Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Uses and Abuses of Union Disciplinary action

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will know that I sometimes criticise actions taken officially on behalf of the Union, on the National Executive Council of which I have the honour to sit, and that I sometimes get involved in trying to change things. This sometimes confuses and upsets people.

If there is one issue calculated to raise the blood pressure of some fellow trade unionists it is the suggestion that our internal disciplinary procedures are occasionally used (wrongly) to settle political differences. I do sometimes suggest this, but I do so because of my own personal experience some years ago. That's also why I don't condemn trade unionists who feel compelled to bring complaints to the Certification Officer.

I faced the threat of disciplinary action (and possible expulsion) as a result of a tribunal case in which a white male UNISON member won a claim of race and sex discrimination against UNISON. The tribunal found against the Union because they believed that I would have taken complaints of race and sex discrimination from a black woman more seriously than I took those from a white man. This was not the most expensive legal mistake in which I had been involved, nor the first time I had been accused of discrimination in legal proceedings but it was the one that, as an insider warned me at the time, a hostile official thought he could get me expelled for.

I had no problem with the fact that the Union conducted a disciplinary investigation in response to an adverse tribunal judgment in a discrimination case but I was angry when I learned that whilst the investigating officer had not recommended disciplinary action against me, such a recommendation was added by a national official. Why did this happen?

Well you would have to ask him yourself to get his answer, but I can speculate.

I had upset people on the right-wing of the Union (who are sometimes unhappy to be identified in that way) by supporting the Hillingdon Hospital strike during my year as Deputy Regional Convenor in 1996/97. I had also been outspoken in opposition to what I saw as the political witch hunt undertaken during the tenure of the previous General Secretary. I had taken on representation of leftwing activists facing disciplinary action within the Union.

Whatever the reasons for this action, it was plainly politically motivated abuse of internal procedures as was recognised when a wiser official and his deputy put a stop to it all once they had the opportunity to do so.

Having previously been on the receiving end of an attempt at politically motivated misuse of our disciplinary procedures I am aware that this can happen, and that those who believe this to be impossible are simply wrong.

Trade unions are democratic organisations and we need to find a way to accommodate disagreement and dissent without the use of disciplinary procedures. After all, UNISON managed to get along ok without expelling me :)

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