The election for the general secretary of the Unite union showed the desire of tens of thousands of workers for a more democratic and fighting union.
Left winger Len McCluskey won the election with 101,000 votes. But, in a remarkable achievement, rank and file candidate Jerry Hicks, who Socialist Worker backed, came second with a magnificent 52,000 votes.
Jerry easily beat right winger Les Bayliss on 46,000. The media and many on the left had said Bayliss was the main threat to McCluskey.
Unite members overwhelmingly rejected Bayliss’s anti-strike message and the shameful record of his main backer, joint general secretary Derek Simpson.
Gail Cartmail finished fourth with 39,000 votes.
There was a low turn-out for the election of 16 percent—showing the disconnection many members feel with the union.
The size of the vote for Jerry is particularly impressive given that he was the only grassroots candidate. The other three were assistant general secretaries with much greater resources.
Jerry’s campaign won massive support across the country and the different sectors the union organises.
He told Socialist Worker, “This was a fantastic result, which needs to be built on. This was a collective campaign, so I will be going round the country in the next few weeks getting the opinions of those involved in it and pulling people together.
“This campaign is going to go on. We are now the official opposition in Unite.
“Len McCluskey has spoken of the need for co-ordinated action against the cuts, but he also talks about ‘principled pragmatism’.
“But that will not stop the cuts. What’s needed now is massive defiance.
“I am pleased that I’ve been inundated with messages by new supporters since the result has been announced.
“If all the forces of the left had united to back my campaign—rather than saying that they had to vote McCluskey to beat Bayliss—the result would have been a lot closer.”
A senior Unite rep told Socialist Worker, “Jerry’s vote shows what we knew all along—that there is a huge appetite for a fighting left leadership that focuses on workers’ struggle and is prepared to confront the unjust anti-union legislation.
“Some thought backing Jerry would split the left vote but in fact his campaign helped shift the election leftwards, such as in his intervention in the British Airways dispute.
“The supporters’ group built up in this election can become the basis of a radical network in Unite.”
The votes for McCluskey were also ones for a more fighting, democratic union.
His election has worried the right wing, with the Daily Mail complaining about “hardliner Red Len”.
After winning, McCluskey said, “My first task will be to bring our union together and unite it in a campaign against the devastation the government is unleashing against working people and their communities.”
But McCluskey has been a key part of the current Unite leadership, which has failed to lead a fight against the attacks workers face.
The forces built up around Jerry’s campaign will be a crucial part of taking the fight against the Tories forward in the union.