Monday, May 29, 2017

The most important thing you can do

Recent posts on this niche blog might lead readers to conclude that I was currently mostly concerned with what was going on within UNISON.

Not at all.

Much as I love my trade union and its members I do not make the mistake of exaggerating the significance of our affairs or (in particular) of our leadership.

I have just spent a week off work in order to work for the Labour Party, under its best Leader in my lifetime, campaigning for a manifesto in which any socialist can believe.

Knocking on doors around Brighton, or standing at a street stall at the Clock Tower, I can feel the force of the hope which our Party, with our current Leader and policies, can inspire in the people for – and by – whom our Party was made.

Thanks to the hundreds of thousands who have rallied to support a socialist Leader for the Labour Party, politics in this country offers people a real choice for the first time in a generation.

Labour’s manifesto is no more than a modest social democratic programme, but it offers a real improvement to the lives of our people as we have not for decades.

The arrogance of the Tories offers the prospect of an outcome rather different from the one for which they were hoping. I know many comrades are watching the movement in the opinion polls with hope.

However, this is not a time to be a spectator. Philosophers interpret the world. The point is to change it. The question is always “what is to be done”?

If, like me, you are a socialist in Britain then the next few days are some of the most important in your life. Now is the time to say, without equivocation, to everyone you know that they should vote Labour (whoever the candidate).

More than that, now is the time to take any time you can off work, to volunteer your effort to your local Labour Party (whoever the candidate) in order to leaflet, knock on doors and stand on street stalls.

If you cannot take time off work then use all the free time you can to push out the message of the Labour Party under a socialist Leader – a message which we know will not be communicated honestly through the mainstream media.

Where you can you should focus your activity on marginal seats where the outcome will make a difference to who governs us a fortnight from now – however it is also true that every Labour vote will be a vote for our socialist manifesto and Leader.

Neither the Chartists nor the Suffragettes were wrong to think that it mattered that we should have the right to vote.

Every vote matters and, whatever the outcome of this election in terms of a Parliamentary majority, each vote cast for Labour under our socialist Leader, fighting on this manifesto, strengthens our forces for the struggles ahead.

Please comrades also join the Labour Party so that you are in the right place to engage in those struggles. Power concedes nothing without a fight, and that is as true within our movement as it is in the wider society. To win a fight you have to be in it.

The Tories offer us a future as a declining, xenophobic “Little England” selling off our few remaining assets in order to be a low-wage tax haven off the coast of Europe – against this Labour, under the leadership of a socialist internationalist, offers a defence of social welfare and workers’ rights and interests.

Within our movement (including our unions), the residual crust of careerists who led us during our long decline (and continue to hope that what they call “Corbynism” is just a “destructive fad”) believe that socialism will prove unpopular and that they will resume their control of our movement in the near future (though to what end I do not know for they have neither a credible figurehead nor a credible programme).

Both the Tories and the right-wing within our own movement are (like crime in multi-storey car parks) wrong on so many different levels.

Thanks to the many thousands who have fought for Jeremy Corbyn to be and remain our Leader (not for a personality cult but for the policies he supports) the Labour Party has now found a purpose we had lost. Labour today offers a real alternative in the interests of the working class.

There is nothing you can do in the next week and a half that is more important than maximising the Labour vote. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

How the UNISON NEC election results demonstrate the need for change in our trade union

Having occasionally got into hot water for criticising employees of my own trade union, I think it only right to commend those UNISON staff who are ensuring that anyone who requests the detailed breakdown of the voting in the elections to our National Executive gets them immediately.

That’s not to say that they make encouraging reading generally (albeit I may not be unhappy about their political ramifications in our trade union).

The first thing to be unhappy about is what the results tell us about our membership. The total number of ballot papers issued in the seats for which all full members can vote was 1,188,980. This means that our full membership at the cut-off date for this election had fallen by a further 67,000 from the figure declared to the Certification Officer on 31 December 2015.

This suggests an acceleration in the membership decline which UNISON has been experiencing since 2010 – about which supporters of the current leadership are in an embarrassingly obvious state of denial. It does our members no good to deny reality – and the reality is that UNISON is in decline. It is not a catastrophic decline, such as would threaten the vital material interests of those who depend upon the assets of our trade union, but it is a decline nonetheless.

Our declining trade union is experiencing declining member engagement from our reduced number of members. In the seats for which all members may vote the turnout is a miserable 4.62%. This is a fall from 5.5% two years ago. The downward trajectory in turnout in UNISON elections in recent years is a further indication that our trade union is failing our members.

This underlines the need for change in our trade union. Since the results of the election mean that the Union’s complacent leadership can no longer be confident of commanding the unquestioning obedience of a majority such change becomes a possibility.


With both our membership and membership participation in decline I would say that change is a necessity. I hope that denizens of the Great White Elephant of the Euston Road are paying attention.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

UNISON's leadership is losing its grip on the National Executive Council

After seven times winning a seat on the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) against right-wing opposition I chose not to stand in the elections, the results of which were declared yesterday. As I have already observed, I am very happy to stand down undefeated and get on with life – and I am just as happy (as I said yesterday) that my friend and comrade Sean Fox will succeed me.

Having had a little more time to consider those NEC results, and to reflect upon them in the light of this blog’s current obsession with the decision of the (Assistant) Certification Officer that UNISON breached its rules in the last General Secretary election (and also having spoken with the left’s senior number cruncher on the UNISON NEC) I think it is worth sharing some observations about the politics of these results.

31 out of 67 NEC members were elected having signed up to the Stronger UNISON statement – which amounted to a declaration of undying and uncritical loyalty to UNISON’s present leadership and direction (regardless of the facts).

