Ian Allinson, the grassroots socialist candidate, explains his support for Jeremy Corbyn and why Corbyn supporters in Unite should back him in the General Secretary election.
It is unusual for an internal union election to be so tied up with the question of who leads the Labour Party.
As soon as this unnecessary election been called we started hearing voices from the Labour right urging people to join Unite to take part in the General Secretary election and undermine Jeremy Corbyn. It is a disgrace if well paid activists on the Labour right, even MPs, are joining Unite Community for this reason. Unite’s Rulebook makes clear “Unite Community Membership shall be open to all not in paid employment as well as those not seeking employment“. Community membership is not intended as a cheap route for people in paid work and who have no genuine interest in Unite’s community organising to interfere in our democracy. It is telling that Labour’s right are much less vocal urging people to join unions to defend their communities, jobs and rights at work.
The Labour right haven’t learned from Labour’s last two election defeats (or the international experience) and still think it’s possible to win elections with identikit politicians and middle of the road (i.e. pro-market, pro-austerity, anti-union and pro-warmongering) policies. They have no answers for the declining living standards, crumbling services and warming planet we face, let alone the international rise of support for fascist and right-wing populist parties. The Labour right have found their champion in Gerard Coyne, who says we mustn’t be “distracted” by party politics and accuses Len McCluskey of playing Westminster power games. In fact Coyne is playing the biggest Westminster power game of all. Pulling Unite’s support away from Corbyn would mean turning the clock back to the days when Labour leaders attacked us rather than backed us.
I’ve supported Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader since before he first secured the nominations to stand, while Len McCluskey was dithering with Andy Burnham. Since Unite’s Executive Council decided to back Corbyn, Unite’s support has been important, particularly against the plotters seeking to undermine him. But that support has not been as strong as it could. Len McCluskey’s support for Trident and backsliding over workers’ rights to free movement have undermined Corbyn on crucial policy issues.
Given the Labour right’s support for Coyne, it is understandable that this would generate a reaction amongst Corbyn supporters. Nonetheless is it disappointing to see Momentum sending out an email to supporters also urging them to join Unite Community, and also calling on them to vote for Len McCluskey. Many Corbyn and Momentum supporters have been contacting me to express their unhappiness about the email. There had been no discussion or consultation with members before the email went out. It appears to reflect the position of a tiny number in the Momentum leadership. I think encouraging people to join Unite simply to vote in an election is a mistake. It gives ammunition to Coyne and those around him who will hypocritically argue that this shows how the left is trying to take over Unite for non-industrial purposes – despite the fact that the right were doing this first.
The fact that both Coyne and McCluskey supporters are trying to pack Unite’s membership to influence the vote is a sign of desperation from both establishment candidates. But the vote will ultimately be decided by Unite’s 1.4 million members. We have already seen the angry reaction from members to the rigging of the election timetable to favour McCluskey. From this to the circulation of scurrilous Daily Mail articles attacking McCluskey from the right, dirty tricks tend to backfire – when did the Daily Mail ever have members’ interests at heart?
Unsurprisingly, a lot of rubbish is now being said and written to justify support for McCluskey. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not support Unite disaffiliating from a Corbyn-led Labour Party, though if the right unseated him that question would have to be revisited. Neither have I ever believed that the battles inside the Labour Party are irrelevant or unimportant. What I do argue is that they are insufficient, and I think this goes to the heart of why Corbyn’s supporters in the Labour Party should be backing me in the General Secretary election.
A more reasonable objection is that I am not a Labour Party member. I’m not a member of any political party, though I am part of a socialist discussion and activist group called rs21. I would be happy to join if Labour’s rules allowed it, but they currently do not. While much valuable work can be done within Labour, I don’t believe that capitalism can be voted out of existence – corporate power plays by no rules but its own. Working class people have always had to fight to win and defend every step forward, and not just in the political arena but in workplaces and communities too. The experience of the Syriza government in Greece shows the pressures any left government will face. I have no intention of providing further ammunition to those on the right complaining of entrism to attack the left and Corbyn.
At present, partly thanks to the sabotage of the Labour right, it cannot be taken for granted that Labour will win the next general election. Achieving this will require two things – changing people’s minds and getting them actively involved. This is where Unite’s contribution currently falls short. It’s not just the fact McCluskey is arguing against key Corbyn policies such as on Trident or workers’ rights to free movement and equal treatment. It’s also the fact that McCluskey keeps missing major opportunities to build resistance. When the government was on the ropes thanks to the junior doctors’ inspiring struggle, why was there no national demonstration for the NHS? Why didn’t McCluskey provide a lead for our NHS members by arguing for coordinated action that could have forced the Tories to retreat on their cuts and privatisation agenda? Where is the serious campaign over the Trade Union Act and other threats to our human and civil rights? It is through mass participation in workplace and community struggles that there is the greatest potential to change minds and get people active. If our aim is not merely to win the Labour Party to socialist policies, but to effect real change in society, then Unite’s contribution has to be about organising working class people to fight and win for themselves, learning and changing their views in the process, not just participation in internal Labour Party structures. Turning the clock back with Coyne would be a disaster, but more of the same with McCluskey won’t be good enough either – we need to raise our game.