Unite: the race to elect a new leader and why it matters
The race to succeed Len McCluskey as head of Unite is intensifying, with four candidates making their case for the union’s future.
Why is it important who wins?
The union under the leadership of Len McCluskey has been influential and controversial in its relations with the Labor Party.
Management has backed Jeremy Corbyn – and has become increasingly critical of Keir Starmer.
But who leads the union is also important to its 1.4 million members and to the employers who negotiate with him.
This competition could determine whether the union becomes more cooperative or more confrontational.
Its reach extends from global to local: from large private sector employers in the aviation, automotive, chemical and defense industries to local councils.
So who are the candidates and how do they differ?
While some of the policies proposed by applicants are similar, each has a distinct approach.
Steve turner is considered by many to be a favorite, but no shoo-in.
He says he prefers a “seat at the table” to a “megaphone” negotiation and that he is “collegial”.
He highly values his willingness to speak to Conservative ministers on behalf of MPs, as he currently does with the beleaguered steel industry.
He told the BBC: “I’m pragmatic, I’m a million miles away from Tory ministers but I’m going to sit down with them to make a deal for my members.”
He said he would discuss, across the political spectrum, ideas on how the country is dealing with the Covid pandemic and what will follow.
He was instrumental in designing the leave program, and he has a message of hope regarding the changing nature of work – he wants to examine how increasing automation could be used to reduce the work week.
He would not fight without a strike where it is needed, but his message is one of commitment.
A former bus worker, he is also currently one of Unite’s deputy general secretaries, having risen through the ranks as a regional and national organizer for nearly three decades.
He narrowly beat Mr Beckett in winning the approval of the United Left faction last year – a result Mr Beckett has continued to challenge.
Howard beckett is a lawyer by profession and has been the union’s deputy general secretary for politics and law since 2015.
A staunch supporter of former leader Jeremy Corbyn, he has openly criticized Sir Keir Starmer’s Labor leadership.
He calls for an increase in the union’s strike fund from £ 40million to £ 50million and says: ‘I would definitely advocate industrial action at this time.
“I was hoping the narrative would change coming out of Covid but it didn’t materialize.
“Healthcare and counseling workers are being offered wage cuts in real terms. We have a government that refuses to legislate to stop fires and rehire.
“Unite will be activist and take industrial action to demand a change in society.”
Its manifesto also features Unite TV channel seven days a week, saying “members deserve to know what is going on in their communities” without it being filtered through the prism of the mainstream media.
Gerard Coyne is a former West Midlands regional organizer – he narrowly lost to Mr. McCluskey in the bitter leadership race of 2017.
He would consider himself a “center-left” candidate and generally supported Sir Keir’s leadership.
His key message is that the union should focus more on helping its members rather than trying to be a ‘Labor Party rear driver’, and called for an independent investigation into the use of the money. members to build a conference center in Birmingham.
He thinks the Unite union should be able to criticize itself and change the way it operates.
He says: “During the pandemic, workplace representatives felt that the union was not there at a critical time when they needed it.
He says he will improve member services, conduct a review of its internal democracy and develop the union beyond its traditional base.
Sharon graham believes the union has spent too much time getting trapped in the “internal squabbles” of the Labor Party.
She says her goal should be to organize in the workplace and empower lay members.
She told the BBC: “Without shame, I speak of pay for jobs and terms as the organization’s number one, number two and number three priorities.”
His campaign may well be closely watched by employers.
She says she is often involved in labor disputes when they become “hostile” and attributes some of her victories to what is called “leverage” – that is, putting pressure on them. multinational companies so that they sometimes solve local problems.
For example, the union recently came into conflict with a Greater Manchester bus company.
Union officials flew to Sweden where the same company was trying to negotiate a lucrative contract and informed authorities of what they saw as its attacks on wages and terms.
Ms Graham believes the potential loss of the Swedish contract helped settle the dispute in the UK.
Currently leading the union’s organizing and leveraging unit, Ms Graham would be Unite’s first female leader if she wins the competition.
