Friday, 24 October 2014

Thunderbirds Are Go!



After months of prevaricating, North Lanarkshire Council is finally being dragged back to the Employment Tribunal next week where it will be forced to explain and justify its bizarre pay arrangements.

Now as regular readers know the Council agreed back in the summer to enter into  negotiations aimed at resolving all of its outstanding equal pay claims, but when push came to shove the Council failed to put serious offers on the table which Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) could recommend to its 3,000 plus clients.

So the Council and its senior officials will be back in the hot seat and will be required to explain pay arrangements which are based on traditional male jobs earning up to 60% more than their female colleagues.

Over the coming days I will be re-publishing some of the posts from the blog site archive which highlight what has been going on over the years in North Lanarkshire.

But it has to be said that this is a Labour council - yes a Labour council - and the council leader for the past 15 years or so has been Cllr Jim McCabe who used to be a Unison rep, a shop steward, and so Jim 'knows the score' if you ask me, when it comes to the underlying issues about equal pay.

The Council says its pay arrangements were discussed with the trade unions at the time and that the unions were consulted over an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) which, allegedly, gave the Council's job evaluation scheme (JES) a clean bill of health.

But since then the Council has been forced to admit in the Employment Tribunal that thousands of female dominated jobs such as Home Carers have been incorrectly scored and graded.

Yet all the women workers affected are still fighting for fair treatment and a proper response to their equal pay claims.

I have asked the Council to release an equal pay report to its corporate management team (CMT) dating back to 11 August 2005, but for some strange reason the Council has refused to release this information and an appeal has been lodged with the Scottish Information Commissioner.

In many respects this reminds me of the way that South Lanarkshire Council behaved over equal pay - another Labour run council which stuck it head in the sand for years before it was finally forced to do the right thing.  

So I'm sure we will get their in the end and I, for one, am glad the cases are going back to the Employment Tribunal starting next week.


North Lanarkshire Update (1 October 2014)



I'm told that there is a full meeting of North Lanarkshire Council tomorrow (Thursday 2nd October) which should be interesting because I think this is the first meeting the Council has held since the summer due to the Scottish independence referendum.  

So let's see what the Council bosses have to say about equal pay because things appear to be going nowhere pretty fast, given that the original deadline for reaching a settlement of all the outstanding cases was the end of August (2014).

My own view is that the Council is dragging its feet and that no real progress will be made until the Council is forced to face up to the hopelessness of its position by having another round of hearings and witnesses giving evidence at the Employment Tribunal.

Because, as I've said before on the blog site, the Council's most senior officials have an awful lot of explaining to do and the sooner the people involved are put under the spotlight and subject to cross examination, the better things will be for everyone, if you ask me.

My view is that these individuals will not be able to come up with an explanation that can justify North Lanarkshire's behaviour in relation to equal pay and nor will they be able to justify big differences in treatment between traditional male and female jobs.  


North Lanarkshire Update (31 August 2014)


The settlement talks with North Lanarkshire Council have not produced an outcome by the end of August which was the timescale originally agreed by all the parties to get the job done.

The Council has failed to provide concrete offers of settlement which is the only way to bring these talks to a satisfactory conclusion.

Action 4 Equality Scotland (which has by far the largest number of claimants in North Lanarkshire) pushed for all the cases to go back to the Employment Tribunals, but both the Council and the trade unions asked for the settlement talks to be given more time. 

So next week's tribunal dates have been postponed at this stage and the Council has been given more time to try and get its act together.

I have to say I'm now sceptical that North Lanarkshire is serious about bringing these talks to a conclusion without going back to the Employment Tribunal where senior managers can be put on the spot and forced to explain exactly what happened over the scoring and grading of so many council jobs, such as the Home Carers.

Because why else would North Lanarkshire refuse to release the minute of its Corporate Management Team (CMT) meeting dated 11 August 2005 - if the Council really does have nothing to hide?

If you ask me, this feels like history repeating itself.

In the sense that instead of acting openly and transparently, the Council is trying desperately to 'bury the evidence' just as South Lanarkshire did in relation to a previous FoI request which went all the way to the UK Supreme Court.

But as regular readers know, the UK Supreme Court decided unanimously in my favour - and a short time later all of the Action 4 Equality Scotland equal pay claims were resolved on satisfactory terms.     

Ringing the Changes



The penny is finally beginning to drop amongst journalists south of the border that Scotland really has changed as a result for the independence referendum.

The old Westminster elite, the ancient regime, that has been used to running the country for so long is on its way out, the Labour Party is completely discredited led as it is these days by someone, Johann Lamont, who is a self-styled feminist and gender equality champion.

