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Left unity to stop Gerard Coyne securing right-wing control of Unite could not be more important

THE forthcoming election of a new Unite general secretary is a crucial political event with implications well beyond the labour movement. And those that worked so hard and consistently to stop Jeremy Corbyn know it.  

They will make the necessary effort to end the strategically left-leaning and combative leadership of Unite. Gerard Coyne, who was sacked in 2017 after wrongly using Labour Party data to contact potential supporters in the last general secretary election, is their choice. In that election Coyne lost narrowly, by 5,000 votes, to sitting general secretary Len McCluskey on a low turnout.

Unite plays a leading role in the movement and recently, with Steve Turner in the lead, successfully pursued difficult negotiations with the government resulting in the introduction of the furlough scheme and other measures, to the benefit of millions of workers.

The stakes are high, not just for Unite members, as rightly pointed out recently by Tribune editor Ronan Burtenshaw: “From Palestine solidarity to the anti-war movement, much of the institutional infrastructure of the left in Britain would be at risk of collapse without Unite’s backing.” There are many powerful interests with something to gain.

Steve Turner was elected as the United Left candidate for this leadership contest. The United Left grew from broad left organisations in Unite’s predecessor unions, each of which operated in a democratic centralist way, as the United Left does now. 

Turner has gained 38 per cent of the nominations and is better supported by bigger workplaces. The final branch nominations were: Steve Turner 525, Sharon Graham 349, Howard Beckett 328 and Gerard Coyne 196.  

Turner, Graham and Beckett all understand the need to organise workers to fight back against the power of big businesses and their government and have much to offer, and combining their strengths and commitments to build a new workers’ movement with a green industrial strategy should be a winner.  

Discussions on who will go forward to the election appear to be foundering and representations are being made from within Unite and no doubt beyond to agree on one candidate.

Any more than a total of two candidates in this contest will be a mistake and to quote Ronan Burtenshaw again: “If they put their own ambitions before the best collective traditions of the movement, the judgement in years to come will be severe.”

This is a very serious decision for all of us fighting for progress in the labour, trade union, internationalist movements and for left unity. Time has almost run out.

Andy Bain is trade union organiser for the Communist Party.

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