Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Unite Greencore Members are an Inspiration

Unite members at Greencore Hull struck for one day in protest at the company's continued attempt to reduce their pay.
Unite says the 600-strong Hull workforce has been angered by the company’s breach of promise to restore pay cuts made in October 2011 which mean a reduction in take-home pay of up to £50 a week.
Unite national officer for the food industry Jennie Formby – who accompanied pickets as they began this morning’s strike at 5am said “The strikers are in really good spirits, there’s real determination here.
“After today, the company must realise that the workers here won’t give up.
“Once people get a taste for fighting back and they realise they don’t have to take this treatment from an employer, all of this makes a difference.”
This week’s strike coincides with the firm’s AGM at which the Chief Executive, Patrick Coveney asked shareholders to authorise bonuses for directors, including €1.7m for himself.

Over 200 pickets gathered to protest outside the site entrance and plan to be there until nightfall.
These workers are determined to regain what should be rightfully theirs already and are now planninmg the second phase of their action.
One worker said "The company need to realise that this isn't going away and when we strike next time they should start listening. In fact it might be more than one day next time"

Unite says the workers agreed to a temporary cut in pay and conditions in 2010 to help the company through economic conditions at the time.
The group last year posted profits worth £70m.
If there is no resolution Unite Community members intend to assist in the dispute and possible methods could include targeting supermarkets which stock Greencore products, such as sandwiches and other convenience foods.

Messages of support can be sent to:

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Len McCluskey Interview

Following the recent announcement by Unite the Union to call an early election for its next General Secretary, Suki Sangha and Bryan Simpson caught up with the incumbent, Len McCluskey, at his campaign launch in Glasgow to talk about the Labour party, the possibility of a General Strike and community membership.


