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Speaking recently to shop stewards and members at Unite’s biggest branch – Jaguar Land Rover in Solihull – I was told an extraordinary thing.
In all the years that Gerard Coyne, my opponent in the election for Unite general secretary, has been Unite’s West Midlands regional secretary, he has set foot just once in their workplace.
It was something of a surprise therefore to read the claim of my former colleague Jack Dromey who, in another extraordinary intervention by a West Midlands MP in this election was giving his support to Mr Coyne, that my challenger takes credit for stopping the collapse of motor manufacturing in the Midlands.
Tony Woodley, our general secretary at the time of the Rover crisis in 2005, tells me he can’t remember Gerard playing any part at all in the campaign to save jobs.
If Gerard had then I would have thought that such an achievement would have won him the backing of Unite branches across the automotive sector here, and elsewhere in the UK.
Yet all of JLR’s Midlands branches support me, along with BMW in Cowley, Ford in Daventry, and all nominating auto branches across the country.
Their backing demonstrates my determination to secure a future for those working in an industry that faces many challenges, including a hard Brexit and automation, and that our auto members recognise Unite needs a general secretary who understands these challenges and is prepared to support them by working with the government and with employers to create decent jobs, maintain our place as a world-class industry and ensure the voice of a highly skilled and dedicated workforce is heard loud and clear.
Jack has tried hard in his article to give Gerard an industrial profile that might shape up to mine. But, like Jack, Gerard has never worked in industry. He joined Unite after working at Sainsbury’s on Saturdays.
Perhaps that lack of industrial experience is why he also failed to secure the nomination of the Unite branch at the iconic Cadbury factory.
Yet even when trying to praise Gerard, Jack makes it all about himself and his own record. He really is an olympic-class self-publicist.
What he doesn’t say about that record is that he was twice rejected by the union’s membership when he ran for general secretary. This gives him little to impart on how to give effective leadership – the members clearly did not want him.
The first time he stood he was trying to unseat from office Britain’s first black general secretary and fellow Brummie Bill Morris – now Lord Morris of Handsworth. So much for the equality he claims to champion.
Bill had, like me, worked in industry and been a shop steward before becoming a union official – he in the car industry, me on the docks.
Jack Dromey invokes the memory and words of the great Jack Jones in his attack on me.
Jack Jones wasn’t just a hero to me, but a dear friend. He would be appalled at how Jack Dromey is using his good name to promote a candidate whose campaign has been built on smearing Unite.
He would have been aghast at how Gerard’s campaign attempted to disrupt Unite’s landmark auto industry conference held in Birmingham recently, where the future of the automotive sector, and therefore Unite members’ jobs, was being discussed.
Worse, Gerard’s campaign is now apparently being supported by the far-right English Defence League. A prominent member of the EDL has been giving out Coyne campaign material outside Vauxhall’s Ellsemere Port plant.
If Jack Dromey really wanted to walk in Jack Jones’ shoes, he would withdraw his support for Coyne now, and distance himself from his dirty tricks campaign.
For while Jack and the Coyne campaign continue to sling mud and drag the great name of this union and its members into the gutter, I have been getting on with the day job.
I was with Unite members in Hams Hall as they voted in droves to defend their retirement savings from BMW’s pensions pinching. They don’t want their union under the thumb of politicians and submissive when faced with bad bosses.
They want a leader with mettle, who will be with them all the way.
So I will continue to fight for Unite members’ jobs, their pay and conditions, for investment in their industries, for quality apprenticeships and skills and against the rise of insecure working, including zero hour and one hour contracts, while leading from the front in campaigning for a better future for all our members, their families and their communities.
Len McCluskey is General Secretary of Unite – from the Birmingham Post.
Vibrant election campaigns are part of the lifeblood of a healthy union, and seeing candidates put forward alternative visions for Britain’s biggest trade union is always an exciting part of an activist’s calendar. But this campaign has been marked by a number of misleading or demonstrably false claims from Gerard Coyne’s campaign, not just attacking Len McCluskey but damage Unite’s democracy as a whole. This is a quick fact-checker to ensure the record is set straight as ballots drop.
