Unite General Secretary Election
Re-arm the left and the Unions to take on this Criminal Government!
The upcoming election for General Secretary of Unite the Union, the biggest trade union in Britain, offers an opportunity for working class people to strike back against the political defeats of our class represented by the sabotage of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn by the Blairite and Zionist right wing. The candidacy of Howard Beckett, who has strongly criticised the Labour leadership of Keir Starmer with its witchhunts against the left, its antipathy to trade unionists and organised workers, and its re-Blairisation of the Labour Party under the guidance of Peter Mandelson, who also advises Boris Johnson, has been like a breath of fresh air after the previous capitulations of the Labour left.
Beckett has taken on the Labour right wing in a manner that no prominent figure in the Labour Party or labour movement did in the entire Corbyn era from 2015-2020, including of course Corbyn himself. He has taken on Labour’s Blairite/Zionist stooge leader head on and that is the centrepiece of his campaign. In some ways the things that he has said are exceptional for a candidate in an internal union election. On 14th June he Tweeted simply: “Starmer must go” following earlier Tweets where he said: “If Labour HQ continues down its path and no longer speaks for working people, it will not be getting Unite money if I am general secretary.” These are not exceptional; he has said many similar things over the past several weeks. But his onslaught against the treacherous Starmer leadership of Labour is escalating and is becoming utterly counterposed to the other two ostensibly ‘left-wing’ candidates, Steve Turner and Sharon Graham.
Beckett went into more depth in his forthright attack on Labour’s right-wing leadership in an interview on 8th May with Revolutionary Socialism in the 21 Century, where he elaborated:
“He’s not a success as a leader. What’s going on now is a dereliction of duty with his failure to offer a narrative on zero Covid, or a narrative on nationalisation when it’s most needed, or resistance to fire and rehire. If he continues on the course he’s on he’ll become irrelevant, and Labour is quickly becoming a party of the establishment.
“It is for the Labour Party to prove its relationship with unions, and if it doesn’t speak on a daily, weekly, monthly basis on behalf of working people then it will become irrelevant to working people. But if that does happen, the union movement will not be found wanting. If I am general secretary, the union movement will step into that vacuum and talk with and for our communities, educate our communities and talk about socialism.
“Unite has already reduced our affiliation and we’re on record as saying we will have to take great care that any further money is given to those who share our values. If they continue on this path there will be debates not just about regular funding and funding around elections but also about affiliation, and I will happily facilitate those debates. The only language the leadership understand at the moment is the language you would be giving to a bad employer.”https://www.rs21.org.uk/2021/05/08/unite-elections-an-interview-with-howard-beckett/
However, he is not confining himself to politicking within the Labour Party milieu. He is, as least verbally, putting forward an agenda of class struggle which is somewhat unusual to hear from an aspiring leader of a trade union in this period, and appears to be pitching to lead a left-wing political movement, not just a campaign for a leading trade union position:
“Steve Turner is running on the idea of partnership with employers. I reject that. When you talk in that language it diminishes the fact that we are in a class struggle.”
“I am banging the drum for Unite to have its own TV channel, with regular interviews with high-profile politicians and activists, constant news and evaluation of industrial and political landscape. It could be used for advice, distilling information for our reps, and even cookery shows. If we start talking to wider society the next generation will see exactly what a union does, understand the importance of collectivism and want to be part of this.”
“If the laws are trying to restrict liberties then they should be defied. As soon as we start accepting them as valid then our liberties are lost, and it becomes only a matter of time before our entire movement is lost. Unite’s rule book has been changed to make a statement about Unite stepping outside of the law. It is becoming a reality for us now.”
“Strikes. Strikes! Targeted strike action. Simple as that. The idea that protecting the NHS is done by making speeches? Nonsense. People should be in Unite because they need to be in a union that will take the fight to the government. If we can’t make the argument for reversing privatisation now after Covid then frankly we all deserve what we get. If we can’t make an argument about care homes coming into public ownership under the NHS then we deserve what we get, and if we can’t defend the argument for a 15% pay rise then we deserve what we get. Here and now the reality for all of us there needs to be strategic, targeted industrial action.”ibid
He is also a champion of Unite’s Community Section, which organises retired, unemployed and other unwaged working-class people both to fight for their own interests and as a wider support and auxiliary of the social and industrial power of the union.
