Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2728

Interview with Paul Holmes—‘Unions need to use their power for their members’

This article is over 3 years, 8 months old
As voting begins in the Unison general secretary election, Sarah Bates talks to socialist candidate Paul Holmes about his plans to shake things up in the public sector trade union
Issue 2728
Paul Holmes wants to see more money going to branches
Paul Holmes wants to see more money going to branches

Public sector workers have got an opportunity this week to elect a fighting socialist to the top of their union.

Labour Party member Paul Holmes is running an inspiring campaign to be the Unison union next general secretary. 

“I’ve been really impressed with the number of people joining in with the campaign,” he told Socialist Worker. “We’ve got a lot of people directly involved now, at least 250 activists.”

Paul’s campaign has helped ­capture the imagination of people sick of Unison not mounting a real fight over the issues affecting them.

As a result, it has won an unprecedented 105 branch and other nominations. 

Paul said his campaign made him the “first lay candidate to get nominations from within all 12 regions.” 


“There’s a mood about,” he said. “People know what’s coming after ­Covid-19 and they’re fed up with the ­government.”

Paul is fighting for a £15 an hour minimum wage, a national anti-austerity campaign and collective bargaining arrangements. 

Workers have suffered devastating cuts and job losses in the last decade of Tory austerity. Activists are eyeing up what dirty management tricks will be used against them. 

It’s likely that management in schools and local government will force through drastic “fire and rehire” programmes on workers.

This was the tactic used in Tower Hamlets in east London, where a Labour council forced through worse contracts on the workforce. 

Paul wants to build a fighting organisation, and he’s rallying against a union that’s “becoming a bank—a repository for subs”. 

“Unions need to use their power for their members,” he argues.

Paul said that members were drawn to his campaign because “the branches feel snowed under and not helped. I’m a candidate who knows what it’s like”. 

If elected, Paul has promised to continue taking his wage of £32,000 a year, rather than the £138,000 that current general secretary Dave Prentis pockets now. 


And Paul said that his pledge to take a workers’ wage resonates with members who are seeing deep inequality across society. 

“People see the MPs voting against free school meals and then claiming subsidised meals themselves—I think the workers’ wage chimes with that anger.”

Increasing funding to local branches is a huge part of Paul’s campaign and he said it would make a “phenomenal difference” to activists. 

They need extra funding because of decades of privatisation. 

Trade unionists are having to understand the procedures of hundreds of outsourcing firms, rather than just a handful of public sector employers. 

Members have until 27 November to vote. 

Paul called on people to “talk to each other” online and in ­workplaces that are open.


“Even though the union itself has the impression that everyone is working from home, in real life they’re not. 

“If you take the two biggest groups of the staff—NHS ­employees and those in schools—neither of those are working from home,” he said. 

Paul’s campaign is an exciting opportunity for Unison members who want to shake things up and put someone who understands the problems facing workers at the top of the union. 

Members should throw their support behind him and encourage all their workmates to post their ballot papers as soon as possible.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance