MEMBERS of Britain’s largest public-sector union will begin voting today in the most hotly contested leadership election in its history.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis hopes to see off challenges from the union’s head of local government Heather Wakefield and branch secretaries John Burgess and Roger Bannister.
The union represents predominantly women workers in schools, hospitals and local government — but it has been hit hard by Tory cuts to public services.
All three challengers have pledged to deploy more resources to branches and the rank and file.
“We need to give activists and paid officials on the front line much more support,” said Ms Wakefield, the only woman in the running.
“We have to start speaking out against austerity and privatisation. And we have to start putting Unison’s majority (women) at the heart of what we do.”
Mr Bannister, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, is running on a unique platform of “greater flexibility” in Unison’s affiliation to Labour.
A spokeswoman for Mr Prentis’s campaign told the Star he would offer “experience, vision and a leader that is trusted given the challenges that Unison is facing.
“Dave has the support and the respect of the rest of the trade union movement to ensure we secure trade union solidarity against the Tory government.
“We need a leader who can unite the union.”
But Mr Burgess, who runs the union’s branch in the Tories’ flagship council of Barnet, north London, said he was the candidate to include everybody and use everybody’s talents.
“Clearly the union isn’t unified because we’ve got four candidates,” he said.
The candidates are:
Knowsley branch secretary, national executive member and serial challenger for the Unison leadership. Pledges to take a worker’s wage. The only candidate to support disbanding the union’s Labour-affiliated political fund.
Unison’s head of local government who worked her way up from serving as a lay rep in predecessor union Nalgo. Enthusiastic about Jeremy Corbyn but argues Unison should also talk to the Greens and the SNP.
Social worker and branch secretary in Tory “easyCouncil” Barnet, where he has led the struggle against successive privatisations of council services. Critical of the union “bureaucracy” for sucking resources out of branches.
Cut his teeth as a union negotiator in the electricity sector in the 1970s and Unison general secretary since 2001. Won the endorsement of Unison’s national executive. Also serves as a non-executive director of the Bank of England.