Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Are we Turkeys to vote for Christmas?

Labour’s leader has chosen to take the tired old path of demonstrating his leadership credentials by
picking a fight with the left of the Party at this year’s Conference. One part of this project is a proposal to change the system for electing Party Leader back from “one member one vote” (OMOV) to an electoral college in which a third of the votes would go to members, a third to affiliates and a third to Members of Parliament.

UNISON’s delegation to Labour Party Conference will have to decide how to cast our block vote at the Conference, constrained only by the requirement to act in accordance with UNISON Labour Link policy.

The previous electoral college system - a compromise adopted in the 1980s to stop the Leader being chosen exclusively by Members of Parliament - eventually evolved to the point at which union members voted in order to cast our union votes which were then weighted as were votes from individual members and Members of Parliament.

Under Ed Miliband’s leadership the rules were changed at a special Conference to remove the electoral college and have a simple “one member one vote” (OMOV) system (in which affiliated members could cast their - equal - vote alongside individual members and Members of Parliament).

UNISON supported Miliband’s rule changes in 2014, so establishing that UNISON Labour Link Policy is to support OMOV in the Labour Party for leadership elections.

The OMOV system did not remove the ability of trade unions to make recommendations as to who to support, nor to campaign to get our members to cast their votes.

UNISON Labour Link backed Corbyn in 2015 (having consulted Labour Link payers) and Dave Prentis was then fulsome in his praise for Jeremy Corbyn when he won.

Having repeated the consultation exercise following the abortive 2016 leadership challenge UNISON supported Corbyn once more.

In 2020 the Labour Link Committee made a recommendation without consulting members and that recommendation was for Keir Starmer - but the fact that the union recommended support for the current leader does not reverse established UNISON Labour Link policy from 2014 to support the OMOV system.

Starmer’s cheerleaders within the Party are trying to persuade trade unionists that a return to the electoral college in some way increases the role of trade unions in the Party. This is (of course) completely untrue.

The point of the proposed return to the electoral college is to empower the Parliamentary Labour Party at the expense of individual and affiliated members of the Party. That this is dressed up as “making the Party more electable” by “putting the Corbyn era behind us” simply demonstrates how little respect the leadership has for the intellectual capacity of those same cheerleaders. 

The more right-wing rule changes the leadership can get through this year’s Conference the more emboldened they will be to complete the transformation of the Party away from its roots.

If UNISON’s Labour Party Conference delegation were to support these changes they would truly be turkeys voting for Christmas.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Solidarity with Paul Holmes


Paul Holmes is one of the most dedicated - and decent - trade unionists I have ever met. He is the long standing Branch Secretary of one of UNISON’s largest branches ( Kirklees large by virtue of a high UNISON density rather than the size of their main employer).

It’s not just me who thinks this. Paul has been repeatedly re-elected to the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) since 2007 and won a third of the vote in last year’s election for General Secretary (the best result ever achieved by a rank and file candidate).

With Paul as a figurehead the left in UNISON won, for the first time, a majority on the NEC in the elections earlier this year - and his NEC colleagues elected him as UNISON’s President and as one of our representatives on the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Knowing Paul (as I am proud to say that I do, as a friend and comrade) I know that - for him - it is the more than thirty years he has served as a Branch Secretary that is most important to him, because it is through rank and file activity that an ordinary trade unionist can make a real difference.

Paul’s employer, Kirklees Council, have given him perhaps the ultimate tribute by suspending him from work in December 2019. Only now, after more than twenty months, they are beginning a disciplinary hearing against him (at a private venue in a hotel) tomorrow morning - Monday 6 September 2021.

I have no hesitation in saying that this is an act of trade union victimisation and that every UNISON member, every trade unionist - and every self-respecting member of the Labour Party (or any other Party) - should stand with Paul in opposition to his victimisation.

If you can get to Huddersfield tomorrow morning join the lobby outside the Clarion, Cedar Court Hotel, Ainsley Top, Huddersfield, HD3 3RH.

