United Left criticizes SWP reaction to cabin crew deal

The following statement was issued by the Chair and Secretary of United Left. United Left is the Broad Left (an alliance of different left-wing activists from various political parties and none within the union). Len McCluskey, the current General Secretary of Unite was the United Left candidate in the recent General Secretary election. On the National Executive Committee of Unite United Left is the largest organised group. The statement was first circulated on the United Left email list and has now been posted on United Left’s website 

SWP and the BA Dispute – A Step too Far

Most UNITED LEFT Executive members were shocked and angry last week at an article entitled “BA workers should reject this shoddy deal” which appeared in the “Socialist Worker” 21 May edition and which was being sold by three UNITED LEFT Executive Council members who are members of SWP outside Congress House whilst the UNITE Executive was in session.  The paper first appeared on Wednesday the day after we had debated the conclusion to our long running UNITE British Airways Cabin Crew dispute. The article caused offence by implicitly criticising  our left General Secretary Len McCluskey and our UNITE BASSA reps for recommending this “terrible deal”.

No-one was more upset by this than our two UNITED LEFT Executive Council members from BASSA who have lived and breathed this dispute for the past two years, and whom the rest of us had congratulated only the day before for a remarkably good settlement after one of the most bitter and ruthless disputes in recent times. The other members of our UNITED LEFT executive group were also incensed by the article, which was seen as a public act of treachery by the Socialist Workers Party whose members participate in UNITED LEFT and sit on the Executive. At the very least it must be seen as a supreme act of disloyalty towards our left-run Union including our BASSA reps and our left General Secretary.

The article was a typical piece of ultra-leftism which seeks to turn members against their own union, twisting and stretching facts about the negotiated deal to paint the blackest picture possible. We all know that the BA settlement was not an outright victory and that labour cost savings were always going to part of any final settlement. However the recovery of staff travel concessions, a solution to deal with the disciplines and dismissals of both members and reps, and the recovery of trade union recognition and representation rights represented a major climbdown by the Company. For this group of workers to stand up against the bullying and anti-union tactics of this powerful multinational (which had the full backing of the establishment and we understand a £2 billion warchest to “smash BASSA”) had always been the most impressive aspect to this dispute and to conclude it with such credit was widely welcomed at the Executive Council.

What many UNITED LEFT colleagues are now asking is how can we sit alongside SWP members whose party newspaper attacks the union in this way? Who are they to interfere in the details of a collective bargaining agreement which was endorsed not only by the BASSA reps but widely applauded at a special meeting attended by 2000 members? Is the SWP capable of understanding the realities of the industrial relations situation facing these members, or what the collective aspirations are of the majority? Finally why would the SWP want to attack UNITED LEFT BASSA reps – and our left General Secretary –  and try to undermine this latest deal as it goes to the membership for a ballot vote?

The answer to the first question is that our BASSA reps are saying they do not now wish to attend UNITED LEFT meetings if SWP members are present. That view is being shared by an increasing number of UNITED LEFT supporters. Is this now a “step too far?”

The UNITED LEFT National Co-ordinating Committee is meeting on Saturday 11 June prior to the Rules Conference to take a view on the amendments. We therefore invite comments and views especially from UNITED LEFT Regions for our consideration at that meeting on what UNITED LEFT should do with regards to acceptance of SWP members within our organisation.

Martin Mayer                                                               Paul Birkett

Chair                                                                           Secretary

UNITED LEFT                                                            UNITED LEFT

In response to this letter circulated on the United Left email list, Kevin Parslow, convener of the Socialist Party’s Unite caucus issued the following reply putting forward the Socialist Party’s view.

I’d like to begin by congratulating all the members of the union in BASSA who fought magnificently over the 20 months of the dispute. They have shown what the basics of trade unionism are all about and will come out of this dispute battle-hardened and hopefully more resolute in their determination to defend trade unionism in BA.
That spirit and determination should be utilised by assisting the transformation of Unite into a fighting union at all levels and I’d also like to welcome the Executive Council statement on the cuts as being a real step forward.
On the statement by Martin and Paul, it is clear that there is anger at the Socialist Worker article, which from what has been reported, boiled over at the Executive Council meeting. The Socialist Party feels that this article was too one-sided and didn’t draw a true balance sheet of the dispute, which we tried to do in our article. Geoff Collier posted a link to our article earlier but I’ll add it here again: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/671/12043/18-05-2011/ba-dispute-mass-meeting-votes-to-put-latest-agreement-to-membership. The SWP’s unbalanced approach follows on from their role in the ‘Right to Work’ adventurist invasion of the BA talks last year.
To have won the dispute would have taken determination from all sections of the union and particularly those at BA but it would also have meant taking on the anti-trade union laws regarding secondary action. It is a debate we have had many times in the UL and the union but this is a concrete example of the need to confront them when it is vital to our members’ interests.
However, the Socialist Party recognised that the dispute had reached an impasse and that defeating the changes to rosters was now unlikely, given that management had taken huge measures to crush the union. The emphasis was therefore on recovering some of the ground lost during the dispute. On talking to one BASSA rep, it seems that staff believes that this is a victory in the sense that the attacks on the union during the dispute are or will be largely redressed by this agreement. That they end this dispute together is to be welcomed. Nevertheless it will take constant vigilance and determination to ensure that management do not renege or come back for more at a future date.
The anger at the Socialist Worker article has led to calls for the expulsion of the SWP members from UL. While it was correct to give them a final warning for breaking discipline over the GS election, despite our criticisms of their article, I don’t agree with expelling the SWP from UL. It would set a dangerous precedent that could be used against others who make criticisms of the leadership of the union, even when made in a constructive fashion. I can understand how BASSA members would be loathe to work alongside SWP members but would it not be best for the SWP to hear their criticisms from the inside rather than from outside the ranks?
Kevin Parslow

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