We asked Unite’s General Secretary candidates what they would do to support NUBSLI. We heard back from Len McCluskey and Ian Allinson and you can listen to their comments in our podcast below or scroll down to read a transcript of what they had to say.
Read a transcript of Ian’s podcast
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say a few words to your meeting and I’m sorry I can’t be there in person. I’ve been a workplace activist in Fujitsu where I’ve worked for the last 25 years. Unlike the other two candidates, I’m not a senior officer in the union or employed by the union at all. I’ve been an activist at all levels of the union, including having served for 10 years on the union’s executive. I think this election is wrong. I don’t think it should be happening, it was called as a snap election on a rushed timetable really just to benefit one candidate, and I think part of the role of the general secretary is to protect the democracy of the union, not to manipulate it to cling onto power. I don’t think we should allow this election to be a contest of on the one hand Gerard Coyne who wants to turn the clock back to the days when we used to support New Labour politicians when they were busy attacking our members, and also industrially, in terms of just seeing the union as like a third party with members playing a passive role. When we took those approaches, that’s when the union lost most of its strength and we mustn’t go back there. We can’t allow it to be a contest between that, turning the clock back on one hand or more of the same with Len McCluskey on the other, because the reality is that our members are facing massive attacks from employers, from government in terms of our jobs, pay and conditions, also the services we rely on and our rights both as workers and as human beings and the gap between what we’ve got in the union and the strength and the power we need is just immense.
I think we are missing too many opportunities and perhaps one I need to highlight is when the Junior doctors were on strike last year, I think it was a massive opportunity. This wasn’t a typical group of strikers and yet they had the Tories on the back foot over the cuts and privatisation of the NHS. It’s great that we are having a national demonstration for the health service on the 4th March and I hope everyone attends it, but wouldn’t it have been better if we’d called that when the Tories were on the ropes over the health service. When we’ve got an enemy that’s on the ground, that’s the time to be kicking them, not letting them get back up and be kicking us as they are now.
I think in terms of equality we need to integrate it more into our industrial work. A couple of examples from my own work place; we’ve done some work trying to analyse how discrimination applies both in redundancies, selection and pay and performance management issues that affect a great many members. I found it disturbing that there was no guidance on how to do this for activists and I think that sometimes equality gets pigeonholed into people that are interested in that and away from the core industrial agenda, and the reality is that equality issues are industrial issues.
I think another angle we need to look at for this is scapegoating. There’s been huge scapegoating of welfare claimants, people with disabilities and migrants, and I think all of these are work place and industrial issues too. Part of the reason the government is trying to attack people with disabilities is to drive them into the work force, no matter how ill they may be is in order to push down wages and boost profits. Force people into the labour market to compete ever more desperately for the few jobs that are available. Similarly, they are very happy to have people living in this country from all around the world as long as they can exploit them to the maximum. I think that its unacceptable that we are backsliding on the question of free movement of labour. My view is that it has to unite people by taking a clear stance that workers should be free to travel where we please and to be treated equally wherever we go. Not fudging on it, not blaming immigration for downward pressure on pay and conditions and so on.
Another area where I think the union could be stronger is around case studies for organising successes. There’s lots of fantastic work being done across the union trying to grapple with the difficulties of organising in the 21st century working environment which isn’t always about having a single big workplace where people can speak to each other and have face to face meetings day in day out and people are really bad at learning from each other and people are reinventing the wheel all over the union, and I think those ought to be written up as case studies so that people can copy what works elsewhere. Similarly I think communication in the union is incredibly patchy and poor and I’ve pledged that if I’m elected, I’ll ensure that there’s a fortnightly email bulletin that goes out to every activist, not filtered through officers and committees but going direct.
Another issue I’ve identified is that 80% of workplaces with 10 or more unite members are actually in employers that span multiple regions and yet nearly all of unites structure is regionally based and this just does not fit the realities of the 21st century industrial workforce, so I think there needs to be a shift to put power and resources and support towards people organising on an industrial sectorial or company basis.
I’m the only candidate in this election who understands and shares the frustrations and experiences of members first hand through trying to grapple with the difficulties we’re facing from employers and the government. I hope you’ll decide to nominate me and get involved in the campaign because we really need to shake up the union and make it stronger so members can win over the issues that matter to us.
Read a transcript of Len’s podcast
Hi, I’m Len McCluskey and I’m standing for re-election as your General Secretary. I was immensely proud to support the establishment of NUBSLI as a branch of Unite. Sign language interpreters and translators provide a vital service to Deaf people yet face many threats to their pay, terms and conditions. As with so many Unite members across our great union, your professions future faces a serious threat. There’s a race to the bottom across so many industries and sectors, in your profession, it is agencies, government departments and new entrants who are driving down fees and imposing minimum standards. You are right to place recruiting members at the top of your action plan for combating these threats; we are stronger when we stand together, and that’s why of course you joined us, Unite.You have already worked hard to build your branch from just a handful of members to now representing 30 % of the profession. You wanted to be properly represented at government level and with those agencies, through your Unite membership you have that representation. And under my leadership, Unite will never allow the important work that you do become unviable. The service you provide helps people participate in civil society and this commitment to equality is close to the heart of everything we do in Unite and I welcome your determination to build a political voice.
Some will tell you that Unite needs to get out of politics, but without a political voice, you would have no representation at government level. No representation with those undermining your livelihoods and careers, or ability to take your campaign to your MPs, representatives in our devolved governments.
Your branch also reflects the challenges of new ways of working, that Unite needs to meet. Increasing numbers of freelance workers are coming into our union across many sectors, and as your General Secretary I will continue to fight for all our members to be treated fairly and decently at the same time as challenging unfair practices in employment status.
Good luck with your branch meeting, if you do have any questions for me, or points you want to make, please don’t hesitate to email me today. I’m on email@example.com.
Keep up the fight, your fight is my fight, and as your General Secretary, this union is with you all the way.