BALLOT PAPERS for the election for the general secretary of Britain’s biggest public sector union, Unison, are sent out on 25 January. Socialist Worker spoke to United Left candidate Jon Rogers.
Why should Unison members vote for you?
I want to provide a clear alternative to the current leadership which is failing to stand up to New Labour and the employers.
I also want to help build rank and file organisation which can challenge for other elected positions, and hold any union leadership to account. We did well in the nominations, gaining the support of one regional council and 50 branches for my candidacy. Our priority now is to get the message of the United Left across to the maximum number of Unison members.
Gordon Brown has unveiled plans to attack pensions for public sector workers. How should Unison respond?
The attacks on our pensions will force us to work longer for lower pensions in retirement—it amounts to a cut in our pay for life.
We have to get the detail of these attacks clearly in front of our members who will then be willing to take strike action. This needs to be organised across different sectors and unions.
How vital is solidarity among public sector unions?
The experience of the disputes over London weighting in the past few years shows how important it is to get unity in action between different unions. PCS members in the civil service are fortunate to have a leadership prepared to work for such unity. That’s what we need in Unison.
Unison members have waged some heroic struggles against privatisation. Our strong policy of opposition to privatisation is the result of rank and file pressure on the leadership. I would like to provide leadership from the front and go onto the offensive politically—to call for the restoration and extension of public ownership.
How important are events and campaigns such as the European Social Forum and the Stop the War Coalition?
The movement against capitalist globalisation and imperialist war represents the best hope for the renewal of socialism in the 21st century.
Trade unions have to reach beyond the everyday defence of our members’ interests if we are to get to the root causes of the problems we face.
What is the significance of the Brighton and Liverpool strikes?
I have been proud to support the strikers in Brighton and Hove. Perhaps the greatest significance of this strike is that it should not have been left to one branch to lead. Unison has foisted an agreement on workforce remodelling on our members in schools without proper consultation. We should be building for a national claim and, if necessary, a national dispute to get a fair deal for teaching assistants.
I think that Liverpool council is a disgraceful anti-union employer and that Unison should have found a way to put more energy into our opposition to it. We should not have left the social workers to fight alone.
What do you think of the current relationship between the Labour Party and the union?
I’m a Labour Party member but—like many Labour members—I am anti-Blair and anti-New Labour. Unison has to stop providing a blank cheque to Blair, and we should be supporting candidates in elections who will support Unison policies.
The task facing socialists in Unison is to unite those who oppose New Labour, whether they will be voting for Labour, Respect or some other party in the general election.
United Left meeting on war, pensions and building the vote for Jon Rogers, Saturday 15 January, 12 noon, ULU, Malet Street, London. For more information about Jon’s campaign go to www.uul.org.uk