Posts Tagged ‘Unite’

The party, the party, the party: an eight-point plan to save the Labour party from itself

12/04/2020, 10:26:38 PM

by Rob Marchant

We have now had the Shadow Cabinet appointments. While a few have raised eyebrows among moderates – not least the self-same Miliband who helped get us into this mess in the first place – it is not a bad selection from the limited numbers of available MPs.

Its significance will be dissected for weeks by the Westminster lobby, because that is what they see – the Westminster face of the party. But the first thing we members need to realise is that the Shadow Cabinet and, indeed, party policy in times of Covid-19, is a sideshow.

Let’s not forget: the party is finally out of immediate danger, but it is still in intensive care.

Yes, it is important in these difficult times to provide a reasonably effective scrutiny function to the highly-variable ministerial quality on the Tory benches. But most moderates, we might wager, inside or perhaps temporarily outside the party, have always seen this leadership election as a two-step battle, in which both steps are essential and not just the first.

Step one: get a decent, competent, non-extremist leader (a low bar, you might reasonably say). Tick. And with Starmer, at first glance, things looks considerably better than anyone might have expected. Then, step two: sort out the party. In short, get it back to a decent, healthy, functioning organisation without the slightest hint of anti-Semitism or far-left extremism – both of which pretty much amount to the same thing.

And it is this second one to which we need now turn. It is not a question of it being a nice-to-have or an “in the fullness of time”: any failure to act on this immediately will mean that the good guys will not return – either our members or our supporters – and the whiff of racism will remain. The party, simply, will not recover. It is a sine qua non.

Here Uncut proposes eight things which will need to happen to make that a reality, and they will all need to start – and some finish – during the first hundred days.

One. Make it abundantly clear there needs to be a new General Secretary. The GS cannot easily be fired, but it is also impractical for them to continue if a party leader really does not want them there. The only key figure who will now want Formby to continue is Len McCluskey; the PLP, NEC, Leader’s Office and other unions will not.

Two. Eradicate anti-Semitism, branch by branch if necessary, as was done with Militant. The EHRC report, when it comes, will help mobilise opinion within the party and ensure that the guilty are brought to task, but action needs to be taken before then. Starmer’s meetings with JLM and BoD have been a good start. But this cannot really happen until we deal with point one. This will also have the happy side-effect of removing some of the nastier extremists from the party.

Three. Ignore Momentum. It is not necessary to try to attack it, it is already in disarray; a fan club based around one man can hardly have much future when that man goes. It is fracturing, as the far left always does. Its anti-Semitic members will be expelled from Labour. The important thing is not to engage with it, let it have its little conference in September and let it be a flop. Ironically, an organisation called Momentum will die if it lacks that which gives it its name. Those decent members, who are not mad or extremist and joined in good faith, will drift back towards the party proper. Eventually even Unite will dump it – they will want to be where the power is. (more…)

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Unison’s backing of Keir Starmer signals wider trouble for Len McCluskey’s United Left faction in Unite

08/01/2020, 10:13:15 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Unison’s backing of Keir Starmer is an undoubted coup for his leadership campaign but it is also a signal of a growing set of problems facing Len McCluskey’s United Left faction in Unite.

Solidarity and unity might permeate the public statements of the unions about their movement but the reality is that unions are competitors – rivals in shaping Labour party policy and in chasing after the same diminishing pool of potential members. The days of unions that specialised in discernable sectors or niches are long gone, most are now generic, public sector focused recruiting machines, facing dire pension liabilities and in desperate need of increasing revenue.

Since 2010, Unite has been in the ascendant on all fronts. Growing in political influence and attracting members off the back of its strident posturing and some real victories in labour disputes. Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader has represented the zenith of power for Unite and the hard left cabal that run it.

But now, the tide has stated to flow out for Unite and the United Left.

The union faces two challenges – within Unite, the hard left’s prospects of holding onto the General Secretary’s office are under serious pressure and without, Unison and the GMB are reasserting their more moderate position, dislodging Unite from it’s primus inter pares role amongst the big unions.

The hope within Unite’s hard left leadership was that a successful general election campaign, which bolstered Jeremy Corbyn and maybe even saw him enter Number 10, would enable them to ride out the growing challenges.

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Len McCluskey is the conservative candidate in Unite’s leadership election

17/03/2017, 06:37:08 PM

by Dean Quick

Len McCluskey is being championed as the “left” candidate in the Unite general secretary election. Assuming that the label means something we have to think it means he’s the candidate that stands for greater equality, for challenging the unfairly powerful and undeservingly privileged and the person most committed to giving us a powerful trade union able to meet and match the worst a Tory government can throw at us.

But the truth is that McCluskey is none of these things. He’s the candidate of the status quo, of continued decline, of no change, of jobs for the boys and he’s armed with a backward looking programme because, in essence, he’s a candidate of the past and certainly not of the future.

