Monday, November 30, 2009

UNISON's response to Total Place

Regular readers, Sid and Doris Blogger, will have noticed a developing obsession here with Total Place, the Government backed initiative developed by the Institute for Governance and Public Management at Warwick University which seeks massive savings from bringing together the delivery of public services in a given locality.

An earlier post may have given the impression that UNISON was not already responding to this initiative. Having now trawled through my papers for next week's NEC meeting I know that is not the case - it is just that we are hiding our light under a bushel at the moment.

I now know that at the NEC Policy Development and Campaigns Committee (PDCC) meeting on 6 October questions and comments were raised on: the scale of spending cuts whoever wins the general election and what the union’s strategy will be; the need for a more structured approach to recruitment work; procurement; the operational efficiency programme and Total Place. The Chair stated that a report on the Total Place pilots will come to a future PDCC meeting and that a report on health partnerships will be prepared.

Also at the meeting of the Service Group Liaison Committee on 22 October it was noted that a national officer from the Local Government Group had given an update on ‘Total Place’ at a previouagreed that a cross service group working group should be set up in order to work together on taking this forward.

I will be asking for an update on this cross service group working group at next week's meeting of the National Executive Council. Total Place poses a challenge for UNISON precisely because, more than any other issue we have confronted, it cuts across our Service Group organisation - indeed that is it's whole point.

Although readers with a long memory will remember that I share the disdainful view of the Local Government Conference about the efficacy of the current Service Group Liaison Committee to manage a major dispute, as a clearing house for information and the exchange of experience it is what we have to work with.

However, in the localities where Total Place is being piloted we need to pilot joint working between branches across Service Group boundaries - and we need to loosen the restrictions imposed by the unhelpful "Democracy in UNISON" guidelines to enable branches to work together freely.

Therefore Total Place is not just an issue for the PDCC Committee or Service Group Liaison, it is an issue with which the whole Union needs to engage. We have to recognise this as an attack on jobs and services which we must resist, and a challenge to our organisation to which we must respond.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Statement from Alan Docherty

I am reproducing here a personal statement which is being circulated by respected UNISON activist Alan Docherty to fellow UNISON Branch Secretaries in UNISON's Northern Region.

I shall not comment further this evening but will let Alan's words speak for themselves

"First they came ..." is a popular poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group. Niemoller stated he prefers the version as:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

This is true of Unison today; The Unison Bureaucracy has now come for me. I face unspecified Rule I disciplinary charges at a hearing convened by the NEC starting on January 7th 2010.

Other victims of the witch hunt.

You will all be aware, in this region, of the Yunus Bakhsh case which resulted in him being sacked by his employer and expelled from the union. (Unfortunately because no discussion was allowed on the merits or otherwise of Yunus’ case, many of you supported the attack on him.)

You may not know that at the same time another SWP member Tony Staunton, Branch Secretary of Plymouth LG, who was to stand in an NEC election against Steve Warwick (Labour Link Chairperson) and stood a good chance of winning, was also witch hunted from the union and expelled.

This was followed by Socialist Party member, Pat Lawlor, convenor Royal Victoria Hospitals, Belfast, being expelled for sending a message of support to a ‘rival’ union on strike.

In the last few months, three branch secretaries and a branch chair, Glenn Kelly, Susan Muna, Onay Kasab and Brian Debus, in the Greater London Region, all members of the Socialist Party, were disqualified from office ranging from 3 to 5 years for criticising the Standing Orders Committee of National Conference, in a leaflet, for ruling out a third of motions from being admitted on to the conference agenda.

Perhaps you did not speak out for these people because they are members of left wing political parties.

However last month, this witch hunt took a new turn. Caroline Beadle, Joint Branch Secretary of Manchester Community Health Branch, was disqualified from office for eight years - yes eight years. Her crime was organising, in her own time, legal defence for one of her victimised members, Karen Reissmann. Apparently such an action has brought Unison into disrepute. I consider from what I know of Caroline’s case, the sanctions imposed against her constitute a direct attack on branch autonomy, Unison lay democracy, and individual civil rights. Caroline is not a member of a left wing political party.

My Case

Now it is my turn. What is my crime? Despite being given a hearing date commencing on the 7th January, I do not yet know the charges which will be sent to me within 21 days of the hearing date. I suspect these 21 days will include the Christmas holiday period.

I suspect the charges are to do with an incident precipitated by another branch secretary who complained about my conduct. At the time I was a declared candidate in the NEC elections. I spoke to this branch secretary about a motion that his branch was discussing concerning the North East Shop Stewards Network because this motion directly attacked me and another branch secretary. When was it a crime to talk to other branch secretaries in private? Is it not reasonable that I would want to investigate a public criticism against me?

I have no faith in the Union’s disciplinary procedure being fair, as shown by its recent decisions. I know that unless there is genuine objection from lay activists, my days as a Unison activist are numbered.

I believe the real reason they want me out is that I have challenged, through the democratic process, the actions of our ‘leadership’ and also that I express my socialist political opinions which often conflict with the interests of the Labour Party. This is despite the hard work I do to support Darlington LG members at work. During my recent NEC election campaign I was told by several senior Unison officials that the union would move heaven and earth to make sure I was not elected to the NEC.

Our union will prove itself to be unhealthy and undemocratic if it has to use the full might of its disciplinary machinery to silence the criticisms of lay activists.

I am not a member of any political party.

These attacks are continuing.

John McDermott, NEC, has been removed from the NEC on spurious technical grounds, despite winning his election. He now faces disciplinary action for challenging this decision.

Vicky Perrin, NEC and Assistant Branch Secretary, Calderdale L G, has spent two years under investigation for alleged bullying, and it is continuing.

