Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Saturday, September 12, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - a three horse race?

With a fortnight to go until the close of the nominating period in the UNISON General Secretary election three candidates have already secured enough nominations to be on the ballot papers which will be issued to members at the end of October. For those who want to gauge how candidates have performed at the nomination stage compared to previous elections, here are the figures for branch nominations in the past two elections; 


Branch Nominations 2015

Branch Nominations 2010

Dave Prentis



Heather Wakefield



John Burgess



Paul Holmes



Roger Bannister




Prediction is a risky business – and the total number of branch nominations this year is least predictable of all perhaps – but I would hazard a guess that it is now quite possible that, whilst none of the candidates are likely to secure the numbers of branch nominations previously won by the incumbent General Secretary all three of them may end up doing at least as well as any other previous candidate.


Christina McAnea’s campaign claim over 100 branch nominations as well as the nominations of the Health Service Group and three Regions (Northern Ireland, Northern and East Midlands). Paul Holmes is well beyond the 25 branch nominations required to make the ballot paper and is probably now much nearer 50, having also been nominated by the Local Government Service Group (the largest service group in the Union). Roger McKenzie’s campaign is also well past 25 branches now. Whilst Christina’s support from most of what’s left of “team Dave” might be thought to make her the front runner, the energy and enthusiasm seems greater elsewhere. Paul’s campaign is running a series of online meetings targeting groups of Regions and Service Groups, and Roger is inviting contributions from members to provide the detail of a “crowdsourced” manifesto.


A fourth campaign is still being pursued – Hugo Pierre is still seeking nominations even though he did not secure the support he sought from other comrades on the left in the Union.


Hugo is claiming just thirteen branch nominations thus far. This puts him half way to the twenty-five branch nominations required to make it on to the ballot paper. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that he will make it, but his supporters are clearly getting a bit desperate – as my old friend Glenn Kelly has taken to the pages of “the Socialist” not just to report upon the election campaign but also to attack the candidacy of Paul Holmes, on the grounds that he is currently suspended by his employer and by UNISON because (Glenn claims) of allegations of bullying and harassment.


This really is quite a scandalous attack from one socialist upon another. There is nothing new in UNISON activists facing allegations of bullying from the employer – and (in some cases at least) being supported by UNISON to respond to such allegations. Glenn himself knows what it is like to face unjust treatment from an employer – and, as Bill Mullins put it twenty years ago, “Socialist Party members pride themselves on coming to the aid of any worker being victimised by the bosses.” Except this time to the aid of Paul Holmes perhaps?


As to the suggestion in Glenn’s report that Paul is currently “being suspended by… …the union for allegations of bullying and harassment” it is not just that this is untrue – it is that Glenn, being knowledgeable about the UNISON Rule Book in general and Rule C.7.4 in particular, will know that it cannot be true. It is quite remarkable – and utterly disgraceful - that the Socialist Party should resort to deliberate untruths in order to try to undermine what is the campaign of the first rank and file candidate to secure the nomination of a National Service Group in order to bolster the struggling campaign of their own candidate.


Hugo does however also now have the endorsement of the National Black Members’ Committee (NBMC). The national committees of UNISON self-organised groups do not have nominating rights in the General Secretary election (and therefore do not benefit from the exemption from the general rule against the use of UNISON resources for campaign activity which permits nominating bodies to explain their nominations to the members they represent), but Hugo’s supporters will nevertheless be justifiably pleased with this development. The NBMC decision will seem all the more remarkable to those who remember the whole history of what has come to be known as the “Defend the Four” story.


Informed observers, who might otherwise be taken aback by the news that the NBMC has endorsed a candidate who is a member of the Socialist Party, will, however, notice that the national officer servicing the Committee was – albeit briefly – a prospective candidate in the General Secretary election. Now that she is no longer a candidate, there being only two Black candidates still in the running – including the most senior Black official in UNISON – Hugo’s supporters won’t have been the only campaign team toasting the NBMC decision. Others may well have been just as pleased.


It may be that the real significance of Hugo Pierre’s candidacy is the damage that it could do to other candidates in what looks (for the moment) very much like a three horse race.


That said, Hugo is procedurally and constitutionally entitled to continue to seek nominations and his supporters are quite within their rights to promote his candidacy – this needs to be an election fought on the basis of mutual respect, and I am confident that the Holmes campaign will not respond in kind to the disgraceful attacks from Glenn Kelly in the Socialist, any more than supporters of Roger McKenzie will respond in kind to the attacks upon his supporters on the National Executive Council (NEC) which he has been right to call out in the run up to the NEC meeting which will agree its nomination.


Let’s hope for no egregious misbehaviour in this General Secretary election!

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