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)

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Imagining what happens next in the UNISON General Secretary election

Imagine this.

 

Imagine that there were an election for General Secretary of UNISON at the point at which the long serving incumbent General Secretary was retiring, and that a candidate supported by most of his previous supporters, promised considerable continuity.

 

Imagine that this candidate emerged, at the end of the nominations period, as the clear frontrunner.

 

Imagine though that more than half the UNISON branches which made a nomination in the UNISON General Secretary election nominated a candidate promising serious change in the Union. They were, more or less, cut in half (not quite because there was a third change candidate supported by a small number of branches).

 

Imagine that everyone could see that, if all the candidates who had secured sufficient nominations to be on the ballot paper continued to pursue their campaigns, there was every chance that the majority of UNISON members who wanted change would, in the election, be cut in half (or dismembered in a slightly more complicated way between three candidates) – and that the continuity candidate would win, even if the majority of votes were cast against her.

 

Imagine that – in the light of the failures of the status quo in the Union, the triumph of the continuity candidate would leave the Union ill-equipped to handle the tsunami of job cuts and attacks on workers rights which would be unleashed, following the covid crisis and a "no deal" Brexit, by the most reactionary Government in our lifetimes. Many workforces might be cut in half, and working class people might see their living standards cut in half.

 

Imagine then that the "candidates for change" got together to have a discussion at the close of nominations. Imagine three scenarios for such a discussion.

 

Scenario One

 

After a long discussion, Roger sums up;

 

"I am grateful to Hugo for making clear that he will stand aside, this has made it easier for me to make this difficult decision.

 

For ten years I have wanted to stand to be General Secretary of UNISON. I haven't wanted this so much for myself as for the members of our Union, and I have tolerated a great deal of bad treatment in the hope of getting to the position where I could succeed Dave Prentis and build the effective organising Union which I know UNISON members deserve.

 

My supporters have fought an excellent campaign, in which we have not attacked any other candidate and – in the face of bullying and attacks – my supporters have stood firm. I still believe that I would be the best General Secretary, but I accept that Paul's nominations – and Hugo's commitment that his supporters will campaign for Paul – make him the candidate for change best placed to win.

 

I am grateful also to Paul for agreeing to compromise with myself and my supporters on his pledges and his programme if elected.

 

UNISON – and our movement – is bigger and more important than me or any of us.

 

I will therefore be standing aside in favour of Paul as Hugo will, will campaign for Paul and look forward to working with Paul once he is elected."

 

Paul goes on to win a narrow victory in a closely fought election.

 

This result shakes the nations of the UK. UNISON becomes a strong force on the left in the Labour Party, the TUC and in the country and fights effectively against the attacks launched on the working class by the Tory Government.

 

Scenario Two

 

After a long discussion, Paul sums up;

 

"I am grateful to Hugo for making clear that he will stand aside, this has made it easier for me to make this difficult decision.

 

I know that I would be the best person from among the available candidates to be General Secretary of UNISON. I don't want this for myself but for the membership, knowing that just as I have served my branch members as Branch Secretary I could serve all our members as General Secretary.

 

More importantly, I have been endorsed by UNISON Action Broad Left, and am supported by many activists who believe that our General Secretary should be an ordinary UNISON lay member like myself.

 

However, I accept that the most important question is ensuring that UNISON does not carry on as it has been. Although my nominations make me at least as strong a candidate as Roger, I accept that it will be easier to mobilise all those who would have supported me to back him than it would have been to mobilise all those who have supported him to back me.

 

This makes Roger the candidate for change best placed to win.

 

I am grateful also to Roger for agreeing to compromise with myself and my supporters on his pledges and his programme if elected. In particular Roger's application to join UNISON Action Broad Left indicates his willingness to support rank and file organisation now and into the future.

 

UNISON – and our movement – is bigger and more important than me or any of us.

 

I will therefore be standing aside in favour of Roger as Hugo will, will campaign for Roger and look forward to working with Roger once he is elected."

 

Roger goes on to win a narrow victory in a closely fought election.

