Paul Holmes is standing for election as General Secretary of UNISON. Paul has been active in the union for 36 years, he’s branch secretary of Kirklees Branch in Yorkshire. The branch has over 10,000 members and an 80% membership density. Paul agreed to be interviewed for Fightback which is the Journal of the International Marxist Tendency in Ireland.
Fightback: Sammy Wilson the Finance Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly has announced there are £370m worth of cuts to be made. What would be your advice to UNISON members in the north?
Paul Holmes: The scale of the cuts is huge, but how they work out in every service will differ. The north of Ireland is a relatively small area which means that it should be easy to coordinate an anti cuts campaign. The most important thing with any campaign like this is to involve the members and local people, the ones who use the services that are getting cut.
It is possible to ease the pain through negotiations and it’s important to keep a dialogue going with the management. But these cuts will be dramatic and it’s quite likely that branches could be forced to take strike action to defend services and members jobs. People talk about the need for a national lead from the union in this type of situation. That’s true, but on the other hand every branch should be prepared to stand up and fight for their members when needs be. I say the General Secretary has to support workers who are fighting for their jobs.
FB: How can a General Secretary based in London work to support a cleaner in Strabane? In other words what difference would electing you make to UNISON members in the union’s Northern Ireland Region?
PH: A cleaner in London does more or less the same work as a cleaner in Belfast or Yorkshire. We have a national union made up of people who do similar jobs wherever they live. That’s what unites working people. I talk to workers and more importantly listen to what they say. You have to listen to their hopes and their fears. But then you have to act to represent them. It comes down to your attitude and your outlook.
FB: You are a Labour Party member; there is a big vacuum in working class political representation in the north of Ireland? How can that be solved?
PH: There’s been division and strife for many years in Ireland , and you can see that things aren’t that much better now. It’s true though, who is listening to working class people? Who can they turn to for support. I think the Trade Unions have a big role to play politically in the north. You can’t just import the British or Irish Labour Party into the north of Ireland, people wouldn’t wear that. The unions have to take the lead. We have to fight for the interests of all the workers in Northern Ireland, you can’t just support one side. Working class people are the same all over the world and so you can unite people on the issues that matter, jobs, health, housing all of that. The unions can play a big role in uniting them and remember it was the unions that set up the Labour Party in Britain.
FB: Can you beat Dave Prentis? What is your advice to shop stewards and branch officers in Ireland who support you? How can they help with your campaign?
PH: I believe I can beat Dave Prentis. I’ve never been beaten when I’ve stood for election, when it’s been down to a vote of the members. I’ve been elected more than 50 times.
If you support me, then get your branch to nominate me. Then get your members to vote for me. I can travel and speak at meetings and explain where I stand. You can get in touch via my blog.