That this was the first election in which supporters of the leadership declared themselves openly as a faction may be the product of assistance from those with experience of (not particularly successful) internal Labour Party campaigns – or it may be a backhanded compliment to UNISON Action Broad Left, with which 29 of the successful candidates in the NEC elections were associated.

UNISON Action Broad Left, launched at the largest fringe meeting at last year’s UNISON Conference, is rightly critical of the failings of our trade union under its present leadership – it brings together supporters of all three of the unsuccessful candidates in the last General Secretary election (who together commanded more votes than the victor).

A further seven candidates were elected who were not openly aligned with either of those two groups (four in Scotland and three in England). What follows from this is that, for the first time, there is not a solid and substantial majority in support of unquestioning loyalty to the UNISON leadership on the NEC of our trade union.

This result poses all manner of challenges to all those elected, from whichever point of view and, now that they won’t be hampered by my presence in their meetings, I reserve my right to offer unsolicited and unwelcome comments from time to time. The impending absence of one of our Vice-Presidents and of current Committee Chairs and Vice-Chairs offers a choice between an inclusive and an adversarial approach.

The one thing that is not on offer it would appear is a continuation of the status quo.

It is now – for the first time – possible that our NEC will cease to see its function as essentially one of a rubber stamp.


Trust me to leave just as it gets interesting…

What were the four recommendations to UNISON from the (Assistant) Certification Officer?

The decision of the (Assistant) Certification Officer, issued now online following a lengthy hearing, and including considerable criticism of some conduct associated with the last UNISON General Secretary election (and a declaration that UNISON breached its own Rules in certain respects) concludes with some recommendations from the Assistant Certification Officer.

These aren’t orders and are in no sense legally binding, but they are the considered recommendations of a judge who heard a lot of evidence and issued a balanced decision (which UNISON very promptly welcomed). I hope that the incoming National Executive Council (NEC), which will take office in a month from now (and on which there is no longer a secure majority for unquestioning support for the leadership) will consider and act upon these recommendations.

In this blog post I intend to look at what the recommendations are, and then in future posts to provide further relevant commentary, based upon the decision of the Assistant Certification Officer and the evidence which was presented to her.

The first recommendation (paragraph 311) is that “the Union has a thorough internal discussion and debate to consider what level of paid officer activity in internal General Secretary election campaigning it wishes to have, consistent with its aims and objectives, and draft clear, unambiguous and uniformly understood rules, to reflect the decisions it reaches.” At the risk of appearing less than modest I can point out that the Lambeth branch did try to propose some Rule Amendments for debate at this year’s Conference in order to provoke precisely this debate, but they were ruled out of order. In any event, I shall come back to those elements of the published decision which plainly underpin this sensible recommendation in a future blog post.

The second recommendation (paragraph 312) is that the Union “should also conduct a thorough consideration of how similar future problems such as occurred in the London Region can be avoided in that, and other regions.” In making that recommendation the Assistant Certification notes that “work is also required to restore trust amongst its Greater London members following the activities of the Regional Secretary and the RMT which have done such damage to the Union’s reputation both internally and externally.” I think that the incoming NEC may be well placed to seek the cultural change necessary both nationally and – in London – regionally in order to take meaningful action in response to this recommendation. I have already made some observations about what the decision means for UNISON in Greater London and (as regular readers of this blog Sid and Doris Albanian-Stalinist will be able to imagine) this is a subject to which I may well be tempted to return.

The third recommendation (paragraph 313) is that “there are lessons to be learnt from the saga of the Original and Revised Guidance and how such issues can be better dealt with between ERS and the Union in future.” I have not yet commented, since receiving the decision on Monday, on what it has to say about this particular topic (nor about the Assistant Certification Officer’s description of the conduct and correspondence of one of our Assistant General Secretaries) but I have blogged here before about some of the relevant history, which in some ways arose from a post on this very blog. An NEC which does not see itself as subordinate to officialdom could (and perhaps will) review the working relationship between UNISON and ERS (noting, I hope, both the praise and criticisms made by the ACO).

The fourth and final recommendation (paragraph 314) is that “a whistleblowing policy should be considered and agreed through the Union’s collective procedures without further delay.” That this has not already been done is surely an indictment of our NEC Staffing Committee (the composition of which must – and I am sure will – change a month from now). It is worth remembering that, were it not for the courage of the anonymous whistleblower who recorded the disgraceful conduct of the former Greater London Regional Secretary and her Regional Management Team on 21 October 2015, those of us who have taken the complaints which have led to these recommendations would have had no sufficient evidence to get to where we are now.

Whether the lack of progress in agreeing a policy to protect staff who blow the whistle on malpractice also sheds any interesting light on the priorities of the staff trade unions is, very obviously, something about which I have nothing to say.

UNISON Certification Officer decision published in full

The decision of the (Assistant) Certification Officer in the recent case involving the UNISON General Secretary election is now available online.

Diligent readers can now decide for yourselves whether my earlier assessment of the implications of the ruling for UNISON in the Greater London Region was a fair assessment of the relevant findings, and whether my self-indulgent post concerning some of the ways in which the decision refers to myself was or was not a flight of egomania.

You will also be able to go to the source document in order to make your own judgements about the accuracy of the further commentary which you will probably find if you pop back here from time to time.


For now though I suggest that you pop the kettle on and make a cup of tea (or, if you are reading this from the UNISON Centre maybe reach for something a little stronger) and make yourself comfortable – as (including appendices) you have 114 pages to read through.