Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson made a last minute bid to swing the vote against Len McCluskey in Unite the union’s ongoing election of its general secretary. In an attempt to hoodwink Unite’s 1.2 million members into backing the right wing candidate Gerard Coyne, he made a series of unsupported assertions that Len is meddling in Labour Party politics.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 20 March, Watson accused McCluskey of using Unite to organise “a political faction in the Labour Party with the tacit approval of the leadership. Enough is enough, this has got to stop...” he said, “I’m afraid there are some people who do not have our electoral interests at heart”.
Watson, the architect of the failed Parliamentary Labour Party coup against Jeremy Corbyn last summer, produced as evidence a covertly made recording of Jon Lansman of Momentum boasting at a public meeting that if McCluskey were re-elected Unite would affiliate to his organisation.
Lansman’s claim was somewhat inept since Unite’s General Secretary constitutionally cannot make such decisions – only the union conference or Executive Committee can. But Watson’s claim was malicious as well as dishonest, aimed not only against Lansman and Corbyn but designed to boost Coyne, who is also backed by the right wing Labour grouping Progress.
Those Unite members who do not wish for a return to the days when Unite meekly followed the leadership of Tony Blair do have a choice in “grassroots socialist” candidate Ian Allinson.
Ian has rightly criticised McCluskey for his support for Trident, his opposition to the free movement of labour, and his lacklustre campaigning against the Trade Union Act.
Ian also has immaculate credentials, leading the ongoing Fujitsu strike against the offshoring of 1,800 IT jobs.
Despite his willingness to take only a worker’s wage if elected, Ian does not call for an independent rank and file organisation in Unite and stood aside from the most recent attempt to build one, Unite Grassroots Left, which supported Jerry Hicks’ election campaign in 2013.
And despite Ian’s pledge to “support Jeremy Corbyn and the left wing of the Labour Party” (Daily Politics, BBC One 28 March), he is neither a member of the party nor does he make any demands on Labour.
Another example of Ian’s political weakness could be seen when he seemed to sit on the fence over Brexit, while the political group he supports, Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (RS21), supported a Leave vote. Unfortunately apolitical trade unionism, even of the militant variety, leaves power in the hands of the bureaucracy.
Finally, a vote for Ian could split the left vote. Allinson tries to deny this saying his campaign “will take votes off both other candidates” (Why voting Ian Allinson won’t split the left vote). But this is inconceivable. Clearly any success for the far left candidate would weaken the mainstream left candidate more.
For all these reasons, we call on Unite members to vote for Len: but not uncritically. On the contrary, Unite activists need to use the campaign to raise political and industrial issues in the workplace and the branches and regions. There is much that needs to be done to turn Unite into a democratic, fighting union.
Red Flag will support all attempts by Unite members – including Ian – to build a rank and file organisation, based in the workplace, to wrest control from the officials and place it firmly in the hands of the members.