Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The future of UNISON?

One issue which is not on the agenda for tomorrow's meeting of our National Executive Council (NEC) nor the Preliminary Agenda for our National Delegate Conference (NDC) is the issue of the future of UNISON.

What will UNISON look like in ten - or twenty - years time?

Who will be our members?

What will be our structures?

Who will lead us?

The closest we may come to such a forward facing discussion may be in the debate about branch funding. Otherwise we are enmeshed in responding to day to day events (or engaged in avoiding doing so).

As is generally the case on the evening before a meeting of our NEC, I have attended a meeting of our left caucus. This is an open group amongst the members of which there are many disagreements (topically, for example, in relation to the European Union referendum).

A larger number of NEC members sometimes attend larger (pre) meetings, but those have no name and are never reported upon.

I wonder if, at those meetings, my NEC colleagues discuss our future.

I wonder what is said to justify the ‎position of those who think that when two thirds of local government workers reject a pay deal on a turnout above 10% we should not honour their decision with a strike ballot, whereas when a minority of members elect a General Secretary on a turnout below 10% we should laud their decision.

I wonder what questions are asked about UNISON's future, about succession planning at the top of the Union, about the relevance of a national trade union which does not promote national pay bargaining.

But these questions do not stand to be asked only of those who have supported our current leadership. They require answers from all those who in different ways have supported alternatives and (perhaps most of all) from those who so visibly have adopted a position of armed neutrality.

I (of course) will continue to bore you, dear readers, with my answers - but we probably cannot simply blog our way to a better union.

In the run up to NDC there are those who will, in the name of unity, wish that the questions raised by the lowest ever turnout in the General Secretary election, and by the victory of a candidate who did not command majority support, would go away.

They won't.

I will - at the risk of repeating myself - make clear that I allege no wrongdoing whatsoever in connection with the recent General Secretary election upon the part of the winning (or any other) candidate.

That's not the point (and never has been).

What I am asserting is that the whole experience of the recent General Secretary election has revealed to us a crisis in UNISON which we ignore at our peril (and - which matters more - the peril of our members).

We have a leadership with overwhelming support in the union machinery but pitiable reach in the lay structures facing an ever more divided opposition in circumstances in which lay activists do not believe that officials are committed to lay leadership. Both this leadership and this opposition confront a Government committed to unprecedented attacks upon trade unions and workers' rights at a time of declining membership and conflict over dwindling resources.

I have no idea what the answer to this crisis might be, but I am quite certain that a failure to acknowledge that there is a crisis is not part of such an answer.

I continue to hope for a dialogue about how we respond to this crisis (but do not expect this tomorrow).

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

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