You see, Paul, being a trade union general secretary is very much like making love to a beautiful woman. You have to seduce the membership, string them along with your honeyed words, whisper sweet nothings in their ears, promise them the earth. Then, as soon as you get the chance, you screw them so hard they’ll be walking funny for a week.
Yes, I couldn’t suppress a smile at the news that Swiss Toni was running for the top job in SIPTU. This is one of those occasions where, though you have to support the left candidate against the right, your heart sinks at the prospect of doing so. Presumably a credible left candidate, like Clare Daly or Des Res, was unavailable.
It’s nice that Swiss is putting on a big show of taking this seriously. He’s been banging on a lot about the Crisis and how workers shouldn’t have to pay for it. This is, I assume, the same crisis he’s been prophesying for years. I’m also slightly startled to see that Swiss has procured himself a swanky website. Back in the days when I knew him, he was still having trouble with new-fangled gizmos like the tele-phone wire.
I can’t help thinking that it would be a laugh if he actually won. For, although the Gen Sec job is well remunerated and has a nice pension attached, I don’t believe he wants to win. Swiss is quite comfortable at the university. He is also, let’s not forget, permanent Great White Chief of the Socialist Workers Party, a position he’s held since being headhunted by Cliff thirty years ago, and which he could continue to hold for the rest of his natural life, provided he stays on the Brits’ good side.
So why this quixotic run? Well, I recall the first Carolann Duggan campaign, where Carolann’s high vote surprised everybody, despite her being exactly the kind of candidate union members warm to. At the time there was a clear anti-partnership platform, and there was a reasonable perspective that a rank-and-file movement would be built out of the campaign. Of course, no rank-and-file movement was built, and some of us were quite clear that the Swips weren’t going to build one, although many comrades thought they would. I assume this run has more to do with raising the group’s profile, and boosting morale in the ranks. After all, in a two-horse race it would take a really diabolical candidate to get less than 30%.
Still, Swiss on the campaign trail must be a real treat. Clever and articulate he may be, but other adjectives also come to mind, like dour and abrasive. Not exactly your hail-fellow-well-met type. A makeover may be called for. Give the dude a trendy haircut and stick him in a shiny suit. If he’s still going around in that green jumper with no elbows, now would be a good time to retire it. Maybe even break out the fine wines and Belgian chocolates…