Unison announced the election of its first female General Secretary, Christina McAnea, today (11 January 2021). McAnea was elected with 47% of the vote, with the remaining 53% of the vote being split across 3 differing left-wing candidates.
McAnea is largely considered to be supportive of the policies and strategies of Labour leader Keir Starmer, making this election a huge win for the right-wing leadership of Labour, especially when considering that Unison is the largest trade union in the country.
This is also a crucial period for the Labour leadership, with Unite and GMB elections also coming up, and with pressure being applied to Starmer from the teaching unions and other groups. This was clearly an opportune time for the left to be winning power to place pressure upon Starmer’s “New Leadership”, making this defeat for the left extremely disappointing.
And what makes this all the more crushing is that a majority of Unison members who voted were supporting left-wing candidates. This is hardly a surprise, as there has been an anti-bureaucratic and anti-establishment mood developing inside of Unison for a long time.
It is arguably the failure of the left to effectively organise and discipline itself that has led to this disastrous result. Had the left rallied together to run one candidate, rather than 3, the outcome would likely have been very different.
The question might be asked if the right is able to settle on single candidate – why can’t the left?
This whole scenario speaks to importance of winning an organised broad left within trade unions. Giving in to individualism and egotism leads to defeats such as this one. We can only hope that the left learns from these mistakes and applies the solutions going forward.