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  • Published in Opinion

Members of Unite will soon be voting for a new General Secretary. The left is divided over who to support. The United Left backs Len McCluskey whilst some socialists favour Jerry Hicks. Here two socialist trade union activists present their case for each candidate.

Unite is the largest trade union in Britain and Ireland with almost 2 million members. The election for General secretary is rightly described as the most important in decades. Counterfire welcomes fraternal debate via the comments section below.

The case for Len McCluskey

The election for General Secretary of Unite the Union is perhaps the most important election of its kind in decades, not only for Unite but also for the wider labour movement. With the war which is being waged against the working class by the Con-Dems, I believe Unite, being as it is the largest trade union in the country, needs a General Secretary with strong socialist traditions, experience in fighting for its member’s rights and conditions, and someone who will lead from the front in resisting the cuts.

The four candidates running are Len McCluskey and Les Bayliss, who are arguably the front runners in the election, along with Jerry Hicks and Gail Cartmel.

Realistically, the left have two choices, Hicks and McCluskey, whom I am supporting.

So why do I endorse support for McCluskey? The first reason is simply because McCluskey is the candidate who will force the TGWU and Amacus sections together, taking the best bits from both unions to make Unite the industrial power it can be.

Bayliss alternatively wants to wipe any lingering T&G influence out of Unite and return to the old Amacus servicing model. Using trade unions as insurance policies is no longer sustainable in the 21st century with trade union membership declining as it has been for 30 years.

McCluskey wants to expand on the organising strategy currently operating within Unite, which will give the rank and file a real voice and a feeling that the union is working in their interests. He wants a decentralised, vibrant union at local level, not a bureaucratic centralised union, with officers supporting the membership, not members supporting a top-heavy union structure.

He also encourages the union involvement in the community, forging closer links with other unions through shop steward networks and the growth of the trade council movement, all of which will be an effective development in fighting the Con-Dem cuts at a local and national level.

But as a socialist, the fact that McCluskey is in favour of fair taxation of the rich, the end to futile wars now and in the future and making the people’s charter happen amongst other things that make me feel he should be the candidate of choice for those on the left.

Hicks undoubtedly will share those sentiments, but Hicks lacks the experience that McCluskey has gained over 40 years as a steward in the Liverpool docks, regional officer, national organiser, Assistant General Secretary, and General Secretary of United Left as he is today.

Hicks has done himself no favours attacking McCluskey in the press and in his election campaign. To his credit, McCluskey, has urged for a campaign without personal attacks, and has not risen to Hicks’ diatribe.

In fairness, I believe it's good to have characters like Hicks at the sharp end of trade unions, and although I believe he has the correct credentials to be a General Secretary in our current political climate, I feel he lacks diplomacy and discretion, and would let his heart rule his head, which would be a dangerous game to play with some of the most restrictive anti union laws in Europe shackling our every move.

The other two candidates can both be described as right wingers in comparison to Hicks and McCluskey. Gail Cartmel in my opinion is merely making up the numbers. I think she lacks the experience of her rivals and as such can be dismissed.

Bayliss can be assessed by a statement in his election manifesto which claims he will put an end to “adventurism and infantile and phoney militancy that alienates our members and the general public”. Considering the attacks that are being waged upon members by the likes of Willie Walsh, this is a baffling statement for a potential General Secretary to make.

All things considered my vote for McCluskey will be an easy one to make. A split in the left vote gives Bayliss a chance of sneaking in through the back door and as such Len McCluskey has to be the candidate of choice for the left and indeed for anyone wanting a strong, fighting, organised trade union, fit for the challenges it faces in the coming years, locally, nationally and internationally.

Jon Moorcroft

The Case for Jerry Hicks

The election of the General Secretary of the Unite union is one that most socialists will be following and so I welcome John Moorcroft’s contribution to the debate about who the left should support. While I agree that the choice for the left is between Hicks and McCluskey I do not share John’s conclusion that the best candidate is Len McCluskey, and I intend to try and put the case for supporting Jerry Hicks.

The starting point in trade union activity, for those of us who see socialism as the self emancipation of the working class, is to build the confidence and self activity of the rank and file. It is by this measure that we should judge the prospective candidates for the Unite General Secretary:

  • Les Bayliss has no interest in organising a strong activist led fighting back union, and seems intent on using every dirty trick in the book to discredit his opponents to ensure that a former Amicus member gets the top job.
  • Gail Cartmel is the surprise candidate and it is positive that a woman is in the race for the General Secretary of a male dominated union. This said, her campaign fails to mention whether and how she intends to build a fight back against the ConDem cuts and is thin on specific commitments.
  • Len Mc Cluskey is the candidate supported by the broad left in the union (United Left) and stands on a good left manifesto based around democracy, an organising approach to trade unionism and a fight back. I believe that Len, if elected, would lead the union broadly in the right direction.
  • Jerry Hicks is a principled socialist and the only candidate not employed by the union as an officer. Jerry was the convenor at Rolls Royce in Bristol and was unfairly dismissed for his trade union activities. He turned down an offer of a job with the union as he believes in the election of officers and is committed to taking only the wage of a skilled worker if elected.

Having briefly looked at the four candidates the question is now which of the two left candidates, Hicks or McCluskey, should the left support. I feel that Jerry’s rank and file credentials along with a commitment to fighting the cuts, support for unofficial industrial action, campaigning for 1 million green jobs, election of officials and commitment to use all necessary means to repeal the Tory anti- trade union laws makes him stand out as the candidate that can inspire the rank and file.

Jerry has proved that there is a hearing for these ideas in the union, polling 40,000 votes in the last Amicus General Secretary election coming second behind Derek Simpson, despite the whole of the union machine being used against him. The argument of splitting the left was also made in that election to frighten some on the left into voting for Simpson, a mistake we must avoid this time.

We know that a left General Secretary does not automatically translate into a strong rank and file, so at least as important as Jerry’s manifesto is the campaign that can be built around the election. I believe that Jerry is the one candidate around whom we can build an election campaign that offers an alternative to cuts, layoffs and redundancies and that can pull new layers of young and older disillusioned members into activity.

This campaign is being built, and Jerry has received nominations from around the country and from many industrial sectors of the union. Whether or not Jerry wins the election the acid test is, has the campaign made the rank and file stronger? The choice is between a vibrant rank and file left campaign and three varying shades of union bureaucrat.

Martin Copson

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