Even taking account the advantages of incumbency, the momentum, dynamism and confidence of Len McCluskey’s campaign to be re-elected General Secretary of Unite stands in sharp contrast to the lacklustre efforts of the right wing challenger, Gerard Coyne, and the amateur hour theatrics of the “grassroots” candidate, Ian Allinson.
What stands out is not only that Len can point to year on year achievement, but that his campaign is getting out and about meeting members in organized workplaces around the UK, where he is meeting a strong response.
Elsewhere, Gerard Coyne’s campaign has a streak of desperation about it, with key campaign pledges to freeze Unite subscriptions for the next two years, and to extend Unite’s support to more people through a family membership scheme. He is promising to do more member servicing with less money, and that could only be achieved by jeopardizing Unite’s financial stability, and therefore endanger the firm foundation upon which Unite can challenge rogue employers, whether through political or industrial campaigning.
Ian Allinson, undoubtedly an accomplished workplace militant at Fujitsu, fails to distinguish between the wish and the deed, and his campaign lacks any sense of realism about the real world constraints on the union. It is potentially worrying that friends and colleagues in Unite report that while Jerry Hicks took votes from both the left and the right of the union, Ian is only gathering support away from Len.
One thing that both Ian and Gerard Coyne highlight is the potential improvement of developing more opportunities for experienced lay members and retired members and officers to service members in one to one representation, freeing officer time for organising. A report of the issues facing Women officers in Unite was published last year. The substantive issues of women working in a male dominated culture are not unique to Unite, and the response to the report’s finding are properly for Unite to address without outside interference. However, it is clear from the report that servicing individual members can represent a disproportionate burden on the time of some Unite officers, and any opportunities to free those officers for other tasks would be worth considering.
I am not a member of Unite, but should Len be defeated, then this would have a destabilizing impact on the whole movement. Ian Allinson’s campaign seems utterly complacent about the threat from the right wing, ignoring the more politicized context of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party, and the impetus that this gives to those who wish to deliver Corbyn a defeat by proxy in Unite’s election. Both Progress and the shadowy Labour First organisation have clandestinely encouraged their supporters to join Unite to vote for Coyne. Let us hope that we don’t all end up regretting the lack of judgement of Ian Allinson and his ultra-left supporters as they split the vote.