Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Trade Union Bill, Plan A and Plan B

‎Wednesday's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) received positive reports of the lobbying being done by our Union in the House of Lords (and Commons) to try to limit the damage the Trade Union Bill may do to our movement.

Whilst reports of the work of UNISON officials received by our NEC‎ are almost invariably positive. (as if it would be rude to be critical even with good cause), Wednesday's reports rang true - and it does appear that our "Plan A" to defeat (or, at least, restrain) the malign legislative intent of a hostile Government is being pursued with all due vigour and our best efforts.

The other positive feature of Wednesday's reports on this topic related to our "Plan B" work to prepare for the (sadly not unlikely) worst case scenario in which the Government's intentions reach the statute book.

Whereas some in our Union had been dismissive of the reasonable approach of the NEC Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee immediately following last year's General Election (which had been, whilst hoping for the best, to prepare for the worst), those same people seem now to be committed to the pilot projects which are helping us to prepare for the shift to Direct Debit should we have to do so.

Since UNISON - more than any other large trade union - depends upon our agreements with employers concerning deduction of union subscriptions "at source" (i.e. from our pay) (DOCAS) - the arrangement whereby 70% of our members pay their subscriptions - it is just as well that we are now pursuing both Plans A and B!

Indeed - whatever happens with the Trade Union Bill - the continuing fragmentation of the public service workforce means that the proportion of UNISON's membership who won't have the choice of paying union subs by DOCAS is set to grow come what may - so our Plan B for subscriptions is vitally important.

Last Wednesday's meeting saw the unveiling of Plan B for the political fund - to be pursued alongside the Pan A of unprecedented lobbying in the Lords (which has already seen the convening of a Committee to review this question).

This Plan B is far more dramatic than the approach to subscriptions collection advocated by the D&O Committee - so it was encouraging that no one at the top table was dismissive of this sensible proposal, or suggested that it amounted to "capitulation".

It always makes sense to prepare for the worst whilst fighting for the best.‎ The Government propose to give us as little as three months to shift members in England, Scotland and Wales from "opting out" of our political fund to "opting in". With the best will in the world, and the most energetic work of all our officials and activists, we could not achieve this - and we would therefore face the need to reimburse political fund contributions for those we had failed to reach.

This would create chaos (and cost the Union a great deal of money which we can ill afford to lose).

What our NEC agreed - and we'll need the positive support of both the Labour Link and GPF Committees to avoid being hoist on the petard of our "embedded" political fund rules when persuading the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) to let this on to the Conference Agenda - is that, should the Government's intent arrive on the statute book we would immediately close our political fund to new entrants and revise the share of union subscriptions which are contributed to the fund down to zero.

Whilst this looks much more like a white flag than anything discussed at the D&O in relation to Direct Debit, it is as pragmatic as it is unavoidable - and the NEC unanimously endorsed our General Secretary's recommendation that we pursue this course. Each section of our political fund has sufficient reserves to enable us to continue to operate for a year (or even perhaps longer) without any income to the political fund. The Tory plan to gag our trade unions and bankrupt the Labour Party can therefore be - if not frustrated - at least staved off.

However, whilst all activists who care for the future of UNISON must hope that the NEC proposals are admitted to the agenda by the SOC and subsequently agreed by Conference, we must also start work now on proposals for the future - should we not defeat the Trade Union Bill - since the device of closing our political fund to new income - and new entrants - cannot be more than a temporary stop-gap.

The real debate on the future of our political fund will therefore take place at National Delegate Conference 2017.‎ And we need to consider what demands to place upon an incoming Labour Government to unshackle our unions.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

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