Yet has had nothing of substance to say about the the fight for equal pay in Scottish local government for the past 15 years.   

So if you ask me it's no wonder that so many people are voting with their feet.

In Scotland the old politics have crumbled, as they once did in Ireland


In the recent referendum young voters opted for independence. As with Ireland in 1916, a new mood has taken hold and change seems inevitable


By Martin Kettle - The Guardian
'√Čamon de Valera, who retired as Ireland’s president at the age of 90 in 1973, managed to shape national life and politics for half a century and beyond.' Photograph: PA

Sometimes a history book prompts one to reflect on the past and present alike. RF Foster, professor of Irish history at Oxford university, has just published such a text. In Vivid Faces, Foster delves into what made the Irish revolutionary generation of the early 20th century tick. Yet at the core of his richly nuanced inquiry into the radical nationalist mentality is an analysis with implications that stretch beyond Ireland to this day – notably to 21st-century Scotland, but also elsewhere in these islands.

Generations make a difference in history. The men and women who transformed Ireland between 1916 and 1922 were strikingly young, even by the standards of today’s callow politicians. The average age of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising was 37. Michael Collins, effectively the first leader of independent Ireland, was killed when he was a mere 31. The corollary was that those who survived, embodied by √Čamon de Valera, who retired as Ireland’s president at the age of 90 in 1973, managed to shape national life and politics for half a century and beyond, until they in turn were peacefully supplanted by a very different, more Europe-centred Irish generation.

As Foster crucially argues, these young revolutionaries of the early 20th century were in revolt not just against the British government – the traditional nationalist narrative – but against the previous generation of Irish nationalists too. The active 1916 generation tended to be urban not rural people, for whom religion was not always a defining characteristic. They often came from comfortable, and in some cases privileged, backgrounds. A significant proportion were in white-collar jobs: teachers, writers and civil servants. Several wrote poems. But they had a common revolutionary awakening, and the first world war presented them with a shared opportunity, which they grasped.

In Foster’s account, the revolutionary generation underwent a crucial change of mentality in the years before 1916. Foster calls it “the quiet revolution in the hearts and minds of young middle-class Irish people from the 1890s onwards.” One, the well-born Muriel MacSwiney, and by then 28-year-old widow of the hunger-striker mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, put it this way in 1920: “You see, my parents are not quite like myself. I think I am rather characteristic of a certain section in Ireland. The younger people of Ireland have been thinking in a way that some of the older ones have not.”

These young radicals were alienated not just from British rule but also from the values, lifestyles and ambitions of their parents. They disliked the forms of schooling, entertainment, writing and politics of the previous generation. They rejected the powerful established alternative offered by the constitutional Home Rule party under John Redmond, which in 1912 it appeared to be on the verge of delivering. By that time, the new generation was hungry for something more than that.

Fast-forward to the present day and look around. Are there modern signs of a generation impatient of the political past and hungry for something new? True, there is no mass European war taking place today, as there was then. True also, there is a total absence, with the exception of Islamist jihadism, of the belief in politically motivated violence that marked 1916. And true, in addition, there have been other generational revolts since the early 20th century that have been absorbed, including ones in Britain in the 1930s and 1960s.

Ask yourself nevertheless whether Britain today is marked by generational political ruptures that in small ways echo aspects of the Irish nationalist revolutionary experience of the last century as described by Foster and the broad answer, without pushing the parallels too far or too crudely, is surely yes. Those ruptures are particularly striking in the onward march of Scotland’s nationalist movement. In some very different ways, they are also discernible in England, in the rise of phenomena as apparently diverse as Ukip, Occupy and homegrown jihadism, and in the juvenile culture of Russell Brand’s narcissistic anti-politics.

No one who spent time in Scotland during the referendum campaign was in any doubt that they were witnessing something new. Partly, this sense of a generational break was magnified by the strength of pro-independence feeling on social media, all of which tended to reflect itself to itself with ever growing excitement. But the sense of a gathering generational rejection of past Scottish politics was palpable. And the defeat of independence seems barely to have slowed it. The sometimes malign incompetence of the victors may have fuelled it even more.

The figures show we are in new generational political territory now. Young voters clearly opted for independence in Scotland. The strongest pro-independence showing in the referendum was among voters in their late 20s and their 30s – which happens to be precisely the same generation that made Ireland’s break with the past a century ago.

It is not yet clear whether the surge in Scottish National party membership since the referendum – the SNP has more than tripled in size in the five weeks since 18 September – also reflects a surge of younger-voter support. But it may well also be the case. A TNS Scotland poll last week suggested 16- to 34-year-olds were twice as likely to expect to become more involved in politics in the future as Scots aged over 55.

