It is the duty of left activists to defend Paul Holmes, the democratically-elected Unison President, who is facing a witch-hunt by the employers and union bureaucrats. Unfortunately, however, sectarian elements are aiding this victimisation.

It is the duty of left activists to defend Paul Holmes, the democratically-elected Unison President, who is facing a witch-hunt by the employers and union bureaucrats. Unfortunately, however, sectarian elements are aiding this victimisation.

The left victory in Unison is potentially a game-changer for the whole trade union movement. In the past, Unison leaders played the role of a massive brake, frustrating united action across the public sector. Now this blockage can at last be swept away.

This is crucial at a time for the trade union movement, when workers are under attack, facing massive challenges across the private and public sectors.

This transformation is the reason behind the attempt by the employers and union bureaucrats to victimise Paul Holmes, the standard bearer of the left in Unison, and the union’s elected President.

The employers and union bureaucracy are terrified of this left victory and what it means. That is the reason for Paul’s more-than-two-year suspension from Unison, only recently lifted under pressure, and the attempts by his employer – right-wing Labour controlled Kirklees Council – to sack him.

That is why Paul deserves our full support. For any trade unionist worth their salt, it is a basic principle to give support to a fellow worker who is being victimised. But this battle means much more.

The victory of the left in Unison, epitomised by Paul, is a victory for the left across the trade union movement. For the first time, it opens up the potential for united coordinated action of all unions facing this employers’ offensive. 

The left’s grip in Unison is not secure, however. We therefore need to defeat this coordinated effort by the employers and right-wing bureaucrats to undermine this victory.


Unfortunately, this fight has not been made easier by the actions of the Socialist Party. Rather than give Paul the support he deserves, they have attempted to undermine him for their own ends. 

Paul is facing a witch-hunt from employers and bureaucrats. Yet in the week that he is being threatened with the sack, the Socialist Party (SP) has decided to stand their member, Angela Waller, against him for branch secretary – a position he has held for more than thirty years.

The employers and bureaucrats, including the right wing in the branch, must be rubbing their hands.

Instead of supporting Paul, who has been treated disgracefully, the Socialist Party are undermining him.

This is a time to close ranks and fight off this witch-hunt, not to fuel it.

On Wednesday, Paul will find out if he is to be sacked by his employer, after going through a torturous farce of a disciplinary hearing. It will have been nine weeks since the hearing closed. As the #DefendPaulHolmes campaign stated: “People being sentenced for murder would not wait this long.”

When the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN), a body heavily influenced by the Socialist Party, was written to for their support, this request was refused. On 25 October 2021, they wrote:

“Thanks for your email.

“We aren't aware of the details of the charges against Paul because of confidentiality but we understand that the complainants may include a number of Unison activists.

“Therefore, while we have a continuing proud record in fighting victimisation, we think that we aren't in a position to form a judgement on this case at this stage.”

A founding principle of trade unionism is that an injury to one is an injury to all. Now is not the time to hide behind ‘confidentiality’.

The left victory in Unison, a crucial victory for our movement, is under attack, starting with Paul Holmes. Hopefully those unions involved in NSSN will make their voices heard.

We cannot allow sectarian interests to undermine this victory. We certainly cannot be giving support to employers or bureaucrats. On the contrary, the left should be united in supporting the left victory in Unison, which is our victory.


The Socialist Party should do the honourable thing and withdraw its candidate against Paul. To continue with this challenge only plays into the hands of all those who want to return Unison to right-wing control.

Unfortunately, the Socialist Party has a record of placing its own sectarian interests above the interests of Unison members and the movement generally.

Instead of uniting with the left in Unison, in the Unison general secretary election, they stood their own candidate against Paul Holmes, which disastrously split the vote and shamefully contributed to the victory of a right-winger.

And when Paul stood for President last June, the SP stood another candidate against him, which again risked handing the position to a right-winger.

We stand at a pivotal juncture for the trade unions – one that demands united action in defence of our members. We need to build a left united front in the unions. This is not the time for sectarian antics.

The present ballot for branch secretary in Kirklees finishes on 11 February 2022. It is not too late for the Socialist Party to do the right thing and support Paul Holmes.

Refusal to do so will only serve to damage the left victory in Unison, which would have consequences for the whole trade union movement.