Unite the Union

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This article is about the British and Irish trade union. For other uses, see Unite (disambiguation).
Unite the Union
Unite logo
Founded 2007
Members 1,382,126 (2015)[1]
Head union Workers Uniting
Affiliation TUC, ICTU, AfF, CSEU, Labour (Britain),[2] Labour (Ireland)
Key people Len McCluskey (general secretary)
Office location 128 Theobald's Road, Holborn, London
Country United Kingdom & Ireland
Website www.unitetheunion.org

Unite the Union, commonly known as Unite, is a British and Irish trade union, formed on 1 May 2007, by the merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers' Union. It is the largest trade union in the UK and Ireland. The General Secretary of Unite is Len McCluskey.[3]

On 2 July 2008, Unite signed an agreement to merge with the United Steelworkers to form a new global union entity called Workers Uniting which represents over 3 million members in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, North America and the Caribbean. Unite retains its separate identity in the United Kingdom.

Executive Council[edit]

Jack Jones House, Liverpool. North West Headquarters
The Yorkshire, North East and Humberside regional headquarters is in Leeds

As part of the merger process, a Joint Executive Council (formed of the executives of both the predecessor unions) took office on the vesting day. In March 2008, a new Executive Council for the expanded Union was elected, taking office on 1 May 2008 and having a three-year term.The Executive Council was tasked with putting a new Unite rulebook to a postal ballot of members during July 2008. The rule book was accepted by a majority of members and will not be subject to amendment until a Rules Conference is held.

The first reduced unified Unite Executive Council was elected in 2011

The first single General secretary of Unite Len McCluskey was elected in December 2010 on a platform of unification and standing for one term of office only.

The Unite special Rules Conference in 2010 agreed a rule change including a formula for how seats will be allocated on the UNITE Executive Council which takes office in 2011. There are a number of factions within Unite.

  • Unite Now, A growing active movement established in 2011 which is "moderate left" It presents itself as an independent movement for lay members, activists and officers. Supported Len McCluskey in his first election but they opposed the calling of an early General secretary election in 2013. Unitenow campaigns for greater transparency in the union and are critical of the unions centralised hierarchical decision making structures. They campaign for greater financial transparency, a move away from the current centralised executive powers with a more independent Executive Council which has set term limits. Not aligned to any political section of the union it has grown in influence within lay activist ranks, officers and key manufacturing sectors of Unite. It is widely accepted that they will challenge the Unite General Secretary election due to be called in 2017.
  • United Left, the main left grouping, which includes supporters of the Labour Party, the Socialist Workers Party and Communist party. Supported Len McCluskey in his election.

Controversy, updates and elections[edit]

Membership levels[edit]

A private presentation given by Unite's former joint general secretary Tony Woodley showed that membership of the union had stood at 1.44 million in 2007 but declined by 262,740 between 2007 and 2010.[4] During 2012, despite wider falling trade union membership and the tough economic climate, Unite increased its membership by more than 50,000 members.[5]

Criticism of UK government austerity measures[edit]

In June 2011, Unite publicly criticised the serving coalition government for a number of cuts in public services caused a result of the reduction of public funding, in particular cuts to the National Health Service (NHS). Ron Singer, a retired GP of 30 years and Unite member, claimed that there were "serious concerns" over the future of the NHS.[6] However, the union were heavily criticised and accused of scaremongering over similar comments.[7]

In February 2013, Unite was among other organisations and individuals who gave their support to the People's Assembly in a letter published by The Guardian newspaper.[8] Representing Unite, Len McCluskey also gave a speech at the People's Assembly Conference held at Westminster Central Hall on 22 June 2013, at which many Unite delegates and representatives were in attendance.

Payment to outgoing leader[edit]

Former leader Derek Simpson received a payment of over £500,000 when he left his post in 2010.[9] Due to the controversy this caused within the union, the issue was addressed at Unite's Policy Conference in 2012 and resulted in members voting in favour of new measures designed to limit future payments on departure.[10]

Hunger strike[edit]

There was a 2008 rooftop hunger strike at Unite's Transport House building in Belfast. The participants were formerly shop stewards of the Transport and General Workers Union, now the T&G section of Unite the Union.[11] The dispute is over legal fees and compensation for an unfair dismissal action against the workers' employer, arising from a 2002 strike at Belfast International Airport, and the related actions of a full-time union official employee.[12][13][14]

Joint General Secretary election and merger suspension[edit]

On the 9 October 2008 the executive council of Unite announced that there would be an election for the General Secretary (Amicus section), with a timetable of January/February 2009 for the election, the results being announced in March 2009. This election was for a fixed term until December 2010.

The Executive council also postponed the adoption of the new rule book and integration until May 2009.

This action was taken in light of the potential success of a legal challenge to Simpson's extension of tenure by a "single member" of the union.[15] Jerry Hicks, a former member of the union's Executive and its General Purposes and Finance Committee and unfairly dismissed convenor of Rolls Royce at Bristol, disclosed at the outset that he was the person behind the challenge. He made the same legal challenge that Simpson deployed successfully on his predecessor Ken Jackson.[16][citation needed]

These candidates seeking nomination for the election, with their main union positions at the beginning of March 2009:

  • Derek Simpson (incumbent)[17]
  • Jerry Hicks (former convenor, Rolls Royce, Bristol)[18]
  • Laurence Faircloth (Regional Secretary, South West Region)[19]
  • Kevin Coyne (Regional Secretary, North West Region)[20]
  • Paul K. Reuter (National Officer)[21]

All candidates received sufficient nominations, but Laurence Faircloth stood down after nominations closed, recommending that his supporters to support Derek Simpson.[22]

Candidate Votes Cast Percentage
Derek Simpson 60,048 37.7%
Jerry Hicks 39,307 24.7%
Kevin Coyne 30,603 19.2%
Paul Reuter 28,283 17.8%
[spoilt votes] 1,031 0.6%

A total of 159,272 voting slips were returned, out of a possible 1,096,511 voters, a turnout of 14.5%. Simpson won the election with 37.7% of the total votes cast,[23] and will remain in the post of Joint General Secretary until December 2010.

General Secretary election 2010[edit]

McCluskey speaking at the 2016 Labour Party Conference

Following Derek Simpson & Tony Woodley's announcements that they were to retire, Len McCluskey announced his intention to seek the position of General Secretary of Unite. He secured 42.4% of the vote with 101,000 votes and was duly elected as General Secretary of Unite for a 5-year term starting January 1, 2011.[3] The other candidates seeking the position were:

  • Jerry Hicks: 53,000 votes, 21.8% of the vote.
  • Les Bayliss: 47,000 votes, 19.3% of the vote.
  • Gail Cartmail: 39,000 votes, 16.4% of the vote.

The overall turnout was 15.8% [24]

General Secretary election 2013[edit]

In late 2012 Len McCluskey unexpectedly called an early General Secretary election saying that "Our current timescale would mean holding an election for GS just before the next General Election which would not be good for either Unite or the Labour Party, and is liable to cause divisions in the union, sufficiently divisive to, at best, threaten, and at worst, shatter the unity that we are creating." [25] On March 4, 2013 it was declared that two candidates had declared themselves to be standing in the election: Len McCluskey, who had won 1089 workplace/branch nominations, and Jerry Hicks, who had won 136 nominations.[26] This was Jerry Hicks' third successive attempt at becoming Unite's General Secretary. On 14 April 2013 it was announced that Len McCluskey had been successfully re-elected as Unite General Secretary, whose term will now expire in 2018. The full election results were:

  • Len McCluskey: 144,570 votes, 64.2% of the vote.
  • Jerry Hicks: 79,819 votes, 35.5% of the vote.
  • 1,412 ballots were found to be invalid.

- Overall turnout was 15.2% [27][28]

Selection of Labour candidates[edit]

In 2013, leaked documents alleged that Unite was running a covert campaign to ensure its candidates were selected to represent the Labour Party in the 2015 general election. Steve Hart, the union's political director, stated that Unite was supporting 41 candidates.[29] There was particular controversy over the 2013 Labour Party Falkirk candidate selection. Unite claimed that it had not broken any Labour Party rules or the law with its selection campaign. Ed Miliband, then Leader of the Labour Party, referred the matter for police investigation, however Police Scotland found there was 'insufficient evidence' to launch an investigation.[30] An Information Commissioner's Office investigation took place, as did internal Labour disciplinary proceedings.

