Left activists are celebrating success in the recent elections for Unison’s service group executives. These must be a launchpad for strengthening the struggle to transform the union.
Last week, just days before the ongoing Unison national delegate conference and service group conferences kicked off in Brighton, the results of the Service Group Executive (SGE) elections were announced.
The outcome was another significant step forward for the left in the union, with candidates supported by Time for Real Change elected in 75% of the 60 seats that they stood in.
The SGEs are the strategic national committee for the seven service groups in the union, including local government, health, higher education, and community.
For many years, these extremely important committees have seemed a bit threadbare, with many seats unfilled and as many – if not more – candidates being elected unopposed.
Considering the importance of the SGEs – which in many cases are responsible for pay negotiations, and in all cases are responsible for leadership of the union’s various sectors – this is a pretty shabby state of affairs.
This position also partially explains the failure of Unison to wage an effective campaign over pay in the recent period. This is particularly the case in health, where the SGE is dominated by the right wing.
A proactive, bold, decisive campaign on health service pay would have had massive public support – especially given the high regard health workers are held in following the pandemic.
Everyone knows that we are in for a rough ride, with the working class facing further austerity and spiralling living costs. This is precisely the time when Unison needs a determined leadership, armed with a clear perspective of defending members and fighting the Tories.
Even without that, the SGEs were in need of being refreshed. And there is a clear need for the union to draw up a balance sheet in respect to the experience of last year’s pay campaigns.
As such, news that 75% of the almost 60 candidates supported by Time for Real Change (TFRC) have been elected is excellent news.
Many of the TFRC candidates were standing in the SGE elections for the first time. Some saw significant breakthroughs. In the north east, for example, left candidates stood for the first time in several years.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. The right wing unseated John McLoughlin, a prominent left activist, and secretary of Tower Hamlets Unison – a branch that has been at the forefront of the struggle against fire and rehire.
On the one hand, this reflects the right wing’s efforts to target their resources on specific campaigns. But it also illustrates the need to continue to develop the Time for Real Change campaign into an organised force within the union.
What do we mean by this? We have argued for some time that the struggle to transform the union cannot be won within the confines of Unison HQ on Euston Road. We need to harness all of the energy and creativity behind Paul Holmes’ general secretary campaign and the 2021 NEC campaign.
Time for Real Change needs to become the embryo of an open, democratic, and campaigning broad left organisation within Unison. It is only by reaching out to grassroots activists across the union – in every region and every branch – that we will guarantee success.
Rank-and-file members are crying out for real change, with the cost-of-living crisis squeezing living standards.
To defend members’ jobs, pay, and conditions, the whole trade union movement must struggle for clear socialist policies: to expropriate the billionaires; reverse austerity and privatisation; and provide full funding for healthcare, education, and public services.
And this requires militant socialist leadership: one that is willing and able to go far beyond the lame, ineffectual performance of the past, when the union was under the domination of the right wing; and that is prepared to launch a real fightback against the employers and the Tories,
The task is to deepen and develop the progress and advances made by the left in recent months; to turn Unison into not only the biggest, but also the most effective and determined union in the country.
These election results are a small step on the way.