Will Unite break its own election rules?

Ian Allinson, the grassroots socialist candidate for Unite General Secretary, is calling on Unite to stick to its own election rules, and on Len McCluskey and Gerard Coyne to agree to livestreamed hustings so that members can make up their minds on the strength of the arguments about the pressing issues we face.

This General Secretary election shouldn’t even be happening. For the second time Len McCluskey has forced an early election, resulting in timing that benefits only one candidate, himself. Only he knew the election was coming, so only he was unaffected by the compressed timescale for the campaign and nominations.

Almost all the information about the election process has been removed from the Unite web site, but I was sent a copy of the ballot guidelines by email in response to a request.

Guideline 6 says:

6. Prior to the nomination period for candidates opening, branches and workplace representatives will be advised that they can email details of prospective nominees to branches and workplaces. Prospective nominees will be allowed to provide a 150-word statement only, together with their membership details and the name of the constituency in which they wish to stand, which will be circulated by the union with the letter inviting nominations.

Appendix 1 of the guidelines specifies that the letter inviting nominations is being sent out during week commencing 2 January 2017, and that the 150-word statement will also be an emailed out the same week.

When I asked for more detail about the rules around the 150-word statement, Unite’s Chief of Staff replied on 22 December that the 150 word statements were not for General Secretary candidates. I immediately challenged this and pointed out that this would not match the election rules, which were presumably set by the Executive Council.

I have submitted my 150-word statement, to make sure that Unite had it in good time. I explained:

If the union did not follow its guidelines, this would clearly disadvantage me in the election. Of the three declared candidates, I am the one with least access to branches and workplaces. Not only would this disadvantage me in terms of seeking nominations, but even if I was successful in securing 50 valid nominations it would disadvantage me during the voting because a nomination confers advantages under the rules on campaigning and use of union resources. I urge you to comply with the guidelines and circulate my statement. I reserve my rights should Unite fail to follow its own ballot guidelines.

I asked for my correspondence to be passed on to the Returning Officer (Electoral Reform Services), but the Chief of Staff now tells me that nobody is able to deal with this at Unite or ERS until Tuesday (3rd January). Given the ongoing saga following the UNISON General Secretary election, one would hope that ERS would be keen to ensure the rules were followed scrupulously in this Unite election..

It would be a travesty if Unite broke its own election guidelines, prevented branches and workplaces from being aware of all the candidates, and disadvantaged the only ordinary member seeking nominations in the General Secretary election. The other two candidates, as the outgoing General Secretary and a Regional Secretary, have access from their jobs to a wide range of contacts, have slick and well funded campaigns, and have supporters in the media. Union democracy shouldn’t be about who has the fattest wallet or the best establishment connections, it shouldn’t be the sole preserve of those at the top, it should be about members deciding what is best for their union. Given the scale of the issues facing members in our workplaces and communities, this choice could not be more important.

As well as urging Unite to stick to the election rules, I am calling on Len McCluskey and Gerard Coyne to hold hustings with all declared candidates, which can be livestreamed for members across the union to watch and make up their own minds.

Details of how to nominate Ian Allinson for Unite General Secretary are here. Also see Ten Ways to Help.