McCluskey – unlike some of his chief lieutenants – has never been in the Communist Party or even aligned with one of its satellites, like the Straight Left faction that Jeremy Corbyn’s paladin Seumas Milne supported. But his approach to his job is fundamentally that of the “militant labourists” that formed the traditionalist internal opposition to the CP’s “Eurocommunist” leadership in the 1970s and 1980s.

That factional battle was at its height this time thirty years ago. But it would be a mistake to think that the issues involved collapsed with the Berlin Wall. For while the Communist Party was at heart a pathological organisation – how else can you think of a movement so tied into a history of defending dictatorship and murder – its influence was profound.

The “Euros” were influenced by the new left movement (itself born out of an earlier Communist fragmentation) of the 1960s and engaged with ideas like feminism and what they called “new social movements”. Above all it sought to build a broad coalition for social change through a cultural politics that encompassed much more than the traditional movement settings of the workplace meeting and the party committee.

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Labour’s options? Different degrees of losing

07/12/2016, 09:18:55 PM

by Rob Marchant

It was always going to be important to wait until the dust settled around Labour’s second leadership election to see what was going to happen next. Now, settled it has and things are a little clearer, but only a little. What remains still looks like a panorama tremendously unhelpful to Labour moderates.

First, we might review the external changes that have happened since September. As the Independent observed yesterday, of Britain, the US, France, Italy and Germany there remains only one leader from just a few months ago, and neither is Merkel safe. Populist right-wingers have either won or are waiting at the gates everywhere. There are still all the signs of a tidal wave of political realignment across the Western world, and it would be reasonable to assume that Labour needs to either decide how to position itself or risk being swept away

Bizarrely, this is good news for Corbyn: it shows that the appetite for easy answers among the public has not diminished, and among the relatively tiny selectorate which has kept him in post, too, there seems little chance of minds changing before 2020.

The final piece of the puzzle is the information we now have about Brexit. A recent survey showed that Britons currently feel more strongly about their Remain or Leave positions than they do about political parties. This means that Labour’s positioning on Brexit is now crucial to its survival: the fudge that it lived with through the referendum campaign is no longer tenable.

So, what are these options?

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Unite say they won’t be bound by strike laws. Does Labour think this is ok? Seriously?

24/07/2015, 02:15:21 PM

by David Green

The most remarkable thing about Unite’s decision to remove the words “so far as may be lawful” from its constitution is how little comment it has attracted in the Labour party.

The union’s opposition to new Tory plans for minimum strike ballot thresholds is understandable, right, and will be supported by the Labour party at large. But what is unsupportable is the union’s declaration that it will not regard itself as being bound by the new legislation.

Indeed, the constitutional change goes much further than this – worryingly so. On its face, the change means Unite will pick and choose the laws it deigns to obey.

This is dismaying in any major civil society body, but for a formal affiliate of the Labour party it is intolerable. Labour is – must be – a party of government, one which aspires to lead and not simply to oppose. A necessary part of this is that we seek change through reforms within the UK’s political system.

Unfortunately for all concerned Labour didn’t win the last election, and the Tories did. All the bleating about mandates in the world can’t change the fact that they have an absolute majority in the UK’s sovereign parliament: any legislation they can pass is the law. Labour believes – must believe – that even the most iniquitous law must be remedied by being repealed by parliament. Endorsing any other approach undermines the principle of the rule of law, on which all of the rest of society’s stability and freedom depends.

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Burnham’s spin doctor is director at lobbyist firm that advises union-buster Ineos

13/06/2015, 07:00:00 AM

A lobbyist from the firm that advises energy firm Ineos, which was involved in a biter industrial dispute with Unite the Union, is now working as a key member of Andy Burnham’s leadership team.

Katie Myler, a former special adviser to Burnham when he was health secretary, now works for international lobbying company, Burson-Marsteller.

They claim on their website that their staff have provided “senior counsel” to the Ineos “CEO and management team” during “the Grangemouth industrial dispute.”

Back in 2013, 800 staff at the petrochemical plant in Falkirk threatened to go on strike after management brought forward a survival plan, which included a three-year pay freeze and changes to pensions.

Unite later relented in a bid to save jobs.

Myler was appointed as director of communications for Burnham’s campaign last week, after taking a sabbatical from Burson-Marsteller where she works as a managing director, according to a report in PR Week.

She joins fellow lobbyist, John Lehal, who is acting as campaign director.

His company, Insight Consulting Group, has worked for a string of private medical companies, according to reports in this morning’s Independent.

The revelations will come as a major embarrassment to Burnham, who has made much of his opposition to private sector involvement in the NHS.

He is also thought to have the active support of Unite and has pitched himself as the main centre-left challenger for the Labour leadership.

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In the battle for post-Miliband Labour, Unite’s leadership fights from a position of weakness, not strength

05/06/2015, 10:37:30 AM

by Rob Marchant

When you are on the back foot, play the victim. The underdog. Under attack from the establishment. If they ask awkward questions, do not accept the premise of the question. Thus has the hard left defended itself against any kind of rational criticism based on mere facts, for decades.

