Unite: vote McCluskey – then fight to transform the union

March 28, 2017 at 3:58 pm (elections, labour party, reformism, stalinism, Unite the union)

 Unite members stage a protest against Len McCluskey outside the union building in Holborn.   Coyne  supporters ‘expose’ McCluskey’s ‘skeletons in the cupboard’

By Anne Field

Ballot papers for Unite the Union’s General Secretary and national Executive Council elections have now been sent out to the union’s 1.4 million members.

West Midlands Unite full-timer Gerard Coyne is the right-wing challenger to Len McCluskey, the incumbent General Secretary seeking re-election for a third time. Ian Allinson is also standing as the candidate of rank-and-file democracy.

The basis of Coyne’s campaign is to make right-wing appeals to disengaged members of Unite. Apart from a promise to freeze union dues for two years, Coyne is standing for election on a largely policies-free platform. The vacuum is filled by mud-slinging.

Coyne has homed in on Unite putting over £400,000 into a share equity deal which enabled McCluskey to buy a £700,000 London flat. Coyne’s conclusion: “The man who talks about greedy bosses is a greedy boss himself.”

Another of Coyne’s targets is the £75,000 which Unite lent to Jeremy Corbyn’s 2016 Labour Party leadership campaign, and subsequently wrote off as a donation. Coyne’s response: “I’ll focus on saving the jobs of our members, not the job of the leader of the Labour Party.”

More recently, Coyne teamed up with Tom Watson to portray McCluskey as being in cahoots with Momentum in a plot to take over the Labour Party. Coyne’s criticism: “Unite members’ money should not be used to prop up the ultra-left. This is not what trade unions are for.”

Coyne’s strategy is to portray McCluskey as being engrossed in Labour Party politics and out of touch with ordinary Unite members: “Luxury flat loans and propping up the hard left: McCluskey is losing touch with Unite members.”

According to Coyne, “Len McCluskey and Jeremy Corbyn are yesterday’s men.” A victory for Coyne would be a chance for Unite members to “take back control” of their union.

Coyne’s campaigning methods have corresponded to the substance, or lack of substance, of his campaign. He is not interested in arguing with McCluskey and winning over his supporters. His target is the most passive and inactive layers of Unite’s membership.

In early March Coyne’s supporters staged a publicity stunt by lobbying a meeting of Unite’s Executive Council at the union’s head office, wearing skeleton masks and carrying model skeletons. (Theme: McCluskey’s skeletons in the cupboard.)

In mid-March his campaign mailed copies of a freebie broadsheet entitled Unite Herald to all Unite branches. The broadsheet covered the usual ground and appealed to members to “give McCluskey the two-fingered salute” by voting for Coyne.

In late March Coyne was given space in the Sun, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Express to attack McCluskey and promote his own campaign:

“McCluskey is obsessed with Westminster power games rather than looking after the real needs of Unite’s members. A low turnout (in the election) would suit Len and his supporters. But if the majority of Unite members vote, his time at the top is over. Unite is not the private property of Len McCluskey and friends.”

The response of McCluskey’s campaign to Coyne’s attacks underlines its limitations: McCluskey is relying first and foremost on the Unite apparatus and the United Left election machine, rather than on political argument and membership engagement, to turn out the vote for him.

Coyne’s alliance with the right wing of the Labour Party has not been used by McCluskey as an opportunity to open up a political debate among the Unite membership about implementation of the union’s own political strategy.

Instead, McCluskey’s response has been to argue that a political strategy plays no role in his campaign and that his only concern is members’ bread-and-butter issues. His supporters boast that just 3% of his tweets have mentioned politics.

When Coyne’s Unite Herald was sent to branches, Unite Acting General Secretary Gail Cartmail wrote to branch secretaries warning them that they could be “exposed to legal proceedings for defamation” and also disciplined under the union’s Rulebook if they distributed the broadsheet to their members.

Coyne was (rightly) denounced for having written for the Sun – above all in a widely circulated article published in the Morning Star: “Collaborating with Murdoch is a taint that never fades”.

So, writing for the Sun is an irremovable stain. But writing for a paper which acts as an apologist for Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, left anti-semitism, Brexit, attacks on freedom of movement of labour, and anti-Trotskyist witch-hunts in the Labour Party is an honour and  a privilege.

(Coyne doesn’t care about the opprobrium heaped on him for having written for the Sun. Metaphorially and literally, it is the readership of the Sun which is his target audience.)

In many ways such examples sum up McCluskey’s campaign: based on a bureaucratic machine, averse to a real debate among the membership, and ‘left wing’ only insofar as the politics of the Morning Star can be deemed to represent what counts as ‘left politics’.

Despite lacking the vast resources which Coyne and McCluskey have at their disposal, Ian Allinson secured enough nominations to be included on the ballot papers which have just been sent out. This is no small achievement in itself.