If not, joint the online rally - details on the leaflet below;

Monday, August 16, 2021

Injustice in the Labour Party

Whilst I was away for a few days I missed (for the first time in a couple of years) a meeting of the General Committee of Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party (CLP), of which I am proud to be Chair. I was also proud to hear that our GC expressed solidarity with Ken Loach, the socialist film-maker who has - quite absurdly - been expelled from the Labour Party.

The repellent use of administrative means to resolve political differences in the Labour Party has now reached a ridiculous stage, at which individuals are being “auto-excluded” unless they can disprove the allegation that they are associated with”proscribed organisations” which are barely even organisations.

Ken Loach has a lifetime of commitment to socialist ideals, but has not always been a Labour Party member - eight years ago I was critical on this blog of his decision to launch the short-lived (and badly titled) “Left Unity”. When socialists such as Loach felt they could join the Party that was a very good sign that our Party was avoiding the decline into irrelevance which has been the fate of many European social democratic parties this century.

Whilst this one expulsion has attracted particular attention, there are others subject to similarly unjustifiable administrative action, including a former member of my UNISON branch, Leah Levane and my old friend and comrade Graham Bash - someone who has given exemplary service to our Party and movement over many decades.

Ironically, on the day that my CLP, in my absence, rightly expressed solidarity with Ken Loach, my partner and I met up with  a former UNISON comrade who had been part of our fight against a political witch hunt in UNISON twenty years ago. We reflected upon the approach of “guilty until proven innocent” which had been applied then in our trade union and is applied now in our Party, and also upon the smearing of those who oppose such witch-hunting.

In UNISON at the turn of the century (and from time to time subsequently) those whom the union bureaucracy wanted rid of were frequently accused of bullying and harassment - and those who argued against obviously politically motivated misuse of disciplinary procedures were accused of defending such bullying and, by extension, of being bullies themselves.

In today’s Labour Party those whom the Party bureaucracy want rid of face allegations of anti-semitism - and those who protest at what they see as politically motivated misuse of the Party’s rules and procedures are accused of defending anti-semitism, and hence of being anti-semitic themselves.

This is not to say, of course, that there was never any bullying in UNISON (either then or now) (indeed, over the course of twenty five years as a Branch Secretary and fourteen as a members of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) I witnessed a fair bit, though rarely from those accused of it). Nor indeed is it to say that there is no anti-semitism among Labour Party members, nor (of course) that action should not be taken against members responsible for anti-semitic conduct.

However, the shared features of political witch hunts, which can be very obvious, include “guilt by association” and “guilty until proven innocent”. I have seen these time and again over a lifetime of labour movement activism and see them again now in today’s Labour Party. The motive for the current misuse of Labour Party administrative procedures is plainly to discourage socialists from Labour Party activism and encourage them to leave the Party.

This desired objective is being achieved by the actions of those who joined the Party  as individual “fans” of our former Leader and are now departing because they simply can’t bear what they see the Party becoming. Waiting outside the Party are those in various small organisations hoping to recruit disillusioned ex-Labour Party members. They won’t have much joy with people whose engagement with politics has always been about their own individual feelings rather more than any experience of collective activity.

Of course the answer to injustice is not to do what the perpetrators of injustice want you to do - the result of the elections to the Conference Arrangements Committee have demonstrated that socialist ideas continue to be held by a majority of Party members, but the right-wing candidates (who self-identify as centre-left) secured their best share of the vote in six years. Every individual socialist who gives up their Party card contributes to the project of those who want to eliminate socialism from the Party and, by extension, from our society.

Now more than ever socialists are needed inside the Labour Party - not keeping quiet about our socialism but campaigning positively for the changes we need. Perhaps one day Ken Loach will make a film about it!

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Lambeth's shame - and its misreporting

For anyone associated with Lambeth Council (by whom I was employed for 33 years from 1987 onwards) yesterday’s publication of the report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is a significant moment. The report sets out a litany of the most appalling abuse of children in the care of Lambeth Council, going back over many decades.

