I reckon the left groups are the worst here.
How often do you hear left groups supporting this candidate for leader or that while at the same time championing rank and file power or lay member democracy?
Take Union General secretary elections for instance? Both in Unison and in Unite you have had the hard left pushing leadership candidates as individuals who they argue come from the rank and file and yet will sort out the ills of the union entirely on their own. They have very little representative/shop steward 'rank and file' support apart from individual unrepresentative activists, mainly from hard left political tendencies with their own agendas, a lot of them from workplaces with no union recognition agreements or employed in the third sector (not that I have anything against the third sector, it just seems to be a dumping ground for lefties entering the world of work after a few years at Uni. You don't see many lefties coming from Uni going to work for cleaning companies do you?)
Anyway, to try and keep this from becoming too much of a rant, I think the left have got it all wrong. Its all top down rather the bottom up which oddly they all seem to be arguing for. Take my Union Unite. The Jerry Hicks camp supporters are I expect all for bottom up lay member control. Yet they have taken a position that, it seems to me, in order to facilitate this you first of all need the left rank and file leader. Never mind if you haven't any credible rank and file organisation in the union or the tiny fact fact that if you do get in you will have the opposition of a hostile lay executive to deal with not to mention those vile and evil trade union bureaucrats!! Even the small inconvenience of rules and policy conferences, you know the democratic bits seem to escape them.
Is Jerry seriously arguing that if he gets elected the his rank and file organisation will suddenly appear and sweep the Executive elections next year? (Jerry's supporters frequently cite the PCS and the Mark Serwotka's election victory. While Mark was an outsider in the election the PCS is an industry specific union with an established left executive organisation. The difference with Unite is that it is a huge non industry specific general union with an established left executive the majority of whom support the other left candidate!!)
Where left groups have got it wrong is because of this. They have given up the patient work of building a left from the bottom up in the unions. If they are trying they seem to be not good at it. (Maybe trying not to pretend you are a reflection of the democratic centralist organisation you belong to would help gain broader support)
This is clearly evident to me in Unite. The left groups for a long period have neglected this work and in the main have opportunistically piggy backed support for leftish candidates when it suited them (with the credible exception of the Militant/Socialist Party who have argued in the main for the building of lay member left organisation in the Unions where they have supporters and I suppose the CP/Morning Star left, ever present in some way in most unions)
So for a lot of the hard left its all wait till we have this or that militant leader and then all the problems will be sorted. We can have election of officers, secondary action and new workers parties until they come out of our ears. Seizing the state after manning the barricades after a 1970s style reawakening of militancy will be just around the corner! Meanwhile the genuine representative left union activists will continue to patiently build left wing grass roots organisation steeled in the realities of what is happening in the workplaces rather than what is viewed as debate in the various central committees of the UK far left!!
To conclude lets stop this obsession with heroes. Lets build from the bottom up, strengthen lay member democracy to make leaders accountable and more importantly guide the industrial direction of the union. Heroes will be made through the battles we fight not by imposing would be heroes through the process of badly turned out general secretary elections.
This tactic is built on sand.