In the most important union election in decades, Coyne is the only choice to rehabilitate Unite and Labour

by Rob Marchant

This is not an idle claim. In the 1980s, the unions were still largely regarded as centrist ballast against the worst excesses of a hard left spearheaded by figures such as Derek Hatton, Ted Knight, Eric Heffer, and Tony Benn. But they are so no longer: over the last decade, unions have been way to the left of the party, and that has had a major impact on its political direction.

And never, prior to Corbynism, has the party been so much under the thumb of a single union leader. Len McCluskey’s place-people sat for five years at the heart of power in the party.

Admittedly, it is less so now – scandal-hit McCluskey is now a busted flush and Unite in an interregnum until the new leader is chosen – but that could easily turn out to be a temporary state of affairs. Choose the wrong leader and, doubt it not, there will be a return to the bad old days.

At this point there is the clearest of choices: forward into a world where corruption, far-left politics and what can only be described as political blackmail become a thing of the past in the party; or backwards, Unite once again dragging Labour towards an electoral abyss and providing a rallying-point – and, most importantly, deep pockets – for the far left.

Its propaganda. Its vexatious prosecutions. Its expensive-yet-futile legal defences of its chosen sons and daughters and its vanity projects. All areas on which it openly squanders its members’ subs.

Gerard Coyne has not only shown himself an honourable candidate, looking to wipe out corruption in the face of terrible attacks on him personally and professionally (you may recall he was sacked by McCluskey in 2017, on apparently trumped-up charges). But he is self-evidently the only candidate interested in prioritising the labour rights of Unite’s members over far-left politicking.

Yes, it is a relief that McCluskey’s most obviously-annointed successor, the tainted Howard Beckett – currently suspended from Labour after a race-tinged tweet about Priti Patel and previously embroiled in a miners’ compensation fund scandal every bit as dodgy as that of another Corbynite, Ian Lavery MP – has withdrawn.

But the two remaining candidates, Steve Turner and Sharon Graham, despite seeming marginally less combative towards the Labour Party under Keir Starmer than Beckett, both have pretty much exactly the same far-left politics as him. Furthermore, after the deal Turner did with him to drop out, it seems a reasonable bet that Beckett will have a significant role in any Unite led by him.

No, it has never been a question of a broad spectrum of candidates in this election, rather one of complete polarisation; one moderate candidate pitted against three extreme ones, two of which are still standing and both endorsed by the toxic McCluskey.

If you doubt Turner’s far-left credentials, listen to this. Whereas even McCluskey never owned up to being a member of Militant, the far-left grouping which nearly destroyed Labour in the 1980s, Turner did. Yes, sometimes teenage Trots change their politics later in life, but Turner has shown little sign of doing so. He is backed by the Communist Party and still pushing for restoration of the whip to Jeremy Corbyn.

On the issue of graft, he has half-heartedly said there should be greater “transparency” about the union’s pissing away of £98m on a hotel and conference centre, built by a friend of McCluskey, while at the same time happily endorsing said development as “world class”.

But Graham – supported by Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (rs21), among others – is no slouch when it comes to the politics of the far left, her politics are still full-fat-McCluskeyite, outlined here. She is in charge of the “Organisation and Leveraging” Unit: “leveraging” meaning Unite’s unpleasant practice of intimidating corporate bosses, sometimes in their own homes, as the Ineos dispute of 2013 evidenced. As for “organisation”, insiders say that, with her in charge of membership, recruitment has dropped off a cliff.

Now, all other things being equal, there is a good Labour case for electing another woman general secretary, following the election of Christina McAnea at Unison. Graham has also stated – and this seems highly believable in the trade union world – that she has been the recipient of sexist, online abuse during the campaign.

But all things are not equal. Furthermore, even the most ardent feminist might pause before putting their ‘X’ next to Graham’s name. The far left is not exactly known for its zero tolerance to misogyny in the first place: but she is also supported by the house journal of the Socialist Workers Party, from which even hard-left fellow-traveller Owen Jones disassociated himself, as “a cult which covered up rape”. For once, Jones was correct, as the “Comrade Delta” scandal amply demonstrated.

In other words, if you truly want a Unite which can dig itself and Labour out of the mire of the Corbyn years, there is only one realistic choice, and that’s Gerard Coyne.

A vote for Turner or Graham means a return to constant battle over the coming years, and the maintenance of a power base for the forces which have poisoned the Labour well for too long.

Yes, they may struggle to be as wily, or as allegedly corrupt, as McCluskey.

But frankly, if one of them wins, the only winning option for Labour is to detach itself from Unite entirely and seek other sources of funding. We don’t need Unite’s tainted money so badly that we should be willing to throw the next election and the one after that.

The choice really is that stark.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left


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14 Responses to “In the most important union election in decades, Coyne is the only choice to rehabilitate Unite and Labour”

  1. Anne says:

    Yes, agree with this. McCluskey and any one associated with him must go. He has brought the Union and with it The Labour Party to the bottom. Unite is a big union, but many of its member are very dispirited with the leadership, and membership and influence has been diminishing – maybe because they have been so poorly represented.
    Frances O’Grady of the TUC does a good job, talks sense, and is highly regarded.
    Coyne seems to be the one to bring respectability back. Let us hope membership sees this. Anything else then The Labour Party should distance itself from this Union.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Not only time that a moderate Union member was stitched up by a militant union leader, look at Paul Embery forced out by Matt Wrack from The FBU ( all be it it wasn’t affiliated to labour for years)

    Or unions not affiliated like PCS who’s leader was told off when she said women don’t have Penises

  3. Alf says:

    Coyne is a Tory. Don’t vote for Tories.

