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20 July 2020

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Ealing parking attendants in Unite on strike in March 2020, photo Helen Pattison

Ealing parking attendants in Unite on strike in March 2020, photo Helen Pattison   (Click to enlarge)

United Left general secretary hustings shows widest debate needed for left in Unite

Socialist Party members in Unite

United Left (UL) has announced the result of Saturday's hustings and online vote for its candidate for the next Unite general secretary election, which is not scheduled to take place until early 2022 but may happen next year.

Steve Turner defeated fellow assistant general secretary Howard Beckett by 370 votes to 367.

A number of UL supporters have complained about not being included in the online ballot and we understand that there are reports that it is possible that the outcome could be challenged.

Saturday's hustings brought to the surface clear differences between the two candidates on a number of issues, particularly the approach the union should take to Labour after Keir Starmer's victory over the Corbyn left, both locally at council level and nationally.

Howard rightly pointed to his record in Birmingham, when he played a leading role in the binworker dispute against the right-wing Labour council.

He also promised that if elected as leader, the union would challenge Starmer's moving Labour to the right and warned: "He won't be able to take Unite and our money for granted."

In contrast, Steve made it clear that he was totally opposed to this approach, saying that a general secretary isn't an attack dog but a deal-maker.

Unfortunately, the impression was given that under his leadership, Unite would accept that the left had been defeated and not sufficiently challenge Starmer and the service-cutting Labour councils and mayors.

Prior to the hustings, Socialist Party members in United Left argued that the process had many flaws and was far too rushed to select a candidate for an election that hasn't actually been called and could be at least 12 months away.

Unfortunately, it has not been the broad and inclusive debate and discussion that is needed within the left of the union, particularly in a period of such an historical crisis that workers face.

The promised candidates' 500-word programmes that would be made available to UL supporters never materialised.

We are seeing the beginnings of what could be a hurricane of redundancies and closures as well as at least 10 billion of public sector cuts. This requires much more debate, not less.

Socialist Party members voted for Howard Beckett in the United Left ballot. But we believe that the events of Saturday must be the beginning not the end of the discussion about the industrial and political programme needed for the union in the stormy period we are entering.

This needs to go beyond the United Left and include others who are seen by an important layer of fighting reps and officers as legitimate left candidates, such as Sharon Graham, executive officer who leads organising and leverage.

The Socialist Party believes that this approach is essential to re-arm the left in Unite for the stark challenges that face members and reps.


This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 20 July 2020 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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Article dated 20 July 2020

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