This is emphatically not in any way to imply that the pro-independence movement is about to head off down the revolutionary blood-sacrifice road that the Irish nationalist movement once took so dramatically. But it does begin to feel as though a decisive break between generations is taking place in its own way all the same.

This time, in Scotland, it is potentially a break with devolution, with the traditional parties – Labour in particular – and with Britishness. It also seems inevitable in many minds, rather as it did to the Irish people who spurned Redmond’s party long ago. The insensitive stupidity of the official government reaction, though fortunately not as brutal as in 1916, is yet another echo. We may not be witnessing the birth of the terrible beauty that WB Yeats saw a century ago and on which Foster writes so compellingly. Yet under the pressure of generational change, our politics is stumbling, miserable, uncomprehending and barely self-aware, into a new form that, compared with even the recent past, has changed, changed utterly.

Debacle of a Dispute

BBC Scotland's business editor, Douglas Fraser, does a good job of summarising the lessons of the disastrous dispute at Grangemouth which came within a whisker of shutting down the giant Ineos plant. 

If you ask me, the union reps involved owe the workforce a huge apology for the way they fought the dispute because the bottom line is they were playing politics, party politics at that, with people's jobs and livelihoods.   

Lessons from the Battle of Grangemouth

The Grangemouth dispute moved quickly over the past two weeks

Well, it's been a white-knuckle ride for Grangemouth and anyone who cares about the Scottish economy.

Only one of the surprising parts of this story is how fast it moved. Disputes like this usually take many weeks to unfold. But having come to the boil only two weeks ago, this one had dramatic tension and pace and was over before the weekend credits rolled.

Who won? Well, of course, Grangemouth did, and its workers and the wider Scottish economy. Politicians showed they can put differences aside to act as peacemakers.
Jim Ratcliffe founded Ineos 15 years ago

Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos emerged from relative obscurity to become poster boys for global capital. The firm secured a bundle of sweeteners from governments, BP (easing the terms of its supply contract) and, of course, from workers.

And who lost? Workers made sacrifices on pay and more so on pensions, but the humbling was for their union, Unite.

Red top notoriety

The employers had asked for a no-strike deal for two months. What they got was three years, along with everything they sought on pay and pensions.

The union lost all that, when it hadn't even fought over it. Instead, it chose to make a stand on a disciplinary matter, letting it become entangled with much wider demands from employers, then rushing calamitously into provoking the shut-down with a strike date.

The disciplinary issue, affecting union convener Stephen Deans, still isn't resolved, though it was due to be completed on Friday.

But it's worth noting the Ineos 'survival plan' was firmed up to ensure that the Grangemouth complex will have no further full-time union conveners.

Despite his red-top notoriety, Jim Ratcliffe claims not to be anti-union. He told the BBC he sees a role for them in representing workers, and in working with management on investment options and maintenance programmes, while sharing the common aim of the company's success.

He claims to get on fine with unions elsewhere. Indeed, he's got a similar investment project under way in Norway, where little moves in the oil and gas sector without union consultation.

Carrots without sticks

For other unions, and on other sites, co-operation has become more of the norm, for instance finding common cause on training and safety. Workers and bosses have worked together to steer a path through the downturn, where sacrifices have been made to secure jobs, retain skills and minimise compulsory redundancies.

It will be interesting to see if that unravels when the fruits of recovery are there to be shared out, or if lessons have been learned that can be carried over from the co-operative downturn years.

It might be more likely to do so if these relationships existed within one country. But the Ineos case is a reminder of how a modern corporation can work; behind veils of secrecy about its affairs and finances, without accountability, and with global investment portfolios allowing it to play off one plant against another.

As Unite has learned the hard way, there's little a trade union can do about that. And as governments have found, they can offer carrots to attract international investors, but the modern economy offers them few sticks. Carrots were duly deployed in this case.

Near death experience

Perhaps the main lesson to learn from this is the need to think and plan ahead. Several commentators have reflected on this.

For unions, there's a need to see the context in which their sector works, and to see ahead to the direction their employers are heading. Change is a constant, so it's doubtful that digging in to defend the past is much of a long-term strategy.

For government too, the near-death experience of Grangemouth petro-chemical plant brings up questions of what it can do to constrain or harness the power corporations have over strategic assets.

It also raises the question of how governments can plan ahead as industries rise and fall. That helps inform the skills and infrastructure that government puts in place, and where it puts seed and development funding where markets won't.

