It may not be surprising but it is still somehow shocking – a keen supporter of the neo-fascist English Defence League leafletting for Gerard Coyne outside Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant this week.
It isn’t a surprise because this is the direction the Coyne campaign has been drifting in all along. But it is nevertheless a wake-up call to every single trade unionist when the far right feels emboldened to overtly intervene in a union election.
As ever, there are vaguely comical aspects. Like the skeletons that turned up to picket Unite’s EC meeting six hours before it began, our EDL friend chose to leaflet when the plant was on a shut-down week. With timing like that, it is as well Gerard Coyne isn’t a stand-up comedian.
But this really isn’t funny. The EDL intervention highlights a truth about the whole Coyne campaign: He is the candidate for those elements in our society which hate trade unions. His is an anti-union campaign.
Take the endorsements he has rounded up: Trevor Kavanagh, Rupert Murdoch’s right-hand man in British politics, writing in the Sun. Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail. These are not right-wing trade unionists. They are anti-union point blank. They want unions to be as weak as possible, they want every strike to fail.
They champion the unrestrained free market, scoff at social equality for women and black people and are indifferent to poverty.
And, of course, they very much do not want any sort of Labour government in any shape or form.
And they support Gerard Coyne who, it should be remembered, supports the Sun in return. Those who abominate trade unions and want Labour out of power for ever want Gerard Coyne to lead Unite.
Every Unite member should ask why does Coyne attract such support? What sort of union is the Sun and the Mail expecting to get under his leadership?
Kavanagh gave a clue. He invoked the spirit of former AUEW president Terry Duffy, an unpleasant anti-semite who played a key part in the first great trade union defeat of the Thatcher years, the sacking of Longbridge convenor Derek Robinson by British Leyland in 1980.
And he praised the former AEEU general secretary Sir Ken Jackson, the Blair-era high priest of business unionism and competitive trade unionism, whose defeat was the pre-requisite for the foundation of Unite in the first place. Funnily enough, no media sleuth has ever looked into Jackson’s privileged lifestyle and housing arrangements when a union leader – let’s just say that they put any allegations about Len McCluskey in the very deepest shade.
But even Sir Ken never played footsie with the EDL or its equivalents, to the best of Unite Observer’s information.
So it seems pretty clear that a Coyne-led Unite would be in hoc to not just the establishment, but its most reactionary and regressive wing right from the outset.
But Gerard’s not like that, his supporters may claim. Oh yeah? What sort of man organises a silly stunt to disrupt the union’s motor industry conference in Birmingham to highlight his claim that Unite “treats women as second-class citizens” in the same week as he writes in the Sun, a paper where for women to be treated as second-class would represent a promotion, and “half-naked citizen” would be a more accurate designation.
I suppose the answer is the same sort of man who runs a campaign against union involvement in politics and then launches a final poster featuring a big picture of…Jeremy Corbyn.
A hypocrite in a word.
But let’s not say he is a man without a future. As long as Relate needs counsellors, the candidate who has brought Tom Watson and Rupert Murdoch together in his support, leaving their disputes over phone-hacking behind, there will be a job for Gerard.
It just won’t be the one he’s wanting. Because as voting begins you have a coalition of the EDL/Tom Watson/The Sun on the one hand, and 1,200 Unite branches, representing 550,000 members with 62 out of 65 Executive Council members on the other. I tell you, this ain’t close.