Monday, 31 March 2014

Problems in Unite the Union as merger talks with PCS continue

The Unite union has come to the attention of the national press this weekend as both The Times and Sunday Times reported the failed candidate for general Secretary, Jerry Hicks has bought in the Trade Union Certification Officer to investigate last years election. The Sunday Times (30th March) reports:

More than 147,000 members of Unite the union were removed from the membership register a few weeks after Len McCluskey was re-elected as general Secretary. A leaked union document reveals.

Jerry Hicks, who stood against McCluskey last April claims the election was unlawful because tens of thousands of lapsed members were included in the ballot….

A September 2013 report to Unite’s executive council stated there had been “problems with the accuracy of the (membership) data. Unite says it correctly balloted members whose membership had lapsed but were still entitled to vote.

Keeping union records up to date is a notoriously difficult task especially since Unite seems to allow unemployed members, something not known in other unions like the PCS. Jerry Hicks is one of these.

Apparently Hicks was quoted as saying this was “superb news”. Other allegations include claims that the unions resources were used to support McCluskey’s election campaign. Such allegations will be difficult to prove. For example when Mark Serwotka was last up for election as PCS General Secretary, I complained that there were far too many photographs of the man in the pre-election edition of the PCS members magazine. The reply I got was “Mark had been very busy”. Given he was the GS how could I possibly prove otherwise?

But this is more than just sour grapes on Hicks’s part. A known Trotskyist activist he received the backing of the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party during his election campaign. Indeed it was rumoured that a campaign to support him was unofficially run out of PCS HQ (see here) as the Socialist Party PCS leaders backed his campaign against McCluskey. Why this didn’t scupper any talk of mergers is a mystery.

Whilst the SWP and SP are silent on this issue, not everyone on the far-left is happy with Hicks. On Shiraz Socialist, Jim Denham writes:

I am by no means an uncritical supporter of Len McCluskey, but the developments described in the article (which, like previous pieces in the Murdoch press, has clearly been written with the full co-operation of Hicks) vindicate my assessment that Hicks was not worthy of support in last year’s Unite election and is entirely unfit to lead a trade union. If Hicks had any genuine concerns about the conduct of the election, he could have raised them within the union, which whatever its faults under McCluskey is at least a fairly open and democratic organisation. Those leftists (not just the SWP) who supported Hicks should now be hanging their heads in shame. Incidentally, anyone who knows anything about Unite will know that any “phantom voters” would have been, overwhelmingly, from the ex-Amicus side of the merged union – precisely the constituency that Hicks was appealing to in his campaign. A shameful indictment of a man (Hicks) who can no longer be considered even to be a misguided part of the left:

Where I part company with Jim is that these tactics and worse are very much part and parcel of the way the bureaucratic left operate as activists in PCS will be only too familiar with. Hicks and his supporters represent the very worst elements of the left which is why they need to be opposed.

The Unite executive committee is meeting mid-April to discuss the merger with PCS further. My advice to them is to rethink the whole idea. Whilst PCS may be in difficulties (of the Socialist Party’s making), but one of the main reasons a merger with Unite is sought out is to try and take control on Britain’s largest union and undermine it’s support for the Labour Party.

People are beginning to talk as if this years PCS conference will be it's last, certainly given that less reps are able to attend than in the past, the format and time that they take place needs to change. 

But do we really need to close down an independent civil service union?

Even if we did, surely joining up with Unison, the largest public sector union would make more logical sense from a trade union viewpoint.

As usual political agendas are put before members interests in the myopic world of Serwotka & the Socialist Party.

PCS needs to put it’s own house in order before going cap in hand to other unions.


  1. Howie: the Socialist Party backed McCluskey in both the GS elections. I understand there was some internal dispute about this on the first occasion, but their putative candidate, Rob Williams, who seems to get on well with McCluskey, apparently threatened to resign from the SP if they backed Hicks.

    1. Explains the shenanigans in Falcon Road!

  2. I would not normally comment on this blog but this post has been drawn to my attention by PCS members. I would have thought that the basic premise of any 'conspiracy theory' would be that any assertions would be difficult to disprove. Sadly for this one, much of its content falls down flat. As a Unite member and also a Socialist Party member, I can confirm that the SP supported Len McCluskey in last year's general secretary election, as it did in 2010. While we have regard for Jerry Hicks as fighter, we did not support him in either Unite GS election; we thought he should take his campaigns inside the main left organisation but he preferred to stand outside. A simple perusal of the Socialist Party site and a bit of googling would have told you this: - as would contacting Jerry Hicks or many others on the left. So the idea that Jerry's election campaign was organised within PCS HQ is just hogwash if you are asserting that SP members who work there are responsible! So there is no mystery about the merger talks as your allegations are based on a falsehood. I would agree with Jim Denham; whatever the circumstances, Jerry did not take his complaints very far inside the union. And he has compounded the problem by airing them in the Murdoch press. Unite's officers and EC took legal advice to proceed so if this was incorrect, that is the fault of legal opinion. I suggest you take this and associated posts down and rewrite, correcting your schema to fit the facts.

    1. The Socialist Party in PCS has had nearly a year to respond to the original post about what was alleged to have happened inside PCS HQ. This was also sent out as an e-mail at the time.

      For the record I said "a campaign" not "the campaign".

      Nothing happens in Falcon Road without the say so of the Socialist Party's PCS Grandees.