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From The Socialist newspaper, 19 February 2020

Unite union executive council elections

Build a fighting trade union movement

Unite members fighting for better conditions on London buses, photo Isai Priya

Unite members fighting for better conditions on London buses, photo Isai Priya   (Click to enlarge)

Kevin Parslow, secretary, Unite LE1228 branch (personal capacity)

Balloting for the Unite union's executive council (EC) elections will be held between 25 March and 29 April.

Socialist Party members in the union are supporting the United Left list of candidates or 'slate'.

One of our members, Mick Joyce, is standing in the engineering, manufacturing and steel sector. Mick has a great record as a shop steward, leading the successful strike at Kone in Gateshead in 2015. The full slate is at unitedleft.org.uk.

The key task facing the new EC will be strengthening the more militant path taken by the union since the election of Len McCluskey as general secretary in 2010.

In this time, Len has refused to write 'repudiation letters' to employers disavowing unofficial industrial action (a policy first proposed by Socialist Party members in Unite).

The union has also taken out the words 'within the law' from its rules, removing a potential constraint to the pursuit of disputes.

Unite organises substantially more ballots and strikes than all other unions combined.

This support for workers has been underlined by victories this year at Bromley Libraries against outsourcer GLL and in the Hackney Council SEND transport dispute, both in London.

The Birmingham bin workers' victory last year is another recent example of a determined defence of workers' rights (articles on these disputes can be read at socialistparty.org.uk).

However, where Unite has fallen short is in building a generalised campaign against successive Tory-led governments and their austerity programme.

While Unite was at the forefront during the pensions dispute of 2011-12 - and continued action in some sectors after some other unions had pulled out - organising a determined national campaign of political and industrial struggles has been lacking.

Yet this is what workers will be demanding if we are to halt the proposals of Johnson's Tory government, given their majority in parliament, which include more anti-union laws, specifically targeted at Unite members in transport alongside the rail unions.

But the Tories can be defeated if trade unions take action in defence of jobs, services and the right to strike itself.

Fight the Blairites

Politically, Unite backed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and generally defended him from the attacks of the right. Now, Unite must actively oppose any moves to the right inside Labour.

Unite should have actively pushed with Labour for mandatory re-selection of Labour MPs - again, a policy proposed at Unite's policy conference by a Socialist Party member - as a warning shot against the Blairites actively opposed to Corbyn and the Labour membership.

Socialist Party members have been to the fore in fighting for Unite to demand that Labour councils refuse to implement Tory cuts.

We played a central role in the London and Eastern regional committee passing a motion supporting the anti-cuts stand of Enfield Labour councillor Tolga Aramaz.

The newly-elected EC, and Unite members as a whole, will be faced with the likely retirement of Len McCluskey in the next couple of years. Already a number of candidates on the left have been touted as his successor.

The United Left will have an election process to choose its candidate but others may decide to run independently.

This may pose problems if the right wing within the union chooses to stand a candidate.

In the 2017 election, right-wingerGerard Coyne, then the West Midlands regional secretary, came within 6,000 votes of winning in a union of over a million workers.

Any right-wing candidate would stand a chance of success against a split candidacy. This would be a huge blow to the development of a fighting trade union movement.

Socialist Party members in Unite recently discussed our attitude to the general secretary candidates.

While not yet endorsing any candidate, we concluded that candidates need to put forward a programme to enthuse and mobilise the union's membership to struggle against capitalism and its political representatives. That would be decisive for the workers in Unite.

Our programme includes the following demands:

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Related links:

Unite:

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triangleBook: Why you should be a trade unionist by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey

triangleWorkers at homelessness charity St Mungo's on strike, London, 17 March 2020

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