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Union backing alone won’t give Corbyn victory, we must work to make that happen

JeremyCorbyn1The weekend brought welcome news with the announcement that Unite, Britain’s largest trade union and Labour’s largest donor, would be backing Jeremy Corbyn after a vote of 34 to 13 on Unite’s 63-person Executive Council. To this, Jeremy also has the largest transport union, the RMT; the train drivers’ union, Aslef; the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), with some expecting the GMB to follow soon.

These union endorsements have been welcomed by the Corbyn campaign – but after all, how could the trade unions back any of the other candidates who are so committed to continuing Labour’s support for austerity? He is the only one proposing policies which will not harm living standards, such is the dismal state of the Labour leadership election.

But while Jeremy’s endorsements have generated a lot of noise this week, the real task is now to translate them into ballots with a small ‘1’ next to his name. Union members can of course, under the new Collins system, affiliate as supporters of the Labour part at no extra cost and secure a vote. Unite has over one and a half million members, far and away the largest of any trade union in Europe. That is now a pool of potential Jeremy supporters.

Last week, I wrote that Jeremy would have to find 100,000 more first preferences than Diane Abbott did last time. Jon Lansman’s analysis has explained why Corbyn is probably already doing far better than that, while the Labour First blogger Luke Akehurst, no friend of Corbyn, has argued he could come second. The Left in the party has grown over the last five years to numerical strength, winning National Executive elections and giving Jeremy’s anti-austerity politics a very strong base in the party membership. This means that just a fraction of Unite’s membership’s opting in to vote, four or five percent even, would be enough to give Corbyn victory.

This makes it all the more important that Unite grasps this opportunity. I’ve heard reports from individual branches of affiliation drives signing up Unite members in droves, but what is needed is strong communication and a clear message from the Unite leadership – Jeremy is our candidate, not to protest the others, but to win, and that members should make use of the Collins system that Progress foisted upon us and affiliate to vote for him. Direct mail, press statements, regular emails, phone banks. Labour’s largest union could not have a better or more important message to put across to its members.

But we also need a grassroots campaign to complement that. Unite members should get in touch with Jeremy’s campaign centrally and ask what they can do. We should talk to our fellow branch members, pass resolutions in support of Jeremy and encouraging membership to affiliate in to vote, hold campaign meetings and much more. A genuinely rank-and-file “Unite members for Jeremy” that organises in workplaces, community branches and all sections and regions of the union will achieve more cut-through than any number of central statements. If you are a Unite member glowing with pride that your union has endorsed Jeremy – then get out and start organising your colleagues to follow their lead.

We must grasp the narrative that Jeremy is the only candidate offering support to trade unionists, the only candidate who has pledged to repeal not just Cameron’s but Thatcher’s anti-union legislation and restore collective bargaining, and that the only way Labour will reverse the decline in living standards sparked by austerity is by mobilising enough of the population, disaffected by politics, who choose not to show up and vote for one of three or four very similar parties. That can only be done with a clear, anti-austerity message, and only Jeremy is offering that.

The decision by the Unite Executive Council was brave and bold, and is already being attacked by the right. We should commend them for sticking to their principles, but now the real task must begin: turning a tiny portion of that vast Unite membership into hardened Corbyn supporters. If we can do that, then Jeremy will be leader.

9 Comments

  1. Barry Ewart says:

    Yes all this for trade unions but we also need to win other grassroots Labour members, our argument to them should also be (as well as progressive policy) to empower yourself with Conference (OMOV) making policy.
    Then we with our life experiences (which may include living in poverty, low paid jobs, but going to University, working with diverse communities etc.) can draw from all this to make policy to appeal to the masses.
    We also need a minimum fee of £5 and sliding scale fees based on income to build a mass party and positive working class action to get more democratic socialist working class MPs.
    Labour could always win if it tried to engage with the millions of non-voters (who may believe they are all the same), appealed to the w class & progressive m class and try to win the general m class (socialised to vote Tory and given a misinformed view by the Mail etc) to the progressive m class.
    We need vision, how we would like Britian and the World to be, and communicate this – simply, clearly and confidently (plus draw on art, music & humour). Yours in solidarity!

  2. David Pavett says:

    Just imagine if Corbyn became leader.

    The media would move into top gear destroy mode. Progress and its minions would go apeshit. Labour MPs who have any sort of political brain left would be given a reason for using it. Corbyn would be subjected to derision, character assasination and hostile interviewing. Labour spads and apparatchiks would have recalibrate their lives. Corbyn would struggle to make a decent Shadow Cabinet but the effort would illuminating. Generally Labour politics would emerge from its long sleep and would actually become interesting. My Labour Party branch might even have political discussions which are prepared in a way that helps and encourages members to think about different points of view. Genuine debate might ensue…. But I am getting carried away.

    Is it just a dream? I shall vote Corbyn because he is the only genuine politician standing for leadership. The others are all political operatives who, if they ever saw the big picture from a socialist perspectve, have left that far behind and are no longer able to distinguish between political principle and short term electoral calculation.

    P.S. It would give me real pleasure to see Kendall knocked out in the first round. I am not religious but I am still praying for that.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Under the new system, MR Yvette Cooper and Andy bunham would have both come last behind the lefts Diane,who would have come third, the rel question is, how many actual Labour Party votes will each member get, not just the Tories who are paying their £3 to vote for Jeremy, so they feel if he becomes leader,labour would get 15% in 2020

      1. David Pavett says:

        Your point is …

        1. John P Reid says:

          Yourpleasure at possibly seeing Kendall being last, could see her win a possible leadership election in 2020 after we lose that election too,
          As it’s likely Cooper or Burnham will win, and either of them or their spouse would have come last under the new rules, had it be there in 2010

          1. Robert says:

            If we need a Thatcher we can vote Osborne, or Cameron or Boris or May, she will come last and she will not bother again.

  3. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    An unexpected down side of registering to vote for Jeremy Corbyn is that I’ve just received an unsolicited Spam e-mail from thieving Yvette Cooper; it’s quite put me off my cornflakes.

  4. swatantra says:

    He’s promised that he’ll only be in the job for 3 years and quit in 2018. What Labour needs is an interim Leader to take us through the next few difficult years, to regain our confidence and cleanse the Party of trouble makers.
    JayCee could be just the man to do that as he has the respect of most of members as a decent honest man. And he’s against Trident which is good.

  5. David Ellis says:

    Corbyn’s campaign has the potential to unleash a Syriza or Podemos style movement as social democracy in its cynical realist manifestation disintegrates under its own bloated egoism. It is necessary however to ensure that whilst Corby’s campaign does become a mass based, union-backed movement that it doesn’t present the centrist messes that Syriza and Podemos do and that it actually starts to put together a programme for working class power and the transition to socialism.

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