Friday was the closing date for receipt of ballots in the UNISON General Secretary election. This has certainly been an election unlike any other, having taken place during a global pandemic which has had dramatic implications for the functioning of our trade union.
Against (certainly my) expectations, there was a significant increase in the total number of branch nominations compared to the previous election, reversing a downward trend (which had matched a gradual reduction in the number of branches since the original process of branch merger in the mid-1990s). It will be interesting to see if the downward trend in turnout of members to vote in the election has also been reversed (we must certainly hope that it has).
In the absence of as many opportunities for in-person campaigning (leaflet drops outside or in workplaces for example) online campaigning has taken on an importance in this General Secretary election which it has never previously had (but may continue to have in future?) I myself, was proud to support my friend and comrade, Paul Holmes, and to speak at one of his online rallies.
We won’t know the result of the election until the New Year, and no one can say truthfully that they are certain of the result given the unprecedented circumstances in which the election has taken place. However, if is true that Christina McAnea (who didn’t want to be called the continuity candidate) got by far the largest number of nominations, and that the candidate with the most nominations has previously gone on to win the election.
It is also true that a great number of leading activists and officials who were not persuaded that it was important to elect a woman as UNISON General Secretary five years ago seem to have come round to that point of view now, and that - taken together with the presence on the ballot paper of three (male) candidates all (in their different ways) to the left of the apparent frontrunner - circumstances appear likely to favour a repeat of the outcome in which the candidate with the most nominations goes on to win.
In these circumstances, the fact that there appear to have been numerous instances of breaches of the election procedures online by supporters of candidate McAnea may give the Returning Officer (who has the power to order a rerun of the election) a bit of a headache. I won’t here go into the large number of breaches of the procedures at branch level, but I will remark that the scandalous misuse of the national website on behalf of the National Retired Members Committee (and therefore by UNISON) was far from being an isolated case of online misbehaviour by national - as opposed to branch - officials.
The culture of UNISON is, regrettably, that rules are seen as something to be imposed upon those upon whom the ruling clique of the Union wish to impose them, and not really something that supporters of that clique need to pay too much attention to. Whether the impact of that culture in this case this will mean that this General Secretary election has to be rerun will depend upon the extent of breaches of procedure which are found to have taken place, as well as the likelihood that such breaches would have altered the result.
Whatever the outcome of the complaints which must inevitably follow from the breaches of election procedures, it is to be hoped that supporters of the candidates who stood for change in this General Secretary election can find a way to cooperate in next year's elections to the National Executive Council.