A Challenger For The Leadership Of The UK’s Biggest Trade Union Was Just Suspended

Gerard Coyne, Unite’s West Midlands secretary, is challenging Len McCluskey for the general secretary’s office.

Gerard Coyne, Unite general secretary candidate, during a visit to Edinburgh ahead of his speech to activists in the city in February. Jane Barlow / PA Wire/PA Images

A man who is challenging to become the leader of the UK’s biggest trade union has been suspended from his job as a regional official during the election process.

Gerard Coyne, currently the West Midlands secretary for the Unite union, is challenging Len McCluskey for the general secretary job.

The news of his suspension broke on Thursday, just as counting began in the leadership election. Polls closed on Wednesday evening and a result is due to be announced next week.

The reason for the suspension is not known. Unite declined BuzzFeed News’ invitation to comment.

Coyne has been temporarily replaced within the union by Des Quinn, who emailed union activists to say Coyne had been suspended.

Quinn wrote: “The investigation is, of course, being conducted under procedure, and it should not be assumed that any offence has necessarily been committed. You will appreciate that it is not possible to comment further on this matter.”

A spokesman for Coyne, via PoliticsHome, said: “The email said Gerard had been suspended from his duties. We don’t know why at this stage and we won’t be commenting further.”

Coyne is seen as a less radical choice compared to the hard-left McCluskey, who is a supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. With 1.4 million members, Unite is not only the country’s biggest union but also Labour’s biggest single donor, providing it with £1.5 million a year.

Last year, Coyne received disciplinary action for giving a speech to a group of centrist Labour MPs without union leadership approval. McCluskey wrote to him on 7 March 2016 to say that the decision to speak was a “serious breach of trust”.

The letter said: “Given that it is the brainchild of Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt who chose not to serve in a Corbyn shadow cabinet, it is clear that there are obvious differences with Unite’s political vision.”


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Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Smith at patrick.smith@buzzfeed.com.
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