Gerard Coyne accuses Len McCluskey and Momentum of trying to stitch up Unite leadership election

LONDON — The leader of Britain’s biggest trade union is conspiring with Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign organisation in an attempt to stitch up his re-election, his main challenger suggested today

Gerard Coyne, who is standing to be Unite’s next general secretary, told Business Insider that calls by the Corbyn-supporting group Momentum for members to join up to re-elect Len McCluskey were “suspect to say the least”.

“I find it very strange that a political organisation should want to actively encourage its members to engage in a trade union in this way,” he said.

“I’m very concerned about it if I’m honest.”

He said the calls, which were tweeted out to supporters repeatedly over the Christmas period, showed that McCluskey and his supporters were afraid he will be defeated.

“I actually think it goes to show that there is clearly concern in my opponents’ camp if they’re calling on Momentum to be their lifeline then they’re clearly worried.”

He added that long-standing Unite members would be “angry” about the attempt to swing the election, due to be held in March.

“I just think it’s not very democratic and actually many of our members who have been paying their subs for ten twenty, thirty or forty years, to suggest that just to achieve a political objective from Momentum’s perspective, that people should join … and have the same voting rights as someone who has been a long standing paying member is somewhat suspect to say the least.”

“They will be angry frankly.”

Momentum do not receive direct funding from Unite. However, an investigation by Channel Four’s Dispatches last year found that Momentum members had worked out of Unite offices during the last leadership campaign.

McCluskey has been a strong supporter of Corbyn. Labour MPs believe that it was his personal intervention during last year’s leadership challenge which prevented the Labour leader from standing down.

Sources close to the Labour leader have suggested that Coyne’s leadership bid is being backed by “enemies within the party.” 

Gerard Coyne

Richard Vernalls PA Wire/PA Images

Labour’s ‘puppet master’

Coyne believes that Unite must move away from such close relationships with the Labour leadership.

“We spent too much time in my view focusing on Westminster power politics and not on what the actual day job of a trade union is about, which is representing and supporting our members and giving them protection in the workplace,” he said.

“For my members, and for Unite as a union, actually I think the focus has to be on their insecurity and the difficulties their jobs will face and not the insecurity of the leader of the Labour party and whether he should keep his job or not.”

He added that McCluskey was neglecting his main job representing of Unite members, in order to be Labour’s “puppet master”

“I’ve been very clear that I don’t want to act as the puppet master of the leader of the Labour party.

“I’ve been very clear that I don’t want to act as the puppet master of the leader of the Labour party.

I want to get on with the job of being general secretary of Unite the union.”

Coyne also questioned the legitimacy of McCluskey’s current leadership.

“The last [election] for general secretary of Unite was just a 15% turnout so actually in terms of the mandate Len has been elected on just less than 10% of the whole of the organisation …”

“I think it is a serious issue for a democratic organisation.”

Coyne also hinted that Unite must in future build relations with parties other than Labour.

“Obviously there is the historic relationship with the Labour party and our rules are very specific about the relationship with the Labour party but actually if we were a strong relevant voice of the world of work … then I am of the view that any political party would have to listen to what a strong relevant trade union is about, not just the Labour party.”

The second half of Business Insider’s interview with Gerard Coyne will be published later today.

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