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Left strengthens its control of Unite exec, but it’s not all good news (with full results)

unite rosetteThe results of the the elections to Unite’s executive emerged yesterday, giving United Left, the left faction, 43 seats, the same number it had previously but on a slightly smaller executive (down from 65 to 63. Also elected were eight independents and eleven from Unite Now, the more centrist Labour loyalist faction, mainly from the former Amicus section. None of the four candidates backed by the far left Grassroots Left faction associated with former candidate for General Secretary, Jerry Hicks, were elected (or even came especially close).

Whilst this does strengthen the control of the United Left, there are a number of factors suggesting that its dominance in union elections is more vulnerable than the headline results suggest: 

  1. Turnout for the election was well down on the already very low level of 2011, when it ranged from 6.1% to 12.1%. This year it ranged from 3.2% to 9%, roughly a third lower than last time.
  2. Candidates were returned unopposed in 25 of the 63 seats, and 21 of these were United Left candidates.
  3. In many cases where there were contests, there were fewer candidates than last time, such that a further five United Left candidates were guaranteed election (60% of those United Left candidates elected were in fact guaranteed election through the lack of opposition).
  4. In  number of cases margins of victory were closer than previously, even allowing for the lower poll.

There are a number of possible explanations for this. The one that is not very convincing is that the union’s membership is entirely happy with the way things are. The reality is that United Left is the only nationwide electoral machine. Anyone who seeks advancement in the union’s structure has a simple route to achieving it. The number of activists who participate in the selection of candidates is fairly small.

There are therefore some serious risks for United Left which is no doubt occupying the minds of many of its leading members, which are in some cases also risks for the union itself. These are:

  1. The risk that elected members of regional and national representative structures, insufficiently challenged in elections, lose touch with those they represent.
  2. The risk that an alternative electoral machine emerges, perhaps around a charismatic challenger in a future election for general secretary.
  3. The risk that United Left is vulnerable to take over by a well organised faction.

These are not issues peculiar to Unite. These turnouts are similar, for example, to recent executive elections in Unison and the GMB. Some unions have more organised factions participating in internal elections and others none (the GMB’s rules forbid them). Sometimes factions help to clarify differences of approach in elections, whilst in others they undermine the cohesion and unity of purpose of a union rather than strengthening its internal democracy.

For the left, Unite has a special importance by virtue of its size, influence and the politics of its leadership. Trade union activists must always recognise that the need to carry the membership with them is paramount. In Unite, there is no room for complacency about the current strength of the United Left.

The risk of takeover of the United Left is not a new issue, but is of particular concern in the context of the possible merger of Unite and PCS (of which we shall say more in the near future). The PCS broad left, Left Unity, which is dominated by the Socialist Party, is capable of attracting 600 activists to its meetings. United Left, the broad left of a union five times bigger, in spite of being more representative of the union’s activists, normally attracts a fraction of that. Clearly, it needs to adapt its structures to survive the influx following a merger, or to change the political basis of membership.

The full results of the election are as follows:

Regional Seats

East Midlands (contested in 2011, turnout 8.7%) no change

  • Steve Hibbert* (UN) Elected Unopposed
  • June Shepherd* (Left) Elected Unopposed

Ireland (turnout 5.1% down from 6.7%) no change

  • Jimmy Neil* (Ind) 1706 Elected
  • Terese Moloney* (Left) 1493 Elected
  • Trevor McDowell  (Left) 1260
  • Tracey Osment 1235

London & Eastern (turnout 6.0% down from 8.3%) no change

  • Brian Holmes* (Left)  7152 Elected
  • Richard Allday* (Left)  6562 Elected
  • Liam O’Gara (Ind) 6125
  • Kwasi Agyemang-Prempeh* (Left)  5024 Elected (BAEM)
  • Joe Welch (Ind) 4909
  • Lizanne Malone* (Left)  Elected Unopposed

North East, Yorkshire & Humberside (turnout 5.6% down from 8%) one fewer seats but Left hold their one seat

  • Steve Miller* (Left)  3129 Elected
  • Nigel Atkinson 2174
  • Glyn Williams (Ind/Grassroots Left) 1750
  • Kate Osborne* (Ind) Elected Unopposed

North West  (uncontested in 2011 too) no change

  • Barry Knowles (Left) Elected Unopposed
  • Fran Sullivan (Left)  Elected Unopposed
  • Tony Woodhouse* (Left)  Elected Unopposed

Scotland (turnout 5.5% down from 8.4%) no change

  • Davy Brockett* 3947  (Left) Elected
  • Eddie Cassidy 2126
  • Dawn McAllister (Left) Elected Unopposed

South East (turnout 5.9% down from 8.5%) no change

  •  Joyce Still* (UN) 2525 Elected
  • Mark Wood (UN) 2468 Elected
  • Jan Bastable (Left)  1910
  • Gordon Lean (Left)  1875

