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How awkward will Tony Woodley be?

This article is over 20 years, 11 months old
Judy Cox talks to TGWU union members about their newly elected general secretary
Issue 1854

TONY BLAIR was dealt another severe blow by trade unionists last Saturday when members of the powerful TGWU union elected Tony Woodley as their new general secretary. Woodley, who had wide support from the left in the union, got 66,958 votes, 43 percent. He decisively beat Jack Dromey, seen as the most pro-Blair candidate, who came second with 45,136 votes, 29 percent.

Another left wing candidate, Barry Camfield, got 28,346 votes, while Labour Party treasurer Jimmy Elsby only got 13,336 votes. The election saw 21 percent of the union’s 850,000 members vote for the successor to Bill Morris, who is retiring. Woodley spoke out against the war on Iraq and has called for the reinstatement of suspended Labour MP George Galloway. Woodley also says he is proud to be ‘a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad’ of left wing trade union leaders.

On Sunday he declared, ‘Working people think this government is too wedded to big business. The awkward squad are a reminder of what Labour should be doing, of the values which some union leaders and politicians have forgotten.’ The TGWU election result is clearly a further boost to the left wing in the trade union movement.

But many TGWU members are also well aware of Woodley’s limitations. The TGWU has traditionally been closely linked to the Labour Party, and Woodley has already let it be known that he will be working more closely with Labour than others in the awkward squad.

And though many TGWU members are delighted that Dromey was humiliated, they remember how Woodley worked with New Labour minister Stephen Byers to oversee huge job cuts in the car industry over recent years. Dave Sherry, an active TGWU member in Glasgow, told Socialist Worker, ‘This is a smashing result. It is a clear rejection of Blair and Blairism in the union. Woodley was not a rank and file candidate, but he was anti-war and the vote is in line with votes in the other unions. Dromey is a Blairite, but he daren’t mention it because he knew it would lose him votes. I remember campaigning for Bill Morris when Dromey stood against him for general secretary in 1995. We said all along that the key was building on the ground. Woodley’s victory gives us some space and confidence to do that.’

Pat Boyle, a longstanding TGWU activist from west London, told Socialist Worker, ‘Downing Street would have wanted Dromey to win, but they kept out and didn’t play a big role. Woodley isn’t tied in to the Labour machine as closely as some of the others. He is more independent and will criticise the government at times. But it all really depends on what happens from below. We need to start campaigning for a minimum wage of £7 an hour, which Woodley says he supports. We need to fight for a shorter working week, better safety at work and independent union organisation. We need a real political debate in the union.’

A worker from the Halewood Jaguar plant on Merseyside told Socialist Worker, ‘I voted for Woodley. He was taken round the plant by some shop stewards to put his case. People here are angry about what is happening in the plant. The bosses are trying to introduce ‘corridor hours’. This means that you work overtime, but don’t get paid for it. You ‘bank’ the hours and next time there is a drop in orders you take the time off – it’s funding our own layoffs. Tony Woodley said he was against all this, but he didn’t offer a strategy of what to do about it. I think the union has really accepted it and are just going through the motions of ‘consultation’.’

Brian Todd works at Baker Electrics in Rotherham. He told Socialist Worker, ‘I voted for Woodley as the more left wing and least Blairite candidate. We feel abandoned by New Labour and the unions. I hope now there will be a shift towards the rank and file workers and away from New Labour. I want a leader who will stand up on issues like conditions at work and union recognition. We are fighting for union recognition here. A lot of workers who feel pissed off and ground down will feel cheered up by the result. Woodley was someone Blair didn’t like. Dromey didn’t want to admit Blair backed him because of the anger of rank and file workers. We don’t have illusions in Woodley. It is good to see the Blairite candidate beaten, but we have to organise ourselves.’


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