BA Militants And A Plot To Control Labour

(Daily Mail) – MILITANTS BEHIND THE BRITISH AIRWAYS STRIKE have a secret agenda to take control of the Labour Party, the Daily Mail has revealed.

The hard-Left clique which runs the giant Unite union plans to ‘reclaim or re-found’ Labour, dumping Blairite policies in favour of old-style socialism.

They believe that, because Labour needs union cash to stay afloat, Unite can control its political direction.

The plot is revealed in a series of astonishing emails from Graham Stevenson, a senior Unite official who is also on the executive of the British Communist Party.

Crucially, they show Unite is taking ‘strategic’ direction from the communists on both the BA strike and the overthrow of New Labour.

One email proclaims: ‘The Labour Party is simply broke. As millionaires desert, it has been forced to go back to the unions for funding. We will have a huge number of MPs who are members [of Unite].

‘In the past unions had large parliamentary groups but few MPs actually bothered to take account of our policies. This will change!’

Since Gordon Brown became leader, Unite has given Labour £11million – 25 per cent of its income – and saved it from bankruptcy. Unite is funding 148 Labour seats at the General election at a cost of £460,000.

Thirteen members of the Cabinet – half of the total and including Mr Brown – have received a total of £33,000 from the union. Some 167 Labour MPs and candidates are members of Unite, prompting accusations from the Tories that Mr Brown is in danger of relinquishing power to a ‘militant tendency’.

As national organiser of the transport section of Unite, Mr Stevenson is a central figure in the union, alongside the equally Left-wing assistant general secretary Len McCluskey who is personally coordinating the BA strikes.

The Stevenson emails, sent over the past 12 days to London-based political historian Pavel Stroilov who is writing a book about Labour’s links with Communism, show that after the next election Unite plans to exert ‘vigorous control’ over its sponsored MPs.

Mr Stevenson says: ‘Unions will have to make a judgment decision about Labour – whether to give up on the reclaiming approach or simply re-found it.’

He makes clear his support for Mr McCluskey in the contest for the leadership of Unite – the most powerful post in British trade unionism – which will be held later this year.

Mr McCluskey, who is tipped to win, has promised: ‘I will set out a clear strategy designed to reconstruct the Labour Party so that it speaks with our voice and is committed to our values.’

Unite’s determination to achieve this is shown in the emails. One from the seasoned communist Mr Stevenson – noting that the Prime Minister stayed silent for three days in the run-up to the BA strike – says cheerfully:’

‘Left-leaning union officials once thought that getting Gordon Brown’s ear was useful. It’s now going way beyond that – more akin to “do they have a chance of getting our ear?”.’

The extraordinary correspondence began on March 12 with a routine question from Mr Stroilov to Mr Stevenson about his personal website, which gives a history of the Communist Party in this country.

Mr Stroilov asked: ‘How is the class struggle going? Observing it from some distance, it looks like the spectre of Communism is rising again in the British Labour Movement, isn’t it?’

This unleashed a flurry of emails from the Unite official, who wrote: ‘Yes, things are very busy – the struggle goes on! And yes, the [ Communist] Party is very much in the thick of a great deal.’

Last Thursday, Mr Stevenson explained: ‘It is the case that most of the trade union leadership looks to the Party for strategic direction and most of the Left is prepared to accept the Party’s proposals for policy, so things are moving that way.

‘The unions have accepted almost all of our own [communist] policies, but enacting them is another matter. As a new generation of activists and union members emerges, the mood becomes more militant….’

The following day, Mr Stevenson wrote: ‘The fighting back stance of Unite is wakening up a previously quiescent working class. We are seeing extraordinarily high voting levels for strike action. The most obvious sign is the current furore over the British Airways dispute. But the bus industry has seen a wave of strikes across Britain, largely un-noticed due to the local character of them.’

He adds: ‘The official machine around Brown has latched on to the fact that a sharper class struggle is polarising the country. Class has become a feature of mainstream politics once again. To some extent this is as a result of growing pressure from the unions…

‘The Labour Party is simply broke (it was 30 days away from bankruptcy 18 months ago). As millionaires desert, it has been forced to go back to the unions for funding. Our view is that a coalescence of mass support for progressive politics can be mobilised during the course of this changing mood.’

Last night a Unite spokesman said the emails from Mr Stevenson were a ‘private correspondence’ which represented his own personal views.

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Air And Rail Strikes Threaten Travel Plans And Labour Hopes

(Telegraph) – BRITAIN IS FACING the most disruptive wave of industrial action since Labour came to power, as strikes by British Airways staff and rail workers threaten to throw the travel plans of millions of people into chaos.

In a move that represents a “nightmare scenario” for the Gordon Brown’s general election campaign, transport workers and public sector staff are set to stage a wave of strikes around the Easter period.

