No merger with the PCS this side of a General Election. And maybe never.
Although they do not put it as bluntly as this, that’s the substance of two of the motions submitted to the Unite Policy Conference being held in Liverpool late June and early July.
Merger with a union not affiliated to the Labour Party would be “a huge distraction” from winning the election for Labour. Mergers are a good thing only if the unions involved have “similar industrial interests”. Mergers are bad for Unite if its financial situation would be damaged by the pensions liabilities of the other union.
Consequently, there should not even be any discussions about any merger this side of the General Election. And any proposed merger should have the approval of either Unite’s biennial Policy Conference or at least 75% of its Executive Committee.
Given the enthusiasm of the Unite and PSC General Secretaries for a merger – albeit one not shared by broad swathes of activists in both unions – these two innocent-sounding motions are likely to provoke no small degree of controversy at the Unite conference.
And they are not the only motions likely to do so.
Conference will again see a clash over Europe, with one motion calling for opposition to quitting the EU, opposition to a referendum on EU membership, and support for a pro-EU vote in the event of a referendum.
Other motions variously call for the union to demand a referendum and British withdrawal, and to campaign alongside other unions and organisations such as the RMT and “No to EU”.
According to the latter motions, the EU “blocks any political advancement” (apparently simply by virtue of its existence), the EU is becoming “a NATO-style military force” (given its “involvement” in countries from Afghanistan to Mali), and Unite needs to offer an alternative to Ukip (apparently by saying the same thing as Ukip on the EU).
Given their involvement in the “No to EU” electoral initiative, one wonders whether the Socialist Party will be backing such motions.
Conference will also see a re-run of what is becoming the ritual biennial jousting about the union’s affiliation to the Labour Party. Some motions argue that the Labour Party is the only show in town and denounce “the growing talk about establishing a new party as naïve and dangerous adventurism and question the real motive of those developing this agenda.”
Motions on the agenda which seek to “develop this agenda” include demands for what might be called a sliding scale of disaffiliation (a 10% cut in affiliation fees each time Labour and/or its leadership commit various political misdemeanours).
Other motions of the same ilk call for Unite to convene an open conference “on the crisis of political representation for the working class” in order to “discuss the way forward for working class representation.”
In fact, the real controversy about matters pertaining to the Labour Party will not be triggered by the pro-disaffiliation-but-too-gutless-to-say-so-openly motions but by two other motions.
One of them – a pro-affiliation motion – “applauds the 13 members of the Unite Executive Council who had the foresight to vote against the Collins proposals.”
(It should be remembered that the Unite leadership slavishly backed the Collins Review, and that the bulk of the United Left members on the Executive Council either backed or abstained on the vote on the Collins Review – contrary to United Left policy.)
The other motion commits Unite to encourage councillors to vote against cuts, to support councillors who do so, to defend them against disciplinary action, and to “establish a dialogue” with Councillors Against the Cuts, with a view to possible joint campaigning activity.
(At the moment the Unite “line” effectively amounts to standing on the sidelines, on the grounds that Labour councillors are accountable to the Labour Party, not Unite.)
The vast bulk of the motions on the conference agenda focus on what might be termed “bread and butter issues”, in the positive sense of the expression.
They are motions which focus on the basic issues which face workers, in workplaces, in Britain, under a Con-Dem government, in 2014:
Attacks on terms and conditions of employment. Declining health and safety standards. Attacks on pension rights. Attacks on effective trade union organisation. The privatisation of public services. The spread of zero-hours contracts. Austerity. Growing inequalities in employment and in society as a whole. Environmental damage caused by the chase for profits.
It is important to register that fact to counter bogus claims by the right wing – within and outside the trade union movement – that unions have lost touch with their members and focus on esoteric international issues at the expense of their members’ real concerns.
Having said that, the agenda does include a number of oddities.
Motion B27 harks back to the “Buy British” campaign of the “Daily Mail” of the 1960s by calling for legislation to ensure that multinationals, companies and government departments “buy British goods to support British workers.”
Motion F28 rightly condemns celebrations of the 1914-18 war but claims that the Tories’ celebrations are “at least in part a consequence of their defeat in Parliament over armed intervention in Syria”, and that opposition to militarism requires support for the so-called “Stop the War Coalition”. (The latest feat of the latter “coalition” was to act as apologists for the Russian militarism’s annexation of Crimea.)
Among various motions attacking “Israel the Apartheid State”, motion F11 condemns the “inhuman conditions” in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria resulting from “the siege” and “military attacks”.
But the forces carrying out the siege and the attacks (i.e. the Syrian army, which enjoys the support of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command)) are not even mentioned in the motion. Instead the real culprit is … Israel! As the motion puts it:
“The situation in Yarmouk is a direct result of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine since 1948 and the failure of the world to address the rights and demands of the Palestinian people.”
In contrast to the various “End Israeli Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine” motions, which advocate ratcheting up the boycott of Israel, motion F12 calls on Unite to encourage Israeli and Palestinian unions “to maintain their strong bilateral relationship as an important aspect of bridge-building for the peace process.”
Finally, and on a very different note, motion P5 lists a comprehensive and worthwhile series of measures which Unite should take to support lay reps in the workplace.
Never has the aphorism “When I try and get hold of a full-timer, none of the f***ers ever phone me back” been expressed more eloquently and more constructively than it is in this motion.