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Balloting begins for Unite General Secretary

Voting starts next week in the election for Unite‘s first sole General Secretary since the amalgamation of Amicus and the TGWU. The battle is essentially between Len McCluskey, Assistant General Secretary, leading left candidate backed by United Left, and Les Bayliss, another Assistant General Secretary who has emerged as the standard-bearer of the right. Neither of the remaining candidates, Jerry Hicks and Gail Cartmail, stand a realistic chance of winning.

The press interest in the election is stepping up. Last month, the News of the World made its support for “moderate” Bayliss clear in its coverage of his attack on public sector strikes against the cuts and the British Airways dispute. It included the bizarre commitment:

If I am general secretary of Unite there will NEVER be any strikes called over Christmas.”

This weekend, the Murdoch stable is giving publicity to Derek Simpson‘s backing for Bayliss. Although Simpson’s position on public sector strikes is somewhat more nuanced that Bayliss’s, he nevertheless opines:

Only one candidate standing in the Unite general secretary election has in my mind the skills for this difficult job. Les Bayliss has the skills and the courage to unite the labour movement and build support in the general public for an alternative economic strategy.”

Len McCluskey has now received the backing of two top columnists from the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror. Veteran political commentator Paul Routledge wrote this morning:

If I had a vote it would go to Len. He has fire in his belly, and a serious political agenda. This poll – and I urge every member to vote – gives Unite members space to reflect on what they want from their leadership. In a way, this election is as important as the contest for Labour leader: it will determine the direction of the labour movement for the rest of the ConDem government period. The winner will have to take Unite by the throat and weld it into a single fighting force, put the finances in order, reform structure and improve membership participation. Unite is a big outfit, with an annual membership income of £150 m per year and assets of £200m. Unite needs a big man for the job, because the Tories would dearly love to destroy the union.”

Mirror columnist Brian Reade wrote this week about the ‘union boss who won’t duck a fight’:

I urge Unite members to vote for Len McCluskey in the current leadership ballot. Not because the right-wing media shamelessly portrays him as a militant dinosaur (which he isn’t) or because he’s never forgotten his humble beginnings as a docker.

But out of personal experience. Local politicians fought hard to release wrongly-jailed football fan Michael Shields from prison last year. Hardly anyone with clout at national level did. Apart from McCluskey. Indeed he was pivotal in pressurising Jack Straw to finally do the right thing, even though he needn’t have got involved.

Len has also been responding himself to recent political events. Commenting on the call by work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith to ‘get on the bus‘ and look for work across Britain,he said:

Despite all the shiny new packaging about fairness, it is clear that the Tory nasty party has never gone away. While Iain Duncan Smith has been presented as the government’s Mister Nice, he cannot shake off the vicious Tory determination to make the poor suffer. Can the ConDem coalition really believe that the unemployment being created by savage government cuts will be fixed by having people wandering across the country with their meagre possessions crammed into the luggage racks of buses.

Meanwhile, their children will presumably be left at home to fend for themselves with schools being run down and even closed. Iain Duncan Smith offers us a 19th century vision of sturdy beggars and the undeserving poor, while the bankers and their chums continue to rake in millions and dodge taxes. The only polite reaction to all this is to say: Shame on you.”

The closing date for the ballot is 19 November.


  1. Janet Mears says:

    You call McCluskey left wing, dont make me laugh some one who will take £200,000 as a pay packet when lots are on £12,480. The better person who is realy left wing would be Jerry Hicks.

  2. stating the obvious says:

    While I am against the high wages paid to senior union officials, to measure someones politics by how much they are paid is wrong. Clearly both George Galloway and Bob Crow claim wages well above average but I wouldnt condemn their politics.

    The salaries paid in a union for its employees is an issues for the unions members to deal with. This can be done via the Unions policy and rules conferences under the leadership of the Unions lay executive. Brother Hicks while comendably claiming a smaller wage, which is his choice, will not be able to change anything without the structures in the union agreeing it.

    Good luck to him. In the mean time Brother McCluskey is the right choice to lead the union.

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