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‘More votes than can fill Wembley’

Jerry-hicksJERRY HICKS HAS delivered a sensational blow to Len McCluskey, scoring a massive 36 per cent of the vote in the election for the General Secretary of Unite, Britain’s biggest union, writes Jeremy Dewar

Although Jerry didn’t win, the 50 per cent increase in the avowedly rank and file candidate’s poll will have sent shivers down the spine of not only McCluskey and the Unite officials, but also the backbones (if they have one) of all the TUC leaders. If he and his supporters can transform this vote into a sizable, functioning and militant grassroots organisation, then McCluskey’s comfortable – though smaller than anticipated – victory could be short-lived.

David, Goliath and the gutter

“We spent about £4,000 (from donations), produced some 75,000 leaflets, relied upon public transport, and the generosity of often complete strangers to offer a bed/couch for the night” said Jerry.

“The union establishment spent up to 100 times the amount of money we did, produced maybe one million leaflets, sent out letters to close on 500,000 members and had hundreds of paid officials promoting and supporting their boss, McCluskey.”

But this doesn’t tell the half of it. McCluskey and his supporters were quite prepared to descend into the gutter to gain a few votes. Unsolicited letters and text messages to members, where previously there had been silence; McCluskey suddenly became a media magnet, making left-sounding speeches designed to make Unite look like it was heading the anti-Tory charge.

But any branch (and there were many) which asked McCluskey to appear for a hustings – i.e. a head-to-head debate in front of the members – received no reply or a curt refusal from his campaign team. Why? Because he knew he would have to attack Jerry’s policies and defend his own, something he tried to do in 2010 and failed. This says a million words about the type of union and disregard for democracy that McCluskey really stands for.

There were hundreds of messages about Jerry “destroying” or “bankrupting” the union, but McCluskey’s team hit rock bottom when a branch secretary from Plymouth tweeted, “I have voted for @Unite4Len for GS. I want a GS who doesn’t condone sex crimes against women”. Steve Turner, Director of Executive Policy at Unite McCluskey’s campaign manager, then disgracefully retweeted the message.

The reference was to the Socialist Workers Party’s crisis, caused by its terrible mishandling of a rape accusation against one of its leading members. But it was pure slur and innuendo. All three of the leading SWP activists in the campaign were known opponents of the leadership’s cover-up and Jerry of course has never “condoned” violence against women.
McCluskey and any of his supporters who have a shred of decency about them ought to join with Jerry in seeking an inquiry into these libellous accusations and the seeming misuse of union resources to support the general secretary’s re-election.

Officials and members
Workers Power supporters learned a lot from the short but lively campaign. Wherever we went, we managed to get a positive response.

For example, when we visited the Nestlé factories in Halifax, we visited the union office, only for the rep to tell us to get lost because the workers were all voting for McCluskey. Undeterred, we paid two or three visits and got talking to the workers. Many knew nothing of the election, but when we told them what Jerry stood for, they became enthusiastic supporters.

In London, we concentrated on the buses. Again, all the reps had been nobbled by the United Left but the drivers were either unaware of what was going on or open to our arguments. Armed with a special leaflet calling for the resurrection of the campaign to raise terms and conditions for all drivers up to the level of the highest paying bus company, we won enthusiastic support.
The only conclusion we can draw is that the fulltime officers, the United Left and McCluskey have deliberately kept members in the dark, run away from open debate and red-baited the opposition. But where we managed to break through the barriers and talk to rank and file members, our message was warmly received.

We always knew this unnecessary snap election was called with the aim of allowing the Labour Party to ignore its working class base during the 2015 general election, and denying Unite members a real choice. Unless we could raise the turnout from the abysmally low figure of 15 per cent, we would not win.

We didn’t succeed. But we have laid the basis for a new, united rank and file organisation.

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