In a remarkably disingenuous, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger piece at LabourList entitled “Setting the record straight over Unite’s position in Scotland”, Pat Rafferty, Unite’s Scottish General Secretary, writes how Unite tried to save Scottish Labour…but they wouldn’t listen. If only they’d listened to us. Instead, an unnamed “some in the Labour Party” are trying to “attack” Unite. Poor things.

Honestly, what rubbish. Unite was part of the problem, not the solution. At the root of Labour’s wipeout was the parlous state of Scottish Labour. The end result of decades of hegemonic machine politics, of which Unite was an integral part. An overbearing, one-horse town politics on which the carpet was lifted in the debacle that was the Falkirk selection, where the union was accused of manipulating the vote. A debacle that, let us not forget, led directly to the biggest-ever shakeup in Labour’s relationship with unions.

No, it was that, and the SNP’s gradually building itself as a credible alternative government to that Labour hegemony, which lost Scotland’s Westminster seats. Not a sudden surge of nationalism. Many of the SNP’s voters do not even want independence and, should we still need reminding, No won the referendum, not Yes.

But with so much managed from Holyrood, Westminster is now a throwaway election for many Scots, much as the Euros have come to be for much of the rest of Britain. A place to register protest. And they did.

Scottish voters also saw how Unite’s disastrous bluster came close to destroying thousands of jobs in a dispute at the country’s only oil refinery in 2013, only to end up with a worse deal for their members than that originally on the table. According to YouGov, half of the Scots surveyed thought Unite’s actions at Grangemouth were wrong. The convenor? Step forward Stevie Deans, chair of, er, Falkirk CLP.

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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 has learned nothing from the Falkirk debacle

03/12/2014, 11:08:36 AM

by Rob Marchant

Last week, we started to see just how much some quarters of the Labour Party do not want Jim Murphy to become their leader in Scotland. It was not so much the carefully-crafted hatchet job from Tom Watson, which followed that of old flat-mate Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, from a few weeks earlier.

No, it was the landing on Scottish Unite members’ doormats of ballot packs from their union.

Of course, under the One Member, One Vote system which has been in place for two decades, union leaders no longer allocate millions of their members’ votes; the members decide freely for themselves, under a ballot organised by the union.

Or, at least, that’s the theory.

The reality is that they decide a little less freely than that: some union leaders seem to think freedom, like a number of political leaders before them, is a commodity so valuable that it needs to be rationed.

And so, Scotland’s Sunday Herald reported, the GMB continued to do what it did in the 2010 leadership election for the national party: it put in only the leaflet of its favoured candidate, Neil Findlay, into the voting pack.

But that was nothing compared what Unite got up to: it actually placed a “mock” ballot paper inside the pack alongside the real one, with an X against the box of its favoured candidate. All you had to do was to copy this X onto the real ballot paper in the same place and, hey presto. A more transparent attempt to “help” the voter to vote would be hard to imagine.

It is perfectly legitimate for the leadership to express a preference. What is not acceptable, as standard practice in postal ballots clearly shows, is to express it in the ballot pack.

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Unite’s reaction to Jim Murphy’s candidacy tells us all we need to know about why it’s important

05/11/2014, 03:20:04 PM

by Rob Marchant

On Saturday, after some days of deliberation, Jim Murphy announced his candidacy for the Scottish leadership.

Within hours, Unite had put out a statement:

“Unite’s representative members will soon decide who to nominate on behalf of our union. On the basis of this speech, it is extremely difficult for them to find much to find hope that Jim Murphy is offering the genuine, positive change in Scottish Labour they seek.”

Notice first how Unite members are being given a completely free choice of candidate, and that its leadership is not trying to influence them at all. In fact, this effect of denying a level playing-field to leadership candidates in the union vote – that is, trying to distort the One Member, One Vote (OMOV) process – was one of the main reasons for the Collins reforms.

By Monday they had announced the results of a poll claiming that “working people” (i.e. Unite members: the union sees no irony in considering the two identical) wanted an MSP in the role and not an MP. Oh, wait a minute, which of the declared candidates is not an MSP…?

Why go to such lengths to trash the front-running candidate?

Because, apart from being probably the Shadow Cabinet’s most outspoken centrist, Murphy is widely known as being “his own man”, as Damian McBride describes him. There is little that would put Unite’s nose out of joint more than someone who didn’t play Scottish Labour according to the usual rules.

Scottish Labour, lest we forget, was the political Wild West land through the New Labour years, which survived virtually untouched under the protective gaze of Gordon Brown.

However, McBride’s sympathetic account of the trials of managing the Scottish party also gives away probably the greatest weakness of the Brown administration: its preference for managing genteel decline, rather than attack underlying problems at their root. Its preference for comfortable fiefdoms, where you did as you were told, over a healthy party full of competing ideas; a thousand flowers blooming. Scottish Labour was Brownism writ large.

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