Sunday, October 25, 2009

The uses and abuses of UNISON Rule I

It is easy to make fun of those who overdo disciplinary action in order to root out heresy.

There is, however, no longer anything very amusing about the way in which my trade union, UNISON, is abusing internal disciplinary procedures (as set out in UNISON Rule I) to stifle dissenting voices.

At yesterday's Stop the War demonstration I was struck by spontaneous comments from more than one member of the Communist Party (with whom I have much in common) deploring the excesses of UNISON's internal regime.

Regular readers (Sid and Doris Union-Democrat) will be familiar with some of the specific examples about which I have blogged before.

The expulsion of Tony Staunton was such a grotesque over reaction to the allegations against him that it is impossible not to see the case as a deliberate intervention to prevent his standing against - and perhaps defeating - a leading member of our National Executive Council.

The disgraceful treatment of Yunus Bakhsh in the face of compelling evidence of far right influence over the case against him can also only be interpreted as a deliberate move to rid the Union of a persistent internal critic.

The widely publicised case against four UNISON activists over the production of a contested leaflet at UNISON Conference has now brought into the open - through evidence given in public by a paid official - the fact that senior paid officials have tried to organise action against people whom they perceive as "Trotskyists" in our union. Once again this is a case in which it appears that - quite contrary to UNISON's Rules - administrative means are being employed to seek to resolve political differences.

I have been reassured in person by senior officials of our Union that there is no politically motivated witch hunt. I have to say quite clearly that I do not believe these assurances. Further cases are emerging at present in which the instigation of action against certain activists is plainly politically motivated, and in which grotesquely disproportionate sanctions are being imposed.

It is not possible to express these concerns in a meaningful way within UNISON's democratic structures since - as a member of our National Executive - I am not permitted to ask verbal questions or to debate the reports which are received by the NEC about disciplinary action. All that I may do is to ask written questions and to receive written responses which are private and confidential.

This means that if I wish to draw to the attention of the UNISON members who have elected me to our NEC I have to publicise matters that come to my attention. I shall report here on some of the bizarre and unjustified cases now emerging into the public domain, and also upon evidence that those who are politically in favour can be treated far more leniently where found guilty of outright breaches of Rule.

These politically motivated disciplinary cases and their excessive and unjust outcomes variously breach the following Rules of our Union - A3, B1.2, B1.4, B1.7, B2.1, B2.2, B2.4, B2.5, B4.6 and D2.1. The Union is breaking our own Rules, as agreed by our Members in the merger ballot and subsequently amended by our Conference. This is unacceptable.

We have to stop UNISON's internal disciplinary procedures being used to breach the Union's Rules and bring the Union into disrepute in this way - we must stop aiming to be a parody of ourselves.

(All joking aside - we face serious challenges right now and need unity to pursue the progressive policies of our trade union against present and future attacks upon our jobs, our pensions and our conditions - as well as an unprecedented onslaught upon the services we work to provide. This unity is impossible whilst UNISON's General Secretary permits the abuse of our internal disciplinary regime against his critics).

Dave, you have stopped this in the past. Stop it now.


Nick Venedi said...

Dear Jon,

Whilst I agree that the decision to use rule I to discipline a number of activists may have (in some cases) been an over reaction I will also suggest that those of us who are true democrats must accept the need for collective responsibility and general discipline. It is important that once democratic decisions have been made and a policy has been adopted by national conference that the rest of us accept and follow those decisions and trying to fight against them could (in some instances) undermine the effectiveness of our union. I don't agree that Unison is out to get all the Troskists, as you put it, and the clear evidence that this isn't right comes from the fact that they haven't gone for you yet? So yes there is some truth in the assertion that the leadership is over using rule I but there is also some degree of paranoia in your morning tea? Keep it real mate!

Nick Venedi said...

Jon, I don't think you should have referred to that meeting we had with the General Secretary publicly as we agreed at the time (2001) that it was a closed meeting and we had a confidential discussion.
Nick Venedi