By a GMB member
In a stark reversal of the recent trend in union elections, the leadership's man Kevin Curran beat London Region's Paul Kenny by a surprisingly comfortable margin for GMB General Secretary.
This is bad news. Kenny was promising some serious democratic reforms to the union and the development of a major organising programme. These changes seem to be on hold.
Ironically, the current undemocratic nature of the GMB played its part in determining the result of this election. It is currently against the rules to canvass for or on behalf of a candidate (especially one not supported by the leadership). This led to the Alliance for Workers' Liberty receiving a letter from current General Secretary John Edmonds insisting that an article supporting Kenny be removed from the AWL's website. In this climate it becomes very difficult to actually explain a candidate's programme to members. All they have to go by is a short election address posted out with the ballot papers.
The addresses that did go out were very difficult to distinguish. Kenny's was unformatted (apparently the bullet points and so on disappeared somewhere between the drafting and the printing stages) but other than that, it was difficult to tell who was the leadership's man and who was the "left" candidate. Curran's address talked left. He said he opposed privatisation and would review the union's relationship with the Labour Party. Kenny's lacked the specific workplace commitments that inspire people to vote in a union election.
At least in part this is due to the fact that the GMB is a general union, organising members in such diverse fields as school cleaning and heavy industry. But a few specific commitments, aimed at answering the key industrial questions in each sector of the union would have been very useful. This was sorely missing from the campaign.
Even so, the result - a two to one victory for Curran - is surprising. Kenny received the majority of nominations. More branches and regions were supporting him than Curran. This indicates a worrying gap between the membership and the structures of the union. If the two are really so far apart, the union needs to pay some urgent attention to bridging that gap and getting back in touch with its membership. It would also appear that the Northern regions of the union, where Curran's support should be strongest, are better able to keep in contact with their members due to their more heavily industrial make-up against the London membership which is highly dispersed amongst school and council workers, catering workers, minicab drivers and so on.
Kenny now has to concentrate on building an active, organisation based region in London that is in touch with and able to deliver for its members. Unfortunately it looks like a long road ahead in spreading this model out across the GMB.