Support Sharon Graham for Unite general secretary: for a fighting union

Sharon Graham, photo Unite

Sharon Graham, photo Unite   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The Socialist Party is supporting Sharon Graham in the Unite general secretary election. Ballot papers are posted out on 5 July.

It is vital that Unite is maintained as a fighting union, industrially and politically, as workers face a brutal offensive from the bosses and their Tory government, while Sir Keir Starmer moves Labour to the right.

It is no accident that the lead reps in the successful strikes on Manchester buses and at Thurrock bins against their employers’ attacks are supporting Sharon. As are the rank-and-file construction electricians, recently victorious in their battle against the bosses’ deskilling agenda.

They are attracted to her programme to improve the industrial organisation of Unite on the shopfloor. This has never been more important as companies threaten workers with ‘fire and rehire’ and look to victimise union reps.

Gerard Coyne and Steve Turner are also standing. Coyne is a direct representative of the employers. He was backed by the Blairites in 2017 when he stood against current general secretary Len McCluskey, because they saw his challenge as a way to go for Jeremy Corbyn’s left Labour leadership.

He is falsely trying to pose as ‘a voice of the ordinary worker’ against the ‘union machine’, when in reality he would take Unite into partnership with the bosses.

Combative programme

The most effective way to take on Coyne is through a combative programme that can appeal to the broader layers of Unite members, who don’t normally vote in the union’s elections.

It is Sharon not Coyne who seeks to mobilise Unite members to take action in defence of jobs, pay, terms and conditions.

In contrast, Steve Turner would represent a retreat from Unite’s record under Len McCluskey and passively accept Starmer’s Labour leadership. Turner is on record as saying that a Unite general secretary isn’t an ‘attack dog’ but has to be in the background doing deals.

But the thousands of Unite members facing ‘fire and rehire’ from the bosses are absolutely looking for an ‘attack dog’ to give a lead against these attacks.

Where such a lead is given, workers are showing every week that they are prepared to fight, often securing victories. There can be no going back from this.

We agree with Sharon’s desire to make the union more industrially organised and ready for action, including building and extending shop stewards’ combines.

We also support her promise that Unite should “oppose any local authority, including Labour, if they attempt to force through cuts to jobs and services after Covid-19 and beyond… and support candidates who oppose cuts to Unite members’ jobs and services and councils and councillors who fight against them.”

These are welcome pledges. In our view, it is important that Sharon’s campaign does not attempt to avoid the political issues, but instead confronts the reality of Starmer’s pro-capitalist leadership of Labour.

This will pose the need for a left, anti-austerity political vehicle for workers that will be attractive to Unite members as they come into collision with the ‘Westminster brigade’ of Starmer and the cutting Labour councillors.

A militant programme is needed and can win this election. That is why the most fighting members in the union must unite around Sharon’s campaign. This should include those who were attracted to Howard Beckett’s campaign, particularly his opposition to Starmer.

Such an election campaign must become a pole of attraction to all those who want to build on Len McCluskey’s leadership rather than retreat from it. It must be the basis for a new fighting and open and democratic left within Unite, which will be necessary whatever the outcome of this election, to help build the combative union that is required to meet the challenges of a system in crisis.

  • A socialist programme for Unite, see