By Terry McPartlan
2021 was a year of dramatic change in the trade union movement, starting with Paul Holmes’s campaign and fantastic showing in the UNISON General Secretary Election, followed closely by the left victory in the UNISON NEC elections under the banner of Time for Real Change and culminating with Sharon Graham’s victory in the Unite General Secretary elections.
The results in UNISON in particular didn’t just drop from the sky: they represent a response to years of cuts, privatisations and austerity on the one hand and an ineffective national leadership which had failed to make any impact on the issues affecting our members.
The result of the UNISON NEC elections represented an earthquake. For the first time in the union’s history the left took control of the lay leadership. However, the election of the new NEC has revealed tensions between the elected lay leadership and the leading full-time officials.
These tensions have played out over the last few months, but it is clear that the left majority on the NEC have begun to consolidate their position, most recently with the reinstatement of Paul Holmes to UNISON membership, the elected UNISON President who had been suspended from the union for two years.
What is very clear, however, is that the impact of the left victory on the NEC will be limited, unless the transformation of the union is spread into the Service Groups, Regions and Branches of the union. The first opportunity will be the Service Group Executive elections taking place in 2022.
UNISON’s seven service groups lead the bargaining and negotiation strategies within each of the sectors of public services within which UNISON operates. If we are to reverse a decade of stagnating wages and terms and conditions, the candidates need a clear programme of change. This is particularly the case at present where the Tory government are preparing a huge wave of austerity and are still trying to impose a wage freeze across the public sector.
Many candidates in these important Service Group Executives (SGE) elections share the Time For Real Change vision for a truly member-led union and if elected will be seeking to transform UNISON into a fighting, democratic and accountable force. The next step has to be to win a left majority in the SGEs where UNISON needs a major overhaul in how it negotiates and bargains for members.
Many of the seats on the Service Group Executives have stood empty for years and in many more cases candidates have been elected unopposed – this, at a time when our members’ wages and conditions, their jobs and their futures have never been more threatened. As was evidenced in the UNISON General Secretary and NEC elections, there are thousands of UNISON members who understand the need to transform the union. With this in mind, a strong and determined campaign fighting for real change can only strengthen the union.
The election process will start with a branch nomination period which kicks off on Monday 10th January and lasts until Friday 11th February. This then culminates in members’ voting from April 28th. To get the campaign rolling, Time for Real Change is launching its campaign with a Public Meeting on Monday 10th January.
UNISON member John McDonnell MP will host this public meeting about the SGE 2022 elections, with a fantastic line-up of speakers confirmed.
Find out what to expect with these Service Group elections and how your branch can take part and what you can do to help get Time For Real Change candidates elected!
The following speakers are confirmed:
- John McDonnell MP, UNISON member and the People’s Chancellor
- Kath Owen, UNISON Vice-President
- Nadia Whittome MP and Carer
- Glen Williams, Local Government SGE Chair
- Karen Reissman, Health SGE and NEC member
- Mobina Begum, Higher Education SGE Chair
- Saoirse Fanning, NEC member for Community
- Joanne Moorcroft, Police & Justice SGE member
- Ken Loach, Legendary film maker and campaigning socialist
- Paul Holmes, UNISON President
Register to attend at: https://tfrc-sge-elections.eventbrite.co.uk
Terry McPartlan is a UNISON activist and is standing for the Community General seat in the Northern region of UNISON.
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