Wednesday, March 30, 2016

UNISON General Secretary election - see no STV, hear no STV, speak no STV

Without making (in this post) any other comment about the recent election for UNISON General Secretary, I can remind diligent readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) that - for the first time this century - the winning candidate commanded the support of only a minority of those voting.

Because the voting system is "first past the post" that led to a victory for the candidate with the most votes (and it is doubtful that a different voting system would have produced a different result in 2015).

Nevertheless, there is a strong case for preferential voting in trade union elections (which is that it ensures that the successful candidate is supported - to some extent at least - by a majority of voters). Other TUC affiliated unions use preferential voting (as does the Labour Party) - and the law governing the election of trade union General Secretaries specifically permits the use of the Single Transferable Vote (STV).

Last summer, whilst your humble blogger was holidaying, my friend and comrade Max Watson proposed that the NEC exercise the discretion given to it by Schedule C of the Rule Book to use STV in the then forthcoming General Secretary election. That proposal was roundly defeated.

Lambeth branch, in a continuing mission to help UNISON think about its future, therefore proposed Rule Amendments to remove that discretion and require the use of STV in General Secretary elections. Pedantry even led the branch to cite, in the body of one Rule Amendment, the legislation that permits the use of STV.

Nevertheless, the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) for National Delegate Conference (NDC) have ruled our amendments (and others) out of order on the grounds that they could bring the Union into legal jeopardy. Doubtless this decision will be challenged, but as anyone who has read the last post on this blog will appreciate, it is unlikely that this year's Conference will have the chance to have this discussion.

The method of voting in future General Secretary elections is but one of the many issues which those who care about UNISON's future need to be debating - and it's far from being the most important - but it is a great shame that SOC wrongly believe that we shouldn't even be having the discussion‎.

Anyone thinking of producing a leaflet about this matter for distribution at NDC should not, of course, seek inspiration for any graphics from the title of this blog post...

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

UNISON, the Trade Union Bill and the law - a sorry saga set to unfold?

As we head towards UNISON's June Conference we can anticipate unanimous support for Motion 46 from the National Executive Council (NEC) which rightly describes the Trade Union Bill as "the biggest assault upon working people's rights in living memory."

In relation to the outrageous further restrictions on our ability to take industrial action within the law, the NEC ask Conference to agree that‎ "UNISON will have to organise, campaign and challenge the proposed new restrictions with all the resources of the union in our workplaces, in our communities and in the courts." The NEC seek a call upon ourselves from Conference to "continue to oppose the Trade Union Bill and any provisions that make it on the statute books."

With all of that I agree - but how?

How shall we "challenge" the new restrictions or "oppose" any "provisions that make it on the statute books" if we start from a position of unquestioning obedience to the law (however bad)?

Because, Because, no mistake about it, UNISON's current approach (officially) is never, ever, to risk breaking the law (no matter how restrictive that law may become or how many international treaty obligations it may trample into the dust).

Indeed, we may not even discuss at our Conference the possibility that we might seek to change this approach. And an attempt to amend the very Rule, upon a questionable interpretation of which this prohibition is founded has itself been ruled out or order.

The current Rule B.4.5 says that one of the aims and objectives of the Union shall be to "perform such other duties and engage in such other business as a trade union may lawfully undertake."

In the past, the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) for our National Delegate Conference (NDC) has applied this rule (and in particular the word "lawfully" which it contains) to rule out of order any motion for debate at Conference which even suggests that UNISON might have to operate outside the law.

This has always been an arguably absurd reading of what is obviously intended to be a "miscellaneous" paragraph within our "aims and objectives" with which the authors clearly intended to ‎capture any activity which they had omitted in the other aims and objectives.

Nevertheless, in order to try to get the Union off the hook of the (now established) interpretation of Rule B.4.5, Lambeth branch proposed to delete the existing wording and replace it with an aim and objective "to undertake such other activities as may be determined by the union in accordance with these Rules."

Risibly, this Rule Amendment has been ruled out of order on the grounds that it "could place the union in legal jeopardy." Whilst the branch can - and will - challenge this ruling, the fact that the Rule Amendment does not have a number on the Preliminary Agenda means that it cannot be prioritised for debate in the pre-Conference prioritisation process (of which more soon).