  4. Tafia says:

    The Original 4 (Now 3) Candidates.

    Howard Beckett – Came third in the nominations against the other three candidates. Had to withdraw mainly because of his Labour Party suspension and his involvement in the failed legal case outlined below. A lawyer who sold his law firm for a £2.6 milion to Thompson Solicitors, Unite’s main law firm for industrial litigation, in a deal brokered by McCluskey.

    Gerard Coyne – The “right-winger” of the race, at least in union terms. The least nominated of all the candidates.

    Sharon Graham – SWP. Came second in the nominations. Supported by the ultra-Left and endorsed by the SWP and the Socialist Party. SWP are running a very very slick campaign for her at grass roots membership level. Also supported by a significant chunk of the Unite executive leadership.

    Steve Turner – Little short of a communist and supported by the Communist Party. Came top of the nominations. Endorsed by the withdrawn candidate – Howard Beckett (above).

    Most Unite members are not left-wing fanatics and don’t even vote Labour these days. Turnout for these sort of elections is usually a small percentage of the claimed mass membership and the hard Left membership is more committed and more likely to vote. Starmer’s ‘chosen one’ – Gerard Coyne, is heavily relying on the hard Left’s vote splitting between the other two remaining candidates (Turner & Graham) and thus allowing him to sneak through.

    —————————————————————————-
    whats the state of play legal procedings-wise? They were in this position less than 8 weeks ago:-

    “Enforcement action is once again been taken against Unite and Skwawkbox, after both failed to cough up the £680,000 accrued in legal fees following former Labour MP Anna Turley’s libel victory against them in December 2019. This after they were already forced to fork out £75,000 to Turley personally.

    Turley sued Unite and Skwawkbox’s Steve Walker after Walker ran an article accusing her of joining the union using a 50p membership rate intended for the unemployed, with Turley claiming Walker and Unite damaged her reputation and misused her private information. The expensive High Court hearing found in her favour.

    Now it turns out the legal bills Unite and Skwawkbox racked up in their failed defence are still unpaid, so bailiffs will be knocking at the union’s offices today (25 May). Turley’s lawyers have also commenced bankruptcy proceedings against Walker.

  5. Ann Onnimus says:

    You know who else is hoping like hell that Coyne wins? The Tories. Of course, that’s by no means the only thing Mr Marchant has in common with them.

  6. Graham Jones xMP says:

    Reference. Bevin was the most influential trade union leader ever.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Ann Onnimus no the Tories hope Steve wins as if unite sings towards the left it makes labour do unelectable they dont have to worry about labour for decades

  8. Join P Reid says:

    So over the last month 1% each from Tories snd reform have gone to Ukip and 1% of labour have gone 0.5% each to SNP and plaid

  9. John P Reid says:

    I see where the government are introducing a new law to stop the banning of free speech in universities has met with criticism from A labour MP

    Bell Bibero Reilly- “The Tories are trying to take away
    The freedom for student universities to choose who to speak”

    This if the same sort of freedom Margaret Thatcher use to say freedom of choice to buy something( like going to the dentist)
    Yes freedom of choice if you’ve got the money

  10. Ann Onnimus says:

    Also, it’s hilarious that Marchant describes Howard Beckett as “tainted” while endorsing a candidate who actually broke the law last time he campaigned for the job (illegally using Labour Party data) and was subsequently sacked for it.

  11. Tafia says:

    John P Reid – I see where the government are introducing a new law

    On the contrary. Speakers should be allowed at university debates so long as they DO NOT promote anything illegal. Banning speakers because they are not raving LGBTA2Z vegan left wing revolutionaries who support arab terrorists makes the entire university apparatus – including the students themselves, pointless rubbish.

    Even that well known nazi, swastika wearing, nut job Theresa May is banned. Anyone here care to say banning her from speaking at a university is a sensible thing to do? Even a lot of Labour MPs are banned for being sympathisers to Israel.

  12. John P Reid says:

    Strange Keir starmer says The Tories are on the wrong side of history over the culture wars
    The big culture war was the northern labour working class voted for brexit and middle class labour london tried to stop it calling the traditional working class thick and racist
    And who was in the wrong side of history over that

  13. Richard L says:

    The last thing the Tories, or even other parties, want is Coyne; for the same reason Tory supporters had a (semi-secret not so much a joke), campaign, for Tories to join the LP and vote for Corbyn as leader.

  14. Tafia says:

    In a highly damaging blow for Starmer, Turner looks likely to walk the election now after cooking-up a deal with communist Howard Beckett that he (Turner) will appoint Beckett to a high ranking job within the union, and stand aside to him in 5 years time in what will be an uncontested coronation.

    The ‘deal clincher’ is apparently Turner has said funding to Labour will be slashed far far further unless they drop plans to ‘purge’ the left,, and don’t immediately re–instate the whip to Corbyn. It is seen in some circles as highly damaging and could bring fdown Starmer as his authority will have been copmpletely and publicly trashed.

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