Update June 13: As Howard Beckett has withdrawn his candidacy in favour of Steve Turner, we will now discuss how to change our voting recommendation.
In the Unite general secretary election, the Labour Left Alliance calls on unite members to vote for Howard Beckett – as the best, or least worst, of the three ‘left’ candidates on offer.
We note that Howard Beckett is the only candidate in the Unite general secretary election who attended the LLA hustings event, that he answered all of the questions put to him thoroughly, and that he was the clear winner in our indicative poll of LLA supporters who are Unite members.
We note his pledges:
- 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 also note the targeting of Howard Beckett by the BBC, the Murdoch press and the Labour right, including Tom Watson and Margaret Hodge, and his suspension from Labour Party membership for speaking out against Tory government deportations.
On the negative side, we note that he rejects the socialist principle of “a workers’ representative on a worker’s wage” – that socalist trade union officials – and MPs – should live on a skilled worker’s wage on a par with those they represent. Howard Beckett is a product of the trade union bureaucracy, a well-paid careerist left bureaucrat.
We further note that right-winger Gerard Coyne has narrowly made it onto the ballot, promising to realign Unite with the failing, witch-hunting Starmer leadership, and the rank and file pressure for a single left candidate to avoid splitting the majority of union members opposed to such a defeat 3 ways.
We believe it is incumbent on the left in Unite to avoid repeating the mistakes of the left in Unison where a right wing General Secretary was elected on a minority of the vote. We believe Howard Beckett, on the basis both of the politics he has outlined and the vibrant campaign he has waged, is by far the best of the 3 left candidates to be our standard bearer standard bearer.
We urge Sharon Graham and Steve Turner to withdraw and fully support and campaign for Howard Beckett. We call upon him to continue to carry out his pledges.
But we fight for much more than that.
Trade unions limit competition between workers, thus securing a better price for labour-power. They represent a tremendous gain for the working class, drawing millions of workers into collective activity against employers.
Of course, left to itself, trade union consciousness is characterised by sectionalism. At best, trade union consciousness attempts to constantly improve the lot of workers within capitalism. At worst, trade union consciousness degenerates into business unionism and sacrificing the interests of workers for the sake of capitalist competitiveness and profitability.
We openly seek to make trade unions into schools for communism. We do this by always putting forward the general interest of the working class, by fighting for workers’ unity and by fully involving the rank and file in decision-making.
Bargaining is a specialist activity. Consequently the trade unions need a layer of functionaries. However, due to lack of democratic control and accountability these functionaries have consolidated themselves into a conservative caste.
The trade union bureaucracy is more concerned with amicable deals and preserving union funds than with the class struggle. Operating as an intermediary between labour and capital, it has a real, material interest in the continued existence of the wage system.
Within the trade unions we fight against bureaucracy by demanding:
- Trade unions must be free of any interference or control by the state or employer.
- No trade union official to be paid above the average wage of a worker in that particular union.
- All full-time trade union officials must be elected, accountable and instantly recallable.
- Workers should support trade union leaders only to the extent that they fight for the long-term interests of the working class as a whole.
- All-embracing workplace committees. Organise all workers, whatever their trade, whether or not they are in trade unions. Workplace committees should fight to exercise control over hiring and firing, production and investment.
- One industry, one union. Industrial unions are rational and enhance the ability of workers to struggle.
- Given the international nature of the capitalist system and the existence of giant transnational companies, trade unions also need to organise internationally.