There are probably several more on-going cases that I do not know about, and more to come if we don’t say ‘stop this now!’

Speak out for me; write to Dave Prentis to get this farce stopped.

Who will speak out for you when your turn comes?

In a personal capacity, Alan Docherty, Branch Secretary, Darlington LG.

30th November 2009.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More from a totally bad place

Since Total Place is going to be so significant for our members I have been looking to see who has what to say about it.

Searching the UNISON website throws up a link to the latest National Joint Council pay claim – which sensibly points out that joint working under the auspices of total place will throw into sharp relief the relatively lower pay of local government workers.

This is a sensible use of the total place agenda to advance the interests of our members, but not a response to the threat which the total place agenda poses to our members across service groups.

Searching the TUC website for the phrase “Total Place” currently returns no documents, and whilst the less sensitive search engines on the GMB and UNITE sites throw up long lists, none of them are about Total Place.

I can’t find much more in the small pond that is the union-related blogosphere. UNISON blogger John Gray mentioned Total Place briefly after the September Regional Committee and this was picked up by the anonymous semi-official UNISON Active blog, even more briefly.

Whilst the trade union movement is not yet paying sufficient attention to this threat, diligent individuals can pursue Freedom of Information requests to flush out the costs being incurred (and are).

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government an outfit called “Tribal” stand to get £278,000 to write some reports about the current Total Place pilots. What they have to say (over on the admirable “What Do They Know?” site) is worth repeating;

“Tribal have been commissioned to support the local work of the pilots in the counting public expenditure, deep dive into specific service themes, and customer insight work. Two separate contracts, 'Spend Counting and Deep Dive' and 'Customer Insight', were established through open competition.The remit of the 'Spend Counting and Deep Dive' project is to build on the work of the pilots by identifying common issues and what bearing central government budgeting has on these, to illustrate the complexity of spending arrangements through spend pathway maps and to produce an evaluative report on Total Place. It will cost £218k (excluding VAT). This contract does not include development of the deep dives. This is a local responsibility of the pilots who select the service themes, consider the exiting situation and then develop the initial proposals. These initial proposals will be refined in collaboration with relevant central government departments. The Local Government Association Leadership Centre provides support to this process. The remit of the 'Customer Insight' project is to assess the use of customer insight information by Total Place pilots; what insight information is available, how it is used and does it influence service delivery. It will cost £60k (excluding VAT)”.

The various Total Place pilots seem to provide rich pickings for consultants, and clearly there is also considerable scope for the Plain English Campaign to offer their assistance so that we know what on earth the civil servants are on about (Deep Dive could be this but might as well be this).

Although the originator of Total Place says it is not primarily about saving money it so obviously is. The Managing Director of the Leadership Centre for Local Government says that Total Place is about delivering fundamentally better services yet the pilot areas are now developing proposals for next year’s budget, and the Total Place website itself says that one of the aims of Total Place is to deliver early savings to validate the work. This is about cuts, but not everyone will suffer.

When public authorities have to make big changes to achieve big savings that also means large earnings for consultants. The author of an article in Local Government Chronicle welcoming Total Place is also a Director of a company offering consultancy services to local authorities.

UNISON has done pathbreaking work to expose the Public Service Industry – we need now to turn our attention to what is going on with Total Place, who is doing it and how much they are earning from it. We need to analyse the origins of this threat from the work of the Institute of Governance and Public Management (about which I blogged yesterday) and see where and how it will threaten our members and our public services.

(And, of course, the formal pilots for Total Place are just part of the picture. Barnet’s Tory Council is racing ahead on its own path towards serious cuts in jobs and services).

Friday, November 27, 2009

In a Totally Bad Place

Ever since the September Regional Committee meeting I have been meaning to blog about "Total Place" and never quite getting round to it

In a world of academic discourse and (I should imagine) agreeable lunches after thoughtful seminars, plans are being laid which will consign thousands of UNISON members to the dole queue.

"Total Place" - the Government's plan to slash spending on public services by bringing together various functions (on the model of South West One) was given its coherent expression in a report from something called the Sunningdale Institute.

According to the National School of Government; "The paper, commissioned by the National School of Government and the Public Service Leaders Alliance, is authored by Professors John Benington and Jean Hartley from Warwick Business School. It addresses the question ‘What would it take to create more effective leadership of the whole governmental and public service system?’

Benington and Hartley argue that the current economic crisis provides a significant catalyst for developing more effective approaches to public leadership and organisation development by working in an integrated way across the whole public service system".

This is academic speak for bringing together services to save money by "economies of scale" (i.e. cutting the jobs of public servants).

This work has its origins in, and is being continued by the Institute of Governance and Public Management (IGPM) at Warwick University. The IGPM were claiming the credit for Total Place in their Spring Newsletter report on training they are organising for senior managers in Leicestershire;

"Leicestershire and Rutland are pioneering a highly innovative and integrated approach to “leadership of place”. They have formed a working partnership across the whole public service system (including the county councils, the district councils, the NHS, police, probation service, fire service, and the voluntary sector), and have jointly commissioned Warwick to develop and deliver a tailored Diploma in Public Leadership and Management for 25 of their top managers.

This programme, which starts in June, provides a unique opportunity for this inter-agency team to work together with Warwick over the next 18 months, thinking, discussing, learning, planning and acting together, as a joint leadership team for the whole of Leicestershire and Rutland. The 6 x 3 day
residential modules of the Warwick Diploma will offer this joint team a chance to apply leading edge theory and evidence to the complex problems facing their area, and to develop and test a number of joined up initiatives across the whole county.