Claim: Len McCluskey is more interested in Labour politics than members
Fact: McCluskey and Coyne’s campaigns could not be more different. McCluskey is running on his record – the number of industrial wins in workplaces across the country and across sectors, the world-class legal service and the expanded membership, including new Unite Community members.
Coyne’s, on the other hand, is entirely focussed on the Labour Party leadership. While it is fair for a union that funds the Labour Party to take an interest in Labour politics, Coyne’s media has consistently focussed on attacking the Labour leadership rather than defending Unite members.
Members aren’t interested in whether Coyne think Jeremy Corbyn is “pointless”, they are interested in what he will do for them. His appointment of a former Labour press officer to head up his campaign, his close operational links to Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, and the enthusiastic mobilisations for Coyne organised by Blairite Labour activists indicate where his priorities are.
Claim: Subscriptions are too high and Gerard Coyne will freeze them
Fact: If elected, Coyne would not have the power to freeze union subs. That power rests with Unite’s elected executive. With £35m in their strike fund and not a single industrial action repudiated under the current leadership, members are getting more for their money than before.
Claim: Len has used union finances for his own interests
Fact: Unite is more financially healthy than ever before under Len McCluskey’s leadership. Coyne has made much of a loan provided by Unite for a London flat lived in by McCluskey. This loan was provided in a way that ensures Unite benefits – at the time of purchase the Union’s equitable interest in the property was 60% and the property must be sold 12 months after McCluskey’s employment finishes, and that the union’s entire equity interest in the property must be repaid at the time of sale and will reflect any increase in price. These arrangements are common for senior union officers, and are considerably better value for money than, for instance, parliamentary second homes.
It is worth noting that while McCluskey’s campaign has been funded by supportive Unite members and out of his own pocket, there is no clear detail on Coyne’s sources of campaign income.
Claim: Len McCluskey will fund Labour factional causes before members
Fact: Even more risible than the claim that Len focusses only on Labour is the claim that he will focus the union’s finances on Labour. When Coyne ally Tom Watson claimed that Unite were planning to fund pro-Corbyn campaign group Momentum, he had to be slapped down by Unite’s executive, clarifying that no such discussion had taken place. This did not stop Coyne repeating the allegation.
It is in fact Coyne’s campaign who has been making closed-doors deals with Labour, including, according to Unite, an unprecedented mutual support arrangement including data-sharing with West Midlands mayoral candidate Sion Simon. This has forced Unite to suspend donations to Simon’s campaign in order to protect the union’s integrity.
*A briefing seen by the Independent in December criticised the fact that “Len’s team focus on activists.”
Coyne’s campaign has demonstrated contempt for members who get involved in their union, dismissing his fellow Unite members as “toytown revolutionaries” and taking to right-wing newspapers like the Sun to write articles that appeal to tired old stereotypes about “union barons”.
To see a candidate for union leadership resort to anti-union rhetoric is disappointing to say the least, and belies his claim to be putting members first.
1185 branches have nominated Len McCluskey, and it is unlikely that members will be taken in by Coyne’s misleading campaigns. But post-truth politics has to be challenged where it emerges – especially in an election that concerns millions of honest working people in the British and Irish labour movements.
First published by The Skawkbox
This book tells the story of the industrial dispute at Grangemouth in 2013, when the owner threatened to close a large part of the complex unless the workforce accepted severe cuts to their wages and conditions.
The events at Grangemouth represented, in very acute form, the disaster of contemporary approaches to running the economy. What was once a publicly owned and well-run national asset has been allowed to fall into the hands of a company controlled by one man – Jim Ratcliffe – who thus has been able to exert immense power over the future of a vital national resource.
Ratcliffe conducted a relentless campaign against the union at the site, with the intention of removing its main organisers, partly through exploiting the row in Falkirk Labour Party over candidate selection. Through these endeavours he succeeded in inflicting considerable hardship on a large number of people, but he did not destroy the strong union organisation at Grangemouth, which remains committed to defending the workforce and local community from his depredations.