Union leader calls for tax cuts funded by levy on oil companies

From The Guardian:

Derek Simpson, the joint general secretary of Unite, said a levy on the profits of oil companies, which are currently profiting from high oil prices, would boost Gordon Brown’s standing with voters.

When Labour came to power in 1997, it imposed a one-off windfall tax on utility companies that raised more than £5bn to fund the New Deal programme to get the unemployed into work.

“How popular do you think it would be, given that oil companies are raking in billions, if he imposed a windfall tax on them and distributed it through something like a council tax cut?”, Simpson said in an interview in the Financial Times.

Simpson told the paper that this would resonate with voters, unlike other government policies, like extending the time allowed for terrorist suspects to be held before charge, which did not “address the concerns of real life people”.

In a follow-up interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Simpson said: “The first thing is to try to convince those core Labour voters that appear to be deserting in droves that the Labour party is on their side and is pushing for their interests, rather than the interests of others.

“People are very concerned currently about the high price of fuel and the rising cost of food, the lack of affordable housing, and there is still a residual concern about pensions in the future and job security.

“These issues need to be pushed and measures need to be put in place that would secure people’s concerns.”

Simpson faces a leadership challenge from Jerry Hicks, and the latest news from that campaign is as follows:

Last week a legal challenge was lodged with the certification officer questioning the right of the Unite Joint General Secretary Derek Simpson to remain in office.

The challenge has been launched by former Rolls Royce convenor Jerry Hicks who until recently represented workers in the Aerospace industry on the Unite Executive Council.

In 2002 Derek Simpson was highly critical of the decision to extend Sir Ken Jackson’s period of office by two years beyond retirement but now he has hypocritically arranged for an extension of office for himself until 2010, when he will be 66. Mr Hicks has now questioned the right of Mr Simpson to remain in office on the same basis.

Derek Simpson also questioned the right of Sir Ken Jackson to remain as AEEU General Secretary as he had only been elected by the minority former EETPU section of the union. But on the same basis Derek Simpson has only been elected by the AEEU section of Unite. Members of the former MSF, Unifi and GPMU have not had a democratic vote on who should be the General Secretary.

The union has said that Mr Hicks’ application had been rejected which is untrue. It has been confirmed by the certification officer with both Mr Hicks and Unite the union that the claim is in the process of being considered. It is hoped that the result will mean that an election for General Secretary may be called for sometime later this year.

It is widely accepted that what happened in 2002 opened the door for a positive change in the union and that’s precisely what is being sought now.

Derek Simpson won the election in the AEEU in 2002 against Sir Ken Jackson by a narrow majority of 410 following a recount. Jerry Hicks, who was one of the key figures in getting Simpson elected, has announced that if he is successful in his legal challenge then he will stand as a candidate in the election for a new General Secretary.

Unite is not only the country’s biggest trade union it’s also the biggest single donator to the Labour Party having given £ millions of members’ money over the last few years. Last year Derek Simpson gave his backing to Gordon Brown helping to ensure he was unopposed for the Labour Party leadership.

Mr Simpson has also been criticised for abandoning his election pledges. Despite numerous mergers (the latest proposed being with the American USW union), which in principle Mr Hicks supports, many union members do not feel stronger and more able to defend themselves.

With 2.1 million members and 100 sponsored MPs anti trade union legislation is unchanged.

Even the most basic right to re-instatement when unfairly dismissed has not been achieved under Mr Simpson’s leadership.

With the Labour Party facing a funding crisis this challenge has the potential of being the single biggest change not just within the union, but also in the union’s relationship with the New Labour government.

Jerry Hicks said today “With this challenge comes an opportunity, perhaps the last chance under this New Labour government of really redressing the imbalance between us and the employers.”

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