Steve Turner wins United Left backing to succeed Len McCluskey

Sienna Rodgers

Steve Turner has won the backing of United Left, the biggest left-wing organisation within Unite the Union, in the race to succeed incumbent Len McCluskey as the affiliated trade union’s next general secretary.

The UL group, only open to Unite members, held an online hustings today in which Turner and Howard Beckett sought to become the left-wing candidate in next year’s Unite general secretary election.

The result was remarkably close, with Turner winning 370 votes to 367 on a turnout of more than 65%. United Left said there was more than 50% attendance, and described the contest outcome as “stringently reinforced and verified”.

Jim Kelly, UL national chair, has called for “unity… to re-energise and continue to deliver a future that unites us”. But it is understood that Beckett has not accepted the result, as some members said their ballots were not received.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner is responsible for the manufacturing sector at the union, and has recently contributed to a ‘Build Back Better’ series of comment pieces on LabourList.

Commenting on the result, Turner tweeted: “RESULT IN and a huge THANK YOU for your support… 38 years ago when I joined our union as a bus conductor I would never have thought I could one day have been your @ULnational candidate for general secretary.

“The confidence you’ve put in me humbled me and I will never let you down! I want to thank @BeckettUnite for a great campaign between comrades and look forward to bringing our left together as we move forward in the coming fight to keep our union left!”

Turner started his union life as a bus conductor in 1982, and soon became a shop steward who was active in the T&G’s youth section. He is now national chair of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity.

The campaign video put out by Beckett, an ally of McCluskey and Unite’s assistant general secretary for politics and legal, set out a manifesto including proposals such as a new Unite TV channel.

Beckett criticised Starmer – for sacking left-wingers Richard Burgon, Ian Lavery and Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet, amongst other things – whereas Turner was relatively positive about the Labour leader.

Unite executive officer Sharon Graham is also understood to be standing in the 2021 general secretary election, but the organising unit director – now working on the #BABetrayal campaign – did not seek United Left’s support.

McCluskey was first elected as general secretary in 2010, and twice re-elected to the position. His term is due to end in 2022 but a successor will be chosen earlier with an election taking place next year.

Two of the other largest party-affiliated unions are also set to see changes of leadership, with UNISON’s Dave Prentis retiring at the end of 2020 and GMB currently picking a replacement for Tim Roache who resigned in April.

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