Leicestershire is also one of the Government’s 12 pilot areas for the Total Place programme announced with the Budget. This follows one of the recommendations in IGPM’s report on Leadership Across the Whole Public Service System (commissioned by the Sunningdale Institute and National School of Government). It will allow Leicestershire and the other pilots to analyse the flow of all public funding streams into the area, and to harness them to achieve some joint programmes and common outcomes for the area".


The report itself ("Whole Systems Go") is written at the awful interface between academic language and management jargon (with a title that suggests a youthful affection for International Rescue). A lot of what it says makes sense - bringing together the administration of public services to improve those services might be a good idea in some circumstances (though it might not - bigger is not always better and specialisms are sometimes best left alone!).

Interestingly though if you download the document (available as a pdf here) and try to find the phrase "trade unions" you won't. This is not an agenda about engaging with the workforce - I wonder why?

Probably because the context within which this work is being carried out is one of massive spending cuts. The Total Place website acknowledges that it aims to "deliver early savings to validate the work." Work that has to cut spending to be validated is not work that should be done.

Activists need to acquaint ourselves with the Sunningdale Institute and the IGPM for that is where, over seminars and lunches, the deletion of our jobs is being planned. We must also keep an eye on the Total Place pilots.

Interestingly if you search for the words "trade unions" on the Total Place website you get the following message;

"No posts found. Try a different search?"

Total Place is just dressing up plans for massive job cuts - we need to prepare to resist this attack upon public services.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I cannot believe it!

In what must be a sign of my advancing age I have had a Victor Meldrew moment upon finding today's Society Guardian supplement on the wonders of "interim managers" in our public services.

To describe this as one-sided would be generous. It is full of smug articles from self-satisfied self-employed folk doing very nicely out of the public sector (at great expense as exposed by UNISON East Midlands Region).

“Interim” senior managers, paid many hundreds of pounds a day, often deliver little of value to public sector organisations, whilst generating considerable resentment at their excessive earnings and perceived lack of commitment.

In times of change and crisis (which is all my twenty years in local government) we need to recruit and retain high quality permanent managers. Consultants should be relied upon for specialist help but not to run the organisation.

A newspaper ought to report news - and its features ought to be at least a little balanced. Since thousands of public sector workers read the Guardian and know what the reality of the use of consultants is this supplement really sticks in the throat.

A truthful and balanced supplement would have generated less advertising revenue from the consultancy industry though.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Well said Mike

I was sorry to miss the People's Charter Convention last week - particularly since I missed the contribution of UNISON's Scottish Region Convenor, Mike Kirby.

Mike rightly argued that we can (and indeed should) campaign both for the People's Charter and our own Million Voices campaign. The two are in no way counterposed. I agree - and have done for some time.

Both are about focusing the support of working class people on policies which are in our interests in order to mobilise pressure on politicians in our interests. Mike's comment about the STUC could equally apply to many other UNISON Regions; "The People’s Charter was opposed less because of what it said, but because of who was saying it".

In the choice which we will face between prioritising resistance or accommodation to attacks upon our interests we need to use both the Charter and the Million Voices campaign as ways of helping our members, and working people generally, to chose the former.

Congratulations Leeds

The Morning Star is reporting the successful outcome of the eleven week long strike by UNISON and GMB members in Leeds.

This dispute is a reminder that pay equity is best achieved by collective bargaining backed up as necessary with industrial action, and that unity between the trade unions is vital to defeat a hostile employer.

The strike also shows that our members will show courage and determination in a defensive struggle - a lesson which we have to consider carefully as we face up to attack after attack in the coming years. One possible response will be to accommodate to detrimental change (such as the continued fragmenting of public service provision or attacks upon core conditions) in order to prioritise sustaining membership and organisation. Another possible response is to see our role essentially as one of resisting adverse changes, mobilising our members and potential members with the priority of defending workers' interests (and the secondary benefit of improved organisation and membership).

Regular readers Sid and Doris Crypto-Trot will know which of those two approaches I prefer, which I think the Leeds strikers have just put into practice.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Where should we build in the Local Government Service Group?

Last Thursday's Regional Local Government Executive saw constructive discussion on a number of topics.

The Committee agreed to express concern to the Service Group Executive about the recent decision of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee to recommend that the NEC overrides the powers of Service Group Executives to determine the composition of Service Group Conferences.

The Committee also discussed the growth of online recruitment and I was able to report that an analysis of where the online recruits are working is to be prepared by our Head of Recruitment.

Most importantly the Committee discussed recruitment in general at some length, including a verbal report on recent evidence about trade union density (about which I have blogged before). Whether relying upon UNISON's own data or that from the employers it is clear that a majority of the directly employed workforce of London local authority employees are not members of any trade union.

However, all of these employees are covered by collective bargaining (i.e. their pay and conditions are determined, in whole or part, by bargaining with employers at national, London or local level). All of these workers work in an environment in which trade unions are recognised and can make a difference to their working lives. These are also the LGPS members whose pensions will be attacked in the next two years.

The more than 100,000 potential trade union members in this group provide both more fertile ground for union recruitment than any other in the Service Group - and recruitment of these potential members will directly build the bargaining strength of workers (those who join and those who are already members).

I agreed with fellow NEC member Glenn Kelly that this group should be our number one priority for recruitment in the next few months.

MPs - should they be hung?

I don't generally have the time to post simple comment on what is going on in "the news" out there in the wide world, but yesterday's opinion poll data suggesting that there really is a chance of a hung Parliament got me thinking about what John McDonnell had had to say at last week's Labour Representation Committee Conference.

In a hung Parliament, relatively small groups of MPs could exercise greater influence, which could be good news for what will probably be the tiniest group of socialists in Parliament for many years. This is not simply a product of Parliamentary arithmetic (as otherwise it would be hard to see how a dozen or so MPs standing to the left of more than six hundred others could have leverage).

Aside from wily tactics in Parliament, the left - and the trade unions - could gain from a hung Parliament in another way. Given that all three of the main Parties are committed to a greater or lesser extent, to public spending cuts and (for example) attacks on public sector pensions, a strong Government of any Party is likely to be a bad thing for those of us who want to protect the welfare state and the interests of trade union members.

A hung Parliament and a weak Government will be less able to defeat our movement - if (and this is sometimes a big if) we are prepared to stand up for ourselves. The immediate task we face are therefore to seek to elect the maximum number of socialists MPs and arguing in our trade unions for the combative policies and leadership that will be needed in the next few years. (So if you are in PCS I hope you are voting for Mark Serwotka!)

We also - which is most important since without this nothing else matters - need to build the strength of our movement to be able to face these challenges.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

All the fun of the Regional Committee

As I race to catch up with the fun and games over recent days I find myself having to return to Tuesday morning and a meeting of our UNISON Regional Committee.

This was not perhaps the most exciting meeting I have attended in the recent past. We discussed the reasonable positive recruitment data (concerning which I pointed out that the various figures in the reports before us did not tally) and a range of other matters relating to the day to day work of our Union (as we should).

A dishonest and misleading report of our discussion of the threat from the BNP is already available online so I won't detain you too much on this point.

Suffice to say that my contribution in response to the news that the odious Nick Griffin is to stand for the Barking constituency was to say that it is essential that all anti-Nazis vote for Margaret Hodge (and that we should keep any critical thoughts about dear Margaret very much to ourselves from now until the General Election).

I did and do think that New Labour's betrayal of our core supporters has helped to create the political space in which the BNP now operate. I think that is obviously the case and that UNISON cannot give generally uncritical or unconditional support to Labour candidates for this reason (among others).

However where the BNP pose a serious threat we should (IMHO - as we say in blogland) support the candidate best placed to defeat them.

Even if that means that we have to elect to a Council someone who will thereby lose their employment and eligibility for UNISON office.

Development and Organisation Committee report (or the laziness of the long distance blogger)

Although the recent troubles of First Capital Connect are lengthening my commute recently it still isn't really long enough to keep blogging up to date with work at the moment so I'm cheating now and rather than blogging a full report of last week's Development and Organisation Committee meeting I will simply share the report I have submitted for the next Regional Council - with minor embellishments perhaps.

There has not been a full NEC meeting since the last Regional Council.

The NEC Development and Organisation Committee met on 11 November.

Several of the items discussed at that meeting - including reports on recruitment and the Three Companies Project will no doubt be covered in other reports to the Regional Council. (Although I will add here that we had quite a full report on the project at the Committee - and subsequently- on Tuesday - I was able to advise the Regional Officials that London may be the scene for one of the major organising drives as part of the project)(perhaps not calling it a blitz though...)

There are three particular items to which I would like to draw the attention of Regional Council delegates.

First, the Committee endorsed transitional arrangements for the establishment of the new and revised service group structures as agreed at National Delegate Conference.

These will enable elections to take place to the Service Group Executives. As the detail of the transitional arrangements varies between Service Groups I will not report on them all in detail here but will be happy to provide details on request.

The Committee also specifically endorsed a proposed scheme of representation for branch delegates to the first Conference of the new Community Service Group which is due to take place in November 2010.

This scheme in relation to which I had raised various questions (about which I will happily provide further information on request) provides for all branches with at least one member in the Service Group to be entitled to one delegate. Those few branches with more than 250 members of the Service Group get a second delegate, with a third for 500 members and an additional delegate per 500 members thereafter.

(Those with an interest in this matter can scroll down over a couple of recent posts to see my doomed attempt to suggest amendments to the scheme of representation to the Conference to make it more representative).

This does mean that many London branches will need to budget for attendance at this Conference in 2010 and make arrangements for members in the new Service Group to elect a delegate or delegates.

The second important matter which I need to raise concerns the scheme of representation for branches at Service Group Conferences. Although the Rule Book gives the responsibility for this matter clearly to Service Group Executives (with the approval of the Service Group Conference) the Committee decided to recommend to the NEC that it use its power to implement proportionality and fair representation to impose upon Service Groups the scheme of branch representation agreed for National Delegate Conference.

The majority of the Committee accepted officer advice that this was within the Rules of the Union and disagreed with my view that this is a misreading of our Rule Book.

It is my judgement as one of your NEC members that - even if this is within our Rules (which I do not accept) it is a serious error for the NEC to infringe the autonomy of Service Groups in this way. This view is underlined by the fact that the motivation for this proposal is the convenience of consistency in the application of online delegate registration and that consultation was with National Secretaries and not Service Group Executives.

Given the decision of the NEC in October on the collective accountability of members of NEC Committees, were I to vote in accordance with my judgement at the NEC (against this proposal) I would be referred to the Presidential Team who could recommend my exclusion from the Development and Organisation Committee.

Since I consider myself to be accountable to those who elected me I would welcome feedback from London branches as to whether I should vote in accordance with my considered judgement or should abstain in spite of this in order to avoid possible exclusion from the Committee. I can be contacted at j.rogers@unison.co.uk and would welcome your views.

(I would also welcome comments on the blog of course.)

The third important matter to report is that the Committee determined a timetable for the next Service Group Executive elections - these will be published following approval by the December NEC. These elections will include, according to the appropriate transitional arrangements, elections to the new and revised Service Groups as agreed at National Delegate Conference.

Those who want to make UNISON a more effective and democratic Union to confront the challenges ahead need to be thinking - and talking - about candidates for these important elections.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A tiny step forward

I was reminded today why I would sooner work for a Labour local authority than for the Tory flagships such as Barnet, Essex and Hammersmith and Fulham who are busily attacking their workforces.

Trade union lobbying (led by UNISON) today persuaded Lambeth Council's Cabinet to agree to consider an in-house option for the future of some services at risk of privatisation.

This was not what the officers had been recommending and it took the combined efforts of the trade unions and the Labour Council leadership to get us this far. It is, as I say, only a tiny step forward with all the hard work now still to be done.

However, in the context of UNISON's Million Voices campaign this is precisely the sort of hard graft to protect public services that we need to be doing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A shocking injustice

My friend and fellow Lambeth UNISON Branch Secretary Nick has been complaining that there are not enough posts on this blog about obscure points in the Union Rule Book - so I shall return to something I was saying about Rule K.

That is the Rule which governs how members of UNISON can access legal advice, which is entirely within the discretion of the National Executive Council (delegated of course, for the most part, to officers).

I blogged before about a case in which the Union was found by the Certification Officer to have breached our Rules - in that case a Branch Secretary was criticised by the Certification Officer. Since that time the individual in question has served on our National Executive Council.

Not everyone who is accused of putting a foot wrong in our Union is treated so sympathetically.

Caroline Bedale from Manchester has been banned from holding UNISON office for 8 years.

All charges relate to the campaign to reinstate Karen Reissmann – who had been sacked by her employer (Manchester Mental Health Trust and Social Care Trust) – and who was supported by UNISON in this campaign, not just for reinstatement to her job but for the right for trade unionists to speak out against cuts and privatisation.

Caroline Bedale has been found guilty by a UNISON Disciplinary Committee of charges relating to things she did after UNISON withdrew legal assistance from Karen Reissmann, just before Karen‟s case was due to be heard by an Employment Tribunal. The disciplinary penalty means she will be barred from holding union office for 8 years (i.e. for the rest of her working life!)

Legal assistance was withdrawn because Karen decided not to take some legal advice. Only the legal assistance was withdrawn – UNISON policy continued to support the campaign for Karen‟s reinstatement and for the right for trade union activists to speak out against cuts and privatisation.

These are two questions being posed by Karen's supporters;

What would you have done if your branch was under attack from a vindictive employer who had
sacked the Chairperson of your branch because of their trade union work and speaking out against cuts and privatisation?

Wouldn't you have been dismayed if, after an unprecedented strike by health workers and a
high profile union campaign for reinstatement, the union's legal assistance had been withdrawn? Given that the union policy of campaigning for Karen‟s reinstatement still continued wouldn't you have done what you could to defend and support her?

I know that I would always do my best to defend an activist in the branch - if we don't stick up for each other in circumstances like that we are done for.

Caroline faced three charges;

A: “Seeking to secure alternative legal advice and representation for Karen Reissmann, whose legal
advice and representation had been terminated by the Union”.

B: “campaigning against UNISON policy” – that policy is defined as “the decision of UNISON to
withdraw legal representation from Karen Reissmann” – and that Caroline has acted in a manner prejudicial to the Union in so doing.

C: “using UNISON resources to campaign against UNISON policy” – Caroline is said to have
campaigned against the Union‟s rules and policy, and acted in a manner prejudicial to the Union in so doing. It is not specified what rules she is meant to have campaigned against, and the „policy‟ is actually a „decision‟ not a policy.

This is because Caroline did the following things as a UNISON Branch Secretary;

1. At Karen‟s request, Caroline sent a letter to Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre (SUCRC) asking if they would “look into taking on” Karen‟s case if UNISON did not agree to continue the legal assistance. No UNISON funds were used for Karen‟s new legal representation.

2. As agreed by the Branch Committee, Caroline sent a letter to all branches in September 2008 to update them on Karen‟s case, and to say that the campaign continued for her reinstatement and for the right for trade unionists to speak out against cuts and privatisation. The letter asked branches to sign an open letter and petition to Ivan Lewis MP. A branch delegation together with the NW Regional Secretary, Frank Hont, was planning to meet him about Karen.

The letter mentioned that the Union had withdrawn legal assistance, and said that the Branch Committee “think this is a shame”. That was the only comment on the withdrawal of legal assistance – but this is said to be „campaigning against UNISON policy‟ and prejudicial to the union. There was NO campaign to get the union to reinstate legal assistance. There WAS a continuing campaign in support of Karen, supported at national, regional and branch levels. Caroline was found not guilty of breaking any rules by sending this letter, but was found to have acted in a manner prejudicial to the union.

I have to say, as a long serving UNISON Branch Secretary who is notoriously cautious about staying within the Rules I might very well have done the same. Caroline acted in good faith to defend a fellow activist and - had she known about the Certification Officer decision in the case of the London UNISON Branch Secretary she might have felt reassured that, even if she had committed some technical breach of Rule, the Union would stand by her.

Unfortunately she would have been wrong to have been reassured. It seems the Union takes a harsher view of someone who is held to have breached a Rule to try to help a member than it does when someone breaches a Rule in a way which could obstruct a member from receiving help (unless of course that it is the politics of the individual which makes the difference).

What takes the case almost into the realms of fantasy though are the allegations made by the Union about things she did in her own time and with her own resources.

3. She allowed her private telephone numbers to be used as the contact point on a press release from the independent „Reinstate Karen Reissmann Campaign‟.

4. Caroline sent an email from her own computer using her email to a closed discussion email group for members of the United Left in UNISON, to let them know what was happening in Karen‟s case. She said that legal assistance had been withdrawn and that there were attempts to persuade the union to reinstate legal support. This email is said to have been “in furtherance of a campaign against a decision of UNISON to withdraw legal representation from Karen Reissmann”. There was NO such campaign to try to get the legal representation reinstated. A comment in an email does not constitute a campaign. Again, she was found not guilty of breaking any rules by sending this email, but was found guilty of acting in a manner prejudicial to the union.

