Monday, 20 January 2014

Jobs for the Boys

I don't know this for a hard fact, but I'm pretty sure that the Unite trade union regards itself as an 'equal opportunity' employer which normally means that all vacant posts are properly and open to competition to encourage under-represented groups to apply - women for example.
So, when I read this report in the Times that Unite had handed a full-time official's job to Stevie Deans, the former Unite convener at the Ineos Grangemouth site, I immediately wondered what kind of recruitment process had been used to fill this particular post.

Because it seems odd to me that someone who resigned his job at the Grangemouth plant rather than face a disciplinary hearing has some questions to answer about his behaviour.

Unite has come in for a lot of criticism over its campaign to get more people from 'working class' backgrounds into the Westminster Parliament - because in reality what this means is that candidates are selected on the basis that they share the rather old-fashioned version of socialism that Unite's leaders seem to favour.  

I can think of many union members who could do a good job as a full-time official for Unite including lots of women I have met during the fight for equal pay in Scotland - but not all of them are in the Labour Party, so maybe they would not have got on the shortlist for interview.

If there was one, of course.

Unite union employs former Grangemouth official Stevie Deans

Mr Deans was at the centre of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant dispute

The Unite union has confirmed that it has employed Stevie Deans, the former union convenor at the Ineos petrochemicals plant in Grangemouth.

Mr Deans was at the centre of a dispute at the facility at the end of last year which almost led to its closure.

He had been the subject of an internal company disciplinary procedure linked to the selection of the Labour Party candidate for the Falkirk constituency.

He resigned from his position at the plant following the dispute.

Unite said Mr Deans had started work on a temporary basis to cover the duties of an official on secondment.

It said it has been trying to get Mr Deans to work for the union for a number of years.

'Valuable addition'

The union called for the media to stop hounding him and to allow him to get on with his life.

Unite's Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, said: "I'm delighted that Stevie has joined us at Unite on a temporary basis.

"He's someone who I have been trying to get to work for Unite for a number of years, it's just a shame that it is a result of the circumstances of the past few months.

"Stevie has joined us on a standby basis to provide cover for an officer who is currently on secondment.

"Stevie is a valuable addition to the team and I trust that the media will allow him to get on with doing his job."

Bish Bash Bosh (30 October 20130

Here's a remarkable opinion piece by Len McCluskey published in the Guardian yesterday which cements his reputation, I would say, as the Del Boy of the trade union movement.

In Len's assessment of the great Grangemouth disaster which came within a whisker of losing thousands of workers their jobs, Unite has nothing whatever to apologise for - instead it's a case of 'bish, bash, bosh' because the union was simply sticking up for its members.

Now it's not nearly as simple as that I'm afraid, in that Unite is not remotely passive when it comes to representing its members - since the union actively advises on what members should do and which direction or choice to take in any given situation.

And having encouraged Unite members to reject the Ineos rescue plan at Grangemouth, the union must have had a strategy for what was to follow - including the possibility that the site owners were not bluffing, that the plant was struggling to survive - and that without big changes the whole business might just go to the wall.

Because that analysis is exactly what the workforce accepted only a day after Unite advised its members to go into battle with Ineos - which turned out to be a big mistake as the union reversed its previous position, dropped the war-like rhetoric and signed up to a package of measures which included a three-year, no-strike deal.    

While all this was going on the local, full-time Unite convener - Stephen Deans - had been accused of abusing his time off privileges by working on Scottish Labour Party business - but rather than deal with this 'problem' in a reasonable and mature way the union went on the attack, accused management of victimisation and called a strike - at a more reckless time than even Unite's worst enemy could imagine.

In the event, instead of defending himself against these charges - with Unite's support - Stephen Deans decided to resign and walk away without putting up any kind of fight or credible defence which will leave union members and the wider public in little doubt about the union official's guilt or innocence. 

Perhaps Len's most ridiculous Del Boy moment is that the negative comment about Unite in recent days represents a hysterical smear campaign against trade unions - when all that is being said is that trade unions should resist the temptation to play politics, especially party politics, with people's jobs and livelihoods. 

