Posts Tagged ‘Unite’

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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Labour prepares to re-write Collins party reform package

13/03/2014, 01:08:46 PM

by Atul Hatwal

A fortnight on from Labour’s special conference and major change is on the agenda for Ed Miliband’s flagship party reforms.

The Labour leadership was able to secure strong backing for the Collins review from the unions largely because it delegated resolution of much of the contentious detail to a separate “implementation group”, to be set up following the special conference.

This group, comprising union and party representatives, has now been formed and outstanding questions need answers.

Immediately, problems are emerging in two areas: how the unions’ new political funds will be administered, and the role of union members in elections held before the end of the five year Collins’ process.

First, on the arrangements for the new structure of the political funds, the unions are split.

Broadly, the majority of the unions envisage a version of the Unison model.

This is where there are, in effect, two political funds: a general political fund, which is not used to fund Labour, and an affiliated or “Labour link” fund, which is used to support the party.

Where a trade unionist decides that they do not want their political fund contributions to support Labour, they all go into the general fund.

Where they want to financially support Labour, their contributions are split between the two funds.

The defining rule about the general fund is that its resources cannot be donated by the union to the Labour party.

Sounds simple.

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Falkirk: an epilogue

19/02/2014, 07:23:43 PM

by Rob Marchant

Two weeks ago, in all of the excitement of Ed Miliband’s surprisingly successful bid to reform Labour party power structures, a parallel development was almost buried in the bigger story, apart from at the Guardian, which broke it.

The night before the NEC was due to ponder the matter, the full report which Ed Miliband had steadfastly refused to publish was, finally, mysteriously leaked. Whether it was the party, or Unite, or the Guardian itself, or even the Tories ineptly trying to cause trouble, we may never know.

The Labour party has made – caveats notwithstanding – big progress in dealing with the root cause, and there is already a new candidate for Falkirk. The story is over.

But before we lay its ghost to rest, and after the extraordinary impact it has had on the course of Labour Party history, it behoves us to spend a little time understanding exactly what did happen.

Leafing through the 20-page report, a few things stand out.

There seems little doubt that recruitment was carried out in contravention of party rules; or that it was later generally agreed to pretend that things were otherwise.

Any recruitment purely for the purposes of manipulating a selection is against the rules but, since intent is evidently difficult to establish, there exist a number of controls (such as signatures, rules prohibiting bulk payments, application acceptance criteria and freeze dates) to ensure that such recruitment is minimised, if not wholly eliminated. These calls were all jumped in various ways: single cheques for multiple applications, backdating, signing on others’ behalf and so on. Police found insufficient evidence to classify these practices as illegal, but that is hardly the point; internal selections are hardly processes with much legal standing anyway.

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The real reason Labour will never publish the Falkirk report

25/11/2013, 09:40:30 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Yesterday Labour members in Falkirk gathered for their annual general meeting. They elected a new party chairman, Gray Allan, and once again the party attempted to move on from the disastrous parliamentary selection process. The new chair’s first statement clearly frames the date for the new selection vote as the point where the party will try to claim closure,

“On 8 December, in Falkirk, we will select a candidate to fight this seat for the next general election. The priority for us is to work to regain the trust of the people of Falkirk so that we can be confident of a victory in this constituency.”

But no matter how much the party wants the Falkirk farrago to go away, there is a problem.

The constituency remains in special measures, Labour HQ is running the selection process and no CLP member who joined later than March 12th 2012 can participate in the vote. All of this despite the official party line being that no group or individual has been found to have broken any rules.

This contradiction is the reason the questions keep coming. The missing link is the unpublished report into the selection process conducted by Labour officials.

The report was the basis for the action taken in Falkrik and sets out the detail of what went wrong. The allegations contained in it ignited civil war within the Labour movement between the party leadership and Unite and have driven media coverage so catastrophic that Gray Allan was moved to talk about regaining “the trust of the people of Falkirk” if Labour is to win again in what should be a rock solid Labour seat.

Until the report is published, it will be impossible for Labour to successfully move on.

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New revelations expose contradictions in the Labour leadership’s story on Falkirk

19/11/2013, 01:36:38 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Another week and yet more twists in the Falkirk story.

Over the weekend, Unite’s response to the Labour party’s internal report on Falkirk was published by the Sunday Times (£). It sheds more light on Labour HQ’s involvement in the affair as well as revealing an important new allegation of malpractice.

To understand what happened, we need to wind the clock back to last December.

Unite had sent large batches of new Falkirk membership applications to Labour head office for approval. The bulk of these were Unite members joining the party under the terms of the now defunct “union join” scheme. This allowed Unite, or any union, to pay the first year’s membership subscription for any of their members who wanted to join Labour, as long as the application included the new recruits’ direct debit details to cover future years’ subscriptions.

Rapid processing of these applications was required if these new members were to be eligible to participate in the selection. According to party rules, new members can only take part in picking the prospective parliamentary candidate if they have “six months continuous membership of the Labour party (any constituency) at the freeze date.”

The freeze date is the point at which the selection process is declared open. Given the Falkirk selection was expected to take place in May or June, timing was tight for Unite’s surge of new recruits from November and December 2012 to have built up “six months continuous membership”.

There was almost no margin for delay.

But delay is exactly what happened. Suspicious party officials flagged several applications, worrying that party processes were being manipulated and because direct debit details were frequently missing.

This presented two challenges for Unite and Labour.

