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Trade union shows how not to consult its members on London Mayoralty

People Not Profit March in central London.

People Not Profit March in central London.

So far the selection of the candidate for London Mayor has left much to be desired. A selection process was imposed on London that no section of the party in London wanted – not the trade unions, not the constituency parties, not the regional board of the party. Then the process was designed as if to minimise the number of trade union levy payers who could be recruited in time to participate. When the timetable for all other internal party ballots was adjusted (in line with the leadership election timetable) to give adequate time after the general election for nominations, that for London Mayor alone was left as it was.  Now one of the biggest trade unions affiliated to the Labour party has adopted a process that makes a nonsense out of the Labour rule which requires that “all nominees should have fair and equal opportunity to seek selection“.

Linda Perks, the London regional secretary of public sector union UNISON (as well as vice-chair of the London Labour Party), has written to all its London who pay a political levy to the Labour Party seeking their views on whom the union should nominate as the mayoral candidate. So far so good, and the lucky respondents stand to win a Kindle Fire. However, Perks goes on to say:

In accordance with the agreed process UNISON will prioritise nominating and supporting candidates who are UNISON members.

It turns out that only three of the eight candidates who put themselves forward are UNISON members as you can see in the survey. No elected body of UNISON had any prior discussion of the exclusion of the remaining nominees – it has been done purely on the basis of who is a member of UNISON (or even perhaps has just joined it).

Is this a way of encouraging ordinary UNISON members who work delivering local government or health services to Londoners? Of course not. The permitted nominees are Tessa Jowell, Sadiq Khan and David Lammy. Tessa did have a career as a social worker and may therefore have been a legitimate member (by which I mean someone who joins a union for the normal reason people join unions) of Unison prior to becoming an MP 23 years ago though she told Unite’s hustings that she’d been a Unite member in that period too (presumably she meant a member of one of Unite’s predecessor unions). Sadiq Khan was a partner in a law firm for all but the first three of his years as a solicitor prior to his ten years as an MP. David Lammy (who also claimed to have been a Unite member for many years) spent his working life before Westminster as a barrister.

It’s obviously not unusual for MPs to retain membership of whatever union they used to be in and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with MPs who act as advocates for a union’s members in parliament joining that union. Aspiring parliamentary candidates often seem to think it’s desirable to maintain membership of several unions in order to maximise support in selections – but that’s not a good reason for a trade union giving them their backing.

UNISON is not following a similar practice in the election for leader or deputy leader, nor did it do so in last year’s Scottish leadership elections. It is claimed that Linda Perks justifies this stance for the Mayoralty on the basis that it is a ‘selection’ rather than an election, and that in selections “we only support candidates who are UNISON members“.

However it is simply not true that UNISON only supports its own members in selections. For example, in the selection for St Helens South and Whiston last year, UNISON backed Marie Rimmer (now its MP and never a member of UNISON) against UNISON member and Southwark councillor Catherine McDonald.

So what is the real reason that Linda Perks only included three names? To prevent and possibility that members would back Diane Abbott? To assist Tessa Jowell in a union whose membership is mainly female? I think we should be told.


  1. Matty says:

    Yes, it is an absolute joke. Linda Perks should be ashamed.

  2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    No real surprises there then.

    Even without the kinds of, Fat Cat,” salaries and other perks now being enjoyed by most union leaders, advantages financial and other that even someone like the late and much missed Bob Crow; for all his aplomb sometimes seemed slightly embarrassed by, this is lame.

    It also completely misses the real point of being in a union; at the last company that I worked for, a small and skilled manufacturing operation; shortly after I started there someone put up a poster on the notice board for a union.

    The response of the management was that one of the directors calmly removed it from the notice board and tore it up in front of everyone and that was the end of that.

    These days, union, largely means only public sector and to be honest they’ve hardly distinguished themselves at places like Mid Staffs where they seem to have been both negligent and complicit in the, “appalling abuse,” there; and that without the various tales of threats and intimidation of both patient’s families and NHS staff, which based on my own experiences of trade union behavior, (as often as not as member myself,) in many places where I’ve worked, I am not prepared to simply dismiss out of hand as simple slander.

    I always used to be in a union simply for the Industrial Accident and Employment Rights; but these days many people myself included view them as simply another tier of company middle management and with much justice.

    Like the now almost completely defunct British labor party the union movement in the UK has become fat, apathetic, self serving, too often corrupt and sclerotic and of little real use to the rest of us; but particularly not to those people who do not work in the public sector.

  3. No Diggety says:

    This article is HILARIOUS. Unison are the ONLY union to have bothered to even ask its own members who they think their union should support. Where is the attack on GMB for picking Khan without even bothering to have interviews, hustings, or any sort of process at all?

    1. Matty says:

      Yes, a good thing they ask but totally undermined because they asked the members to select from a list of 3 when they know that several others have also put themselves forward – Abbott, Wolmar, Thomas etc.

  4. David Pavett says:

    How can the nomination process be deemed valid?

  5. John P Reid says:

    Have unite backed Diane yet?

  6. Ric Euteneuer says:

    I occasionally hear remarks such as those articulated by J.P. Craig-Weston about how “useless” unions are and how they only think about the public sector (strangely, this being where most of their members are). Answers on a postcard please as to what J.P. Craig-Weston’s suggestions mean practically. As an unpaid union rep and steward past and present, to be described as out of touch and sclerotic is, frankly, insulting and pathetic.

    1. James Martin says:

      J.P. Craig-Weston is a nasty little Tory troll and nothing more – when you read through all his posts not one- not one- is ever supportive of the Labour Party, unions, mutualism, the left or socialism. Ignore him and let him crawl back under whatever stone he’s come from.

  7. Andrew says:

    UNISON is not making a nomination the official postion taken was to leave it to members. The survey was close between the three but Jowell was just ahead.

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