Caroline had every right to express her personal opinions in personal emails - and to allow her home telephone number to be used for a campaign. I have often used my own resources to book meetings, produce leaflets and organise campaign activities. Like Caroline, I am diligent about not using our Union's resources for purposes other than those specified in our Rule Book - but what I do in my own time with my own money and resources is my own business.

I have been proud to count Caroline as a friend and comrade over a number of years. She is an excellent and dedicated trade unionist and the sort of person upon which the movement depends. She has often been a critic of our leadership when it has been wrong - and has as often been foremost amongst our activists.

If we permit a good comrade to be hounded out of office in our Union then we shall be as guilty as those doing the hounding.

As a member of UNISON's National Executive Council re-elected for a fourth term I believe that there is a great deal of which we can be proud about in relation to our Union. We shall, over the next period, be the first and sometimes only line of defence around vital public services upon which some of the most vulnerable depend. I am proud to be a UNISON member.

But I am not proud of the politically motivated misuse of our disciplinary procedures which becomes more blatant year by year. It's time this stopped.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Time travel in UNISON

I explained here earlier my reservations about proposals for the scheme of representation at the first Conference (in just under a year's time) of UNISON's new Community Service Group.

This is an important event for an important part of our Union. Our 61,000 members in this Sector - even allowing for UNITE's claim to a membership around 60,000 are joined by perhaps half a million workers who need - but do not have - union organisation.

UNISON needs the Community Service Group to get off to a good start. More importantly, hundreds of thousands of working people need our trade union to get its act together and organise them.

So I was - and am - concerned that we are proposing a scheme of representation which gives the best organised half of the membership access to little more than 10% of the delegates places at the Conference.

At Wednesday's meeting of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee I did not - in the end - push my opposition at the meeting to a vote which I could see that I would have lost because I was assured that the scheme before us had the approval of the UNISON National CVS Forum (as was indicated in the report circulated to us before our meeting on 11 November).

What I know now is that the CVS Forum did approve the proposals - at a meeting which began at 11am on Wednesday 11 November.

We were told that the CVS Forum had approved these proposals in a report circulated in advance of the D&O meeting - which began at 10am on Wednesday 11 November.

I can only conclude that a national official was able to travel back in time following the decision of the National CVS Forum on 11 November in order to inform the report circulated in advance of the D&O Committee meeting of the same date!

If UNISON officials have perfected time travel perhaps they will be looking to other events which they wish to influence...?

Building the Resistance

This Saturday I shall be off the Annual Conference of the Labour Representation Committee.

The LRC organises the principled leftwing of the Labour Party - and those outside the Labour Party who do not support standing candidates against Labour candidates - as part of the wider Left.

Unfortunately that wider Left is not particularly wide or large. We have not been able to assert ourselves effectively against the attacks from New Labour and are not in a strong position to mobilise our movement to fight back against the further attacks we can now expect from the Tories.

There is a hard year ahead and further hard years beyond. I hope to take some heart from meeting with hundreds of fellow socialists on Saturday, but I will take greater heart the more I hear from people facing up to the problems which now confront us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Just because someone says it does not make it so..

A brief post to alert regular readers Sid and Doris Rule-Book-Anorak to look out for detailed reports from today's meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee - at which I learned an important lesson about the interpretation of the Union's Rules.

It was made clear that just because someone (a blogger perhaps?) says that something is in breach of the Rules that does not mean that it is.

However if someone else says that something is not in breach of the rules then that does mean that it is not.

The key factors in determining which is the authoritative interpretation of the Rules is that the true interpretation should be;

(a) louder;

(b) grumpier, and;

(c) delivered by someone sitting on the top table at the front of a meeting.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Forward to the late 1980s?

I suppose I have to get round eventually to apologising to every other delegate to last year's Local Government Service Group Conference - and now is as good a time as any.

Thanks to my interventions on behalf of my branch we won a card vote for a reference back of the report of the Standing Orders Committee.

(Please note that all those who - like me - enjoyed the last paragraph are plainly in need of medical help, along with regular readers Sid and Doris Pedant...)

Since Conference had been warned before agreeing the reference back that, were it do so, no business could be transacted until we had the vote, that threat had to be made good.

And so we were subject to a forty five minute presentation from delegates from Newcastle City (including Kenny) about their response to public spending cuts.

This amounted to telling us that they had discovered that sometimes you have to engage with the employer as they make spending cuts in order to limit the damage.

I first made myself unpopular with some comrades in Lambeth by advancing - and winning - that argument in 1988.

From my knowledge of employee relations in London local government in particular I know that this is what many of us have been doing for the last two decades. It's just that we don't normally go round in advance boasting about our bottom line in forthcoming negotiations. That is rarely helpful.

So, here comes the apology.

I am desperately sorry to hundreds of delegates that, because you rightly voted for reference back on my recommendation, you were subject to three quarters of an hour explaining why you have to do what you do already.

For those who are gluttons for punishment you can read more online.

In what may be totally unrelated news, UNISON's Northern Region is the worst performing Region when it comes to recruitment....

Sunday, November 08, 2009

An online report from the Three Companies Project

It’s good to read some positive reporting of the work done in Sheffield last week as part of the “Three Companies” project with which the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is assisting UNISON in a drive to organise workers employed by Compass, Sodexho and Aramark.

In a few days the UNISON NEC Development and Organising Committee will receive a presentation on this project as we did not when we met in September (though others were better briefed).