For 49 hours between Wednesday and Friday, the threat to Grangemouth prompted Scotland to face up to a future without the business of producing and processing hydrocarbons.

This has taught us a lot about the refining and chemicals industry, just one facet being the threat across Europe from efficient competition in other parts of the world.

The Scottish chemicals consortium responded to the Grangemouth turnaround with a welcome, but also a warning - that the competitive advantage it gets from re-orienting itself to the processing of shale gas from the US also protects it from the looming 'bloodbath' across the European sector.

Even if Grangemouth has now secured its future for 25 years, it may already be time to ask; what comes next?

Business Scotland this weekend considers the lessons of the dispute at Grangemouth. BBC Radio Scotland on Sunday at 10:00. It will also be a feature of Sunday Politics from 11:45 to 13:00.

Article written by Douglas Fraser
Business and economy editor, Scotland

Unite Debacle (23 April 2014)


Unite's handling of the Grangemouth dispute last year was widely seen as inept, even within the trade union movement, but for reasons best known to itself Unite seems determined to draw attention to the debacle all over again.

Now to recap the dispute started with the claim that the local Unite convener, Stevie Deans, was being victimised by his employer, Ineos, and the union called a strike in support of their local representative.

But as the affair dragged on and threatened the closure of the plant, Ineos claimed that Mr Deans had been abusing his time off arrangements, by devoting much of his time to Labour Party business, instead of representing the direct interests of his own members.
   
And when push came to shove Mr Deans resigned from his job rather than face the serious charges of which he had been accused.

So why Unite would want to rake over the coals of this disastrous dispute is beyond me, although Paul Hutcheon is on to a good story with the following piece in The Sunday Herald. 


Unite-Ineos relations plummet as union considers Labour candidate proposals



THE Unite trade union is considering plans to withhold support from Labour candidates unless they back a campaign to seize the assets of the company that owns the Grangemouth oil refinery.

In a sign of worsening of relations with plant owner Ineos, Unite will debate whether to link backing for Labour at Westminster and Holyrood with support for nationalising the company's operations without compensation.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said it was clear the union had a "stranglehold" on the party.

Unite's shambolic attempt at influencing Labour's Westminster selection contest in Falkirk, in which the union signed up over 100 new members in a bid to help their favoured candidate, had huge political ramifications.

The sign-up, which was linked to the Ineos plant at Grangemouth, was criticised by Labour leader Ed Miliband and led to the party rethinking its links with all its trades union affiliates. It also spiralled into a major industrial dispute.

Ineos accused Stevie Deans, at that point the plant's shop steward and Unite Scotland's chair, of using company time and resources to work on Labour Party business.

That row led to Unite backing strike action and was followed by Ineos threatening to close Grangemouth. The employer also insisted on swingeing changes to workers' terms and conditions. High-level political interventions led to a last-minute agreement between Ineos owner Jim Ratcliffe and Unite, but the dispute left the union feeling wounded and Deans out of a job.

It also cost the Scottish economy an estimated £65 million.

The Sunday Herald can reveal Unite will reopen the Ineos issue at its UK policy conference in June. A copy of the preliminary agenda contains a motion signed by two Scottish branches.

It condemns the "threat by Ineos's Ratcliffe to shut down operations in Grangemouth" and noted that it was "unacceptable" for "one individual to be able to wield such power".

The motion also commits Unite to "campaign for the nationalisation without compensation and under workers' control of all Ineos assets in the UK".

It called for this demand to be a "major focus" of the union's campaigning in the run-up to the next Westminster and Holyrood elections, including "withholding support from any candidate who does not support that demand".

Unite is the biggest union donor to Labour, but the party has not come close to backing calls to seize any of Ineos's assets.

A Labour source said: "You can understand why Unite have concerns about the ownership of Ineos, but they clearly have not learned any lessons from Falkirk if they think the solution is to hold a gun to the head of Labour candidates. It is crazy."

If passed, the motion could result in only a handful of left-wing Labour candidates receiving funds from Unite and starve Miliband of resources. It would also hamper Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont's bid to become the next First Minister in 2016.

The row between Ineos and Unite was one of the most bitter industrial disputes in years. The company was accused of treating the plant's workers in a brutal fashion, while the union was believed to have over-played its hand by backing strike action.

Another motion to the conference, from branches in the northwest of England, calls for Unite to cut the money it gives to Labour.

Murdo Fraser said: "It seems that no matter what Ed Miliband and the Labour Party say, the unions still have a stranglehold on the party.

"With their massive funding of the party they are always going to have a significant influence, including the selection of candidates.

