Sunday, May 11, 2014

Democracy in UNISON?

Sometimes it seems as if my trade union is determined to become a caricature of whatever it was George Orwell was trying to caricature in “1984”.

The Democracy in UNISON Guidelines sometimes appear to be used in as if their purpose was the exact opposite of their title. One could even imagine a Branch Secretary being told that they might not circulate a model motion, or solicit support for a fringe meeting, on the basis of selective quotation from those “guidelines”.

However, such an attempt would be unlikely to succeed if the Branch Secretary knew that these “guidelines” did not have the force of Rule, nor even the status of the Code of Good Branch Practice. It would be less likely still to be effective if the Branch Secretary had been party to the compositing ahead of National Delegate Conference 1998, and to discussions on the Conference floor at that Conference, and had received assurances about the right of branches to organise fringe meetings from a (then) Assistant General Secretary.

The idea that “horizontal” communication (between branches across Regions or Service Groups) should be verboten is something borrowed from the experience of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It may be unkind to some comrades to point out that this approach did not turn out to be a terribly useful one, but I do think it is an observation worth making (and for those who prefer to borrow this practice from the Catholic Church, I think they have even less reason to be proud of such anti-democratic nonsense).

In fact the power of branches to requisition special Conferences (which is specifically provided for in Rule) absolutely requires that branches should engage in such “horizontal” communication. Those who try to prevent this are in breach of Rule themselves – and we lay members who care for our trade union must not be shy to assert this.

If anyone wants a war about democracy in UNISON they are a fool. We have much more important battles with Government and employers which should detain us now – we don’t need avoidable internal squabbles.

But if anyone does want such a war, then they are very welcome to the defeat and humiliation which is in store for them, as regular readers of this blog, Sid and Doris Trade-Union-Democrat will be able to attest. UNISON is its many many members, not the small number of inconsequential individuals (myself included) who believe themselves significant within it.

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