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From The Socialist newspaper, 3 February 2010

Unison general secretary election: Fighting left challenge needed

Following the announcement of an election for the general secretary of Unison, a meeting of the left in the union took place on 30 January. This was an attempt to reach a consensus on standing one left candidate to confront the incumbent Dave Prentis.

Glenn Kelly

Socialist Party members in Unison want to see one genuine fighting left challenge.

At this point we have three possible options: Socialist Party member and general secretary candidate on three previous occasions, Roger Bannister; Paul Holmes; and Delroy Creary.

The Socialist Party would be happy to stand down if we believed that there was a candidate who would have a better chance of defeating Dave Prentis than Roger Bannister, even if that meant making concessions on our political programme.

We would be prepared to stand aside for Paul Holmes, despite the weakness of his political programme and our disagreements with it, in particular over the issue of the Labour Party.

Outstanding record

Unison conference 2009: Roger Bannister pulls no punches, photo Paul Mattsson

Unison conference 2009: Roger Bannister pulls no punches, photo Paul Mattsson

But our assessment is that Paul Holmes does not have a genuine chance of beating Prentis and we do not believe that he would secure a better vote than Roger Bannister. Roger has a long established record of nationally challenging the bureaucracy on all the key industrial and democratic issues. He has played a key role in building the left and organising against and opposing the witch-hunt of socialists publicly.

Roger and the Socialist Party were the ones to seek to rebuild some left unity by proposing the 'Reclaim the Union' initiative, which even at this stage has achieved the most united electoral challenge to the union bureaucracy for many years.

Roger has secured the highest vote of any left wing challenge in the last three general secretary elections. This has been when other lefts - for example Yunus Bakhsh and Jon Rogers - stood against him and split the left vote.

At the meeting on 30 January we were asked by some to stand down for Paul Holmes, who is standing on the same political programme as Jon Rogers and who is less well known than Jon. This is despite the fact that in the last election Jon came last and was soundly defeated by Roger Bannister.

In the last election a key plank of Roger Bannister's manifesto was a call for 'not a penny more for New Labour' and for a ballot on disaffiliation from New Labour. This was described by some at the meeting as being secondary but it actually reflects the mood of the members and is what is politically required.

Our position has been reaffirmed in the last six months by the results of the last national executive (NEC) elections where Socialist Party members won three more seats. If this had been matched by the rest of the left it would have meant we would now have a left majority on the NEC. Despite Socialist Party members' gains, the left as a whole went backwards in those elections.

Success

In our view it was that success that forced Prentis to, in rhetoric at least, launch an attack on the Labour Party at last year's conference. He repeated the Socialist Party's phrase: "It's time to stop feeding the hand that bites us". This received a rare standing ovation.

He later warned the Labour Link conference of the threat that Socialist Party members posed because of the increase in our NEC seats.

Whilst we accept that not all on the left support our position, this did not stop us agreeing a joint platform for the Reclaim the Union election list in the NEC elections. We are happy to have those discussions again.

Delroy Creary is in favour of a break with New Labour. He put a "yes it's time to leave" position to conference. Paul Holmes is not in favour of breaking the link with Labour. Only last week he stated that he believes that: "it is untenable at the moment for a Unison general secretary not to be a member of the Labour Party".

Paul made a point of telling the left meeting about how he came under pressure from the bureaucracy to speak for them against the motion from the Bromley local government branch at the 2008 union conference.

This called for consultation with the members on whether we should continue to fund Labour.

Whilst it true Paul did not speak for the bureaucracy at the conference, he did not even try and speak in favour of the motion - a position which he now says he holds. This was the key debate of that conference.

Someone who aspires to be the leader of the union and the voice of the left has to do more than resist the call of the bureaucracy to back them on key issues. We expect them to be leading the charge.

Affiliation to the Labour Party

We note that Paul has now said that he is in favour of a special conference on affiliation to the Labour Party and for that conference to make a recommendation to the members in a ballot.

We welcome Paul's move now on something that has been an issue in the union for many years.

The problem for us is that Paul would undoubtedly be calling for a 'stay in Labour' vote in that conference and ballot.

In our opinion this runs counter to the mood of the members and is why Prentis and co have been forced to make noises in our direction whilst being determined not to allow a ballot to take place.

But let us repeat, even with this significant political weakness, if Paul had a better chance of beating Prentis than Roger, we would be prepared to stand down.

But on the basis of Roger's long standing record industrially and politically, his defence of and organising of the left in the union, his previous votes in elections and his position in the union, our view is that Roger is the better candidate. Paul Holmes and Delroy Creary should stand down in the interests of having one candidate with the best record and the best chance of defeating Prentis.

Aims of the campaign

Programme

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