UNISON members were informed by email on 8 January that “UNISON backs Keir Starmer to be next Labour leader”. This decision was made by the Labour Link committee who decide on the union’s relationship to the Labour Party.

The decision taken by that committee (with 14 votes for Starmer, five votes for Rebecca Long Bailey and one for Emily Thornberry) stands in stark contrast to the 2015 and 2016 leadership contests when UNISON surveyed its Labour Link members to decide who to back. In both membership surveys the membership overwhelmingly backed Jeremy Corbyn. This time around, the bureaucracy that runs UNISON was taking no chances. They pushed endorsement of Starmer through the committee and then sent an email out to members only an hour later. The next day Starmer appeared at UNISON HQ to do a photo-op with UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis.

In terms of its relationship to Labour, UNISON is not a particularly left wing union. Its central leadership are definitely on the soft right of the party and only reluctantly backed Corbyn in the face of pressure from below. Now they see the Labour left is weakened after the 2019 election defeat so they feel no qualms about moving back to their natural home – the centre ground of the party.

Sadly after 4 years of Corbynism there has been no progress made in radicalising the unions or even challenging the existing leaderships from the left. Now there must be a concerted effort to get socialists elected onto the Labour Link committee on a programme of action and resistance to the Tory government so that UNISON can become part of the solution not part of the problem.

In response an online petition has been launched to protest the decision and to demand the Labour Link committee open up a survey of the membership as they did before. This is an opportunity for the left in UNISON to organise a fight around democracy and accountability – things that are desperately needed in the union.

If you are in UNISON please add your name here.