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2 June 2021

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Unite general secretary campaign: Left candidates speak to the Socialist

The nomination stage of the Unite the Union general secretary election campaign ends on 7 June. The Socialist Party invited the two left candidates, Sharon Graham and Howard Beckett, to outline why they are standing.

Below is Howard's statement, see Sharon Graham's here.

For the Socialist Party's statement on the election see 'Make sure there is a fighting left challenge on the ballot paper'

The movement needs a revolution

Howard Beckett, photo Mary Finch

Howard Beckett, photo Mary Finch   (Click to enlarge)

Howard Beckett, Unite assistant general secretary

There is a need for revolution within our movement. In this regard there can be no doubt. 

Unite, under Len McCluskey, has much to be proud of, playing such an enormous role for the left at such an important time; almost achieving the election of Corbyn and a changed society, supporting leverage where needed, having almost 1,000 ballots for industrial action in the last three years, a strike fund of £40 million and always standing with members in struggle - allowing the legal department to never repudiate unofficial or official industrial action. 

I, along with Sharon Graham, have played a key role for Len. I led on Visteon, Blacklisting, Waterford Crystal, Birmingham Bins, British Airways (from start to finish) and gaining recognition back at Ineos. And, yes, I led the legal challenge to get Jeremy on the second ballot paper.

It is important we all speak of these achievements, our collective successes. But, nevertheless, we must all accept that the narrative of the past has not grown our union: we have not defeated the trade union laws, we have not moved the TUC to the left, and we have not prevented the advance of precarious work. 

Yes, we want to organise in the workplaces, give shop stewards the tools to support them, organise precarious workers in order to defeat precarious working practices. But the question is how do we achieve this? 

We need our own revolution not a repeat of past ways or narrative. 

I am running to be general secretary with a manifesto that talks of our revolution being through our modernisation.

Yes, I expect every candidate to now be talking of workplace and community apps. Apps that give our shop stewards and members immediate access to their rights, to be empowered by knowledge.

Apps that allow members to know when they are working with other Unite members, allowing them to be part of a collective, even when the workplace does not promote collectivism. 

But I am going much further now and saying the time is right for us to launch Unite TV. 

A TV channel hosted on YouTube, but one that is 24/7. Each region and nation with a studio. Our telling our own story of trade unionism and collectivism, no longer reliant on mainstream media. 

I place my head in my hands at our success never being told to the wider union, let alone wider society. We can change that by being ambitious. 

Imagine telling students in London now of the struggles of our members in Goodlord. Imagine the consumer response we could create.

Or telling the world of our successes in defeating fire and rehire. Would wider society not then want to be part of our collective? 

Imagine Unite TV streaming live from Palestine, Hong Kong or Mexico? Again, telling our own story of internationalism and collectivism. 

A TV channel educating, teaching, giving our members their own platform. I firmly believe that once we tell the story of collectivism that youth will flock to us. 

Modernisation is our revolution, it is only a modern union that can defeat capitalism. 

With modernisation comes decentralising the union. Our resources and power must go to the regions and nations.

Decentralising means democracy, an end to gatekeepers. It sees branch activity. It sees debate about elected positions.

Society is moving to federal structures and the union must be there first. An executive in Wales as we have in Scotland and Ireland. Finding our champions of regional workplaces and communities. 

And as your general secretary there will be no stepping back from Unite's society role. The debate as to whether a union must be political or not was had a hundred years ago, and the answer then was as it is now - of course workers' voices must be heard in the corridors of power.

Politics is in the workplace and society. It is true that the current direction of travel of Labour is one that is failing our movement, that under Starmer's leadership Labour is moving away from being the voice of workers, making itself irrelevant.

A Labour Party that does not advance the rights of workers or the working class, that does not speak for socialism, should not receive Unite money. 

But the narrative of our being more concentrated in the workplace, of the workplace dictating our politics or of members not wanting to hear about politics, is a mistake. It misunderstands that class struggle is happening in front of our very eyes. 

As the Labour Party fails and creates a vacuum so it is Unite that must fill that vacuum. We must recommit to the politics of class and socialism. Yes less Westminster, but no to less politics. 

We must ensure departments do not work in silos - industrial working with organising,  with education, with legal, with political.

We must explain that a workplace derisory pay offer is because of the politics of society, the 1% to the NHS is because of the society we live in.

Fire and rehire, precarious work, zero-hour contracts, and now freeports - all because of the politics of society and a drive to the normalisation of in-work poverty.

It is our responsibility to explain this, not to wait for workplaces or communities to come to this conclusion. 

Finding champions - in the workplaces and communities. Candidate schools, development schools. Taking members on a journey from an activist to a rep, to an officer or organiser, to a rep in wider society. 

And equality and anti-racism must be part of everything we do. Not a separate department but Unite organising in sectors where we know there is racism and gender pay gaps.

Protecting the NHS by recruiting in the NHS - free student nurse and pandemic membership.

These are my commitments to you. I refuse to use the word 'pledge' , that is Starmer's word now, and consequently no longer a word to be trusted. Commitments. 

Taken together this is my commitment to build a union that is modern, decentralised and democratic, one that does not step back from being political, one that puts equality and anti-racism central to everything we do, and one that organises precarious work places in order to defeat the normalisation of precarious work.

One that rejects the status quo and tells wider society our own story of collectivism. 

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In The Socialist 2 June 2021:


3 July day of protest - save our NHS from the Tories


Capitalism's Covid failings

Unite election

Unite general secretary campaign: Statement from Sharon Graham

Unite general secretary campaign: Statement from Howard Beckett


Boycotts - what role can these play in the struggle for a Palestinian state?

Stop Israeli state terror: solidarity protests continue

US politics

Will Biden's 'green' agenda avert an impending climate change catastrophe?

Workplace news

Sparks force bosses to talk after blockading AWE

Save jobs, save livelihoods, save GKN Automotive - nationalise the plant!

Workplace round-up

International news

Belarus: Lukashenko's desperate attempt to silence opposition

Colombia: General strikes continue

Campaigns news

Cladding danger: Protest 5 June!

Pimlico Academy protest demands elected governors

York students demand democratic control of schools

Protests against anti-protest bill

Waltham Forest byelections: Council homes not unaffordable flats

Raising Fighting Fund in Southern region

Hillsborough crimes go unpunished


University funding reform: Fight for free, fully funded education for all


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Article dated 2 June 2021

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