Union candidate pays a flying visit

Unite Jerry Hicks.
Unite Jerry Hicks.

A WOULD-be general secretary of Britain’s biggest trade union paid a flying visit to South Tyneside on the eve of a crucial election ballot.

Jerry Hicks is up against incumbent Len McCluskey for the leadership of the Unite union, which represents about 1.5 million members nationwide, including transport and health staff.

Mr Hicks, 56, from Bristol, was on a whistle-stop tour of the country to drum up support for his campaign, after finishing second in the last two elections for general secretary.

He is pledging to accept only an average member’s wage – instead of the £8,000 a month currently earned by Mr McCluskey.

During his visit, Mr Hicks, who is travelling around the country on a National Express bus, chatted with bus drivers in Chapter Row, South Shields, staff at the town’s Barclays Bank and workers in the district hospital’s pathology department.

And he even found time to pop into the award-winning Colmans restaurant in Ocean Road, for a fish and chip supper.

Now Mr Hicks, who is facing a head-to-head fight with Mr McCluskey, is hoping to make it third-time lucky when the result of the ballot is announced next Monday.

He said: “Over the last three decades as an elected representative and senior representative I have stood up to the bosses, been on strike, been involved in occupations and put my job on the line for others.

“We’re in the biggest union in the country at a time of the greatest economic crisis, experiencing cuts and a fall in living standards. But I don’t get the sense of urgency or that we have a fight-back strategy to win.

“We ought to be using every resource to defend members and their families. Instead Len McCluskey calls a snap election three years early, best suiting himself.”

Mr McCluskey says the leadership poll is being staged early so as not to clash with the General Election in 2015.

Mr Hicks added: “He’s wrong to try to get an extra two years in office, taking him to 67.”

“The election timing’s not for our benefit, it’s about clearing the decks for Labour and the 2015 General Election.”

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul