Analysis Exclusive

Radical, popular grassroots candidate who wants GenSec job on basic wage could be Unison – and Labour – game-changer

Paul Holmes wants to be Unison’s first general secretary elected from outside the union’s employed staff, on a salary of £32,000 – and to give the remaining £100,000 or so to good causes

Paul Holmes

Union and Labour activists have identified the retirement of controversial right-winger Dave Prentis as general secretary of the giant Unison union as a pivotal moment in the future direction of both the Labour movement and party.

Prentis’s re-election campaign team was slammed by a judge after the ‘Unisongate’ manipulation of the election was revealed by recordings – and the union boss not only gave jobs to two of the senior former Labour employees accused in the explosive leaked party report, but promised to protect them when the report leaked, to the fury of many Unison national executive and lay members.

Prentis’s decision to retire has opened up the possibility of renewal for a union that is the UK’s biggest but is often criticised by its members and activists for taking too right-wing a stance and a too-soft approach on industrial disputes – and along with that renewal, to balance the Labour Party after recent right-wing manoeuvres to stack the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).

But the hope of positive change has been tempered by the realisation that the right is well entrenched in the union’s structures – and the apparent absence of an obvious left candidate with both a realistic chance of success and the backbone to make a difference if elected.

However, a working-class candidate has entered the contest who threatens to upend expectations – and to shake both the union’s and the Labour Party’s political class to its foundations.

West Yorkshire-based Paul Holmes is a 40-year Unison and Labour Party member who has been Unison’s local government branch secretary in Kirklees for thirty years – and was elected to Unison’s NEC with the biggest vote in its last round of elections – and he is standing on a radical, working-class platform.

In an interview, Holmes told the SKWAWKBOX that he believes Unison has become far too corporate and he has intends to change that – including selling the union’s two large headquarters buildings, worth around £100 million, so the funds can be put to better use.

Holmes compared the newest building to the offices of a bank or building society, with few signs that it belongs to a union apart from the Unison logo on the outside and in the lobby, lacking any of the normal mementos of past struggles and working-class solidarity that would be expected in a union office. Holmes considers this a sign of Unison’s ‘business unionism’ and says he will end it

Holmes also pointed out that since its formation in 1993, every general secretary had been a full-time union employee and that it was time for a proper democratic separation between Unison’s bureaucracy and its leadership, with only elected officers deciding the union’s priorities and directions while employed officials carry them out.

Basic Salary

To underline his determination to return Unison to its working-class roots, Holmes is making a commitment to do the job, if elected, on the same salary he currently earns as a local government organiser – £32,000.

Holmes also intends to:

  • increase the share branches receive of their membership funds from 25% to 50%
  • make Unison a ‘fighting union’, to ensure working people aren’t penalised by the government for the costs of the coronavirus crisis
  • raise the general secretary profile to ensure the union punches its weight

Holmes’s politics and attitude to the role of unions are not a recent, nor adopted for the election – as videos of old speeches show:

It might be hard, in the current climate, to imagine a left-wing, working-class, grassroots candidate upsetting the right’s apple cart. But Holmes is popular. Unison members say he is highly regarded and that his speeches are among the most anticipated at the union’s conferences.

He has regularly topped the poll in the elections for Unison’s NEC during his 13 years serving on it. He is expected to achieve the required nominations required by Monday without difficulty and already has the support of a third of Unison NEC members.

With significant grassroots suppport, the usual low turnout in union elections and his plans to shake up the union and return it to its members, it’s a certainty that Unison’s right-wing establishment will pull out all the stops to block or disable Holmes’s campaign and protect their privilege.

But Holmes is also a threat to the Labour right with Unison, the Labour Party’s second-largest affiliate, able to wield significant influence on the party’s NEC – enough, if Unison and fellow giant Unite are run by solid working-class general secretaries, to overturn the right’s current dominance on the NEC. Labour’s right-wingers will certainly be giving every assistance possible to their fellow ideologues in the union.

But if Unison members want their union back and get behind the candidate whose track record shows he will give it to them, then the Unison general secretary election could be a game-changer not only for the union but for the whole Labour movement, including the party supposed to represent it.

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  1. I imagine the right,being deeply entrenched in that union ,will be very hard to shift.When the right gets into a position of dominance and control they become very hard to shift because proper democracy goes out of the window.It is the same old story every time,disillusioned membership,along with an immovable right wing cabal.The Labour is exactly the same,where the right gain power,disillusionment soon follows.

  2. Why the fatalism
    As a complete outsider looking in it’s a slam dunk, low turnout voter apathy, hasn’t JC taught us anything
    Give them clear red water and they will vote

  3. I believe Hugo Pierre and Roger McKenzie are standing for the position of General Secretary of Unison too, I wouldn’t call either of them “right wingers”..
    That Paul Holmes will do the job on a £32K a year if elected it goes here no there. A General Secretary position is by far more complex that the one of Local Government Organiser.
    Hence, what skills does Paul Holmes has, that makes him a better proposition that Hugo Pierre or Roger McKenzie?
    This isn’t neutral reporting but rather propaganda in favour of a preferred candidate by the editorial team of the Skwawkbox, attempting to influence the election of Unison General Secretary.
    In the same way that it was trying to influence Unite members in favour of Howard Beckett. Now that Len is staying put we will have two more years in which to decided who we want as Unite’s General Secretary once Len retires. I would be happy with either Steve Turner or Howard Beckett, but it was unfair for the Skwawbox to jump on it. Jenny Formby couldn’t vote because she didn’t keep up her membership of the Unite Left group as simple as that. No that the Skwawbox reported on it.

    1. Not to dismiss the other fine leftwing candidates (McKenzie & Pierre), but maybe a corporatist union like Unison needs a grassroots activists and branch secretary to inject some man-of-the-people relevance for the members and the Labour Movement as a whole. Holmes has a good reputation in Kirklees. His lack of HeadOffice experience is not necessarily a disadvantage, I’d say.

    2. UL allowed others who had lapsed to make up their subs – and Formby had been battling cancer and the Labour right, so had more excuse than most. Unison activists don’t seem to see RM or HP as viable/strong enough. Prentis started off left, wanting to proscribe Progress. Now look at him. Beckett’s the best person for the Unite job, simply – why shouldn’t this site guide readers to the best options based on what is known (not all of which can be published)

    3. Maria, complaining that Skwawkbox takes sides is frankly a bit weak.
      How would you have us decide on which candidate for any of the thousands of ‘political’ positions to support?
      The MSM takes sides though they don’t say “Vote for X” – they do it subtly and persistently.
      Our enemies claim to be all things to all men and there are far too many aspiring candidates for everything for us to know enough about them.
      I don’t have a staff of full time political researchers to help me so I’d have to sift through the MSM dross to choose – or take a wild guess.
      So you disagree with Skwawkbox – that doesn’t make his opinion unfair, or even wrong.

    4. Are you seriously suggesting that Skwakies pandering to left position? No way. Pip Pip

  4. I’m sure I read somewhore that most Labour MP’s give most of their incomes to good causes – it’s about time some of these union big shots followed their fine example.

  5. This is another ham-fisted attempt to intervene in a union election. You could be forgiven from reading this post for thinking that there were no other left-wing candidates for the post. There are at least two others including Roger McKenzie.

  6. I wish someone had given us advice on Tom Watson.Think of what !might have been averted if we had voted in a tough no nonsense socialist deputy leader?Squawky has started the debate and that’s a good idea in any forum

    1. Joseph, unfortunately they weren’t any socialist candidates in the ballot paper to chose from. These were the candidates: Angela Eagle, Carolyn Flint, Stella Creasy and Ben Bradshaw.
      Do you honestly think that any of the others was a socialist? With the benefit on the hindsight who out of them all would have been better?

      1. Angela Eagle, Carolyn Flint, Stella Creasy and Ben Bradshaw.

        And we look at the toerag benches, curse, and roll our eyes…

    2. It wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference Joseph, and YOU know it!

      1. I think I’ve seen you write “and YOU know it” before, Allan.
        It implies that your target knows that your opinion is correct and that they’re disagreeing with you out of spite or some other scurrilous motive, rather than genuinely holding whatever opinion they express.
        I don’t know if that’s what you meant to imply though?

    3. Joseph is just dissembling a fantasy – ie a falsehood – as if to say that things could have been different ‘if only’. No, they would NOT have been any different, and the saboteurs and the MSM et al would STILL have used every dirty trick in the book to bring Jeremy down and tar the left, and having ‘a tough no nonsense socialist deputy leader’ would not have made the slightest bit of difference. And Joseph knows it! And SO do you David!

      1. Allan, look again. Joseph wrote “think of what MIGHT have been averted…” – that’s a helluva long way from being a falsehood and I think you ought to apologise.
        Nobody but you apparently knows FOR CERTAIN that nothing would have been different.
        I also doubt it would have made any or at least much difference – but NOBODY, not even you, KNOWS.
        Maybe if the deputy had been Chris Williamson – maybe.

      2. Oh, right David, so could you remind me what happened to Chris – ie what the smearers and the MSM *DID* to Chris – when he defended the LPs record on anti-semitism. Yes, they made absolutely certain that he wouldn’t be able to contest his seat again AND retain his job as an MP. And THAT’s how ruthless they ARE!

        And what does it matter if Joseph said ‘might’! Nothing whatsoever would have been ‘averted’, and to suggest otherwise is a falsehood, so ‘might have’ is a big lie.. They destroyed Chris’ political career as a Labour MP for calling out THEIR lies, and yet you (and Jack T and Joseph Okeefe) would have readers of skwawkbox believe that it could have been different. No, it COULDN’T!

        The PTB hold all the cards, and THAT has been MORE than evident during the past few years. Yes, they thought they’d done enough to finish Jeremy off in 2017, and they got a big shock when he then came so close to winning the GE, and THAT is why they then trebled down on their smears and their demonisation of Jeremy and the left membership. If my memory serves me well, I’m pretty certain that ALL the specific A/S claims against Jeremy himself happened AFTER the 2017 election – ie the ‘English Irony’ episode and the ‘Wreath-laying’ episode and the ‘Mural’ and the ‘Book’ episode and the ‘Israel Compared To Nazis Meeting’ episode, none of which raised so much as an eyebrow at the time each of them happened.

        But what did they care at the time, he was then just a back-bench Labour MP!

  7. I was busy all last night into this morning and only half-listening but think it might have been on the BBC’s Dateline London last night where a foreign journalist was talking about a big increase in activism among Millennials and attributing it to them being the ‘least lucky’ generation.
    I’m not saying it’s not, but in the 1960’s young people had more disposable income than ever before, and we may have been better off in some ways than today’s generation.
    We were hardly INactive – there was CND, Vietnam, Friends of the Earth, there were meetings, leaflet drives, sit-ins, marches, demo’s – seemed like almost constantly at the time.

    1. Yes you are quite right about the 60’s generation. But now that they are all in their late 60’s just look at the way that most of the bastards voted in the last General Election.

      1. What an amazing generalisation; it’s no wonder MSM hate the ‘baby-boomers’ who “have it all & vote Tory”. This BASTARD has never voted Tory in his life & doesn’t know anyone of MY GENERATION who has. Stop reading the Guardian.

      2. Steve Richards, I’m about to turn 70 and I’ve never voted anything but Labour.
        I’m not insulted by Albert’s statement because most Tory supporters ARE gerrys like me – no point getting them in a twist over that.
        He didn’t generalise either, he said “most.”
        Oh – and I am a bastard as it happens, so 🎯

  8. “Radical, popular, grassroots” movements can’t seek out big donations from rich folk because they always expect a return of some kind on their investment, whether it be honours or influence – it’s in their nature. Getting rich requires such singleminded dedication to accruing wealth that greed must somehow be redefined in the mind from a personality defect to a boon for all mankind.
    Only the rich can perform such moral and intellectual somersaults and sleep soundly while others suffer the effects of their greed.
    If Labour supporters wish to do their own moral backflips for money, fuck them and the shithead they’re following to ruin.
    The only people I’m certain of are Corbyn and Williamson. No wonder I’m depressed – depression is the only logical response to this anti-society that Twatcher built.

