Socialist Worker

Leaders of major unions to step down amid jobs onslaught

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2714

Dave Prentis

Dave Prentis (Pic: Unison- Flickr))


The leaderships of the three biggest trade unions in Britain are up for election—and there will be an intensified debate about class struggle and resistance.

Elections for general secretary—the highest union position—are set to take place in the Unite, Unison and GMB unions.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis announced last week that he plans to step down at the end of this year. 

He’s been at the head of Unison since 2001, and has overseen some major defeats for the union’s public sector worker members.

In 2011 he refused to call more action after a watershed national public sector strike—the largest in British history—that could have turned the tide against the Tories and austerity.

He also oversaw expulsions of left wing union activists. 

And Unison officials were found to have improperly “interfered” to help him win his last election in 2015.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey is also going. 

McCluskey is known for his militant rhetoric and his support for Jeremy Corbyn. 

Defeat

But Unite’s influence in the Labour Party was key in ensuring the party kept backing Trident nuclear weapons and pushing Corbyn to make concessions to the right. McCluskey has also failed to lead a fight to save his members’ jobs in car and steel manufacturing. 

And he oversaw a major defeat for hundreds of workers at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant in Scotland, accepting cuts allegedly to save jobs rather than organise a strike.

In each union there will be machinations and arguments over who the left should back to become the new general secretaries. 

In some cases, there are as of yet no clear good choices to vote for.

In Unite the choice on the mainstream left is between Howard Beckett—seen as McCluskey’s chosen successor—and Steve Turner, who wants to cooperate with British bosses, backed up with nationalist rhetoric.

Who leads each union matters. 

But across the trade union movement, the vast majority of general secretary thinks the best way to save jobs in the coming economic crisis is to cooperate with bosses. 

That will often mean accepting cuts.

The most important thing is ensuring there is a fight against the coming onslaught. 

That means organising to fight in every workplace—and will mean pushing from below


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