Paul Holmes’ election campaign to be general secretary of Unison has really shifted up a gear. As the left candidate, he has already gained well over the 25 nominations that are needed to qualify for the ballot.
One of these came from the Birmingham local government branch – the biggest local government branch in Britain, with over 13,500 members.
In addition, he has just won the support from the union’s Local Government Service Group Executive. The local government sector is the largest service group in Unison, with 650,000 members. Given this nomination, its executive will be writing to all its branches explaining why they have nominated Paul.
Shifting the terrain
Although there is a long way to go, these developments constitute an important milestone and auger well for the campaign. It certainly puts Paul Holmes in the frame to win the election.
The significance of such a victory for the labour and trade union movement will be ground-breaking, shifting the whole terrain to the left.
For years, Unison has been the main prop of the right wing throughout the labour and trade union movement. A win for Paul Holmes would severely undermine the grip of the right wing. This is a real possibility – the first real opportunity of this kind since the union was created. This would obviously constitute a massive victory for the left everywhere.
We must not underestimate what is at stake in this election for general secretary. That is why the right wing, the union bureaucracy, and the whole establishment will be working against him.
The established right wing in the union is backing assistant general secretary Christine McAnea. She is determined to continue the Prentis era and keep the union firmly in the grip of the right wing.
Paul Holmes is backed by the official left in Unison – Unison Action. He has also been endorsed as the Broad Left candidate.
Another challenger is Roger McKenzie. As with Christine McAnea, he is another assistant general secretary. While he is different from McAnea, his track record leaves a lot to be desired. He claims he is the “change” candidate, but there is little evidence of this.
What is important is not what someone says, but what they do. His acceptance of the regime under Dave Prentis for more than ten years doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Some on the left have supported him as the candidate ‘who can win’. However, the same was said in supporting Andy Burnham in the Labour leadership race in 2015. It was Jeremy Corbyn that was considered the ‘no hoper’. But he went on to win the leadership. Surely there is a lesson to be learned here?
Paul Holmes is clearly the rank-and-file socialist candidate. He has pledged not to take the £138,000 general secretary salary plus benefits. Rather than take this obscene amount, Paul will remain on his worker’s wage.
This is very important, given the huge number of low-paid workers in the union who are struggling from week to week. A union general secretary living on a worker’s wage will be far more in touch with the members than someone on £138,000 a year.
In contrast, neither Christine McAnea nor Roger McKenzie have matched this pledge. This speaks volumes.
Unite the left
However, there is another candidate seeking nominations: Hugo Pierre from the Socialist Party. Pierre sought the Broad Left nomination, but failed. Instead, the left nomination went to Paul Holmes.
Rather than backing the official left candidate, the Socialist Party decided to stand independently. If Pierre gets onto the ballot paper, he poses a real danger in splitting the left campaign, as well as the left vote.
In this election, the very future of Unison is at stake. The victory of a socialist candidate would transform the union and change the balance of forces throughout the labour movement.
Hugo Pierre’s candidature can only be seen as a spoiler. By standing, he is placing the interests of his own grouping above the general interests of the labour movement.
This reflects an abandonment of the united front approach in the unions. In this, the Socialist Party is pursuing different policies in different unions, all for their own narrow ends.
We therefore call on the Socialist Party and its members to do the right thing and withdraw their candidate – in the interests of fighting for a unified socialist candidate.
The left have a golden opportunity to win in Unison. But this means giving our full support to Paul Holmes.