Monday, October 25, 2010

Members v. Money in Britain's biggest union

LEN McCLUSKEY (above)with pickets at Heathrow. JERRY HICKS (with megaphone) in an earlier campaign. And below, the man in the ads, LES BAYLISS. Nothing up his sleeve...

He had a full-page colour ad on the back of the Guardian today. Another full-page ad in Murdoch's Sun. Yesterday there was an ad in the Tory Mail on Sunday. All of this advertising can't come cheap, even on the salary of an Assistant General Secretary of Britain's biggest trade union.

Les Bayliss is standing for election to Unite the union's top job, general secretary. All Unite members have received an eight page A4 brochure from the union containing election statements from all four candidates, introducing themselves and their policies.

Of course they have done more to make themselves known. Len McCluskey, an Assistant General Secretary from the merged union's former Transport and General Workers' Union component (Bayliss is from the engineers' union Amicus) has visited the members on picket in the British Airways dispute, and spoken at meetings against the Con Dem coalition's cuts. Jerry Hicks, the former Rolls Royce convenor standing as a 'rank and file' candidate, pledged to only take a workers' wage, has been all over the country, wherever he can find members to talk to or a struggle to support. Gail Cartmail, who claims to be the only "independent" candidate, promises to put Unite's resources behind a campaign fighting the cuts, and has been on television.

Les Bayliss, as the newspapers tell us, is the "moderate" candidate. Or, if you believe his supporters (not that I've met any, but there is a website), Les Bayliss is the Progressive Left Workers Uniting Group Candidate.

There seems to be nothing moderate about his election expenditure, and like his best-known supporter, outgoing general secretary Derek Simpson, he has left behind workers uniting, progressing instead from attacks on the union's backing for BA workers to opposing resistance to the cuts.

"THE LEADER of Britain's biggest union has backed a moderate who is AGAINST militant strike action to be his successor. Outgoing Unite boss Derek Simpson last night threw his weight behind Les Bayliss, who has slammed walk-outs over spending cuts as “suicide”. If the ex-engineer wins the top job, the recent spate of strike action could be a thing of the past.

[amicustheunion] News from the General Secretary

Derek Simpson retires at the end of the year and will be replaced by a single general secretary who will run Unite, Britain's biggest union and Labour's biggest donor. Mr Simpson said: "British people are facing a very difficult time right now and it's vital that the leader of Unite is up to the task of protecting members jobs and public services.

“Ranting and raving from the side lines will only keep Labour in opposition for a generation. The cuts announced this week are the tip of a very nasty iceberg but the task of opposing them will be complex. 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 to bring the country our of recession without the pain that will be imposed by the Tories on every family in this country.”

Mr Bayliss, 57, is known as a moderate who has called for “common sense” over strike action. He also condemned the British Airways walk-outs. Last month he warned: "Public sector strikes will only deprive the vulnerable of services the Tories want to cut".

So you can see, Bayliss has support and publicity from the Murdoch press after all, without needing to spend money on adverts.

Bayliss has attacked supposed union militancy in the British Airways cabin crews dispute, taking a dig at his rival contender Len McCluskey's involvement, with a gibe that it was like watching the TV crime series 'Life on Mars', with Willie Walsh on one side and Len McCluskey on the other.

Very witty. Highly amusing. Except that the militancy we saw came from Walsh's British Airways management, with staff cuts imposed regardless, even though workers had accepted cuts in pay. Free travel entitlement which was part of their conditions was taken away, and workers disciplined for such heinous offences as talking to their local newspaper about what was happening. Almost 40 union members, many of them representatives, were sacked. So which side were you on, 'Brother' Bayliss? Or needn't we ask? Perhaps the £62 million in cuts that BA staff offered to accept was not enough? Beyond promising not to call a strike at Christmas and assuring us militancy (from the union side) just doesn't work, the man with so much money to spend on asking for our votes to lead the union seems a bit reticent in telling us what his policy would be.

Likewise, though Bayliss warns that strikes against the Con Dem coalition's cuts would be "suicide", we don't know what strategy he recommends. Evoking half-memories of the 'Winter of Discontent' ignores the fact that even before the Con Dem cuts were announced people affected by strikes like those of the dustmen in Leeds and Birmingham understood the workers' claim to justice and blamed the council for the problems. Bayliss is horrified at the prospect of transport strikes before the Olympics, though we might think removal of ticket office staff and cuts in maintenance and emergency cover could have more effect. (The Piccadilly Line was virtually shut down for much of Saturday because of fears about the fire service not being at hand). Besides, the Olympics might not be the big issue worrying Londoners right now, when it is estimated 82,000 people could be evicted next year because of cuts in housing benefit, and councils are planning to move up to 200,000 homeless out to b&bs on the south coast.

What Bayliss and his media supporters ignore is that those who want to fight the cuts are not talking about industrial action by sections of workers, though this is bound to occur when people have no choice. What would he recommend to London firefighters whom Tory Brian Coleman wants to sack so he can impose his way? A movement against the cuts is coming together uniting working people as service providers and users. Coming actions might involve people not just walking out, but people stopping in, defending public property and facilities threatened with closure. We have no blueprint for action. But nor I suspect does Les Bayliss have an alternative strategy up his sleeve. His advice to those hit by the cuts is not to fight them.