Threat to split from Labour and launch a new workers' party[edit]

In April 2014, McCluskey threatened to disaffiliate Unite from Labour and launch a new workers' party if Labour lost the 2015 General Election.[31]

Palestine solidarity[edit]

In July 2014, Unite described Israel as "an apartheid state" and called for "sanctions against Israel for its continued illegal occupation, flouting of international law, and construction of an apartheid regime."[32]


Unite supports Abortion Rights[33] which campaigns "to defend and extend women's rights and access to safe, legal abortion"; among its statements it opposes the criminalisaton of sex-selective abortion.[34]

General Secretary election 2017[edit]

In December 2016, incumbent General Secretary Len McCluskey announced his resignation in order to contest an election for the post, which will be held in April 2017. McCluskey is expected to be challenged by Unite's West Midlands Regional Secretary Gerard Coyne, who accused him of "putting the Labour leadership before the interests of Unite members". Coyne, a member of the Unite Now faction, is widely viewed as a moderate figure within the union, and has a close relationship with the Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson, who is also a West Midlands MP.[citation needed] Ian Allinson later announced that he would stand as a "grass-roots socialist" candidate.[35]


  1. ^ https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/538434/795T_2015.pdf
  2. ^ "TULO's member unions". Unions Together. Archived from the original on 11 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-31. 
  3. ^ a b "Len McCluskey chosen as new Unite leader". BBC News. 21 November 2010. 
  4. ^ Harding, Eleanor (24 June 2011). "As biggest union is hit by plunging membership, outgoing leader says it must 'stop the rot'". London: Daily Mail. 
  5. ^ http://union-news.co.uk/2013/01/unite-posts-50000-rise-in-members/[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "Unite voice 'serious concerns' over the future of NHS care". Smart Assist. 28 June 2011. 
  7. ^ "NHS cuts: TUC is 'scaremongering' over health service cuts". London: The Telegraph. 23 February 2011. 
  8. ^ People's Assembly opening letter http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/feb/05/people-assembly-against-austerity 5 February 2013, The Guardian Newspaper.
  9. ^ "Union boss Derek Simpson received £500,000 golden goodbye". London: Daily Telegraph. 19 July 2011. 
  10. ^ http://www.unitetheunion.org/uploaded/documents/PolicyConf2012Decisions11-6662.pdf
  11. ^ "Hunger strikers in bad shape". libcom.org. libcom collective of libertarian communists. 
  12. ^ "Belfast airport workers: Union leaders' broken promises". Socialist Party<!. 2001-09-11. Retrieved 2009-12-17. 
  13. ^ Gordon McNeill (2008-06-18). "Press release: Sacked airport shop steward rejects union compensation "offer"". Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  14. ^ "Belfast Airport Shop Stewards - The Truth and Nothing but the Truth". Transport and General Workers' Union. 2008-06-20. Retrieved 2008-06-25. [dead link]
  15. ^ "Unite to hold election for Joint General Secretary". Unitetheunion.org. Retrieved 2012-03-31. [dead link]
  16. ^ "Jerry Hicks For General Secretary". Jerryhicks.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2009-12-17. 
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 February 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2008. 
  18. ^ http://www.jerry4gs.com/[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ "www.faircloth4gs.com". www.faircloth4gs.com. Retrieved 2009-12-17. 
  20. ^ "coyne4gs.net". coyne4gs.net. Retrieved 2012-03-31. 
  21. ^ "Paul Reuter's Blog". Amicusgselection.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2009-12-17. 
  22. ^ Unity Gazette statement on Laurence Faircloth's withdrawal Archived 26 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ Unite Amicus Section - Election of Joint General Secretary Independent Scrutineers report Archived 20 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  24. ^ "Unite's union general secretary results". 
  25. ^ http://www.powerinaunion.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Statement-by-the-General-Secretary-to-the-Executive-Council.pdf
  26. ^ "Two candidates to stand in Unite general secretary election". 
  27. ^ "Len McCluskey re-elected as Unite general secretary". 
  28. ^ "Len McCluskey re-elected as Unite general secretary". BBC News. 14 April 2013. 
  29. ^ Wintour, Patrick (3 July 2013). "Ed Miliband urged to confront Unite over general election candidates". The Guardian. London. 
  30. ^ "Police rule out Falkirk vote rigging inquiry". BBC News. 25 July 2013. 
  31. ^ McSmith, Andy (1 April 2014). "Unite union boss Len McCluskey threatens to launch party to rival Labour". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  32. ^ "Statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people". 
  33. ^ "Abortion - A trade union issue" (PDF). Abortion Rights. Retrieved 15 December 2014. Unite listed as a supporter 
  34. ^ "Statement on sex-selective abortion". Abortion Rights. 18 September 2014. Retrieved 15 December 2014. [dead link]
  35. ^ "Unite: Ian Allinson is third candidate to enter leadership contest". BBC News. 16 December 2016. Retrieved 3 January 2017. 

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