The Socialist Unity Network

So what's going on in the GMB?

The GMB announced on 7th July that they will withdraw 750000 of funding from the Labour party, and following a similar policy to the RMT they will instead direct funds specifically to Labour candidates who support GMB policies. And what are the polices that the GMB are promoting? These are spelt out in a letter by General Secretary, Kevin Curran, to the national press on 8th July:

"The GMB executive was clear yesterday that those aims include action to stem the tide of manufacturing job losses; a new pensions system to avoid millions of working people being condemned into poverty in retirement; rights for British citizens at work and an end to the two tier workforce in our public services."

Immediately, Downing Street started a smokescreen operation, claiming that this was all the work of the Chancellor Gordon Brown. Indeed, Kevin Curran does occasionally drop the odd complement towards Mr Brown, but the troubled relations between the GMB and the Labour Party are better understood by looking at the policies of New Labour, and the policies of the GMB and noticing that they are completely in opposition to each other.

This is not a question of personalities: this is a question of an anti-working class government, and an old fashioned trade union promoting the interests of its members. This is the same structural antagonism between the unions and the Labour party that led to the RMT being expelled, and the FBU voting for disaffiliation.

The outcomes that Kevin Curran, wants to see from a third term Labour government are simply traditional social democratic demands. It is only because Tony Blair is so right wing that they seem radical in contrast. These, are spelt out in an article by Curran in the Morning Star on 21st May.

"In the first instance, the next manifesto should seek to address the concerns that individual citizens have.
"This should include action to address security at work and in retirement. Job insecurity and pension concerns are critically important and addressing these should be combined with action to close the gender pay gap, and further legislation on employment rights and to tackle the issues of work-life balance facing millions of people today.

"The second crucial area involves the key issues which impact upon our communities, in particular in relation to our public services and infrastructure.

"The third term Labour Government needs to build on these substantive achievements whilst addressing transport, public housing and other infrastructure issues with a new determination.

"The third policy area relates to global issues. A sophisticated electorate have concerns that reach way beyond what used to be called the 'bread and butter' domestic policy issues. Voters are increasingly concerned about American imperialism, global poverty and third world debt as well as environmental degradation. "    

Given these developments between the GMB and the Labour party, it is a bit is a surprise to learn from Socialist Worker  that:

"The GMB and TGWU unions have both elected new leaders recently. On both occasions the Labour Party and the TUC were heavily involved in promoting their candidate-with great success in the case of the GMB. "

Similarly we read on the AWL's Workers' Liberty webpage:

"For many in the union, Kevin's election came as a big surprise as he had no real support from any part of the union structure. Anyone that knew him, knew he was just another ambitious bureaucrat who had boasted for almost 20 years that he would be General Secretary one day. Anyone who knew him was also amazed during the election campaign that some sections of the left accepted his claims to be a socialist at face value."

There are 600,000 members of the GMB and nearly 100,000 voted in the election for General Secretary, Curran winning by a very handsome margin. With such a large electorate it would perhaps surprise the correspondent from the AWL that most of the electors didn't personally know Curran. The AWL also claims that there were 16 complaints of electoral irregularities upheld against Curran - although how this was achieved if he indeed had no support in the machine is a mystery. Now Mother Courage doesn't know whether these allegations are true or not, but one of her children - who is a GMB member - did get a dodgy unauthorised letter recommending a vote for rival, Paul Kenny.

The SWP and most of the left supported Paul Kenny in the election, claiming he was the "awkward squad" candidate. Mother Courage is a simple soul and believes the election may have been swayed by the fact that Kevin Curran's election address read by the ordinary GMB members who actually had a vote was left wing, and said he would defend his members against the Labour government, including pledges to fight for a minimum wage of 5.40, and an end to privatization. Perhaps this was the cunning Blairite trick that the SWP complains about? In contrast Paul Kenny's election address was completely anodyne machine bureaucrat speak and we searched in vain for any leftist code words.

Kevin Curran's election manifesto:
Paul Kenny's election manifesto:
So what is the truth of all this? Mother Courage's children have spoken to some GMB officials who claim there is indeed a big personality clash at the top of the union. Both Curran and Kenny are old fashioned GMB officials - the type typical of old style manual trade unionism. Neither is a militant left-winger, and in politics there is little to choose between them. The members voted for Curran because they liked what he said in his election address, and he has put his money where his mouth is.

Mother Courage has a strange suspicion that Paul Kenny is preferred by the left groups not because of greater militancy or left politics but because they like him more personally. It is perhaps no coincidence that Paul Kenny is the London region candidate, and therefore personally known to the apparatchiks of the left groups, whereas Curran was based up "in the cheap seats" in Newcastle.



July 2004


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