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On the 28 October, 1.4 million ballot papers will go out to Unison public sector union members to decide who should be the new general secretary and lead the union.
As the second wave of Covid sweeps over the country, workers need a union leadership that is prepared to give a lead in fighting for safe workplaces, and opposing Tory cuts to jobs and terms and conditions.
Unison members in the NHS, councils and education have been on the front line during the pandemic. The Tories have ravaged public services over the past ten years through their austerity offensive. But we've seen over the last few months that when their capitalist system is in crisis, they can produce the 'magic money tree'. This is the fight we must win.
The last 20 years alone have shown the desperate need for a new, radical, fighting, democratic leadership in the union. It's no wonder that, for the first time in Unison's history ,more branches have nominated left and anti-establishment candidates. An increasing number of branches, regions, and service groups have lost confidence in the current leadership.
Unison members have found themselves in the front line of public sector attacks for over 20 years, first under Labour with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and now the Tories. Yet under Dave Prentis's leadership (backed by Christina McAnea and Roger McKenzie, two of the other candidates in this election) the union has failed to lead a national fight to defend its members. As Hugo Pierre says: "Branches have been left to fight alone, what's the point of a union of 1.4 million if you are not going to use its collective strength?"
Under the Prentis leadership over 1 million council workers' jobs have gone, and there has been the wholesale privatisation of social care and many other public services, where members' jobs have been sold to the cheapest bidder, now to be run for profit instead of need. That is why Hugo is right to demand that all privatised services should be brought back in-house, and their workers put back on national pay and conditions.
Under the Prentis leadership the NHS has been broken up, with our hospitals pitted against each other. Instead of public investment they have been saddled with billions of ongoing debts in the form of private finance initiatives (PFI).
Our schools and colleges have also suffered the same fate through the academisation process. Hugo Pierre is right to demand the cancellation of all PFI debt, with no compensation for the greedy bosses who have had their noses in the public sector trough. Hugo is also correct to call for all schools to be brought back into local authorities and under the control and management of democratically elected local committees.
Low pay is now endemic in the union, with members' living standards having fallen by 20% in the last 20 years. While MPs are happy to award themselves a £3,500 pay increase this year, NHS members are being told they are not worth any increase! The Unison leadership stood apart from the rank-and-file NHS protests demanding a 15% pay rise. Hugo Pierre was on the demonstrations and is the only candidate calling for a national strike ballot in the NHS to win the union's full claim.
It is women members who have suffered the brunt of these attacks, and Hugo is right to say that "while Unison boasts about having 1 million women members, it's about time it stood up and fought for them".
As if the last 20 years were not bad enough, this election will also take place under a rising tide of fear and anxiety of a second wave of Covid and its economic consequences.
One Hugo Pierre supporter in Salford has told us that her NHS Trust is predicting a new crisis point by 3 November. The employers are asking for staff to work in the Nightingale hospitals, but hospitals are unwilling and unable to release staff due to their own shortages. The current staff are at breaking point, unable to take on anymore overtime and additional shifts, and less nurses are willing to come back to support compared to the first outbreak. It's no wonder, she said, that the service "is in meltdown".
A Unison member and school worker in Yorkshire supporting Hugo said there is a growing fear of the rampant spread of the virus in schools (with up to 25,000 school workers currently self-isolating). She said that the only place that it seems there is no need for social distancing and no need to limit contact to groups of no more than six is in our schools.
"That is why as a national schools' representative I support Hugo's call for the union to urgently call meetings of reps in the tier two and tier three areas to draw up a list of demands to protect our safety, and to prepare for regional strike ballots of union members, calling on the National Education Union to support as well."
Black and Asian workers have found themselves to be at greater risk of falling victim of the virus, often in frontline jobs, low-paid with poor access to PPE and testing. As one of the national executive committee member for black members, Hugo has not only spoken out in defence, but taken to the streets in demonstrations of health workers, and in the Black Lives Matter movement, while many trade union leaders sat on the sidelines.
Hugo has a proud record of fighting racism going back to his days of driving the far right off the streets of east London in the early 1990s, but always seeking to unite black and white workers in the fight for jobs and homes not racism.
Local Councils continue to face devastation because of Tory cuts with £10 billion stolen from them in the last decade, many councils are on the brink of technical bankruptcy but instead of the Labour councils refusing to carry out tory cuts they have acted as agents of austerity. Hugo is the only candidate to call for councils to refuse to implement any more cuts and for them to set no cuts needs budgets. Andy Burnham, Greater Mancester mayor, stood up to the Tory government over his demands for more funding for those hit by lockdown, but all Labour councils must take a stand and refuse to carry out Tory cuts.
But Hugo has been demanding for the last decade that Labour councils should have been uniting with local authority unions and working-class communities by refusing to pass on Tory cuts. Such a movement wouldn't have just won concessions from the Tories but helped push them out of office.
The Socialist Party believes that it is vital that the unions have a political voice that represents its members. Unison hands over £3 million a year of members' money to the Labour Party, therefore members have a right to demand that the Labour Party should defend them.
Hugo is the only candidate to state that any Labour councillor or MP attacking Unison members' jobs, wages or conditions should not receive a penny of Unison members' money. How can it be right that the Labour Tower Hamlets council, that has sacked its entire workforce to impose new, worse terms and conditions, continues to receive money from Unison to help get its councillors re-elected?
Hugo is the only candidate saying that if Labour does not want to defend Unison members, then the union should be able to use its political funds to back candidates that will.
