The Socialist Party is giving critical support to the candidature of Len McCluskey in the Unite General Secretary election which has been brought forward to take place this year, almost three years earlier than expected.
While some activists will raise understandable concerns about the timing, in this case we are supporting an early election as we feel it would give the Left in Unite time to consolidate some of the gains that have been won and to push for further change. It is for this reason also that we are supporting McCluskey over the other left candidate Jerry Hicks.
While we would agree with many aspects of Jerry’s programme, we supported McCluskey last time as the best left candidate to beat Les Bayliss. Two years on we feel there has been some positive changes and achievements and that a second term could help develop these gains. This must be matched though by efforts to increase accountability and strengthen the rank and file base in the union.
The past two years have seen important battles with some notable wins for Unite members. The BESNA – construction workers dispute, the lock-out of packaging worker’s ‘MMP’ in Liverpool, and the London bus drivers to name a few were all important victories for the worker’s involved but also the credibility of the union as a whole.
The launch of the ‘Unite in the community’ pilot scheme, with an office and organiser in Belfast, was a positive step forward. But most important was Unites role in standing up to the TUC’s attempt to kill dead the idea of a general strike. Unite voted in favour of Resolution 5 at the 2012 TUC congress, supporting the idea of moving towards a general strike against austerity.
Unite, as the largest union in Britain and Ireland must be prepared to go further and give a lead on the need for a 24-hour general strike or at least mass co-ordinated strike action against austerity.
Though giving support we also have important differences with Len McCluskey which we will continue to raise, for instance on the question of the Labour Party. We don’t believe at this stage that it can be transformed or reclaimed by workers. On 30th November action against austerity Len McCluskey received overwhelming support from thousands of workers when he called for a show of hands in support of a general strike. Labour Party leader Ed Miliband was booed at the same event when he talked about the need for any government to make cuts, including Labour! Yet despite this Unite continues to hand millions each year to a party which stands for cutting Unite members jobs and services.
In Northern Ireland at an activists meeting last year, Len voiced support for the building of a new anti-sectarian working class party here. During this election campaign we will call on him to help realise that support.
While the union has made a lot of significant improvements over the last number of years the daily frustration of many members at what they see as a lack of accountability or sometimes worse is palpable at times – this has to change. During this election we will continue to raise important demands such as the need for a more democratic Unite, including the election of officers and that the pay of union officials should represent a workers wage.
The year ahead will see unprecedented attacks on all working class people – it is urgent that our union, with its 1.5 million members, with growing numbers of workplace reps and activists are to the fore in fighting back and also helping to build a political alternative to cuts and misery.