Fight austerity, don’t scapegoat migrants: trades unionists respond to Coyne

On Monday 2nd January, Unite West Midlands official Gerard Coyne addressed a Birmingham group of supporters as part of his campaign to take the Unite leadership from Len McCluskey.

He framed the speech around the issue of border control, stating

“There is one principle on which the UK government should not even begin to negotiate. That is over the question of control of our borders… for the many Britons facing insecurity in the job market, who rely on public services such as the NHS and state schools, and who need affordable homes, the presence of a very large number of foreign nationals has added to the pressures they already face at a time of austerity.

Theresa May and other ministers should not wait until Article 50 has been triggered to set out a negotiating position on free movement of labour. They should be saying now, without equivocation, that the issue is non-negotiable. There can be no compromise on the principle of taking back control of our borders.”

Trades Unionists  have experienced first hand the impact of austerity for our members. We have seen wages drop, hours and workload rise, and in some cases safety being put at risk. There has been one group and one group alone to benefit from this attack on the workforce, and that group is the rich, not migrant workers.

At a time when hate crime is rising, with foreign workers increasingly at risk of being attacked on our streets, it is truly irresponsible for Coyne to use his platform to chase populist votes.  Instead of highlighting the lack of investment in our infrastructure and public services, he chose to pander to the scapegoating of migrants. This was a clear betrayal of union members who rely on his leadership in organising to take on the attacks on pay and conditions.

When Trades Unionists allow, or worse, encourage the story to be told that it is migrant workers who destroy jobs and conditions, we do the bosses’ work for them. We only ever win when we have solidarity as workers and fight together for better conditions for all. When we allow groups of workers to be used as scapegoats for the failures of employers and the state, we compete against one another for scraps instead of fighting together for victory.

We therefore condemn Gerard Coyne’s comments in Birmingham as divisive, counterproductive, and dangerous for West Midlands workers.


Rhiannon Lockley (Chair, West Midlands UCU) 

Nicky Downes (Equalities officer, Coventry NUT)

Doug Morgan (President, Birmingham NUT)

Andrew Scattergood (Brigade Chair, West Midlands FBU)

Kirsten Forkert (Higher Education Chair, West Midlands UCU)

Dave Muritu (National Equality Chair and Black Members Rep, UCU)

Lou Harrisen Powis (Assistant Branch Secretary, Sandwell Unison)

Martin Lynch (President, Dudley NUT)

Matt Raine (Branch Secretary, Birmingham University Unison)

Sharon Campion (Joint Branch Secretary, Sandwell Unison)

Pete Jackson (Vice Chair, Birmingham South PCS)

Paul Mackney (UNITE member, former General Secretary of UCU/Natfhe 1997-2007, President Birmingham TUC 1979-84)

Rick Evans (Unite WM)

Chris Spence (CWU and Unite Community)

Sharon McCourt (Unite Community)

Ruth Rosenau (Unite Community)

Sasha Simic (Shop Steward USDAW C133 branch)

Aaron Bennett (Unite)

Joe Cairns (UNITE COMMUNITY Stoke & North Staffs Branch)

Clare Thomas (Unite)

Charles Regan

Jo McNeil (President Liverpool, NEC and GS candidate, UCU)

Michael Wongsam (Unite Communities)

Rita Wright (Equality regional officer, UCU West Midlands retired members)

Brett Davis (Unite Branch Secretary WM7212)

Nita Sanghera (West Midlands women’s officer, UCU)

Jean Evanson (Division secretary, Shropshire NUT)

Richard Milner (Unite chair, EM/NN14)

David Kersey (Communications Officer, Coventry UNISON)

Dave Wyatt (Wolverhampton UNISON retired member)

Pete Bicknell (Lewisham Southwark College UCU) 

John Baxter (retired UCU member)

Sean Wallis (UCL UCU vice president; UCU NEC member)

Frances Patterson (Retired member of Unison)

Lesley Kane (Open University UCU branch secretary)

Trevor Homer

Carlo Morelli (UCU NEC)

Christopher Denson (Joint Secretary Coventry NUT)

Tony Barnsley (Joint Branch Secretary, Sandwell General UNISON Branch)

Laura Miles (UCU retired member)

Andy Higginbottom (Kingston University UCU Branch Chair)

Carlos Conde Solares (UCU)

Geoff Abbott (UCU)

Elaine White (UCU NEC Women members’ rep)

Bob Jeffery (Campus Convenor, UCU, President, Sheffield TUC)

Sean Vernell (UCU NEC, vice chair Further Education Committee)



Statement also endorsed by Red Labour

All signatures in a personal capacity


If you would like to be added to this statement, please comment with your name, union and union position (if any) below.

To register for the Stand Up To Racism Trades Unions Conference on Saturday 4th February, click here. 