First, adding the missing direct debits would have been very time consuming, significantly delaying registration of the new members.

Second, even if these memberships could be somehow quickly readied to be put on the system, late January would have been too late to qualify if the contest was held in the first half of the year.

Labour HQ’s role in fixing these problems reveals the depth of the party’s involvement in backing Unite’s strategy in Falkirk.

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Labour’s head office in “chaos” as Livermore begins his first day in charge

18/11/2013, 07:00:54 AM

This morning, Spencer Livermore will step across the threshold of Labour’s Brewer’s Green HQ and formally take charge of Labour’s general election preparations.

As we previously reported, Ed Miliband’s personal appointment of the former Gordon Brown protégé as campaign director effectively sidelines the party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, the party’s chief official, who was appointed by the party’s National Executive Committee in 2011.

Ahead of Livermore’s arrival, the atmosphere at Brewer’s Green is tense, with one well-placed insider describing it as “chaos” as the fallout from the botched Falkirk selection continues to play out in the media spotlight.

“There’s a total breakdown of trust between the general secretary’s team and the leader’s office,” says the insider.

“The staff are completely paralysed. It’s like a sitcom being played out before us”.

Yet this is a sideshow compared to the potential calamity next spring as Ed Miliband seeks to drive through his landmark changes to the way affiliated trade unions fund the party.

Miliband is staking everything on getting a new opt-in arrangement where millions of ordinary trade unionists choose to support the party, rather than have union chiefs wielding their chequebooks on their members’ behalf.

Party sources claim that Miliband sleepwalked into announcing the reforms without really understanding their full implications.

“Virtually the entire staff understood you’re ending the collective link but even the most senior advisers to Ed didn’t realise” says one insider.

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When Ed Miliband condemned Unite’s “machine politics” in Falkirk, did he forget his office had signed-off on their tactics?

13/11/2013, 07:14:31 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The Times today carried some revelatory new details on Falkirk (£). Strangely, they seemed to miss the real significance of what they’ve got (assuming the Ineos e-mails are as reported and what they say is true).

Their story focuses on a deal agreed between Iain McNicol, Labour’s general secretary, and Len McCluskey to ensure Unite members who were recruited into the party via the old “union join” scheme, where the union pays the first year of subs, were all moved onto direct debit so future payment could be assured.

The prospect of Labour’s general secretary cutting a deal with a union boss is hardly edifying but it’s not the big story. More interesting are the implications of an e-mail  from 21st January this year that is cited in the piece.

The mail is from Steve Hart, Unite’s political director at the time, to Karie Murphy, the Unite candidate and Tom Warnett, Unite’s political co-ordinator.  In it, Hart refers to delays by a sceptical Labour membership department, in processing the mass of new Unite recruits, stating,

“I was advised the week before Xmas that these had all been processed — advised by Jenny Smith [Ed Miliband’s union adviser at the time] and Scott Landon [Iain McNicol’s chief of staff] — but it is for the party to confirm authority, not us.”

Originally, the Sunday Times published the mail, but the names had been redacted. The inclusion of the names tells us that the leader’s office not only knew about Unite’s plans, they agreed them.

Dan Hodges picked up on the real importance of the revelations earlier today when he wrote,

“Back in July he [Ed Miliband] had said: ‘I am here to talk about a different politics, a politics that is open. Transparent. And trusted. Exactly the opposite of the politics we’ve recently seen in Falkirk. A politics that was closed. A politics of the machine. A politics that is rightly hated…’

But all the time his office had been supporting a deal with Len McCluskey to enable him to rig the selection.”

Think about it for a moment.

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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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If the Mail was wrong on Ed Miliband’s dad, then Unite are wrong to target Ineos managers’ families. And Labour needs to say so

31/10/2013, 12:20:02 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Another day and yet more revelations from Grangemouth. This morning’s Daily Mail carried details of how Unite targeted Ineos executives at home as part of a strategy called “leverage campaigning.” While most members of the Labour movement will read anything in the Mail about unions with a level of scepticism, on this occasion the basic facts seem to be incontrovertible.

The Mail reports that as part of “leverage campaigning” 30 Unite members descended on the home of an Ineos executive during the school holidays to stage a protest on his drive. In response, Unite haven’t denied any details of what happened, but have defended the actions as “legitimate in the context of an industrial dispute.” On their website there is a section that describes “leverage campaigning,”

“Leverage is 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.”

Many in the Labour movement will simply shrug and think “so what.” But that’s not good enough. Its time for a bit of consistency.

If the Daily Mail was wrong to go after Ed Miliband’s father, then its wrong for Unite to target senior managers’ families.

It was despicable of the Daily Mail to attack Ralph Miliband to hurt his son. It’s equally disgraceful to harass peoples’ families and neighbours simply because they happen to be managers at a firm in an industrial dispute.

The outrage from the Labour party on the Daily Mail’s piece on Ralph Miliband was voluble and justified. Silence on Unite’s antics now will abrogate any moral authority the party had in criticising the Mail. Morality isn’t a one-way street. Principles don’t apply selectively. Either everyone connected with an adversary is fair game, or they’re not.

Labour needs to decide whether it believes in total war, where the families and friends or political opponents are justified targets. Or if it still holds to the values so loudly declared over the Ralph Miliband article, where they are off limits.

If it is the former, then the fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, sons, daughters, friends and neighbours of Labour politicians should make sure they have never done anything that might merit a news story.

But, if it is the latter, then the Labour party should condemn Unite’s tactics.

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