Len McCluskey has endorsed assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner to succeed him as general secretary of Unite the Union, saying the candidate “stands for the progressive trade union outlook I have championed all my life”.
As ballots have started to drop in the general secretary race that could lead to significant political and organisational changes in the labour movement, the outgoing Unite leader has backed one of the three candidates vying to replace him.
Turner said: “This is a huge honour, and I want to thank Len for the trust he’s placing in me to now lead our great union on the next stage of its journey. Len’s support recognises that I am the only candidate with the experience, integrity and vision necessary to take our union forward.
“The stakes could not be higher. The economy and the world of work are changing at a frightening pace and now, more than ever, we need a united, vocal and confident union to face the challenges and meet the opportunities ahead.
“I’m proud to have won support from right across our union – every sector, region and nation. Leading a united union means leading a stronger union and right now we need strength, unity and common purpose as we step up in the fight for full employment and provide a powerful voice for working people as we transition towards a new green economy.
“We will leave no worker, family or community behind on the journey ahead, while continuing to deliver daily for our members the respect, decent wages and conditions that they deserve.”
Turner is running for the top job alongside Sharon Graham, the executive officer for organising and leverage at Unite, and Gerard Coyne, the former West Midlands regional organiser who ran against McCluskey in 2017.
A senior spokesperson for Graham’s campaign said: “Frankly, Len McCluskey’s unprecedented intervention in the election has the look of a desperate attempt to boost Steve Turner’s failing campaign.
“The penny has dropped that Sharon is now the one to beat. She is the worker’s candidate and people are coming out for her in droves. She will take the union back to the workplace to do what it says on the tin – fight for jobs pay and conditions.
“The two men left in the race represent the past, the union establishment. Only Sharon stands for real change. Only she can unite the union and her coming victory will do that.”
Coyne reacted by saying: “At the beginning of this election, Len McCluskey said he would be very happy with either Steve Turner or Sharon Graham. Now Len has thrown his weight behind Steve Turner, and Sharon Graham is clearly feeling somewhat disappointed and angry.
“Personally, I’m delighted, because it makes the choice even clearer: if you want real change in Unite, vote for me. If you want more of the same, vote for either of the internal continuity candidates.”
Labour MP Jack Dromey confirmed his support for Turner in a LabourList piece on Monday, in which he said: “I have seen and worked with many legendary figures in the trade union movement. Steve is without doubt the most outstanding of his generation.”
Turner commented: “Jack is hugely respected in many Unite workplaces and his support illustrates both the respect he has for me personally and the high regard our positive campaign has generated across our movement.
“Jack, like Len and myself, is a tireless fighter for UK workers and he backs me because he knows that when it comes to delivering for Unite members, I never rest. I’m as happy to knock down doors at Westminster as I am the boardroom and will always put the interests of our members first.”
Turner is running for general secretary on a platform emphasising that he helped secure the furlough programme and the UK’s first electric battery plant at Nissan, Sunderland. He is currently self-isolating after a family member tested positive for Covid.
Assistant general secretary for politics and legal Howard Beckett was originally set to be in the general secretary contest, but – amid calls for two of the three left candidates to step aside – he withdrew last month and backed Turner.
Graham, who describes herself as “the workplace candidate”, would be the first woman to lead the union if elected. She was the first candidate to secure a place on the ballot and had the second highest number of nominations.
Coyne has been critical of the way Unite has been run under McCluskey. He has pledged not to focus on Westminster politics if successful, and promised to freeze membership subs. He was endorsed by The Sun this week.
Below is the full text of Len McCluskey’s endorsement of Steve Turner.
In seven weeks I will be standing aside as your General Secretary. The election for my successor comes at a critical time for our union.
I urge all of you to vote when you get your ballot papers over the next few days.
I will be voting for Steve Turner.
There are many reasons for that choice. Steve stands for the progressive trade union outlook I have championed all my life.
Steve will change and develop our union in many ways, uniting our members and building on our achievements, not tearing them down.
His Unite will be run by and for the members, not The Sun newspaper or our establishment enemies.
But above all Steve has the experience and integrity essential to lead a union as diverse as Unite, with members across the economy of Britain and Ireland.
Support for Steve runs deep across our industrial heartlands. He is the candidate to take our union forward, ensuring departments, sectors, regions and nations work together, ensuring equalities, education and anti-racism are at the heart of our union in all our industrial, political, organising and community work.
He has walked the talk at every level of our union – shop steward, tutor, local officer, organiser, national officer and Assistant General Secretary.
He has worked with members, and has held chief executives and government ministers alike to account to deliver on jobs, pay and most recently, real progress on a workers‘ transition to a green economy.
Steve has spent his life winning the best for working people, including bringing the country’s first electric battery plant to the north east securing 6,500 jobs.
He led for Unite in winning the furlough deal which has been so essential for over 11 million workers during the pandemic, and continues to fight to overturn 10 years of ideological austerity imposed on our public services and members.
He is as at home on the picket line as he is negotiating with CEOs in the boardroom and ministers in government. He has led and won difficult disputes in sectors across Unite.
So Steve has my support in this ballot.
I urge you once again to use your vote and support your union’s democracy, and its enduring role as the most progressive organisation for our communities in these islands.