Furthermore, since the SOC decided some years ago that Rule Amendments not debated on the Thursday afternoon of NDC could not be part of the "reprioritisation process" in which the order of business for about ninety minutes of the Friday afternoon is determined, the only realistic chance that a Rule Amendment, once having been ruled out of order, could be debated would be if it were not only put back on the agenda but also timetabled for debate.

‎So, we can agree all manner of fine words with which to garland our campaign of opposition to the Trade Union Bill, but its most important proposal, to make national industrial action within the law an effective impossibility, is something to which we shall bend the knee (whilst forbidding ourselves from even debating any alternative).

Where in this approach can we see a future for trade unionism?

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

GMB - the weakest link on local government pay?

http://i.emlfiles1.com/cmpdoc/4/6/6/7/2/1/files/11686_pay-justice-2016-bulletin-issue-09.pdf?dm_i=2QI8,70HO,8OJEG,LZPL,1

This is a link to the latest pay bulletin from UNISON\'s local government section.‎ It reports quite rightly that members of both UNISON and UNITE have rejected the employers\' two year pay offer of 1% a year. The unions are seeking further discussions, including the possibility of agreeing a deal for a single year.

The UNISON bulletin also reports, factually and without adverse comment, that GMB members voted by a margin of nine to one to accept the offer. 

Unfortunately our sister union has shown no such restraint and, in a bulletin signed by a Mr Bowden, they accuse UNISON and UNITE of \'breaking ranks\' and are critical of the trade union side for not immediately accepting the deal, which they talk up to the point almost of self-parody.

It is true that the very lowest paid are being offered more than 1% a year - but it is also true that this is necessary to keep up with the increases in the (rebranded) minimum wage being introduced by the Tory Government. Therefore those who are being offered a real terms increase are being offered it not because of the generosity of our employers, still less because of the skill of our negotiators but simply because of the political calculation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

And for the vast majority of the local government workforce the offer falls short of the 1.3% increase in the Retail Price Index on the last published figures. In other words, the GMB want us to take a further pay cut to add to the 20% decline in the living standards of local government workers so far this decade.

Of course the GMB officials can claim a democratic mandate for this conduct - but then an individual member ballot with no clear leadership offering a strategy to achieve better can be virtually guaranteed to produce such an outcome (even in unions where rank and file organisation is not a cardinal sin).

The challenge which confronts UNISON is how to proceed in the absence of the trade union unity which we rightly seek. Do we consider that any chain is only as strong as its weakest link and try to extricate ourselves from this year\'s pay dispute, perhaps on the basis of a single year deal (keeping our powder dry for that mythical day when we remember how to use it?)

This sort of approach was certainly hinted at in the postponement, last Friday, of a meeting of our Industrial Action Committee. 

I think that this would be a grave error.

Whereas the collapse of the UCU pay campaign at their Further Education Committee snookered UNISON in a sector in which we are not the majority union, that is not the case on the National Joint Council for Local Government Services.


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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Solidarity with the NUT!

http://www.teachers.org.uk/members-reps/6th-form-teachers/pay-and-funding-campaign

Today is a good day not simply because thousands of members of our sister union the National Union of Teachers (NUT) are striking against spending cuts in sixth form colleges (it is just a pity that the UCU FE Committee decided against calling further action in the further education sector to coincide with this strike, particularly since UNISON's FE Committee were up for further action).

Today however is not simply a good day, it is a better day because the NUT‎ saw off an attempt by the Government to use the courts to stop the strike, arguing that opposition to spending cuts is a political rather than a trade dispute.

The judge rightly concluded that the dispute is about the impact of the cuts on the terms and conditions of the staff (and therefore a lawful trade dispute).

Of course (as the courts found long ago in the case of UCLH v UNISON) a trade union can have both a trade dispute and a wider political objective - indeed in the public sector it is almost inevitable that the two must go together.

UNISON activists need to study the NUT sixth form colleges dispute, as we may have been too willing in the past to accept the received wisdom that, for example, a national dispute against spending cuts in local government is not a possibility.

For today though, solidarity to the sixth form college lecturers - and to all the students supporting them!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.