As many as 13,500 British Airways cabin crew – some of whom earn more than £50,000 – were beginning a three-day walk-out after negotiations with the company broke down.

BA said the strike – called by union Unite – would force it cancel a third of its scheduled flights, affecting 25,000 passengers a day.

A four-day strike is planned for March 27, and disruption to before and after each strike threatens two weeks of disruption for the airline’s customers.

Even before the cabin crew walk-out formally began, some BA passengers with tickets from London Heathrow were dropped from flights because of last-minute overbooking intended to beat the strike deadline.

Hours before the BA talks broke up, the RMT union announced that Network Rail signalling workers have voted for industrial action that could bring about the first national rail strike since 1996.

Rail maintenance workers have also voted to strike. A rail strike could come over the Easter weekend, when an estimated 10 million people are planning to travel by train.

The Public and Commercial Services union has also announced that more than 200,000 civil servants, benefits staff, immigration staff and court officials will strike on March 24, when Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, delivers his pre-election Budget.

The prospect of union action causing inconvenience and uncertainty for voters is causing alarm at the top of the Government. Senior ministers are afraid that voters will punish Labour for the strikes at the general election, planned for May 6.

Some minister fear a “nightmare scenario” where Mr Brown has to seek a dissolution of Parliament and begin the election campaign against a background of continuing industrial action.

Unite has given more than £11 million to Labour since 2007 and has links to more than 160 Labour ministers, MPs and candidates.

The Conservatives have highlighted those links, accusing Mr Brown of failing to stop the BA strike because Labour is “in hock” to Unite.

And while the RMT has cut its ties to Labour, Government insiders accept that many voters will still associate the union’s actions with the Labour Party.

The BA strikes have allowed the Conservatives to regain momentum lost during a period when Labour began to eat into their opinion poll lead.

A senior Cabinet minister told The Daily Telegraph last night that the issue would hurt Labour much more than a recent row over Lord Ashcroft’s tax status damages the Conservatives.

The minister said: “This is far worse for us than the Ashcroft affair is for the Tories. That is a story about politicians and the public view is they are all as bad as each other.

“But these strikes are going to hit consumers hard. Rail and air travel being disrupted will cause a real feeling of anger and it is bound to be taken out on us.”

David Cameron will today step up the pressure on Mr Brown, accusing the Prime Minister of being “feeble” and willing to give in to the unions.

Evoking the spirit of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative leader will promise to face down “vested interests” if he becomes Prime Minister.

Labour ministers had been hoping that last-minute talks between Tony Woodley, the Unite leader and Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, would resolve the dispute, but the meeting ended without agreement.

Afterwards, Mr Woodley accused BA of wanting to “go to war” with the union by insisting on changes to pay and staffing levels the company says are needed to save money and stay in business.

Mr Woodley said: “The hawks have won the day. People who wanted to negotiate sensibly are being outmanoeuvred and outfought.”

Mr Walsh said the strike threatens BA’s business.

In a letter to Mr Woodley, he urged the union to back down, saying: “For the sake of our customers, our people and our business, it is time to move on and end this damaging dispute.

Meanwhile, the rail signallers, who earn an average of £50,000 a year, have voted for industrial action in a dispute over work rotas.

Only 54 per cent of RMT signallers voted for industrial action, but Bob Crow, the union’s leader, said industrial action “looms large”.

Robin Gisby of Network Rail accused Mr Crow of “classic militant tactics” and said the RMT should drop its planned action.

He said: “We urge the union to get back round the negotiating table and talk to us about the real issues, and stop trying to hold the country to ransom.”

Raising hopes of a resolution, Network Rail and the RMT last night agreed to talks at ACAS, the conciliation service, next week.

But the union did not withdraw the threat of industrial action, saying it will name the dates for any strikes next week.

Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, this week accused trade union leaders of trying to “hold passengers to ransom”, criticism that Gordon Brown has pointedly failed to repeat.

Lord Adonis said the failure of the BA strike was “disappointing.” He said: “This strike is in no-one’s interests and will cause major inconvenience to passengers.”

Theresa Villiers, the Conservative shadow transport secretary said Mr Brown should either force Unite to call off the BA strike or stop accepting the union’s donations to Labour.

She said: “Labour’s union paymasters at Unite are determined to inflict travel misery on thousands of families. It is disgraceful that they are going ahead with this unnecessary strike.

“Britain now faces Labour’s spring of discontent with militant unions threatening to bring our railways to a standstill as well. Strike action could leave the country facing a serious transport meltdown.”

Mr Brown himself made no comment on the BA strike, but issued a statement though a No 10 spokesman.

No 10 said: “The Prime Minister believes that this strike is in no-one’s interest and will cause unacceptable inconvenience to passengers. He urges the strike be called off immediately. He also urges BA’s management and workforce to get together without delay to resolve what is a dispute about jobs and wages.”

