During the Unite general secretary election, LabourList has published comment pieces by John Cooper backing Sharon Graham and by Gurinder Singh Josan backing Gerard Coyne; this piece supporting Steve Turner was the first in the series.
When members vote for the next general secretary of Unite, I will vote for Steve Turner, the assistant general secretary for manufacturing.
I have been a member for 48 years. With the legendary Jayaben Desai, I was proud to lead the great battle for union recognition at Grunwick. I then rose through the ranks of the old Transport and General Workers Union, ultimately elected deputy general secretary. For all those years, I fought battle after battle for the working people I was proud to represent. I then became deputy general secretary of Unite after the merger of the T&G and Amicus.
Working people have never needed strong trade unions more than they do now in an ever-changing world of work. There are many who counsel despair, believing trade unions are a force of the past. I fundamentally disagree with that view but there is no question that what will determine the future is strong leadership.
I know the other candidates well. They are old friends with whom I have worked very closely. The reason I am supporting Steve is that quite simply he is the most outstanding industrial trade union officer in the British trade union movement.
He is a champion of strong, no-nonsense trade unionism that stands up for the members and knows how to fight hard. He also knows how to engage with employers and employers’ organisations, finding common cause to influence government policy. I have seen that first-hand in his ground-breaking work championing British manufacturing. Steve was also a key part of the TUC delegation to the Treasury last year that fought for and won the furlough scheme, protecting the jobs of millions of British workers.
Steve also knows our union inside out. Steve joined the T&G when he was just 19 years old and starting out as a conductor at London Buses. Since then he has risen through the union – from workplace rep to branch secretary, to national officer and now assistant general secretary – negotiating with employers and standing up for members all the way. Steve will bring this wealth of experience to the highest level of the union, building a strong union to protect the jobs and wages of members.
He is also highly respected in the Labour Party. I remember attending the valedictory of one of our greatest general secretaries, Jack Jones. Jack said for working people the twin access to power is, in the world of work, their union card and in the corridors of power, the right to vote and the Labour Party. Steve does not want to run the Labour Party but he wants the voice of working people to be heard and acted upon including in the highest echelons of the party.
I sometimes say I have been around since Winston Churchill was a boy. I have seen and worked with many legendary figures in the trade union movement. Steve is without doubt the most outstanding of his generation. Just when the trade union movement needs strong leadership, he will be the leader the members can be proud of.