The Unison General Secretary election nomination process has begun. There are five candidates, including incumbent General Secretary Dave Prentis.
Workers’ Liberty members and supporters in Unison are backing John Burgess, and so is the majority of the Unison Left NEC caucus. John is Barnet Local Government Branch Secretary; he has an impressive record of leading a series of fights against the so called “easycouncil” in Barnet and in defence of public services.
We encourage all Unison members to nominate John to ensure he reaches the 25 branch nominations needed to get on the ballot (he has 12 at the time of publication).
There is an enormous democratic deficit in Unison that will not be solved just by electing left-wingers to the NEC or as General Secretary.
As part of the election campaign it is important we continue to raise demands including, rank-and-file control of disputes, elected strike committees, defeating the anti-trade union laws, democratising the Labour link and then taking the fight to the Labour Party, pushing for greater branch resources and being creative in our action. John Burgess is on the right side of all these issues.
Dave Prentis, should he be elected, will be 72 when he steps down and will have been General Secretary since 2001 and Deputy General Secretary since 1993. He has consistently presided over a right-wing, undemocratic and arrogant bureaucracy that helped to destroy the 2011 pensions dispute and 2014 pay dispute. The candidature of Heather Wakefield, Unison Head of Local Government shows a split in the bureaucracy. It is not clear exactly what separates the two politically, though each are looking to blame the other for calling off the 2014 pay dispute.
It is disappointing that perennial General Secretary candidate, and Socialist Party member, Roger Bannister, has again insisted on standing despite attempts to find a united left candidate. Meetings of Unison United Left have attempted to agree on a single left candidate. Roger Bannister, Paul Holmes (NEC and Kirklees Branch Secretary), and Karen Reissman (NEC and Socialist Workers Party) all put themselves forward. Roger Bannister insisted that he would stand whatever the outcome of these meetings, thus trying to force the rest of the left to back him.
Reissman won a vote at a very unrepresentative hustings at national conference. However she has received widespread criticism for her role in the SWP's mishandling of a rape case. With the developments with Jeremy Corbyn's campaign for Labour leader, and the SWP's opportunistic support/non-support for Corbyn and the Socialist Party's commitment to still call for disaffiliation, some on the left continued to seek a single left candidate. John Burgess was approached and agreed to stand.
At Unison NEC John received 16 nominating votes to 32 for Dave Prentis, 4 for Roger Bannister, 1 for Hayley Garner ( Southampton’s Branch Secretary), and 0 for Heather Wakefield. John is candidate with the broadest left support.
We have a number of differences with John Burgess, and are also keenly aware that yet again the leading left challengers to Dave Prentis are men in a union that has 80% women members. There was a strong case in this election for a female, left, candidate.
However we think that a campaign that boosts support for the unions's rank-and-file and tackles Union's appealing lack of democracy, will involve a much wider base of the union's membership than is currently engaged.