Sunday, June 27, 2010

Debate on the left in UNISON following the General Secretary election

Roger Bannister wrote to the UNISON United Left email list to express the following views;

Dear Comrades

I have seen Paul Holmes' letter, and one posted by Caroline Bedale on the Health Activists mailing list. Whilst both letters refer to the total left vote, my votes plus Paul's together, neither of them address the issues that dominated the debate on the left prior to, and during the election, namely the divided left and the issue of the Labour Party.

During the run up to the elections I was put under great pressure to stand down by the UUL, latterly on the basis of Paul getting more nominations than I did. As I pointed out at the time, this strategy flies in the face of the facts clearly established in previous General Secretary elections, (2005 and 1995), that for the left, Branch nominations are no true indication of grass roots support. This is because the nomination process is activist dominated, whereas the election is open to all members, and any serious trade union activist has to have a realsitic assessment of the varying gap between the consciousness of the activists and the rank and file. In both these elections I had less nominations than other left candidates, but achieved significantly higher votes in the elections. (See attachment with previous results.)

Again, flying in the face of established facts, clearly demonstrated in last year's National Executive Council elections, the failure of the UUL to have an unequivocal call for disaffiliation from the Labour Party is a vote loser amongst left-looking rank and file members. Why else would UUL members lose seats whilst Socialist Party members, clearly calling to break the link, gain seats?

The assumption that by having an organisation confers the mantle of the "Left" on the UUL is obviously erroneous. The UUL reflects only a narrow body of left opinion in UNISON, and most ordinary members have never heard of its existence.

Although it will be a painful process, the UUL must make an honest assessment of the situation in the light of the election result. The votes clearly show that it was wrong for the UUL to split the left vote by standing a candidate, and that the programme of the UUL does not attract sufficient support from rank and file members.

Failure to do this will once again put left success in next year's NEC elections at risk, and will consolidate the right wing hold on the union.

Yours sincerely

Roger Bannister

I expressed my response as follows;

I am not convinced that the question of the Labour Party is as central as you say Roger. It certainly won't be central in a year which will be dominated by fighting cuts from the Coalition Government.

Given the low turnout in the General Secretary election I think it fairly foolish to seek to draw profound political conclusions on such a shaky foundation. (And if that were not the case one could observe that you, Roger, picked up 1,200 extra votes compared with 2005 whereas Paul secured nearly 10,000 more votes than I did).

There was of course another election on 6 May in which more UNISON members voted than cast ballots for General Secretary. I am not aware of any persuasive analysis of May's results which supports the view that hostility to Labour from the left was the political choice of many of our members.

I think the lessons of recent UNISON elections (aside from the vital point that we should try to avoid splitting the left vote) is that we need to build up rank and file organisation. To counteract the weight of the union machine we need more activists conscious of the need for rank and file organisation - and acting on that awareness.

Such organisation will be necessary to mobilise against the cuts and these fights provide an opportunity to renew and rejuvenate the activist base of our Union.

No one in the UL would say that the UL we have is the rank and file organisation we need any more than it was, Roger, when you were still a member in 2004.

However the UL is an organisation and retains the unrealised potential to develop both into the rank and file organisation we do need and, if that can happen, into a body through which we could strive for the unity of the organised left which we managed to let slip from our grasp over the first few years of the century.

Roger, in common with many others on this list, I have voted for you in previous elections. You are the highest profile leftwinger on our NEC.

What are you proposing as an approach to building rank and file organisation and developing unity?

The door was left open when you departed from the UL in 2004. Your political co-thinkers in PCS and UNITE participate in broader rank and file organisations both of which also include Labour left-wingers in their ranks.

Your experience and record mean that you have a lot to teach our activists. I think that contribution would best be made as part of a unified rank and file organisation and that the UL is at present the available framework to develop such an organisation.

If you feel that circumstances in UNISON are so different from PCS and UNITE that you should not join forces with the UL then I think you owe it to our members to spell out what your positive proposals are?




nick venedi said...

It is of course a fact that many of us have different views on how to approach election campaigns and what tactics to use. Unfortunately we all think that our own way of doing things is right.

I publicly supported one of the 3 left wing candidates, namely Dave Prentis, as he has the only record of achievement. I would have looked at the options in a different way had we produced a woman candidate that came from the left.

There is no doubt in my mind that the left of the left put out a negative message to 'potential supporters' by showing a clear inability to select one candidate and show very publicly that the disagreement on finding such a person was far more important than the aspired 'policies'

The left of the left have, in a way, forced those on the left to rally around an existing leader (D Prentis) mainly because of the display of what is seen as profound disunity and arrogance.

At the end of the day Paul Holmes is seen as a nice guy who makes reasonable speeches but has image issues and a very low profile outside his own branch. Roger is more well known. The UL shows a certain degree of arrogance (something that always pissed me off!) by stating publicly that the door is always opened for Roger to come back to the UL? This is somewhat odd and an independent spirit like myself would think that since Roger got many more votes it would be him making the gestures?

I have been an avid supporter of yourself Jon but you got this one wrong. You should thank Marsha for all the work she has done under difficult (if not impossible) circumstances but she should not be asked to deliver the undeliverable. Your failure comes from not being able to find a candidate from the left of the left. It was also arrogant to suggest that the current Secretary is not on the left?? Cameron thinks he is??

Anonymous said...

Many of Rogers votes were from Tories including one high profile Tory NEC member

because they want to disaffiliate from the Labour Party

This from a man who stood on a platform of affiliation to the Labour Party in NALGO