“Two down, one to go,” was how a Labour MP greeted the news last week that Gary Smith has been elected to lead the GMB union.
They were referring to voting this year for the leaders of Britain’s three biggest unions—Unison, GMB and Unite.
The most right wing candidate, Christina McAnea, beat three more left wing candidates in Unison in January.
Smith is seen by the Labour right as a reliable supporter of Keir Starmer. He will continue the union’s pro-nuclear, pro-Trident, pro-more airports policies.
Smith beat Rehana Azam and Giovanna Holt. He took just over half of the vote on a turnout of 10.6 percent.
The GMB’s stagnant membership numbers reflect its aversion to real resistance to the bosses.
A win in the fire and rehire British Gas dispute would have been a platform for the GMB to seek to recruit other workers. Instead the union’s failed leadership underlines its weakness.
Smith succeeds Tim Roache, who resigned after a series of allegations were made against him, which he has denied.
A report from September last year found the union was “institutionally sexist” and that “bullying, misogyny, cronyism and sexual harassment are endemic”.
Karon Monaghan QC linked the failings around sexual harassment to the GMB’s bureaucratic structures. She singled out the role of exclusively male regional secretaries “who hold the real power, along with the general secretary” .
Smith would be well‑placed to judge on this as he was the GMB Scottish regional secretary. After his election he said he would work for the full implementation of the Monaghan report.
Recently a group of women working at the GMB put forward a formal dispute with the organisation as they say grievances are not being heard fairly.
They also said the union had not moved forward after the Monaghan report.
Union election results do matter. In the Unite election, where candidates’ nominations are set to be revealed this week, Socialist Worker supports Sharon Graham.
But much more important is to support workers in struggle, raise the level of resistance and learn from wider political movements.
There are immediate battles to be won over NHS pay, over job losses and against fire and rehire.