With an impressive 17,315 names signed up to UNISON’s “Million Voices” campaign
in defence of public services, today brought the news of four more voices soon to be added (or at least increased in volume).
At twenty to seven on a Friday evening in early August, members of UNISON’s National Executive Council received a letter from our General Secretary informing us that the current establishment of three Assistant General Secretary posts in UNISON (two of which have been vacant for some years) will be increased to five.
This widely anticipated move (which some informed sources say reveals much about earlier decisions around the timetable for the recent General Secretary election) will add four more AGSs to complement the current incumbent, Bob Abberley.
Our General Secretary points out, in his letter, that “UNISON will begin the move into its new national centre at the end of the year. We have an opportunity to combine this with a new senior management structure in place to support our work. A new centre and a new start”. Having voted – against the incumbent General Secretary – for a new start for UNISON earlier this year, I was interested to hear about this “new start” from the successful candidate of the status quo and take this opportunity to share some further information.
The NEC Staffing Committee (which has a high degree of autonomy from the NEC as a whole, to which it is not collectively accountable) has agreed the following responsibilities for those whom Mabledon Place insiders are reportedly already referring to as the “Famous Five”;
The AGS for Organising and Recruitment will have responsibility for UNISON’s national and regional organising strategy and will lead a new National Organising Unit. The postholder will provide a strategic overview of the union’s learning and activist training services.
The AGS for Bargaining, Negotiating and Equalities will be responsible for helping to set and deliver the union’s wider bargaining agenda. The postholder will have overall responsibility for service groups and will lead and manage a number of specialist units for procurement, bargaining support, equal pay and local government and public sector finance.
The AGS for Communications, Campaigns and Policy will have responsibility for developing UNISON’s campaigns, external profile, influence and policies. The postholder will ensure strategic planning and co-ordination of key campaigns to build effective participation at national, regional and branch level.
The AGS for Organisation and Resource Development will be responsible for resource, ICT and systems management, financial management, staffing and management of the national centre. The postholder will lead and champion internal management of change through a new Change Management Unit.
The AGS for Regional Management and Governance will have responsibility for strategic management of the regions to ensure effective implementation of the union’s organising, campaign and policy objectives. The postholder will oversee governance to ensure partnership working with lay structures and be the voice of the regions in the national leadership.
Public service workers will of course be familiar with the idea that the way to respond to challenging circumstances is to appoint more senior managers. This approach does not universally find favour with UNISON members when it is applied by our employers. Had the National Executive Council of our trade union received any detailed report in advance of this decision having been taken I could perhaps explain its rationale and let you know about the other options which had been considered and rejected. As it is I can’t.
I’ll happily share the letter with UNISON members in the Greater London Region on request and understand that it will be issued to all staff on Monday.
For those with time on their hands to speculate as to who will get these jobs, NEC members have been told that “As part of a restructuring process, the new posts will be ringfenced to existing staff and members and advertised internally through In Focus, the website and eFocus. Appointments will be by the usual Staffing Committee processes, aiming to get the new secretariat in place by late Autumn.”
Many of us who are lay UNISON activists will be familiar with arguing for “internals first”
or “internals only”
recruitment to avoid redundancies (although not normally to give restricted access to significant promotion opportunities). However it appears that we are not simply restricting this recruitment to our current staff (which – since our finances are sound and we are not looking to make redundancies – is comprehensible), we are also including our 1.3 Million members within the ring fence for these four new posts of Assistant General Secretary.
This is a rather large ring fence, the dimensions of which may perhaps have been influenced by some rather dispiriting content in that part of the General Secretary’s letter to the NEC dealing with the background to these proposals, in which he commented that; “over the next few years, thousands of UNISON members stand to lose their jobs, including many of our key activists.”
Obviously it’s as well to be prepared for the worst, but I would rather hope that our Union might be in a position to resist some of the job losses which the ConDem Coalition have planned for us. In fact, I know we can resist job losses because, at a local level, this is what effectively organised UNISON branches already do.
Furthermore, whilst being a UNISON activist is no passport to job security, it does seem to me to be a counsel of despair to anticipate that we will lose “many of our key activists”
. (One might almost think that the real import of the letter was to prepare for one or two “key activists”
to be lost to activism through appointment as an Assistant General Secretary – but lay activists don’t generally join the organisation as employees at such an exalted level)(yet?).
We certainly face the threat of a great many job losses. Our struggle can make a difference to how many jobs are lost, and to where they are lost from. As a Branch Secretary as well as an NEC member, I start with the position that we will resist every job loss and that we will in particular resist the threat of compulsory redundancy of any of our members. I also expect our Union to protect our activists. My time for the next few years will largely be taken up defending jobs and services and I shall certain consider it a failure if, locally, we lose “many of our key activists”
I think therefore that I will rule myself out of contention for any of the AGS jobs (however much my application would have been welcomed by regular readers of this blog, Sid and Doris Mabledon-Leninist). There is a lot of work to be done by trade unionists in the next little while, almost all of it by the rank and file at local level.