It has been well documented in recent months that the Trade Union bill is the biggest attack on trade union members since the dark days of Thatcher. An ideological and vicious attempt to suppress the workers of this country from defending themselves from the excesses of capitalism, that goes to the very heart of our human and civil rights.
So what do we make of of the latest intervention from Unite leader, Len McCluskey, in a letter to David Cameron? Len seems to be in favour of the element of the bill that deals with ballots. In particular, where it seeks to enforce a 50% turnout of those entitled to vote with the addition that 40% of those entitled to vote, votes in favour, but only if a deal could be done that would require an amendment to the bill to bring in secure workplace ballots using online and electronic voting.
So what is the thinking behind this? Is he concerned that people see this as a sensible move and he doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of public opinion, as suggested by the guardian? Or is it a tactical move where McCluskey is seen to be the reasonable one, willing to compromise and therefore able to take the moral high ground?
The reason I say this is because if he really believed in the plans for ballots, incorporated in the bill, then why didn’t he demand similar plans for other ballots, in his letter to the prime minister? Why didn’t he demand this for the general election for example? At the last election, the Tories got 36.9% of the vote out of those who voted, that means they only received 24.42% of those eligible to vote. If you agree with the principle of what is proposed in the trade union bill, then what mandate do the Tories have to govern this country? Now that would have put you on the moral high ground, but he didn’t argue that.
My understanding is that Len McCluskey said much the same thing at a meeting of the National Executive recently, but there was little discussion and certainly no decision taken. So when he says “Were you to be able to accept this modern and democratic proposal to update balloting procedures then Unite, for its part, would be comfortable about accepting the thresholds and the time limit on the validity of ballots proposed in the trade union bill, without prejudice to our position on other elements of the legislation.”, on whose behalf is he speaking? Certainly not Unite members and certainly not the 100,000 people who marched outside the Tory party conference in Manchester.
Mr McCluskey’s letter to the prime minister and his nervous defence of what he had written, on the Andrew Marr show came as a surprise to most. It puts him at odds with the Labour Party leadership (for markedly different reasons than in the past), his trade union leader comrades and his union’s membership.
Ultimately the message that he has given out is that he is a Trade Union leader who is willing to do deals with the Tories and what else will he be willing to concede? That is what will come out of this. He has put himself and Unite at odds with everyone else opposed to this bill. He has weakened his own and Unite’s position and has made himself a laughing stock.
Not the smartest thing you’ve done Mr McCluskey.