  9. Prentis’ decision to retire, if not honourable, is at least the right thing to do. Even lowlife reprobates very occasionally do the right thing.

    Paul Holmes’ election would provide Unison and its membership with an opportunity for retribution.

    Good luck Paul Holmes. The Party of good people and socialists (currently mismanaged by reprobates and scoundrels not in like the former leader of Unison himself) need you to succeed and show our enemies how strong we are when inspired by goodness and integrity.

  10. And the morning Star editorial draws attention to the fact that despite HQ and a organised group of officials employed by the Labour party and Labour party MPs worked against the socialist revival it was not the cause of the collapse of the Corbyn Project.Weak leadership and loosing touch with the movement by bowing to pressure from the enemy’s of Socislis!m was the route cause.I was at first suprised but after consideration I must agree membership remained Strong and supportive of the project and we could have cleared out the scum sooner.We had the Labour party and the country within our hands and a true Socialist leader.,.But I suppose the leadership nrver realised that they had the power and unknowingly helped i by not being just plain ruthless …more than just sad but destructive as well

    1. At first he was surprised says the guy that must have repeated this falsehood at LEAST fifty or sixty times since he first started posting on skwawkbox just over a year ago!

      Anyway, I thought I’d better read the MS editorial before I continued, and just this moment did so. Apart from the fact that they don’t mention the word ‘weak’ at any point whatsoever, it’s an opinion piece. It is of course impossible to know if Jeremy would have won the 2017 election had resources been channeled to where they should have been, and NOT to right-wing safe seats, as they secretly were. But the chances are that but for the staffers working against him, he could very well have won AND now be PM.

      As for being ruthless, well there are TWO aspects to that, the first being that Jeremy wouldn’t be Jeremy – and the person that so many on the left respect and admire – if he WAS ruthless. The second is that the corporate media and the semi-corporate BBC is totally behind the Blairights, and any ‘ruthlessness’ on Jeremy’s part regarding them would have been REALLY ruthlessly attacked and condemned AND designed to do as much damage as possible.

      And remind me….. how many Labour MPs was it that signed the No Confidence motion in Jeremy? When you’ve got 172 MPs working to bring you down – along with the MSM and the Establishment et al – and only forty who support you, your options are some-what limited, to put it mildly!

      It was the relentless smearing and demonisation and character assination of Jeremy (and the left membership and Momentum), along with being pressured and forced to change policy on Brexit, that led to the 2019 GE defeat.

      1. (I quite liked “assination”) 🙂
        I disagree with Joseph’s “could have cleared out the scum sooner / [had] the country within our hands / never realised that they had the power / [should have been] ruthless.”

        I do think it might have been better to take a firmer line with the lies and the liars, but I don’t think anyone can say with certainty much more than that the right lied, cheated and propagandised their way (as always) to electoral victory.
        Democracy’s not democracy without a level playing field.
        In my opinion before we can change the world we have to enforce honesty on the MSM.

      2. “In my opinion before we can change the world we have to enforce honesty on the MSM.”

        Or PROMOTE (establish, coordinate) an alternative. The MSM as-is have very firm and fixed political objectives. Those not served by it need to counter it with a non-billionaire alternative.

        Without it, electoral reform and the democratic socialism which effective democracy makes inevitable cannot happen.

      3. qwertboi, how could an ‘alternative MSM’ compete for an audience?
        TV and the print media are far too expensive for unending crowdfunding and we couldn’t accept advertising from just any old planet-wrecking corporation, could we?
        Sorry, I don’t see how we can make that work despite having suggested ‘LabourTV’ myself in the past.
        Now I firmly believe we have to threaten them with jail for subversion of democracy. Lying to the electorate to win elections is something all honest voters would find abhorrent if the evidence were laid before them, and there’s plenty of it. We have to collect and collate it obviously and that’ll take a bigger research effort than our enemies used when they trawled the internet for their antisocialist smears.
        Such a threat couldn’t be ignored by the MSM, they’d have to fight it with everything they’ve got.
        In doing so I believe they’ll stretch the public’s credibility past breaking point.