  1. Joseph Cairns

    Joe Cairns UNITE COMMUNITY Stoke & North Staffs Branch.
    Disgraceful comments Mr Coyne, how can members vote for this man, he’s put the integrity of UNITE members at risk here, I shall not be part of any organisations that hold, promotes, or supports these views, I didn’t join unite to have a potential G/S spouting shit like this…..

  2. Clare Thomas

    Clare Thomas Unite.
    Please add my name to this statement. No to blaming migrants and an end to austerity.

  3. Charles Regan

    Please add me to the list. I am appalled by Mr Coyne’s words, and disgusted that he has the support of the likes of Labour First.

  4. Paul Mackney

    I am keen to associate with this statement. Paul Mackney, UNITE member, former General Secretary of UCU/Natfhe 1997-2007, President Birmingham TUC 1979-84

  5. Sean

    Sean Wallis, UCL UCU vice president; UCU NEC member.

    Freedom of movement does not drive down wages, just as Irish navvies were not responsible for Victorian poverty!

    There has been open borders between the Irish Republic and Britain for decades.


  6. timetothinkwenotme

    John Baxter, retired UCU member
    Nasty UKIP clownish anti elite rhetoric in his speech about rich getting services like car washes from Europeans willing to work for low wages when slavery based on people trafficking is rife.

  7. Dave Wyatt UNISON retired member but still 100% saying refugees are welcome here , racists are not.

    What a disgrace that a so called trade unionist purports to represent views of ‘his membership’ by unleashing a racist attack on migrants. He sounds like he belongs more in UKIP than a trade union. Hope that McCluskey stands up against such views and does not move rightwards as is more likely. UN ITE members need to challenge the views of Coyne and not suffer his bigotry in silence.

  8. Dave Wyatt UNISON retired member but still 100% saying refugees are welcome here , racists are not.

    Please add me to list.

  9. dkcov2003

    We need a passionate debate shaped by the gross and growing inequality in the U.K. Not one shaped by the agenda of the racist tabloids. David Kersey – Communications Officer, Coventry UNISON. (Pc)

  10. Nita Sanghera

    A product of the incessant right wing rhetoric that is creeping into many areas of our society. Stand up and question anyone that has these, very wrong and divisive views; by standing together and speaking with one voice we can make change happen. Nita Sanghera, Women’ Officer, UCU

  11. Rita Wright

    Union members and leaders come from the masses, to fight for the masses. This does not mean a particular section of people. Stand down if you do not comprehend this. Rita Wright, Equality regional officer, Retired members UCU.

  12. Trevor Homer

    This chaps comments strike me as divisive as Enoch Powell – he is a dangerous populis twho has grabbed on to the most base common denominator for his own benefit. Disgraceful

  13. Carlo Morelli

    Carlo Morelli UCU
    It is not the freedom of movement of labour that has driven down wages it is employers and government. The BA cabin crew strikes announced today show how to stop cuts.

  14. Tony Barnsley, Joint Branch Secretary, Sandwell General UNISON Branch

    Please add my name in a personal capacity. Our class needs unity not division! Racist scapegoating lets those with power who create job insecurity and low wages off the hook.

  15. Geoff Abbott UCU

    We have to reject the myth that refugees and immigrants are a strain on public services and other resources. Cuts are deliberately inflicted on ordinary people in the name of austerity by the government and the bosses. Its our job as trade unionists to fight both austerity and racism!

  16. Alan

    Alan Harrison, retired member UCU, formerly AUT local president Brunel University and senior rep for MSF (predecessor union of Unite) GEC Plessey Telecommunications, Coventry.
    This is disgraceful – “our” borders indeed! What about “our” right of free movement?

  17. jeremy Langford

    Please add my name. Jeremy Langford Unite retired members branch West Mids5203
    Coyne’s statement is an insult to the tradition of the union and the thousands of immigrant workers who have joined our movement. It is unity against the employers that will defend the interests of all workers not scapegoating foreign migrants.

  18. Jackie Lowe

    I am disappointed and saddened by Mr Coyne’s approach to winning an election although not surprised. This is a typical message sent out by those who want to play to the lowest level and who have no essence of public responsibility to our society. I shall vote for the present post holder.

  19. Billie Gibson, Chair, UNISON Dudley General Branch

    The problems we have are it caused by ordinary workers, wherever they may be from . We must not scapegoat our own comrades, we must fight against the insidious creeping agenda which destroys the rights of workers everywhere.

    A principled stand against the ever present curse of market imperialism must be fought tooth and nail .

    Workers of the world unite….!

  20. Kasey carver

    Kasey Carver, Secretary, High Peak Unite Community. He must know that the real problem is that the huge economic bonus resulting from immigration is not passed down to the services that bear the cost of hosting migrants – a bit like a company getting their work force to pay out of their own salaries for an expert brought in to turn a company round with the directors getting all the profits that result. Deeply cynical position chasing the uninformed vote !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s