One negative point about Beckett, where he displayed weakness, albeit in November 2020 before the Unite leadership issue became central, was when under pressure from the right and the Zionists, he pulled out of an event calling for Jeremy Corbyn’s reinstatement because expelled Labour member and Jewish anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein was also a speaker. Greenstein is a hate figure of the Zionists and those who share platform with expelled anti-Zionists are immediately added to the list of targets. However, a few weeks later in December, at a NEC meeting discussing the Tory-stooge Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report smearing sections of the Labour left as anti-Semitic, he challenged aspects of the process, tweeting “My NEC report for Unite will record being denied access to submissions to the EHRC, denied a debate on suspensions; denied debate on the importance of protecting lawful speech.” (https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/unite-union-official-beckett-criticised-over-his-response-to-labour-antisemitism-meeting-1.509469). Beckett is a union official, not a Palestine solidarity activist, but his statements on the recent Zionist atrocities make clear that he is an outspoken opponent of these crimes which have had such a major impact on the labour movement in Britain these last few years.
Smears and Witchhunting of Beckett
He has more recently himself had a taste of the cynicism of the fake ‘racism’ allegations of the right and the fake-left, when he was himself suspended from Labour for a tweet in solidarity with a large, militant crowd of anti-racists in Glasgow who physically prevented immigration officials from seizing two Indian Muslims who were under threat of deportation. Beckett, clearly enraged by the racism of the Home Office led by Priti Patel, the far-right Tory capo, Modi-supporting anti-Muslim fascistic Hindutva bigot and Israeli stooge, who clearly ordered the action, tweeted on 13 May: “Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees. She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism.”.
He quickly apologised and said his tweet was not meant to be taken literally. Various liberals who claim to be on the left, and the Labour leadership, howled with outrage at Beckett’s supposed ‘racism’ for forgetting that the Home Secretary who ordered a racist atrocity, one of many, is also not white. But this is drivel, as usual his accusers for the most part have no problems with deporting ethnic minority people, or even if they have in theory, would not dream of refusing to support Labour’s own racist and sociopathic levy of deporters seeking government office. Anyone with half-a-brain and an ounce of honesty can see that Beckett was expressing outrage at state racism, not supporting it. He really has nothing to apologise for, and his suspension is just another piece of scandalous Starmerite dishonesty.
Apparently as part of the bilious campaign against him the Starmerites are now moving toward his expulsion from the Labour Party, supposedly for ‘racism’ against Johnson’s deporter-in-chief. Which just underlines the nature of the Zionist-led Labour Party where people are expelled with smears of ‘racism’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ for opposing the organised racist and Zionist trends that dominate Labour. Including several former Blairite Home Secretaries who could give Theresa May or Priti Patel a run for their money in the migrant-bashing stakes – Jack Straw, David Blunkett, Charles Clarke, Jacqui Smith, Alan Johnson, all anti-migrant xenophobic lowlife in the same mould as Patel. Labour has never expelled such vile people, but they now propose to expel a leading union left-winger for supporting direct action against racist deportations. That is a sign of ‘racism’ in their racist fantasy world.
Another related hysterical attack on Beckett came from the Daily Mail (3rd June) quoting him as saying “The government has 143 military bases in 42 countries – money that could be spent on reinforcing flood defences, making sites available for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, support for youth within communities, support for women suffering from domestic and gender-based violence”. This is some very basic social reform, and a classic left-reformist scheme, but the anti-gypsy angle is clear in the headline “Howard Beckett calls for UK’s multi-billion defence budget to pay for gypsy and traveller sites”. This accompanies their horror-filled relating that Beckett has the support of Labour Black Socialists (precisely because of his outspokenness in defence of migrants and refugees), and the Blairite Kevan Jones complaining that “Thousands of Unite members play a vital role supporting our country’s defence. I think they will take a dim view of this suggestion by someone whose position is funded by their union subscriptions.”
All this has the effect of exposing more and more the mendacity, racist and chauvinist politics behind the fake ‘anti-Semitism’ campaigns and the like that simply lie about the left in the service of the foulest bigotry.
Unite Election: Political Struggle not Stitch-Ups
Since then, he has been the target of similar hysteria from the soft left. In the hustings/vote for the support of the political machine known as the United Left (UL) within Unite, which is dominated by trade unionist cadre of the Communist Party of Britain, Beckett only narrowly failed to get nominated as the UL candidate, by three votes. However there seems to be evidence that dozens of paid-up UL supporters who wanted to vote for Beckett were not allowed to vote, due to ‘technical’ problems involving an email address/server, and the legitimacy of this vote is hotly disputed by not only Beckett, but many on the wider left. This brought the machinery of the CP/B into play to get numerous nominations from branches for Turner; by the time the deadline was up he had 525, with Graham beating Beckett by 349 to 328. The openly right-wing candidate, Gerard Coyne, came last with 196 candidates.
However, nominations through formal union bodies do not necessarily equate to votes in a union election, as these bodies tend to be dominated by the bureaucracy, activists, and those closest to the formal structures of the union. The strategy of Coyne will be to rely on the influence of the right-wing gutter press to appeal over the heads of the union structure to the atomised members. However, the strategy of Beckett also seems to be based on an attempt at an aggressive political appeal to class sentiment, also over the heads of the officialdom, based on a left-wing hostility to Starmer and his supporters, something that Turner and his CPB supporters are actively hostile to from a Labour-loyal perspective, and which Graham flinches from in the name of ‘non-political’ trade unionism.
Given the recent history of Unite, this is not a forlorn strategy. Beckett could succeed, and in the process push the politics of the union much further to the left. Capitulators to Blairism and softer elements on the left, personified by Owen Jones, contend that three putative left-wing candidates standing are likely to divide the ‘left’ vote and hand the union over to the right winger Coyne. But that is not necessarily true, looking at the history of recent General Secretary elections in Unite. Apart from the fact that given his conciliation of Starmer, Turner’s designation as a left candidate is something of an exaggeration. Much depends on the quality of the campaigns waged by the candidates.
In 2010, there were four candidates: Len McCluskey (ex-Militant left-wing bureaucrat and the current retiring GS), Jerry Hicks (widely renowned victimised rank-and-file militant from Bristol Rolls Royce), Gail Cartmail (soft left ‘socialist-feminist’ and current assistant GS of Unite) and Les Bayliss, a right-winger similar to Coyne today. Bayliss came third; this was a highly political contest between McCluskey with bureaucratic ‘left’ politics and the revolutionary-minded militant Hicks, who put up a hell of a fight. Both of the top two left candidates beat Bayliss. In a repeat election in 2013 where the only two candidates were Hicks, the polarisation was stronger, and a similar result obtained where McCluskey beat Hicks by 2 to 1. Hicks improved vote of 79,819 showed there was a substantial base for political militancy in Unite. Only in 2017 was the result close, where McCluskey, in what was widely seen as an unnecessary and cynical election aimed at prolonging his own term in office, only narrowly beat Coyne. Another rank-and-file trade union militant, Ian Allinson, who appeared much less well-known than Jerry Hicks, failed to make major inroads and only gained 13% of the vote.
But that election appears very different to this one. McCluskey by then was a busted flush, and barely clung on by his fingernails, and the election itself a demoralising exercise. This is shaping up to be a highly political election fight, a real battle for the ‘soul’ of Unite, the biggest union in Britain, by forces around Beckett who hope to drive a campaign to re-arm the kind of leftist sentiment that drove support for Corbyn, and to drive the labour movement itself back to the left. That is the danger that the right-wing see from Beckett’s campaign, and why there has been a hysterical response from Starmer’s supporters.
Such as Beckett being ‘reported’ to the police by Margaret Hodge for supposedly ‘secretly’ planning, during the period of Corbyn’s leadership, for the union to support the ousting of anti-Corbyn right-wing MPs. As Beckett pointed out sharply on BBC Newsnight (3rd June), there was nothing secret about this campaign, as he had made public speeches about it at the time. He also told Siobhan McDonagh – the idiot Blairite who had previously said that merely opposing capitalism was ‘anti-Semitic’ (presumably because for her capitalists and Jews are synonymous!) – that she was in the wrong party. He mocked the hypocrisy of the right wing denouncing those who attack Starmer’s leadership given the planned and organised sabotage of Labour election campaigns by them when Corbyn was leader. Beckett’s tough and uncompromising response in this Newsnight interview gave a big boost to his campaign and humiliated the right.