 

This result shakes the nations of the UK. UNISON becomes a strong force on the left in the Labour Party, the TUC and in the country and fights effectively against the attacks launched on the working class by the Tory Government.

 

Scenario Three

 

After a long discussion, Hugo sums up;

 

"I am grateful to Paul and Roger for our having had this discussion.

 

I am disappointed that we could not all agree to a single candidate.

 

I confirm that, if Paul had agreed to stand down, I would have stood down in favour of Roger, as the candidate best placed to defeat Christina McAnea.

 

However, as none of us are prepared to stand down, I will continue my campaign. The programme on which I am standing – which is the programme of the Socialist Party – will prove popular among our members and I expect to win."

 

Hugo goes on to come fourth out of four candidates in an election in which Christina McAnea has a sufficiently clear margin of victory over the second placed candidates that no challenge to the election result can succeed. ("The Socialist" paper declares Hugo's campaign to have been a triumph for the working class orientation of their Party and its international organisation).

 

This result is treated as "business as usual". It is welcomed in public by Keir Starmer. The Tory Government proceed to launch attack after attack upon the jobs and living standards of UNISON members as the Union loses members.

 

Imagine?

 

All of the above are mere imaginings, since I don't even know if any such conversation has – or ever will have – taken place.

 

As an atheist I am not that well versed in Bible studies, but I do remember, from school, something about King Solomon and a baby.

 

The candidates who care most about UNISON and its members might be the candidates most willing to step aside rather than allow the supporters of change in our Union to be cut in half, gifting victory to the continuity candidate.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - can there be a single candidate for change?

Nominations have now closed in the election for UNISON General Secretary. Christina McAnea's campaign are celebrating in excess of 200 nominations (including the majority of Regions and Service Groups as well as the – arguably questionable – nomination of the National Executive Council). This compares favourably with the tally of 204 branch nominations for Dave Prentis in the last General Secretary election (although that was well below the 371 nominations Dave got in 2010 or the 570 in 2005) and confirms her position as the candidate to beat, going into the final stage of voting by members.

 

Perhaps a better comparison (than any of the three previous elections in which Dave Prentis stood as an incumbent) would be with the election twenty years ago, in which Dave stood to succeed previous General Secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe, and in which informed observers reported that he might lose to Roger Bannister. In 2000 Dave got 278 branch nominations (plus eight Regions and the NEC) before going on to win with 125,584 votes (56.0 per cent of the vote) against 71,021 (31.7 per cent) for Roger Bannister (who had been nominated by 66 branches and one Regional Council) and 27,785 (12.4 per cent) for Malkiat Bilku.

 

The level of support for Christina McAnea evinced by nominations therefore, whilst clearly making her the front runner, certainly does not suggest that she can rely upon winning a majority of votes. Her best chance is, perhaps, that she faces a divided opposition.

 

Roger McKenzie has more than 100 nominations (including the Water, Environment and Transport Service Group and the West Midlands Region) – beating the tally won by Heather Wakefield in the previous election. Roger also has some significant political endorsements – including from former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Paul Holmes also has more than 100 nominations (including the Local Government Service Group and the North West and South East Regions) – by far the best showing of any rank and file lay candidate in any General Secretary election and arguably making him the main challenger to the front runner. Paul's campaign is backed by the largest and most impressive rank and file mobilisation I have seen in any previous General Secretary election.

 

Whilst both Roger and Paul clearly believe – and not without cause – that they are in with a chance of winning this election (not least because, in an election in which – last time – the turnout was below 10% there is ample room for a candidate to triumph by mobilising those who have not previously voted), the fourth candidate, Hugo Pierre, who appears to have just jumped the hurdle of 25 branch nominations, probably does not harbour such hopes.

 

This may account for the proposal from Hugo Pierre that he and the other candidates advocating change should meet to discuss a common platform – and therefore a single candidate – to challenge Christina McAnea. However, even if the proposal has only been made in anticipation of its being rejected by at least one of the recipients (in order to justify Hugo's continued candidacy) there must be a compelling argument that anyone who wants to see change in UNISON should hope that the candidates will at least explore this possibility.