South West (contested in 2011 with 9% turnout) no change

  • Jayne Taylor* (Left)  Elected Unopposed
  • Mark Thomas* (UN) Elected Unopposed

Wales (turnout 6.0% down from 8.1%) United Left lose one seat

  • Danny Coleman (UN) 1464 Elected
  • John James* 1351
  • Ian Smith (Left)  1001
  • Wendy Gilligan (Left)  Elected Unopposed

West Midlands (turnout 5.0% down from 7.8%) one extra seat for independent candidate

  • Maggie Ryan* (Left)  3513 Elected
  • Mick Forbes* (UN) 2615 Elected
  • Katie Whittam (UN) 1970
  • Julian Allam 1960 Elected (BAEM)
  • Mark Thompson 1565-
  • Martin Hartnett (Grassroots Left)1560

Industrial Seats

Aerospace and Shipbuilding – no change

  • Phil Entwistle* (Left)  Elected Unopposed
  • Tam Mitchell* (UN) Elected Unopposed

Automotive Industries (turnout 5.7% down from 8.2%) United Left lose one seat (Chris Bond from Cowley)

  • Kenneth Smith 2167 Elected
  • John Cooper* (Left)  1927 Elected
  • Chris Bond* (Left)  1569
  • Martin Lydon (UN/Ind) 984
  • Pete Russell (UN) 894

Building, Construction and Allied Trades (turnout 6.0%)

  • John Sheridan* (Left)  1449 Elected
  • Meurig Thomas* (UN) 1069

Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Process and Textiles

  • Mark Lyon* (Left)  Elected Unopposed
  • John Storey* (Left)  Elected Unopposed

Civil Air Transport – 3 United Left gains

  • Jas Gill (Left)  Elected Unopposed
  • Sharon Owens* (Left)  Elected Unopposed
  • Nigel Stott (Left)  Elected Unopposed

Community, Youth Workers and Not For Profit (turnout 8.1% down from 9.1%) UL lose 2, UN gain 1

  • Jackie McLeod (UN) 2049 Elected
  • Kingsley Abrams* (Left)  1250

Docks, Rail, Ferries and Waterways (turnout 7.7% down from 12.1%) no change

  • Andy Green* 724 Elected
  • Steve Biggs (Left)  551

Education (turnout 7.5% down from 10.7%) no change

  • Paula Burr (Ind) 470 Elected
  • Chris Goodwin 353
  • Chris Marlow 217
  • John Wiseman (Left) 216

Energy and Utilities (turnout 6.6% down from 10.3%) no change but big swing against Left

  • Dave Whitnall* (Left)  1,056 Elected
  • Tim Davison (Ind) 1,030

Finance and Legal (turnout 3.2%) no change

  • Lindsey Adams* (Left)  1,739 Elected
  • Agnes Tolmie* (Left)  1,680 Elected
  • Jane Lewis (Ind) 1,345

Food, Drink and Tobacco (turnout 4.3% down from 6.8%) Left gain extra seat

  • Tracey Ashworth* (Left)  2,436 Elected
  • Dennis Wilson* (Left)  1,995 Elected
  • Ansaar Khaliq (Left)  1,323 Elected
  • Neelam Verma (Ind) 1,304

General Engineering, Manufacturing and Servicing (turnout 5.8%)

  • Brenda Pleasants* (Left)  2,481 Elected
  • Paul Welsh* (UN) 2,412 Elected
  • Ross Quinn (Left)  1,895
  • John Clarke (Ind) 1,726
  • Howard Percival 848

Graphical Paper Media and Information Technology (turnout 5.4% down from 7.6% in GPM only)

  • Ged Dempsey (Left)  1,558 Elected
  • Tom Murphy (Left)  1,311 Elected
  • Dave Lovelidge (UN) 1,006
  • Raffiq Moosa (UN) 798

Health (turnout 5.3% down from 8.1%)  no change

  • Ruth Greene (Left)  3,607 Elected
  • Frank Wood* (Left)  2,376 Elected
  • Debbie Wilkinson (Ind) 1,981

Local Authorities (turnout 6.1% down from 8.8%) Left loses one seat to Unite Now

  • Jennifer Elliot* (Left)  2410 Elected
  • Dick Banks (UN) 1853 Elected
  • Bridie McCreesh (Ind) 1443
  • David Mathieson* (Left)  1384

Metals (turnout 6.5% down from 8.8%) no change

  • David Bowyer* (Ind) 898 Elected
  • Dave Rochester (Left) 414

MOD and Government Departments (turnout 8.4%)

  • Chris Cadman* (UN) 629 Elected
  • David James Trigger MBE 242
  • Timmy (Tim) Elford (Left)  173

Passenger Transport (turnout 6.1%)

  • James Mitchell* (Left)  3,066 Elected
  • Simon Rosenthal (Ind) 2,552 Elected
  • Salam Taj (Left) 1,979
  • Mo Aslam Malik (Ind) 1,204

