Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thinking outside the Rule Book...

I hope that any UNISON activists who have the opportunity, and have not yet taken it up, will attend one of the series of briefings on funding the challenge of Equal Pay which are being addressed by Mike Hayes, Chair of our Finance Committee. I attended a briefing in London on Thursday and participated in a constructive discussion about the ways in which UNISON can raise money to meet the cost of litigation – both against employers and defending UNISON activists.

The debate which started at that meeting carried on at a purely informal and unofficial discussion after the meeting (as I had mentioned here that it would). A few of us had a useful further discussion about amendments to Motion 116 on the agenda for National Delegate Conference (the motion from Glasgow readmitted to the agenda recently – thanks to the efforts of some influential people with a grasp of how our Union should be governed.) We also discussed Motion 45 on democracy in the Union, and its amendment.

Unfortunately, owing no doubt to a misunderstanding, the Regional Secretary had written to me requesting that I cancel the informal, unofficial meeting, on the basis that it had “no standing in Rule” and that I might be committing a disciplinary offence under UNISON Rules in convening, at my own expense, and in my own time, a meeting which, someone appeared to have informed the Union, was perceived to be a “factional meeting”.

I was pleased to be able to invite the Regional Secretary to attend the meeting in order to allay any concerns. Happily the Regional Secretary was able to attend the meeting, with a couple of friends, in time for a – purely informal and unofficial – discussion about what branches are doing in the run up to the local government strike ballot.

Official vote YES materials – including this leaflet – are now available online. The official leaflet does a good job of highlighting rising prices – the first and most important message we have to get across about the inadequacy of the employers' offer. In Thursday’s discussion we identified the need also to formulate and get across convincing arguments about our ability to win a better deal. As I have mentioned here before, I think that we should refer to historical evidence (but maybe that’s just me…)

Certainly, since we now know that the NUT will not be balloting again in time to join strike action before the summer holidays – we need to focus on how the million workers covered by the National Joint Council (and Scottish Joint Council) taking action on the most united basis possible, could shake the employers into offering a better pay deal.

I was disappointed that we weren’t offered any new insights from a colleague who has promised to come up with a “Plan B” to fight the public sector pay freeze without industrial action. Whereas at the recent Regional Committee several leading colleagues simply expressed pessimism without offering any challenges, questions or suggestions about how we might defend our members' interests, on Thursday we discussed the genuine problems we face in a thoughtful way.

As I may have mentioned previously, there is scope for unofficial as well as official activity on the part of trade union activists. Indeed some unofficial organising even gains the favour of the official structures of the Union…

I am pleased to have established that we can talk in our own time about trade union issues and the world won’t come to an end even if we are doing things which have “no standing in Rule”. Right now it is a bank holiday weekend and I may go to the beach.

Clearly my trip to the beach, having no standing in rule, will be entirely unofficial and informal and I shall not be sunbathing in my official capacity. (In fact, looking out of the window, I won’t be sunbathing at all…)

Under the circumstances I won’t invite any of you to join me, but can assure you that I will not undertake any factional activity. Although my reading matter may be suspect


Anonymous said...

it does seem that we do have a somewhat defensive Reg secretary. She ignores national rules when it suits and then seemingly conjures up novel and skewed interpretations of rules that may -or indeed may not - exist.
Perhaps the whole rule book needs to be rewritten in plain English ( which would improve accessibility!) so that officials and members are all able to comprehend the rules in 'unison'.
Perhaps then members will be allowed to meet/network with each other in a truly self organised way and have some freedom of speech and thought without receiving threatening letters.

Anonymous said...

I wondered if Sean sought advice on the legality of ordering extra chillies.......who knows what offence a RED topping may cause in such proximity to Mabledon Power, I mean Tower.....I mean decrepit HO that must be replaced.
And when did anyone ask us, the members, if we want to see funding sunk into a plush new UNISON HO, when all most of us want is the expertise of our HO staff? Not to be proud of our union having a flagship HO?:!