Rupert Murdoch graffiti Rupert Murdoch graffiti. Photo: Matt Brown / Flickr / CC BY 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Chris Neville looks at the Coyne campaign in the Unite General Secretary election and explains why the left should back Steve Turner

Trevor Kavanagh’s article in the Sun this week is the clearest indication yet of what is at stake in the Unite general secretary election. The not so subtle headline ‘Workers of the world Unite… to beat the Left’ laid out his call for Unite’s members who read the Sun to vote for the right-wing candidate, Gerard Coyne as the next general secretary.

In the article, Kavanagh uses the spectre of an Angela Rayner leadership as a strawman to launch into his attack on the left. Rayner is portrayed as a protege of Corbyn and a direct threat to Starmer which would hand back control of the party to the ‘loony left’.

Rayner’s leadership would, according to Kavanagh, mean that Boris Johnson would lose the much-needed opposition Starmer provides in Parliament. In order to shore up the Sun’s preferred leader, Unite members must vote for Coyne.

There is much to laugh at in Kavanagh’s analysis, not least the idea that serial-opportunist Angela Rayner would lead a left fightback were she to be elected leader of the Labour Party. The Sun of course does not really think that Starmer, with his continued support of the government’s disastrous covid response, is providing any real opposition to the Tories in parliament. The article however is not intended as a piece of solid political analysis, it is Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda, designed to further weaken the industrial and political influence of the left in Britain.

In the article, a quote from Coyne focuses on attacking migrants as he says the need for an end to ‘uncontrolled immigration’ is a priority for post-Brexit Britain. This is nothing new from Coyne, he did the same when he stood in 2017. Coyne knows that an element of the working class will see migrant workers as a threat and he is more than happy to stir up tensions, just as the bosses do, to keep them divided against their own interests.

It’s not only the Murdoch press supporting Coyne, the worst elements of the Labour right have all jumped at the chance to give him their backing. Luke Akehurst, Tom Watson and Ben Bradshaw – those who most strongly opposed Corbynism are also hoping for a Coyne victory. For them, they hope that his term as general secretary would lead to an easy ride for Starmer but the truth is there is much more at stake than Unite’s relationship with the Labour Party and we shouldn’t judge the election simply through that narrow view.

Despite the ultimate defeat of Corbynism, Unite under McCluskey proved to be a strong and dependable ally for Corbyn, which was the correct move at the time. Unite is the second-biggest union in the country and has been at the front of some of the most high-profile and successful industrial battles in recent years.

As the political landscape changes and Labour no longer looks like a vehicle for working-class advance, industrial disputes will be a key battleground. The recent wave of protests calling to Kill the Bill, standing up for Palestine and opposing racism under the banner of Black Lives Matter have mobilised tens of thousands of activists. These causes recently joined together for the People’s Assembly national demo in London, which was supported by Unite and other left unions.

With Coyne at the helm of Unite, expect the union’s support and participation of the above to be significantly reduced which would be a damaging blow to the left. Howard Beckett, who has admirably stood aside and lent his support to Steve Turner rightly pointed out on Twitter:

“Gerard Coyne says he would change Unite. I agree. Industrial action would be stopped or repudiated; Community membership would end; Political Schools for activists would end; challenging Labour would end; support for legal cases that carry risk would end. The Sxn would be in.”

So the ultimate aim for Unite members and the left must be to keep Coyne out. Yet we are still left with the potential of two left candidates fighting for the same votes. Had Coyne not made the ballot, and there was a straight choice between the three left candidates, I would likely have voted for Sharon Graham as my preferred candidate.

But the presence of Coyne, coupled with the right-wing establishment throwing their weight behind his campaign means that we need unity over idealism. I now believe that Steve Turner has the broadest support within the union and the best chance of beating Coyne. This is based not just on him leading in nominations, but also the fact that Howard Beckett has called for his supporters to get behind Turner, and many are.

The need for pragmatism and unity amongst Unite’s left must now win over sectarianism or loyalty to any one candidate. The priority since Coyne made the ballot must be to keep Unite left and the best chance of doing that is to vote for Steve Turner.

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