A UNISON member responds to Dave Prentis over by-election results
We are pleased to publish the following comments from a UNISON member in Coventry in response to an article by UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis in the aftermath of the Stoke and Copeland by-elections. The original article by Prentis was originally carried on the website of the New Statesman. We welcome comments and discussion on the issues raised here.
The votes in the two by-elections that took place this week in Stoke Central and Copeland had barely finished being counted before UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis had an article published in the New Statesman. This article can hardly be considered helpful from the point of view of Jeremy Corbyn and those hundreds of thousands of people who support his anti-austerity policies and wished for something better than the ‘same old Tory lite’ of New Labour.
The article was quickly and unsurprisingly picked up by the right wing press as another example of how Corbyn’s position is becoming untenable as his ‘friends’ start to lose faith in him.
Let us be clear from the outset. Despite the soothing words of Prentis, the fact that UNISON supported Corbyn in the leadership contests was a result of the massive pressure from ordinary members in the union to do so. Prentis would not have wanted to support Jeremy in a million years.
In fact he would have felt threatened by the mass influx in to the Labour Party and people signing up as supporters to support Jeremy. No doubt Prentis would be thinking – if it could happen in the Labour Party, could a ‘Corbyn moment’ happen in UNISON to get rid of him as general secretary? (We think yes, more on that later)
Prentis rightly points out
‘There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so.
The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership’.
However timing counts for a lot in politics. And in this case timing says it all – with the knives inevitably coming out once again for Corbyn’s leadership this article from Prentis only adds to the pressure.
Prentis could and should have turned his fire on the Blairites and in particular Tristam Hunt (who took his ‘dream job’ with the V and A) and Jamie Reed (moving on to a highly paid job in the nuclear industry). He could have said that Copeland would still be a Labour seat if Reed had not resigned to pursue higher wages. He could have attacked Tony Blair for his intervention over Brexit, timed to destabilise Labour in the days running up to the by-elections. But no, we get an attempt to undermine Corbyn disguised as comradely advice from a ‘friend’.
Socialist Party supporters in UNISON have raised comradely criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the role played by sections of Momentum. In particular Jeremy’s willingness to placate the right wing in Labour (for example on the issue of the democratic policy of mandatory re-election), the changing of his traditional position of opposition to the EU (if he had held to his position he would have been in a good place to change the whole debate over Brexit – the left wing, internationalist case against the EU as a bosses club would have been heard by a wider audience which could have undercut UKIP) and the unwillingness to organise and mobilise the hundreds of thousands of people against the Blairites in favour of a ‘broad church’ where the right control the PLP and the party machinery.
Unfortunately Jeremy and John McDonnell have also allowed the right wing to get their way with regards to Labour Councils implementing Tory cuts. These concessions have not consolidated or strengthened Corbyn’s position – they have greatly weakened it.
However we do this from the position of wanting to see the building of a mass, anti-austerity socialist movement and that the election of Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party is a big step forward.
That is not the position of Prentis. The general secretary of UNISON is also on the Board of the Bank of England and receives a 6 figure salary which is far removed (to say the least) from the majority of members he purports to represent. Under the leadership of Prentis, our union has failed to mount any sort of campaign to defend jobs or services – with hundreds of thousands of posts being lost in local government and the Tories declaring open season on the NHS. Where is our union? Where is our leader Prentis? There have also been accusations that Dave and his team in the general secretary elections broke the rules of which more can be read about here
Socialists in UNISON have been involved in building support for the UNISONaction Broad Left in the forthcoming elections to the union’s National Executive Council – this will be a key opportunity to elect activists who are united in their belief that the leadership of Prentis is not fit for the purpose of building a fighting, democratic UNISON. The intervention of Prentis in the aftermath of the recent by-elections further confirms why we need change in our union.
For more analysis of the elections results and what they mean, click here