      4. And what would that ‘firmer line’ have amounted to David? All that happens – as it HAS (and I’ll see if I can find a few examples) – is that any action taken against the A/S smearers is portrayed by the smearers (and the corporate media et al) as being further proof/evidence that JC and and his colleagues are anti-semitic – ie that they are sanctioning THAT person precisely because THEY have been vocal and spoken out about the anti-semitism problem in Jeremy’s Labour Party (albeit in reality as good as non-existent).

        Ah, here ya go……. from an article in the Sun about the LP saying it would be taking disciplinary action against Margaret Hodge for what she said to JC:

        Tory backbencher Andrew Percy added: “It is incredible that someone who lost family in the Holocaust is now being pursued and bullied by Labour because she dared to challenge a Labour leader who has failed to sign up to pretty much what everybody agrees is the clear definition of anti-Semitism.

        “It is disgusting.”

        Interestingly, the article ALSO includes a couple of quotes that dissemble what is, in effect, another falsehood:

        Labour backbencher Wes Streeting condemned party bosses for looking to punish Dame Hodge.

        He said: “If only senior Labour sources could respond so swiftly to complaints about anti-Semitism within our ranks.

        “The stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming.”

        Ian Austin added: “Imagine if Jeremy and his team were as quick to take action against the people responsible for racism as they are with the people complaining against it.”

        Oh, right, take action against people like Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker who were both falsely accused of anti-semitism, and whose cases were deliberately held up and prolonged for as long as possible by staff hostile to Jeremy PRECISELY so that such critiicisms of him and his team could be repeated over and over and over again, as they were.

      5. Allan, I wrote “might have been” and “I don’t think anyone can say with certainty” and here you are again, claiming certainty.
        Actually you’re claiming almost god-like powers of foresight, let alone perfect hindsight.
        Your contention appears to be that nothing – no. single. thing. – could possibly have caused events to turn out any differently to the way they turned out. That’s tantamount to saying fate took a hand.
        I don’t believe in fate.

      6. It has nothing whatsoever to do with fate and EVERYTHING to do with the enemies of Jeremy and the left having complete and total control of the narrative AND being totally ruthless and devoid of integrity. They ‘transformed’ Jeremy and Chris and Jackie and Marc and Ken into anti-semites AND the left membership into bullies and thugs and homophobes AND anti-semites as well, and yet you claim that it’s not possible to know what COULD have happened…..

        The joke of it is – and you’ve said as much on a number of occasions – that you said in a recent post that ONLY when the MSM are prosecuted for disseminating lies and falsehoods will there be any chance of the left attaining power, or words to that effect. Now why would you say THAT if you thought and believed there was some other way to overcome their lies and falsehoods and smears?

        Oh, but I was forgetting about the steamrollers and the pitchforks, wasn’t I, which about sums up how legitimate and realistic YOU are! Or should I say… authentic!

      7. Oh, it turns out your ‘recent post’ that I referred to was just up the page a little bit, which I just spotted when scrolling down the page after posting my comment above. But just prior to that, you finished a post by saying:

        ‘In my opinion before we can change the world we have to enforce honesty on the MSM.’

        And then – referring to the MSM – you said the following in your next post (in response to qwertboi):

        ‘Now I firmly believe we have to threaten them with jail for subversion of democracy. Lying to the electorate to win elections is something all honest voters would find abhorrent if the evidence were laid before them, and there’s plenty of it.’

        When you say ‘lying’, you are obviously referring to the vile smears and demonisation and character assassination of Jeremy (and Jackie and Ken and Chris et al AND the demonisation of the left in general.

        And the PTB and their propaganda machine have been subverting democracy for decades, and if smears and demonisation don’t appear to be having the desired effect – as with when Ken was leader of the GLC in the 1980s – then we’ll just abolish it altogether, and also include the six Metropolitan County Councils whilst we’re at it, which also happened to be controlled by left-wing administrations at the time!

