Beckett drops out: the fight for Unite continues

Ben Ughetti is a member of the YCL’s East of England branch

The Unite leadership race is now looking more hopeful with Howard Beckett dropping out of the race to endorse Steve Turner. Originally there were concerns that with three left wing candidates that it would split the vote and allow for the right of the unions to choose Gerrad Coyne to take the leadership, similar to what happened earlier in the year in the Unison elections.

In a joint statement made by Beckett and Turner, it read: “Howard Beckett has decided he will support Steve Turner as Unite’s next general secretary. Both recognise the vision and strengths of their respective campaigns and Steve Turner recognises the key manifesto commitments and energy generated by Howard’s campaign. They will both work to implement a blended manifesto, taking the best ideas from both candidates, when Steve Turner becomes general secretary.”

From the outcome of the Unite Left groups vote and the branch nominations it would seem obvious that Turner should be the sole candidate for the left given he won both of these elections. However, this is not so for Sharon Graham, another left candidate. After the statement was released Graham was contacted to ask if she will take the same steps as Beckett, but she declined, despite proving to be less popular than Turner. Graham seems to now only be supported by a handful of sectarian groups on the left who are keen to see Turner fail for their own opportunism, leading to one of the most powerful unions in Britain and Ireland being destroyed by a right winger. Figures in United Left claim Sharon Graham did not engage with the left throughout the selection process, but insiders on Graham’s side claim it was made clear to her that she would not be welcome to stand for the left candidacy.

The danger of Coyne

Unite forms part of the backbone of the left in Britain and left to the wrong hands it could see the union become far more passive as other unions have in the past. From defending workers rights in workplaces up and down Britain to publicly opposing Tory rule, it is absolutely crucial that this is maintained within Unite.

Coyne has plans to strip Unite of any influence that it does currently have and wants to take out the inherently political aspect that needs to exist within the union in order for it to still be a powerful voice in Britain for workers rights. This is not Coyne’s first rodeo, in 2017 he also tried to obtain leadership but was defeated by Len McClusky. In his 2017 campaign Coyne decided that the media outlet that he would use to vent his ramblings would be the historically anti-union Sun newspaper. In addition to this, he partially used his campaign as a platform to attack former Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

In a statement today, Coyne decided to attack the Communist Party’s endorsement of Turner, a deflection so he cannot be seen for what he stands for, which is a platform of anti-trade unionism. The reason why Coyne wants to appear to be taking the union away from politics is because he knows that to fight for the rights of workers is a political act in itself, one that Coyne is not willing to take up.

Ben Ughetti

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