IN JANUARY Solidarity National Executive member David Kerr hit out at the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) and Unite. He attacked them for their failure to defend workers at Diaego’s Johnnie Walker’s bottling plant Kilmarnock and the Port Dundas distillery and cooperage in Glasgow.
He noted how quickly the campaign to defend jobs had foundered and asked if there was “something going on in the background.”
Had the STUC and Unite sacrificed around 1000 Scottish workers for a future Labour victory at the polls?
At the time he said:
“The joint leaders of Unite - Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson – are desperate for a fourth Labour term. They say that Labour must be re-elected and that Unite should work for a Labour victory in the next election.
Has this desperation for a Labour victory affected the thinking – and actions - of the unions? The lack of any industrial action in the run up to the General Election will give Labour an easier ride.
Like all trade unionists, I’m dreading any future Tory government. However, it looks like the established unions are deliberately going soft on Labour. This begs the question: are the unions now abandoning the fight for jobs for a longer-term political objective – another Labour victory at the polls?”
In March, Mr. Kerr returned to this theme of workers being sacrificed for a Labour victory.
This time it involved Unite (again!) and its members who are British Airways cabin crew staff.
He outlined the long-running dispute between cabin crew staff and British Airways management. (It centres around job cuts, pay cuts, the ripping up of working agreements and Chief Executive Willie Walsh’s Macho-style of management.)
At the time – and despite an overwhelming vote for strikes by BA’s 12,000 cabin crew - Unite was stalling on setting a date for action. (The ballot for possible industrial action was conducted towards the end of January. In late February, Unite said that 78.77% of the 11,691 ballot papers issued were returned. Of those 80.7% (7,482) supported taking action with 1,789 voting against it.)
Mr. Kerr noted that the dispute between BA and its cabin crew staff was at fever-pitch. So what was holding Unite back?
He believed that part of the answer could be found in a report in the Daily Mail – by Transport Editor Ray Massey. The Mail – certainly no friends of the unions or the Labour Party – said:
“Insiders say elements within Unite are now ‘desperate’ to avoid a walkout, while senior figures in the union are said to believe it could damage Labour, to which Unite donates £10 million a year, in the run-up to the General Election.”
Mr. Kerr responded to this by saying that he believed that Unite would do everything in its power to make life as easy as possible for Nu Labour. He believed that the establishment unions in general – and Unite in particular - would drag their heels over any calls for strike action.
He concluded by saying that:
“Whilst there’s any chance of the Tories coming to power – or even possibly a hung parliament – they will go soft on Gordon Brown and Co. The establishment unions are desperate for another Labour victory. In fact, they are so desperate it wouldn’t surprise me if more jobs and conditions are sacrificed between now and the general election this coming May. Watch this space.”
Mr. Kerr’s predictions have been mainly spot on.
The establishment unions have held the line – they’ve managed to keep the lid on virtually all industrial disputes.
The only exception was the British Airways walk-outs. However, it’s fair to say that the anger of the cabin crew staff had reached boiling point. It was probably impossible for Unite to do anything about it.
David Kerr noted:
“I said that the establishment unions would go soft on Nu Labour. I was right. Anger at BA forced Unite’s hand. Unite couldn’t do anything else but let the strike go ahead.
If Gordon Brown gets re-elected, I wonder what their reward will be for sacrificing jobs for this Labour victory?
Only time will tell.”