"Despite the Grangemouth dispute costing the Scottish economy £65m, the unions do not appear to have learned any lessons."

A Unite spokeswoman said: "It is in the preliminary agenda. It will have to go through due process before being debated and could well change."

She added: "It will be for conference to decide."

An SNP spokesperson said: "It is of course a matter for trades unions which candidates they wish to support and for what reasons, but this resolution obliges Johann Lamont to set out exactly what Labour policy is."

An Ineos spokesman declined to comment, as did a Scottish Labour spokesman.

Weird Gift


The Labour Party report into claims of vote-rigging in Falkirk has been leaked to the Guardian and can be read online at the paper's web site: www.theguardian.com

But here's what the BBC has to say on the subject and now that the report is finally out in the open, people can make up their own minds about what was going on.

For me it's not exactly the crime of the century and certainly not a matter for the police and the criminal law as I said recently on the blog site - see post below 'Right From Wrong' dated 26 January 2014.

What the report does confirm is that there were numerous examples of wrongdoing and bad behaviour by various individuals in an attempt to bend, break and otherwise manipulate the selection process.

One of the weirdest revelations is that certain individuals became members of the Labour Party without their knowledge - and that this was within the rules because their membership was bought as a 'gift'.

Have you ever heard of anything so daft?      

Labour report: No doubt on Falkirk rigging claims

The revelations come on the day Labour's governing body votes on changes aimed at reducing unions' power over the party

There is "no doubt" the Unite union recruited members to Labour in Falkirk in an effort to "manipulate" the party's selection of a parliamentary candidate, a leaked report says.

The publication of the previously withheld document comes as Labour's ruling body meets to discuss changing the party's relationship with unions.

Ed Miliband wants to change party leadership elections to a one member, one vote system.

Unite called the report a "stitch-up".

Last year the union - the UK's biggest - was accused of trying to rig the selection of the party's parliamentary candidate for Falkirk, to replace the outgoing MP Eric Joyce.

Signatures

The Guardian newspaper has published the full report of Labour's internal inquiry into the allegations, which up until now had remained secret, with the party saying this was to protect a claimant's anonymity.

The 20-page report says "there can no doubt that members were recruited to manipulate party processes" during the selection of a candidate for the next general election.

It finds some union members were signed up without their knowledge and there were some signs membership forms appeared to have been forged.

The report also says there is "evidence that signatures were forged on either application forms or direct debit mandates or other documents".

The investigation was completed last June.

Unite has consistently denied breaking any rules and sources say the full report was full of inaccuracies which the union had no opportunity to rebut.

A Labour spokesman said the party had moved on since the row.

Mr Miliband is also proposing changes aimed at altering the way the leadership is decided.

Labour's governing National Executive Committee meets on Tuesday to discuss his plans for a one member, one vote system.

Trade unionists would no longer be able to vote as a result of their automatic union affiliation, but would have to agree to pay a £3 affiliation fee to Labour to take part.

Labour will hold a one-off conference next month to approve the changes.

At the moment, affiliated unions control a third of the votes in Labour leadership elections as part of an electoral college system, last used in 2010 when Mr Miliband was elected.

The proposed changes would give ordinary Labour supporters - as well as party members - more say over who leads them with no individual having more than one vote in a future contest.

Mr Miliband has described his proposals for altering the century-old link between Labour and the unions as "a huge change".

But union leaders have warned of a sharp fall in affiliation fees, with GMB boss Paul Kenny saying the shake-up is not a "done deal".

Speaking to Labour MPs and peers on Monday, Mr Miliband said MPs would need the support of 15% of their colleagues, not 20% as reported in recent days, to put themselves forward in a future leadership election.

He said this threshold would "strike the right balance between protecting the role of MPs and ensuring a diverse range of candidates going forward".

Conservative chairman Grant Shapps said: "As this report shows, Len McCluskey's Unite union was trying to rig Labour's candidate selection in Falkirk.

"Yet Ed Miliband has been too weak to investigate how Unite applied their 'political strategy' in 40 other contests and he even had the publication of this report forced on him.

"Instead, all he has done is give the union barons even more power to buy Labour's policies and pick Labour's leader. Nothing has changed."

Analysis
Chris Mason
Political correspondent, BBC News

This is a political case study of the law of unintended consequences.

It began with a punch-up in a Commons bar involving the Falkirk MP Eric Joyce, who later stood down as a candidate for the next election.

And it sparked a chain of events that led to a deep and very public search of the Labour movement's soul.

This 21-page report - marked "strictly private and confidential" - offers an insight into the complex, often baffling series of links between Labour and affiliated unions, and the rules that have governed those links.

