Statement by the Grass Roots Left Secretariat on the election of the General Secretary of the GMB

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20/11/2015 by socialistfight

Defend the victimised GMB members, Keith Henderson, Steve Forrest and Maria! 20-11-2015

 Sir Paul Kenny – over ten years General Secretary of the GMB; never once actually elected to the post.

The election for the General Secretary of the General Municipal and Boilermakers union (the GMB) just concluded was in our opinion a bureaucratic stitch-up of monumental proportions as we will attempt to show in this account.

 The report Electoral Reform Services on the election for the General Secretary of the GMB, issued on 12 November, declared:

 Number of voting papers despatched: 610,023, Number of voting papers returned to the scrutineer: 26,658, Turnout: 4.4%, Number of votes found to be spoiled or otherwise invalid: 170, Total number of valid votes to be counted: 26,488. Tim Roache was declared the winner with 15,034 votes (56.7%) and Paul McCarthy got 11,454 (43.3%). [1]

 Tim Roache has been elected to the highest office in the union on the votes of 2.46% of the membership. The bureaucratic centralism of the GMB leaders, and particularly under the most recent leadership of Sir Paul Kenny, has led to a mass alienation of almost the entire membership.

 A series of comments on the Left Futures website on the day the election result was released shows this graphically.

James Martin posted:

 “I hope he (Tim Roache) will look to reverse the bureaucratic deadness of GMB structures which go a long way to explain such an appalling turnout. Branches barely exist, everything is run by full time officials and ‘rank and file’ is an alien concept. As a result GMB are slowly but surely being squeezed out of education, most recognition agreements in academies don’t even bother to mention them as there are no activists to raise it and the full timers are finding they are either too busy or just lack the local knowledge to intervene anymore, and I suspect this is repeated in other local authority and former local authority areas. But without lay activists it is hard to see how GMB would ever win a ballot under the latest Tory anti-TU laws.” [2]

 He went on the say:

 “…I do speak as a GMB member for around 5 years. Prior to that due to various jobs I was in Unite, PCS/CPSA, Unison/Nupe and the NUR. I was a rep and branch officer in most of those, as well as being president of a trades council for a decade… But what I have learned from three decades of trade union activism is that GMB is the worst union in terms of activists I have ever been a member of (which given I’ve been a member of Unison is quite a feat). It is also the one where regional officials have the most power (including being able to close down branches)… As I say, the highly top-down bureaucratic nature of the GMB will if it is not changed be its undoing.” [3]

 On the 16 November 2015 Chris Jones expressed his hopes for a better future:

“Well hopefully now that a left winger and Corbyn supporter has been elected, activism in the GMB will be regenerated. Great news.” [4]

 James Martin was still a little sceptical:

 “I hope so Chris. I tend to agree with a lot of Keith Henderson’s analysis of the bureaucratic deadness within GMB that reduces rank and file involvement to alarmingly low levels [5]  – and it was a shame (but no surprise) he didn’t get enough nominations to get on the ballot paper. Keith some may recall is the former GMB full time official and Labour Party member who was sacked, and his Employment Tribunal decided that while his dismissal was fair, he had suffered direct discrimination and harassment because of his “left-wing democratic socialist beliefs” and awarded him damages. The ET said that his socialist beliefs did constitute a philosophical belief and was capable of protection under the Equality Act (always useful to remember!). GMB appealed and won on the basis that the attack on his beliefs was not a pattern of behaviour but within a single act (by Paul Kenny no less – no wonder he was made a lord!). [6] In February (As soon as he was aware that the election for the General Secretary was called) Keith Henderson announced that he would like to seek nominations.

 Keith is a member of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), the Grass Roots Left and a former Regional Officer of the GMB London Region. His working life has been committed to trade unionism.

 In December 2012, Keith was dismissed from his employment with the GMB following his actions in carrying out the wishes of its members. Keith had organised a picket of Parliament on the day of action in the public sector pensions’ dispute on 30th November 2011 which followed a democratic decision of the GMB members employed in the House of Commons who had voted to take strike action and who had also voted to organise picket lines on the Houses of Parliament on the day of the strike.