Not that he is ignoring what others are doing. We hear he has reported Len McCluskey for criticising him at an anti-cuts meeting. Aw, diddums!

But then Bro.Bayliss is quite shy sometimes, as indeed is Bro.Simpson. Bayliss mentions his experience and responsibilities handling union finance, and promises a union card and free diary. Simpson praises Bayliss' "skills and courage". But it took a Channel Four Dispatches programme recently to remind us how, some years ago, when Bayliss had responsibility for financial matters in Amicus, he became involved in a curious affair with union charitable donations.

In September 2005, a website run by dissident Amicus members published some comments on confidential union documents they had obtained, pertaining to Les Bayliss and a businessman, "Mr.X" - later identified as Steve Sampson. Sampson had introduced Bayliss to a charity called Express Link-up, which provided computers for schools. Over three years, Amicus charitable fund donated a quarter of a million pounds to this charity. "Mr.X", Sampson, asked Express Link-up for 10 per cent of that money as a “finder’s fee”. He also wanted similar commission on a donation from the government. It seems that in the end he only got £8,000, on the Amicus contribution. But meantime, Les Bayliss suggested to the charity that the “finder’s fee” to Mr.Sampson should not show up in its accounts.

The article, drawing on the leaked documents, said that in 2003 the union’s senior lawyer met with Bayliss to discuss his relationship with "Mr. X". Bayliss admitted that he had been questioned by police because of another affair involving this businessman and an alleged Land Fill Tax scam. Shortly after this meeting Amicus General Secretary Derek Simpson wrote to Bayliss, saying that he considered that Bayliss had been guilty of “a serious misjudgement” in his dealings with Express-Link-Up, but that he was satisfied that Bayliss had not gained financially from his links with Mr. X in the matter of the union’s donation to Express-Link-Up.

Simpson also wrote to Express-Link-Up to make it clear that the donation from the union’s charity fund to the charity was not dependent on the payment of a “finder’s fee” for Mr. X. Two years later, in July 2005, Bayliss was suspended from office in the union while an investigation was carried out, apparently, according to, again dealing with the Bayliss’s relationship with Mr. X.

In September that year, Steve Sampson, owner of Paradise Wildlife Farm, in Broxbourne, Herts, was convicted with two other men over the alleged theft and falsification of documents from an environmental tax credit scheme for landfill waste. More than £1 million was said to be involved in grants and fees obtained through false invoicing and kickback arrangements. All three pleaded their innocence. After a trial lasting seven months they were convicted, Sampson getting two and a half years sentence. In May 2007 the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of all three men on the grounds that the trial judge's jury instructions were no clear enough for the jury to have made an informed decision. All three men had finished serving their sentences at the time of their exoneration.

Meanwhile, back in Amicus, Derek Simpson had apparently decided to clamp down on people whom he felt were out to destabilise his leadership with false allegations. The union executive decided to investigate how internal documents had been leaked to, and consider the legal and rule implications . Three Amicus employees linked with the 'Broad Left' Unity Gazette were suspended.

Bro. Bayliss, notwithstanding his "serious misjudgement" was now entrusted with further responsibiliy, including the merger with the TGWU, the 'development of amicus within construction', and union imput on preparations for the 2012 Olympics.

The Workers Uniting faction backing Les Bayliss shares its name with that of the merged union supposedly formed by Unite and the United Steelworkers of America. I don't know how significant that is. Like most union members, I suspect, I knew nothing about that merger until it was announced from a May Day platform in Trafalgar Square, at the same time as Unite the union was formed. International unity is a very fine thing, but I don't know why that particular union, nor why we were never asked to vote on it, unlike the merger of TGWU and Amicus to form Unite.

Getting back to our current election, I have just received my ballot paper and another booklet of candidates' election addresses, this time with the details of branches nominating them. From this I learn that Les Bayliss received nominations from branches and chapels representing 137,942 members, and Len McCluskey from a much larger number, covering two pages, and representing 375,866. Jerry Hicks,for whom I'll probably vote, scores 109,088, and Gail Cartmail a mere 38,320.

At this rate, Len McCluskey is clear favourite, and it is reassuring to note that voting for my candidate of choice won't inadvertedly hand it to Les Bayliss, as some feared. (Unfortunately one doesn't get to mark a second choice).

But sadly, a lot of members in many branches seldom get to branch meetings. And even more sadly, a lot of union members read anti-union papers like the
Sun and News of the World . Let's hope for once they are telling the truth when they say they take no notice of what the papers tell them. Having a union led by someone supported by money and the Murdoch media is no way to challenge Clegg and Cameron.



At 12:43 AM, Blogger Chris H said...

Interesting stuff regarding Bayliss. I have my ballot papers and am tempted to vote for Jerry but the risk of splitting the left vote does worry me.


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