Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A good day for UNISON in South East London

A little over three years ago I became quite irate when UNISON's Greenwich and Bromley branches were taken into regional supervision (

So I am pleased to have been today at a meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) to hear it formally reported that neither of these branches is any longer under supervision.

There are - exceptionally - circumstances in which a trade union may need to take over the affairs of one of its constituent branches (where there may have been fraud for example). No such circumstances ever existed in either Bromley or Greenwich.

The three years in which UNISON members in two South East London boroughs were needlessly denied their democratic rights witnessed poor performance by our Union in those boroughs. This wasn't because of any failings on the part of the staff dragged away from other duties to take over the branches - it was because gratuitous and unnecessary takeovers of branches is directly contrary to the best ethos of our Union.

UNISON at it's best is a lay-led trade union in which a solid partnership between lay and full-time officials is founded on mutual respect. At it's worse, our Union is capable of being much less than that, and the regional supervision of these branches showed us, unfortunately, at our worst.

It's not as if we weren't warned. Tom Snow had described the state of the Greater London Regional office on the occasion of his retirement just week's before the dawn raids in Woolwich and Bromley (

It's sadly still true that the Regional Office has a greater focus on bolstering power within the Union than on building the power of the Union. As long as the office can maintain its internal focus on ensuring that the lay structures never challenge it or hold it to account it doesn't seem to matter that UNISON's Greater London Region has no profile and no worthwhile influence.

Just in recent weeks members have approached me about a branch where - encouraged by the Region - officers excluded a member from their Annual General Meeting and a branch where - guided by the Region - officers managed to secure massive disaffection and significant resignations from amongst a recently organised and militant section of the workforce (the Region are trying to turn that situation on its head by misleading the Centre into focusing on the issue of a protest by low paid workers at the UNISON Centre, when the real issue is the attitude of the UNISON Region to those low paid workers in the first place).

I encourage our members to express their concerns appropriately within our Union, but I often doubt whether, when doing so, I am giving good advice. Even after the experience of the pensions dispute, I do not believe that there is a sufficiently powerful will at the UNISON Centre to hold renegade Regions to account. If UNISON fails to provide an effective in-house laundromat we will inevitably and unfortunately end up washing our dirty laundry in public.

At least though, our members in Bromley and Greenwich local government branches can face their daily challenges now as the masters and mistresses of their own fate, no longer under the unhelpful direction of the Region.

Now they can build back to being UNISON at its best.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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