Unite general secretary candidates should join me to champion workers’ rights to free movement

There has been a very positive response to Unite General Secretary candidate Ian Allinson’s article in the Guardian yesterday defending workers’ freedom of movement, and explaining why Len McCluskey’s approach gives too many concessions to the racists and nationalists.

What is even more worrying is the silence from Gerard Coyne on the question. He is being backed by many of Corbyn’s opponents in the Labour Party, the people who brought us the infamous “racist mug”. As if people motivated by fear of immigration would vote Labour as a result.

Mug reads "controls on immigration: I'm voting Labour"Ian ended the article:

“No general secretary candidate should chase votes by undermining the unity members need to defend their jobs. I am calling on Len McCluskey and Gerard Coyne to join me in championing workers’ rights to move freely (not just within the EU) and opposing any employment restrictions based on nationality.”

So far at least, neither of the two establishment candidates for General Secretary seem willing to take a clear stance for equality on this question. They really should.

McCluskey in disarray on free movement of workers

Freedom of movement banner
Photo: Rasande Tyskar, flickr

When I launched the campaign for General Secretary of Unite on Thursday evening, Len McCluskey’s backsliding on free movement of labour was one of the issues I raised. Little did I know how the issue would explode yesterday, with McCluskey and his supporters in full denial mode.

This is not a new issue. Even before the Brexit referendum, McCluskey described EU migration as a gigantic experiment at the expense of ordinary workers. At the Unite Policy Conference shortly after the referendum, I moved an emergency motion from my industrial sector which defended free movement. McCluskey and the Executive Council opposed this in favour of a woolly executive statement that called for a “debate” on free movement.

Since then McCluskey has set out his position in various places, including a speech for the think tank CLASS.

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Ian Allinson to stand against McCluskey and Coyne for Unite General Secretary

Ian Allinson
Ian Allinson

I have decided to seek nominations for the General Secretary election. It is essential that this election does not become a battle between Len McCluskey, offering more of the same, and Gerard Coyne, offering to turn the clock back to the bad old days when our union backed New Labour even while they attacked our own members – and saw membership decline. If members want to see a Corbyn government, Unite needs to shift the debate by fighting in workplaces and communities now, rather than relying so heavily on internal battles within Labour. This is the second time that Len McCluskey has foisted a premature election on us based on a false premise. Many activists recognise the election timetable as an undemocratic manoeuvre which minimises members’ voice.

I’ve been a workplace activist for 25 years at Fujitsu, building up the union in a largely unorganised industry. I led the first national strike in my industry in 2009-10. For ten years I served on the union’s executive before stepping down in 2014. I’m chair of Unite’s UK combine in Fujitsu, where my own workplace is currently in dispute and taking strike action over pay, pensions and job security. Nationally we’re fighting against job cuts from automation and offshoring.

Members have fought off attempts to victimise me and other reps. Unlike the two establishment candidates, I’m in the workplace, at the sharp end like the thousands of other reps and activists who make Unite the fighting union it is today.

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