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Unite activists launch Grass Roots Left

Marcus Halaby, Unite member, reports on the Grass Roots Left conference and the next steps for this important development

The Grass roots Left is a rank and file network in Unite. It was formed after last year’s General Secretary election campaign, in which hundreds of rank and file campaigners delivered over 50,000 votes for Jerry Hicks, a victimised convenor at Bristol Rolls Royce.

 Since then, seven GRL candidates won a combined 23,000 votes in the recent NEC elections, narrowly missing out on a seat.

May’s founding conference pulled together Unite shop stewards and activists from across the country and received greetings from whole branches, such as Swindon Honda. It openly set out to establish a new type of left in Unite, one based on the rank and file and independent of all wings of the bureaucracy.

GRL’s draft constitution calls for “rank and file control over all negotiations and industrial action, defiance of the anti-union laws, wherever they are invoked” and strikes and occupations “with the backing of the officials when possible, without them where necessary”.
This breaks with the Broad Left tradition of electing left officials and instead challenges the whole bureaucratic set-up. The constitution will be fully debated and adopted at a conference in the autumn.

Rank and file network
Unite is moving cautiously and hesitantly to the left. General Secretary Len McCluskey has fought for co-ordinated strikes and is balloting Unite healthworkers for action on 30 June. He has called on branches to join anti-cuts committees and affiliated the union to Coalition of Resistance. The NEC has called on Unite sponsored councillors and MPs to vote against cuts, encouraged branches to strike against job losses and urged members to “protest and show solidarity as far as they can” with other unions on strike.

But talk is cheap. The same United Left bloc that dominates the NEC and drafted this excellent policy is currently selling out the BA cabin workers’ dispute. The GRL must support every left move that the United Left makes, while mercilessly criticising every crime that it commits. That way, the United Left bloc will split – between those who want to fight and those who merely want to pass resolutions.

The GRL must build local groups, like in London, that meet regularly, discuss problems and agree on action. They need to develop websites and bulletins. They need to intervene in disputes and sign up the best militants.

This way, we can build a new type of union left, a rank and file movement, that can inspire and link up with similar organisations in other unions.

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