Current Issue
Next Issue
Back Issues
Marxist Theory
Socialist History
Left Politics
Left Groups
New Interventions
Islamophobia Watch

Why We’re Backing Jon Rogers

Andrew Berry, Islington UNISON Deputy Secretary

ONCE AGAIN it appears that the left has shot itself in the foot. As nominations for the position of General Secretary of UNISON open, there are two candidates vying to lead the left challenge to Dave Prentis. The General Secretary election has been brought forward by twelve months to avoid a clash with UNISON’s political fund ballot or with the much predicted date of the General Election.

Despite this rushed timetable, UNISON United Left (UUL) has selected a candidate, Jon Rogers, Lambeth UNISON Branch Secretary and member of the National Executive. Jon is also a member of the Labour Party and on the editorial board of LLB. Unfortunately, the Socialist Party is also fielding a candidate: Roger Bannister, who has stood for General Secretary of UNISON twice before, and also stood once for General Secretary of NALGO (a predecessor union), gaining a maximum of 32% of the vote.

The Socialist Party left the UUL last June, claiming that UUL was drifting rightwards towards New Labour and complaining about some members’ voting patterns. A more plausible explanation is that they walked out of a body they were unable to control sufficiently.

The major difference between Socialist Party and the majority of UUL over the last few years has been the political fund. UNISON’s political fund is divided into the General Political Fund (GPF) and the Affiliated Political Fund (APF). Neither of these is controlled by conference and political fund decisions (thus, in the case of the APF, all decisions regarding the Labour Party) are taken in a considerably less democratic forum.

UUL supports the union having one fund which is accountable to Conference, which fund can affiliate to the Labour Party or not, depending on members’ wishes. The Socialist Party wants three political funds – the third fund to provide finances to left candidates in elections. This attempt to gain short term gain by grabbing a slice of the cake for a "red union" would avoid the issue of how to win democratic accountability over our funds.

Unions are compelled by law to ballot on whether to maintain political funds every ten years. UUL wants to maintain a political fund – and then fight for improvements in how it operates. We believe we should be a political union campaigning for change. The GPF funds campaigns against the BNP and against, for example, council housing transfer. The APF has funded our influence in the Labour Party and thus has helped in the victories on rail nationalisation and council housing at the most recent Labour conference. Obviously we need to go further. Our Labour Party Conference delegation ignored our members’ position on the occupation of Iraq by UK troops but the question here is should we try to hold our delegates to account or should we ignore their actions? The question answers itself, and the Labour Link forum is where we should campaign for democracy here. Without some form of political fund UNISON is politically neutered.

The Socialist Party and Roger Bannister are arguing for UNISON members to vote No on the political funds. They say that the fund could be re-established in a later vote – in a manoeuvre designed to secure UNISON’s disaffiliation from Labour. Getting a political fund re-established would be a far harder task – especially after several years of not having a fund – than maintaining the status quo. There are groups in the union against the fund who would try all manoeuvres to prevent the vote happening at all (while there must be a vote every ten years to decide to maintain a political fund, there is no time limit within which you must consider whether to establish one).

On many industrial issues the Socialist Party has an excellent understanding of what can be achieved and how, but their current position on the political fund is at best naive and at worst sinister. The Socialist Party should rejoin the UUL and argue its corner – but if they lose, they should accept UUL’s democratic decisions. Standing apart weakens the left and therefore strengthens the right.

UUL cannot afford to compromise on this issue. We call on Roger to withdraw from this election in favour of the United Left candidate. We call on all UNISON members to try to get their branch to nominate Jon Rogers for General Secretary.

• Stop press: London Region UNISON has decided to nominate Jon Rogers. London UNISON Convenor Geoff Martin adds: "London Region branches have given Jon a sound endorsement and that should give him the momentum he needs to get on the ballot and ensure a healthy contest next year and a real choice for the members rather than the old sterile oppositionalism of the Socialist Party."

This article was published in the November 2004 issue of Labour Left Briefing