Why Unite members in Ireland should vote for Len McCluskey

By David Gibney, Unite member and co-coordinator of the Right2Water and Right2Change campaigns.

This morning I received my ballot paper for the Unite election for General Secretary. I don’t know any of the candidates personally, but having watched and listened to the choices on offer, there is only one candidate that fits with the principles of trade unionism that fights for equality and fairness both at work, and outside it.

Let’s be clear, without the support of Len McCluskey, there would be no Right2Water or Right2Change. Unite have played a leading role in tackling water charges and now it looks like the campaign will be a success. At the very least, every Unite member in the Republic of Ireland is already €750 better off. Combined, Unite members have saved millions of euros from the scam of water charges.

Gerard Coyne, the main competition for the position of General Secretary, is completely opposed to such campaigns. In an article in the UK Times this week, he attacked Irish trade union leader Brendan Ogle for his role in fighting water charges.

Mr Coyne must be ok with 24.6% of the UK experiencing water poverty – including the members he purports to represent.

Mr Coyne must be ok with the financialisation of water in the UK, where 21% of what his members spend on water going directly to the financial services sector through servicing debt and another 15% going towards profits for vulture funds and some of the wealthiest individuals in the world.

Ireland, thanks to Unite and other progressive trade unions, political parties and community activists, has ensured that our country has a guaranteed water poverty level of zero for the foreseeable future. If Mr Coyne thinks Unite should abstain from these types of campaigns, he will never have my vote.

One of the main objectives of both the Right2Water and Right2Change campaigns was to put policies ahead of personalities. Explaining what we are in favour of, rather than what we are against.

  • We are for a publicly owned water system that is funded through progressive taxation, which protects the lowest paid and most vulnerable.
  • We are for a publicly owned healthcare system that doesn’t provide services based on your ability to pay.
  • People should have the right to decent work and decent employment irrespective of the race, gender or age. And so on, and so on…

In Gerard Coyne’s promotional material, delivered with the ballot paper today, he blows that concept out of the water with his two opening sentences.

He says, “The world of work is changing fast and Unite needs a fresh start, with new ideas and younger leadership.”

He continues, “If our current General Secretary Len McCluskey is re-elected he will stay on until he is 71, making a mockery of our campaign against the rising pension age.”

Now I don’t think a trade union leader should be openly ageist, and also misrepresenting his Union’s position in such a manner.

Is Mr Coyne calling for a compulsory retirement age? Is he saying 70 year olds can’t do the job of representing workers as well as a 49 year old (as Coyne gleefully points out in his statement)? Or what about a 20 year old? What is the optimum age for being a General Secretary and representing workers? Does he have any other opinions on what sort of physical traits you should have to be a General Secretary?

Maybe his bizarre opinions on such matters is why he has the support of people like Roy Higginson, a prominent English Defense League (EDL) activist, who “doesn’t like socialists.”

Presumably Coyne’s (and Higginson’s) anti-Corbyn stance means he doesn’t like the concept of a publicly owned healthcare system? Or a publicly run transport system? Or Corbyn’s radical idea that Britain should not have illegally invaded Iraq, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians? We have already established that he doesn’t support the public ownership of water. Or any of the progressive policies promoted by Jeremy Corbyn. Either way, Coyne himself is saying that all of these issues should be irrelevant to a Union leader. He believes that you pay a trade union to represent you at work, and anything outside of that, well, that should be ignored.

What we do know is that Len McCluskey has supported Unite in Ireland with resources for campaigns, both industrially, and politically. The highly successful outcome of the Right2Water campaign will result in benefits for existing Unite members, but also for generations of Irish people in the future, including future members of our Union. This is something to celebrate, not criticize.

That’s why I’m voting Len McCluskey and you should too.