UNISON General Secretary candidates discuss their campaigns
In the forthcoming election to General Secretary of UNISON there are two main
challengers from the left. Roger Bannister, who has previously stood for the
position gaining 31% of the vote, and Jon Rogers, the candidate of UNISON
United Left (UUL). Socialist Unity spoke to both the candidates
about their campaigns.
SU; What do you believe UNISON's priorities should be?
RB; First of all, it should protect the members' jobs, pay and conditions of
SU; Do you think it does that now?
RB; Not particularly, no. Instances like the single status agreements clause,
like Agenda for Change in the National Health Service where some workers face
pay cuts of eight thousand pounds. I had a letter today from an ambulance worker
in response to my election address where he's threatened with losing a thousand
pounds a year as a result of Agenda for Change, so I don't think UNISON's doing
its best at the moment to protect members' conditions of service.
SU; So what does this mean for UNISON's relationship to the government?
RB; I think these issues are bound up with the relationship to the government. I
think UNISON very often punches below its weight in order not to upset New
Labour too much.
SU; What do you think should happen to UNISON's political fund?
RB; I am personally opposed to continued affiliation to the Labour Party. I
think UNISON should work with others to develop an electoral alternative to the
Labour Party. I pledge that if I am elected I will ballot the members on this
issue and our members will decide for themselves what happens. In particular, on
whether Labour Party affiliation should continue.
SU; What would you like to see happen to the affiliated and general fund? Would
you like to see them merged?
RB Yeah, I'd like to see them merged, I always had that position. I'd like to
see them merged, I'd like to see the fund used for genuine political
campaigning. There's a lot of good work, the fund won an award last year from
the TUC for anti-racist work in Burnley, my region, so things like that are
obviously welcomed by most people in the union. I think slavish adherence to the
Labour Party can cause a great deal of damage. A few years ago in the North West
we had the strikers in the Tameside branch privatised by a Labour council. They
had pay cuts over eight years, they took strike action against this pay cut. Six
of the women decided to fight the district election in order to raise the
profile of their campaign and the bureaucracy of UNISON came down on the branch
like a ton of bricks and said they should give them no support or assistance and
said that UNISON members should be advised to vote Labour. This kind of
situation can't carry on. We've seen the FBU leave the Labour Party, we've seen
the RMT expelled from the Labour Party. The union should be approaching those
unions and others to talk about bringing candidates at the election on an
anti-cuts basis, anti-PFI basis. We should start doing the sort of thing the
Labour Party is supposed to have been set up to do.
SU; You stood for this position before, how does this campaign compare to last
RB; It's a great deal quieter. Far less hustings, I've only seen Dave Prentis at
one meeting so far. He's obviously concerned that the more exposure he gets the
lower his vote will be so he's decided to stay in the office.
SU; Final question, there's more than one left candidate in this election. What
hope do you think there is in the future for having one single left wing
candidate for members to vote for?
RB; Well, I hope they will. I think it's unfortunate the way things have
happened this time. It's happened before, in the election against Rodney
Bickerstaff where the SWP stood a candidate, so it's not a new position, we were
in discussions with the United Left about a common candidate on a common
platform then Jon Rogers' hat was thrown into the ring. We were expecting the
kind of democratic decision making process that we had engaged in five years ago
as the result of a conference, it was a bit naive to think the United Left would
continue that stance. We found it a very disappointing situation where, for
example, in Greater London where members of the United Left voted against
candidates of the left and supported right wingers against them. So, as far as
I'm concerned it's an organisation that can't claim to be a genuine left
organisation. I think the fact that, for example, I went to the Doncaster branch
where the national chair of the United Left, it was his branch, he addressed his
own branch committee and advised them to support Jon Rogers and I won the vote.
If the national chair of United Left can't take his own branch committee with
him it does question the extent to which the United Left has put out genuine
roots to activists.
SU; What do you believe the priorities should be for UNISON?
JR; Defending public services is a major concern for our members at this point
in time. I think we need to, as a union, defend and look after public services
that have been under attack as they have been under every government for the
last twenty years.
SU; So what does that mean for UNISON's relationship to the government?
JR; We have to be clear that the role of the trade union is to work in the
interests of our members and I'm concerned that at times in the past that has
not been obvious to our union. We have seen ourselves as having some sort of
partnership with the government taking our priorities from their agenda rather
than our own agenda.
SU; I believe you're a Labour Party member.
JR; That's right.
SU; What's your view of what should happen to the political fund?
JR; I hold the position of the United Left of the UNISON which is to democratise
the political fund. Specifically, I believe that that means we should emphasise
political choice in terms of building the left rather than giving a blanket
support to Labour candidates. And I also think that our rule book should not
prohibit us from giving support to other candidates where that is the decision
of the union.
SU; So does that mean you feel the political funds should be merged?
JR; I would favour a single political fund under the democratic control of the
union as a whole.
SU; You've not stood before for this position, how's it been - how's it going?
JR; Well, the United Left as an organisation hasn't existed to stand in this
election before and I think we were absolutely right to stand a candidate as the
United Left because we want to build a rank and file organisation in the union,
whether we win or we lose.
SU; In this election there's more than one left candidate. What hope do you
think there is in the future for having one single left wing candidate for
members to vote for?
JR; Well, it has been put to me that organising the left is like herding cats,
but I'm not a pessimist and I campaigned for Roger Bannister in the last
election because I felt, at that time, he was standing as part of an effort to
build a united left organisation, at that time the CFDU. I hope we can build a
sufficiently broad and inclusive left organisation where we're side by side and
there won't be a split on the left.