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9 June 2021

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Left candidate needed for Unite General Secretary election

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The nomination period for the Unite General Secretary election has closed. All four candidates - Steve Turner, Sharon Graham, Howard Beckett and reportedly Gerard Coyne - have gained enough branch nominations to get on the ballot paper for the voting, which begins on 5 July. They have until 12 noon on Thursday to accept their nomination.

As we have explained in our article last autumn and the statement we produced before nominations began, this election is crucial in maintaining Unite as a fighting union on both industrial and political fronts.

Gerard Coyne is a direct representative of big business and the Starmerites, and if he won it would threaten to turn the union sharply to the right. Like many members, we would not meekly accept this but look to work with others on the left, to resist such a shift.

However, we do not accept that Steve Turner is the 'candidate of the left' and Sharon and Howard should merely stand aside to give Turner a free run against Coyne. Of course, if this did happen, we would not be neutral but give very critical support to Steve Turner.

The very good nominations achieved by Sharon and Howard, particularly compared to Turner’s likely total – well short of that achieved by Len McCluskey previously, shows that a big layer of Unite reps, members and activists have no appetite for Steve's more compliant approach both industrially and politically, reflected in him clearly not being prepared to challenge Starmer as Labour leader. His election would still represent a retreat from the position built up under Len McCluskey's leadership.

Therefore, we believe it is Steve who should step down as a candidate in favour of Sharon or Howard to carry the battle against Coyne. Their programmes and records, show that they have a far more combative position and are the best candidates on offer in this election. That is why we call again for Sharon and Howard to come together and agree one candidate, on a common programme that can appeal to the fighting members of the union.

There is a real danger that if they both stand that it could let in Turner or even worse, Coyne. But one of them should stand, and give a fighting alternative in the election.

Socialist Party members have worked with supporters of both Sharon and Howard to ensure that in a whole number of Unite branches, the nomination of one of them was secured. In all these cases, our members have received a warm welcome for the idea of one left candidate and the need for a new left in the union. This will be essential, whoever wins the election - either to fight for the carrying out of a left programme should Sharon or Howard win, or to mobilise opposition if not.

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Article dated 9 June 2021

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RMT picket at Nottingham station - East Midlands Railway dispute - Sunday 13th June, photo by G Freeman

RMT picket at Nottingham station - East Midlands Railway dispute - Sunday 13th June. Photo G Freeman

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