Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dense about density

A rare signed article on the blog set up to support Dave Prentis manages successfully to demolish a straw man of an argument.

In attempting pointlessly to obscure the clear evidence that Kirklees UNISON (the Branch of which rank and file General Secretary candidate Paul Holmes is Secretary) has a very impressive membership density in its lead employer, the blogger concludes that there is no general evidence that leftwing branches have higher membership density.

That's not the point. There are a wide range of factors which influence the variability of membership density between branches and workplaces, including Regional variations, variations between Service Groups, the presence or absence of other trade unions etc. Since the Union refuses to publish the detailed density data we do have its hard to get very far in assessing the different impact of these various factors.

All that supporters of Paul Holmes have been saying is that he leads a strong branch in which the large majority of employees of the lead employer choose to be members of UNISON. That's a point in his favour and no amount of online obfuscation can change that.

It's reasonable to assume that the branch leadership are not irrelevant to the strength of the branch - as to why that might be, I would refer to what the Secretary of the Leeds Branch has to say (in his personal capacity);

"I'm supporting Paul Holmes because he is an uncomprimising fighter for the working class. There is nothing "new", gimmicky, trendy or slick about Paul. What you get is someone who stands for, and espouses, good traditional socialist and trade union values and principles. He practices what he preaches. During our recent 11 week long Refuse and Street Cleaning workers strike in Leeds to protect pay and privatisation, Paul was the first to visit our picket lines to offer support; his branch was the first to send much needed money for our hardship fund; he attented and spoke inspirationally at several mass meetings and rallies during the 3 month struggle; he lobbied nationally for greater support within UNISON; he was there at the victorious end. Even after the strike was over Paul was organising branches in Yorkshire and Durham for money to buy Xmas toys for the strikers' families, providing over £2,000 worth of new toys, something for which our members were extremely grateful. Supporting workers in struggle will always be 1st, 2nd and 3rd on Paul's agenda, no other considerations will ever come in the way of that, and that's what is needed in our General Secretary."

Maybe inspirational leadership helps to build trade unions?


plymdaz said...

I must confess, I'm a little annoyed that UNISON Active doesn't seem to allow comments (or if it does I can't find the button, sorry) as the article you refer to is the biggest load of tosh I've read in a long time.
The article manages to cast many aspersions without actually having any proof to back it up. Lines like "How would the figure look if in 2005 it was 96% and it had now actually fallen? Not so impressive." try to make it sound like the density figure here is subject to some doubt.
At no point in the actual article does it provide any proof that Paul is being untruthful about his density figures.
The only valid point the article makes is that the area is subject to the so called "Northern Factor" which tends to increase density figures. However I don't see any figures provided for other branches in the area so we can compare them, a vital part of any proper statistical analysis.
Now I've had some training in stats, I'm also a history graduate and if there is one thing I've been taught it's that you can't make assertions without proof.

I see no proof in this article.

It is a classic attempt to use vague accusations and poor logic to attack someone. I carry no torch for Paul, or indeed any of the candidates, but I'm absolutely sick of the negative campaigning that's going on.

I don't care how crap you think your opponents are, I want to hear what you can do for the Union and how you can help protect our members jobs. Not some article full of weasle words attacking someone who has the temerity to think "I could do a good job as Gen Sec"

My apologies for ranting. I'm going to have a lie down now.

Ann Dunn said...

Mark Rayner you clearly have a lot of time on your hands! I'm sure it must stand as an uncomfortable truth that Paul Holmes leads such a solid branch of this union but deal with it

Ann Dunn
Unison Member
PAT Branch

Anonymous said...


I agree it is annoying that comments can't be made on the Unison active site. But I disagree with you over the article. It makes a serious point.

You say you've had training in stats and that you are historian. I've had training in science (chemistry) and applied mathematics and I have to say Mark Rayner got it right on many counts.

The density figures claimed by Paul Holmes are just that - a claim. They have not been verified.

And even if they are correct the article makes the point that looking at them in isolation does not give the full picture - any scientist will tell you that data has to be looked at in context.

The point is that quoting an unverified, isolated figure to support an election campaign is flawed at best. Gaw'd knows there are enough politicians who misuse stats we don;t want our union leaders to be doing the same do we?

Jon Rogers said...


I think that the point that Darren was making was that the article on UNISON Active came up with some invented figures to make its arguments.

My point was that they were trying to rebut an argument which no one has made (that left-led branches have higher density).

As to whether the Kirklees density figures are "unverified" I would make the following points.

The Branch obviously know how many members they have employed by the local authority and how many employees the local authority have. The latter figure could be found out by a Freedom of Information request and the former by a question to the UNISON NEC Annual Report at Conference (or you could just ask the branch) - so I invite you to verify the figure yourself which you can easily do.

Kirklees branch is one of the largest in local government yet - in terms of numbers in employment - Kirklees is not one of the largest employers.

Also, UNISON does have the density figures for lead employers (at least in health and local government) but refuses to publish these (a refusal of which I am critical).

Notwithstanding the refusal of the Union to publish these figures they are known to the General Secretary (or easily could be) and the same goes for the Regional Convenor (who is supporting the current General Secretary in his campaign for re-election).

Do you think that if Paul's "claims" (as you describe them) did not stand up to scrutiny that the General Secretary and his supporters would not be demolishing them right now?

Paul's campaign is not based upon any one fact, but the unavoidable fact is that Paul comes from, and leads a branch which is stronger than very many and it is perfectly legitimate for his supporters to draw attention to this.

Anonymous said...

See,the positivelyprentis blog! Oh dear...

Anonymous said...

Jon (same anon here)

You said "I think that the point that Darren was making was that the article on UNISON Active came up with some invented figures to make its arguments."

I think you (plymdaz) missed the point of what Mark Rayner was doing. The figures he quoted were to illustrate the point that the figures should not be viewed in isolation. The figures he quoted were to provide examples of what he was saying - I did not read them as being real fugures.

It's no different to a scientist saying "the rate of infant mortality of 4 in every 1,000 births looks impressive but it used to be 2 in every 1,000 then it has got worse"

The scientist here would be "inventing figures" as you would put it, but it would only be to illustrate a point.

Seems to me that is exactly what Mark Rayner did.

As for the comment that Paul Holmes leads a strong branch, that may be correct - I don't know. But Mark Rayner makes another good point that many of our Police branches are very strong too but they have a distinctly different political style of leadership to that of Holmes.

Andy Richards said...

The Rayner article makes no "serious points" whatsoever. Plymdaz has it totally right. It is a standard leadership attack piece - and a really shoddy one at that. If this really is the best that Unison Active can do, maybe they need to go back to anonymous postings.....