16 March 2010

BA and Unite: Waiting for Mandelson

Few know what is going behind the scenes, but there needs to be some fancy footwork to resolve the BA dispute.  Planes and their crews can’t be moved around at the last minute.  If the strike gets called off at the eleventh-hour, there will be a knock-on effect.

We have already discussed the convoluted structure within Unite that makes a resolution to this dispute problematical.  Len McCluskey, the key union man, is very much a free agent within Unite.  He has the dressed up title of assistant general secretary, but in reality he's the head of Bassa, whose sole purpose in life is to represent the interests of BA cabin crews.  He also has another agenda:

The election to succeed the two current joint secretaries Derek Simpson (from Amicus) and Tony Woodley (from the T&G) takes place in the second half of this year, with the successor then running alongside Woodley until he retires a year later. The main leftwing challenger is Len McCluskey, the candidate of United Left. This grouping unites the recently merged progressive left movement in Unite which brought together Amicus's left organisation Unity Gazette and the T&G's Broad Left. McCluskey is backed by Woodley and seen by some as the candidate of the TGWU, although the charge is hotly denied. McCluskey, judging by his rhetoric, is no fan of Brownism.

Brown can spend all the time in the world talking to the odd general secretary, but McCluskey is the the one he needs to get onside.  That will prove rather difficult.

Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, said:

This is an industrial dispute, not a political dispute.

Well, up to point.  The truth is rather different; this is an industrial dispute where the political consequences could not be higher.

There is nothing wrong with Unite giving money to the Labour party.  The process, up to a point, is legitimate.  Unite pays its taxes and, dam it, the party grew out of the union movement.  As discussed yesterday, it’s what is going on beneath the surface that is highly questionable.

There is little doubt that Gordon Brown is using Unite to ensure Ed Balls becomes his successor, as Andrew Piece explains:

It will also be Unite that will help Brown fulfil the wish he expressed yesterday to fight on as Labour leader whatever the election result. If there is a hung parliament, he has vowed to lead Labour into another election.

On the other hand, if David Cameron prevails with an overall majority, Brown wants to stay until the autumn to try to ensure his chosen heir, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, succeeds him. And who is Ed Balls’ most trusted political ally after Mr Brown? Step forward, Charlie Whelan.

Brown, for obvious reasons, is attempting to put the lid firmly back on this can of worms.  But where is Peter Mandelson?  Apart from slumping himself down beside Adonis in the Lords yesterday, he has not been very visible in recent days.

As one of the architects of the New Labour project, and having the sole responsibility for keeping Brown in office last June, Mandelson needs to act to ensure that the party doesn't turn into itself.  Perhaps it is too late.

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  1. "There is nothing wrong with Unite giving money to the Labour party. The process, up to a point, is legitimate. Unite pays its taxes and, dam it, the party grew out of the union movement. "

    a) Trade unions are exempt from UK taxes

    b) Trade union subscriptions are typically offsetable against income tax

    c) The unions receive millions of taxpayers' money in 'modernisation funds' from this government

    d) Individual members are automatically opted-in to paying the political levy, which is wrong - they should have to choose to opt-in.

    e) Trade unions are massively reliant on pubic sector workers, since - outside the privatised industries - no one in their right mind in the private sector bothers to join a trade union.

    In these straitened times, the first action of a Conservative government should be to abandon modernisation payments to unions and to abolish their tax exemptions.