 

Regular readers of this blog – Sid and Doris Blogger – will have spotted that I have been a staunch critic of Hugo's campaign from the outset. It is, therefore, only fair, that I should give credit where it is due – Hugo is right to propose that the candidates seeking to change UNISON should get together to see if they can agree a common platform on which a single candidate would stand.

 

UNISON is bigger and more important to our movement and our class than any of the candidates in this election – and if, like this blogger, you think that the policies advocated by the frontrunner in this election do not offer the change our trade union requires then you have to hope that the candidates for change can put UNISON before themselves.

 

If, of course, Hugo is serious about this sensible proposal, he will withdraw whether or not the other candidates can agree a unified platform, because a three way split in the opposition will no doubt be more damaging to the cause of changing UNISON than a two way split.

 

However, the challenge to Roger and Paul is real and substantial. The members of UNISON need change, and the divided opposition to the continuity candidate in the General Secretary election stands in the way of meeting that need.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - branches can make mistakes but should senior members of the NEC?

The last General Secretary election in UNISON (in 2015) witnessed a slightly confusing episode in which the Returning Officer issued "guidance" clarifying that nominating bodies were entitled to explain the reason for their nomination decisions. This position has now been firmed up on paragraph 51a of the General Secretary election procedure agreed by the National Executive Council (NEC) for this election, which provides for an exemption to the normal rule that UNISON resources may not be used to campaign for any particular candidate as follows;

 

"If a nominating body wants to tell their members about the nomination(s) through usual methods of communication (for example, branch newsletters, websites and social media resources). A 100 word statement per candidate may be produced. It should only explain why the nominating body has nominated the candidate, it should not take the form of asking members to vote for the candidate, nor should it include reference to any other nominations from other nominating bodies. It should only appear in the nominating body's usual methods of communication. A photograph of the candidate who has been nominated may be included. No links to social media may be included in these communications."

 

I have added emphasis because today I realised that one of our branches had not only publicised their own branch nomination to their members on their Facebook page (as they were quite entitled to do), but – in separate posts – had also publicised the decisions of the National Executive Council and of the East Midlands Regional Council.

 

The first post fell within the exemption of paragraph 51a, but the other two posts do not, and breach the election procedure. Complaints about precisely this breach of procedure (branches publicising the nominating decisions of other nominating bodies) were upheld by the Returning Officer in their report into the last General Secretary election ("use of UNISON resources (branch website) to advise members about nominations by other nominating bodies. Three complaints received. All complaints deemed valid") – and errant branches were written to by the Chair of the Development and Organisation Committee of the NEC to advise them accordingly.

 

I wouldn't normally post on this blog about such a breach by an individual branch. I would just raise it with the Returning Officer in the hope that a quiet word with the branch would put things right. However, I noticed something disturbing about the post made on 3 September, publicising (inappropriately) the Regional Council decision. This post appears to have been "liked" by six people, including – if Facebook is to be believed - two past Presidents of the Union (one of whom is also the Chair of the Development and Organisation Committee who wrote to branches which breached the similar provisions of the 2015 General Secretary election procedure to advise them not to do so again).

 

It's one thing for the occasional branch to trip up and inadvertently breach a procedure – a trade union is, after all, a voluntary organisation of activists and anyone can make a mistake. However, members of the National Executive Council which agreed the election procedures in the first place ought not to be "liking" breaches of the procedure (which they themselves agreed), they ought to be quietly correcting any branch that has made a mistake!

 

I may of course be wrong about this. The NEC members who "liked" the post on Facebook may have had their accounts hacked or something – but if not then I think they need to be more thoughtful in future! UNISON members - and NEC members in particular - should be vigilant to ensure that the procedures which have been agreed through our democratic structures are complied with.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Christina in trouble - Hugo to the rescue!

On the day that the desperation of the campaign backing the continuity candidate became clear (as UNISON took down a news report from the national website which was exposed as breaching the election procedures) it began to look like the General Secretary election was opening up and that UNISON members would have the opportunity to choose change.