Bureaucratic splintering and militant trade unionism
As his detractors have been keen to point out, he is not a rank-and-file worker. He is of Irish Catholic working-class background, born in Belfast, and someone who went to university and became a solicitor. He worked for the Union for a long period and is undoubtedly simply by virtue of his occupation wealthier than many union members. There have been various ‘scandals’ alleged by the right wing against him, including that when he was appointed Head of Legal Services at Unite, his previous legal partnership was sold to another union-connected firm for over £2.6 million, which he gained a share of. It is also apparently true that he owns three properties, is a property millionaire, and there was a fine against his firm levied by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority several years ago in a dispute related to solicitors’ fees in a case about miners’ compensation. The latter case has been particularly made use of for a smear campaign against him by the right wing – he addressed the events in some depth in his interview with RS21:
“I never took a penny of compensation from injured miners. I was fined because a cashier had stolen money from a probate file which had the Girl Guides and Guide Dogs for the Blind as beneficiaries. This cashier was in her sixties, and I felt it was an aberration. I was worried that she would be sent to jail so instead of reporting it to the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) or to the police I gave her the opportunity of paying back the money in instalments, and the practice replaced the money. That was the reason for the fines. The media have tried to drag it into the miners because it suits them but I never took one penny of miner’s compensation, the practice never benefited from miners’ compensation and there was never one single complaint from a miner to that effect. I spoke at the Durham Miner’s Gala a couple of years ago and I think most people would understand that I wouldn’t have been invited to speak if there was any suggestion at all the practice had ever taken compensation off miners. You won’t find a single miner who raises these allegations, I can tell you that. It’s a lie, and if people want to verify that it’s a lie they can go on to the SRA website.”RS21 op-cit
His background is hardly the stuff of trade union militancy at a rank-and-file level as in the heyday of union militancy that existing in Britain prior to the victories of Thatcher over the trade unions, most crucially in the miners’ strike of 1984-5. It is the stuff of a trade union movement that has been beaten and betrayed for decades. Betrayed particularly by the political class that has developed centrally in the political bureaucracy of the Labour Party, which has over several decades become something more than what it was at the time of the party’s emergence: an extension of the pro-capitalist bureaucracy of the trade unions. This bureaucratic layer in Britain historically had their own organic relationship to British industrial capital from the massive industrialisation that began in the late 18th Century, that continued at breakneck speed in the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century, that marked time in much of the 20th before undergoing major decline as a result of a conscious ruling class strategy of exporting jobs and deindustrialisation, aimed at crippling the labour movement, in the last quarter of the 20th Century.
However, this has itself led to new polarisations, part of which were responsible for the rise of Corbynism as a reaction to Blairism. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, a pioneer of dialectical logic, once remarked that “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. This is a key insight, regarding the inevitability of continuous change and flux in all phenomena, which found its way into Hegel’s much more elaborated, but idealistic dialectic, which was inverted and given a consistently materialist foundation by Marx. In analysing the course of the class struggle such understanding is crucial.
This finds concrete expression when you look at Blairism, and the changes in the right-wing of political labour bureaucracies, which have not occurred only in Britain, but Britain has become an archetype. The deindustrialisation of Britain, and the rise of financial capital which has replaced its former industrial power to a considerable degree as the index of Britain’s remaining power in the world as an imperialist nation, has modified the relationship between the labour bureaucracy and British capitalism and produced new polarisations.
As was noted in an article published just over a year ago:
“… there has been a further development of imperialist capital …. catalysed by the further decay of capitalism as classically expressed in Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. The fall in the rate of profit meant that the classical unity of industrial and banking capital exploiting a large scale industrial proletariat in the advanced countries became less and less profitable, and so industrial capital increasingly sought to do away with the proletariat, or as much of it as possible, in the classical imperialist countries, and migrated to underdeveloped countries in search of cheap labour to manufacture goods, the bulk of which at least initially were still for realisation in the advanced countries, thus raising the rate of profit. At the same time, the further decline in profit rates gave rise to drives in the imperialist centres to privatise everything that moved. Everything from prisons to public housing, from air traffic control to schools to hospital cleaning to probation officers, everything that could possibly if privatised be squeezed to obtain a morsel of profit and hence raise the overall rate of profit, was so privatised.
