Jeremy Corbyn backs Roger McKenzie in UNISON general secretary race

Sienna Rodgers

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has officially backed left-wing candidate Roger McKenzie in the UNISON general secretary race that will see Dave Prentis replaced when he retires at the end of the year.

Announcing his endorsement, Corbyn said: “Roger and I have stood together on picket lines, on demonstrations together, and he did a huge amount of work supporting my leadership campaigns in 2015 and 2016.

“I am proud now to stand with Roger in his campaign for general secretary. Roger is a pleasure to work with and brings energy and verve to everything he says and does about social justice in society and the strength of our trade unions to stand up for the rights and needs of the most vulnerable workers.”

McKenzie added: “I was proud to stand side by side alongside Jeremy Corbyn over many years fighting for a better society for the many. My campaign for general secretary of UNISON is bringing that fight and energy into our trade union.

“I will ensure our members are closer to our leadership with greater engagement with our branches and strengthening our union democracy. Under Jeremy’s leadership of the party the trade union voice was strengthened.

“Policies that benefited our members, and society as a whole, were championed and at the heart of the Labour Party. I will ensure this remains the case and stand up for our workers inside the party.

“As general secretary I will ensure that UNISON members are always put first – our political work is about representing our members to the party, not representing the party to our members. Thank you Jeremy – proud to have you at my side continuing to fight for the many.”

Supporters of McKenzie describe him as key in making sure that UNISON nominated Corbyn, a UNISON member, for the Labour leadership in 2015 and 2016 when those leading the trade union were initially hesitant.

Corbyn ally Diane Abbott has also backed McKenzie for the top job at the union. The Hackney MP said he would make a “great campaigning general secretary” and argued that “Roger is the voice that UNISON needs at this time”.

The assistant general secretary, considered to be on the left of the Labour-affiliated organisation, launched his bid to replace the retiring union leader Prentis last month promising a “positive and optimistic” campaign.

He faces competition from fellow assistant general secretary Christina McAnea. She is responsible for UNISON’s collective bargaining, negotiations and equalities strategy and has recently focused on health and social care workers.

Branch secretary and left-winger Paul Holmes, backed by UNISON Action Broad Left and John McDonnell, has also put himself forward. He stood in the 2010 contest, coming third behind Prentis and Roger Bannister.

Hugo Pierre, a representative of Black members and of the Socialist Party on UNISON’s national executive council, is also standing and “looking to be the candidate of the left”.

UNISON national race equality officer Margaret Greer threw her hat into the ring, but LabourList understands that she has been deemed ineligible by UNISON and is no longer a candidate in the contest.

Current general secretary Prentis announced his retirement in July. He first took up the general secretary post in 2001 and was re-elected in 2005 with 77% of the vote and in 2015 with 49% of the vote.

Following the announcement, Labour leader Keir Starmer thanked Prentis for his “many years of outstanding leadership” and praised him for “admirably representing our heroic frontline workers during the coronavirus crisis”.

When the new leadership team was elected in April, Prentis wrote for LabourList that UNISON backed Starmer and Rayner “because they were the right people for the job” and “have all the ingredients for a winning team”.

Two other large trade unions are also set to decide on new leaders in the near future, with a contest to replace Unite the Union’s Len McCluskey next year and GMB needing to replace Tim Roache, who resigned in April.

UNISON is one of the biggest trade unions in the UK, with its members working in the public sector, for private contractors providing public services and for utility companies. It has over 1.3 million members.

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