The Council has apologised and established a redress scheme to provide compensation - but nothing can undo what was done to so many vulnerable children for whom the borough was responsible over such a long period of time. There can be little doubt that yesterday’s report would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the determination of survivors of abuse (such as those organised in the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association - who withdrew cooperation from IICSA because of their limited methodology).

The report should be read (and re-read) in order to understand the testimony heard by the report authors and also to consider their analysis. It is evident that there was a systemic failure to protect children, and to listen to their complaints, which goes back before the formation of Lambeth Council in 1965 and continued - in at least one case to which the report refers - until 2016.

Unfortunately, for some commentators, any report about Lambeth is simply an excuse to bash what is remembered as having been a left-wing Council in the 1980s and early 1990s. Some commentary is poorly informed, some is worse.

Perhaps the report authors - not being local government finance experts can be excused for having said that “the desire to take on the government and to avoid setting a council tax rate resulted in 33 councillors being removed from their positions in 1986.” However seeing this error repeated verbatim by the journal Public Finance (published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy - CIPFA) - who allow an ill-informed subeditor to introduce their article with the misleading statement that “the failure of the London Borough of Lambeth to set a council tax rate during the 1980s directly contributed to sexual abuse in its children's homes” - is alarming.

Council Tax was not introduced until 1993 (a simple fact of which you would think a journal produced by CIPFA would be aware). The tax which the Knight administration in Lambeth delayed setting (not failed to set) was the old domestic rates (which were themselves abolished to make way for the poll tax - or “community charge” - the predecessor to Council Tax). 

The Public Finance subeditor also takes what the report says much further than the authors of the report, who plainly see the political contention around the conflict with Central Government, leading up to the delay in rate-setting in 1986 and thence to the surcharge and disqualification of councillors, as part of the context of the culture of the organisation which helps to explain its failure to address the crisis of child sexual abuse - a long way from making the absurd claim that the delay in setting a rate in 1986 “directly contributed” to sexual abuse which had been going on in Lambeth children’s homes since before Lambeth Council was created in 1965.

If an informed and respected source of local government news can get things so badly wrong it is of course no surprise that the MailOnline website prioritises attacking left wing Council leaders of the 80s and early 90s, giving their details a higher profile than those of the convicted sex offenders who were actually abusing children in Lambeth.

Since the report has only been public for a little over 24 hours at the time of writing it is easy to see that this sort of gutter journalism is simply rehashing prejudice rather than paying serious attention to the content of an important document. It is a massive oversimplification to pick out one contextual factor and attribute the horror of Lambeth’s children’s homes to that one cause. Shirley Oaks - the home which has become a byword for abuse - was closed in 1983 (three years before the confrontation between Lambeth Council and the Tory Government).

The report is genuinely horrifying and deserves to be taken seriously. It should not be used to make ill-informed attempts to refight political battles from a generation ago.

Monday, July 12, 2021

A lot more than fifty five years of hurt...

I have been blogging here for fifteen years now and (without checking back) I think I can fairly safely say that I have never blogged anything that was - even tangentially - about football.

I don’t really follow football, any more than I follow any other organised sport (I feel about organised sport slightly less aversion than I feel for organised religion). However, towards the end of each Premiership season these days I do anxiously check results to see that Brighton and Hove Albion are not going to be relegated - and when there is a major international tournament I get caught up in it, like many people, as we do by the Olympic Games (for example).

So it was that yesterday I watched the Euros final with family (including my brother and nephew who are both proper football fans and could comment knowledgeably about tactics, such as when we should have brought on substitutes and who should have been asked to take penalties) - and so it was that I cheered England’s goals and shared England’s disappointments with millions.

I had been impressed with Gareth Southgate, as a manager and leader, and by much about England’s team, including their “taking the knee” and the activities of individuals such as Marcus Rashford, but that was - on the night - all rather secondary to the excitement of the match and, of course, the disappointment at the outcome of the penalty shoot-out.

