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5 May 2021

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Unison: We need a fighting, democratic, member-led union to stop the austerity attacks

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Paula Mitchell, Socialist Party executive committee

Unison union members want change. After over a decade of vicious government austerity cuts - during which hundreds of thousands of jobs have been cut from local authorities and pay frozen, and with Labour councils willingly wielding the axe on behalf of the Tories - Unison members have again been in the frontline during the Covid pandemic.

Despite being hailed as 'heroes' for their exceptional work in the NHS, or in care homes, or in looking after vulnerable households that were shielding, and so forth, their reward from the Johnson government has been a slap in the face, with another public sector pay freeze and a meagre 1% pay offer in the NHS.

Last year, in Labour-run Tower Hamlets, 4,000 workers were sacked and rehired on worse terms of employment as part of the council's cuts.

Throughout austerity and the Covid crisis, Unison's leadership has failed to mobilise a coordinated fightback. Instead, branches have been left to fight alone with no national campaign. Moreover, Unison's leaders excused Labour councils passing on Tory cuts, claiming 'there was no alternative', while continuing to fill Labour's coffers with Unison members' money.

Former Unison general secretary Dave Prentis only supported Jeremy Corbyn's leadership campaign under pressure from the membership, and now his successor Christine McAnea applauds Keir Starmer, who has ruthlessly defeated Corbybnism inside the Labour Party, as doing a good job.

During the Covid crisis Unison's leadership effectively shut down the union, refusing to call meetings, threatening disciplinary action against activists who tried to organise, and refusing to support the NHS workers' pay campaign for 15%. And McAnea's response to the NHS insult? A slow handclap!

Boris Johnson's Tories are mired in crisis. But why isn't Unison's leadership taking advantage of the Tories' problems to press forward on members' interests? Where is the national fight on pay? Unison should be taking a lead, calling protests and action and appealing to other public sector unions to prepare together for coordinated action.

By way of an alternative to this inaction, Socialist Party members are standing in the national executive (NEC) elections - including sitting NEC members Hugo Pierre and April Ashley - to put forward the fighting programme necessary to defend jobs, pay and services.

Increased nominations for Hugo, April, and the candidates standing on that programme, show the desire for change. Socialist Party Scotland member Jim McFarlane has already been re-elected unopposed to the Scottish male seat. The Socialist Party also calls for support for other candidates who are genuinely standing on a fighting platform.

In last autumn's general secretary election, Hugo Pierre attempted to get discussion and a consensus for a single left candidate on a fighting programme. But other candidates who stood against the status quo - Paul Holmes (supported by John McDonnell) and Roger McKenzie (supported by Jeremy Corbyn) - refused.

For the NEC elections, we argued that there needed to be a coordinated left challenge in order to unseat the right-wing incumbents. Again, unfortunately, the 'members' team' grouping around Paul Holmes has not been prepared to discuss, and supporters of Roger McKenzie are supporting right-wing candidates.

What change do Unison members need? We argue for a campaigning, socialist leadership - prepared to lead not just in words but in action. If the members do elect a majority on the NEC for those who argue for 'change', those NEC members will be tested.

Socialist Party members put forward a clear programme to fight the public sector pay freeze, for national action to fight austerity and end privatisation, and for democratisation of our union.

Socialist Party candidates stand clearly on a no-cuts platform, calling on Labour councils to refuse to pass on the cuts and instead to mount mass trade union and community campaigns to win the necessary funding.

They demand no more members' money should be handed over to cutting and privatising Labour councillors, and argue for a debate in Unison and the trade union movement about how to achieve genuine working-class political representation.

Socialist Party members are campaigning on the following socialist manifesto for Unison:

Fight for pay, jobs and services

Union democracy

For genuine workers' political representation


Rules introduced by Unison to clamp down on democratic debate in the union mean that candidates for union elections cannot 'invite or accept' support 'in money or kind' from any entity which 'is not provided for in Unison rules'. This article is produced without the authorisation of the candidates, in order to comply with these requirements.

