Britain  •  Industrial  •  Unite the union

Unite General Secretary Election – for a single left candidate

09 June 2021

Tim Nailsea

With the nominations for the Unite General Secretary election now closed, there are four candidates set to be on the ballot paper – Steve Turner, Howard Beckett, Sharon Graham and Gerard Coyne. We have discussed each candidate here. Turner, Beckett and Graham are all considered to be on the left, while Coyne represents the right. The candidates have until noon tomorrow to withdraw their nominations. Given the possibility of the left vote being split three ways, it is vitally important that two of the left candidates stand down to provide united opposition to Gerard Coyne.

While there are various issues with the three left candidates, not least the fact that they are full-time employees of the union, with little connection to the shop floor or the rank-and-file membership, it would be a huge defeat for the left if Coyne won the General Secretary position.

Unite is the second largest union in the country, and the Labour Party’s largest donor. With the left of the bureaucracy in charge, it has been confrontational with the right of the Labour Party, supporting Corbyn’s leadership in 2015-19. To a limited extent, it has also been more militant in its industrial policy than right-led unions. While the left leadership under McCluskey has been responsible for many capitulations and failures, the loss of this vitally important union to the right would be a major setback. The fight within the Labour Party to defend the gains made under Corbyn remains a central issue for the working-class movement, and Coyne being General Secretary of Unite would almost guarantee our defeat.

Coyne represents a wing of the trade union movement which aims at complete capitulation to the neoliberal agenda of the right-wing of the Labour Party, an end to even the limited industrial militancy of Unite under McCluskey, and an extension of the witch-hunt of socialists currently underway in Labour into the trade union movement.

We therefore cannot afford to have the left vote split three ways in the election. Disappointingly, Sharon Graham has already indicated that she has no intention of standing down, and the differences between Turner and Beckett may also prevent them from doing so.

However, the left needs to insist that unity is crucial, and that the danger of the right taking over outweighs the personal ambitions of any of the candidates. Steve Turner, Howard Beckett and Sharon Graham must get together and decide which of the three will run, with the other two pledging their firm support for them.

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