 Paul Kenny, the General Secretary, contacted Keith directly by phone, shouting at him, claiming that his actions were too left wing and over the top, insisting that Labour MPs be allowed to cross the picket lines.

 Keith stands for the election of all union officers who should be accountable to democratically elected bodies of lay members at a National and Regional level. He also stands for devolving resources from a National and Regional level to a workplace and a local level.



Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary elect; 2.46% of the votes from the ballots issued secured his election, surely a record low for the election to the top post of any union.

 John McDonnell MP (now Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer) wrote to Paul Kenny on 18 October 2013, and said:

 “Many Labour MPs supported the strike and rightfully respected the picket lines. This appears to have upset some in the office of the Labour leader… This must be the first time a trade union, and possibly any employer, has been found to have considered a person being a Left wing democratic socialist as part of the reasoning for sacking him. I am sure you agree that the union would not want to be associated with any finding of discriminatory treatment of an employee on the basis of his belief in democratic socialism.” [7]

 Keith proposed to stand on a Manifesto found here: [8] which outlines in more detail the mechanics of reintroducing democracy, accountability and devolution of power in the GMB. Unfortunately Keith was denied the opportunity of standing for General Secretary by what are in our opinion outrageous bureaucratic byzantine manoeuvrings that would make those ancient emperors blush.

 Keith was forced to go to the Certification Officer because all his avenues of appeal were exhausted within the GMB. The Certification Officer has considered Keith’s complaint and has sent it to the GMB who now have an opportunity to reply. 

 The five heads of complaint are:

 1) On or around 1 July 2015 GMB breached section 47 (1) of the 1992 Act in that the Union’s by-law 13 relating to the Election of General Secretary and Treasurer 2015 prevented Mr Henderson, and other lay members of the union, from contacting branches to advise them of their intention to stand as a candidate in the election for the post of General Secretary and Treasurer.

 2) On or around 1 July 2015 GMB breached section 47 (1) of the 1992 Act in that the nomination period of 8 weeks was insufficient for intended nominees to gain the required nominations from 30 branches and was insufficient for branches to arrange and hold meetings to decide upon whether to support a given individual’s nomination.

 3) On or around 1 July 2015 GMB breached section 47 (1) of the 1992 Act in that the Union’s London Central X58 branch was not provided with the necessary papers/information for the election of General Secretary and Treasurer, including the nomination form, until 3 weeks into the nomination period which curtailed the 8 week nomination period thereby leaving insufficient time to write to branch members, arrange a suitable date for a nomination meeting, arrange a venue and give reasonable notice to members of such a meeting.

 4) On or around 1 July 2015 GMB breached section 47 (1) of the 1992 Act in that the Union did not provide sufficient information that the election of General Secretary and Treasurer was being held and, in particular, most members did not know of the 22 June to 17 August 2015 nomination period as no written notification to the membership was allowed and there was no notification on the Union’s website.

 5) On or around 30 June 2015 GMB breached the Union’s by-law 13 in that Regional Secretaries Tim Roache, Paul McCarthy and Paul Maloney and National Secretary Gary Smith contacted the Morning Star newspaper directly or indirectly which published an article stating that these Union officials were seeking nominations from the GMB branches for the election of General Secretary and Treasurer. This article constituted the issuing on behalf of candidates in the election of a text, circular or other material (whether written, typed or printed and whether communicated electronically or otherwise), other than an election address according with by-laws 6 to 12 inclusive, and so was prohibited under by-law 13.

 The President and Secretary of his own Branch, London Central General X58, were suspended in part for sending out a newsletter. Such importance was given to such an innocent communication which notified the members of his own Branch that he would be asking for his own Branches nomination. Such notification was seen as “order of business” to be discussed and voted on at the branch meeting. The nomination of the Branch being open to any members who chose to put themselves forward, one of which was Keith Henderson.

