by Brian BamfordLEN McCluskey, the incumberant, and the favourite to win the election for general secretary of the Unite union, has been re-elected leader. Yet the victory was much closer than anticipated:
McCluskey won 59,067 votes (45.4%), Gerard Coyne got 53,544 (41.5%) and the rank and file candidate Ian Allinson took 17,143 (13.1%), on a low turnout of just over 12%, the union announced.
The Coyne team was hoping for a high turnout of up to 20% of the membership, which they believed would have ensured a surprise victory. McCluskey’s vote dropped from 144,570 in 2013 when the turnout was nearly 15%.
As a consequence of these figures the result cannot be seen as a ringing endorsement of the trade unionism or of their influence in British society. Even among its own membership the Unite union has struggled to interest the members sufficiently to vote for a leader who might cast a shadow over political life. And if the union leaders cannot even involve their own members in a significant way for such an event as a union election, why indeed should the general public listen to their leaders' deliberations on social or political matters?
It looks like McCluskey has got 60% less of the vote he got in 2013: 144,570 in 2013 down to 59,067 votes in 2017.
Today, The Guardian website reports:
'Coyne’s camp will this weekend take legal advice over unsent and late ballot papers and what they see as a flawed electoral process.
'Coyne, who ran a campaign alleging that McCluskey was misspending members’ money and was too involved in national politics, responded to the result with a statement calling for McCluskey to change the way the union was run.'
Gerard Coyne is now saying:
'The union machine consistently attempted to bully and intimidate me, something that has continued even after the close of polls.'
'Turnout has fallen disastrously. Many members have reported to me that they did not get their ballot paper at all or, if they did, that it arrived literally on the day polls closed and so was useless. This was no vote of confidence, with falling turnout and a halving of Len McCluskey’s previous vote.'
Wil Hutton on The Guardian website on the 9th, April, arguing that the British left is in 'a malaise', wrote;
'The brutal truth is that trade unions need root-and-branch reinvention to attract new members. Then, from the legitimacy won by having a base of rising membership, they could start to insist on the rewriting of fairer laws that incorporate new forms of collective bargaining and participation and so recast the increasingly high-risk, low-quality character of the British workplace. McCluskey, like the current Labour leadership he so generously but misguidedly backs, is nowhere near thinking through what is needed.'
I have listened to the arguments for McCluskey and they fixate upon his links to the old left, that he once was a supporter of Militant and he once had a job in the docks in Liverpool. But I believe my branch members - the members of Bury Unite Commercial Branch - were right to nominate Ian Allinson and get him on the ballot paper to open up a debate and deny McCluskey a coronation. They were right to do that even though Ian Allinson was a rank outsider. But in the same way and for the same reasons I agree with the economist Wil Hutton, when he writes 'Coyne is at least attempting to open up the debate about how Unite can grow. The union has an income of £170m; Coyne calls for more transparency in how this money is spent, disputing sweetheart deals backing Jeremy Corbyn'.
It is also clear for anyone who gives the matter any serious thought, that Wil Hutton is right when he argues: 'McCluskey, Corbyn, John McDonnell and the leaders of Momentum are not moving beyond slogans and their preoccupation is less with winning power than hard wiring ancient and outmoded left positions into union and party policies that turn Labour into an unelectable social movement.'
It is not that the old British left is too radical, it is that they are too conservative. The minds of these men McCluskey, Corbyn and McDonnell are the minds of men who have gramaphone records for brains whose needles have become stuck. Such men are inadequately placed to solve the current social and political problems.