I don’t have nearly enough football-related knowledge to comment on the tactics employed by individual penalty-takers, or on the decisions as to who should have taken penalties. As an only very occasional watcher of football, the penalty shoot-out seems as fair (and as unfair) as having to decide who was to be chair of our Labour Party branch by drawing names from a hat because the vote was tied.

One thing I think I can be fairly certain about is that a factor which had nothing to do with whether any particular England player scored their penalty was the colour of that player’s skin. 

Yet online - and in the real world - this irrelevant factor has been the occasion and excuse for racists to reveal their racism, which I am afraid is always skulking around wherever the cross of St George is displayed, ready to emerge when it has the opportunity (as it did when people who were supposedly England “fans” booed their own team for making a modest expression of opposition to racism, having been egged on by the opposition to that gesture of leading Tory politicians).

Racism runs deep in this country, a fact which many white people (including many on the left) don’t like to acknowledge - but just as the 2016 Referendum vote was the occasion for a major increase in racist hate crimes (as racists felt emboldened and empowered) so it would appear that a significant number of England “fans” have expressed their disappointment at defeat by Italy through the prism of racist hatred of Black players - and Black people generally.

There is no such thing as someone who is “not racist” - we have all been brought up in a racist society. In particular a white person who is “not racist” is like a man who is “not sexist” (and also like a unicorn). 

There is, however, the possibility and - as we can see today - the necessity for being anti-racist. “Being anti-racist” cannot, however, be some sort of existential state in which an anti-racist individual observes the world around and regrets it - in this case “being” depends upon “doing” and therefore what is needed is anti-racist action.

In the immediate moment this may mean expressing solidarity with individual footballers, and it will include marching, protesting and petitioning - but for trade unionists it will also include working harder to understand and uproot institutional racism in the workplace (and our movement) and for Labour Party members it will include finding ways to ensure that the Party clearly and consistently confronts racism and never accommodates to it.

On reflection, after fifteen years of blogging here, it probably remains true that I have never actually blogged about football.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Everything you wanted to know about UNISON's NEC members and their preferences - and quite a lot you didn't

Having recently blogged about several of the Committees of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) - from the jaundiced perspective of a longstanding NEC member who was carefully kept away from almost all Committees during my fourteen years - it’s time to post a summary of all the Committees (and other roles) in which newly elected (and re-elected) UNISON NEC members can express a preference.

Don’t ask me why it’s time. It just is. I am reassured that these posts, whilst of interest to a very small number of people, are of some interest to that small number of people (regular readers, Sid and Doris Blogger included) - and will therefore finish this series of posts with a lengthy round-up. If you seriously intend to read this blog post to the end go and get a cup of tea, or something stronger.

There are important Committees in which no one can express a preference at this stage - because they are made up from members of nominees of the Presidential Team and/or particular NEC Committees. The Service Group Liaison Committee and the Equality Liaison Committee spring to mind.

Another absentee from the list of options (which actually appears in the Rule Book) is the Disciplinary SubCommittee. When I was first elected to the NEC - in 2003 - one of the options in which I could express a preference was the “Disciplinary Panel” which was a panel of volunteers from whom Disciplinary SubCommittees could be constituted, consisting in each case of three NEC members in accordance with Rule I.7.2. 

However, in later years this option disappeared from the options in which NEC members could (biennially) express a preference, and Disciplinary SubCommittees have since been constituted on a case-by-case basis (a matter for the new Chair of D&O to consider perhaps).

That said, NEC members can express preferences for membership of various Committees of the NEC, and also in taking on a representative role, on behalf of the NEC on other bodies or Committees or in particular roles. With the exception of the Labour Link Committee, to which the NEC elects twelve members under Rule J.2.2, the size of the other NEC Committees, established in accordance with Rule D.2.9, is up to the NEC (although there are established conventions about the numbers on some Committees, albeit these don’t have the force of Rule).

Of the Committees in which NEC members can express a preference, I have already blogged about the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee, the Policy Committee, the Staffing Committee, the Labour Link Committee and the Industrial Action Committee. I will start therefore by looking at the other Committees.

