UNISON NEC elections: under starters orders – and they’re off!

By Dan Sartin

UNISON starts its bi-annual ballot of members for its National Executive Council (NEC) today, Tuesday 4th May. The election takes place under Tory trade union legislation rules so ballots will be posted to 1.3 million members’ home addresses. The vote runs until 27th May with results announced on 11th June.

There is a real sense among many of the union’s members and activists that, despite the election of a new general secretary in January, UNISON has run out of steam and ideas. It hasn’t successfully defended the living standards of its members over the past ten years, nor reformed itself structurally so it would be better able to take on such challenges. A larger section of members and activists than ever before are questioning the industrial and political strategies that have led UNISON to its current position of being both the largest and quietest union in the UK.

The general secretary election which saw UNISON elect a successor to the retiring Dave Prentis was remarkable primarily for invigorating the grassroots voice within UNISON. One candidate came to symbolise this, Paul Holmes, a branch secretary from Kirklees, one of the union’s largest and most successful branches.

A productive, congenial and hardworking broad left coalesced around Paul’s campaign, the majority of whom are members of the Labour Party supportive of the direction and policies led by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. This positive development saw the broad left build its experience and develop successful campaigning tactics. While not being enough to secure the general secretaryship  – though Christina McAnea’s eventual winning margin of 18,650 was only a fraction of previous victors’ majorities – there is a real feeling that the time has come in UNISON’s NEC elections for real change.

In a union that prides itself on being ‘member-led’, even though it has never elected an ordinary lay member as general secretary, the NEC is constituted to have real powers to lead UNISON and to determine its character, policies and political outlook. The whole of the labour movement should be watching with interest.

A positive campaign has been led by a group of 56 candidates under the ‘Time For Real Change’ banner, with a number of key pledges to the membership:

  • To raise UNISON’s national and media profile so it has more visible presence, influence and leadership;
  • To significantly increase the funding and resources that go to UNISON’s 829 branches which lead on negotiation, bargaining and representation for their members;
  • Fighting the public sector wage freeze and derogatory offers in the NHS with nationally coordinated action on pay, starting with a £15 per hour minimum wage in all claims;
  • For linking up and supporting members in struggle, backing industrial action each time members want it, and looking outwards more positively to other unions;
  • For a properly funded plan to bring in full negotiating rights and deal with the hyper-fragmentation of employers that has changed the world of work over the past decade due to failed outsourcing;
  • For greater resourcing and focus by UNISON on Covid-19 so the union can lead the national debate to protect public service workers;
  • For the election of assistant general secretaries and regional secretaries so there is a stronger line of accountability back to members.

The spirit of camaraderie and comradeship has been strong within the broad left campaign, and this has reflected a genuine feeling that the time has now come for deep and lasting change and reform of UNISON.

The #TimeForRealChange campaign believes this is the only way UNISON will reach its potential so it can defend working class interests and the terms and conditions of members and play a more positive and radical role within the wider movement.

More information can be found by looking for ‘Paul4NEC’ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

A public rally for the #TimeForRealChange campaign takes place at 6.30pm on Tuesday 4th May, chaired by long-time UNISON member John McDonnell MP. Free tickets are available through Eventbrite.

#TimeForRealChange candidates are:

Regional NEC seats

Eastern                               Liz Brennan, Rob Turner, Polly Smith

East Midlands                    Nathalie Birkett, Sara Evans

Greater London                  Helen Davies, Liz Wheatley, Amerit Rait, Anju Paul

Northern                            Cathy Davis, Terry McPartlan

Northern Ireland              Niall McCarroll

North West                        Tony Wilson, Karen Reissmann, Jane Wilcox, Steve North, Luisete Batista

Scotland                             Arthur Nicoll, Margaret McGuire, Lyn Marie O’Hara

South East                          Jacqui Berry, Antoinette Solera, Dan Sartin, Abi Holdsworth

South West                        Becky Brookman, Kevin Treweeks, Jess Powell

Wales                                 Libby Nolan, Martin Chapman

West Midlands                  Caroline Johnson, Alison Dingle, Mike Vaughan, Mandy Buckley

Yorks & Humberside       Greta Holmes, Sarah Littlewood, Tony Wright, Theresa Rollinson


Service Group NEC seats

Community                        Kevin Jackson, Saoirse Fanning

Health                               Claire Dixon, Su Edwards, Joe Hale, Kevin Corran

Higher Education              Sandy Nicoll, Kath Owen

Local Govt                         Diana Leach, Jane Doolan, Paul Holmes, Andrea Egan

Police & Justice                 Mike Garvey, Joanne Moorcroft

WET                                   John Jones


National NEC seats

Black members’                 Nimi Trivedi, Julia Mwaluke

Young members’              Lilly Boulby, Kiera Hilder

Dan Sartin (@dansartin01) is a UNISON NEC member seeking re-election to the South East male seat and is writing in a personal capacity.

 Image: Part of the UNISON contingent at the 2016 Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Rally; Author: Rwendland, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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