Socialist Wins 44% in NIPSA General Secretary Race
The last few months have seen one of the most high profile trade union elections in Northern Ireland for decades. The election was for the General Secretary of the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA), the largest union here, with members from across the civil and public services and the voluntary sector. Socialist Party member Patrick Mulholland, stood as the Broad Left candidate against the candidate of the NIPSA establishment, Alison Millar.
Patrick’s high-profile campaign distributed tens of thousands of leaflets to hundreds of workplaces. It provoked discussion among people, both inside and outside of NIPSA, about what type of trade union movement we need. Patrick’s campaign focused on the policies and programme necessary to make a difference to NIPSA members.
He committed himself to only taking his current salary if elected, donating the excess to workers’ causes, and ensuring the trade union movement develops a real strategy to fight cuts. As General Secretary, he would have implemented decisions of NIPSA conference, including advocating a democratic, socialist alternative to austerity. Patrick had the opportunity to speak at hustings and meetings across the North to put forward these ideas that could transform the trade union movement and the fight against austerity.
Alison Millar’s campaign had the support of the majority of officials in NIPSA and the resources that comes with that. It did not stop a tirade of abuse, including of a sectarian nature, being directed at Patrick and his supporters. This venom and slander can only serve to bring the trade union movement into disrepute. It should be condemned by all in the trade union movement and we must ensure that we create an environment where ideas are freely debated but bullying is not tolerated.
Build a movement against cuts
The victory of the Millar campaign is no doubt welcomed by the main political parties in Northern Ireland. For example, Sinn Féin Belfast Council leader Jim McVeigh and the DUP’s Nelson McCausland both warned of the danger of the left in NIPSA winning the General Secretary position. These are the very parties which will make huge cuts that will drastically affect NIPSA members, their families and the wider communities in the years to come.
Patrick gained an impressive 44% of the vote (4,958). NIPSA Broad Left – which includes members of the Socialist Party – still has a majority on the union’s General Council, as well as the President, Vice-President and Treasurer positions. In the course of this campaign, many people joined the Broad Left and it will now be a stronger force in every area of the union in the turbulent years to come.
Socialist and the Left must build upon this strength by articulating a strategy to fight the cuts which is sorely lacking from the trade union leadership as a whole. At the same time, we must challenge the moves by some within the movement to align the movement with sectarian, pro-cuts parties, which can only serve to disarm us in the fight against austerity and threaten the unity of the working class.