In many ways, 2013 was a pivotal year for trade unionists. The events at Grangemouth and Falkirk sparked off a witch hunt against Unite and particularly our general secretary Len McCluskey. And we are not alone in being the target of right-wing attacks.
The recent London Underground industrial action in London highlights the level of deceit and bias against working people that exists among the political class and the press. Rather than attempt to focus on the details of the dispute and discuss job losses and safety, the media tried to portray RMT general secretary Bob Crow as a comic book bad guy.
Next, we heard the Tories climbing over each other to demand tougher laws to limit the freedom of trade unionists to take collective action. London Mayor Boris Johnson has called for strike ballots to require either a 50 per cent turnout, or at least 50 per cent vote in favour before a strike could be declared lawful.
It is gobsmacking coming from the Tory mayor – he’s an office holder elected on a mere 38 per cent turnout with only 44 per cent of 1st preference votes in his favour.
One of the main goals of our region is to increase participation by members in its democratic structure. We have just undergone a period of branch re-organisation based on our lay industrial structures. Many new branches have been formed, with almost one third more of them having functioning reps and branch officers than before.
The region still has a big job of work to do in many sectors. We need more members to participate in the day to day running of our union. We also need our officers to be assisting in the process.
At the moment we are in the process of electing our new Executive Council, the lay committee that scrutinises our national officers and ensures that democratically agreed policy is carried out between our Policy Conferences, which meet every other year. Lay members and activists need to ensure that their branches, chapels and workplaces participate actively in the election.
Your branch meetings should have received information on nominations and timetables. Candidates should have put forward their arguments and incumbent Executive Council delegates their track records over for scrutiny.
The nomination period has now closed. Ballot papers will start going out on 26 March and must be returned by noon on 23 April. Make sure you participate. Find out who the candidates are, read their literature, make an informed choice.
Unite doesn’t need lectures on democratic participation from Tories. The Conservative Party has tried to resist the tide of democracy throughout its history. In contrast, Unite’s London & Eastern Region intends to strengthen and grow our active membership. Our vision is of the involvement of all our members in union activities and of mass participation in campaigning for the interests of our members, families and communities.
We can already see that the Tory party, under Lynton Crosby has a clear strategy of attacking trade unions. This will happen increasingly in the run up to the 2015 General Election. The major test ahead is to ensure that this Con-Dem coalition, cobbled together after the last general election, is kicked out of office in May 2015.
This government has absolutely no mandate for its programme of destroying the Welfare State. Replacing it with a majority Labour government will strike a blow for real democracy.
Chair, London & Eastern Region