Unite

Miliband's balancing act: Labour and the unions

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Following a row about Unite's role in the selection of Labour parliamentary candidates, Ed Miliband announced a special conference to re-examine Labour's relationship with the unions. Ian Taylor looks at the tensions between Labour and the unions but also the forces that push them together.

A Labour party special conference in March will review how unions fund the party and, by extension, the link between the two. At least, that is what Labour leader Ed Miliband pledged last July to the delight of New Labour acolytes and Blairite former ministers.

Miliband announced the review in the wake of allegations of malpractice by members of Unite in the selection of a parliamentary candidate in Falkirk. It was a decision Miliband appeared to be bounced into at the time. But there seemed little ambiguity when the Labour leader declared himself "incredibly angry".

Grangemouth: Another provocation

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A chorus of condemnation has greeted David Cameron's launch of an inquiry into trade union tactics in the wake of the Grangemouth affair.

Unite the Union has described it as a Tory election stunt and rightly called for a refusal to cooperate with it.

Frances O'Grady of the TUC said that it is "simply part of the Conservative Party's general election campaign" and even SNP leader Alex Salmond has suggested that it "was entirely about seeking electoral advantage". These responses are fine as far as they go.

After Grangemouth

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The threatened closure of the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth and the aftermath of the dispute have opened up a crucial debate inside the labour movement.

Is it no longer possible, even for a union as strong as Unite with 1.4 million members, to take on big capital and win in the face of neoliberalism? Are multinational companies like Ineos now just too powerful? Do the anti-union laws tie the hands of the unions and make resisting the threat of cuts and closures impossible?

Taking on Crossrail

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Simon Basketter reports on an important step forward in the battle to rebuild union organisation across construction sites.

Frank Morris, an electrician sacked in a blacklisting case after raising health and safety concerns, won his job back last month. It was a stunning victory for union campaigning. Frank, a Unite union member, was dismissed over a year ago from London's Crossrail project, Europe's largest railway and infrastructure construction scheme.

Jerry Hicks - a rank and file challenge: now organise!

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Jerry Hicks stood as a rank and file candidate in the recent elections for the general secretary of Unite, the biggest union in Britain. He received 79,819 votes, 36 percent of the vote. Socialist Review spoke to Jerry about why he stood and the lessons of the campaign


Firstly, congratulations on the fantastic vote you received. Many people would see Len McCluskey as one of the most left wing trade union leaders in Britain at the moment, so why did you decide to stand against him?

The election was heading to be unopposed, not because everyone was in agreement with McCluskey, but because it had been manoeuvered to orchestrate this. The reason that it was pulled forward three years from the scheduled date was to spring it on people.

To hell in a Chelsea tractor?

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The news that Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port is to move to a four-day week, albeit with no cut in basic working hours, highlights the predicament facing the UK motor industry. The industry appeared to have recovered from the worst of the recession.

Indeed, luxury and niche producers, like Jaguar/Land Rover - which is now the sector's biggest employer, mainly because of sales of the all-terrain vehicles derided as "Chelsea tractors" - and BMW/Mini are doing extremely well. However, continued recession and the impact of austerity means a drop in demand for cheaper "mid-market" models, especially in Europe.

Where is Unite going?

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Unite is Britain's biggest union. The approach it takes to combating austerity and job losses makes a big difference to workers in all sectors. Eddie Cimorelli asks whether Unite is living up to its militant image

Unite has been derided in the right wing press as a union pushing a backward looking confrontational agenda apparently belonging to a bygone age. Len McCluskey, Unite's general secretary, was condemned before the Olympics when he declared that "the unions, and the general community, have got every right to be out protesting.

Electricians dispute: sparks victorious!

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Electricians have won a stunning victory which should give hope to us all. After a six-month-long battle they have defeated the wage-cutting plans of multinational corporations

On 23 February electricians learned that the remaining companies committed to the British Engineering Services National Agreement (Besna) had withdrawn the threat of imposing the new contracts.

The "sparks" had been protesting since August last year when there was an inaugural rank and file dispute meeting of some 500 people in London. From day one there was a determination to get right up the noses of the electrical contracting bosses. Gate protests, street blockades, site occupations and picketing were the militant tactics employed on a weekly basis.

Construction lessons

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Electricians have been protesting for months against wage cuts and attacks on their terms and conditions. Last December workers took unofficial strike action. Simon Basketter looks at the background to this battle and the prospects for rebuilding union organisation on construction sites.

On a freezing Wednesday night on 7 December last year, a small group of men stand on a street in animated discussion. Every now and again, someone else joins their group and talks to them for a few minutes. After over half an hour, they decide to go to the pub. It was a small, but nonetheless significant event.

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