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Posted on 5 May 2017 at 17:56 GMT

After the Unite elections - now turn outwards!

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey addressing striking bus drivers in Oxford, 2.3.17, photo Nick Chaffey

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey addressing striking bus drivers in Oxford, 2.3.17, photo Nick Chaffey   (Click to enlarge)

Rob Williams, Socialist Party industrial organiser

The Unite general secretary and executive elections represent a defeat of the right-wing Blairite forces both inside the union and Labour. They must now be used as a platform to strengthen the left in Unite.

In addition, over the next month with his renewed mandate, Len McCluskey should put himself alongside Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in spearheading Labour's anti-austerity and pro-worker programme to take on Theresa May and the Tories. He should approach other leaders of unions, whether affiliated to Labour or not, to take Jeremy's "Workers' Charter" into the workplaces in a mass campaign over the heads of the Tory media, including organising rallies in towns and cities, to show workers the difference a Corbyn-led government would make to them and their families.

The Socialist Party supported Len's candidacy and campaigned for him to be re-elected in an energetic campaign that we believe had an effect. We argued that the Blairites and the capitalist establishment saw the Unite vote as the third Labour leadership election contest and were using all the means at their disposal - from the Financial Times to the Sun - to try to ensure a victory for the right-wing challenge from Gerard Coyne. Had they succeeded, Unite would have moved dramatically to the right, making it much harder for Unite members to take action in defence of their interests. Coyne's victory would also have been used to move against Jeremy Corbyn.

Warning on dividing the left

We warned Ian Allinson and the SWP who supported him that to stand in this particular election unnecessarily risked splitting the left vote and potentially would allow Gerard Coyne to win. This is what nearly happened and Ian Allinson and the SWP would have borne the responsibility for a defeat for the left.

Yet nowhere does Ian Allinson acknowledge this. Incredibly and without embarrassment, in an email to supporters, he says: "The announcement of Labour's 20-point plan to transform the workplace shows how right we are to back Jeremy Corbyn." However, a Coyne victory would have weakened Jeremy's leadership, even possibly opening the door to a late challenge in the opening few days of the General Election. It would have certainly emboldened the Blairites who are daily attacking and undermining Corbyn and McDonnell. As the Financial Times wrote in January as nominations opened, "If Mr McCluskey is replaced, the dynamics of the whole labour movement would shift".

While welcome, the election results do pose important questions for the left in the union. Learning the lessons of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership elections, we argued that Len should have launched a mass campaign of meetings and rallies.

Executive Council elections

The Socialist Party is part of United Left (UL) and four of our members stood on a fighting socialist programme on the UL slate for Unite's Executive Council. Suzanne Muna from the Unite LE/1111 housing workers' branch was re-elected on a strengthened mandate. The other SP candidates all stood for the first time. Jamie Cocozza, Kevin Bennett and Jimmy Tyson did very well but fell short of being elected, with Jimmy by only 38 votes.

United Left has lost some seats although it has retained a majority on the Executive. We believe that in particular, they should reach out to the new Executive members who identify with the construction rank and file who led the struggle against the Besna contract and blacklisting and voted to recommend Len. But the reduction in UL seats and the lower general secretary voting turnout does raise important issues for United Left and the union in general.

A visible, fighting union

United Left must turn outwards to the many fighting Unite reps and members who are increasingly being forced to take action to defend their jobs, pay and pensions such as the BMW and AWE workers. It should have a more visible presence in the union in between elections and should think about public meetings open to Unite members in this post-union election period. These must be on a fighting programme that reflects the more militant stance that Unite has taken under Len McCluskey and now has to be extended. While UL correctly supports Len, it must develop its own programme to further democratise the union by campaigning for measures such as elections of more senior officers and annual conferences.

This is a volatile period for the labour and trade union movement, which reflects the deep insecurity that faces workers. Theresa May's brazenly hypocritical attempt to style the Tories as the 'workers' party' is a recognition of her and the bosses' fear about the massive anger that is building up in the workplaces.

But that increasingly precarious character of work is itself a challenge to the unions. The tremendous struggles that have opened up of a new generation from the Deliveroo workers to Unite's own striking mixed fleet cabin crew show the potential. The defeat of Coyne opens the door to really build Unite into a mass militant union that can take on the employers and their political representatives.


This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 5 May 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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