  11. Dave Nellist (Coventry Labour MP) showed the way by accepting a 60% pay cut to bring him into line with the wages of a skilled factory worker. Perhaps MPs should be paid the minimum wage, so they might gain some insight, but provide them with incentive bonuses to raise the standard of living for the poorer people of Britain. ‘Incentivise’ MPs to serve the people.MPs paid by results.

    1. Dave did, he also shared and office with Blair before he and the cabal hijacked the party which the knight of the realm is the mk2 version, indeed say if the ordinary people can live on the average wage why can’t MPs. Many people don’t come anywhere near the average wage. However, the average wage won’t pay for the Tuscan villas and travelling first class, staying in first class hotels or paying for heating for the horses stables and moat plus duck pond to be cleaned so they need all those little perks to jolly them along in selling the people down the river to big business.

      1. I don’t know if you mean “shared an office with Blair” as evidence of Nellist’s unworthiness?
        I don’t know a thing about him other than the ‘pay cut’ so I’ve no opinion on him.
        I’ve shared offices with some real right wingers – it didn’t turn me into one so it’s not infectious.

  12. Don’t forget Terry Fields (God rest him) only took a fire bobby’s wage. And went to jail for non-payment of poll tax.


    Last week (or maybe the week before, time does fly) we charted the reinvention of Sir Keir Starmer through hundreds of Guardian column inches. Your favourite Deep State-backed paper is getting right behind this particular sock puppet. And now others are too.

    The Guardian reports that “Big Labour donors returning to party under Keir Starmer”. And they seem to be happy about it.

    It’s an odd choice of headline because, while a few big-money donors are apparently returning, you’d think the bigger news is the working class people leaving:

    Big private donations dried up almost completely under Jeremy Corbyn, although the party’s huge membership and union support put it in a strong financial position without the need for funding from wealthy backers. However, Unite, Labour’s biggest union backer and a major supporter of Corbyn’s leadership, has issued warnings over future funding.

    But who cares, right? Good riddance to them I say. The last thing a political party needs is grass-roots support, and nothing spoils a working-class movement like unionising.

    Don’t even bother reading the internal report claiming Labour insiders threw the 2017 election.

    The corruption is as sickening as it is obvious. Labour, so long a lost cause, almost became something worthy under Corbyn, and now it’s being torn apart in front of our eyes.

    We have the disgusting spectacle of a notionally “progressive” paper praising the knighted leader of a “working people’s party” for winning over the big-money donors who moved to Switzerland to avoid paying UK taxes.

    This really is clown world.”

    The Fraudian, who some of the knight of the realm disciples like to quote from, are up to their usual bag of propagandistic establishment supporting sycophantic praise for the elites new party leader puppet!

    1. David McNiven, I have met Dave Nellist a few times and he is a staunch defender of ordinary people as most of his former constituents would testify before the promoter of Blair, Kinnock concocted some nonsense to have him expelled from the Labour party. Afterwards he became a local councilor for some of the most deprived, poorest inner city districts of a once thriving industrial city. Again the people of these districts have nothing but praise for him. No wonder the right apparatchiks in the party conspired to expel people him and Chris Williams from the party. And yes you did get the wrong end of the stick

  14. Usual rules apply only one left candidate and maximum exposure,
    What your candidate is saying is that right wingers have the union stitched up, to the detriment of members and the wider Labour movement
    These unions Unison and GMB are must wins to change the balance on the NEC and to apply the financial pressure that will lead to clear out of Quislings and Bad Actors

    1. Unless Starmer believes he’ll attract more rich backers without Labour being associated with unions? There are people rich enough to fund the party as a hobby until the next millennium if they wanted to and not even miss it.
      Gates wants to be seen as a philanthropist and the Tories clearly aren’t philanthropic.
      He could go some way toward proving his bona fides to the masses by funding a slightly more left wing party than the Conservatives. That way it’ll be US oligarch money vs. Russian oligarch money and nobody really loses except the people.

      The logical outcome of neoliberalism is two rich men each owning half of a dead planet at war with each other to own it all.
      The word ‘enough’ doesn’t enter into neoliberal thinking.

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