A perspective on the SGE elections: Gordon McKay
The way in which UNISON moves forward as the largest trade union in the UK will take a significant, but not completely final, stride in the next few months as members decide who they are going to put in charge of their Service Groups, the industry wide bodies who set UNISON policy on pay, terms and conditions, and all matters relating to members interests in that industry.
For the first time since the formation of UNISON in 1993 power last year transferred to a group known as Time for Real Change. This group is made up various hard left groups such as the Socialist Workers Party, and some on the extreme of the Labour Party, including some recently expelled from Labour.
The Socialist Workers Party, one of the central groupings of Time for Real Change describe themselves as seeking ‘revolutionary change’ in Britain and admit they organise through strikes. In the last UK Parliamentary General Election they stood in, across the country they attracted a total share of the vote of 0.1%. With that level of appeal to ordinary working people one wonders how they have come to take control of UNISON with 1.3 million members working in public services. The answer lies in the lack of member participation and in the inability of those who would wish to challenge them to motivate members to take an active interest in their union and to vote in elections. Where the core views of UNISON members lie was shown in 2021 when Christina McAnea was elected as UNISONs first ever female General Secretary beating the Time for Real Change candidate by over 18,000 votes. Such engagement however does not transfer to other UNISON elections, and seats can be won on UNISON’s National Executive and its Service Groups on turnouts of 2 to 3%, which means elections are currently determined by the highly politically motivated, particularly those whose interests lie in areas wider than representing members. It was this level of turnout which saw Time for Real Change win UNISONs National Executive elections.
In the forthcoming Service Group elections, held in April and May, UNISON members need to make a choice. It is whether to leave their ballot papers uncompleted and have no say in how the trade union they pay into every payday organises on their behalf and leave decisions to the unrepresentative few, or to engage with their trade union and ensure their unions voice is one they have helped construct. The responsibility to get members engaged however lies not just with the members themselves but lies equally, if not more so, with those who believe they reflect the views of UNISON members across the UK.
There are less than three months until UNISON members start to receive ballot papers in the post or by email. Members will decide whether they want their union to organise to speak up for them and public services, to campaign for and win better pay, and to achieve safer working environments, or whether they want their union to be engaged in permanent revolution and to be used as weapons in political struggles.
UNISON members have shown they make people’s lives better. It is now for those who believe they are the representative voice of those public service workers to step up to the plate and make the case why those workers should vote for them. If they do, there are successes for every public service worker to be gained, If they let those members down the responsibility is ours. Elections are not won in the weeks of voting, particularly as if most people don’t vote in the first five days after receiving their ballot papers they won’t vote at all. They are won by candidates telling members now they are standing, by telling them now what their platform is, why it is important to vote, and why it is important for each and every member that those leading their union reflect their views. Candidates need to be getting out their message now, by every route they can and encouraging others to assist in spreading that message. The alternative is to sit for the next ten years telling each other how unfair it all is. UNISON members deserve better than that. Christina McAnea enthused UNISON members by the fact she reflected what mattered to them and was their voice, it is now for others to do the same.