After all the controversy surrounding inter-union disputes and the questionable conduct of the SEIU in the United States (and the dubious practices – such as agreements confidential from the membership - associated with similar organising drives on the other side of the Atlantic) it is refreshing to read something positive from one of the organisers on the ground.

I look forward to hearing how many workers we have recruited to UNISON in Sheffield last week and what our plans are to embed union organising and build the collective strength of employees in our target areas.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Recruitment - modest good news

I will blog in full after Wednesday's meeting of the Development and Organisation about the discussion which I hope we will have around recruitment.

The good news is that UNISON membership is increasing, albeit at a relatively modest rate. However, given the job losses which are occurring in some of the areas in which we organise, the fact that we may exceed our target of 1.5% net growth for the year is very welcome.

There are some interesting questions which arise from the data which will be considered at the Committee meeting, some of which I have asked in advance.

It is interesting to consider the Regional variations in recruitment performance. What is it about the East Midlands that makes it the Region which is recruiting best and growing strongly, whereas our worst performing Region (the Northern Region) which has the same annual turnover of membership as the East Midlands is projected to shrink this year?

I am also interested in the balance to be struck between reaching out to organise the unorganised and seeking to raise our density in our core areas (remember that a majority of the directly employed workforce of the London boroughs are not members of any trade union!). I worry that we sometimes get carried away being "forward looking" and facing up to the increasing fracturing of public service provision and so lose a focus on recruiting in our core employers.

If we want to be in a position to evaluate our organising efforts we cannot measure success purely in numbers. Trade union members do not join a union as an end in itself but as a means to the end of promoting our collective interests. We need to measure our effectiveness against a number of indicators, including density, developments on pay, pensions, conditions and job security and the breadth and depth of coverage of collective bargaining in the areas in which we organise.

The fact that potential trade union members are looking at the union for what collective organisation can deliver for their interests is borne out by the fact that the biggest spikes in recruitment occur around major national disputes.

The Tories are coming for the Local Government Pension Scheme. Last time our pension was attacked we took action - and we recruited many more members to our Union. This is an issue around which we should aim to recruit the many thousands of local government workers who are not in a trade union.

Three companies - more than one opinion

The semi-official and mostly anonymous "UNISON Active" blog has its undergarments entangled over a story in Tribune today and therefore manages to miss all the important points.

The unnamed blogger over at UNISON Active is all angry. Not at the employers who profit out of low paid labour, nor at the Government which keeps in place the labour legislation to permit that. No - the nameless blogger reserves their ire for Tribune who have dared to report on a letter sent to UNISON by US Union UNITE HERE (about which regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger know already).

The author of the anonymous contribution over at UNISON Active really needs to go and have a lie down.

The Three Companies Project appears to be a worthwhile initiative about which I have blogged before - albeit it would have been nice if the project had been reported back in UNISON's lay structures before it appeared ("semi-officially") online.

I am looking forward to a presentation about the project at Wednesday's meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee.

The dispute between UNITE HERE and the SEIU is not however irrelevant to the global trade union movement and we cannot simply ignore the compelling evidence of widespread support for UNITE HERE against the predatory behaviour of the larger union.

Service Group Autonomy?

Next week's meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee of the UNISON NEC will consider the annual report on the scheme of representation for delegates at UNISON National Delegate Conference (as we did last year and every year).

I shall probably be one of those who will ask colleagues to consider making that scheme a little more flexible, and I shall probably find myself in a minority on that question.

However this year the Committee is being asked to agree that the scheme of representation which we agree for National Delegate Conference shall apply also to Service Group Conferences.

Under Rule D.1.3 it is for the NEC to draw up the scheme of representation for National Delegate Conference but under Rule D.3.4.5 it is for the Service Group Executive to draw up a scheme of representation for Service Group Conference to be approved by the Service Group Conference itself.

If the NEC were to seek to impose a scheme of representation upon Service Groups we would be negating this explicit provision of our Rule Book and infringing upon the autonomy of Service Groups.

Even if this year's Chairs and Secretaries of the Service Groups could be gathered together to assent to the NEC dictating to Service Groups how they should structure their Conferences in this way that would not rewrite the Rules which provide explicitly for the autonomy of Service Groups.

UNISON is a large trade union and our members need to be able to identify their Union with their own particular interests - this was part of the reason for the new Rule Book definition of an occupational group agreed at this year's Conference.

The Rule Change that the NEC could not even get a simple majority for (concerning the devolution of bargaining responsibility to Sectors before we had proper structures for democratic accountability) fell because UNISON members want devolved and democratic structures which don't just take the Union out to the members but also ensure that it is under their control.

That control cannot be exercised simply through the NEC, other parts of our democratic machinery also have their legitimate roles and spheres of influence.

It seems to me that an attempt by the NEC (in the name of "consistency") to dictate to Service Groups how they should be represented at their Conferences flies directly in the face of the message that Conference tried to give us in June.

I would be interested to know if any of you other UNISON members out there (including regular readers Sid and Doris Rule-Book-Anorak) are concerned about this point. I think you probably should be.

UNISON Community Service Group Conference

I have been reading my papers for next week's meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) and would be interested in the views of other UNISON members (particularly those working in the Community and Voluntary Sector) about proposals for the first Conference of the new Community Service Group.

UNISON has about 60,000 members in the new Service Group, half of whom are in 28 branches which have more than 500 members of the Service Group. The other half are scattered throughout 610 branches with fewer than 500 Service Group members (and an average of just 50).

Next week's Committee is going to be asked to support a proposal to allow one delegate per 500 members or part thereof, meaning that the best organised half of the membership of the Service Group would be entitled to just over ten per cent of the delegates at the Conference.

My initial view is that I think that this proposal falls down in terms both of equity and effectiveness and that a better option would be to group those branches with few members of the Service Group in Regional delegations.

