London bus workers show how building from below counters shuffling to the right

Ian Allinson, the grassroots socialist candidate in the Unite General Secretary election, talks about how his campaign is already helping shake things up and preventing the debate drifting rightwards.A London bus

One of the aims of my campaign is to strengthen the networks of activists who want to see a more vibrant, bottom up, union that is more effective in standing up to employers. This will be essential whoever the next General Secretary is. So I was delighted when London bus workers got involved with producing a specific leaflet.

The leaflet caused quite a stir. Not only did it highlight bullying and disciplinaries, and the huge pay disparities, it also asked whether the momentum of the London-wide pay campaign was squandered merely to avoid embarrassing Sadiq Khan and revealed that Unite wasted an opportunity to coordinate action with the other unions on the London Underground. It highlighted the unaccountability of the Unite representative on the TfL board. I pledged to call together a conference of Unite reps and activists on the buses, and invite activists from all the underground unions to explore how we can coordinate action and fight for the renationalisation of London buses.

Now, by an amazing coincidence, Unite has issued this news release, quoting Len McCluskey (didn’t he step down for the campaign?) addressing a London bus workers conference, talking about needing to tackle pay inequality. If this is more than election-period rhetoric, everyone should throw themselves into the campaign, but keep building up the networks of activists so that the campaign can’t be thrown under a bus again.

There’s something of a pattern developing. North Sea oil activists are frustrated at what they see as partnership arrangements with employers and a lack of communication from union officials. Their unofficial networks organised an online hustings for the General Secretary candidates, though I was the only one to take part. Not long afterwards, McCluskey’s campaign issued a statement about offshore workers (claiming credit for everything the members have achieved).

If there wasn’t a rank and file left challenge, this contest would have continued in the same vein as McCluskey’s campaign launch, backsliding on workers rights to travel freely and be treated equally to try to fend off right-winger Coyne. We would have seen the great shuffling right show. Instead, where activists resist the pressure to fall in line behind the union establishment, McCluskey is being forced to respond to pressure from below. If my candidacy has contributed to that process then I am delighted.