“This also modified the phenomenon of finance capital as a fusion of banking and industrial capital. The migration of important sections of industrial capital from the main imperialist countries, even though the funding, as before, came from the imperialist banking arm, produced a geographical separation between industrial and banking capital even though they remained a unity under the system of finance capital. This produced an emanation of finance capital which some Marxists, entirely reasonably, call financial capital, to distinguish it from finance capital in its classical form. Its function is not the methodical exploitation of the proletariat to generate surplus value, but tricks and novel methods of seemingly extracting value from nothing, by such means as the creation of asset price inflation (closely linked to the concept of ‘fictitious capital’), ‘futures’, or other innovative ‘financial products’ which also have the effect of seemingly conjuring up new value from nothing. Such as credit-default-swaps, which played a major role in the late-2000s financial crisis. Of course, speculation is not new under imperialism, but there are also questions of degree.”
“In any case, this is what has undermined the Labour Party, and produced a new breed of ‘labour’ politician who is not a mere servant of finance capital in a political sense, like the old labour bureaucrats who fought for national welfare states and supported their ‘own’ imperialist countries’ struggles to maintain imperial influence, while trying to ‘humanise’ this imperialism. The old Labour bureaucracy was personified by Attlee, who while conceding independence to India (he really had no choice) nevertheless fought brutal colonial wars in Malaysia (including Singapore) and Indonesia, also helping the French back into Indo-China, and crushed the nascent Kenyan independence movement and workers movement. This kind of social chauvinism linked ‘welfare’ to support for colonial oppression.
“But it is somewhat different to the ‘labourism’ of Blair and Peter Mandelson, with his infamous statement as to how Labour is ‘intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich’. The former was subordination to finance capital, the latter is subordination to financial capital. This is not, by the way, a moral difference. Both of these things are deeply reactionary and the social-imperialism of old-Labour was itself mortally antagonistic to socialism. It is however a sociological difference – the old social imperialist bureaucracy still had a material connection to organised labour, if only as a parasite upon it. Whereas New Labour has no such necessary connection at all.”https://www.consistent-democrats.org/uncategorized/no-vote-to-zionist-new-labour/
But this can, indeed must, lead to heightened contradictions between the Labour Party and the labour movement which was its seedbed. Today a key part of what was once the Labour Party bureaucracy is not connected by a class collaborationist relationship with industrial capital, and thereby finance capital, interested in preserving class peace by managing large, often militant, organised workforces with a great deal of social rhetoric and some reforms.
The traditional well organised industrial workforces have been considerably weakened, and the workforce that unions represent is much more fragmented and multi-sectored. Unions themselves have been weakened, by the strategic defeats inflicted on them in battle decades ago, by the passage of anti-union laws that the bosses have made stick for decades, by the export of heavy industrial jobs and hence the loss of industrial muscle, and by the fragmentation mentioned. But that never meant that class anger had died down. Just that the bosses had found ways to frustrate it and stop it being expressed. Or so they thought….
The ascent of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership in 2015 was a big shock to the ruling class. It became possible because under first Kinnock, and then with a vengeance under Blair and Brown, key parts of Labour’s traditional right-wing bureaucracy had become agents of financial capital instead of the older relationship described above.
The difference is crucial as these new leaders resembled the Tories they were supposed to be opposed to much more closely. They became privatisers; during the Blair-Brown period in office they introduced private sector neoliberal practice into public services with a fervour; they fomented a capitalist boom in tandem with other neoliberal forces abroad that ended in 2007 with a major financial crisis.
Corbynism in Relation to the Class Struggle
Corbyn rose to the Labour leadership paradoxically because under Blairism many of Labour’s most class-conscious followers had ceased to recognise it as Labour and ceased to vote for it. This loss of support so worried the Labour bureaucracy that they designed a novel scheme to try to entice support back: they allowed Labour supporters (not members) to vote for the leader for a nominal one-off sub payment of £3. In 2015 they lost the second General Election in a row, in large measure because of working class abstention. Even the soft-left Ed Miliband, who talked about a ‘crisis of working-class representation’ to get elected leader but did nothing to actually represent workers – could not entice support back that the Blairites had lost.
So, in the first leadership election under the new system, they also felt compelled to allow Corbyn on the ballot, for fear that the election for leader would appear fake if they did not. The rest is history. The presence of a genuine left social democrat on the ballot, with the newly opened-up election system, and a threatening, very right-wing purely Tory government under Cameron in the saddle, led to a massive influx of hundreds of thousands of new members and supporters, and an historic victory for Corbyn.
