Industrial  •  UNISON union

Unison left splits after election defeat

11 February 2021

The Unison general secretary election in many ways came out as predicted: Christine McAnea, the right’s continuity candidate, won; the turnout was embarrassingly low at 10 per cent; and the left fall out in bitter incriminations.

But this time the closer margins of defeat, reflecting the missed opportunity raised by the absence of Dave Prentis, the incumbent for 20 years, have caused the left to run in opposite directions.

McAnea, as well as being the first female general secretary of this 80 per cent female union, was the first to win on a minority of the votes (48 per cent) in the first-past-the-post election. From this, some have deduced that if all the other candidates were one candidate… the “left” could have won!

This piece of formal logic, put forward among others by Novara Media’s Charlie Macnamara, lumps in assistant general secretary for 10 years Roger McKenzie with rank and file members Paul Holmes and Hugo Pierre.

Roger, while certainly to the left of Christine, has not lifted a finger to stop the numerous sell-outs over the past decade, while pocketing the 80-grand salary. Compared with either Paul or Hugo, who both stood pledging to take only a workers’ wage and on a record of struggle, Roger would have taken the union in the opposite direction.

Broad left

But the election has split the anti-bureaucratic left as well. The SWP and Paul Holmes’ camp has effectively expelled the Socialist Party, of which Hugo Pierre is a leading member, from United Action Broad Left – or rather by dissolving the latter.

The Broad Left held online hustings last year to pick a unitary candidate for the general secretary election. But there was no vote – the decision to support Paul was taken behind closed doors by the respective leaders of the various factions in UABL.

So when Hugo stood, as is his formal right, the rest expelled him. Now there is likely to be two sets of candidates in the approaching NEC elections, with the right likely to make gains.

In fact the left should be more concerned about the other figure: 10 per cent. The low turnout cannot be put down to the lockdowns. It is standard for Unison. On the other hand there have been large zoom membership meetings to organise walkouts in schools, campaigns for PPE in hospitals, strikes in local government.

The problem is these activists, including new ones thrown up by the health and economic crises as the unfold, are not linked up in local groups, where they can learn how to launch strikes with or without the officials’ support, where they can link up nationally and lay the basis for a rank and file led union, which dissolves the bureaucracy and fights the bosses and their state.

As a first step we call on the SWP and Socialist Party to agree a joint slate on a common programme to build the most effective campaign in the NEC elections.


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