 

Although clearly the front runner in terms of nominations, the fact that the campaign of Christina McAnea could only boast about 500 "likes" on Facebook revealed why some of her supporters had misused UNISON resources (there is no suggestion the candidate was implicated). Though way ahead of other candidates in nominations, Christina is well behind where Dave Prentis was in 2015.

 

Serious rank and file challenger, Paul Holmes (with more than twice as many "likes" on Facebook) has become the first lay candidate for General Secretary to win the nomination of more than one Region (including the largest) and also the first lay candidate to be nominated by a Service Group (also the largest). Paul is set to exceed the number of nominations won by Heather Wakefield in the last General Secretary election. For the first time, a lay member could win a General Secretary election.

 

On the same day Roger McKenzie's campaign (with roughly three times as many "likes" on Facebook as the McAnea campaign) had won its first Regional nomination, which – taken together with the impressive range of political endorsements and the innovative notion of a crowd sourced manifesto suggests that his campaign has the potential to turn his nominations (around the same number as Paul Holmes) into more votes than will be cast for Christina McAnea.

 

Heading into the voting period, if those three were to be the candidates on the ballot paper, it began to look – today – as if UNISON members really would have a choice about who our next General Secretary would be.

 

And then the Wirral branch decided to nominate Socialist Party candidate Hugo Pierre, who is not fighting to win but simply in order to secure a sufficient number of votes so that Socialist Party members should know that their Party remains relevant on the left in the trade union movement.

 

It's not just me being cynical about the approach of the Socialist Party in this election.

 

To quote from long standing Socialist Party member, John McInally; "in the current run-up to a general secretary election in UNISON the SP/CWI are opportunistically placing their own narrow interests of prestige above the priority of building an effective left campaign to elect a socialist general secretary, an event that would have a potentially transformative impact on the movement." McInally goes on to say – of his former SP comrades – that they "are now using the abhorrent methods of the gutter press." Rather than back Paul Holmes (the candidate of the nascent "left" organisation which they helped to bring into existence) the SP have insisted on running their own candidate.

 

Hugo's friend and comrade Roger Bannister could not restrain himself from commenting about this nomination on Facebook, believing that the Wirral nomination would be Hugo's twenty-fifth and would secure his place on the ballot (remembering that when Roger got only twenty five nominations five years ago none of them were disqualified, in spite of questions having been raised about at least one of the nominations). Socialist Party comrades took the Lidl Prosecco out of the fridge.

 

At the same time a somewhat more expensive beverage was being poured by supporters of Christina McAnea, to whose rescue the supporters of Hugo Pierre had come at such an opportune hour. If the Socialist Party get Hugo onto the ballot paper they will mobilise the remnants of their once significant political organisation to leaflet and lobby, and they will target branches where members would otherwise be likely to be persuaded to vote for either Paul Holmes or Roger McKenzie.

 

If Christina McAnea is elected as General Secretary of UNISON, to continue the approach of the current leadership into another decade, she will be able to thank Hugo Pierre and the Socialist Party.

 

Hurrah!

Another complaint about the UNISON General Secretary election

Having reported the good news that an inappropriate posting on the UNISON website has been withdrawn this afternoon, following a number of complaints submitted (including one by your blogger), I thought I should share with readers the complaint which I have now made to the Returning Officer about the inappropriate proposal to invite just one of the General Secretary candidates to address a "webinar" being organised as a replacement for the National Retired Members' Conference.

 

It goes like this (regular readers will notice some repetition from an earlier post on this blog);

 

"I am writing to complain about a current and prospective breach of the General Secretary election procedures by the UNISON National Retired Members' Committee. I am pleased to note that UNISON has removed from its website a post which clearly breached the election procedures, and about which I complained earlier today (for the avoidance of doubt I am not withdrawing my complaint about that matter).

 

However, it appears that the determination of the UNISON National Retired Members' Committee unfairly to favour one particular candidate in the election – Christina McAnea – is reflected in more than simply that one improper news story on the national UNISON website (for which UNISON is plainly responsible).

