A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Unite/Amicus Ballot

I got my ballot paper for the Unite/Amicus General Secretary election yesterday and have voted for Kevin Coyne.

I have never been a supporter of Derek Simpson but I suppose in a way he has been better than the extremely low expectations I had of him. Certainly on the political side of things it has been difficult for someone with my politics to criticise someone whose relationship with Government has been subcontracted to Brown-loyalist Charlie Whelan - though Charlie's people-management skills, if the Observer is to be believed, seem to be interesting - I would have thought that it is quite difficult to get into a grievance situation with affable former Campaign Group MP John Cryer, who was/is one of the most personally popular and easy-to-get-on-with characters amongst Labour MPs of all persuasions (I declare an interest in that my partner Linda was his Agent in the 2005 election).

However, the belated endorsement of Simpson by the hard left Amicus Unity Gazette caucus - after their preferred candidate dropped out - and the Gazette's slogan of "stop Coyne" because he is "the right wing candidate of the future" (i.e. the person who could win the General Secretaryship of the merged Unite against some Unity Gazette/TGWU Broad Left headbanger) tells those of us on the moderate wing of the Labour Party everything we need to know about who to vote for.

Simpson's leadership style - or perhaps that of his sidekicks - has been less than inclusive. My own personal experience of this was seeing one of Simpson's senior aides instructing people on the door at the Unite reception at party conference to turn away union members who were not considered loyal to Derek. That included me as a member of the union's national parliamentary panel. It was a funny way to reach out to people as at the time I was open-minded about Derek's leadership, but I gather rather typical of their modus operandi. At a more serious level than getting into a drinks reception, Derek seems to have made enemies of group after group of basically loyal-to-whoever-is-GS union officials, including the entire senior leadership of the former GPMU print union, whose membership he is now making a crude attempt to win the votes of by smearing Kevin Coyne as supported by the "Murdoch press" (the Sun and the Times have endorsed Kevin but I doubt he went out to seek their backing - the Times is hardly the paper of choice of the Amicus rank-and-file) - perhaps the most serious and divisive allegation you can make in a union that through merger now includes both sides - SOGAT/NGA and EETPU - from the Wapping Dispute.

As well as being autocratic, Derek's leadership style has a kind of "imperial" feel to it. In 2002, when he opposed Ken Jackson as General Secretary of the AEEU, he argued that it was wrong for him to stay on beyond 65, and that he had misused members' money by living a lavish lifestyle at their expense. Seven years later and Derek Simpson stands accused of doing exactly the same.

The final stages of this election campaign have illustrated the way in which Simpson seems to treat the union's resources - paid for by ordinary members - as though they were his own political resource. As I posted last week, members received a letter personally addressed to us from Derek Simpson, laying out his strategy for their Sector of the union . This unprecedented personal approach was made in the week before the election opened, and is believed to have gone to every Amicus member. The union has paid for this letter, using members' subs, at a cost which must exceed £250,000. Its purpose is clear. It is a cynical attempt to influence voting.

The letter has been followed by "United" magazine, delivered to every Unite member. The magazine is littered with photos and articles about Derek Simpson, and carries letters complaining about other candidates. Coyne and the other two candidates have been given no right of reply.

In 2002, when he stood against Ken Jackson for the General Secretary position, Derek Simpson said:
"Journals have carried multiple photos and articles about Jackson whilst I was told that unless the law or the rules forced it they would not grant equality of access. If Jackson is so popular and is recognised for his ability and leadership, why do all these issues arise? According to his spokespersons, there is little chance that Jackson will be overthrown. However, members ... are sick to the back teeth with the way the union has become divorced from its rank and file members, who now have little or no confidence that the union will stand up for them."

Kevin Coyne has commented:
"I hope that members will see the hypocrisy of this situation and vote to save our union from such abuse of power."

The ballot closes at 12 Noon on 6th March.

Vote Kevin Coyne for General Secretary.


Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

I too have recieved my ballot papers for this election.

According to a statement sent with the ballot from the Union, some of the accusations put onto Simpson by Hicks were refuted.

For instance they say his decision to stay beyond 65 was brought about by members of the TGWU section. Perhaps you are in a better place to refute this?

I have to say the way the union treated you was pretty despicable and it should not have happened. It is an abuse of power and should be opposed. Mind you the party leadership/apparatchiks are guilty of similar offences, the Wolfgang incident springs to mind.

That said I completly understand why you want to back Coyne, but I have to say my vote is frought between Reuter or Simpson, I just don't think Coyne is the man for the job.

9:06 am, February 18, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Whoever proposed it, Simpson agreed to stay beyond 65 when that is exactly what he had condemned Sir Ken for.