 The GMB by-laws were drafted such that it seems that they precluded Keith from contacting other Branch Secretaries informing them that he would like to be nominated for the position of General Secretary and Treasurer of the union.

 Keith was informed (at his complaint hearing) by a Committee Member that he could verbally inform people that he was seeking to be nominated or he could telephone them to let them know, which Keith had not been made aware before, after all his years in the Union nor is it clearly stated in By-law 13.

 Generally you are absolutely prohibited from writing that down in any document, email or twitter. As we can see from the above complaints to the Certification Officer contacting the Morning Star and securing what amounted to an advertisement in that paper seeking nominations somehow was not deemed in breach of those carefully crafted bylaws.

 Of course, if you were a lay member you would not have those contact details and the byzantine bureaucrats made sure you had no way of getting them. However, all the full time officials would have no trouble getting those details, particularly if ‘Sir Paul Kenny’ was sympathetic.

 Keith was nominated by his own branch after deliberations, questions and a vote having been taken. The meeting was open to anyone who wanted to stand and be nominated.

 Keith’s nomination was acknowledged by the Returning Officer, Steve Short. For that show of defiance the outraged bureaucrats have now victimised the President and Secretary of his branch as a scorched earth lesson to all future rebels. They did not do what they were told.  How dare they not obey?

 The President and Secretary were suspended from holding office and alleged to have, amongst other things, posted a totally misleading newsletter to branch members which contained canvassing support for Keith Henderson in the election of General Secretary and Treasurer, and was misleading in regard to not representing all the facts accurately, in terms of the receipt of the General Secretary and Treasurer Nomination Pact and posting process.

 The President and Secretary, having taken independent legal advice, were advised that there was no breach of by-law13, if there were any inaccuracies in the newsletter, they were minor and unintentional which were corrected at the branch meeting and could be corrected again given the opportunity.

 We have not experienced such control or show of power in our lifetimes, and are disgusted at such treatment. Do as you are told or face the consequences regardless of what you are asked to do is right or reasonable or doable, just do it and then argue about it or discuss it later. Do what you are told.  Is this what trade unionism is all about now?

 Below is the letter imposing the punishment on the President; the Secretary’s letter was similar except she was suspended from office for two years and not the three imposed on the President.The ‘offence’ is, amongst other allegations, informing their branch members via a newsletter that Keith Henderson was seeking a nomination from his own branch to stand for the office of General Secretary:

 To Steve Forrest:

  Subject: RULE 5 HEARING

Dear Steve

 Further to the hearing held on Wednesday 11 November 2015, after much deliberation and examining evidence including that from both Steve Short National Returning Officer and Maria Ludkin National Legal Officer, The Regional Committee came to the following unanimous decision.


In your position of Branch President of the X58 London Central General Branch, your actions of sending a deliberately contrived and misleading newsletter to all branch members canvassing support for Keith Henderson in the forthcoming election for General Secretary and Treasurer you were in breach of Election By-Law 13 and by ignoring the instructions of the Regional Secretary and the Regional Returning Officer, we find that you were in breach of Rules 35.11, 35.13 and Rule 35.15 of the GMB Rule book.

 We therefore rule that you should be removed as Branch President and no longer be eligible to stand for any posts within the GMB nor attend GMB Congresses for a period of 3 years.

 I would advise that you have the right Rule (5.6) to appeal in writing to the General Secretary within one month of the decision.

 Yours sincerely

Roy Dunnett,

London Regional President.

 If you think these actions are beyond belief and we are making it up just ask Brother Dunnett.

 Signed by the GRL Secretariat:

Gerry Downing

Jerry Hicks

Ian Scott

Tushar Sakar




[1] Electoral Reform Services 12th November 2015, GMB Election of General Secretary & Treasurer,.

[2] Left Futures, Left candidate wins general secretary election in GMB,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Draft: election address for the GMB general secretary election 201, Candidate’s Name: Keith Henderson,

[6] Opus cit, Left Futures

[7] LRC Campaign News, John McDonnell defends Keith Henderson against dismissal as officer of the GMB,

[8] Opus cit, Left Futures.

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