A former waitress, she pledged to increase Unite’s power in sectors that were not traditionally unionized, such as the hospitality industry.
Why is the union important to Labor?
Unite is now the second largest in the UK, after Unison, but it is Labor’s largest affiliate and by far its most generous donor.
The union pays around £ 1.3million a year in membership fees and also makes regular donations, contributing £ 3million to the party ahead of the 2019 election.
He told the BBC: “If the Labor Party continues on its way and no longer speaks for the workers, and if Keir Starmer turns his back on the promises he made … and the manifesto commitments 2017 and 2019, he will not receive any money from Unite if I am the secretary general. “
In practice, he would make recommendations to the union executive board or a political conference to make the final decision. But he strongly recommends this course of action.
And Mrs Graham thinks Westminster’s tail has been wagging the union dog for too long.
She bites herself back – and accused Keir Starmer of “going bankrupt” during the pandemic.
She told the BBC that she was in favor of “payment by results”.
Although it would be the members who would decide the future relationship with Labor, she believes there should be “no blank checks” for the party.
If Steve Turner or Gerard Coyne win, Labor’s money will likely be in safer hands.
Although Mr Turner is on the left, he told the BBC: “This is our party. Now is not the time to leave but to put on the gloves and come back to the ring – to guide and lead our party. to ensure that management listens to our members. ”
Mr Coyne said that “this ‘pay for policies’ approach is not something that I think is fair.”
Unit delegates also get votes and can propose motions at the labor conference to directly influence policy.
Mr. Beckett talked about bringing in a motion that would no longer require the leader of the party to be a member of Parliament.
This would open up any future field to mayors like Andy Burnham or Sadiq Khan.
Unite generously funded Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid, which could influence when or if a competition was held.
Mr Turner says he supports a motion that would hold the Parliamentary Labor Party to account at the annual conference.
It may sound rather technical or obscure – but in practice it would be a way of handing the Labor whip back to Jeremy Corbyn in Parliament.
What are the implications for Keir Starmer?
If Steve Turner or Gerard Coyne win, there will be no call for Keir Starmer to leave.
But Howard Beckett will ask Sir Keir to leave if the next Batley and Spen by-elections are lost.
This will likely encourage others on the left to follow suit.
He denounced Sir Keir’s leadership during the pandemic as “deplorable” – and under his leadership Unite could become an alternative power base in the Labor movement.
The union has seats on Labor’s governing body, the NEC. Unit delegates also get votes and can propose motions at the labor conference to directly influence policy.
What happens next?
To guarantee their place on the ballot, candidates must be nominated before June 9.
The 1.4 million members of Unite will then have between July 5 and August 23 to complete and return their votes by mail.
The result of the election will be announced on August 26.
Is the process simple?
Last time, to be entered on the ballot, candidates had to be nominated by 50 branches, but that threshold has now been raised to 5% of all branches, or 174.
Gerard Coyne claims that “it favors internal candidates – all three [of his] the opponents are union employees “.
He says that “it seems deliberate” – the union says the changes were decided democratically.
However, if – as he believes – Mr Coyne does not fall to that first hurdle and go to the polls, then he hopes to be a serious candidate.
As the election is decided on the basis of a majority vote, he hopes to benefit from a three-way division in the left vote.
Two of the left-wing candidates – Howard Beckett and Steve Turner – say if that happens, they will have to have talks about whether one or the other should stand aside.
Sharon Graham has told the BBC she will not step down.
Although on the left, she says she enjoys support from all walks of life.
But if all four decided to stay in the race, it would be difficult to predict the outcome with any certainty.
This is likely to cause moments of anxiety in the Labor leader’s office.
But it’s not just Gerard Coyne who is crying foul.
Howard Beckett sees his suspension from the Labor Party as an attempt by the party leadership to interfere in the election of Unite.
Meanwhile, Mr Coyne expressed surprise that Mr Beckett’s comments on Priti Patel did not lead to his suspension from the union.
It’s going to be a long hot summer …