An election for General Secretary of UNITE will take place in March and Len McCluskey will be seeking a second term of office. Jerry Hicks, who has obtained at least 120 valid nominations (more than twice the 50 necessary to force a contest) will be standing against him as a radical and more militant alternative. Socialist Resistance will be supporting Jerry Hicks and his campaign in this election.
There is no right wing candidate in the election so even those ex-Amicus members who see Len McCluskey as a vast improvement over Derek Simpson should not feel restrained from voting for a candidate with a consistently left record who is in favour of a radical democratisation of the union and supporting union members who take action. Such a contest can only be good for democracy and good for the union.
During his three years in office Len McCluskey has made some positive contributions both to the union itself and the wider movement. Inside the union the creation of community branches makes it possible to organise the unemployed, and particularly the young unemployed who have never worked or been in a union. Progress in establishing the branches has been slow in many areas and resourcing them adequately is still a big issue, but already they must be considered a success.
The reorganisation of branches into a mainly workplace based structure is also positive. A workplace branch is more accessible and relevant to the ordinary member; it can encourage members to take an interest in the wider trade union, community, and political issues; and this in turn will make it more difficult for the full time officials to ignore the branches. Unfortunately the reorganisation has been top down without consultation with existing branches. This has led to a year in which many members, and most ex-Amicus members, were without a branch or had no idea what branch they were in. The fact that elections to industrial committees, local activists committees and regional committees took place while this chaos still reigned does question the legitimacy of these bodies.
Len McCluskey has also become one of the most outspoken trade union critics of austerity. He has demanded that Ed Milliband come out against all cuts in public spending. He has verbally supported civil disobedience by UK Uncut and others. He has campaigned for the TUC to “investigate the possibility” of a general strike. He is sponsoring the Peoples Assembly.
The downside is that he has failed to lead any actions against austerity. He helped to demobilise the pensions dispute after the strike on November 30th 2011. He has failed to lead any opposition to the public sector wage freeze. Although he spoken in favour of Councillors who are members of UNITE defying cuts budgets, when his deputy Gail Cartmell urged them to do the opposite he did not contradict her. UNITE has led no struggles against redundancies in the public sector. UNITE has continued to be the biggest funder of the Labour Party which supports austerity without attaching any strings to its donations. Politically he calls for reclaiming the Labour Party.
In industry UNITE has supported a whole series of deals enshrining the concept of a two-tier workforce, including Jaguar/Landrover, British Airways, London buses and Vauxhall Ellesmere Port. During the building workers dispute with Balfour Beatty and others over the National wage agreement, UNITE not only failed to support the workers in struggle but even called their grassroots organisation a cancer. Jerry Hicks stood with the workers on the picket line and helped to establish their organisation.
Len McCluskey’s has fitted in comfortably as a member of the union’s hierarchy. He believes in the appointment of full time officials at salaries far higher than the members they represent. Jerry Hicks proposes the election of all officials on the average wage of the members.
Reasons to support Jerry Hicks
1. Jerry Hicks is the only candidate who supports the election of all officials in UNITE.
2. Jerry Hicks is the only candidate to say he will accept the average wage of the members he seeks to represent.
3. Jerry Hicks is the only candidate who promises a determined fight to destroy the ant-union laws.
4. Jerry Hicks has also fully supported the campaign to expose the blacklist in the building industry and the connivance of some Unite officials in maintaining it.
5. Jerry Hicks opposes giving large sums of money to the Labour Party without firm commitments for them to follow UNITE policies on the economy and industry.
6. Jerry Hicks has shown in practice in his work in Bristol against the Cuts that he is willing to lead a real fight against austerity.
7. For all his militant talk, Len McCluskey has failed to lead any industrial action against the wage freeze or the redundancies in the public sector and has retreated from a fight on pensions. He has been complicit in the establishment of a two tier workforce where new and agency workers are flagrantly discriminated against.
8. Len McCluskey is bending the rules by standing before the end of his term to enable him to continue as GS until he is 67 years old.
9. Unite has issued a disgraceful libel action against Gerry Downing , Chair of the Grassroots Left grouping which supports Jerry Hicks, for his criticism of the actions of the UNITE official for London buses.
Local committees need to be established quickly to organise leafleting of bus garages, factories, banks and other workplaces. Hopefully the election can be used to create a much stronger organisation of those campaigning for an alternative to the United Left’s politics of left rhetoric and right action.