 

This complaint concerns the proposed webinar reported upon in this report on the UNISON website - https://www.unison.org.uk/news/article/2020/09/retired-members-committee-announces-care-webinar/.

 

This publicises a "webinar" to take place on 14 October as follows;

 

'Care after COVID', will be a webinar for retired members, looking at the impact of the pandemic on the care sector, why we need a new system for social care and the actions that need to be taken for such a service.

The event will be a panel debate with the following speakers:

  • Christina McAnea – UNISON assistant general secretary with responsibility for bargaining, negotiating and equalities;
  • Gavin Edwards – senior national officer for business, community and environment;
  • Guy Collis – policy officer.

 

A couple of things trouble me.

 

First, the details of the seminar – to be addressed by Christina McAnea – were posted on the UNISON website on 17 September. On 18 September Christina McAnea's campaign Facebook page reported the "endorsement" of her campaign by the National Retired Members' Committee (with a video message from the Chair) (which specifically refers to Christina having launched the "Care after Covid" campaign which is to be the theme of the webinar).

 

Secondly, the procedure for this year's General Secretary election indicates that ballot papers will go out from 28 October, a fortnight after the webinar being organised by the Retired Members National Committee. No doubt between now and 14 October retired members will receive reminders about this event, and – after 14 October (but before 28 October perhaps?) – we shall receive a report from this event. On each occasion we shall be reminded about who is speaking (or who spoke) at this official replacement for the UNISON National Retired Members' Conference.

 

How does this sit with the General Secretary election procedure?

 

Paragraph 45 of the procedure provides that "any nominating body, branch or group of members that invites a prospective candidate to speak at a physical or virtual meeting or social event of the nominating body about their involvement in the election must also invite all the other candidates."

 

Paragraph 51 of the procedure states that "UNISON funds, property or resources cannot be used to support campaigning for any particular candidate." The National Retired Members' Committee is not a "nominating body" in the General Secretary election and therefore is not covered by the exemption to the general rule set out in paragraph 51 of the procedure which entitles nominating bodies briefly to inform their constituents of why they have made a nomination.

 

Now the National Retired Members Committee might say that they are not inviting Christina McAnea to speak about her "involvement in the election" and that therefore they are not using UNISON resources to "support campaigning for any particular candidate". However, this webinar is about the "Care after Covid" campaign, and the Chair of the National Retired Members Committee can be seen on Facebook citing Christina McAnea's involvement in this campaign as part of the reason why she will be casting her vote for Christina. Christina McAnea has also made a campaign for a national social care service a major part of her election manifesto (online here).

 

There is no particular logic to the National Retired Members Committee having invited the Assistant General Secretary (Bargaining, Negotiating and Equalities) to speak at this webinar rather than – for example – the General Secretary himself (who would surely otherwise have addressed the final Retired Members' Conference of his twenty year term of office), or the Assistant General Secretary (Organising and Recruitment) – also a candidate for General Secretary – whose role will be central to achieving the objectives of UNISON's "Care after Covid" campaign.

 

Of the five Assistant General Secretaries, the most appropriate to be invited to such a webinar would – without doubt – have been the Assistant General Secretary (Communications, Campaigns and Policy), who has responsibility for campaigns. An invitation to the AGS (Communications, Campaigns and Policy) would not – since she is not a candidate for General Secretary – have raised any issues of concern in relation to the General Secretary election.

 

In the light of all the foregoing I think that the decision of the National Retired Members' Committee to organise – and publicise – as a replacement for their national Conference a "webinar" to which they propose to invite just one of the candidates for General Secretary, contravenes paragraph 51 of the General Secretary election procedure.

 

It would be easy for the National Retired Members' Committee to put this right. They could withdraw the invitation to Christina McAnea to speak and invite a more appropriate speaker. Alternatively ,if they wanted to organise a "hustings" meeting, compliant with paragraph 45 of the procedure this would seem to be an appropriate – and probably a very popular and useful – virtual replacement for the Conference which cannot take place.

