THE BIGGEST region of Britain's biggest union, UNISON, has thrown its weight behind the socialist challenger to the union's current leadership. One of the delegates at the UNISON Greater London Regional Council spoke about why they decided overwhelmingly to back Roger Bannister's challenge to take over from general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe after he steps down. She said, 'The meeting showed a real mood against the union's leaders. 'A statement opposing the union leaders' attacks on the recent lobby of the Labour Party was overwhelmingly passed. When Bannister spoke, he was applauded. Around 25 people got together at the end to organise around his campaign.'
The election for general secretary in the new year will be one of the central issues in the 1.3 million strong union over the coming months. It presents an opportunity to rally all those who oppose UNISON leaders' cosy relationship with New Labour, and who want to defend union democracy. Bickerstaffe would prefer Dave Prentis to succeed him.
Prentis, the union's deputy general secretary, is a colourless bureaucrat who stands for a continuation of the union leader's current approach. This means continuing to cosy up to New Labour. It also means attacking union democracy and the left in a bid to silence those in the union who won't go along with this. Roger Bannister, a national executive member from Knowsley on Merseyside, is standing as a socialist, for resistance to New Labour and in defence of union democracy.
To get on the ballot paper candidates have to get the backing of 25 branches or two regions of the union. The Greater London Regional Council is made up of delegates from UNISON branches across the capital. The debate at its meeting last week showed how keen members are to voice their opinion over what strategy the union should take towards New Labour.
Over 100 delegates listened to both election candidates or their representatives. They then voted by 73 to 34 that the region should back Bannister. He could have expected to do well, as London is usually a left leaning region. But no one expected the size of Bannister's victory.
Already in some areas activists are seizing this time to build the campaign behind Bannister. In Newcastle, Leicester, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester public campaign meetings aimed at rank and file UNISON members are already set up. Other areas should follow suit as soon as possible.