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