Saturday, June 13, 2009

Putting the Swingometer to one side...

The results of the UNISON NEC elections did not produce the increase in numbers on the left for which I and others had hoped. In general the results offer little comfort to any of us - regardless of politics - who want to see greater engagement of trade union members in our movement.

The turnout - around 7% in most constituencies - is so low that it is unwise to draw conclusions from the results about the views of UNISON members in general. With these levels of turnout the results can only tell you a little about the degree to which different candidates were able to organise and mobilise support. They can tell you nothing at all about the 90%+ of our members who did not participate.

If we had a swingometer it wouldn't tell us much.

Some high profile NEC members lost their seats, both on the left (where, for example, incumbent candidates in the health service group lost their seats) and amongst the establishment (with two leading Committee Chairs defeated). Other leading NEC members hung on to their seats by narrow margins (first time candidate Alec McFadden came close in the North West Region for example).

In general it would be impossible to read into these results any vote of confidence in the line currently being taken by the UNISON leadership. Nor, however can those of us on the left generally conclude that we have given sufficient confidence to activists and members that we have a credible alternative. This, I think, was the factor that I failed to take sufficiently into account in anticipating a change in the political balance on the NEC which has not really emerged.

Those candidates of the left who are members of the Socialist Party performed particularly well. This probably reflects both a determined and effective approach to election work and the current popularity of the vigorously "anti-Labour" approach reflected in the election addresses of those candidates. Candidates prepared to own up to a belief in fighting for our policies from within the Labour Party almost certainly cost ourselves votes and support in the current climate. (I think we can already see our leadership distancing themselves from the Labour Party and preparing for the coming Conservative Government).

I will be interested to hear the views of other comrades at Conference over the coming week, and will reflect further on the implications of the results. One point that needs to be considered is the large number of our members who do bother to vote but do not then use all of the (often many) votes which they have at their disposal. Is this because we fail to explain adequately how many votes members have? Or is it a reflection of the personal votes of individual candidates drawn from members who are indifferent between other candidates?

Given the very low turnout in these elections it would be very difficult for the Union to conduct any opinion polling to get at answers to these questions. I think we have to work this out for ourselves - and that those of us on the left who believe that UNISON needs a change of direction need to debate how we develop our organisation and persuade members to support socialist leadership.

Congratulations to all those who won and commiserations to all those who did not win. Having myself suffered a far more ignominious defeat in an internal UNISON election than any of the defeated candidates in this year's NEC elections I know that comrades who did not win will bounce back! (Go to p8 of the document in that last link if you want to remind yourself of the results of the last General Secretary election...)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anyone who screeches about a so-called Israeli "genocide" in Gaza is not a "socialist" but an ignorant, mouth-foaming antisemite.