Unite candidates offer final messages to members as general secretary election draws to a close

Candidates for the Unite general secretary election are making a final push in the last days of campaigning.

Candidates for the Unite general secretary election are making a final push in the last days of campaigning before the deadline to return ballots to the independent scrutineer closes on Monday 23rd August. Results will then be announced on the 26th August.

The outcome of the election will have repercussions not just for over a million workers up and down the country but also for the Labour Party.

We take a look at each of the candidate’s final message and campaigning before voting closes.

Steve Turner

Turner who is currently assistant general secretary of Unite has received the backing of Len McCluskey and also of the United Left Faction, Unite’s largest left-wing group. He’s considered to be a front runner when it comes to branch nominations, having received 525 nominations.

Among his priorities has been a new industrial strategy and green transition team in a bid to transition to a greener economy. He has pledged to develop a ‘Workers’ Greenprint’ for millions of new green jobs across the public and private sectors.

Although he is considered by some to be close to McCluskey, he is keen to differentiate from the current leader, with his Charter for Change campaign aimed at reconnecting Unite with its members, expanding its reach in new industries and shifting away from internal party divisions that have marred the Labour party in recent years.

In an interview with LFF in July he said: “I’m the leading negotiator of my generation with a track record of saving and creating jobs second to none. Let members judge me on that.”

In the final few weeks and days of the campaign, Turner has said he would demand a seat at the table of the Labour Party and called on Keir Starmer to listen to “ordinary working people” to rebuild trust.

He has also been striking with Rolls-Royce members on the picket line and been a vocal supporter of GKN workers, urging the West Midlands mayor to step in and save the factory and avert a jobs crisis.

A spokesperson for his team told LFF in a final message: “Steve has been proud to make a positive case to transform our union, and his days and weeks on the road meeting members have been fantastic, demonstrating to him that our members back his vision.

“He made the case of a growing union, the greenest union committed to playing its part in the battle to avert the climate crisis – and with no community left behind.”

Sharon Graham

Graham has made jobs, pay and conditions the focal point of her campaign, vowing to put workers first and to move away from an excessive focus on Westminster politics. She told LFF: “The Westminster tail has been wagging the industrial dog for far too long.

“That is not to say that politics is unimportant. Of course legislation matters. But Labour are in opposition. We need now to build our power in the workplace. There will be no blank cheques for any political party but my number one priority will be delivering the fundamental industrial reform that our Union now needs.”

In the final days, Graham, the only female candidate in the race, has been campaigning to protect homeworkers from attacks on their pay and conditions and has vowed to fight for women ‘cut out of promotions’.  She has also pledged to rebuild a ‘reps and stewards movement. She has also been voicing concerns on behalf of Amazon workers.

Graham told LFF: “Collective bargaining in the private sector continues to decline. Many top employers remain non-Union and the race to the bottom continues uncontested through swathes of the economy. Make no mistake, the trade union movement is on life support. That is the simple reality.

“But rather than ignoring our situation, burying our heads in the sand or salivating over the dwindling prospects of a Labour saviour, we can instead make a positive choice. We can begin to make change ourselves.

“That is what my campaign is all about. Taking control of our own destiny.

“We need to deliver more than rhetoric and lead the fight back to ensure our members do not pay the price for this pandemic. Strongly worded press releases cannot replace real campaigns when employers cut jobs, pay and conditions. No more “no go” areas. We can organise the “undercutters”. Amazon can be Unionised.”

Gerard Coyne

Gerard has vowed to focus on members and move away from being ‘obsessed with Westminster politics.’ In the last leadership election, he came second to McCluskey, who beat him by nearly 6,000 votes.

In an interview last month with LFF, he vowed to grow union membership and pledged to offer a greater service to Unite’s workplace reps, one that ‘is completely revamped and enhanced’ and offers them something that is ‘relevant to the 21st century’. He also has the support of many supporters of Keir Starmer, though he has hit back at claims he’s right-wing, saying: “This attempt to categorize me as a right winger, I’ve been a lifelong trade unionist all of my life, I have never been involved in sweet heart deals.”

As the campaign draws to a close, Gerard has been campaigning on issues such as the future of the automotive sector and pledged to offer members greater transparency and value for money.

He told LFF: “Every family in Britain needs a government and employers that are held to account by a strong and focused union movement. Working people need a strong union on their side if they are to see the benefits as we recover from Covid.

“Working people deserve a strong Unite the Union that offers them value for money and a return on their weekly investment of membership subs. As General Secretary, I will provide this. More resources for representation and advice and more support and training for our workplace reps. The consequences of continuity in Unite is clear.  Continued waste of members money and failure to represent them effectively.

“All of us in this campaign have a duty over the next three days to find every member who has a ballot paper in their pile of unopened mail, and ask them to urgently cast their vote for change.”

Basit Mahmood is co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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