Gerard Coyne is one of three candidates standing in an election to replace Len McCluskey as Unite’s general secretary
For jobs, pay and conditions across our construction industry, Unite the Union needs real change.
Following nominations from a host of branches and workplaces, I am standing to be general secretary of Unite. I aim to represent all our members in the construction industry, and to work with them to build a member-led union that is properly resourced and focused on the issues that matter to members.
From accelerating world-leading infrastructure such as HS2 and Hinkley Point C, to charting a course to cleaner and more sustainable buildings that help cut carbon, the demand for construction is growing. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) believes that close to 220,000 more workers will be needed by 2025.
To grasp these opportunities, Unite members need the right support from their trade union. The priority must be jobs, pay and conditions, above all else. Getting this right requires us first to listen. That’s why I’ve spent the last few months on a virtual tour talking to members.
Fight against ‘bad bosses’
I understand the need to tackle the huge skills shortage that the construction industry is facing. As many workers retire, others require retraining and young people are looking for a way in. And I share the desire for greater diversity and inclusion across construction to make it truly representative of our population.
“Our union has spent far too long looking at the wrong issues, losing members and being distracted by the day-to-day whims of Westminster politics”
I also want to keep up the fight against bad bosses, who look to exploit workers through insidious practices like fire and rehire, or are undermining once-proud industries like British Steel.
But to do all of this in a rapidly changing economy, Unite must first change itself.
Our union has spent far too long looking at the wrong issues, losing members and being distracted by the day-to-day whims of Westminster politics. As the only candidate who isn’t a senior full-time officer of Unite, only I seem to see this.
For too long, members have been losing out. The construction of a new hotel and conference centre complex, at the cost for members close to £100m, has taken priority over the lived experiences of construction workers in recent years.
This isn’t on – Unite is a trade union, not a property developer.
The to-do list
For me, trade unionism has always been about making a practical difference to jobs, pay and conditions. I’d start as general secretary by freezing subs for two years, to clean up Unite’s finances and give members better value for money from day one. Then I’d properly invest in skills and training to equip our members to build the industries of the future, including clean growth. I’d introduce a new £10m Unite skills fund to help construction workers and their families gain the real skills – including apprenticeships and retraining – that they need.
And I’d restore a laser-like focus on putting Unite’s legal, financial and industrial muscle behind workers. We need to make a proper stand against the bad practices that are creeping into the construction industry, like fire and rehire, insecure work and long working hours, with an organised, zero-tolerance policy.
The pandemic has also fundamentally changed the way we work together – keeping connected is more important than ever before. I’ll revamp our digital profile to drag Unite into the 21st century, and empower our reps and branches with more secure IT equipment, training and better legal support. Our members – including those on site – will also benefit from online and phone support 24 hours a day.
Unite members from across the construction industry have a clear choice in the election of the next general secretary. For their future jobs, pay and conditions – and to grasp the opportunities around the corner in construction – I ask them to be bold and back real change.