Socialist Party members contesting the forthcoming national executive council elections

Hugo Pierre - standing for national black members' male seat

Hugo is the current holder of the seat and in his material he says that in that time he has "fought to improve democracy in our union and to win policies that will help our members to fight to defend their jobs, pay and conditions."

Hugo is Unison education convenor in Camden, London.

April Ashley - standing for national black members' female seat

April has held one of the three female black members seat on the NEC for over ten years, and is also branch secretary for Southwark Local Government Branch. In her address to members, April says: "Black Lives Matters mass demonstrations swept across the world last year. When this was linked to the Covid crisis, which saw the worst impact on black workers, it galvanised the fight against racism across the UK, with young people at the forefront. We need action and policies to fight for jobs, homes and services not racism."

Adrian O'Malley - standing for national health service general seat

Adrian is secretary of Mid Yorkshire Health Unison Branch which has a proud tradition of fighting privatisation, PFI, cuts and 'downbandings'. He says: "In 2018 we successfully fought off the introduction of a wholly owned subsidiary company in our trust and in 2020 succeeded in bringing Soft FM within our PFI hospitals back in-house."

Naomi Byron - standing for Greater London region low-paid reserve seat

Naomi is a catering worker in the NHS, and a joint Unison branch secretary for ISS workers at Homerton Hospital, east London. Naomi says: "Unison should be leading the fight against the public sector pay freeze and insulting 1% (pay cut) offered to NHS staff. I led the campaign which won NHS sick pay and the London Living Wage for ISS staff at Homerton in the middle of Covid."

David Maples - standing for national disabled members' general seat

David is chair of Merton Council Unison branch. He argues that disabled workers need strong workplace organisation and cannot rely on lobbying a hostile government. David campaigns for trade union control over health and safety, the 'access to work' service and the benefit system to make it supportive rather than punitive.

Tom Hunt - standing for East Midlands region male seat

Tom started working for the NHS 41 years ago as a student nurse and says he has watched the service being dismantled piecemeal. Tom initiated the #weareallchatsworth campaign, leading the successful fight to save Chatsworth Ward in Mansfield Community Hospital. He says: "Unison needs to change direction. The leadership has been found wanting on pay, pensions and fighting cuts. Unison should co-ordinate action across the union - not leave branches and service groups to fight alone."

John Malcolm - standing for Northern region male seat

John is a Unison branch secretary representing over 3,000 health workers and has been a Unison activist for over 30 years working in the NHS.

John says: "In 2018 my branch defeated the employer's proposal to set up a wholly owned subsidiary that would have seen hundreds of ancillary and support workers transferred out of the NHS with no guarantee of their terms and conditions. Unison needs to step up the campaign on NHS pay. The 1% recommendation from the government is an insult. We need determined action to win a decent pay rise - we have had a real term pay cut of 20% across all public services."

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In The Socialist 5 May 2021:

What we think

Capitalist sleaze and cronyism

Union elections

Unite general secretary election nomination stage

Unison: We need a fighting, democratic, member-led union to stop the austerity attacks

Four Socialist Party members elected to NEU executive - a thirst for action and a fighting leadership

International news

Biden's policies will not solve underlying US crisis

Colombia: Mass trade union-led protests force tax retreat

Mental health

Covid, capitalism and mental health


Fight the rotten establishment

Hands off our NHS

New law ignores economic barriers to escaping domestic abuse

Cladding: Tories refuse to protect leaseholders again

Workplace news

St Mungo's strikers fight on

Goodlord strike forces talks - solidarity needed

Sparks block Cardiff building site against deskilling

Vote 'yes' in the PCS DWP ballot

Beal High School strike against sick policy resumes

Go Ahead offers deal to Manchester bus drivers

Metroline buses to face summer of strikes unless it drops 'remote sign-on'

Local government

Can the 'Preston model' beat the cuts?

Campaigns news

Bellway must pay! Make our homes safe!

Police attempt to intimidate Newcastle protesters

Nottingham NHS pay protest

Establishing factory sales of the Socialist in Leicester

Plaque dedicated to Tony Mulhearn

Why you should join the Socialist Party

Defend the right to protest - to resist bosses' attacks

Readers' opinion

The Socialist Inbox


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Article dated 5 May 2021

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