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Editorial Beckett’s principled decision to endorse Steve Turner provides the best hope yet of a left victory in Unite

HOWARD BECKETT’S principled decision to withdraw from the Unite leadership contest and endorse Steve Turner in the interests of left unity is very welcome.

Beckett has fought an excellent campaign, articulating the anger of socialists at Labour’s lurch right and the need for trade unions to have a strong political voice.

The appalling result in Chesham & Amersham — with Labour recording their worst by-election result in history in a seat where they came second, ahead of the Liberal Democrats, under Jeremy Corbyn just four years ago — shows just what a dead end this rightward drift is.

It underlines the crucial importance of seeing off the right-wing candidate, Gerard Coyne, in the Unite contest. 

News that Beckett and Turner will campaign on a blended manifesto, and that Turner is committed to including Beckett and the other left candidate — Sharon Graham — in his team as general secretary provide the best hope yet of a left victory.

The differences between the three are dwarfed by the gulf between all of them and Coyne. Each has contributed enormously to Unite and the wider labour movement. Each will continue to do so — if Unite does not become a hostile environment for socialists.

That is the risk Coyne poses. In 2017, when he stood against Len McCluskey, he ran on what was effectively an anti-union platform, backed by — and often fought through — the Murdoch press.

Coyne came within 6,000 votes of victory, helped by media demonisation of McCluskey and attacks on Unite’s influence in the Labour Party.

Claims that Coyne cannot win ignore the closeness of that result. As before, he will be able to count on significant support from the Tory-dominated media.

He is backed by the right of the Labour Party and much of the Labour machine.

The determination of right-wing MPs to smash the left in Unite should not be underestimated. Unite has played a huge role in the resurgence of the British left in the decade of McCluskey’s leadership. 

It helped move the Labour Party away from Blairism in 2010. It has given crucial support to anti-austerity movements and the extraparliamentary left, as well as being a key supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership. 

A right-wing takeover would reverse all that. Labour’s rules would be rewritten to prevent the possibility of a left candidate ever winning the leadership again.

Anti-racist and anti-war campaigns would be seriously weakened. The whole of the left in Britain would suffer lasting damage.

In light of that, the Morning Star recommends Steve Turner and calls on all socialists in Unite to give him their vote.

Turner is an effective trade unionist with an admirable record of winning for Unite members. He is an experienced negotiator who helped secure the furlough scheme protecting millions of jobs. He is a committed socialist who ran McCluskey’s leadership campaigns and chairs the People’s Assembly.

He has fought a strong campaign focused on jobs and building union strength in the workplace.

He’s also the candidate who won the backing of the United Left, the union’s broad left. For a movement founded on our ability to work collectively, this is an important consideration.

And he has by far the highest number of branch nominations — 525.

Left unity is a principle more honoured in the breach than the observance. This is debilitating. The left’s failure to hold together under fire was a key factor in the defeat of the Corbyn project.

Unity behind the campaign to elect Steve Turner is now essential in defending Unite as a militant industrial union that never repudiates a dispute, and a bastion of the left in and outside Labour.

There is no room for complacency. At the time of writing it is still a three-horse race. Mobilising the maximum vote for Steve Turner as general secretary is a huge task of concern to the entire left.

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