International Committee

One of the smaller “strategic” Committees, during my time on the NEC, the International Committee does exactly what it says on the tin. It deals with UNISON’s International policies, our international trade union links and encouraging activism on international issues in the wider trade union, guided by the policy decisions taken at National Delegate Conference. There is a small team of staff at the UNISON Centre working on international issues.

The Committee also works with the UNISON International Development Fund (UIDF) which was set up in 2005 to support the trade union movement in the global south as they build their capacity and represent the interests of workers. The UIDF is funded solely through commission received from UNISON’s “affinity partners” (the people who provide the services which are the responsibility of the Services to Members Committee, to which I shall now turn).

Services to Members Committee

Whilst you might think that the International Committee would be the best choice of strategic committee if you want some time away on a “jolly” - the Services to Members Committee, which deals with all the “services” UNISON provides to its members, is actually a better bet, since it is responsible for the Croyde Bay holiday camp in North Devon and occasionally holds meetings there.

This Committee operates as an umbrella committee within which to develop services such as legal services, insurance and financial services, leisure services etc. The Chair of the Committee also has delegated authority to exercise the discretion of the NEC under Rule K to give legal assistance to a member who doesn’t meet the normal requirements for support (such as four weeks continuous membership) - an important discretion access to which is not, perhaps, as well advertised within UNISON as it might be.

The services which UNISON provides to our members can make a real difference to members’ working lives - and the Services to Members Committee, its Chair and Vice-Chair, have a key role in ensuring that they are worthwhile.

Finance and Resource Management Committee

The Finance and Resource Management Committee (FRMC) was not considered a “strategic” Committee during my time on the NEC (which only mattered from the point of view of what Committees you could express preferences for).

Whether or not it is “strategic” it is obviously important and is responsible for the Union’s budget, for monitoring income and expenditure - and has delegated responsibilities for various financial matters.

Since UNISON members in employment (rightly) pay a non-negligible subscription to our trade union, how the NEC manages the members’ money is very important and - in my time - this Committee did its best to assert authority over spending, but it didn’t always work.

Early in this century UNISON set up a subsidiary company (Care Connect Learning) which ended up costing us more than a million quid. I don’t think the FRMC was adequately kept informed about this - a state of affairs which was repeated a decade later when we spent a similar sum, relatively unproductively, on the “Three Companies Project”.

Although the FRMC was certainly involved in the decision to build the new UNISON Centre, taken in 2004 (and coming into fruition when we moved in in 2011), I don’t think that the Committee was properly informed about how we came to keep so much of the building empty for so long (leading one cheeky sod to describe our prestigious Headquarters building as “the Great White Elephant of the Euston Road”).

Ensuring lay governance of the finances of such a large trade union is a significant challenge - and the NEC members who serve on the FRMC are in the front line of meeting that challenge.

The GPF Committee

I realise that I may be showing my age by referring to what I still think of as the General Political Fund (GPF) Committee by this old title now that the GPF has been re-named the “Campaigning Fund”.

Like the Labour Link Committee (members of which, by convention, may not serve on this Committee) this Committee is elected by GPF payers on the NEC in accordance with Rule J.2.2, which states that the Committee consists “of members of the National Executive Council who in accordance with these rules are contributors to the General Political Fund Section.” In my time the GPF Committee always consisted of twelve members - mirroring the number of NEC members elected to the Labour Link Committee, but that isn’t actually a requirement of the Rules.

The Committee oversees expenditure from the GPF (a.k.a. Campaigning Fund) and - since the Chair and/or Vice-Chair can sign off on expenditure on behalf of the Committee these positions are important. The idea of this fund is that it should be used for (non party political) campaigning which we could not lawfully fund from our general fund - but in practice it has also been used to resources all manner of campaigns in the past.

