The Socialist 19 February 2020 |
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Unite union executive council elections
Build a fighting trade union movement
Unite members fighting for better conditions on London buses, photo Isai Priya (Click to enlarge)
Kevin Parslow, secretary, Unite LE1228 branch (personal capacity)
Balloting for the Unite union's executive council (EC) elections will be held between 25 March and 29 April.
Socialist Party members in the union are supporting the United Left list of candidates or 'slate'.
One of our members, Mick Joyce, is standing in the engineering, manufacturing and steel sector. Mick has a great record as a shop steward, leading the successful strike at Kone in Gateshead in 2015. The full slate is at unitedleft.org.uk.
The key task facing the new EC will be strengthening the more militant path taken by the union since the election of Len McCluskey as general secretary in 2010.
In this time, Len has refused to write 'repudiation letters' to employers disavowing unofficial industrial action (a policy first proposed by Socialist Party members in Unite).
The union has also taken out the words 'within the law' from its rules, removing a potential constraint to the pursuit of disputes.
Unite organises substantially more ballots and strikes than all other unions combined.
This support for workers has been underlined by victories this year at Bromley Libraries against outsourcer GLL and in the Hackney Council SEND transport dispute, both in London.
The Birmingham bin workers' victory last year is another recent example of a determined defence of workers' rights (articles on these disputes can be read at socialistparty.org.uk).
However, where Unite has fallen short is in building a generalised campaign against successive Tory-led governments and their austerity programme.
While Unite was at the forefront during the pensions dispute of 2011-12 - and continued action in some sectors after some other unions had pulled out - organising a determined national campaign of political and industrial struggles has been lacking.
Yet this is what workers will be demanding if we are to halt the proposals of Johnson's Tory government, given their majority in parliament, which include more anti-union laws, specifically targeted at Unite members in transport alongside the rail unions.
But the Tories can be defeated if trade unions take action in defence of jobs, services and the right to strike itself.
Fight the Blairites
Politically, Unite backed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and generally defended him from the attacks of the right. Now, Unite must actively oppose any moves to the right inside Labour.
Unite should have actively pushed with Labour for mandatory re-selection of Labour MPs - again, a policy proposed at Unite's policy conference by a Socialist Party member - as a warning shot against the Blairites actively opposed to Corbyn and the Labour membership.
Socialist Party members have been to the fore in fighting for Unite to demand that Labour councils refuse to implement Tory cuts.
We played a central role in the London and Eastern regional committee passing a motion supporting the anti-cuts stand of Enfield Labour councillor Tolga Aramaz.
The newly-elected EC, and Unite members as a whole, will be faced with the likely retirement of Len McCluskey in the next couple of years. Already a number of candidates on the left have been touted as his successor.
The United Left will have an election process to choose its candidate but others may decide to run independently.
This may pose problems if the right wing within the union chooses to stand a candidate.
In the 2017 election, right-wingerGerard Coyne, then the West Midlands regional secretary, came within 6,000 votes of winning in a union of over a million workers.
Any right-wing candidate would stand a chance of success against a split candidacy. This would be a huge blow to the development of a fighting trade union movement.
Socialist Party members in Unite recently discussed our attitude to the general secretary candidates.
While not yet endorsing any candidate, we concluded that candidates need to put forward a programme to enthuse and mobilise the union's membership to struggle against capitalism and its political representatives. That would be decisive for the workers in Unite.
Our programme includes the following demands:
- No return to partnership with the bosses
- Fight to prevent workplace closures and redundancies - including union inspection of company accounts.
- Let's see where the profits have gone. Nationalise, under democratic workers' control and management, company plants threatened with closures and widespread redundancies. Integrate these into a socialist plan of production
- Maintain the position of not repudiating unofficial action
- Unite must take the lead in fighting for coordinated action against the Tories, their cuts and anti-union laws
- Unite should call for the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and other unions to oppose the Tories' planned new anti-union laws targeted at rail and transport unions.
- If the TUC does not act, Unite must approach the other willing unions, especially those in rail and transport, and including the Communication Workers Union.
- A date must be named for a Saturday demonstration, in London, built for by a campaign of rallies throughout the country to give confidence to workers to take industrial action
- Use the union's industrial strength to build links and solidarity between its different industrial sectors
- Democratise the union - extend the election of officers from just the general secretary, beginning with assistant general secretaries, national industrial sector and equality officers and regional secretaries.
- For an annual policy conference on a branch delegation basis; biennial elections throughout the union from shop stewards to EC.
- The election of full-time union officials. Union officials to receive a wage no higher than the average workers' wage
- Fight to transform the Labour Party - a refoundation as a mass anti-austerity, workers' party with a socialist programme and repealing all Tory anti-union laws. Enact Unite's policy of supporting mandatory re-selection
- Unite must call on Labour councillors to stop passing on Tory cuts and urge Unite members in councils to move no-cuts budgets in Labour-run authorities