Leaked Email Shows How BA Strike Union Is Campaigning For Labour

Charlie Whelan

(Telegraph) – THE UNION behind the British Airways strike is actively coordinating attempts to secure Gordon Brown another term as Prime Minister, a leaked email reveals.

The email, seen by the Daily Telegraph, is from Charlie Whelan, a long-time friend and ally of the Prime Minister, and it reveals the degree to which the union is helping Labour’s election campaign.

In the memo, which was sent last month, Unite regional officers are instructed on how they should rally Labour support in the workplaces and get supporters to make 10 calls a day to Unite members encouraging them to vote.

Mr Whelan boasts that the union – which claims to have 2 million members – has been active in key marginal constituencies for the last year.

He also urges his army of regional secretaries to get members to vote by post to ensure Labour’s vote is got out.

The disclosure of the way Unite is attempting to mobilise party support comes as the row over the BA strike escalates.

The airline last night said that four out of 10 flights would have to be cancelled for the first three days of the walk-out – due to start on Saturday.

Gordon Brown yesterday condemned the industrial action as “deplorable”. But he still did not directly criticise the union as Lord Adonis, the Secretary of State for Transport, had done at the weekend.

Mr Whelan is the political director of the super-union that is orchestrating the looming strike action that threatens to cripple BA services over Easter.

The former spin doctor is now back at the heart of Labour’s operation and regularly speaks to the Prime Minister.

He writes: “With many of our members working shifts we’re also asking you to make sure as many of our members register for a postal vote.”

It is also clear – that like Lord Ashcroft with the Conservatives – Unite is heavily involved in the fight for votes in crucial marginal constituencies.

In the leaked memo Mr Whelan confirms: “We’ve been in touch for the last year or so with Unite members in the key parliamentary marginals. We’ve asked them their voting intentions and what issues matters to them.

“That has led to a dialogue to firm up Labour support.”

And he issues a rallying cry about what the Conservatives would do if they won the election.

Mr Whelan said: “Under the Tories deep, draconian ideologically driven cuts putting a million public sector workers and tens of thousands in the private sector on the dole.”

The spin doctor has admitted that Unite is actively taking part in the election fight in ways that previously unions – despite donating millions to the party – would not have done.

He said at the weekend: “Unions traditionally had a policy of bunging money to the party and saying ‘get on with it’, but we have taken a different approach.”

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, told the Daily Telegraph that Mr Brown should immediately stop taking money from Unite.

He said: “This is a test of Gordon Brown and he is ducking that test. You cannot on the one hand condemn the strike while at the same time accepting money from the union orchestrating it.

“The Unite union is becoming a party within a party. It is selecting candidates and running the campaign in the marginal seats.

“Its political director has open pass to Downing Street and, as this email shows, he is directing Labour’s campaign and boasting about it. This is Labour’s new militant tendency.”

It comes as Gordon Brown finally condemned the planned BA strike as “unjustified.”

The Daily Telegraph has also established that Unite is using its multi-million pound political operation to “reclaim the Labour Party for the workers”.

A union document has disclosed that Unite has given Labour £11 million since it was created in 2007 by the merger of the Amicus and Transport and General Workers union.

Those two unions donated another £15 million in the six years before that. Amicus donated a total of £9.5 million and the TGWU gave £6.1 million.

The combined total of £26 million of donations makes Unite and its component unions the biggest financial players in British politics.

The Conservatives say the union is using its financial muscle to influence Labour policy. A report on the combined union’s financial strategy, prepared last summer, shows that Unite plans to use its money to enhance its political clout.

The document, drawn up by Unite leaders Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, says they are adopting “a policy of enhancing Unite’s influence politically.”

Mr Woodley and Mr Simpson oversaw the decision to install Mr Whelan as Unite’s political director.

The Unite operation includes a “virtual call centre” where union members canvass for Labour. Several Unite officials and allies have been selected for safe Labour seats at the general election, causing alarm among Blairite MPs.

In the strategy paper, Mr Woodley and Mr Simpson, make clear that Unite is seeking to expand its sway over Labour.

They say: “While a fair amount has been achieved already in terms of influence with the current Government, the upcoming General Election and the revival of the Conservative Party mean that the process of reclaiming the Labour Party for workers needs to be accelerated.”

They add: “If nothing else, the recession has proven that New Labour’s wholesale adoption of laissez faire, unrestrained free market policies was simply wrong.”

In the wake of the financial crisis, the report says Unite will “make sure that the Labour Party stands for fundamental re-regulation of the financial sector”.

BA Faces Prospect Of Crippling Strikes As Talks Break Down

(Independent) – BRITISH AIRWAYS is facing the prospect of crippling strikes by its cabin crew after talks aimed at resolving a bitter row over cost-cutting broke down last night.

