Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey looks set to face an election contested from the left as well as the right.
Rank and file candidate and Fujitsu worker Ian Allinson has gathered enough nominations to stand.
McCluskey called the election at short notice on a short timetable last December. This made it difficult for candidates outside the union machine to get on the ballot paper.
Each needs nominations from 50 Unite branches or workplaces by Friday of this week.
As of Sunday Allinson had got 53. Though he warned supporters that they would need to keep campaigning up to the wire as some nominations could be ruled out.
Allinson has called for the union to take the lead in fighting Tory austerity and bosses’ attacks, and a firmer stand against anti-migrant racism.
This contrasts with McCluskey’s reliance on partnership with bosses—for example by lining up with them to lobby for airport expansion and new nuclear plants.
McCluskey has also pressured Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn not to oppose renewing Trident nuclear weapons, or defend the freedom of movement of European Union migrants.
Unite is a powerful force within Labour—the party’s biggest funder and a major source of its activist membership.
This relationship has been very limited in challenging right wing Labour leaders to deliver for workers. But it has held back the left wing leadership from pursuing some progressive polices.
Workers in Unite report that the lacklustre performance of right wing challenger Gerard Coyne has made members more open to nominating Allinson.
Despite initially receiving enthusiastic publicity in the media, Coyne has failed to secure nominations in regions and industries expected to be his heartland.
Though still likely to be on the ballot paper, he appears not to have a serious support base inside the union.
This weakens the arguments of McCluskey’s left wing supporters who claim that backing Allinson risks letting in Coyne.
Allinson, currently in dispute against his cost-cutting bosses, pledges to keep claiming a workers’ wage if elected—rather than McCluskey’s six-figure salary.
His challenge is a chance to drag Unite closer to being what McCluskey claims it is—a “fightback union”.