The election of a single General Secretary for the Unite union — to replace current joint Secretaries Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley — will take place in September and October, with the results announced in November. All three main contenders say they are on the “left”.
We think it is more important that revolutionary socialists use the election to argue for the type of union we need, to carry the fight for a democratic, fighting union into workplaces, into branches and onto picket lines.
We will send letters to all the candidates asking key questions that we feel need to be answered. As well as general questions to all the candidates about union democracy, organising and so on, we have some particular and specific questions for each candidate. All replies will be published in Solidarity or on the AWL website.
Questions for Jerry Hicks
Jerry Hicks was a shop steward at Rolls Royce in Bristol who was victimised for his trade union activity. He went to the government’s Certification Office to force last year’s General Secretary Election in the Amicus side of the union; he came a respectable second behind Derek Simpson. He resigned from the SWP and supports Respect.
He is standing for all union officials to be paid an average member’s wage, for the election of officials and for the integration of retired members into the union’s industrial structures.
Three questions for Jerry Hicks:
• You have talked about how the leadership of the union begs for crumbs from the state’s table and has given massive amounts of money to the Labour government without demanding the repeal of the anti-union laws. Yet you went to a state body (the Certification Office) to force a General Secretary election. If you are committed to fighting the anti-union laws, shouldn’t you repudiate your previous use of those same laws?
• Isn’t it a basic democratic and class principle that only members who are currently working in an industry should make decisions on union action in that industry? That they shouldn’t be in the hands of retired members, no matter how valuable their experience may be?
• You want all officials to be elected and on the same wage as average Unite members. These changes are not in the gift of the General Secretary and would need mass support to get them through a rule change conference. Win or lose, what are you going to do to build a rank-and-file campaign to push through these changes?
Questions for Les Bayliss
Les Bayliss is an Assistant General Secretary of Unite from the old Amicus side of the union. He is supported by the “Simpsonite” Workers Uniting grouping in the union. He was a member of the old Communist Party of Great Britain, and then the CPB until 1999.
He is standing on a platform of forging greater links with unions around the world and changing the focus of the union towards organising skilled workers with industrial muscle.
Three questions for Les Bayliss:
• You have talked about expanding on the union’s international ties as a way for workers to fight back against globalisation. Unite ran campaigns around Rover, Cadbury’s, Diageo and Vauxhall that appealed to jingoism and little Englandism/Scotlandism, undercutting any sense of solidarity across borders. How would you defend that? What do you intend to do to make international links mean something in shop floor struggles?
• By concentrating on skilled industrial workers, won’t the union be giving up the fight to organise a fast growing part of the working class, and thus excerbating the problems of craft chauvinism, sexism and racism in our union?
• Unite supports the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. Why does the union give so much political support to the only regime in the Caribbean that bans free trade unions, when there are workers in struggle throughout that region who sorely need our support?
Questions for Len McClusky
Len McClusky is an assistant General Secretary, from the TGWU side of the union. He has won the overwhelming support of the United Left grouping. He seen on TV a lot at the moment over the British Airways dispute. Len used to be sympathise with Militant, and now supports the Labour Representation Committee.
His main proposals are to expand the organising drive and giving central funds for organising to local branches.
Three questions for Len McClusky:
• It is a matter of principle that officials in unions (including the General Secretary) should not be privileged bureaucrats but retain the same interests and lifestyle as the members. Will you pledge to take an average skilled worker’s wage and campaign for this to apply to all union officials?
• You have talked about reclaiming Labour as the party of the working class. If elected, how do you plan to carry this fight into the Labour Party? Why did you not support the union nominating John McDonnell in 2006?
• The trade union laws are framed to make successfully strike action nigh-on impossible. They have been used most recently to stymie the BA cabin crew workers. Will you use Unite’s voice in the Labour Party to loudly demand the scrapping of these laws? And will you support and help organise a campaign to to make these laws a dead letter by mass defiance?