Road Transport Commercial Logistics and Retail Distribution

  • Gary Hillier (Left)  Elected Unopposed
  • Dave Williams* (Left)  Elected Unopposed

Rural and Agriculture

  • Ivan Monckton* (Left)  Elected Unopposed

 National Equalities seats

Women’s National Seat (turnout 4.2%)

  • Jane Stewart* (Left)  8,304 Elected
  • Lucy Thomson (Ind) 3,799

Black, Asian and ethnic minority National Seat (turnout 5.1%)

  • Mohammad Taj* (Left)  1,637 Elected
  • Patrick D’Cruz (Ind) 1,222
  • Golam Bhuiyan (Grassroots Left) 803

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Trangender National Seat (turnout 5.5%)

  • Jenny Douglas* (Left)  20,603 Elected
  • Lesley Mansell (Grassroots Left) 16,751
  • Mark “Pasty” Turner (Ind) 14,101

Disabled Members National Seat

  • Seán McGovern* (Left)  Elected Unopposed

* denotes a sitting member

In some cases Unite Now backed Independent or UL candidates (and in one case an independent also backed by Grassroots Left)


  1. Robert says:

    If Union people cannot be bothered to vote god help us all. mind you I doubt I will be bothering to vote again. I’ve retired.

  2. jeffrey davies says:

    has above but one wonders are they believing this crap from these politicians has greed is the major draw back until that 99percent who aint rich wake up to the fact that they been lied to then its more kickings instore for the workers who cant be bothered jeff3

  3. Rod says:

    “Turnout for the election was well down on the already very low level of 2011”

    Not surprising.

    My last newsletter from Unite contained a glossy 8-page ‘vote Labour’ pull-out (for the the EU elections).

    The Labour Party has only just voted to dump the unions following the cooked-up crisis at Falkirk. Yet the Unite top-brass advise us to vote Labour.

    It’s not as if the Labour Party is on the side of ordinary people. Labour is pro-austerity, pro-military intervention, pro-wage freeze, pro-being tough than the Tories on benefits, pro the neoliberal EU. And against re-nationalisation of the Royal Mail even though conference voted for re-nationalisation.

    Why doesn’t the Unite top brass go tell Ed Miliband to stick his Party where the sun don’t shine?

    1. jeffrey davies says:

      totally agree they don’t want to listen to those who put them there but got so use to the tories greed they took it onboard until unions tell little tory labour party that’s it they can go get stuffed then nothings going to change one bit jeff3

    2. Jon Lansman says:

      Rod: this election was not about the Labour Party – it was to elect the union’s Executive Council which has oversight of all union business. Political strategy and relations with the Labour Party are just one part of their responsibility.

      1. Rod says:

        I understand that.

        But the impression given by the pro-Labour, pro EU, 8-page supplement is of an organisation that has priorities other than the interests of its members.

        This is bound to deter participation and enthusiasm for activities beyond the most immediate work-place concerns.

        Basically, if they mess up in one area (i.e. unjustified support for the Labour Party) this will reflect on their capabilities in other areas. And then members, like myself, will respond with a dismissive wtf. And so you get low voter turnout.

  4. David Melvin says:

    As a Unite member who left the Labour party in January for Left Unity I tend to agree Rod. If Len McCluskey is serious about a new “Workers’ party”, Left Unity is already up and running. In the North West LU is advising supporters to vote Green. Left unity in action!

    1. swatantra says:

      If Left Unity are up and running as said, why aren’t they putting up their own candidates instead of supporting the Greens?
      Turnout was abysmal to disgusting.

    2. Rod says:

      My feeling is that Len’s comments re a new party were intended to placate members like us who have given up on the Labour/Progress Party – my membership expired in April. Despite the talk, I doubt that Len would ever walk the new party walk.

      Falkirk should have been a red line – not only for Len but also for so-called ‘Left’ Labour MPs. And now the Labour Party, with the support of most union leaders, including Len, has voted to dump the unions.

      Probably his complicity/timidity will be rewarded with a peerage.

  5. David Melvin says:

    Not up and running that much! Will be by next years general election.

  6. James Martin says:

    I’m not in favour of PCS being swallowed myself, however I will say this. PCS is one of the few unions where the full time officials have limited or minimal influence and control. It is one of the few unions where in the not too distant past the left unity group pulled in huge numbers of activists (where many of them have gone is another story), and where despite the large amount of control by those associated with the Socialist Party in certain sections (the large DWP one in particular), other left and independent currents have flourished (most to the left of the SP who in practice are rather bureaucratic and right-wing). Unite actually desperately flux, and activists who have a history if independent thought and rank and file action.

    Personally I’ve been a member of both unions (although currently I am a member of GMB due to a change of employer), but between the two there is no comparison – and PCS in my experience wins hands down.

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