Winning hearts and minds requires more than just talk
Posted by jerryhicks4gs on September 15, 2009
IT’S NOT WHAT YOU SAY IT’S WHAT YOU DO THAT COUNTS
One problem that towers above all others in Unite the one of the massive disconnect between the union and its members. The leadership have failed to touch the hearts and minds of members. 90% of the membership never felt connected enough to vote for the National Council. Only 17% felt it of worth to vote for the merger to create ‘Unite’ the country’s biggest Trade Union and only 15% in the election for Joint General Secretary.
When rhetoric fails to measure up to reality there is a crisis of credibility. When the union say the right things even bang the right tables only to walk away it creates a huge problem for us. The result being the government ignores us. Employers confident enough to cut jobs, break agreements, impose pay freezes, and come for our pensions. Leaving members isolated.
In May we were subjected to something quite humiliating, Digby Jones at the front of our demonstration in Birmingham on the ‘March for Jobs’. The unelected former head of the CBI, the man who said 1 in 3 public sector workers were surplus. Did the union tell him it was a March for Job Losses! How did it ever come to be? Like the King with no clothes – no one in senior positions in our union had the courage to speak out.
Then there was Vestas on the Isle of Wight a very profitable company – 625 workers – not unionised (though 20 or so are in Unite) producing blades for wind turbines ‘Green’ energies needed to Save the planet. Vestas talked about investment then announced a closure.
No doubt inspired by the factory occupations at Waterford Glass, Visteon plants in Belfast, Enfield and Basildon and the unofficial strikes at Lindsey oil refinery along with the illegal solidarity walk outs. Vestas workers fought back.
An occupation, demonstrations, calls for nationalisation, national and international media attention, a boss maximising profit, chucking people on the scrap heap. It could have been, should have been a defining moment. Where were we? Nowhere to be seen!
In these times judgement is crucial you either ‘Seize the moment or rue the day’ we missed the mood, missed the moment and missed the boat!
The leadership of Unite either agreed with this or they were indifferent to it – either way they went along with it. How hypocritical of our union in having a tent at Tolpuddle commemorating the bravery of the past, only to cower at the law and repudiate in the present. I support unofficial action and solidarity action. Workers should be able to decide what to do, when it needs to be done and not be criminalised for making those decisions.
Repeal of all Anti Union Legislation brought in by the Tories, left unchanged by New Labour, unchallenged by the TUC and our union has to be a priority.
I believe that fundamental change is also needed in our union’s relationship with New Labour which is one of being – too close – too cosy – paying too much – for far too little. £13 million since 2005 and supporting over 100 Labour MPs has not even achieved the basic right to re-instatement when unfairly dismissed. PFI hospitals the proliferation of academy schools and we have the 2nd lowest state pension in Europe.
But criticism, however strident, in whatever amounts means nothing and no change. We should support only MPs or councillors, current and prospective, who support our policies.
The union run like a business, not a service to members, has caused a divide that has become a chasm between the leadership and its members it can be bridged by returning ownership of the union to where it belongs – with the members. They decide, the Union provides.
We must move to ‘Election of all officials’, elected by members not appointed by the General Secretary. Elected by the members available and accountable, to the members.
We will need to fight for a ‘Public works programme’ building schools, hospitals and council houses creating 100,000 new jobs for construction workers starting with offering the first 3000 jobs to those on the blacklist. To fight for renewable energies, wind, sea and solar, providing up to a million jobs design, manufacture and construction reducing our reliance on nuclear and oil. The arguement that nuclear power will create jobs is a wholly bogus one and forgets to mention the legacy of thousands of years of waste. The question is “Which would you rather have, one million jobs or 10,000 jobs?”
Where’s the money coming from? Scrap Trident, there’s £75 billion spend that on, £25 billion for schools, hospitals and housing – £25 billion for Renewable energies – £25 billion for State pensions. Bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq’ saving thousands of lives and £ billions. Tax Businesses most of which are still making huge profits. Tax on bosses bonuses in banking, not the counter staff. Tax the wealthy, those completely unaffected by the recession.
If we are brave and audacious, if we have a clear set of priorities, if we hand the union back to our members, if at the head of the union we have someone who when a Minister, an employer or any one of our members who look into their eyes they believe them.
These are worrying times even scary times but these are the times when we must come to the fore. We are faced with a massive challenge but also an opportunity. Workers’ rights, trade union freedoms, decent state pensions, pay and conditions and public ownership of utilities are what is required, especially now during the chaos that the free market has created.
There’s a mood for real change, more of the same will not inspire or reinvigorate our union. A General Secretary living a lifestyle nothing like that of any of our members rightly feeds members’ disrespect. I would only take the average wage of a skilled worker.
Unfortunately the election for the Unite General Secretary may well be held under a Tory Government. George Osbourne told a meeting of business leaders “after 3 months in office we will be the most unpopular Government since the war!” Cuts and attacks staring us in the face in every section, every region, every workplace, employed and unemployed, retired or not. Our union leadership have failed to face up to Labour can our members be confident that they can face up to the Tories if they get in?
I have been a fierce critic of Derek Simpson, but there has to be a collective responsibility, we have 11 assistant general secretary’s all appointed, not one elected to that post. Some will be candidates in next years election. Describing problems and their own solutions with plenty to say now yet have barely uttered a critical word over the last 12 years.
The hearts and minds of our members will not be won at any fringe meeting of the TUC. They will be won in the workplaces, on the dole queues, on the picket lines and on the roof top demonstrations. That’s where I intend to be whenever I can. It’s not just what someone says, it is what they do that counts: