Posts Tagged ‘Len McCluskey’

We are about to see who really runs the Labour party. Let’s hope it’s not Len McCluskey

01/05/2013, 08:57:15 AM

by Rob Marchant

Recent weeks have not exactly been glory days for Labour. The latest chapter, Monday’s car-crash World At One interview – with Miliband refusing to answer whether Labour would increase borrowing, thirteen times – made for excruciating, if compelling, radio; worse, yesterday’s official admission that Labour will do just that – increase borrowing – has left it exposed. As Nye Bevan might have put it, it enters “naked into the parliamentary chamber”.

But among the various pieces of bad news, there is one which particularly stands out, because it seems not only bad, but irreversibly so.

It is now a week since Len McCluskey’s extraordinary intervention, where he proposed a radical reworking of Labour’s programme, including the sacking of three shadow cabinet members. Not to mention the Labour leader’s robust and accurate response that McCluskey “does not speak for the Labour party”.

While the parliamentary lobby has moved on from the story, those familiar with the party’s organisation and history are still feeling the impact; a storm in a teacup it was not. And if Labour’s strategists are worth their salt, they might care more about McCluskey than about one bad interview; perhaps more, even, than a bet-the-farm gamble on increasing the national debt, two years before an election.

Why? This not just a textbook spat between union leaders and party leadership, in time-honoured fashion. One that burns brightly in the run-up to conference season every year and then fizzles out.

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Poor Ed is stuck between two marauding elephants

29/04/2013, 07:31:39 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There’s an old African saying that when the elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. If that’s the case, these past couple of weeks have left Labour’s lawn fit for a spot of crown green bowling.

First to start a ruck by waving his proboscis about was Labour’s emeritus leader Tony Blair, chiding via the pages of the New Statesman, that Labour risks settling back “into its old territory of defending the status quo” and blowing the next election.

A couple of weeks of tit-for-tat followed before Len McLuskey, tusks a-gleaming, charged headlong at Tony’s hindquarters also telling the New Statesman this week that if Ed Miliband listens to Blairites in the party he is consigning himself to the “dustbin of history”.

Both hulking mammals have the same motivation; to bruise but not wound Ed Miliband and make it clear their respective herds are not to be taken for granted as we pass the 60% marker for this parliament. They are both concerned about the shape of Labour’s offer to the voters in 2015. McLuskey denounces any prospect of offering “austerity-lite”, claiming it will lead to certain election defeat. Blair, in stark contrast, warns that to “tack left on tax and spending” will lead to “strategic defeat”.

Yes, Labour’s got to be pragmatic in how it approaches the next election (Blair) but it’s got to win for a purpose too (McLuskey). This is the age-old conundrum for the democratic left. It’s one that pits those with a simplistic (and now outdated) assumption that the party can offer the bare minimum to core Labour voters because they have nowhere else to go, with those who are reluctant to countenance the bloody business of compromise at all. Despite the dust that has been kicked up these past couple of weeks, both sides are sketchy about details.

On spending, McLuskey urges Miliband to “create a radical alternative” to austerity in order to remain “the authentic voice of ordinary working people”. Does this mean no cuts? Some cuts? Cuts to bits of public spending we don’t like? (The trouble is that a private sector union like Unite has many members in defence industries and won’t want to see cuts here which other unions might happily countenance).

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Three takeaways from Len McCluskey’s attack

25/04/2013, 05:30:17 AM

by Atul Hatwal

In one sense, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Unite have been absolutely clear about their position and all Len McCluskey did yesterday in his New Statesman interview was to articulate what he and his union have been saying privately for the past two years.

That McCluskey is hostile to Labour centrists (or Blairites as anyone out of sympathy with the 1983 manifesto  is termed these days) is hardly news.

But the directness of the intervention is notable, as are some of the choice details he let slip. Rather inadvertently, Len McCluskey has presented an insight into the current state of the power politics being played out behind the scenes in the Labour party.

Three points are evident: McCluskey is nervous about his influence with Ed Miliband, he thinks Labour is currently headed for defeat at the next election and his real target was Ed Balls.

First, in terms of influence, when Len McCluskey is getting his way he is as quiet as a mouse. Nothing is said to rock the boat, publicly he is a picture of collegiate harmony.

In January 2012, when the two Ed’s dared to back a public sector wage freeze, he snarled into life. At the time, Ed Miliband pushed back but soon after the exchange a strange calm descended. No further comment came from McCluskey in response to the Labour leader’s apparent slap down.

The reason? Both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls had agreed never to let the words “public sector pay freeze” cross their lips again. McCluskey had got his way and it was back to playing happy Labour families.

The Unite general secretary’s intervention yesterday is a sign that he is not hearing what he wants in his private conversations with Labour’s leaders.