Bryan Simpson (BS): The International Socialist Group here in Scotland has just supported your nomination for Unite General Secretary at their recent National Conference and has committed its Unite activists to build for your campaign. One of the main bones of contention was the union’s link with the Labour party and what our members see to be the unconditional support given to a party which is effectively working against members interests.
If you are re-elected as General Secretary what will you do to make sure that more pressure is put on the Labour party to oppose the cuts and to remove the anti-trade union laws?
Len McCluskey (LM): Our support for the Labour party is certainly not unconditional. The only money we pay to Labour is our affiliation fee and when you’re a member of any organisation you have to pay a membership fee. So the reality is that we pay our membership fee and nothing else. I’ve made it clear to Ed Miliband that any additional payments made to the Labour party will only be made if they start to demonstrate that they’ve changed their ways and that they are beginning to recognise the concerns of ordinary working people and in particular the concerns of trade unions and organised labour. We must influence them to construct a radical alternative for the next election because if they don’t, they are not going to be elected – it’s as simple as that.
You also heard me say there that we have a political strategy to try and re-claim the party. Lots of people feel that it’s going to be a waste of time; lots of people feel that the Labour party is as dead as Monty Python’s parrot but there is a view supported by the Executive Council of Unite that we can still re-gain the heart and soul of the party and we’re going to try. As you’ve also heard me say, Bryan, I’m not going to try and kid anybody. If we are not making the progress that we need to make then I’ll come back and tell the Executive, and that means all of us will be engaged in a debate and a discussion on what our alternatives are.
BS: That was going to be my second question. What if you fail? Many people on the left believe that the Labour party is so inextricably linked to neo-liberalism that it is incapable of changing, certainly as fundamentally as we would like it to change. Would you consider the establishment of a new anti-cuts party?
LM: I would consider a new worker party if it gives a voice to organised labour, a voice that the Labour party was supposed to give. The Labour party has no God-given right to exist. It can only exist if it is the voice of organised labour. If it ceases to be the voice of organised labour then we will need to do what our forefathers and mothers did at the beginning of the last century; sit down and work out other options. That will have to involve other trade unions because the frustration that is felt within Unite is also felt in Unison, the GMB and in that sense the debate and discussion will have to take place with those unions as well.
Suki Sangha (SS): My question is on the new community initiative. What are your primary aims for Community organising and how do you think that they fit in with Unite’s overall strategy?
LM: The aim is simply to give people the opportunity to organise themselves, to have a voice. There are that many people in our communities now who don’t work or can’t work who are disenfranchised, have problems and issues with nowhere to turn. As more and more community organisations are being closed down as a result of the cuts, that situation is going to become even worse. What we’re saying is that we want to give people a hope, to empower them to organise and link-up with workers. It’s about unity. It’s about class unity.
How do I see them linking in? Well, if you are a member of Unite community you can be elected onto your local area activist committee with working people and you can play a role within your union. That role will grow as community membership grows. We now have seats on our Executive for Women, for disabled workers, for LGBT workers, Bryan sits there as Observer for young workers. They haven’t always been there. They are there because there is a mounting pressure at the rank and file level of the union to say we want that, we want our voice heard. I hope that’s what will develop with the growth of Community membership.
BS: My next question is with regards to Motion 5. As you know it received overwhelming support at the last TUC conference with a vote of 4-1 in favour of mandating the TUC looking at the logistical possibility of a general strike. As we know many of the unions that sit on the General Council, if not most of them, have no intention of balloting their members.
What are you going to do at the next General Council, with other leaders like Mark Serwotka to make sure that the TUC does follow through with what it has been mandated to do? Are you going to push the TUC to name a date?
LM: Naming a date is a great slogan being sung by left parties at the moment but it’s no use naming a date unless you have the confidence and you’re ready for the date. One thing we’re not going to do is allow those unions who have no intention of even balloting their members to drag us down and hold us back. We’re going to continue to take the resolution seriously but it’s not always as straight forward as you might think. For example, Mark Serwotka is a very good friend of mine and we’ve spoken about this at length. He is concerned about the concept of a general strike because he thinks that it will take away energy from what he sees to be a much more realistic possibility, which is another spate of coordinated strike actions in the public sector over pay. He believes that the demand and energy on a general strike will dissipate and not achieve any outcome.
BS: Do you agree with that?
LM: I understand his concerns but my point to him was that they are not mutually exclusive. We should be developing both. I will be meeting with the Unite public sector combine this week in order to get their thoughts and views about coordinated strike action over pay, jobs and conditions. PCS are already balloting, or have committed themselves to a ballot, and I hope that is precisely what our members vote to do on Monday. Separate to that, I still think you can keep the pot boiling over the concept of a general strike. We have started to utilise the terminology ‘mass strike action’ rather than general strike because, as I indicated in my meeting, certain groups of our members are more advanced in terms of militancy than other groups. We want to continue to build and fight the campaign right up to the election. There is no point waiting until the election. We haven’t got two years. People are suffering now and from April that suffering is only going to get worse and worse and worse. We want to be involved in everything; direct action, civil disobedience, industrial action where we can raise the members consciousness sufficiently and if we can do that with other unions then all the better.
Can I Just make this final point, you sat at our last Executive when we had a really intense and detailed debate about the general strike. I thought it was a fabulous discussion. You heard some Executive members saying that they didn’t think they could get their members out. I just wonder how many unions, including those which voted for Motion 5, are even having that debate.
BS: That’s exactly what I’ve said in my article. We have got the most progressive, left-wing Executive in the country. I’ve not sat on any other execs and I know that because of what’s actually being pushed through in terms of radical reforms and policies. That Executive is an Executive which would pull any General Secretary to the left. It is already 75% united left, which is a great thing but it can be 80%, 90%. That’s why we need the continuity of progressive leadership.
SS: Many members of the public may feel that resistance to Con-Dem austerity has fallen flat. Do you feel that Unite or the labour movement more generally has more to offer in a popular struggle against cuts?
LM: Of course they have. We have to constantly keep things on the boil. That’s why the vote by the TUC to consider taking general strike action was grist to the mill. It allows the media, even if they are attacking us, to keep it bubbling along. That’s why we are calling on our members to actively engage in the anti-cuts committees which exist in the towns and cities right across our nation. Of course we’ve got more to offer. In fact we are the only people who can offer that lead. The Labour leadership is not offering a lead. We are the only ones who can take that lead and we’ve got to fulfill that historic role which has been given to us. So there are lots more to do.
BS: You’ve been a big supporter of the Coalition of Resistance since its inception. One of the strongest groups in the country is here in Glasgow. What we are looking to do is to bring together the Coalition of Resistance and the Community project. Would you be up for coming back up to Glasgow to help us launch that?
LM: Of course I would be up for that. By all means, feed the dates back to my office and if I’m free I would be delighted to do it.
Thanks, and I appreciate your support.

Suki Sangha is a member of the International Socialist Group in Glasgow. She is a member of Unite the Union in the voluntary sector and is on the STUC Youth Executive. Bryan Simpson is a member of the International Socialist Group in Glasgow. He is a shop steward for Unite the Union in the finance and legal sector and is the young member’s representative on the Executive Council.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Leeds Campaign Meeting Report


Over 150 activists from the North East, Yorkshire & Humberside Region packed the hall of Yorkshire Ryder Club in Leeds on Wedneday 16th January, to hear Len McCluskey the Unite Generasl Secretary explain why he was calling for support to be re-elected as Unite General Secretary.
Highlighting his vision for the future, stating that he felt Unite had finally started to become a union that commands rerspect in the Trade Union movement but still had a long way to go.
Promising that if re elected he would work tirelessly to achieve his aims to benefit working people
A lively Q&A session followed with questions from the floor on: -
·        Labour Party
·        Organising
·        Blacklisting
·        Community Organising

He ended the session with a packed hall applauding one activist said 'a very comradely meeting with plenty of stirring questions and frank answers!' 
Branch Nominations close 15th February with voting period beginning 18th March 2013.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Why We Should Support McCluskey

Following the recent decision by Unite the Union to call an early election for their General Secretary, Bryan Simpson argues why Socialists should offer their critical support to Len McCluskey.