Hopes of a breakthrough in the long running dispute collapsed when marathon talks ended without agreement.

Officials from Unite will meet today to decide their next move, and are set to announce strike dates.

The union’s 12,500 cabin crew members have voted twice hugely in favour of industrial action, but a planned walkout over Christmas was halted after a successful legal challenge from BA.

The union has ruled out striking over Easter, but a walkout could come as early as March 18.

Unite will have to give BA seven days’ notice, but the scene is now set for a bitter confrontation.

The two sides were embroiled in negotiations under the chairmanship of TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, which broke up tonight without agreement.

Mr Barber said: “Despite a prolonged period of negotiations it has not been possible to reach agreement between BA and Unite.

“Both parties will be reflecting on the position and the TUC will be keeping in touch but at this stage no further negotiations are planned.”

Unite said: “Talks with British Airways concluded today without agreement being reached. Management’s offer went nowhere near addressing our members’ concerns over crew numbers and service levels.

“Today’s talks were further impeded by gratuitously provocative statements by senior BA managers not involved in the negotiations, once more calling into question the company’s interest in reaching an agreement.

“Unite representatives will be meeting tomorrow to discuss the consequences of this breakdown. Should BA wish to make an improved offer, they have time to do so.”

BA said it remained available for further negotiations but hopes of resurrecting talks were slim.

Earlier, Unite put forward a 10-page document it said contained possible savings of almost £63 million, including a one year pay freeze, followed by a pay cut of 2.6 per cent.

BA said its package would save £62.5 million a year and would not reduce the pay of existing crew.

The airline said the union’s proposals fell “significantly short” of this level of savings and would lead to pay cuts of between £1,000 and £2,700 for crew, figures the union disputed.

… (Guardian, 12/03/2010) – How the strike affects you

… (Guardian, 15/03/2010) – Gordon Brown intervenes in BA strike

Gatwick And Stansted Vote For Strike Action

(BBC) – BAGGAGE HANDLERS and other workers at Gatwick and Stansted airports have voted to take strike action in a row over pay.

The action taken by the workers has raised fears of disruption at the airports over the August bank holiday.

Unions Unite and the GMB backed industrial action; but have not revealed any strike dates.

Staff expected a 2.75% pay increase under an agreement which was struck last year.

The agreement prevented strike action last August; but now unions have accused airport operators Swissport of going back on the two-year pay deal.

Unite is seeking an urgent meeting with Swissport in an attempt to settle the dispute, while the GMB said it was holding further talks with its members.

Unite’s national officer, Steve Turner, said: ‘Our members have demonstrated clearly that they are prepared to take part in industrial action and are willing to fight for fair pay.

‘These workers deserve recognition for their hard work and their continued commitment. Instead, Swissport has turned its back on the workers and failed to honour its side of the agreement.’

Swissport said it was incurring heavy losses due to a 19% reduction in flight volumes this year, adding it had avoided large scale redundancies and site closures to date.

A spokesman said the company had made every effort to ‘minimise the impact of the current market conditions on its employees.’

He stressed that any industrial action would jeopardise such efforts.

Barclays’ Staff To Ballot Over Strike

(Reuters) – STAFF AT BARCLAYS are to be balloted for strike action over the company’s plans to curtail its final salary pension scheme, a union said today.

The Unite union, which represents more than 25,000 workers across the bank, said its British members were ‘incensed’ at the proposals announced last month.

Barclays Chief Executive, John Varley, told staff in a letter that the bank’s pension fund deficit was worsening, and the move was best for present and future staff and its pensioners.

Barclays’ UK Retirement Fund (UKRF), which includes its final salary and hybrid funds, had a deficit of £2.2 billion at the end of September, compared with a £200 million surplus just a year earlier, it said.

Unite said the strike ballot would be held in August and a consultative poll had indicated that 92% of staff backed the action.

‘It is unacceptable that Barclays are proposing this unilateral change to workers pensions,’ said Derek Simpson, the union’s joint general secretary.

‘Unite members will not stand by as their employer rides roughshod over their retirement security.’

He said the ballot would ‘send a strong message to private sector employers across the economy.’

‘Unite will not accept businesses using the economic downturn as a means to erode the important terms and conditions of our members,’ he said.

There was no immediate response from the bank to the union’s announcement.

Barclays is proposing that no future benefits can be built up in the final salary scheme, and staff would instead join a hybrid cash balance plan, called Afterwork.

Final salary schemes typically guarantee a fixed percentage of annual pay in retirement, while cash schemes rely on staff building up investments in the market to fund an annuity.

Under the proposal, staff would retain benefits they have already secured in an existing scheme, but Barclays would stop contributing to the final salary schemes it closed to new entrants in 1997.

It would instead pay into its hybrid scheme, started in 2003. A hybrid pension fund is generally less generous then a final salary arrangement.