Friday, March 22, 2013

UNISON support for the election of officials?

Respect to the Dudley General branch of UNISON, who have got Motion 111 (Election of Paid Officers) on to the agenda for UNISON's 20th National Delegate Conference.

This promises a return to a debate last visited sixteen years ago, in UNISON's infancy, about whether senior paid officials should be elected or appointed.

In 1995 Conference had voted down a call for the election of the position of Deputy General Secretary, which was mischeviously, but effectively, caricatured as an attack upon the then incumbent (now, of course, our General Secretary).

In 1996, in an unexpected card vote, Conference had come within an inch of supporting the principle of the election of Regional Secretaries, but when the subject was revisited in 1997, following preparation on all sides, the proposal was more decisively rejected in spite of an excellent "right of reply" from your not-at-all-humble blogger.

Thereafter other issues captured our attention, including the epic battles over UNISON's disciplinary rules which were the shadow boxing in this dimension of the private battles over the late 90s witch hunt. The question of the election of officials slipped somewhat down the agenda after the defeat in 1997.

In recent years every attempt to approach this question on the Conference agenda has been ruled out of order, so it is greatly to Dudley's credit that they have persevered and now enable us to consider the question afresh.

The issue of democracy in our movement is almost as old as our movement itself. The "iron law of oligarchy" holds that, as a workers movement appoints skilled administrators to coordinate its work, so it also creates a caste of officials, seperate from the workers, with their own distinct interests, and needing to be held to account (

There have long been two schools of thought about how to achieve this accountability, whether by strong lay Committees controlling paid officials or by direct election.

From my personal observation of a decade on UNISON's ruling body, I have to conclude that, at least for us, and at least for now, the former approach is ineffective and the latter commends itself. I support Motion 111 and shall seek to persuade my NEC comrades to do likewise (though, I have to admit, without holding my breath).

Other TUC affiliates go further than electing only their General Secretary (which is, of course, required by law) and - in the cases of both the FBU and the NUT - elections of Deputy General Secretaries from the left have, in recent years, seen those successful candidates go on to become General Secretary.

Elections are good enough for lay activists and there can be no reason, in principle, why they should not be good enough for leading officials. Indeed, when you think about it, every argument which can be marshalled against the election of union officials could be (and often was) used to argue against representative democracy based on a universal franchise.

If, as a citizen, I have a democratic voice to choose legislators, why, as a worker, ought I not to have such a voice to choose negotiators?

Some rumour-mongers are suggesting that the UNISON Centre has been deliberately keeping the position of Deputy General Secretary (DGS) (which is a Rule Book requirement yet has been vacant for eight months - vacant so that the option of electing a DGS could be considered.

Others say that any such suggestion is the invention of irresponsible bloggers.

I wouldn't want to comment...

(Except to say that electing a Deputy General Secretary would be a very good thing for UNISON).

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange


Anonymous said...

Trying to get this on the agenda has been an annual event in the Dudley General Branch Office for a while now. I am pleased we have finally got a motion on the subject accepted. Hopefully this will pave the way for a full debate on the issue.

Andrew Maybury
Branch Secretary
Dudley General UNISON

nick venedi said...

Is it true though that some would wish that you hold your breath our Jon? Not me of course.. you are a legend in your own lunch time and I acknowledge that! Agree that all officials should stand for election its democratic init?