Other options for which NEC members can express preferences

As well as serving on Committees of the NEC itself, NEC members are also called upon to carry out various other roles - and are invited to express preferences for these alongside their preferences for the “non-strategic” Committees. Not every NEC member can get everything they want in terms of preferences and these roles are also very important (I would have done pretty much any of them if asked during seven terms on the NEC, but in those days the NEC was so awash with enthusiasm that UNISON was never desperate to ask me…) If my maths is right there are 36 such appointments to be made (as set out below).

Health and Safety Committee

The NEC appoints three of its members (at least two of whom must be women) to the National Health and Safety Committee which works with the Health and Safety Unit at the UNISON Centre and, under the auspices of the Policy Committee, coordinates the work of Regional Health and Safety Committees.

Self-Organised Group Committees

The NEC appoints four of its members to the National Black Members’ Committee (NBMC) (which is the National Committee of the Black Members’ Self-Organised Group). By an obviously sensible convention, the four members elected to hold the Black Members’ seats on the NEC are generally appointed by the NEC to the NBMC.

The NEC appoints three members (at least two of whom must be women) to the National Disabled Members’ Committee (NDMC) (the National Committee of the Disabled Members’s Self-Organised Group). Now that there are two NEC members holding Disabled Members’ seats on the NEC, I assume that it is likely that they will be two of those three.

The NEC appoints three women members to the National Women’s Committee (NWC)(the National Committee of the Women’s Self-Organised Group). Since a majority of the NEC hold seats which can only be held by women, these appointments depend very much on NEC members preferences and the recommendations to the NEC from the Presidential Team.

National Retired Members’ Committee

The NEC also appoints three of its members (at least two of whom should be women) to serve alongside the twelve elected Regional representatives on the National Retired Members Committee (NRMC) - the national body of UNISON’s Retired Members Organisation. The NRMC is accountable to the annual Retired Member’s Conference and - since retired members are not represented on the NEC - the role of these three NEC members is important to liaison between our large number of retired members and the structures of the Union.

Young Members

In case you think I have forgotten the National Young Members Committee (NYMC) - under Rule D.6.2 the two members elected to the NEC to represent Young Members are automatically members of that Committee so don’t need to express a preference (although their work on that Committee should probably be taken into account by the Presidential Team in recommending other allocations).

Standing Orders Committee

The NEC appoints three of its members to the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) for National Delegate Conference (NEC), at least two of whom must be women. These members represent the interests of the NEC on the SOC but, like other members of the SOC, their membership of SOC takes precedence over other responsibilities in relation to Conference business. Given that the SOC has been cultivated over decades to keep various radical or controversial matters away from Conference floor, these appointments could be particularly important in 2021.

Appointments to Boards

Two members of the NEC are appointed to the Board of UIA (Insurance) Ltd. (formerly UNISON Insurance, and before that, NALGO Insurance). UIA are not only UNISON’s “affinity” insurance provider, they also provide UNISON Direct to the Union. The Board oversees the company’s operations. It is important that UNISON is represented on the Board.

“There for you” (a.k.a. UNISON Welfare - UNISON’s charity) is governed by a board of trustees, consisting of six NEC elected trustees and six trustees who are either elected branch welfare officers or members of regional welfare committees. Therefore the NEC needs to appoint six of its members to this Board of Trustees (at least four of whom must be women). The day to day running of the charity is undertaken by staff based at UNISON’s national office, managed and overseen by the head of UNISON Welfare who reports to the board. Anyone who has spent any significant time as a senior branch activist will have come across cases where members have relied upon UNISON Welfare for support. These appointments are important to keeping the function running.

Three NEC members (at least two of whom are women) are appointed to the Management Board of “Managers in Partnership” (MiP). Managers in Partnership is a trades union organisation, set up in partnership with the First Division Association (FDA) - the union for senior civil servants, to represent the interests of senior managers in the national health service and associated bodies. It was launched in June 2005. Members of MiP are, at one and the same time, members of a national branch of UNISON within the Health Service Group and a section within the FDA. The management board is the device through which UNISON and the FDA manage our relationship with MiP. The NEC members appointed to this Board are often drawn from the representatives of the Health Service Group on the NEC.

