Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Proud to stand up for UNISON members today at the Certification Officer hearing

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will probably be aware that today saw the final session of the hearing of the various complaints made to the Certification Officer arising from the last UNISON General Secretary election.

Today we had the oral submissions and argument from the various parties, UNISON on the one hand and the complainants (Heather Wakefield, Roger Bannister, myself and John Burgess “and others”). Assistant Certification Officer, Her Honour Mary Stacey, now has the unenviable task of going back over 3,000 plus pages of paperwork, three days of testimony and the various submissions, witness statements and case law in order to arrive at a decision.

I won’t, this evening, attempt anything like a comprehensive commentary upon how I see the case as having gone, and to anyone who wishes to join those who have already asked me what I think will now happen I can only say that I have no idea (and neither does anyone else). I will say that, for all that I regret having to bring a complaint against the Union of which (if we include a former partner union) I have been a member for thirty years before an officer of the state, I was proud and happy today to sit amongst my fellow complainants and their various representatives.

Heather Wakefield, who has shown courage and determination since her strong showing in the recent election, was ably represented by Ijeoma Omambala – and personally shared with me the burden of physically carrying copies of the documents today for use by the complainants (no mean feat). Though slight in stature, Heather stands head and shoulders above her critics within UNISON, about whose character (rather than her own) one can learn much from their treatment of her.

Roger Bannister, assisted by Glen Kelly, arguably found one of the very best ways to mark his recent retirement both from work and from tenure as a branch activist that makes your humble blogger look like a lightweight. It is, of course, one of the marks of a good leader to be able (successfully) to plan succession and to know when to move on – and Roger also has distinction of having been first off the mark in submitting a complaint to the Certification Officer (although any suggestion that his complaint travelled a mile in under four minutes would probably show the age of those who made it…)

John Burgess, and the other complainants whose complaints were synoptic with his own, was robustly represented by my former NEC colleague, Yunus Bakhsh (whose modesty did not prevent him from referring to the earlier decision of the Certification Officer in Bakhsh –v- UNISON – particularly not when the Union tried to rely upon it!). John has withstood tremendous pressure and deeply unpleasant bullying over the year in which we have been pursuing this case and I offer him my wholehearted solidarity and support.

For my part, I was honoured to be represented today by George Binette, my friend and comrade (and Camden UNISON Branch Secretary) who rose to the challenge (with which all we union activists are sadly all too familiar) of representing an awkward and opinionated individual – and acquitted himself with distinction. In a world accelerating towards reaction it is good to find such comrades and to stand beside them.

Overall, the complainants (rather than the Union) today represented all that is best about UNISON both as it is and as it might be. Each of the complainants, and their representatives can this evening be proud that they have stood up for trade union democracy and the rights of UNISON members. I doubt that any individual involved in the preparation and presentation of the case on behalf of UNISON feels any such pride (although I do think the poor souls who had to collate the documentation deserve all our thanks, and accept that others were simply carrying out orders).

I shall have more to say about all of this soon, but for the moment I simply wanted to place on record my appreciation to all my fellow complainants – and to note that the unity which we have shown in taking on this fight is precisely the unity which UNISON members will now rightly expect that the left in the Union continues to show.

UNISONaction Broad Left candidates in the forthcoming elections to the NEC must be triumphant if we are to have a democratic trade union of which we can be proud to be a member – whereas those committed to the unfortunate “Stronger UNISON” statement are plainly those for whom all is already for the best in this best of all possible trade unions, and who will not therefore commit to the change which is required.

I may be giving up my UNISON positions this year, but I remain a UNISON member, unless and until I am expelled for having complained about electoral malpractice – and (whatever my membership status) I shall continue to comment here.

I shall also report on progress with a complaint concerning the admitted breaches of the Democracy in UNISON guidelines (and our agreed Conference policy) by one of our Assistant General Secretaries…

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