What I Stand For
This election comes at a defining moment for working people in this country. It is the most important Trade union election for generations. We had the credit crunch, the recession and now the crisis of public debt. The Tory-Liberal ,Con-Dem coalition government, wants to dump the costs of bailing out their beloved “free market” on working people, those least able to pay and the most vulnerable.
Instead of increasing taxes on the very rich to pay off the debt, the Con-Dems are using the debt as an excuse for a massive attack on the welfare state and public services, risking a double-dip recession, and ditching any real move to tackle Climate Change.
This is a nasty government. To push through the cuts it wants to encourage division amongst us. Our best chance of defending our jobs, pensions and services is united resistance. That means unity of public sector and private sector, young and old, men and women, employed and unemployed, students and pensioners. That means standing up against any attempt to divert anger against scapegoats, be that through nationalism, racism or homophobia.
UNITE needs to be at the heart of a coalition of resistance standing up to the onslaught from employers and the government.
Our union needs to offer an alternative vision to that on offer from the Con-Dems. And that can’t simply be about backing Labour – they lost the election because they let down working people so badly over so many issues for so long.
Why don’t we:
- Prioritise public ownership over shareholder greed?
- Demand a million new ‘Green’ jobs to tackle climate change?
- Demand a public works programme, with the first 3100 jobs offered to blacklisted construction workers?
- Work alongside the millions of pensioners to defend and demand decent pensions?
- Work alongside students to demand free education, instead of having half our young members saddled with huge debts?
- Work alongside those with disabilities to defend incapacity benefit and prevent some of the most vulnerable being forced to compete in a difficult labour market?
- Campaign for the People’s Charter and make it happen?
- Demand jobs and services not wars and occupying other countries?
Change in UNITE
But we also need change in our own union, if we are to turn the tide. The members are the union, but the activists (reps, stewards, branch officers etc) are the heart of the union. If we want an effective union, we can’t afford to continue allowing the activist layer to age and dwindle in numbers.
We need change in UNITE’s culture and structures to inspire and involve more people, especially young members, and to put the rank-and-file members in charge:
- Change from a “can’t do” union to a “can do” union; from a campaigning union to a fighting union; from a centralised top-down union to a bottom-up union; from a union afraid of people doing the wrong thing, to a union determined to act; from a climate of fear to a culture of open debate
- Officials to be elected by the members, not appointed
- Officials to be accountable to members through the appropriate lay member committee
- Reps, stewards and branch officers to have access to membership information about the people they represent. Internal politics at the top should no longer be prioritised above effective organising and campaigning on the ground
- A General Secretary on an average wage (latest figure is £26,470 per year). See page 12 of the union’s accounts for contrast.
- Resources as close to the members as possible. Branches, Area Activist Committees, Regional Councils, Sector Committees and Equality Committees all need resources and authority if they are going to be at the heart of involving members in our campaigning and organising.
- Invest in training our activists, the future of our union
- A dedicated unit to support officers, reps and stewards during ballots and disputes
- Retired members, a prized asset, should have full and equal rights in the union structures.
- Mergers if they make us stronger, not just bigger
- Every equality committee to have at least one Executive Council member reporting to them
- Political structures open to every UNITE member who contributes to the political fund, not just a tiny minority
- An end to breaking our own rulebook by under-funding organising. Properly resourced organising, linked in to the union’s structures, to build up our strength and our activist base
- Access to legal advice without slow and bureaucratic procedures
Members decide the Union provides.
If elected as General Secretary I will give rank and file members the confidence to stand up and be counted when they feel the need to do , and help activists to get the full backing of their union in their campaigns and to help build trade union organisation in the workplace.
Not change in the form of top down dictates but change from below from the workplaces, branches, sectors, areas and regions that will be given authority and independence over decisions and direction. Change at the top encouraging change from the bottom up.
Changes in How We Fight
When members feel they have no choice but to fight back, they have often been disappointed with the support they receive. For example:
- Membership records a shambles, causing delays and increasing the risk of legal challenges
- The relationship with Labour being put ahead of members’ interests. Have such considerations hampered the conduct of the BA cabin crew dispute, when strike days were not called during the general election?
- Failure to get the whole union behind a group of members in dispute, raising collections, organising solidarity meetings etc
- Lack of support and guidance, even when reps and members are striking for the first time
These problems have to be addressed urgently, given the challenges members will face in the coming months and next few years.
The questions that needs to asked are why are so many simple things so wrong, and can we have any faith or confidence in those responsible for the running of the union who now seek to be the General Secretary getting it right?
We also have to change how we deal with the anti-union laws, brought in by Thatcher under the Tories, left unchanged by three terms of a Labour government and virtually unchallenged by our Union or the TUC. The laws work by threatening the union’s funds, so putting pressure on those at the top of the unions to “police” the members and stop them taking action which is often effective.
We now have a situation where groups of members frequently find that there is no lawful way for them to defend themselves.
When a law is unjust, it is sometimes right to confront it, and when members do, they often win.
Successes in construction, and at the Visteon plants in Belfast, Basildon and Enfield are fine examples. In the construction strike on Humberside, it was unofficial solidarity action that helped force the employer to reinstate sacked workers and to create over 100 ‘new’ jobs.
Defiance of unjust laws is part of Trade Unionism’s proud history and is the most likely route to get them repealed, and the best deterrent against the government introducing even worse legislation.
All the other candidates in the election for General Secretary of Unite are very senior officials and have been during the period that has got us to where we are and for that there is a collective responsibility. I am the only candidate not part of the current union leadership.
We are facing the biggest attacks on working people in generations. UNITE needs to change fundamentally and urgently if members are going to beat these back successfully.
We can’t afford more of the same. We deserve better, we need a radical change in direction, and that’s what I’m offering.