The Unite union general secretary election took a new turn last Friday when candidate Howard Beckett announced he was standing down from the race.
As the ballot papers were about to be printed, Beckett said he would endorse fellow candidate Steve Turner.
In a joint statement, Turner and Beckett said developing “the unity of the left in our union” is something to be proud of. Turner added he appreciates Beckett’s decision to stand aside.
“As general secretary two of the most important people in his team will be Howard Beckett and Sharon Graham and the structures of Unite would reflect this,” the statement said.
This is clearly meant to put pressure on Graham to also stand aside. Rightly she has refused to do so.
Turner represents a continuation of the policies and direction that Unite has followed in recent years.
Many members want a change. The danger is that unless it coheres around a left candidate then it will be captured by Labour right-winger Gerard Coyne.
Socialist Worker supports Graham, who is running a campaign calling for a return to organisation centred on the workplace.
Arguments took place between Turner, Graham and Beckett over a “left-unity candidate”.
But lining up behind Turner is not the way to win an election for the left. It would be an early step backwards in the battles to come with the Tories and bosses during and after the pandemic.
As the @UniteSharon Twitter account says, “This isn’t the time to be passive or batten down the hatches. When we organise we win—protecting jobs and improving pay and conditions.”
Coyne has now turned to red baiting. He said, “There are now two hard-left candidates still in the Unite election, one backed by the Communist Party (Steve Turner) and one backed by the Socialist Workers Party and Militant (Sharon Graham).”
We aren’t ashamed of our support, and nor should anyone else be.
Defeating Coyne—a supporter of Labour leader Keir Starmer, and who would drag Unite further right—is important. But Turner offers no radical opposition.
Beckett and Turner say they will now “both work to implement a blended manifesto, taking the best ideas from both candidates.”
And Graham is showing no signs of shifting after Beckett’s announcement. Her support is also growing within the rank and file.
Over the weekend the Unite Construction Rank and File endorsed Graham’s campaign. She has also won backing from leading stewards involved in recent strikes such as at Thurrock council.
“The announcement of the Turner/Beckett ticket, along with the Gerard Coyne candidacy, now completes the Westminster Brigade,” Graham wrote.
“I am the workplace candidate and will be standing to ensure the voice of Unite members is heard.”