In this election, more than any other, members need to know that their elected leader knows what is like to be a public sector worker and live like a public sector worker. Hugo is the only candidate still carrying out his council job while also playing a leading role as an elected Unison officer and national executive member. He has also said that, if elected, he will refuse to accept the £138,000 a year general secretary wage, and will only take his current council worker salary, donating the rest back to the union.
Hugo believes that working for the union should be a privilege and not a career move, and that those who have the power to negotiate for Unison members should be elected. That's why he calls for all regional officers, regional secretaries and the assistant general secretaries to be elected and truly accountable to members. If some of the officials had to face election like the local reps, then they might well fight harder to defend their members or face being removed.
We believe that only Hugo Pierre has the serious strategy and programme needed to transform Unison into a fighting and democratic union, able to confront the current situation. The general secretary election is a platform to bring together all those activists who agree with Hugo's programme to build a fighting left within Unison. This can be the basis to transform the union at all levels into the fighting union that members need as they engage in the fight of their lives.
We call on all Unison members to vote for Hugo Pierre.
"I am standing in this election to transform our union into a fighting, democratic trade union. A union that wins for members. I want to prepare our union to resist the attack on our jobs, pay, terms and conditions as the Tory government tries to make public sector workers pay for their mishandling of the Covid crisis. No return to austerity.
I am the elected Male Black Members' representative on the national executive committee, and have been since 2015. I am also elected onto the local government service group executive representing schools. I, along with others, fought for our school members to have the right to take national action against school funding cuts.
I have organised successful campaigns as a schools' convenor to fight low pay, particularly of women workers - nursery nurses, teaching assistants and school meals workers. I have successfully fought school and nursery closures, and stopped one of our schools converting to an academy (we have no academy conversions in our council).
I represented a Windrush victim and pushed forward Unison's national policy against the hostile environment.
I want our members' successes, like the magnificent Glasgow equal pay victory, at the bold heart of this union. We cannot afford to repeat the last ten years of failure to defeat austerity.
Fight local authority cuts: Now is the time for Unison to lead a national fight against another £10 billion of threatened Tory cuts. Fight all cuts to services, jobs, pay and conditions. UK-wide action to fight council cuts - don't leave branches to fight alone. We must demand Labour and SNP councillors don't vote for cuts.
For a real fight on NHS pay: I support Unison demanding an immediate pay rise for all workers on 'Agenda for Change' - not to wait until next April. Branches and regions must discuss an immediate 15% pay claim now to reverse the austerity years' pay cuts. Build local demonstrations (safely) and back UK-wide action, including an industrial action ballot. Send the claim to all NHS private sector providers. Coordinate public and private sector action across the NHS.
No to education privatisation: Full funding for early years and schools. Full funding for further and higher education.
End low pay: For a £15 an hour minimum wage.
For a renationalised NHS and social care sector: Bring all public services back in-house with full collective bargaining and national terms and conditions. Scrap PFI contracts and cancel the PFI debts. End continual restructures - for workers' control and management of the NHS. I support a conference of our members across service groups to campaign for social care to become a fully public service under democratic control.
Safety first for all staff: Full stocks of PPE in all settings. Renationalise the equipment supply chain. Test, track, and trace back to local public health. Union health and safety reps must decide if it is safe to work.
No fees for training: Bring back healthcare student bursaries and end tuition fees for all.
Fight for jobs and homes not racism: Black Lives Matter! Unison must draw up workplace action plans to end institutional racism and discrimination in all our public services, so the whole union can fight bullying and harassment. Oppose the far right with action and policies to fight for jobs, homes and services. Unison's National Black Members' Committee supports my campaign to become general secretary
For a trade union fight to end environmental catastrophe: For a democratic plan to develop sustainable and green energy supply and distribution, including the renationalisation of all energy companies under workers' control and management, with compensation only on the basis of proven need. No loss of jobs, pay and conditions for any workers in the sector. Fight British Gas sacking and re-employing workers on worse conditions. For mass funding of green public transport. A public sector house-building programme ensuring green measures from the start, and refurbishments of all properties to ensure energy efficiency.
Build Unison: For a national campaign to increase our workplace organisation, with financial and physical resources for branch action plans to double the number of shop stewards in the next two years. Draw young people into activity - for a democratic national young members' conference in 2021.
For genuine lay member control of our union: Election of union paid officials starting with assistant general secretaries and regional secretaries. Our branches must have a genuine right to campaign to change and develop our union policy - let the members decide. Full financial resources for our branches.
Support branches that want to fight: End unecessary delay in industrial action procedures with a full review to ensure they are responsive, and allow branch ballots where there is clear support for action.
Not a penny more of our members' money to Labour representatives who back cuts, privatisation or austerity: Unison branches should democratically decide if they support labour movement candidates for UK Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru or local councils that put Unison policies into action, even if they are not Labour Party members.
Let Scotland decide: For a new independence referendum determined by the Scottish people. For a trade union campaign to end austerity and invest in jobs, and services.
Unison is proud to have a million women members. Now we must stand up by fighting to end low pay, stopping the cuts, halting privatisation and bringing services back in-house, and for the return of their stolen state pensions. We must negotiate paid time off for all our stewards to organise a stronger union.
I pledge not to take the £138,000 general secretary salary but take only my current salary and donate back over £100,000 to Unison members' campaigns, strike funds and welfare."
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Article dated 4 November 2020
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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