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Sharon Graham offers more as Unite general secretary than the others

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Issue 2763
Reps who were part of the Thurrock strike support Graham
Reps who were part of the Thurrock strike support Graham (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Andy Bain’s letter about the Unite union general secretary ballot (see below) claims that “Sharon Graham will not win this forthcoming election” and urges us to vote for Steve Turner.

He argues “Unite has just safeguarded 1,000 jobs at Vauxhall, Ellesmere Port and its members across the country are taking on employers who try to force “fire and rehire” upon them.”

But he forgets to mention that the Vauxhall Motors branch and the shop ­stewards committee are fully behind Graham as reported in Socialist Worker last month.

So are reps from the Thurrock refuse ­workers’ strike.

And so are the Construction rank and file committee that have led militant fights against deskilling over a number of years.

None of these groups take on a campaign lightly. They think Graham can win. And they are right.

There is no fixed left vote. The turnout for the 2017 election was just over 12 percent, a fall from 16 percent in the previous election in 2013.

Left trade union activists should be fighting to get members to vote and to get involved. I am.

All Turner offers to Unite activists and members to ­persuade them to vote is a servicing model that is to the right of Len McCluskey— and fear.

The fear being that Gerard Coyne will get elected and as Bain puts it “workers across the country will suffer a massive hit to their working terms and conditions”.

Lining up behind Turner is no win for left in Unite union election
Lining up behind Turner is no win for left in Unite union election
  Read More

Actually workers are already being hit by the present leadership.

We need much more energetic resistance than ­anything Coyne will offer.

Graham can help to give that a push. Of course Coyne is a nasty right-wing piece of work—and we must do all we can to maximise the vote—because a low turnout will favour him.

But fear and pessimism have never been great motivators for the left in union elections.

And if Turner’s campaign is frightened then maybe he should have been the one to stand down and unite behind Graham.

Graham’s campaign reflects a thirst for change in Unite, a mood for getting organised and fighting back and the left should embrace it.

If Graham were not ­standing then the mood for a different sort of union could be pulled behind Coyne.

Graham needs to take political questions more seriously.

But she is by far the best candidate in this election.

Pat Carmody delegate Unite Services National Industrial Sector Committee (personal capacity)

Vote Turner to keep Coyne out?

Unite has just safeguarded 1,000 jobs at Vauxhall, Ellesmere Port. Its members across the country are taking on employers who try to force “fire and rehire” upon them.

It is not a coincidence that the state machine which eventually removed Corbyn is taking its next step.

That’s for Gerard Coyne to win the Unite General Secretary election.

The coordinated intervention has started with The Sun newspaper, and followed as planned by most of the other media and the state.

The Labour right has pulled Coyne’s nomination over the threshold despite the predictions of many on the left.

He’s been supported by big companies employing Unite members and, of course, by the Tories.

Unite members and workers across the country will suffer a massive hit to their working terms and conditions if Coyne wins.

Assisted by the state, big business will be looking to shift the

balance of workplace power even more against the working class.

Elections are a one-day decision and then the struggle goes on.

Sharon Graham will not win this forthcoming election, especially now that Howard Beckett is supporting Steve Turner.

It’s either Turner or Coyne—so why let Coyne in by voting for Graham?

Vote for Turner and fight “fire and rehire” for starters.

Andy Bain, trade union organiser, Communist Party of Britain

Urgent need for a new course

The outcome of the current Unite union general secretary election, and the arguments surrounding it, matter.

One the heels of a devastating pandemic, we face a new wave of attacks on conditions, pay and jobs.

But the trade union movement faces a crisis.

This is starkest in the private sector, where the bulk of Unite’s membership is. A recent TUC report noted that there are 18 million outside the unions in the private sector, yet Unite’s membership has been steadily falling since it was formed 14 years ago.

There is an urgent need for a new course.

This is the context in which Andy Bain calls on the SWP to drop our support for Sharon Graham and to get behind Steve Turner.


His case centres on the dangers of Coyne. We agree that Coyne is a threat, but Andy Bain offers no real assessment of what Turner represents and how he can beat off Coyne.

Turner has no plan for reversing Unite’s declining membership, let alone shifting the balance of workplace power in favour of workers.

Turner positions himself as a “negotiator” who can do business with the employers and the state. But social partnership is a failed strategy that will disarm workers in the face of an employers’ offensive.

Nor will Turner offer much challenge to Keir Starmer, having declared that he wants to avoid a “public spat” with Labour’s leader. Turner’s soft left, business as usual approach, offers a continuation—or worse, acceleration—of managed decline for Unite.

Andy Bain asserts Graham can’t win. But what’s the evidence for this? Its true Turner won the most branch nominations. Yet nominations are a poor guide to the outcome of the ballot among the wider membership.

Back Sharon Graham in Unite vote, say workers
Back Sharon Graham in Unite vote, say workers
  Read More

Large numbers of Unite members feel the union hasn’t sufficiently defended their livelihoods and conditions. Life has got harder in the workplace over the last decade. This is why Coyne’s attacks on Unite’s direction and leadership, however dishonest, can get an echo.

It’s why Turner’s business as usual pitch is vulnerable to Coyne’s demagoguery.

By contrast, Graham’s strength is that she at least recognises the urgency of the challenge facing the union. She has a sharp focus on the need to rebuild workplace strength, along with a drive to organise new sectors.

This a much more effective antidote to Coyne’s dishonest attempt to channel discontent than anything Turner offers.

Graham offers the potential for an increased space for workplace organisation and struggle. The SWP believes a greater emphasis in Graham’s campaign on politics, not in Westminster but in the workplace, would strengthen the prospects for realising this aim.

But whatever Graham’s weaknesses, we can’t afford to turn away from an opportunity to address the crisis in the unions in favour of the narrow, routinist and defensive vision of Turner. To do so would simply provide more space for opportunist right wing populism to gain a wider audience.

It’s good to debate, but on this Andy Bain is badly mistaken.

Mark Thomas, SWP Workplace & Trade Union Department

Maxine Bowler, Branch secretary Unite CYW & NFP South Yorkshire NE/403/5 (personal capacity)

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