The nomination period for the Unite general secretary election has closed. All four candidates – Steve Turner, Sharon Graham, Howard Beckett and Gerard Coyne – have gained enough branch nominations to get on the ballot paper for the voting, which begins on 5 July. The final reported nominations are: Steve Turner 525, Sharon Graham 349, Howard Beckett 328, Gerard Coyne 196.
As we explained in our article last autumn, and the statement we produced before nominations began, this election is crucial in maintaining Unite as a fighting union on both industrial and political fronts.
Gerard Coyne is a direct representative of big business and the Starmerites, and if he won it would threaten to turn the union sharply to the right. Like many members, we would not meekly accept this but look to work with others on the left to resist such a shift.
There are reports of meetings between Len McCluskey and Turner, Graham and Beckett to agree one candidate to stand against Coyne. However, we do not accept that Steve Turner is the ‘candidate of the left’, and that Sharon and Howard should merely stand aside to give Turner a free run against Coyne.
Of course, if this did happen, we would not be neutral but give very critical support to Steve Turner.
Steve Turner narrowly won a controversial United Left (UL) hustings last summer, which was far too premature to allow a full and open debate on the left of the union. As well as his narrow lead of nominations, which are claimed to represent 270,000 members, this is being used by UL supporters to argue that he stands the best chance of beating Coyne.
But the very good nominations achieved by Sharon and Howard, collectively more than Turner’s total, shows that a big layer of Unite reps, members and activists have no appetite for Steve’s more compliant approach both industrially and politically – reflected in him clearly not being prepared to challenge Starmer as Labour leader. His election would still represent a retreat from the position built up under Len McCluskey’s leadership.
Sharon Graham’s campaign claims that her nominations represent over 250,000 members, many in workplaces, while it is clear that Howard Beckett particularly appeals to those members who want the union to oppose Starmer. His nominations equate to 130,000 members.
Despite having the UL electoral machine behind him, Turner’s nomination total is half of that achieved by Len McCluskey previously. Therefore, we believe it is Steve who should step down as a candidate in favour of Sharon or Howard to carry the battle against Coyne. Their programmes and records show that they have a far more combative position and are the best candidates on offer in this election. Actually, faced by just Turner, Coyne could pose as the ‘anti-establishment’ candidate, which wouldn’t be the case if Graham or Beckett stood.
That is why we call again for Sharon and Howard to come together and agree one candidate, on a common programme that can appeal to the fighting members of the union. This could transform the election.
There is a real danger that if they both stand it could let in Turner or, even worse, Coyne. But one of them should stand and give a fighting alternative in the election.
Socialist Party members have worked with supporters of both Sharon and Howard to ensure that in a whole number of Unite branches the nomination of one of them was secured.
In all these cases, our members have received a warm welcome for the idea of one left candidate and the need for a new left in the union. This will be essential, whoever wins the election, either to fight for the carrying out of a left programme should Sharon or Howard win, or to mobilise opposition if not.