In the aftermath of the occupation of Tory HQ at Millbank, those involved were branded “criminal thugs” and subjected to a witch hunt which led to dozens being sent to jail. Yet, while the liberal media, the NUS and most of the Labour party were falling over one another to condemn those involved, the Assistant General Secretary of Unite the Union publicly applauded them as an “inspiration”. Quite a courageous thing to do the week before a General Secretary election in which he was a candidate, particularly when the main threat was perceived to be from the right. Even before his successful election, Len McCluskey had appeared to align himself with the far left of the trade union movement.
In the two years since the protests in 2010, McCluskey has proven himself as the most progressive General Secretary in the country and one of the most left wing trade union leaders of the last decade. Under his leadership, Unite the union has become the most progressive union in Britain. It is one of only a handful of unions, and the only one affiliated to the Labour party, to oppose all cuts. As an ardent supporter of the Coalition of Resistance he stood squarely behind groups such as UK Uncut, calling for “mass direct action and civil disobedience” against the cuts.
With the establishment of the Unite Community campaign he has initiated a programme which seeks to bring together those most acutely affected by the cuts. This initiative not only has the potential to revolutionise the way trade unions interact with and are thus perceived by the working class but it could also tie together two of the most crucial battle grounds for class politics – the workplace and the streets. It is the initiative of someone who has a clear understanding not only of where we are in terms of the balance of class forces but where we must go in order to avoid destruction.
He has also been a thorn in the side of the right wing of the trade union movement, arguing persistently for coordinated strike action across the public and private sector. When public sector workers struck in November, Unite and PCS formed joint strike committees, following the agreement signed between Mark Serwotka and Len McCluskey in May 2011. Both general secretaries were undoubtedly instrumental in winning the argument over motion 5 at the 2012 TUC Conference; which committed the TUC to look at the practicalities of a General Strike. Needless to say, with the likes of USDAW and ATL among its members, the TUC General Council was prepared to do nothing to initiate the actions mandated by conference. In fact it took a rather heated intervention from McCluskey to demand that it be brought back on the table.
What is clear is that Len McCluskey is no bureaucrat. He is a grass roots general secretary. His ideological stance, not just in rhetoric but in tangible action, in support of mass direct action including industrial action is proof of this. It was not the officialdom which put him there. They wanted Baylis. It was the electoral machine of United Left which is made up of tens of thousands of rank and file shop stewards and activists. They now hold him to account via arguably the most left executive of any trade union.
Uniting Unite
Despite the incredibly negative campaign launched by the Baylis camp in 2010, McCluskey was quick to quell the idea that he would be a T&G only General Secretary and has been instrumental in uniting what was previously a divided union. Under his leadership, Unite the union has been transformed from a union dogged with internal battles during the Woodley-Simpson era to one which looks outward, taking a leading role in both the trade union and anti-cuts movements. The makeup of the NEC is testament to this transformation, with over 75% of the Executive now United Left. This is important not just for Unite but for the trade union movement as a whole because, as the biggest trade union in Britain, it can now lead the movement and continue to pull it to the left.
This is not to say that things are perfect. At the last Executive Council it was clear that there was significant disagreement both from the right and left, with 18 voting against an early election. This clearly shows that some divisions still exist, even within United Left. These divides can only be bridged with the continuity of a progressive leadership. The last thing it needs is for that progress to be cut short by a change in leadership which would almost certainly plunge it bank into the dark days of division which held Unite and the trade union movement back for so long.
Why now?: Democracy and Accountability
Critics of an early election have justifiably raised concerns over how it may be perceived by the members. Some EC members from both the right (workers united)and the left (supporters of Jerry Hicks) have argued that calling an early ballot will be seen by members (particularly ex-Amicus) as another attempt by a General Secretary to cling onto power.
The simple fact is that McCluskey is no Simpson. The aforementioned changes brought about under his leadership both in uniting the union and pulling it to the left clearly demonstrate that. Furthermore, as opposed to in 2010 when it was used to push Unite rightwards, calling an early election now in 2013 has the sole purpose of solidifying the dominance of the left within Unite.
When we choose who to support in an election like this, as socialists and trade unionists, we cannot and should not allow our decisions to be governed by party political allegiances alone. A political organisation which has a healthy internal culture will make allowances for the fact that members operating within a specific union understand the balance of forces therein and thus have a unique vantage point when it comes to decision making within their own area of operation. Although Unite members should be accountable to the wider organization, through regular consultation and debate, they should also be trusted to make informed political decisions. For socialists operating within their trade union, if they are seen to be receiving their ‘line’, unquestioned, from external forces; they run the risk of alienating members and ultimately hindering the development of solidarity.
The simple fact is that the left needs at least another five years to push forward with the progressive reforms required to make this union genuinely democratic and accountable to its members. Only by adopting a politically pluralistic structure – where branches, not the Executive, choose who they affiliate to – can this be achieved. This has to mean disaffiliation from Labour. At a recent area activist meeting in Glasgow, McCluskey made clear that he would not be willing to fund Labour’s next election campaign should they refuse to include the removal of anti-trade union laws in their next manifesto. Our job as rank and file members of Unite is to hold him to that promise.
Watch out for the forthcoming interview with Len McCluskey conducted by Bryan Simpson and Suki Sangha.

