Although I have stood down in the past year from all my elected positions within my trade union, UNISON, of which I am now simply a member like any other, I have not lost my interest in what UNISON, its activists and officials, are doing. Indeed, at Christmas, I am very keen to know if my income could be increased (!)
As I am no longer a Branch Secretary, and no longer an NEC member, I no longer have to maintain a pretence that UNISON has strength, that it can defend the living standards of its members when it plainly cannot.
(Though looking back at this blog you would have had to be particularly dense to think that I was maintaining such a pretence up to now).
Whilst inflation is at 3% the local government employers (negotiating the pay of the largest group of UNISON members) have offered 2%. One can understand the factors constraining their ability to offer more without thinking it reasonable that we local government workers should face a further reduction in our standard of living.
UNISON must reject this offer – and must organise to resist through strike action. However, the Union is greatly weakened in this vital struggle by the misleadership from which it has suffered in the recent past.
Six years ago, the leadership of UNISON played a key role in the capitulation by the public service trade unions to the pension reform plans of the Coalition Government. These plans could have been defeated, even by the weakened trade union movement of 2011/12 – they were not because our leaders chose not to take that path. (UNISON’s leadership played a central role but the leadership of the GMB and UNITE were equally implicated). The union leaderships led our members into the biggest strike since 1926 and then marched back down the hill with nothing to show for the action that hadn’t been offered earlier – this capitulation was central to the survival of the Coalition Government.
Two years ago, that same leadership circled their moth-eaten wagons to defend the misbehaviour which was proven to have happened in the ramshackle campaign to secure the precarious re-election of the lame-duck General Secretary. The Assistant Certification Officer has put in the public domain the fact that your blogger was threatened with legal action as part of that sorry episode (and I repeat and reiterate my apology to Dave Prentis and that he was not personally culpable for misconduct in the election) – the only reason there has not been a more serious reckoning within the Union is because of an ill-advised appeal. (Not of course the only such ill-judged appeal). This is the last term of office of UNISON’s current General Secretary and the machine that secured his election previously is now leaderless and broken.
The worst enemies of our trade union movement would not describe us as a meritocracy – and they would not be wrong in that. Our trade unions desperately need better leadership, because the quality of our leadership is generally (in the largest trade unions) very poor.
The democracy of our movement offers us the opportunity to improve the quality of that leadership by replacing it. UNISON’s rank and file activists need finally to unite behind a single challenger if our members are ever to get the leadership they deserve.
I am part of a generation of activists who failed to achieve that unity and our only contribution to the future can be to acknowledge that we were all wrong in failing to achieve that unity – and that someone else could now be right. The only people who are more wrong are those who have continued to support the failing leadership in spite of their inability to defend our members’ interests.
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