On 11 June, the results of the Unison National Executive Council (NEC) elections will be announced. The outcome will have ramifications for the whole of the Labour and trade union movement in Britain.
At stake is the leadership of the biggest union in the country. This will also have a big influence on the direction that the Labour Party will travel in coming years.
The choice is clear: either Unison’s incoming NEC will continue with more of the same lukewarm responses to Tory austerity, pay freezes, and the ever growing threat of privatisation in the NHS; or, in the event of a left victory, it will take a big step in the direction of becoming a powerful and militant force – one worthy of its members.
In recent years, Unison NEC elections have been somewhat quiet. In fact, in 2019, 24 of the 67 seats weren’t even contested.
That has radically changed. Some 56 left candidates are standing this time around. Some are even standing in seats that haven’t been contested for ten years.
Left candidates are standing under the banner #TimeforRealChange. They have built on the excellent campaign that Paul Holmes ran in the Unison general secretary election. Paul received some 45,000 votes, despite the fact that the left vote was split.
Thankfully, sectarian organisations have only managed to cobble together a tiny handful of candidates – although they could split the left vote in a couple of seats. Such is the price of short-sighted prestige politics.
The left campaign has benefitted from a dynamic social media presence, which has produced some excellent video and other materials. This is particularly important, given COVID restrictions.
This dynamism also reflects the involvement of new layers of active workers, especially young workers, who have added an extra dimension to the campaign.
Should the left win the election, it will send a shockwave through the labour movement. Unison has traditionally stood on the right when it comes to the trade unions and the Labour Party – although pressure from the rank and file resulted in the union backing Jeremy Corbyn in both leadership elections.
A left Unison NEC would see new representatives elected onto the Labour NEC. This would mark a sea change in the party, shifting the balances of forces against Starmer and the right wing.
For too long the Unison bureaucracy has been able to rely on a passive leadership that doesn’t challenge the full-time officials. This leadership has often failed to take a lead, and has simply gone along with a failed industrial strategy.
This has seen the issue of low-pay get far worse over the decades. Unison’s bureaucracy has shied away from taking on the government, and has always taken the path of least resistance.
In the face of the tsunami of austerity that the Tories will unleash in the wake of the pandemic, Unison needs a leadership that is prepared to fight against every attack on our members, and against every cut to the communities we serve.
This requires a leadership that will democratise the union from top to bottom; that will make full-time officials accountable to the membership; and that is prepared to use its political weight to fight for socialist policies in the Labour Party.
There’s not long to go, with the ballot for the NEC elections ending on 29 May. Every vote counts.
Socialist Appeal has fought for many years for socialist ideas in the labour movement. We stand fully behind those candidates fighting for a fundamental change – in Unison and beyond.