Bryan Simpson is a member of the International Socialist Group in Glasgow. He is a shop steward for Unite the Union in the Finance and Legal sector and is the Young Members representative on the Executive Council.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Sheffield Council cuts will hurt this City


Sheffield Anti-Cuts Alliance warned today that the Government's austerity cuts will really hit working people this year – and £50M Council cuts in April will be only just the start.

 

“These cuts will really hurt” says Martin Mayer who chairs Sheffield Anti-Cuts Alliance. “Axing childcare facilities like nurseries will impact on Sheffield mums and hurt families hard. Closing libraries and major sports facilities, and slashing funding for vital community support will literally change the face of this city. Taking away council tax benefit for working people on low incomes is yet another example of how austerity is making the poorest people pay for a crisis which is not of their making”

 

A major demonstration is planned in Sheffield on Saturday 19th January to protest the £3.5M cuts to childcare centres and nurseries many of which will close if the decision is not reversed. The demonstration which is backed by Sheffield Community Forum is supported by Sheffield Anti Cuts Alliance and a number of unions including GMB, UNITE, NUT and UNISON. Thousands of leaflets have been distributed and a big turn-out is expected. “There's a lot of angry mums out there who depend on these services” said Martin Mayer “ and they're determined to come out on Saturday with prams and pushchairs and kids in tow to show how they feel. They are right to be angry. They are seeing for the first time that austerity is really impacting on their lives now”.

 

Sheffield Anti-Cuts Alliance says austerity is not working. It's unfair and will do major damage to the living standards of working people. Meanwhile the rich and super-rich who are responsible for the crisis get off scot-free. Millionaires get a massive tax handout now the top rate of tax has been slashed (average tax rebate is £47,000 this year!) and big business benefits from a whopping reduction in Corporation tax – with further cuts promised!

 

There is an alternative. £100B per year is evaded, avoided or uncollected in taxes from the richest in society. A Robin Hood tax on every financial transaction in the City of 0.05% would bring in £20B. Just recovering  a fraction of this money each year would eradicate the deficit without the need for any cuts in public spending at all.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

General Secretary Campaign Election Meeting

Len McCluskey Unite General Secretary will address an open meeting of Unite members in Leeds during January.

The meeting is being held at:
Yorkshire Ryder Club
Railway Street
Leeds
LS98HB

Wednesday 16th January 7pm to 9pm


Len's term of office from Jan 2010 has seen:
·                   very rapid progress to consolidate the merger
·                   real leadership in the fight against austerity - UNITE's message is clear: "no to all cuts-don't make workers pay for the crisi
·                   genuine empowerment to members with the branch as the base
·                   branch funding for every branch implemented
·                   £25M dispute fund set up
·                   leverage strategy developed and now major resources devoted to further work
·                   a genuine fighting back strategy that is seeing real wins for UNITE workers when they take strike action
·                   community membership introduced - a first in the union movement
·                   50,000 new members from a relaunched 100% campaign
·                   plans for a new conference/training centre in Birmingham city centre
·                   a real fightback in the Labour Party with a brand new UNITE political strategy - no more blank cheques!
·                   a culture of openness, tolerance and democracy throughout the union
·                   new ecoms strategy giving UNITE the best website and member contact in the union movement
·                   membership data systems overhauled and simplified
·                   no repudiations of any dispute since Len took office
·                   root and branch review started of every UNITE department to make it "fit for purpose"
·                   new impetus to our international work -developing a fighting back organising strategy in all the GUFS
·                   ending the TGWU/AMICUS divide and genuinely uniting our new UNTE union