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GMB general secretary election: A fighting, socialist leadership needed
GMB members in the Socialist Party
The GMB general trade union has begun the election process for a new general secretary. It is a year since the toxic environment around previous general secretary Tim Roach was exposed, and it is no accident that his regime opposed Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party.
This did not reflect the broad opinion of the activists within the union. The union bureaucracy's complete control was shown in the weeks after the GMB conference that endorsed Corbyn unanimously, yet GMB headquarters provided organisational support to the right wing in undermining his leadership.
In 2011, the GMB leadership, along with those of the Trade Union Congress and Unison, played the leading role in ending the public sector pensions struggle, just weeks after two million workers went on strike together.
No lessons learned
The three candidates in the election are senior officers: Rehana Azam, national secretary; Giovanna Holt, senior organiser; and Gary Smith, Scottish secretary. It would appear in the statements of all three candidates that no lessons have been learned. They speak of promises of change but have no strategy or politics to explain how we got here, where we are now and how we move into the future.
The union needs to democratise in order to enable transparency and accountability of the leadership. This means that there should be a healthy internal environment for debate providing the determination to follow through on decisions made at every level. The undemocratic ban on broad lefts within the GMB must be lifted.
It is clear that the bosses have used the crisis of the pandemic to attack our members' pay and terms and conditions, attempting to remove at a stroke gains that have taken decades to achieve - for example with the infamous 'fire and rehire.'
This is clearly only the beginning - the bosses and their allies in the Tory government will make our class pay for the pandemic and the mountain of debt that is accruing in the years to come. Simply hunkering down and waiting for some kind of 'boss-friendly' Starmer-led Labour party in 2024 is no way forward.
But with a fighting programme, with over 600,000 members, GMB could have a huge impact across the union movement, both industrially and politically. The tenacious struggle by GMB members in British Gas in taking over 40 days of strike action against fire and rehire shows the potential. The union must raise the demand that British Gas be brought back into public ownership.
This raises the need for a political vehicle with pro-worker policies, including demanding that councils refuse to pass on Tory cuts. Union branches should have the right to support candidates who fight on an anti-cuts programme.
The GMB should:
- Oppose all cuts. Withdraw political and financial support for MPs or local councillors who advocate or who are prepared to implement these cuts at national and local level, and support anti-cuts candidates instead
- Demand that Labour local authorities table no-cuts budgets
- Oppose our members paying for the Covid-19 crisis. We must campaign for workers' control over workplace safety. The whole union apparatus should be mobilised to defend local representatives who are victimised by their employer
- Fight all workplace closures and redundancies and call for nationalisation under democratic workers' control to protect jobs and livelihoods
- Democratise the union with an annual policy conference of branch delegates to set national strategy, and district and regional committees of lay representatives to forge links locally between the different sections of the union
- Recognise that the union is an important part of the broader labour movement and should seek to coordinate united action with other unions to enhance industrial power
In The Socialist 7 April 2021: