The nomination period for General Secretary of the big public services union Unison closed on 25 September. Four candidates qualified to enter the ballot (28 October to 27 November): two rank-and-file candidates, Paul Holmes and Hugo Pierre, and two assistant general secretaries, Roger McKenzie and Christina McAnea. Workers’ Liberty is supporting Paul Holmes.
McAnea, the continuity establishment candidate, has 200 nominations and the support of the National Executive Committee (NEC), won narrowly over Paul Holmes, after a last minute change of voting system, plus Scotland, Wales and a number of English regions. She has a similar number of nominations to the outgoing General Secretary Dave Prentis at his last election in 2015, when he received 49% of the vote as the incumbent.
Also like Dave Prentis in 2015, McAnea’s campaign seems hell-bent on maximum use of bureaucratic advantage and regular breaches of election rules. At least one branch has been flouting the rules by publicising the NEC and Service Groups’ support for McAnea. The Unison national website has publicised an invitation to retired members (who make up an eighth of Unison’s membership) to hear from only one of the candidates, McAnea, at their online conference in October. The July issue of the members’ magazine had two pages of self-promotion for the assistant general secretary candidates.
There is reason to believe that Paul Holmes has a stronger chance this time than John Burgess when he ran on similar lines in 2015. Holmes has nominations from 106 branches, the largest region (North West), South East region, and the largest Service Group (Local Government) — significantly more nominations that any previous rank-and-file candidate in Unison’s history. John McDonnell is playing a central part in his campaign, and he has the support of much of the Labour and far left
Hugo Pierre of the Socialist Party has put out a call for the “left candidates”, including McKenzie, to meet, stating that he will withdraw if they can unite behind a common platform.
Although he has the support of Corbyn and some left activists, McKenzie is, in practice, not a candidate of the left. He has supported Dave Prentis’s leadership throughout the last 20 years of failures to oppose cuts, decline in pay and conditions and drastic curtailment of democracy in Unison.
A united left candidature should certainly not be pre-conditioned on McKenzie’s cooperation. We call on Hugo Pierre, who only just got the minimum required number of nominations (25), to withdraw in favour of Holmes.
The background of the Covid pandemic, the usual low turnout in these elections (10% in 2015), and the abject failure of the current leadership to challenge the government, mean a dynamic campaign could stir up new activity in the union.
Paul Holmes has proposed policies to shift the power balance in the union. The campaign needs to centre on issues immediately relevant to members, including a 15% rise in NHS pay and a national strategy of insourcing. It should aim to build a network of activists for change whoever wins the election.
Paul’s suspension from the union and by his employer is bound to be raised during the campaign. We are not aware of the details of his suspension, but we have asked Paul to make a statement to clarify the situation, when he can, and for all allegations against Paul and his fellow stewards to be investigated fully and fairly.