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?


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?

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.