Unite

Unite and Labour: we must democratise both party and unions

The Executive Council of the big trade union Unite has agreed to cut its affiliation to the Labour Party by 10% or 50,000 members, in what is generally seen as a protest against Keir Starmer’s leadership. It is not a good or effective protest, if the aim is to promote left-wing policies, Labour democracy, and a working-class voice in politics. Unite’s official statement is cryptic. It does not refer to Starmer’s leadership or the direction it is taking Labour, except in the vaguest of hints, instead talking about support for “emerging talent”, “talented thinkers” and “energetic organisations”...

It depends who's saying it

The Morning Star (and the Daily Worker before it) for years survived thanks to a subsidy from the Russian leadership: Moscow paid it £3,000 a month in the 1960s (equivalent of £60,000-plus today), and in the 1970s and 1980s purchased 12,000 copies a day. When the order was cancelled in 1992, the paper was saved by the leaders of several British trade unions pumping money in. Union funding continues to ensure the paper’s survival via bulk orders, generous payments for advertising, and subsidised special editions for union conferences, Tolpuddle, the Durham Miners’ Gala, etc. Paradoxically, this...

Next steps on NHS pay

The cross-union campaign “NHS Workers Say No!” is organising a day of demonstrations on 12 September. (London: 11 a.m. from the BBC, Portland Place. Details for other cities here). Article and video. This follows a round of protests in many cities on 8 August, when NHS workers across the country came onto the streets to demand a pay rise, an earlier London street protest on 29 July, and workplace actions across the country. The demand is that all NHS workers (including those contracted out) get a 15% pay rise. That does not fully make up for the loss in pay NHS workers have had over the last decade due to pay freezes. When taking inflation into account, NHS workers have lost 20% in real terms.

Tube: an alternative to cuts

As well as a loud “no” to cuts proposed by the ongoing KPMG-led audit of Transport for London’s finances, Tube workers and our unions also need to spell out our “yes”. We’re unlikely to get that kind of vision from the “independent review” London Mayor Sadiq Khan has commissioned to run in parallel. RMT has produced its own submission to the TfL review, making the case for public funding, public ownership, increased staffing levels, and the in-housing of all services. It’s a useful contribution to discussion, but needs to be connected to an active campaign with roots in workplaces. It also...

NHS protests set for 12 September

The rank-and-file NHS workers’ campaign for a 15% pay rise — “NHS Workers Say No to Pay Inequality” — is heating up, with actions and events across the country from 26 August. 26 August will see workers’ rallies at hospitals and workplaces in places including Ipswich, Cambridge, Aintree, Birkenhead, Manchester, North Tees, Southend, Chelmsford, Basildon and Coventry, as well as across London. Then the first half of September will see public demonstrations in places including Plymouth, Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, Brighton, Bournemouth, Southend, Norwich and London - mostly on Saturday 12...

Beckett careerism splits United Left

Howard Beckett (pictured, right), head of Unite the Union’s Legal Department, announced on 20 August that he will stand for election as the union’s General Secretary. In online hustings held in mid-July the millionaire solicitor had sought to win the backing of the United Left, the “Broad Left” in Unite. He lost to Assistant General Secretary Steve Turner (pictured, left). Beckett whinged that the vote had been marred by procedural deficiencies and irregularities, using the increasingly whacky Skawkbox website as his main media outlet. The United Left provided a detailed rebuttal of Beckett’s...

Unite: run the contest now

While Unite members face job losses and attacks on terms and conditions, General Secretary Len McCluskey and Head of the Legal Department Howard Beckett have a different priority: ensuring that the Beckett succeeds as General Secretary. In May McCluskey proposed to the chair and secretary of the United Left (UL), the “Broad Left” in Unite, that they hold hustings to select the UL candidate for the next General Secretary election. The UL has always functioned primarily as an election machine. But it got a low turnout in the 2017 General Secretary election and a miserable performance in the...

NHS workers' day of action 8 August

Over thousand nurses, other health workers, and supporters joined a protest on 29 July which marched from St Thomas's Hospital to rally outside Downing Street. Speakers highlighted support for Black Lives Matter, and the demonstration "took the knee" to mark that support. The main theme was the demand for a pay rise for NHS workers. The protest was organised by the Unite branch at Guy's and St Thomas's, with Nurses United UK and Keep our NHS public, but drew contingents from other hospitals too. St Thomas's nurse and Unite activist Dave Carr drew loud applause from the rally when he called on...

Strife in Unite

The United Left, the dominant faction in the big Unite union, held a hustings and online ballot on 18 July to decide its nomination for the General Secretary election coming up, probably, in the next months as Len McCluskey retires. The nomination was won by Steve Turner, one of the union’s Assistant General Secretaries (AGS), with 370 votes against 367 for Howard Beckett (pictured), another AGS. The Labour left blog Skwawkbox, which supported Beckett, is agitating for a re-run with the claim that some Beckett supporters couldn’t get access to the online voting. Workers’ Liberty activists in...

Support the Tower Hamlets workers!

Thousands of council workers in Tower Hamlets struck on 3-6-7 July against mass sackings and the imposition of new, significantly worse terms and conditions under the “Tower Rewards” scheme. As we go to press Tower Hamlets Unison reps have been meeting to discuss their next steps. There may be more strikes in the week starting 13 July. Picket organisers reported a strong strike turnout and good numbers at socially distanced pickets across the borough, plus many more members “striking from home”. Refuse workers organised by Unite and GMB supported the action, and some refused to cross picket...

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