 

Equally, if the National Retired Members' Committee felt that it was essential to invite Christina McAnea to speak at a "webinar" about the "Care after Covid" campaign this could very easily be done after the close of voting in the General Secretary election, so as to avoid the very obvious perception of bias.

 

To be clear, my complaint is that, already, UNISON has publicised an event on 14 October (to which all retired members are invited) at which just one of the candidates for General Secretary has been invited to speak, which is plainly an opportunity to showcase that candidate. This is contrary to paragraphs 45 and 51 of the procedure.

 

This breach of procedure will be compounded if the event on 14 October goes ahead.

 

I look forward to your early acknowledgement of this complaint, which I am copying to UNISON in the hope that the harm which has already been done can be mitigated by adopting one or other of the reasonable courses of action identified above."

 

Let's hope that common sense and a spirit of fair play can once again triumph on the Euston Road and that we shall see a change of approach on this issue also!

Misuse of UNISON resources to campaign for a candidate in the UNISON General Secretary election

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will be fed up by now with my banging on about the decision of the Assistant Certification Officer arising from complaints in the last General Secretary election. What is most often remembered about that decision is the misconduct of the former UNISON Regional Secretary for Greater London, who used a staff meeting to organising campaigning for a candidate in work time.

 

However, a number of other complaints were upheld, including 19 out of 20 complaints submitted by your humble blogger concerning the misuse of Facebook, Twitter or other means of electronic communication by branches or other nominating bodies, all of which overstepped the mark and amounted to the impermissible use of the Union's "funds, property or resources" to campaign for a particular candidate.

 

These were not the most important part of the case and – in (predictably and not unreasonably) deciding not to order a rerun of the election -  the Assistant Certification Officer concluded, at paragraph 301 of her decision, that the breaches were not widespread, were inadvertent and were unlikely to have had much impact upon voters. The only sanction which UNISON imposed upon those responsible for the breaches was that the Chair of the Development and Organisation Committee wrote to them pointing out that they had breached the Rules.

 

However, what would have been more serious would have been if a national official had used UNISON's national website to campaign for a particular candidate. That could not so easily be dismissed and (since UNISON was put on notice by the upholding of so many complaints arising from the last election) it could hardly be inadvertent.

 

I am therefore very disappointed that I have today had to write to the Returning Officer to complain about the following post on the UNISON national website - https://www.unison.org.uk/news/article/2020/09/retired-members-committee-endorses-candidate-general-secretary-election/. Here is a copy of the post downloaded today (22 September) at approximately 11.22 (which I include because I hope that the post will not remain on the website for long now that the complaint has been made);

 



 

This is a clear use of UNISON "funds, property or resources" to campaign in support of one candidate in the General Secretary election (Christina McAnea) contrary to paragraph 51 of the General Secretary election procedure, by reporting and explaining the decision of the National Retired Members' Committee to "endorse" a particular candidate (Christina McAnea).

 

It also includes an incitement to members to use UNISON resources to communicate this endorsement, implicitly using UNISON resources, as follows; "Branch and regional retired members' groups are asked to communicate this decision to their members."

 

The National Retired Members' Committee is not a nominating body under the Rules for the General Secretary election (Rule E.3.2) and is therefore not covered by the exemption set out in paragraph 51a of the General Secretary election procedure. This post on the UNISON national website is therefore contrary to the procedure.

 

This is not a trivial breach of procedure. Retired members amount to approximately one-eighth of the electorate in the General Secretary election. This breach will cast doubt on the outcome of the election should Ms McAnea emerge as the victorious candidate and could certainly lead to complaints to the Certification Officer.

 

This is not like the complaints I made five years ago about branches (and other nominating bodies) who had inadvertently overstepped the mark. This is a misuse of UNISON's own national website selectively to campaign for a particular candidate in a General Secretary election.

 

This breach should be mitigated by the immediate removal of the post from the website and the circulation of a reminder of the provisions of paragraph 51 of the General Secretary election procedure to Branch and regional retired members' groups.

