Defeated right-wing candidate for the Unite union election, Gerard Coyne, has launched legal action against the result and his suspension.
Coyne lost the election for Unite general secretary to incumbent Len McCluskey in April. A supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, McCluskey was re-elected general secretary with 59,607 votes to Coyne’s 53,544.
Just 12.2 percent of union members voted in the election for the leader of Britain’s largest union. With only 130,071 Unite members voting out of 1,062,049 ballots sent out, turnout was a historic low and revealed the alienation of the union members from all factions of the union bureaucracy.
In 2010, 240,000 Unite members (15.8 percent) voted in an election in which McCluskey, standing as a nominally “left” voice, won to take control of the union. In 2013, McCluskey called an early election and defeated Jerry Hicks, with turnout again falling as 225,801 (15.2 percent) of members voted.
The rejection by the membership of the latest leadership contest reflects growing hostility to a series of betrayals of their struggles by Unite. One dispute or strike after another has been isolated and sold-out, with concession after concession made to management. These include Tata steel workers, workers at auto producer BMW, British Airways cabin crew, UK oil refinery workers and IT workers at Fujitsu.
Given the national prominence of the Unite election—which was given widespread publicity as one critical to ultimately determining the leadership of the Labour Party—the collapse of turnout was even more notable. McCluskey was only able to defeat Coyne—a candidate who openly supported the despised Blairite faction of the Labour Party—by a slender margin of 45.4 percent to 41.5 percent, revealing the extent to which all factions of the bureaucracy are reviled.
Just hours after polling closed, Coyne was suspended from his position as West Midlands regional secretary, with the BBC reporting, “Coyne is understood to be facing disciplinary proceedings for bringing the union into disrepute.”