But while his campaign has challenged McCluskey from the left and raised basic ideas about what a lay-member-led union – in which full-timers are properly accountable to the membership – would look like, his campaign has not really ‘taken off’.

It also suffers from three basic problems:

He has not suceeded in defeating the argument that his campaign will achieve no more than taking votes way from McCluskey, thereby increasing Coyne’s chances of winning. But Allinson himslef accepts that a victory for Coyne would be a disaster.

Nor has he suceeded in defeating the argument that his boast of being more pro-Corbyn than McCluskey himself is incoherent – given that he is not a Labour Party member himself and refuses to even attempt to join the Labour Party.

In fact, Allinson’s support for Corbyn amounts to a particularly crude version of Corbyn-cultism. It is not part of any strategy for transforming the Labour Party. And it defines what the Labour Party is in terms of who its leader is at any particular moment in time.

Allinson also makes support for freedom of movement a major feature of his election campaign. But he is also reported to have tweeted in January: “I wasn’t in Lexit campaign. Did vote out. Most arguments on both sides rotten. Key issues now workers rights & movement.”

Allinson’s current position therefore amounts to defending migrant rights which are under attack as a result of the course of action which he supported last June.

(The tweet is no longer visible in his account. If reports of the tweet are inaccurate, Allinson can correct them and clarify the position which he took in last June’s referendum.)

Unite members should vote for McCluskey. But that is no more than the first stage of the campaign needed to transform Unite into an organisation capable of promoting its members interests both industrially and politically.


  1. rotzeichen said,

    Thanks for reiterating Coyne’s platform and continuing to denigrate Len McLuskey, but I will still be voting for Len as he does represent workers, unlike the careerist Coyne who represents Duffer Duffy’s view of trade unions and would totally finish off the job he so admirably achieved in decimating the union.

    • Mick said,

      Well it is a low era for the left. They failed to topple the Tories and smash the bigots voting for Brexit, so they air their dirty laundry over a union election to grub for power.

      The quite ordinary point of a little union was lost way way many moons ago. Poor cherubs.

    • Jim Denham said,

      By “reiterating Coyne’s platform and continuing to denigrate Len McLuskey” I presume you mean “describing Coyne’s platform” and “”giving critical support to Len McCluskey.” Only a fully paid-up member of the McCluskey fan club could object to these criticisms.

      • rotzeichen said,

        Thanks Jim, true to form, you hide behind the pretext of speaking from the left when in fact you are nothing of the sort. No doubt those on Left Futures are not taken in so easily and this site has more fertile ground for the views you want to peddle.

      • Jim Denham said,


        Btw: I didn’t write the article (though I agree with it)

    • Mick said,

      Oh come on, let’s not bully mein host! Come on left, remember Voltaire! You surely always do in your safe spaces!

      But kudos to keeping the trend of leftists not making sense. What else will he publish on a blog, views he doesn’t like?

      • rotzeichen said,

        Sorry Mick, I really don’t think we are on the same wave length, you clearly don’t grasp the meaning of socialism.

      • Mick said,

        Well, show me nice socialists putting down the other socialists who riot in universities or actually think taxes are way too high and that government is far too big.

  2. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Why is Coyne considered right wing ?

  3. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Jim, who owns this £700,000 flat?

    • Dave said,

      It’s shared equity so turnip head owns half. Nice little earner for somebody
      who is not a greedy boss. Different story when it was MPs benefiting in this
      away. How about Unite keeps the equity and McCluskey pays rent so as to
      avoid becoming wealthy from property at the expense of his members.

      • Mick said,

        Well that’s a bit unfair. If he has no big house and major wage packet, he’ll only seem an ordinary little man compared to union barons before him.

        That’s all a union boss can have left since the glory days of proving Who Ran Britain, like in 1974!

  4. rotzeichen said,

    Just how many people commenting on this site are actual socialists?

    Just in case some of you are confused this is what Einstein had to say about it, well worth a read:


    • Mick said,

      Ah yes, we have heretics in the fold! Confused ones, who fail to note the purity of those so shambolic that most of their time is spent out of Number 10. (Or all of it when not Labour.)

      And thanks for the article, to further help confuse those tending to think that government-run everything also means just existing in their community.

      Besides, when socialists even can’t even stand each other – see above – then i t doesn’t matter who’s here to flaunt their individualism.

      Also, such hive mentalities on the part of socialists is betrayed by even Cracked. Even they know that a guy expert in one thing can mean he still knows jack shit elsewhere: http://www.cracked.com/article_24580_5-geniuses-media-loves-to-quote-who-arent-experts.html

      Nothing is consistent, even with socialism and it’s rule from above, high tax, low enterprise, crippling strike dream world.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      Some people think they are or were socialists because they supported the IRA and Islamic Fundamentalists.
      There are probably a few around who want to end capitalism and others who pretend they want to end capitalism.

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