The election of a new General Secretary for the big general union GMB is underway. Anyone wanting to stand has until the beginning of April to obtain at least 30 branch nominations. Voting runs from the beginning of May until the beginning of June.
The usual rules apply.
No one seeking nominations and no one standing as a candidate is allowed to “address any meeting of any branch (including his/her own branch) or Region or Section of the Union or any meeting of any kind whether held in a workplace or elsewhere” in order to seek support.
Phone canvassing, whether by landline or mobile, is not permitted. Inviting or accepting donations (such as from a nominating branch, for campaign costs) is not permitted.
The GMB Finance and General Purposes Committee will "vet" all candidates – no matter how many nominations they receive – to decide whether they have the competences needed to be a General Secretary.
Apart from an election statement to be sent out with the ballot paper, no “text, circular or other material (whether written, typed or printed, and whether communicated electronically or otherwise)” may be sent out by a candidate, or by anyone acting on his/her behalf.
Any candidate who becomes aware of a breach of the above rules by someone acting on his behalf (or purporting to do so) must withdraw the material circulated and report the incident to the National Returning Officer.
A breach of any of the above rules by a person seeking nominations or by a candidate can lead to disqualification from the contest.
Normally, one husting in each GMB region is held – the only "public meeting" at which candidates can speak. But in Covid-19 conditions the regional physical hustings are being replaced by “up to two” online national hustings.
Branch secretaries should circulate the link(s) to recording(s) of the “up to two” online hustings to their members with a wording which is to be “strictly as agreed by the Finance and General Purposes Committee.”
These election rules underline the lack of any real progress in implementing the findings of the Monaghan Report.
Published in September 2020, the Monaghan Report found that the GMB was institutionally sexist, bullying and cronyism were rife, lay members were disenfranchised, many branches were moribund, and real power lay with the (unelected) Regional Secretaries.
The General Secretary election – triggered by the resignation of Tim Roache last April amid allegations of sexual harassment – could be an opportunity for beginning the process of rebuilding lay democracy in the GMB.
Instead the usual anti-democratic restrictions apply, stifling any opportunity for meaningful debate.
Or even any chance for a rank-and-file candidate to get on the ballot paper: In a union where at least 40% of the branches are moribund, securing 30 branch nominations is an unrealistically high hurdle.
(In the 2019 General Secretary election the figure was even higher: 50 branch nominations.)
None of the above elections rule are in the GMB Rulebook and can be changed only by the convening of a GMB national conference. They are contained in the “Election By-Laws” approved for the contest and could have been amended (or scrapped) by the GMB Central Executive Council.
And even if a conference were needed to change the rules, so what? A GMB national conference is going ahead in a few months anyway. Any why rush with a General Secretary election? The last election was rushed. The result was Tim Roache.
As long ago as October of last year two GMB full-timers declared their intention of standing for election: Scottish Regional Secretary Gary Smith and Public Services National Officer Rehana Azam.
Since 2015 Smith has sat on the GMB Senior Management Team, identified in the Monaghan Report as the body which wielded real (undemocratic) power in the GMB. Smith has no record of challenging that lack of democracy.
Azam was previously the GMB National Equalities Officer. But she has no record of challenging the systemic sexism and misogyny in the GMB identified by the Monagahan Report.
But now, like Captain Renault in the film Casablanca, both Smith and Azam are “shocked, shocked, shocked” by the findings of the Monaghan report on the union in which they have both held high office for over a decade.
Although the odds are stacked against it, only a rank-and-file candidate could offer GMB members a real choice in the election.