Trade union should back candidates against Labour says Camden-backed leadership challenger

Hugo Pierre is campaigning to become general secretary of the UK’s biggest union. Picture: Hugo Pier

Hugo Pierre is campaigning to become general secretary of the UK’s biggest union. Picture: Hugo Pierre - Credit: Hugo Pierre

Trade union Unison should consider pulling funding from the Labour Party and running candidates against Labour councillors who implement cuts, according to a candidate to become its general secretary.

Hugo Pierre, the union’s schools convener in Camden, has advocated a more combative relationship with both the Conservative government and the Labour Party, criticising Keir Starmer’s leadership.

He has received 31 branch nominations, including from his local Camden branch, which covers Mr Starmer’s Holborn and St Pancras constituency.

Mr Pierre, 61, said: “Keir Starmer wants to move the Labour Party away from policies that I know Unison members hold dear like fighting privatisation, decent pay, stopping cuts to local authority services.

“I’d have to issue a warning that if the Labour Party isn’t pursuing those policies then we may have to look elsewhere.”

He told Ham&High that if he became general secretary he would reconsider Unison’s funding position in relation to the Labour Party, and mooted running candidates against Labour.

He said: “That [decision] would be at a branch level, but we would have to have a national decision first to allow that.”

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Under the leadership of Dave Prentis, who is retiring after 20 years as general secretary, Unison has been a staunch ally of Keir Starmer, and was one of the unions to endorse his campaign for the Labour leadership.

However, Mr Pierre says that the decision to back Starmer was not reached democratically.

He said: “There wasn’t the full consultation among all of the Labour Party members that there should have been, and that there had been to support Jeremy Corbyn previously.”

Unison is the largest of the UK’s “big three” trade unions, with almost 1.4 million members.

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Mr Pierre, who has worked for Camden Council for 30 years, has received 31 branch nominations. He has also been endorsed by the Socialist Party, of which he is a member.

He told Ham&High that he wants to “transform” the union, adding: “Our union has failed to make big strides for our members, particularly in the years of austerity.”

Citing local government job losses, council funding cuts, and widespread privatisation, Mr Pierre said the union suffers from a lack of courage and determination to fight the government.

He pointed to his successful campaign for Camden school caterers to earn the London Living Wage as evidence of how an aggressive publicity campaign and the threat of a strike ballot can win wage rises for union members.

“We have been able to win that in Camden,” he said, “[but] we had to really fight both the Local Authority and the catering company to get that agreed.”

Mr Pierre faces stiff competition from NEC-endorsed Christina McAnea, Roger McKenzie, Unison’s current assistant general secretary, and Paul Holmes, who has the support of the union’s United Left grouping.

Front-runner Christina McAnea, would be the first female general secretary of a union which has an 80% female membership.

Mr Pierre said: “I think, more than having a female figurehead, women members of my union - I think they want something done about their pay, their job security, where they work.

“That’s what’s really important to them. That somebody is really taking up their issues and fighting their corner.”

The final deadline for votes is November 27.

Sir Keir Starmer was approached for comment.