For more on the Unite General Secretary election, see here.
On 18 June Howard Beckett pulled out of the contest for election as the next Unite the Union General Secretary. (Balloting begins on 5 July). Despite his posturing in recent months as the only candidate worthy of election, this was no surprise.
Of the three left-of-centre candidates, Beckett got the lowest number of branch nominations (328). Nearly half (143) came from Scotland alone, thanks to the union’s Scottish bureaucracy and its "Progressive United Left Scotland" delivering nominations from a myriad of small and inactive branches.
In exchange for a promise of additional responsibilities (and pay), Beckett withdrew from the contest and, in a statement jointly signed by Steve Turner, urged his supporters to vote for the latter. How many of them will actually do so is another question.
The fact that Beckett saw his nominations as something to be bartered in exchange for promotion and a pay rise says much about Beckett’s attitude to lay-member democracy.
For Beckett, the nominations did not belong to the members who, unwisely, thought that he was the best candidate. He did not consult with them about his withdrawal. Instead, he saw the nominations as his personal property, to be used as bargaining chips for personal gain.
Graham began her campaign with a pledge to “take Unite out of the Westminster bubble”. In her “A Workers’ Politics” manifesto she then shrugged her shoulders about Unite’s affiliation to the Labour Party: “I am not proposing here to break it. I think that there are more important things to focus on.”
Graham responded to the fact that Beckett’s withdrawal left her facing Turner and Gerard Coyne by sacrificing the differences between them on the altar of apolitical trade unionism. She tweeted:
“The announcement of the Turner/Beckett ticket, along with the Gerard Coyne candidacy, now completes the Westminster Brigade. … The two other candidates offer no more than the settling of old scores and the interests of Westminster politics. It is the Westminster Brigade versus the Workplace.”
The fact that Beckett’s withdrawal – however odious the motivation behind it – reduced the chances of Coyne winning because of a split left vote did not seem to register on Graham’s radar.
Instead, echoing the equating of Turner and Coyne by Skwawkbox when Beckett was still in the running, Graham lumped them together into a single “Westminster Brigade”.
Coyne’s response would have been almost amusing were he not so right-wing.
Beckett’s withdrawal meant: “If you vote for Steve Turner, you get Howard Beckett.” It left two “hard-left candidates” in the running – Graham, backed by the SWP and “Militant” (sic), and Turner, backed by the Communist Party.
Both of them were union full-timers, unlike Coyne (although he always omits to mention that he had been a full-timer until his dismissal in 2017), who was “the only candidate who would change the culture of the union” (likewise omitting to mention: for the worse).