9:11 am, February 18, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ravi - as somebody broadly on the left the choice would seem to be between Hicks and Simpson depending on whether you want to vote for the most left or the left most likely to win.

Reuter and Coyne are both solid right wingers and Reuter's nominations mainly seem to come from management branches of the union.

10:05 am, February 18, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Couldn't have put it better myself. Your point about the abuse of power, ie. Simposn's use of incumbacy to campaign by sending direct mailings etc, reminds me of the biography of Mao that was published a few years ago.

The authors commented that while commie dictators didn't embezzel money (Swiss Bank Accounts etc)they treated the public purse as their own for political campaigning and the trappings of power. Millions died in China while Mao spent Government money on residences, vanity projects and the pursuance of the revolution.

I think if UN Observers were overseeing the election of the Joint General Secretary of Amicus they wouldn't call it "free and fair".

10:39 am, February 18, 2009

Anonymous Pete Gillard said...


If your support for Coyne was based, at least in part, that Ted Knight is supporting Simpson, I'm afraid you've got it wrong. I understand Ted, like myself, will be voting for Hicks.

10:46 am, February 18, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I've edited the post to reflect that. Thanks for the clarification.

11:02 am, February 18, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a non-believer your best blog in yonks.

I haven't read anything anywhere elese that has told me what was going on in this election.

11:18 am, February 18, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

I'm not a member of this union but I think I'd actually vote for Coyne as well. From what I have seen, Coyne is actually more likely to be independent of the government than Simpson.

Sometimes its about competence as well as claimed place on the political spectrum.

3:40 pm, February 18, 2009

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

I don't think left or right monikers are useful for this post, after all was'nt Simpson supposed to be the left's candidate.

What I'm interested in is whether the man is up to the job.

Hicks, brought about this election and has helped bring a lot of crap to the surface, only to withdraw his complaint, and even though I agree broadly with his platform I really can't see him delivering.

Reuter, maybe a candidate of the right but he has not thrown mud at the other candidates unlike the other candidates. That said I don't think he is in a postion to stop Coyne from winning.

Which is why I think I'll be voting for Simpson, though from what Luke has told us about him being excluded from a union event, (he pays his subs afterall) I have to say I am doing it begrugently.

7:46 pm, February 18, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ravi, some of the accusations have been refuted, but Simpson’s perks were agreed by the Executive so he appeared to accept what he was given. Hicks was on the EC but I am not sure if he was on it at the time and if he objected to any proposals.

Yes, if Simpson had stood down then Woodley would have had to do the same, so there was some pressure on Simpson to stay, but it doesn't make it right that he did.

Lukes post seems to be biased, as a lot of the information appears to have been lifted from Coynes site. But the attacks on Labour party funding have not been...I have looked at all of the sites before deciding what to do that's how I know.

To Anon 10.05. You are partly right about nominations, but Reuter didn't enter the "race" until late in the day so I have assumed that his own sectors CMA and Steel held back to see what he was going to do, and by then other places reps would have nominated.

I wouldn't rely on somebody else’s judgement, I would read what the candidates are saying and on reflection Reuter's approach seems more balanced, that and the fact that Coyne only has 11 years membership made my mind up.

I voted for Paul Reuter.

8:06 pm, February 18, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin Coyne is the only really serious alternative to Simpson. Coyne is far from a right winger. If he was I wouldn't be voting for him. Read his website and you will see that he commands the respect of all teh ordinary members he has worked with and, crucially, will be able to bring the merger forward. Reuter IS a right-winger from the old Jackson camp (Coyne was MSF), and a vote for Reuter will only help Simpson because he has no chance of winning.

1:34 pm, February 23, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is confusing...Coyne not a right winger, some member's may have voted for him if he was... Luke, I hope you have noted this comment and that you can shed some light on this! So KC "commands" respect. You cannot assume that respect isn’t freely given to the other candidates, Simpson, Hicks, and Reuter will all have their own followers. I don't think KC can take the union forward as Simpson's supporters will not follow KC and vice versa, too much has been said in the press for that... Your last comment does not make sense. Reuter was around when Jackson was in office, but even if KC has only 11 years membership wouldn't he have been around when Roger Lyons was in office to? Roll on the result so we can move on.

4:10 pm, February 23, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Completely agree re. Whelan; must take some pushing to snap Cryer.

9:50 pm, February 26, 2009

Blogger Matthew Cain said...

I'm sure that Coyne is a better bet than Simpson but personally, after the revelations in the Mail on Sunday, I can't justify belonging to this union any more.


10:19 am, March 02, 2009


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