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Unite flags. Photo: Andrew Skudder, Flickr. Full license linked at bottom of article

Unite flags. Photo: Andrew Skudder, Flickr. Full license linked at bottom of article

The defeat of the right and Sharon Graham's victory open up big opportunities for the left in the Union

Congratulations to Sharon Graham on her victory in the Unite election. The victory of a left wing candidate and the defeat of right winger Gerard Coyne backed by the Sun is tremendous news. A victory for him would have given comfort to the Tories and right wing Labour and would have led to further attacks on the left. 

Graham won 46,696 votes, Steve Turner, the other left candidate got 41,833 votes and Coyne 35,334 or just 28% of the total vote. This is down from the 40% Coyne achieved in the last election.  This is testimony to a growing mood of anger at the bosses offensive, worsening pay and conditions and an arrogant and corrupt billionaires' government. It is a huge defeat for all of those who wanted to see Unite turned into a tame and non-confrontational union.  

Commiserations to Steve Turner, who Counterfire backed in the election on the basis of his campaigning record and the fact that he had the most nominations in a situation in which we believed it was preferable for the left to field one candidate. Howard Beckett should be thanked for withdrawing his candidacy in favour of Turner because with the left vote split three ways it would still have been possible for the right to win. 

We always said, however, that we would have been happy to get behind any of the three initial left candidates if a single candidate was agreed. As in nearly all recent union elections, turnout was very low and this is something the left as whole needs to address. The unions have to build among the rank and file in order to ensure more active and participatory memberships.

There has recently been a significant surge in successful strike ballots and strike action in a number of different sectors. Workers are prepared to strike longer and harder than they have for a long time and there have been some important victories. All this is taking place against the background of growing political opposition to the Tories, and dismay at Keir Starmer's failure to take them on. Sharon Graham's election is important in showing that the whole of the left now has a big opportunity to build on this and push for a wider fightback. Sharon Graham’s campaign and her vote suggests there is a real appetite among activists for the union to take this direction. We hope it will open up the chance to strengthen rank and file organisation and militancy in the union. 

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.

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