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Tony Woodley reprimands would-be successor

Joint General Secretary of Unite, Tony Woodley today attacks one of his would-be successors for the job. In a letter to the Guardian this morning, Woodley accuses Les Bayliss, leading right-wing contender and currently an assistant general secretary of Unite, of presenting “a grossly distorted view” of the British Airways dispute and Unite’s role in it. Bayliss had compared the bitter industrial dispute between British Airways and Unite with Life on Mars, the BBC drama set in the 1970s. The intervention underlies the fact that the contest has become a two-way contest between Bayliss and Len McCluskey who said last week:

This election is now a clear left-right struggle for the future of Unite and, to a great extent, the trade union movemnt as a whole. There are two visions on offer – of a union that puts its members first and stands up for them come what may in difficult times. Or a union that puts managers and ministers first, that rolls over to have its tummy tickled by the employers every time the going gets tough.”

Tony Woodley also referred to the fact that Bayliss “has never led industrial negotiations as a union official and would certainly be unfamiliar with a dispute of this magnitude and complexity“. The full text of his letter is:

The BA talks have been the most challenging set of negotiations I have been involved in, and my career as a negotiator spans some 40 years. But instead of supporting his union in successfully resolving this dispute, Les Bayliss presented a grossly distorted view of his own union’s role in it (Report, 19 October). I make allowances for the fact that Les has never led industrial negotiations as a union official and would certainly be unfamiliar with a dispute of this magnitude and complexity, but for him to argue that the dispute is “lost” and has “lowered our standing and reputation” is an unhelpful intervention from an official of a union which is in the midst of trying to resolve a difficult industrial dispute.

It does not lower our standing when we reflect our members’ views. We are a democratic union, which means if our members want to fight for their rights at work, they have a right to expect their union’s full support. Solid support is what Unite has given BA cabin crew and I, for one, am proud of that.

Nor is the dispute lost. The agreement on offer provides most of those sacked as a result of the dispute with the chance of getting their jobs back. And it sets a framework for removing punitive staff travel sanctions imposed on our members for taking lawful strike action to defend their jobs. Whether the offer as a whole is good enough is a matter for our cabin crew members to decide, but BA has already restored some travel concessions without condition. If Les thinks this looks like a defeat, his industrial judgment is seriously open to question.

Les argues that we should not take industrial action lest it provokes the Tories to new anti-union laws. If we adopt his logic, then the government will have achieved its aim without the bother of legislation.

Tony Woodley

Joint general secretary, Unite the union

Balloting is currentyly underway in the election for a single General Secretary of Unite.

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