The problem for Unite is that the slapdash, uncritical and tribal mentality of the union's leadership is more akin to Trotter's Independent Traders (TITs) - than the spirit of the famous UCS 'work in' on the Upper Clyde in the early 1970s.        

Grangemouth shows the inequality of the fight that unions face now

Unite's priority is standing up for its members in the face of onslaught by powerful companies. Labour should take note

By Len McCluskey

Worker Eddie Heaney celebrates after a deal is reached with Unite and owners Ineos to keep the Grangemouth petrochemical site open. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

Seldom has one industrial dispute said so much about our society as the now concluded issue of the future of the Grangemouth refinery. Unite has reached an agreement with the owner, Ineos, which will guarantee the future of skilled and well-paid work at Grangemouth well into the future. In essence, it is not different from the difficult discussions my union and others have had with many employers during the current banking slump, working to keep jobs alive while adapting to the position some companies find themselves in.

I went to Scotland last week to save those 800 jobs and keep a vital national asset open in the face of a real threat of closure from the employer. But I applaud our team on the spot for also fighting to maintain the pay and conditions of the people who pay their membership subscriptions. That is what trade unions do.

And I am delighted that at a mass meeting of Unite members on the Grangemouth site on Monday, unanimous support for and understanding of the union's role was expressed. These are the people I answer to, not Rupert Murdoch's leader writers.

But there are far larger issues raised even than the future of one plant. Because what has happened at Grangemouth shines a vivid light on the nature of power in our society today.

The central message is clear – the rights of private ownership are unchallengeable, even in a vital economic sector like energy, and the ability of the capitalist to hold workforce and community to ransom is undiluted. It is hard to blame Ineos or any company for exercising the power we have for too long been happy to let them have.

This is the bitter harvest of years of laws designed to weaken trade unionism, of neoliberal dogma that rules public ownership out of court, and of rule by a smug elite whose greatest achievement is not economic or social, but to have paralysed the will of politicians.

And if you want to know what the consequences can be of standing out against this consensus, consider what has happened to Stevie Deans, the union branch secretary who resigned from Ineos this week, having been targeted by management as the "enemy within".

Stevie's crimes appear to have been twofold. He looked after the workers at Grangemouth – all too effectively for some people's tastes. And he took on vested interests in the political field too, trying to involve more ordinary people in democratic life.

For this he has had to leave his job, he has been traduced in the press, he has had his private correspondence placed in the public domain, been the subject of police investigations and more.

Now there is a demand for a new investigation into the whole issue. The published material I have seen shows no basis for reopening the Falkirk wound. Remember that the candidate Unite supported has withdrawn from the selection race, and none of the members recruited – quite legitimately under the rules as they were – will have a vote when it comes to choosing Labour's candidate.

And Labour is already reviewing selection procedures, a process which I hope will create a level playing field, something which has been notably absent in the recent Lord Sainsbury-funded, grace-and-favour New Labour past.

For all the hyperventilating in the media, nothing has been shown that changes any of that. Already Labour and the police have given Unite a clean bill of health – if Labour in Falkirk is to move on, then I think a fresh inquiry would be of less help than the overdue resignation of its sitting MP, Eric Joyce, whose misconduct set this whole sequence of events in train.

Just as Unite has nothing to apologise for in becoming a more active participant in the life of the party we created, rather than just a cheque-writing machine, nor will we apologise for sticking up for our members.

Today we are in the midst of something all too familiar to those of us who remember the 1970s and 1980s – a hysterical smear campaign directed against trade unions because we represent the only real organised challenge in society to the values and views of our bankrupt establishment.

At a time of economic slump and people casting around for an alternative, that elite will only feel secure when they can dance on the grave of trade unionism. I am afraid they will just have to get used to sleepless nights instead.

So we are witnessing a witch-hunt against Unite and Stevie Deans. Ineos's PR advisers, the charming people at corporate reputation specialists MediaZoo, boast of their capacity to help companies deal with "crisis situations including … fatal accidents and child labour", according to their website. In a "crisis situation" Unite's priority is not protecting the reputations of the powerful, but protecting the victims of the exercise of their power. That power inequality has been on brutal display this week, and Labour politicians above all need to pay attention.

Len McCluskey is general secretary of Unite