[A-List] UK labour militancy
Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Mon Jul 22 01:40:36 MDT 2002
Crisis for Labour as union splits
Patrick Wintour, chief political correspondent
Friday July 19, 2002
The Labour movement was reeling last night after Tony Blair's key union ally, Sir Ken Jackson, faced allegations of chicanery when he refused to accept that he had been defeated as general secretary of Britain's second largest union, Amicus.
After four recounts, the union's officials were preparing to declare that Sir Ken had been beaten by "a leftwing no-hoper", Derek Simpson, by 89,521 votes to 89,115, a majority of 406. The original count had given Sir Ken an 807 majority on a 25.4% turnout.
With anti-Blairites ranging from John Edmonds, the leader of the GMB union, to London mayor Ken Livingstone already celebrating Sir Ken's stunning demise, the union executive prepared to fight back and declare that the campaign had been unfairly conducted, and the result was null and void.
Pre-empting the tactic, three leftwing members walked out of the executive meeting, leaving it three short of the required quorum of 15.
The riven executive of the inappropriately named Amicus is now likely to be reconvened next week, but there is little likelihood of the debacle ending without one or other candidate challenging the outcome in the high court.
Defeat for Sir Ken would leave Mr Blair increasingly isolated, as he faces a rash of public sector strikes and demands from the TUC for wide-ranging reforms to the labour laws.
Union-linked MPs spoke of a breakdown of trust between the unions and the party, and called for a senior respected figure to be appointed to steady relations.
But Blairites were furious at the political posturing of the unions, pointing out that the chancellor, Gordon Brown, had just poured £60bn into the public services at a time of full employment. "What do these people want ?" asked one exasperated Downing Street official.
But the GMB general secretary, John Edmonds, said "People in Downing Street have got to engage seriously with the unions, or they face complete catastrophe. Downing Street's entire strategy has collapsed with the loss of Sir Ken."
A group of union general secretaries, including Mr Edmonds, met Mr Blair in his offices in the Commons for what one official described as a fraught encounter.
Sir Ken did not attend, and was instead closeted with his advisers looking at allegations that some of Mr Simpson's supporters had used union offices to campaign for their man.
Mr Jackson's supporters claim the election had been prejudiced by reports in the Guardian exposing a flying vote scam that led to the resignation of a supporter of Sir Ken, and the disciplining of six others.
Amicus officials also claimed that doubt had been cast on the validity of the result by the different results produced by each recount.
The executive, controlled by the rightwing, is likely to back these claims. However, legal action is high risk: defeat for Sir Ken in the courts would damage the standing of Blairities in the unions still further.
Mr Simpson accused Sir Ken of desperate tactics, saying: "The longer this dispute goes on, the worse it is for everybody. It looks as though Sir Ken and his supporters have spent the time between finding out the result of the ballot and today cobbling together the most ludicrous argument.
"They have realised the enormity of the decision and it appears they now want to have the best of three elections."
He insisted: "Every ballot form, whether spoilt or blank, went through the due process of the Electoral Reform Services. Their experience was applied to all ballot forms."
He said he found it strange that John Gibbins, the returning officer and a union employee, "had stood there for several days at the count and made no comment when it looked like Ken Jackson had won with the benefit of a pile of votes that belonged to me. I have won every recount since by roughly the same margin".
He added: "The executive needs to meet and give some sober judgment to what it is being asked to do. It needs to recognise the members of the union made a democratic decision and to recognise the decision of the independent scrutineer in compliance with the law.
"I can understand the frustration of Sir Ken Jackson with all that he had at its disposal failing to defeat someone who was described as an irrelevant no hoper, someone from nowhere.
"It is not someone from nowhere. I actually come from Sheffield."
Sir Ken made no comment last night.
The row came as the CBI warned the government not to succumb to union demands for fresh labour law reforms.
The CBI's deputy director general, John Cridland, said: "The leaders of the union movement must concentrate on working with employers.
"It is in everybody's interest that the low level of industrial action in the private sector is mirrored in the public sector.
"Increased union militancy is not an argument for more employment rights. There is no need to shake up employment law with labour markets working well and few industrial disputes."
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