ON:Jeremy Corbyn’s most powerful union ally, Len McCluskey, has been bitterly attacked by the man seeking to end his six-year reign in charge of Britain’s biggest union, Unite.
In his first newspaper interview since announcing that he will challenge McCluskey in an election, with huge potential repercussions for Corbyn and for Labour, Gerard Coyne accuses the Unite general secretary of meddling too much in Westminster politics, and of neglecting the crucial issues facing working people.
Unite challenger: ‘We have to focus on how to grow unions, not influence in Westminster’
“I just don’t think that ever again the general secretary should be the puppet master of the leader of the Labour party,” Coyne – Unite’s regional secretary in the West Midlands – told the Observer. “There is an opportunity for change, for a fresh start, for members to get their union back.”
The battle for control of Unite is being seen at Westminster as a proxy war for control of the entire Labour party. Many Labour MPs see Coyne’s challenge as a chance to break the alliance between Corbyn and the leftwing Unite leadership and restore it to the centre ground.
In July, McCluskey accused MPs who plotted to oust Corbyn of “being seduced by sinister forces”. At its annual conference, Unite then called for mandatory reselection of Labour MPs in a move which many saw as the start of a purge of moderates by the hard left.
Labour MPs have since said that Unite activists have been organising in their constituencies in an effort to boost memberships and tip the balance in favour of deselections in future ballots.
Coyne says he, as much as anyone, wants a Labour government and that he fully endorses the commitment in Unite’s rulebook to back the party. But he claims McCluskey has made politics too much of a priority at the expense of fighting everyday battles on behalf of Unite’s 1.4 million members.