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The Unite General Secretary election has been brought forward 12 months to run alongside those for the Executive Council which will start in January - the actual ballot will be from 27 March to 28 April.
The Socialist Party is supporting Len McCluskey. Under his leadership, the union has taken a more militant stance with a whole number of disputes. It has been far more responsive to rank and file pressure, particularly in construction, which was once dominated by right-wing officials.
On his watch, no repudiation letters have been issued for unofficial action. Actually, some has been sanctioned, such as on Crossrail in the last few weeks. In the summer, Unite members working on Fawley Oil Refinery took strike action to ensure that migrant workers were paid the agreed rate.
We believe Unite can play a far more leading role in arguing for mass joint strike action to face down Tory austerity. It is supporting the NHS demo on 4 March, exerting pressure on the likes of Unison, the biggest NHS union that disgracefully is refusing to endorse the march.
Gerard Coyne, the union's West Midlands regional secretary has announced that he will challenge Len McCluskey. For the Socialist Party, this election is a fundamental clash about the political and industrial strategy of the biggest union in the country. Coyne is the candidate of the Blairites and behind them the capitalist Establishment, who see the election as an opportunity to strike a blow, not just against Len McCluskey but also Jeremy Corbyn in Labour - "Show me your friends and I'll show who you are."
From the opposite standpoint, they share our view that Labour is now two parties in one and are hell-bent on defeating any attempt to consolidate Corbyn's victory by transforming it into a vehicle for workers.
When launching his candidature, Coyne attacked McCluskey, "I believe they (Unite members) want a general secretary who spends less time trying to run the Labour party and more time looking after their interests." But this 'non-political' line hides his true agenda, which is to bolster the Labour right - the Guardian reports that Coyne wouldn't answer questions on whether Unite would continue to support Corbyn if he became General Secretary.
We believe in this election that the left in the union should support Len McCluskey against this right-wing attack. We have had criticisms of Len and will continue to put forward an independent position but the seriousness of this challenge shouldn't be ignored. We do not agree with those on the left who we believe are too dismissive of the right-wing challenge as justification for standing an alternative left candidate. It is a needless risk to threaten to split the left vote and allow Coyne a bigger opportunity to win which would throw the union back.
To meet the challenge, Len should launch an energetic public election campaign with rallies in the main cities to re-state a left programme industrially and politically. Prior to the Labour leadership challenge of Owen Smith, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership had drifted but the whip of counter-revolution ignited a campaign of mass proportions as not just left Labour members but many outside the party realised what was at stake.
Similarly now, Len should follow this example on a platform of no return to partnership with the bosses; co-ordinated action against the Tories, their cuts and anti-union laws; taking on the Blairites in Labour through the union's policy of supporting mandatory re-selection, moved at Unite's policy conference this summer by a Socialist Party member and recommended by the Executive Committee.
He should also champion the motion that was passed at Unite's National Sector Industrial Committee for workers in local government, that calls on Labour councillors (the vast majority of whom oppose Jeremy Corbyn) to move no-cuts budgets in Labour councils.
The Socialist Party has four members on the United Left slate for the EC elections (which also supports Len for general secretary). This could develop the fighting influence we are building within the union. Alongside a decisive defeat of the right wing around Coyne, this should be the basis to move Unite to a more fighting position.
The Fabian Society has claimed that the Labour Party could receive as little as 20% of the vote at the next general election.
The Fabians, an affiliated group inside the Labour Party, argue that Corbyn must prepare to form a coalition with the Lib Dems or Scottish National Party in order to get into government.
This is more than just pessimism - it is part of an ongoing campaign to undermine Corbyn's anti-austerity leadership using the idea that he and his policies are unpopular and unelectable.
On the contrary, the programme on which Corbyn ran his leadership campaigns - a £10 an hour minimum wage, investment in public services, rent control and building council housing etc - offers the only chance to win support from the mass of working class people.
A glimpse of this was shown by the huge turnouts to his leadership rallies and the hundreds of thousands who joined the party or signed up to vote for him.
This must be consolidated by turning his programme into Labour's programme, and kicking out the Blairites who stand for exactly the opposite policies.
All those who have backed Corbyn, including Len McCluskey, must stand firm behind this idea.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 16 December 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
Migrant workers (52)
Article dated 16 December 2016
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
Lessons from history
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