Its publication is an unwelcome reminder for the party of the mess in Falkirk: the claim, the counterclaim, the frustrated investigation, the lack of clear answers.

It's a gift for Labour's political opponents.


Right from Wrong (26 January 2014)


A number of readers drew my attention to the story below from the BBC web site in which the Unite trade union claims to have been vindicated over the 'vote rigging' scandal in Falkirk - that blew up into a much wider industrial conflict involving the giant Ineos plant and the local Unite convener, Stevie Deans. 

Now I don't know of anyone who ever accused the Unite convener of criminality because he seems like a decent enough chap to me, but there seems little doubt that Stevie Deans was guilty of wrongdoing by abusing his time-off arrangements with his employer (Ineos) - a civil not a criminal matter, of course.

In effect Ineos claimed that Stevie Deans was working on Labour Party business when he was being paid by the company to represent the interests of the workforce - and Ineos management instigated an investigation to get to the bottom of things which was duly followed by a disciplinary hearing. 

Nothing to get too excited about there, you might think, but the union's reaction was to call a strike which was a completely crazy and irresponsible move especially when the agreed procedures provided Stevie Deans with every opportunity to defend himself and explain his behaviour.

Instead the whole business escalated out of control and in the end Stevie Deans resigned from his job rather than face the charge that when he was supposed to be doing what was best for workers at Ineos - he was devoting much of his time to party politics and the internal affairs of the Labour Party.

So the real issue was never about criminality which is a complete red herring.

As the old Labour Party slogan use to say, the real issue was always about knowing right from wrong - resisting the temptation to play party politics, and refusing to take risks with people's jobs and livelihoods. 
  

Falkirk row: Police say 'no evidence of criminality' in Unite emails

The controversy centres on claims the Unite union tried to fix the selection of a parliamentary candidate

Police have found "no evidence of any criminality" in emails sent by a former Grangemouth union convener.

Stevie Deans, who was a full time Unite official at the petrochemicals complex, had been accused of being involved in vote-rigging in Falkirk.

He was later cleared by an internal investigation by the Labour Party.

The Unite union, which called the complaints "vexatious", said it had been vindicated in consistently saying that no wrongdoing had taken place.

Mr Deans left his job at the Grangemouth oil refinery last year and decided not to seek re-election as chairman of Labour's constituency party in Falkirk.

The Falkirk seat is held by Eric Joyce, who resigned from the Labour party and now represents the constituency as an independent.

Labour's selection process for next year's general election has been mired in controversy, with allegations that Unite members had been signed up to the Falkirk Labour Party to ensure the union's favoured candidate was selected.
Stevie Deans was at the heart of the Falkirk candidate selection claims

In September, Labour said it had cleared the Unite union of trying to rig the selection process.

It said the decision was made after "key evidence" was "withdrawn".

But in November, The Sunday Times newspaper said it had seen 1,000 emails to and from Mr Deans, which it said revealed the full extent of the plot to influence selection of the candidate.

Its story also included extracts of the internal Labour report in which Labour officials said there were "deliberate attempts to frustrate" interviews with some of the key witnesses.

Police Scotland, which earlier this year dropped an investigation into the Falkirk allegations, was called in to study the emails, which were passed on by Mr Deans's employer Ineos.

A spokesperson for Ineos, which operates the huge Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemicals plant, said: "The Ineos investigation of Mr Deans was related to the misuse of Ineos procedures and systems.

"Mr Deans resigned prior to the final stage of the disciplinary process. The email cache was referred to the police and the information commissioner based on legal advice to protect the company."

A spokesman for the force said: "Following information received alleging misconduct by a member of staff at the Grangemouth refinery, a Police Scotland enquiry was undertaken.

"This enquiry has now concluded and there is no evidence of any criminality."

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "Unite has been vindicated in consistently saying that no wrongdoing or criminality has taken place and welcome Police Scotland's conclusion.

"It is shameful that the police's time has been wasted by vexatious complaints and their attentions diverted from catching real criminals and solving real crimes."

He added: "Stevie Deans is a decent and honourable man who has been smeared and hounded with a callous disregard for him and his family by those who should know better.

"The anti-union hysteria whipped up by certain sections of the media and their friends to pursue a spiteful agenda has been shocking. Their witch-hunt has been exposed to be without foundation."


Calamitous Cover Up (2 November 2014)

Dan Hodges is still a Labour Party supporter, as far as I know, although he did resign his membership of the party recently - so Dan's support is not unqualified and nor is he afraid of calling a spade as spade.

