Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The choice facing UNISON

‎I'll blog a full report from today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) shortly but my immediate reaction to today's interesting discussions are that we face a clear choice of direction, which will very much determine the nature of our forthcoming Conference in Brighton in June.

There is a positive choice which could be made.

And another choice.

The positive choice would be to focus on mobilising and uniting our members to take action against the attacks we face, including - crucially - the attacks on our living standards through below inflation pay increases.

With our Health Conference set to consider an emergency motion from their Service Group Executive (SGE) recommending action against the Government's response to the already intolerably inadequate recommendation of the Pay Review Body, whilst our local government membership are being recommended to reject an equally inadequate offer, we have the opportunity for UNISON to lead the defence of workers' interests.

If we make the seizing of this opp‎ortunity the focus of our Conference we will not only assume our rightful leadership of the opposition to the Coalition Government, we will also take the course most likely to sustain, and grow, the membership and strength of our Union.

Because, although we are recruiting hand over fist and surviving better than many other trade unions, the trend of our membership (and income) is down rather than up. There is a coincidence of interest between those whose first priority is to sustain the organisation and those of us whose first instinct is to fight to defend members' interests.

We share an interest in taking the positive choice.

‎The other choice - when facing the potential of decline - is to retrench. This other choice is reflected in particular in a series of Rule Amendments from branches who feel defeated and demoralised and who propose moving our Conferences, and our Regional and Branch elections, from an annual to a biennial cycle.

These expressions of despair from elements of the rank and file who feel isolated and exhausted have been seized upon by members of the National Executive who have long hankered after the less frequent accountability which is the experience of members of less democratic trade unions.

Lacking the confidence of their anti-democratic convictions, these individuals argued for the NEC to "defer" taking a policy decision on these proposals in order to consult within the Union. This seemingly democratic proposition won the honest support of others against the opposition of a minority.

If this rushed "consultation" suggests any support for reducing the frequency of any element of our trade union democracy, those NEC members who did not admit today their preference for a less democratic trade union will emerge from the shadows to argue that the NEC should support these reactionary proposals.

If this happens our Conference - which must inevitably spend some of its time on internal matters (such as branch funding) - will become a monumental exercise in navel-gazing, dominated by a set-piece battle between supporters of democracy and those prepared to use a potential financial crisis as an excuse to weaken democratic oversight with which they were never comfortable.

UNISON activists who want our Union to make a positive choice in favour of organisation, activity and growth (rather than a choice to descend into purposeless internal strife) can use the "consultation" which will now take place on the reactionary, right-wing proposals to reduce our democracy to impress upon the NEC majority the sheer idiocy of supporting such wanton defeatism.

Those of my NEC colleagues who honestly and sincerely supported the decision to defer taking a position on these catastrophic rule amendments need to wake up to the choice we face, and to the motives of some of those who seek to steer them.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.


Anonymous said...

As ever, Jon, you are so right.

We really do need to keep NDC as annual. In fact you've persuaded me that we need it twice a year!

Never mind the attacks on facility time that make it increasingly difficult for lay activists to attend NDC.

You are also right to warn of the danger that NDC might become a "monumental exercise in navel-gazing" because of course it's not like that now, is it? The past 10 years of NDC certainly haven't been dominated by a constant stream of worthy motions that everyone agrees with, have they? The four days we spend are vital to ensure we all agree the hell with one another.

I think our members would be appalled if we stopped spending fours days and millions of pounds talking to ourselves. I'm sure they would agree it far more important we do that than actually spend the time building the union. An old regional officer use to say to me "we build the union in the workplace by talking to workers" but you've convinced me we will build it by talking to each other at the seaside.

The scales have fallen from my eyes.

Thank you.

steve jinx said...

"we build the union in the workplace by talking to workers."

In the nearly twenty years I've been working at our local county council Unison has hardly ever spoken to the workforce in order to rally us, discuss with us, or inform us. The one time I remember them calling a meeting in recent years (2008) they asked us to vote for single status, presenting it, as we thought, as an opportunity to raise the pay of women whereas it turned out to be a gift to the council to drop the pay of many of us by 10%, something from which I have never recovered. Ninety per cent of my department, a dozen people, immediately left Unison.