UNITE: You might think the leaders of a union whose members occupied the Visteon factories and took wildcat strike action in engineering construction would be pre-occupied with struggle.
Yet Derek Simpson, joint General Secretary of Unite and his supporters seem to spend much timein an unedifying turf war. The most telling part of this tussle was the leaking of details about Simpson obscene pay and perks to the bourgeois media.
The red-faced Gen Sec responded not by giving up his bosses’ lifestyle but by starting a hunt for the leakers. Kevin Coyne, a candidate in the recent Joint General Secretary election, was suspended from the union at the end of March.
Coyne, a right-winger, has now been reinstated as a Unite official — on the same “rank”, but in a position where he ha much less chance to build an autonomous base of support.
CIVIL SERVICE: The PCS election results are in. On the National Executive the Democracy Alliance (a lash up between Left Unity, which is run by the Socialist Party, and the soft right ) won all but one position. The left, in the shape of the Independent Left (IL), slightly increased its share of the Executive vote but did better in the Deputy General Secretary election where its candidate, John Moloney, lost by only about 2,300 votes to the long time incumbent of that post, Hugh Lanning, winning 46 percent. Such a result shows that when the message is put to members as to what is really happening in the union and an alternative posed then it is possible to get a good hearing. That said the IL is very far from wining power in the union and a tremendous amount of hard work is needed.
CIVIL SERVICE: In the City and Wall Street, many a shady company set up entities called Special Purpose Vehicles. SPVs are typically used by companies to isolate the firm from financial or other risks.
In a vitally important equal pay test case being fought in the Department for Transport (DfT), the Government is arguing that departmental agencies are a type of SPV. The purpose is to isolate the Government from its own equality laws.
The Civil Service is split into over a hundred different bargaining units. Many of these units are called agencies. You may have heard of DVLA, a DfT agency that collects road tax, and the DSA, a DfT agency that test drivers. Both agencies are just administrative sub divisions of the department.
The PCS is pursuing a legal case to win equal pay for women in DVLA with men in DSA. The Government in reply states that it is not legally possible for the women in DVLA to compare themselves to men in DSA. They claim that DVLA and DSA are in fact wholly separate and independent from each other, and that Ministers are not in operational charge of the agencies.
In terms of the democracy this is a curious argument. Ministers are voted into power, but according to New Labour they don't have control of the agencies.
More curiously still, under an Act of Parliament, Trading Funds such DSA and DVLA (such funds are meant to be self financing) are expressly said to be under “the control and management of Ministers”. Despite this law, the Government argues that Ministers do not manage and control the Trading Funds.
Like Enron and other organisations of that ilk, the Government is hoping that the SPVs will work their magic. The bottom line is that New Labour doesn't want the equality laws it passed to actually operate; after all equality costs money, and the low paid women in DVLA are not bankers.
LEWISHAM BRIDGE SCHOOL: The campaign to prevent the closure of Lewisham Bridge primary school, in south east London, has gained momentum steadily since the school was occupied by parents and supporters last month. On 9 May, a hundred people marched through Lewisham to protest against the council's decision, followed by a rally at which Martin Powell Davies of Lewisham NUT promised a step up action to stop the closure.
The occupation has gained widespread publicity, even inspiring a brief occupation of another primary school, Charlotte Turner, due to be closed down the road in Greenwich.
The next event in the campaign is a lobby of the Lewisham council — 6.30pm on Wednesday 20 May @ the Town Hall, Catford Road, SE6.
UNIONS AND THE LABOUR PARTY: The Communication Workers' Union conference, starting on 7 June, has a motion tabled for a trade-union drive to restore the right for unions and local Labour Parties to put political motions through Labour Party conference.
Labour Party democracy campaigners tell us that they also have hopes of another major union putting a proposal to restore motions.
When they banned political motions to conference, at Bournemouth in 2007, the Labour Party leadership promised a "review" of that decision in 2009. They have discharged the promise in the most minimal way possible. A circular has, without any fanfare, been sent out to local Labour Parties and to affiliated unions, couched in terms of asking people whether they can think of ways to make a good thing (the 2007 rule changes) even better. Replies will not go to party conference, but to the National Executive, which is at full liberty to ignore them in what it proposes to the conference.
The Labour Party has not yet abolished the right to put constitutional amendments, or even restricted it in the way that political motions were restricted before 2007 (when, effectively, only the four biggest unions could put motions and have any assurance at all of them getting conference time), so there is in fact a good chance of getting an amendment to restore political motions on the table this year, from somewhere. Three problems then arise.
First, the usual procedure for constitutional amendments is that they are debated the year after the Conference Arrangements Committee accepts them for the conference agenda. So the CAC could accept the amendments but refuse any discussion until 2010.
The CAC may well not want to do that, because the 2010 conference is likely to take place after a Labour election defeat, and to be much more unruly than 2009. So, second, it can instead put the amendment on the 2009 agenda, but timetable it so as to try to knock it out with no proper debate.
Thirdly, the CAC can just rule the amendment out of order. It is difficult to see how, but the CAC has done worse in the past. All of these problems will be vastly reduced if the amendment comes from a major union.
The process of shutting down life in the Labour Party, bureaucratising and "bourgeoisifying" it, has continued more or less in a straight line for almost 25 years now. Can it be reversed now?
Were it not for the crisis, the answer would be no. But big economic crises change things, and change them in unexpected ways. This crisis has already heavily discredited the New Labour leadership, and pushed the Tories to position themselves well to the right of Labour for the first time in many years. It also points up the need for the labour movement to be able to use its weight politically as well as industrially.