The spending review is scheduled for the 26th June and will be the pivotal moment of this parliament. For months Labour has avoided the question of where it stands on spending. Will it stick to Tory spending plans (or something very similar) or reject further austerity on the scale proposed by the Tories and the Lib Dems?

The pressure for Labour to give a clear sense of its direction of travel at the spending review will be enormous.

Anything less than a clear sign that Labour will commit to spending more than the Tories, and above all else, provide a generous pay settlement for McCluskey’s public sector members, will be unacceptable for the union.

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The unions are gunning for Ed Balls

14/09/2012, 05:00:37 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Something very important for Labour happened earlier this week.  At the TUC conference on Monday, Ed Balls was challenged during a Q&A session about his support for a public sector pay freeze.

He gave a robust response,

“When you are losing hundreds of thousands of jobs, you cannot say the first priority is more pay for public sector workers. That is the reality because of the government’s failure on the economy. We have always said let us put jobs first.”

The resulting boos gave reporters their headlines and the situation was mildly uncomfortable for the shadow chancellor.

In one sense, there’s not much new here. Balls was merely re-iterating a position from earlier this year and Labour politicians are often jeered by angry union delegates.

But this exchange has brought an underlying divide within Labour much nearer to an explicit schism.

Although issues such as redundancies, cuts in facilities and the lack of investment in public services are important for the unions, public sector pay is what really animates members and their union leadership.

Public sector workers make up 61% of the trade union movement. As damaging as redundancies are, the majority of public sector workers are not going to be sacked.  But what will hit all of them is the pay freeze.

The unions’ ability to defend their members’ pay levels is at the heart of their raison d’être. One union insider speaking to Uncut was blunt about their priorities,

“Forget the grandstanding on capitalism and economics. That’s an ego trip for the leaders and trots. What our members want from us is protect their jobs, and most of important all, their pay.”

In the past, commitments to restricted spending on public sector pay by future Labour governments could be sold to union leaders as central to winning back office and ejecting the Tories, who were, after all, the real enemy.

But times change.

Three factors have transformed the Labour’s relationship with the unions in a way that mean, following Ed Balls’ answer at the TUC Q&A, an almighty bust up between the shadow chancellor and the unions is now inevitable.

First there are the unions’ commitments to their members on public sector pay, second, the new politics of the union movement and third, the impending major union merger.

In terms of their rhetoric to members and the media, union leaders have been uncompromising on public sector pay.

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Revealed: The document that explains how Unite intends to take over the Labour party

22/06/2012, 09:15:10 AM

by Atul Hatwal

This morning, over at the Telegraph, Dan Hodges reports on Unite’s moves to create a distinct party within the Labour party. At the heart of the union’s plans is a political strategy document. Labour Uncut has managed to get a copy of this strategy and it makes for uncomfortable reading.

Unite Political Strategy

Few would claim the last Labour government to be perfect, but much good was achieved. The minimum wage, the social chapter and unprecedented investment in schools and hospitals are just a few of the positives of which the party can be proud.

But these are all dismissed by Unite in their political strategy. Instead, for them, “the record of the last Labour government was, for the most part, a bitter disappointment”.

It’s worth pausing a moment to reflect on that statement.

These aren’t the words of a fringe group within the union. This document was adopted by the union’s highest decision-making body, the Executive Council. It is the settled view of Labour’s largest donor and affiliate.

The question is: if the spending of the last Labour government on public services was a “bitter disappointment”, what does Unite have in mind?

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In defence of trade unions and Labour’s union link

06/04/2012, 03:42:17 PM

by Amanda Ramsay

When Ed Miliband published his list of meetings with party funders, unsurprisingly several were with Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey.  This was widely reported in the press but in the articles there was scant mention of the myriad of sectors a huge union like Unite represents: millions of individuals, working people, 20 sectors at the last count including agricultural, health as well as industrial.

As if one meeting every year or so would be enough time to discuss the huge swathe of complex issues that unions like Unite, the GMB and Unison are dealing with on a daily basis.

The contrast with the elite vested interests of the Tory party, as personified by the  likes of Lord Ashcroft and former Conservative Party Treasurer Peter Cruddas, could not be more stark.

But it’s not just the so-called right-wing press who are complicit in the misrepresentation in the media. Last Saturday, the Independent referred to Len McCluskey donating £5million, as if it were a personal donation, like he just wrote a cheque out of his own money!

“The Labour Party has benefitted from the publicly known link to working people and their views and needs,” Esther Pickup-Keller, president of the Aspect group of the major professionals’ and managers’ union Prospect tells me. “This type of democratic channel is a long, long way from secretive private dinners and meetings with senior politicians by capital corporate interests and donors.”

It’s offensive to hard-working people that the very small amounts of money paid by individual trade union members to the political funds of our unions are portrayed as somehow wrong by certain right-wing commentators and MPs. Where’s the balance?

