The Unite union’s general secretary election is heating up as it enters its second week.
Rank and file candidate Jerry Hicks is challenging current general secretary Len McCluskey.
McCluskey spoke alongside other union leaders at a trade union freedom rally in London last Saturday.
McCluskey argued Labour doesn’t have a god-given right to represent workers politically.
He said that if the party doesn’t listen to trade unions’ demands, unions could be forced “back to the drawing board”.
McCluskey supported Labour MPs who rebelled over Labour’s craven support for the government over workfare last week.
But Unite will keep funding the party.
On the anti-union laws, McCluskey said “we have a duty to oppose bad laws”.
But there is a big gap between what McCluskey is arguing and what happens.
A ruling on the firm Metroline last year shows the limitations of the opposition.
Bosses used an injunction to stop strikes during the Olympic bonus dispute on London’s buses.
There were protests at those bus operators that had run to the courts.
But if Unite had called workers at those companies out on strike, it would have dealt a body blow to bosses and the anti-union laws.
The gap between statements and action, and the link with Labour, have been at the heart of the Unite election campaign.
The McCluskey camp has taken heavy swipes at Jerry Hicks and at the Socialist Workers Party’s support for his campaign.
McCluskey’s election address and leaflets have carried some of these attacks.
This is damaging to the whole of the left.
It would be a problem for everyone if the real issues of this campaign get lost. It was a mistake to call this snap election.
It was called more to fit Labour’’s electoral timetable than for the needs of Unite’s 1.5 million members.
But for those members to get their money’s worth out of it, there needs to be a real debate.
How do we get more victories like that of the electricians, who stopped bosses tearing up their contracts?
How do we avoid unnecessary defeats like that at Remploy?
Shouldn’t we use the power to limit funding to Labour to affect the party’s strategy?
These issues need to be debated seriously because the strategy put forward by the general secretary affects the lives of all union members.
Every vote for Jerry adds weight to the argument that Unite members are prepared to fight.
Every vote for Jerry signals that waiting on Labour, whatever the fiery rhetoric while we wait, is not enough.
That’s why Unite members should back Jerry’s campaign and build a network of supporters alongside the fight for votes.
Voting ends on 12 April.
McCluskey booed for attacking his challenger
Jerry’s campaign trail took him to Northampton on Sunday of last week.
He visited bus drivers and manufacturing workers.
“One bus driver was so angry that, when he assumed I was a union official, he refused to talk to me,” said Jerry.
“But when I explained that I’d had the same experiences we had a great chat. He took a load of my leaflets to put in the rest room.”
The day before Jerry was warmly received at the Blacklist Support Group AGM in London (see page 19).
Jerry is on the blacklist himself.
Len McCluskey has refused to engage with Jerry in any election debates or hustings. The conference was the first time both candidates have appeared in the same room.
McCluskey was booed when he accused Jerry of being there for the sake of electioneering.