Once the Service Group is established then under Rule it will be for the Service Group Executive to work out a scheme of representation for their Service Group Conference (to be approved by the Conference) but since there obviously is not a Service Group Executive for a newly formed Service Group the decision about the first Community Service Group Conference has to fall to the NEC.

I would be very interested in the views of UNISON members ahead of Wednesday's Committee meeting.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Not a penny off the pay! Not a minute on the day!

As I mentioned last week one of the stewards involved in the Leeds strike has been in London this week.

Glenn - the steward in question - has done three consecutive evenings of speaking at meetings about the dispute and has inspired and motivated a number of London trade unionists.

We need to get delegations of strikers down to London on a regular basis so that we can further publicise the dispute and raise funds to alleviate the hardship our members are experiencing on strike.

The Grauniad had a handle on the complexity of the dispute which the Council Leader didn't like but listening to Glenn I have been reminded how simple this dispute is.

Some workers are being expected to take a pay cut of up to one third - and the employer's latest offer is that they should work impossibly hard if they want to preserve their earnings.

I think there is a slogan for this...

Victimisation of UNISON activists - from Doncaster to Hammersmith

UNISON was absolutely right to threaten strike action when our Doncaster Branch Secretary was suspended - apart from anything else the threat worked and the suspension was lifted.

I won't be the first online commentator to compare the treatment of UNISON activists in Doncaster and Hammersmith and Fulham. Thanks to UNISON member John McDonnell MP the disgraceful treatment of UNISON activists in that Tory flagship authority is now firmly in the public domain.

Our brothers and sisters in Yorkshire showed how to support Jim Board in Doncaster and those of us in London need to apply the same approach to supporting activists in the Hammersmith and Fulham branch. John McDonnell's Early Day Motion notes that the council has derecognised the local elected officials of the Unison branch and is appalled at Hammersmith and Fulham council for its treatment of the elected Unison branch officers.

All UNISON members should encourage their MP to sign Early Day Motion 2116 and those of us who are active within the Union must press for a vigorous campaign to highlight the excesses of this Tory flagship.

The opening shots in the war to destroy our public services are being aimed at trade union activists who are in the front line of the defence of a decent society. All trade unionists must rally to defend our own.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

UNISON Review of the effectiveness of our political funds

If regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger agree that you can give yourself a hat tip I will acknowledge that this story is already on the Lambeth UNISON blog.

All UNISON branches have until 13 November to send their comments in response to the consultation document (available online here).

1. The following are the comments from the Lambeth local government branch in response to the consultation questions in the document on the review of UNISON’s political funds, as agreed by our Branch Committee on 3 November 2009.

– what are the most important political and policy making processes affecting UNISON and its members?

– how will political, constitutional and policy changes impact on the union’s objectives and interests over the next five years?

– in what ways should branches, regions and the national union change their methods of campaigning and political organisation to meet these challenges?

2. The election of the UK Government, local authorities and devolved administrations are vitally important to UNISON members. The failure of New Labour and the likely election of a Conservative Government will presage serious attacks upon our members. At the same time the Labour Party is failing to adopt policies which reflect our members’ interests. The Union therefore needs to adopt a more independent approach politically.

– why do many branches not see the GPF and/or Labour Link as resources to help them lobby and campaign?

– how can we increase regional and branch engagement with the General Political Fund?

– how can we further strengthen regional and local Labour Link organisation?

3. The Union makes it unnecessarily difficult for branches to access political fund resources – branches should have an automatic entitlement to some political fund resources each year. Members will not engage with UNISON Labour Link whilst they see the Labour Party pursuing policies which attack the interests of our members.

– what resources and support do UNISON reps need to engage members and organise them to take political action?

– what kind of political education should be included in core training for stewards and organising staff?

– should we develop short courses for lead activists and organising staff on labour movement history and contemporary political issues?

4. UNISON needs to change its culture to one that encourages campaigning away from a “top down” officer-led culture which seeks to restrict campaigning by branches. The history of the trade union movement should be central to trade union education.

– what do members, branches, and lead activists need or want to know about the union’s political work, and how would this best be communicated to them?

– how could union communications better promote transparency and understanding of the operations of the General Political Fund and

Labour Link?

– how could union communications better encourage engagement and participation by members and branches in the union’s political work?

5. The Union should implement Conference policy and monitor and report on the voting record of politicians associated with our Union. Members need to know whether the politicians who benefit by their association with our Union support our policies. Members in local branches should have a direct input into decisions about which politicians UNISON supports and works with.

– is there more we need to do to ensure that subscription and allocation procedures are transparent?

– is there more we can do to encourage the greatest possible participation in the two sections of the political fund?

6. Members should not be allocated into the Affiliated Political Fund unless they make a deliberate choice to pay into the Labour Party. Branches should have direct control over some of the General Political Fund which should be available to be spent in accordance with the decisions of quorate Branch or Branch Committee meetings. The Union has to face up to the fact that if the proportion of members choosing to pay into the Affiliated Fund falls much below the present proportion (one third) it will no longer be tenable to maintain that UNISON is affiliated to the Labour Party.

– are existing structures for the governance of the General Political Fund adequate to ensure transparency, accountability and engagement?

– how can we encourage a higher level of participation in Labour Link structures at branch, regional and national level?

– are there ways in which we can improve the accountability and responsiveness of both Labour Link and the GPF to wider union

structures at local, regional, devolved and national levels?

7. There should be a single-section political fund under the control of National Delegate Conference and the separate structures for each section of the fund should be abolished. The existing structures were designed, prior to vesting day in 1993, specifically to avoid transparency, accountability and engagement and cannot be reformed.