Hugo Pierre, speaking at Socialism 2020, 21st November 2020
Unison general secretary election shows left can win NEC
Socialist Party members in Unison
The result of the Unison general secretary election shows the mood for change in the biggest public sector union. While Christina McAnea, the candidate supported by outgoing general secretary Dave Prentis, has won, the potential has been shown for the union's right wing to be defeated. This must be the message ahead of the NEC elections, which are due to begin at the start of February.
The election has lifted the lid on the anger and frustration that many members feel at years of retreats by the union leadership against the cuts of successive Tory, ConDem and New Labour governments.
The catastrophic effects of this offensive of austerity and privatisation have been revealed during the Covid pandemic, which has seen the NHS pushed to, and even beyond, its limits.
Last summer, we also saw health workers demonstrating with their masks and PPE for a 15% pay rise to make up for a decade of pay cuts and freezes. But Unison's presence on these protests was through ordinary reps and members because of the total absence of the union officially.
McAnea was the national health officer at the time of the massive 2011 public sector pensions strike. Infamously, after the Prentis leadership, along with the TUC, broke the strike unity by accepting Tory terms, McAnea justified the retreat: "...we always knew this would be a damage-limitation exercise."
However, the combined vote of the three other candidates, who stood against McAnea from the left could have beaten her. Standing for the first time, Socialist Party member and Unison NEC member for the male black members' seat, Hugo Pierre, won a very good vote of over 10,000.
This shows that there was an audience for his fighting, left, industrial and political programme, including demanding that Labour councils refuse to pass on Tory cuts.
Hugo was the only candidate to question the union handing over millions of pounds to Starmer's Labour Party. Given Starmer's refusal to back last week's call of education unions, including Unison, to close schools, and what his Labour leadership has done to Corbyn, many Unison members will increasingly see this as the correct position and will see the need for a real political alternative that fights for workers.
Hugo was the only left candidate to actively propose reaching agreement for a single candidate to oppose the Prentis bloc; and both the others, Roger McKenzie and Paul Holmes - supported by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell respectively - refused to even engage with the discussion that was clearly necessary.
But the lessons must be learned for the forthcoming NEC election, which affords members the opportunity to confront McAnea's leadership with a fighting, national, lay leadership, armed with the militant programme that is particularly necessary now, including leading the fight against the Tory public sector pay freeze.
It is therefore very concerning that there are reports that Holmes' supporters are considering standing against existing Socialist Party NEC members, risking a split in the left vote and thereby strengthening the hand of the right. The Socialist Party calls on the wider left to immediately discuss how a left slate can be put together on the fighting policies that are needed.
Christina McAnea 63,900 (47.7%)
Paul Holmes 45,220 (33.76%)
Roger McKenzie 14,450 (10.79%)
Hugo Pierre 10,382 (7.75%)
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 11 January 2021 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.