Appointment of Trustees

Three NEC members are appointed as Trustees of the Union in accordance with Rule M.1.4.1, serving a two year term in accordance with Rule M.1.4.2 (although they can be reappointed). Trustees must have been members of the Union for at least two years (as required by Rule M.1.1). All the property of the Union is vested in the names of the Trustees (Rule M.2.1), who must obey any lawful instructions of the NEC (Rule M.2.3). The Trustees have oversight of the investment and property of the Union. 

In the normal course of events one hears little of the important work of the Trustees - although in December 2015 a couple of them put their names to a controversial missive to activists in their capacity as Trustees (which did not seem to have much to do with their responsibilities as Trustees). 

Although I do not recall there ever having been a disagreement in the past between the NEC and the Trustees, the fact that the Rules require the Trustees to act upon the “lawful” instructions of the NEC create the possibility that the Trustees might seek their own legal advice if they felt it necessary. The identity of the Trustees of the Union is not at all unimportant. It is for the NEC to appoint and/or re-appoint (or not re-appoint) Trustees under Rule M.1.4.2.

Separately, the NEC has to appoint three members as Trustees of the UNISON staff pension scheme, who work with Trustees elected by UNISON’s employees to manage the staff pension scheme - which, since our final salary pension scheme has a pretty hefty deficit - is an important responsibility. These appointments are separate from the appointment of the Trustees of the Union under Rule M.1. - they do not derive from UNISON’s Rules but from the requirements of the UNISON staff pension scheme and UNISON’s responsibilities as an employer.

Allocating NEC members to all these various roles is no simple task and the new Presidential Team have all my best wishes in getting this done as soon as possible!

I should probably add that NEC members elected to represent Service Groups are also members of the relevant Service Group Executive and that NEC members elected to represent Regional constituencies are also members of their Regional Council and Committee (just in case you think any of them are just loafing around...)

UNISON's Policy Committee - the (not really very) shocking truth!

If you’re reading this blog you may have wondered how often it happens to me that someone accosts me in the street and asks me what I think about the Policy Committee of the UNISON National Executive Committee (NEC). I am pleased to be able to put your mind at rest on this score. I can assure you that this has never happened.

Still, why should I let that stop me?

The Policy Committee (or to be precise - Policy Development and Campaigns Committee, PDCC) is, with the D&O Committee, the other really big Committee, both numerically and in terms of its influence and importance.

PDCC is usually a big Committee because it appeals to many NEC members. It is responsible for UNISON policy generally (with a few exceptions), as well as having specific responsibility for communications (which long ago I believe may have had its own Committee before my time) and for health and safety (the NEC does also have three representatives on the national Health and Safety Committee, which is not itself a SubCommittee of the NEC). Of course, as part of the NEC, PDCC is - or ought to be - bound by the policy agreed at National Delegate Conference.

These responsibilities mean that PDCC proposes most of the NEC’s motions to National Delegate Conference (the NEC generally moves no more than twelve motions, two of which are proposed by D&O, a couple by the International Committee but the rest generally by PDCC). PDCC also considers the great majority of Conference motions moved by other UNISON bodies (Branches, Regions, Self-Organised Groups etc.) in order to recommend to the NEC as a whole what its policy position on those motions should be.

This role means that NEC members on PDCC are, other things being equal, more likely to speak at Conference on behalf of the NEC - certainly on policy issues (I realise that, in an earlier post on the D&O Committee I didn’t touch on that Committee’s lead role in relation to Rule Amendments, but that’s for another time).

PDCC is also responsible for UNISON’s relationship with the TUC, and inter-union relations generally. When I was first elected to the NEC in 2003, and was - in that capacity - entitled to be a member of the TUC delegation, the TUC delegation used to meet in July to agree motions to to be submitted (and any member of the delegation could make a proposal) and again in August to agree amendments (with the same liberty for delegation members to make proposals).

After a few years the NEC decided that only “constituent bodies” of the TUC delegation could submit motions, and that the PDCC would do this on behalf of the NEC, so that individual NEC members needn’t trouble themselves with the taxing business of drafting a motion of no more than 250 words in line with UNISON policy. The August delegation meeting also disappeared, and PDCC took over the submission of amendments to the Congress agenda.

Now, as I understand it (not having been a TUC delegate since 2012) PDCC handles the whole business of motions and amendments for Congress on UNISON’s behalf. Since the TUC delegation was slimmed down after the 2010 Congress, so that not all NEC members get to attend the TUC, the lion’s share of the places which the NEC does have on that delegation go to members of the PDCC.

Although the incoming NEC may have all sorts of ideas to change how UNISON functions for the better, they will - initially - have to deal with “how things are” - the Policy Committee will without doubt continue to be a very important part of the UNISON NEC (although - out of loyalty to my year’s of service on the D&O Committee - I ought to add, “not quite as important as it thinks it is”).

Other former (and current) NEC members who actually served on the Committee could probably say a lot more - but they may be too busy living, working and generally engaging in class struggle...

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

What does UNISON's Development and Organisation Committee get up to?

Since I seem to have taken to blogging about the various Committees of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) I think it only right that I should turn my attention to the one Committee on which I served for fourteen years - the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee. 

Those who want to wait for the film version should look away now.

In each of my seven terms on the NEC the D&O Committee was a large Committee, reflecting the number of NEC members who expressed an interest in serving on the Committee. That in turn probably reflects the wide-ranging brief of the Committee.

D&O is responsible for recruitment and retention, UNISON structures, member participation, proportionality and fair representation, activist education, union learning, computer systems (including the RMS - the “replacement membership system”) and constitutional issues.

The Committee has generally useful discussions of recruitment statistics, and many of the subjects which crop up on its agenda are not that controversial. D&O inherited responsibility for activist education and union learning in 2005 when the former Education and Training Committee was terminated (following the unfortunate episode in which UNISON lost over a million pounds through the creation of “Care Connect Learning”). 

Discussion about education and training matters, like recruitment, was (in my time) not usually controversial. D&O also has oversight of proportionality and fair representation (including the scheme of representation for branches at National Delegate Conference) - which became uncontroversial as we settled in to what is now a fairly long established scheme.

Over the years, contentious discussions about UNISON structures and constitutional issues enlivened D&O meetings. D&O receives, for example, a regular report of branches under regional supervision - this was something which developed during my time on the NEC as NEC members sought to hold to account the Regional Secretaries who are responsible for those branches (although in later years the report was scaled back). 

Since taking a branch into regional supervision denies to the members of that branch some important democratic rights, NEC members on the D&O Committee need to be diligent to ensure that they understand why such a step has been taken - and also need to keep the pressure on regions to restore branches to democratic functioning as soon as practicable.

D&O is responsible for updating of the Code of Good Branch Practice, a piece of work which seems to have been outstanding for a good few years. Since the Code is often (mistakenly) treated as if it had the force of the Rule Book, NEC members may want to think about updating it in a more inclusive way at some point. The last time it was updated it was done by Chair’s action.

The Chair of D&O also has, on behalf of the Committee, a particular individual responsibility to the NEC as a whole for internal disciplinary matters (under Rule I and Schedule D). It is the Chair of D&O who decides (on behalf of the NEC in accordance with I.5.1.2) whether a disciplinary investigation into an individual member should be initiated. 

The D&O Chair also presents (to most meetings of the NEC) a report listing all outstanding disciplinary cases (the approval of which amounts to the NEC taking the decision it is required to take by Rule I.5.3). 

As part of these responsibilities it is also the Chair of D&O who exercises the NEC’s power to suspend members under Rule C.7.4. (a process which is described in the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision in the Bakhsh case).

NEC members who have questions about disciplinary matters cannot raise them verbally at the NEC meeting but must put them in writing in order to receive a written response during the meeting. This process evolved in order to avoid prejudicing NEC members, who might be required to sit upon disciplinary panels, but it isn’t perfect and the NEC may want to review it in due course.