The right-wing counterattacks began at once, with the ‘Chicken Coup’ in 2016, the brazen sabotage of Labour’s highly successful election campaign in 2017, where Corbyn stripped Theresa May, the new Tory leader who had succeeded Cameron when he lost the Brexit referendum, of her majority, and then the developing ‘anti-Semitism’ Zionist propaganda lie and the cynical posturing of the right around supposedly being diehard opponents of Brexit, only to become rampant flag-shaggers and nationalists as soon as Corbyn had been forced out of the leadership. Everyone knows that the right-wing used every method they could think of to lose both the 2017 and 2019 General Elections and were utterly mortified when Corbyn came close to victory in 2017.
But the hundreds of thousands of Labour supporters who voted for Corbyn in 2017 have not gone away, nor the millions of additional Labour voters who voted for Labour in 2017 when Labour’s share of the national vote rose from 30.4%, just over 9 and a quarter million votes in 2015, to 40.0%, over 12 and three-quarter million votes in 2017. In 2019 Labour lost only around half a million of those increased votes, but a surge of UKIP voters to the Tories put the Tories in pole position and Labour, weakened by witchhunts and right-wing sabotage, was unable to counter that.
But that still leaves several hundreds of thousands of left-wing activists pulled towards Labour in the Corbyn period, and over three million voters who would not vote for Blairites, or even soft lefts like Ed Miliband who never fully renounced Blairism, who were radicalised and mobilised by the Corbynite surge. Those people have not gone away. And a considerable number of them are in Unite.
The Beckett campaign seems to have inspired something of a reprise of the enthusiasm among left-wing Labour supporters, viscerally hostile to Blairism, that was originally given to Corbyn. Beckett was closely associated with Corbyn right through his leadership, though in the background. He led the legal team that successfully defended Jeremy Corbyn’s right to be on the ballot in 2016, during the ‘chicken coup’ leadership contest that was forced on the party by a PLP vote of no-confidence, where the plan was to exclude Corbyn from the ballot by a legal/constitutional manoeuvre, carried out by the Blairite/Zionist Lord Foster. However, since Corbyn allowed his leadership to be sabotaged and ousted, Beckett has gone well beyond that.
As well as the possibility of rank-and-file militants becoming prominent in class struggle responses, there can also be splits and fragmentation of the bureaucracy, itself resulting from rank-and-file pressure. So, while Beckett may not conform to the ideal of a left-wing trade union campaign, demanding that the officialdom be paid no more than the workforce they represent, his campaign still reflects a class struggle impulse from below. Beckett thus should be put to the test of office.
Unlike Corbyn, who has temporised and thrown his own supporters under the bus when he came under attack from the right, Beckett has, particularly as the right-wing have counterattacked, fought back tooth and nail. In this he stands head and shoulders above Turner and Graham. Steve Turner has the backing of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB)-dominated ‘United Left’ block in Unite, where Beckett claims his attempt at their endorsement was squeezed out by bureaucratic tricks and key supporters being excluded from the vote. Turner is openly supportive of soft-left Labour politicians such as Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham against left-wing criticism, and the support from the machinery of the Morning Star shows continuity with the CPB’s hostility to challenging Labour in elections during the whole Blair/Brown era.
Beckett, Graham and Turner
Turner’s collaboration with Starmer is pretty clear from an interview with the Huffington Post (27 April) that set the tone for his campaign:
“I’ve always felt we could get a solution to this [Corbyn getting the whip back]. But the longer it goes on, the more entrenched it becomes on both sides. It’s like a war of attrition going on, and it’s going on in public. That’s not helpful to the party, it’s not helpful to Keir, it’s not helpful to Jeremy and it’s not helpful to me as a trade union leader or our members.
“People don’t vote for a divided party. Or a party that’s contemplating his own navel. Sometimes it’s right to shout. But on some occasions diplomacy is best done privately. Look, Keir wasn’t my preferred candidate …. But I’m a socialist, I’m a democrat, and the reality of it is he was elected by the vast majority of our members that voted.
“We didn’t even convince our own members to come on a journey with us, in terms of the political program that was being laid out by Jeremy, Becky and that entire team. We didn’t win the argument inside our own union. We won it amongst the politicos and that group that loves to talk to themselves.”https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/unite-steve-turner-len-mccluskey-interview_uk_6088331fe4b0b9042d8ae549
And he goes further:
“Trying to get this purist Left, I find incredibly dangerous. We’re fighting the rise of the far right and that narrative of hate and division in society more generally. We are trying to pull the Left together to create a vision of a better Britain and we’ve got this purist debate that’s taken place, pitting good Left comrades against good Left comrades, because they don’t sign up to a particular way of thinking on a particular issue.
