Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of UNITE,
in a speech at the union’s conference in Manchester, declared his determination
to “take the party back” for working people. This is a positive step but it
needs to be made concrete.
For some time now the leadership of UNITE
(previously Amicus and T&G) has backed the New Labour leadership of the
Labour Party. They backed Gordon Brown’s coronation as unelected leader, preventing a
real choice in the last leadership race, and they have continuously supported
changes to the Labour Party’s constitution that gave party members and their
own union members less say about what the leadership of the party did.
The current leadership race in the Labour Party
coincides with a leadership race in UNITE to elect a new general secretary to replace Woodley and the other joint GS, Derek Simpson. That Tony Woodley now clearly sides
with the left of the party we must say is very positive. It is also long
The joint General Secretary explains:
“First on one
dear to my heart, and I know it is to many of you here. I am glad that some
candidates have finally found their voice on the Iraq war. We must be
absolutely clear that whatever the exact balance between achievement and
disappointment in terms of Labour’s record here at home that war was a crime.
It is the scandal
that at the end of 13 years of Labour government the right to strike is hanging
by a thread. At the mercy of employers who would rather sue than settle, and
Tory judges who appear to think strikes are OK as long as they don’t
inconvenience the bosses in any way at all.
So I want to make
one thing clear to all Labour leadership contenders. Our vote should only go to
the candidate who pledges – unequivocally, no mealy-mouthed phrases, to do what
Labour was set up to do. Create a level playing field at work, and scrap the
anti- union laws.”
These are excellent points and should be
welcomed by all left-wing activists in the union. Woodley even says that UNITE
will work for “a victory for a Labour party that has rediscovered its socialism”.
Yet, what does this mean in practice? Jerry Hicks who stands as a candidate for
the UNITE leadership this October has declared his support for John McDonnell
in the leadership race for the Labour Party. The logic of what Woodley says
here is such that he should do the same.
Who led the campaign in parliament for the
trade union freedom bill, which UNITE backed? John McDonnell. Who is the person
who has most clearly stood up for the BA workers in their recent dispute and for
the Gate Gourmet workers before then? John McDonnell. Aside from Diane Abbott,
he is the only candidate who has a strong record of having both opposed the Iraq war and campaigned
in favour of scrapping the Tory anti-union laws.
Now UNITE members must ask their current general
secretaries to put their words into practice. They should ask the same of the
candidates who have yet to declare where they stand.
The nominations deadline for Labour leadership
expires at the end of next week. If Tony Woodley is serious about what he says
he should immediately contact all the MPs that the union back financially, or
who are members of its parliamentary group, asking them to support his call and
nominate a candidate that meets his criteria – and there is really only one
person that does that.
If the MPs can’t even support these most
elementary points, he should propose that UNITE funds other MPs that do. There
are already six MPs that have announced their support for John, and more will
come. If Tony Woodley puts his proposals in a clear and consistent way to the
MPs, John McDonnell stands every chance of getting on the ballot paper.
The election of John McDonnell as Labour leader
is the best opportunity that workers have of “taking back” the Labour Party
from the New Labour clique and beginning the transformation of the party into a
party of and for the working class. It will be much needed in the coming period
when the Tories are launching an all-out assault on the trade unions and public
Back John McDonnell for the leader of the Labour
Back Jerry Hicks – for democracy in the unions!