Not everyone in GMB is beaten

Submitted by Anon on 16 April, 2004 - 8:14

By Alfred Mars

On the first anniversary of Blair's capture of the once mighty GMB, where are we? Kevin Curran was elected General Secretary of GMB after polling 60,000 votes from a membership ballot of 600,000. His nearest rival secured 30,000 votes. Twelve complaints into Kevin's conduct during the election have been upheld but, not surprisingly, Kevin has said no action should be taken.

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.

But one year on and the mask has slipped. On Budget day, Kevin put out a statement on GMB members' behalf welcoming the "bravery" of Gordon Brown in sacking 40,000 "bureaucrats" in Whitehall. Not surprisingly, this move was heavily condemned by the PCS and most other unions at the TUC General Council.

So, isolated within the movement, revealed as the Blairite he always was, and blackballed from the "awkward squad" once and for all - just what is Kevin's record within the GMB over his first year?

First, on the union's money. Kevin says he was surprised and shocked at the scale of the £30 million financial crisis he discovered after his election. Presumably he wasn't listening at any of the Executive meetings over the previous five years when concerns raised by lay members were squashed by John Edmonds.

The union now owes £18 million to Unity Trust Bank - who have demanded all the money held by the members in local branch accounts as surety. Kevin gave them this commitment in a financial deal he signed without the approval of the union late last year - and for which he was heavily censored when his secret deal leaked out.

Unity Trust Bank allowed the union to amass debts of more than £5 million up to last year - even though John Edmonds was a director of the bank. But Kevin decided the way to get the union back on its feet was to borrow another £13 million to pay for a redundancy scheme for union staff. A scheme even Kevin describes as "the most generous I have ever seen" saw £11 million spent on pay offs for 140 staff - some leaving with more than £200,000 of members' money.

Thanks to Kevin's financial acumen, Unity Trust now effectively control the union and are forcing a fire sale of members' assets built up over the years, to get their cash back. But they are also charging interest at more than £1 million per year on the loans. And we all thought this was a trade union bank - you'd get a better deal from a loan shark!

And then there is the union's membership. Since Curran's election the GMB has shrunk by 100,000 members to just over half a million. In many parts of the country the decline appears unstoppable - and no action has been taken by Kevin to begin to address this crisis

Like many bureaucrats before him he casts about for someone to blame other than himself and tells union members that it is just the loss of manufacturing jobs and nothing can be done about it. When forced to suggest solutions to the crisis all he can come up with is the idea that if we returned to the closed shop everything would be fine.

A good old fashioned left-wing position? What he really means is that he no longer has any confidence that the GMB can persuade workers to join up - and so he thinks we should just force them to. Closed shop agreements were part of the cause of the laziness, corruption and weakness which afflicted trade unions during the 1980s. They were also very popular with the bosses.

For many in the union nothing illustrates more clearly that Kevin represents the beaten generation of union leaders: without perspective, out of touch with the needs of working people, and so bereft of any ideas and answers. He is happier on the golf course with the bosses of British Airways, Centrica and BNFL than he is with GMB members. He'd rather chat to Blair over canapés about structural regeneration funds from Europe than hold a meeting to organise low-paid workers to join up and fight back.

But not everyone in the GMB is beaten like Kevin. We know that there has never been a bigger need for a general union to organise the massive marginalised low- paid and exploited workforce in this country. These workers are not hard to find - they're in the call centres, hotels and offices in every town - and not difficult to organise.

What Kevin needs to do is get off his knees, tell the banks to stick their loans and invest what is left of our money in organising these workers. If you're backed into a corner you fight back, you don't grovel.

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