in detailed talks with Bob Crow’s RMT about a merger, but discussions broke down over TSSA’s desire to remain affiliated to the Labour party. The RMT were implacably opposed and talks floundered.

For Unite, this represents a set back to their plans to grow through merger. In April this year, in an interview with the New Statesman, Len McCluskey was clear about his approach saying, “I’m open to a merger in principle with every union…that is part of Unite’s strategy for growth.”

In the Labour party, and some of the other big unions, however, there will be quiet relief that the increasing concentration of union power in the hands of Len McCluskey has been halted, for the moment at least.

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