Which he does in this opinion piece about Unite and the 'vote-rigging' scandal in Falkirk - which became caught up in the nasty industrial dispute at Grangemouth that came within a whisker of the plant's closure.

Party politics and industrial relations are a toxic mixture that should be kept apart  at all times - but the events of recent weeks are damaging to all concerned and Dan Hodges is right to say that Unite's behaviour has made a mockery of Ed Miliband's pledge to be the champion of a new politics.

Unite and Len McCluskey are completely unapologetic, defiant even, about their behaviour and seem to be saying that they would do the same again - given the chance.

In other words the kind of machine politics that Ed Miliband promised to get rid of - is alive and well in the UK's largest trade union which doubles up, of course, as the Labour Party's biggest financial donor.

Falkirk's sordid cover-up damages the credibility of the unions, the Labour Party, and Ed Miliband

By Dan Hodges

Last month the Labour Party announced that it was halting its inquiry into the selection scandal in Falkirk. Over the weekend, thanks to the leaking of over a thousand emails to the Sunday Times, we know what that inquiry would have uncovered, had it been allowed to proceed.

The first thing it would have discovered is that the Unite trade union was indeed attempting to fix the selection on behalf of its favoured candidate Karie Murphy. In one of the “smoking” emails, Murphy expresses her desire for senior Unite official Stevie Deans to be elected “procedure secretary” for her ballot because it was “the best way to control the process”. Deans success in securing the chairmanship of the local party was described by Murphy in a separate email as nothing less than “a masterstroke considering the influence the chair has in a selection process”.

The second thing the inquiry would have discovered is that once Ed Miliband finally decided to take action over the scandal, Unite began to draw up a strategy to force the Labour leader to back-off. One idea the union came up with was to try to drag former Prime Minister Gordon Brown into the affair by getting him to intercede with his successor directly. One email from Howard Beckett, the Union’s director of legal and membership services, suggests “We will prepare for an approach to Gordon Brown wherein we ask Gordon to consider the potential damage this could do and request GB [Gordon Brown] do contact Ed M[iliband] in private”.

A second idea was to start drawing up information to smear Unite’s internal opponents. In another email Beckett wrote “Comms will prepare the nasty stuff we know of individuals in the Labour Party”. In the end, neither the approach to Brown, nor the plan to smear Unite’s opponents, were acted upon.

The third thing the inquiry would have discovered is how Unite directly intervened in the evidence of those who had claimed to witness attempts to rig the selection ballot. In particular, Unite focused on evidence supplied by members of the Kanes family, who were at the heart of allegations that people in the constituency had been signed up to the Labour Party without their consent.

Howard Beckett agreed to draw up “statements on behalf of the Kanes rebutting allegations in the report as to what they are alleged to have said”. He added that “Stevie [Deans] will arrange for these to be signed”. In response, Deans wrote “I’m happy with the draft letter and can get this to the Kane family and get it posted tonight”.

It appears that it was this letter, in which the Kanes claimed “We have no complaints against either Stevie Deans or Karie Murphy”, that was the catalyst for Labour for terminating its investigation, and reinstating the Deans and Murphy to the Labour party.

There is one other thing the inquiry would have uncovered. Alongside the ballot rigging, and the plan to pressure the leader of the Labour Party, and the alleged manipulation of evidence, it would have found that throughout the whole affair the Unite union lied, and lied and lied again.

The union said it had not been involved in attempting to fix the selection, when it had. It said it wanted an open investigation into the allegations, when in truth it was drawing up a strategy for getting Ed Miliband and the Labour Party to back off from investigating. It repeatedly claimed it had nothing to hide. But in fact it had lots to hide, not least over a thousand damning emails.

Back in June, when the scandal first broke, Ed Miliband gave a solemn pledge. "Let nobody be in any doubt, there is only going to be one outcome to this: the Labour Party will act in a way that upholds the integrity of our party, the integrity of our party members and the integrity of ordinary trade union members. I will not allow the good name of the Labour Party to be undermined by the behaviour of a few individuals,” he said.

This morning it’s not the good name of the Labour Party that is on the line, but that of Miliband himself. Unite have made a mockery of him, his party, and his pledge to be the agent of a “new politics”.

Labour sources point to the fact that Karie Murphy has withdrawn her name from consideration for the seat. And the Falkirk constituency remains in “special measures”, effectively in control of national party headquarters. A Labour spokesman said “Information has been passed to the police, and it’s right and proper for us to wait and see how that investigation proceeds. Once it has been concluded we will make a judgment on whether further action is taken”.

