Back Turner and Beckett – Keep Out the Right Wing!

Statement released by the LLA steering committee, June 29 2021 and confirmed by the LLA Organising Group on July 3 2021

In the Unite general secretary election, our preferred candidate was Howard Beckett. He emphasised the political role of the union and the influence it must have on the Labour Party as the trade union voice in parliament, which is where anti trade union laws can be tackled. He has been strongly critical of Starmer and the Labour Party leadership, and he spoke out against the witch-hunt – which will have played a big role in his politically motivated suspension. 

However, with the threat of the right winger Gerard Coyne, who could win the election if the left vote is split, Beckett stepped down and threw his support behind Turner, who was the frontrunner in nominations. We respect Beckett for stepping aside and believe he should be given a key role in Turner’s campaign. Their joint statement said they will now “both work to implement a blended manifesto”, with reports that they have agreed 12 key priorities. This merger of Beckett and Turner now makes the choice clear: 

The left must back Steve Turner.

The left must avoid splitting the vote. We call on Sharon Graham to put the union and the labour movement first by stepping down and joining Howard Beckett in support of Steve Turner’s campaign. 

In the 2017 general secretary election, Len McCluskey only just won with 59,000 votes against 53,500 cast for Gerard Coyne. If the left vote is split between Graham and Turner, Coyne could win, which would be the worst possible outcome, as happened recently in the Unison election. For the Unite general secretary to also be taken by the right wing would be a major setback for the labour movement, and must be prevented.

Let’s be clear: neither Sharon Graham nor Steve Turner individually are great candidates for the left. Both have considerable support, but from our point of view they also demonstrate what is wrong with the trade union bureaucracy. Sharon Graham’s key campaign slogan is “to take our union back to the workplace” – an indication that she wants to downgrade Unite’s involvement in internal Labour Party struggles. Steve Turner’s campaign has been soft on Starmer, and he has used anti-left rhetoric such as charging the left with “not criticising Islamic terrorism”. Both have little to say about the need to radically democratise both the Labour Party and the union movement, and neither support the important socialist principle of “a workers’ representative on a worker’s wage”, nor the democratic demand that all full-time trade union officials must be elected, accountable and instantly recallable. 

But this election is crucial in the battle between left and right. It is crucial who runs the second-biggest union of the country, which wields huge power in the labour movement, with the industrial strength of its million or so organised workers, and also because it is the biggest affiliate of the Labour Party and has a major influence on it financially and at Labour Party conference, and therefore in its role in parliament. 

We therefore call on Sharon Graham to step down to avoid a left split, and ask our supporters to cast a critical vote for Steve Turner. 

The labour movement urgently needs to see the details of the 12 points agreed with Beckett – we cannot be expected to simply follow Beckett’s recommendation on blind faith. Backroom deals should have no place in a democratic Labour movement. We need transparency and democracy on all matters.

We demand that Steve Turner:

  • urgently publishes the details of the 12 points agreed with Beckett
  • shows a commitment to a robust, united left campaign which encompasses the policies laid down by Howard Beckett, in particular: 
    • to call out the witch-hunt against the Labour left and to support those who have been unjustly suspended and expelled from the Labour Party; 
    • to review Unite’s donations to the Labour Party in the light of its current political trajectory under Starmer; 
    • to ensure a substantial percentage of union funds gets to the branches.

We call on all LLA supporters to keep exercising pressure from below to build a strong, democratic and transparent left union movement.