Wednesday, 2 April 2014

What is Len McCluskey Trying to Achieve?

Every so often Len McCluskey fires off an article or press release saying that if Labour isn't left enough, then there will be x, y, z consequences where union funding is concerned. This time, if Labour doesn't break from austerity and doesn't win next year, then Unite might withdraw its support. So what is Unite's general secretary playing at? There's a couple of dribbles of gravy I want to mop up before tackling the meaty real issue.

First things first, we don't know what Labour's 'austerity lite' is going to look like. Ed Balls has made the usual noises about "tough choices", and is not making any promises about what cuts - if any - will be reversed. Furthermore, Labour is right now carrying out a zero-based budgeting exercise. Quite rightly, every penny of public spending should be justified. Where waste and duplication occurs, as it does to a ridiculous degree in marketised public services, it should be got shot of. So there is austerity and there is austerity. There's the austerity of kicking the poor and taking money directly out of the economy, as the Tories and LibDems have done; and the austerity of spending carefully so money isn't squandered on socially and economically useless schemes. I'm sure Len and most people, including the "no cuts!" brigade would have little problem with the latter.

Second, this happens with such regularity it's a pantomime, nay a simulation of political argy-bargy. Truth be told an occasional public ticking off of Ed Miliband by Len serves the interests of both men. Len burnishes his street cred as a lefty, working class trade union leader. He shows his members that he's fighting their corner in the party, trying to keep it honest, attempting to steer the party to the kind of programme he thinks can win the election next year. And for Ed it shows up the absurdity of the Tory attacks against him. Far from being in Unite's pocket, every time Len takes to the airwaves he shows how baseless that accusation is. Not that it matters to ordinary voters outside the Westminster bubble anyway.

But truth be told, as a Unite and Labour member I'm bored with Len's sniping. Fine, criticise away. It's not as if he isn't in a position to change Labour's direction of travel. Remember how the Blairite rump panicked when Len pledged to recruit thousands of Unite members directly to the party? That didn't happen. Sure, Unite funds research and more or less has its own think tank but in my experience does not engage or encourage its rank-and-file to get involved in Labour, despite being official policy. What Len's public rebukes do is cover for an absence of a serious orientation. Perhaps Len should stop listening to the anti-Labour, Putin-loving people surrounding him and come up with a strategy that deepens Unite's commitment to the party at the same time as influencing it. Because if Unite do walk away after 2015, it won't be because Labour didn't listen to Len - it's because he didn't seriously try to make himself heard.


Samuel Fawcett said...

Wow. I hadn't seen the panicking article about Len recruting members. This reminds me why I never read LabourUncut.

Boffy said...

Such comments play into the hands of the right, and those who would break the Labour/TU link. McCluskey is making these comments without any resort to asking the members of UNITE what they think. It shows why we need to improve democracy in the Trades Unions against the barons who treat them as their personal fiefdoms.

As far as Labour and austerity, however, they should perhaps just look across the channel, to see where you get as a social-democratic party when you follow the agenda of the small capitalists, and the financial and landed oligarchy. Having talked Left, Hollande immediately turned right, and now they are getting electorally decimated.

howard fuller said...

This also plays into the hands of the ultra-left around the Socialist Party who are (a) desperate to build the the still born TUSC project (which has recently lost its' major backer in the form of Bob Crow) and (b) is likewise now desperate to salvage its' only trade union fiefdom, PCS, which is a right bad way.

For those of you you in Unite I recommend you reject a merger with PCS and lobby your EC in time for their mid-April meeting at which the issue will be discussed.

The SP Grandees are in a right panic at the moment!

Solomon Hughes said...

? Maybe McCluskey could try to get Unite members to engage more with Labour ,but he surely has good reason to have mixed feelings on this - after all Unite did try and recruit loads of members directly into Labour in Falkirk. The Labour Progress-y right (yer man Tristram Hunt's pals)teamed up with the boss of the local chemical plant to break the influence of union both in the plant and in the local Labour party - causing tremendous damage to Unite's organisation. Progress have made clear they will fight hard and dirty on this. By contrast Unite's allies within Labour - see Tom Watson stepping down - seem to want to avoid a fight in the run up to the election. Do you not feel any sympathy for their position ?

Barry C said...

Boring not half. Talk left act right. Support EU. Support Collins reforms which marginalise unions. Support Trident. Unite leadership is duplicitous.

Danni said...

Erm, "SP Grandees are in a right panic"? No, no they're not...

Chris said...

I suspect that if asked, most union members would be happy not to fill the coffers of the party of 'Big capital', New Labour.

I wish they would ask and we could then put that cash to better use.

Anonymous said...


Fuller is a noted liar.

Loz said...

I do like the idea that the money can be better spent elsewhere.

On what, precisely?

A new mass party of the working class? When nearly half of Unite's membership votes Tory, UKIP or Liberal?

Or more doomed single issue campaigns which can never succeed with a Tory government in power?

I'm no fan of blank cheques to the Labour Party, but I do struggle with this idea that it is better to channel political fund money into something worthy but futile.

But if we must do the whole start at the beginning thing, my vote's here...

howard fuller said...

Danni, PCS has managed to develop a £64 Million pension deficit for its own staff and is offering a worse deal to GMB members than its own members got from the government.

Until papers were leaked to the Independent, Reps were ignorant of this crisis.

Its' one of the main reasons they want a merger or there will be taxis flying around again.

Anonymous, if you are too cowardly to post under your own name you are in no position to name call.

Robert said...

Putin loving? Seriously Phil?

alwayswiththemarvelreferences said...

"You can finger-tent all you like, McClusky, but you're no Doctor Doom..."

Chris said...


I was more thinking of using the money to improve the union, beef up the research department, increase its marketing budget, strike fund, rather than throwing it at a party that acts against the interests of its members.

If the unions were to break from New Labour it wouldn't make much difference to the policies of New labour. So why give them the cash?

The main point though is that if we follow Boffy's wish and democratise the unions I suspect most would choose to break the link with New labour. Bring it on!

Loz said...


Not sure if you are aware that the trade union link to Labour is paid for from a separate political fund in each union. Not all unions have them, and not all those that have them are affiliated to the Labour Party.

Those that don't affiliate to the Labour Party tend to spend political fund money on "remember to vote" style democratic participation programmes and maintaining parliamentary groups. To be honest, these activities do not need be paid for out of the political fund, but the political fund cannot, for example, be used for strike funds or other campaigns as you suggest.

You can read up on the law and objects of political funds here

Sorry for getting technical, but it's important that we don't fall into the trap of thinking that union money which goes to Labour does so at the detriment of other campaigning or action.

In fact, union money to Labour is already tightly regulated and members who do not agree with giving money to Labour can ask to stop contributing to the political fund.

Members can (and have in large numbers) opted out of paying in to union political funds and get a refund on their subs each year or a lower subs rate as a result.

The far left would do better to convince those members who have opted out of paying into political funds to spend the refund privately on a political alternative, rather than just ranting on stupidly about "breaking the link", given the link has already effectively been broken by Miliband with his reforms.

The left outside of Labour must stop blaming the unions and the union leaders for their own failure to organise a realistic political alternative.


Alex said...

Does New Labour still exist?