But the Labour Party themselves passed information to the police earlier in the affair. And on that occasion it did not prevent them from running their own internal investigation, or suspending party members.

Labour’s leader must reopen the investigation, suspend the individuals at the centre of the scandal and clear up this while sordid mess once and for all. It’s no longer about the rigging of one CLP selection. It’s about Ed Miliband’s credibility as a leader, and as a potential Prime Minister.


Trust and Betrayal (29 October 2014)


The latest bombshell to be dropped in the long running Grangemouth saga is that the Unite official over whom the union called a damaging strike - has resigned from his job rather than 'face the music' of a disciplinary hearing.

Here's how the BBC reported the news on its web site, but it has to be said that this is a real hammer blow to Unite's credibility at Grangemouth and elsewhere - another sign, if you ask me, that the union is prepared to play politics with people jobs and livelihoods.

Because why would the union jeopardise the future of the plant for someone who was accused of abusing his position as Unite's local union convener by carrying out  political work for the Labour Party - when he should have been representing union members.  

Unite has been complaining for months about Deans 'treatment' by company management - the inference being that he was being victimised and treated very unfairly - yet when push came to shove the Unite convener failed to defend himself against allegations which were reportedly backed up by hundreds of damning emails sent during working time.

In other words, the company's case was that while they were paying Deans to work for them and represent the interests of ordinary Unite members at the plant - Deans was actually devoting much of his time and energies on political matters to do with the Scottish Labour Party.    

Now if I were a member of Unite, I would be extremely angry at this latest turn of events - in fact I would feel completely betrayed.

To my mind Unite owes its members, the workforce at Grangemouth (who have been through hell recently) and the people of Scotland - a huge apology for trying to make monkeys of us all.   

Unite official Stephen Deans resigns from Grangemouth job

Mr Deans had worked at Grangemouth for 24 years

The Unite union official at the centre of the Grangemouth industrial dispute has resigned from his job at the facility.

Stephen Deans had been suspended by operator Ineos over claims he used company time for union business.

Ineos had been expected to reveal the outcome of a disciplinary case against him on Tuesday.

The union previously voted for strike action over his treatment, which led to last week's shutdown of the plant.

Mr Deans declined to comment when contacted by BBC Scotland. Unite said it would not comment until officials met union members at Grangemouth.

A statement released by Ineos confirmed Mr Deans had resigned from the company with immediate effect.

It said: "The company has conducted a thorough investigation into Mr Deans' activities over the last 18 months and made Mr Deans aware of these findings last week.

"Mr Deans requested an additional five days prior to the final disciplinary hearing to allow him time to provide any further relevant information.

"The company was due to meet with Mr Deans again tomorrow but has now received his resignation."

'Rigging' claims

Mr Deans, the convener of Unite in Scotland, had worked at Grangemouth for 24 years.

He had been accused of trying to rig the selection of a candidate for Westminster in his role as chairman of the Labour Party in the Falkirk constituency.

It was claimed he signed up dozens of new members for Labour, promising the recruits that Unite would pay their membership fees on the understanding that they would back the union's choice in the contest to select a new candidate to stand for parliament in Falkirk, to replace the disgraced Eric Joyce.

Mr Deans was suspended from the Labour Party but was later cleared by an investigation and reinstated.

“Documents were handed into Falkirk Police Station and will be passed to our electronic crime unit for examination” - Police Scotland

But Ineos carried out its own investigation into allegations that some of the new Labour members had been signed up in the refinery.

The row over his treatment erupted into a vote for strike action which was eventually called off by the union.

But the threat of industrial action led to Ineos shutting down the facility last week - before later announcing the site's petrochemical plant would shut permanently with the loss of 800 jobs.

The company eventually reversed that decision after staff agreed to implement changes to pay, pensions and conditions which Ineos said were necessary to ensure the survival of the petrochemical plant and the neighbouring oil refinery.

Labour MP Michael Connarty, whose Linlithgow and East Falkirk constituency includes Grangemouth, said he believed Mr Deans had been the ''subject of victimisation''.

Mr Connarty, who is currently at a conference in Lithuania, said he would be making no further comment until he had spoken to Mr Deans.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: "This is a matter between Stevie Deans and Ineos."

There have been calls for Labour to reopen its investigation into the vote-rigging allegations after the Sunday Times claimed to have seen emails showing Unite had undermined its original inquiry.

The newspaper reports claimed a fresh complaint had been made to police on Friday about the Falkirk Labour Party's handling of its candidate selection.

In a statement, Police Scotland said: "Documents were handed into Falkirk Police Station and will be passed to our electronic crime unit for examination."