I’m no militant, but let’s remember what this is all really about. One of the most poignant stories to learn as a teenager, to spark my imagination and social conscience, was that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs; their story speaks about something universal, way beyond party politics – shock and awe that these men could be shipped-off to be imprisoned on the other side of the world, for standing-up for their rights in the workplace, civil rights, human rights, call it what you will.

This is still the case today, for those of us who believe in trades unionism, the relevance of trade union membership is as relevant now as it’s ever been.

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McCluskey prepares to move on Miliband

04/04/2012, 01:58:50 PM

So, now it’s clear. The way Len McClusky is going to apply the thumb screws to Ed Miliband was revealed this morning with the publication of the preliminary agenda for Unite’s conference at the end of June (h/t Left Futures).

The relevant chapter is headed “Political” and includes the resolutions on Unite’s relationship with the Labour party. The tone can be gauged from the quote below from one of the motions,

“This Conference notes and applauds UNITE’S policy to win back the Labour Party from the right-wing neo-liberals who have infested the party over the past 20 years, and return it to where it belongs as a voice and political vehicle for the working-class people of this nation.”

In all, there are 12 resolutions on how Unite works with Labour that have been selected by the union leadership and they lay down three important markers.

First, money: three resolutions call for a 10% cut in funding to the Labour party with these monies being diverted to union campaigns or the Unite National Dispute Fund. It’s the clearest possible shot across the bows. Money matters, particularly to a party spending more than it raises, and if Labour is not going to advance Unite’s agenda then the funding will slow – 10% to start with, more if there is continued recalcitrance.

Second, control over party structures: there are seven resolutions on this with demands such as mandating sitting MPs to obtain nominations from 66% of affiliated trade union branches to secure automatic re-selection. This is about long term power within the Labour movement. Leaders of the party are transitory but re-writing the rules would give real control over every aspect of the party – from policy positions to who becomes leader.

Third, the Labour party’s policy on cuts: there are two strongly worded motions criticising the idea of accepting cuts, and specifically targeting the two Eds’ speeches in January backing the public sector pay freeze. Given the January speeches were the only comment the Labour leadership has made backing a concrete proposal for fiscal restraint, the warning is clear:- no more loose talk about cutting spending.

With this set of resolutions, Len McCluskey has set out is stall. He will say, “Ed, mate, it’s not me, it’s the members.  I hear what you’re saying about the centre ground, but my members want action”.

Some of the more extreme demands might be traded as an act of goodwill by McCluskey as he triangulates his way to his objective, but if Ed Miliband accedes to the substance of these demands, the nature of the Labour party will be fundamentally changed.

And that will be that.

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The other kind of trade union cuts battle: saving cost within Unite

18/01/2011, 11:29:42 AM

by Richard Horton

At the end of this month, Len McCluskey will officially become general secretary of Unite. The Simpson-Woodley or Woodley-Simpson era of joint leadership will pass. It will be the end of the union’s first post-merger era.

At face value, McCluskey will be inheriting a financially robust organisation. In 2009, the union recorded an operating surplus of £9,384,000 from the income it receives from its members. However, Unite has not been able to shield itself from the rigours of the credit crunch. It has been affected by the recession as much as any other body. For instance, in 2008 it had to write down the value of its properties and investments to the extent that it recorded a deficit of £28,114,000. While even now the union’s cash flow is being negatively impacted by an increase in its net pension liability – which is affecting almost every organisation that sponsors final salary pension schemes.

The merger of amicus and the T&G in 2007 was heralded as a means of generating greater industrial and political benefits for the membership of the two unions. Cost savings would be captured through the merging of two sets of staff, two sets of properties and two sets of campaigning operations. Beyond anything, cost savings would be captured through the sheer scale of the new union. Unite would be more efficient as an organisation and therefore more efficient in campaigning for its membership. (more…)

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The week Uncut

21/11/2010, 09:59:36 PM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut last week:

India Knight says politicians can’t hide on twitter

Len McCluskey says it’s time to stand up and be counted

Michael Dugher says it’s poor communities which will be cut more than rich

Dan Hodges confesses his love for all things spin

Tom Watson kept an eye out for news buried by the royal wedding

Gavin Hayes thinks the nasty party are back – big time

Eric Joyce says it’s not all that easy for politicians to lie

Jessica Asato says together we are stronger

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The moment to stand up and be counted

16/11/2010, 07:00:12 AM

By Len McCluskey

Millions need trade union help and protection as never before. This is a moment for us to stand up and be counted.

We are in a deep economic crisis. Hard-won pay, conditions and pensions are under threat from Cameron and Clegg.

The government is making ordinary people pay for the bankers’ crash with the most savage public spending cuts ever seen – that’s you, your parents, your children and their schools, your neighbours in difficulties, your daughter’s chance of a home of her own on the line.

And jobs are being blitzed. Over a million more people will be on the dole because of Osborne’s plans. Another “lost generation” looms for young people. The anger students have already expressed is increasingly shared across the country. (more…)

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