“That purist argument, you’re a class traitor if you don’t sign up to something is just beyond belief, that’s not my Left. I’m an inclusive, tolerant, Left.”ibid
But what is bizarre about this plea for ‘tolerance’ is that it is done in defence of ‘tolerance’ of the Labour leadership of Keir Starmer, which has engaged in the one of the biggest purges of the Labour Party membership, targeting leftist supporters and former supporters of Corbyn, anyone who opposes the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians, and has created a situation where anyone in the party who speaks out in defence of those purged risks being purged themselves. For Turner to speak out against the ‘purist’ and supposedly intolerant left in this context is simply grotesque. It marks him out as an apologist for Starmer’s witchhunt and as someone who could potentially be a threat to the left within UNITE if elected, alongside the openly pro-Starmer, right-wing candidate Gerard Coyne. Such positions and attitudes have their own logic.
Then there is Sharon Graham, who is standing on a very leftist programme of rebuilding the strength of the union, rebuilding industrial militancy, and fighting for workers gains in this way. This positive element of her campaign is spelled out:
“We must rebuild our industrial base and bring workers from outside our traditional industries into our union. We can’t afford years of drift facing a Tory government and sustained only by short-term tactical manoeuvres. We can’t fiddle while Rome burns. We have to start doing it ourselves: this is not ‘workerism’ – this is the reality of our moment.
“We need an industrial programme that moves decisively beyond the empty rhetoric of ‘partnership’ and which is also supported by our industrial activists; the vast majority of whom agree on the need for power in the workplace and strong organisation, with the ability to take strike action if and when required.
“Of course, we still need to seek influence in parliament – laws matter. They can dictate our lives. But we must now reform the way we influence legislation. If anything, I will push hard for policy, but I will base this on a workers’ manifesto that is decided by our reps and activists.
“I will pursue its priorities by actively campaigning, as well taking our priorities into the structures of Labour. I will also refuse to support future candidates for parliament that have not represented working people. We need more working-class voices in Westminster and I will turn this soundbite into reality.”https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/32606/02-06-2021/unite-general-secretary-campaign-statement-from-sharon-graham
That is positive, the trade unions should not be giving any support to election candidates who support or refuse to oppose attacks on working class people, who refuse to oppose austerity, or who refuse to oppose the government. However, there is also this:
“Already, only a small minority of members are engaged in this debate. Make no mistake, we are moving in ever decreasing circles and we need fundamental change.
“For many years, conversations within the left have often been reduced to considering the merits – or otherwise – of the existing leadership of the Labour Party. But decades on from Thatcher, this discussion is increasingly detached from the concerns of working people. Instead of putting forward concrete plans to build working-class power, general secretary elections are being fought as proxy wars, far removed from workers.”ibid
This is not so good. Because the supposed ‘small minority’ of members who are ‘engaged’ in the debate about the merits of the existing leadership of the Labour Party … are the highly political layer who provided the mass base for Corbynism, and their right-wing opponents of course, who are as noted earlier, engaged in the most massive purge in the history of the Labour Party and the labour movement in Britain, precisely in order to try to render impossible any future challenge to neo-liberal domination of the political wing of the labour movement. To dismiss this whole conflict as ‘ever decreasing circles’ and ‘detached from the concerns of working people’ is a false, narrowly trade unionist view that abstains from the struggles that are most crucial for the interests of working people, and actually a retreat from the best aspects of the Corbyn movement.
From Beckett’s own statements, and from the statements of the other contenders standing against him, a critical vote for Beckett is the only principled position that a revolutionary socialist grouping can take on this election. The questions that are posed are crucial, both for the Unite union itself, and for the wider interests of the labour movement in Britain, which needs its class political expression to be able to advance its own class interests against neo-liberal capitalism in this particular phase. That political expression desperately needs a revolutionary programme, but Beckett’s own opposition to ‘partnership’ with employers and his apparent determination to take on the direct spokespersons for neoliberal financial capital in the Labour Party in a highly political campaign, means that his victory would be a significant step in that direction.