Thursday, November 24, 2016

UNISON and the Certification Officer - a welcome ruling back in 1997?

As far as I can recollect, no one has ever asked me to blog about the history of hearings in front of the Certification Officer involving UNISON.

But I knew you wanted me to anyway.

So as I get time I’ll remind you of some aspects of the past of our trade union which are all too easily forgotten.

One of the earliest cases involving UNISON was one in which our trade union (or at least its leadership) seemed almost to welcome intervention in its affairs. Nineteen years ago, the Certification Officer ruled that a donation of £100 made by a UNISON branch to an appeal in support of the Socialist Worker newspaper had breached the Union’s political fund rules.

Although by the time the complaint came to be considered the contested donation had been repaid, and therefore there was no need for any enforcement order, the Certification Officer did not simply make a declaration that the political fund rules had been breached but also came to an agreement with UNISON that this declaration would be publicised by the trade union. And so it was.

The publication of this decision within UNISON signalled the start of a sustained attempt to marginalise – and in some cases expel – activists who were associated with the Socialist Workers Party. At the same time the Birmingham and Sheffield local government branches were taken over (into what we would now call “regional supervision” but without consultation with Regional lay structures) and there were a number of contested disciplinary cases – at least one of which found UNISON being told to reverse a decision by the Certification Officer.

That disciplinary witch hunt came to an end with the election of a new General Secretary, who took office for the first time in January 2001, although its consequences continued to be felt for some time. Over the subsequent period UNISON’s National Executive sought, through our Development and Organisation Committee, to impose greater lay scrutiny of some areas of internal controversy, with regular reporting both of branches under regional supervision and cases taken to the Certification Officer.

Funnily enough, when, some years later, the Certification Officer found that much larger sums (£2,184.41 in total) had been spent in breach of the same political fund rules as had been breached to a much lesser extent in the earlier case, the union did not volunteer to publicise the decision as they had in 1997. Indeed no subsequent Certification Officer decision has ever attracted quite the welcome of that long ago decision about £100 being sent to the Socialist Worker appeal.

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