 

I hope that the Union will respond promptly and appropriately. You, dear reader, will be able to tell if they have by clicking on the link to the post above (or here) and seeing if it is still there…


Update at 5.37pm - the link now leads to the following;


Oops! That page can’t be found.


So there is some point in complaining - and the misuse of UNISON resources only lasted for a total of 18 days during the period when branches and other nominating bodies were deciding whom to nominate. Well done to whoever in UNISON took action to mitigate the harm that had already been done, but this misuse of resources still merits complaint.

 

Monday, September 21, 2020

UNISON retired members and the General Secretary election - something not quite right?

My afternoon was enlivened by an email sent me by my trade union, UNISON, this afternoon.


From which I learned the following;


The retired members Conference is being replaced with an online seminar  On Wednesday 14 October, from 11am to 12.30pm

 

'Care after COVID', will be a webinar for retired members, looking at the impact of the pandemic on the care sector, why we need a new system for social care and the actions that need to be taken for such a service.

The event will be a panel debate with the following speakers:

  • Christina McAnea – UNISON assistant general secretary with responsibility for bargaining, negotiating and equalities;
  • Gavin Edwards – senior national officer for business, community and environment;
  • Guy Collis – policy officer.

 

So far, so laudable (you might think).

 

But. A couple of things trouble me.

 

First, the details of the seminar – to be addressed by Christina McAnea – were posted on the UNISON website on 17 September. On 18 September Christina McAnea's campaign Facebook page reported the "endorsement" of her campaign by the National Retired Members' Committee (with a video message from the Chair) (which specifically refers to Christina having launched the "Care after Covid" campaign which is to be the theme of the webinar).

 

Secondly, the procedure for this year's General Secretary election indicates that ballot papers will go out from 28 October, a fortnight after the webinar being organised by the Retired Members National Committee. No doubt between now and 14 October retired members will receive reminders about this event, and – after 14 October (but before 28 October perhaps?) – we shall receive a report from this event. On each occasion we shall be reminded about who is speaking (or who spoke) at this official replacement for the UNISON National Retired Members' Conference.

 

According to the report to last year's National Retired Members' Conference, UNISON has in the region of 165,000 retired members (including the author of this blog). We retired members (in accordance with Rule C.2.6.3 in the UNISON Rule Book) are "entitled to attend branch meetings and to vote on issues not relating to the pay and conditions of members in employment." We are also "entitled to stand for office and vote only for positions in the Retired Members' Organisation unless otherwise determined by the National Executive Council or as otherwise provided for in these Rules." (I have added emphasis)

 

Following a Rule change some considerable number of years ago, Rule E.3.3 provides that "the ballot for the post of General Secretary shall be a secret postal ballot of the membership, which shall include retired members, conducted by a Returning Officer independent of the Union." (Again, I have added emphasis).

 

Our retired members amount to more than one eighth of the electorate in the General Secretary election and, by inviting just one of the candidates in the election to speak at the webinar which will replace the Retired Members' Annual Conference, the Retired Members' National Committee appear to be promoting her candidacy (starting with an email which went out to all retired members, and which I received this afternoon).

 

How does this sit with the General Secretary election procedure?

 

Paragraph 45 of the procedure provides that "any nominating body, branch or group of members that invites a prospective candidate to speak at a physical or virtual meeting or social event of the nominating body about their involvement in the election must also invite all the other candidates."

 

Paragraph 51 of the procedure states that "UNISON funds, property or resources cannot be used to support campaigning for any particular candidate." The National Retired Members' Committee is not a "nominating body" in the General Secretary election and therefore is not covered by the exemption to the general rule set out in paragraph 51 of the procedure which entitles nominating bodies briefly to inform their constituents of why they have made a nomination.

 

Now the National Retired Members Committee might say that they are not inviting Christina McAnea to speak about her "involvement in the election" and that therefore they are not using UNISON resources to "support campaigning for any particular candidate". However, this webinar is about the "Care after Covid" campaign, and the Chair of the National Retired Members Committee can be seen on Facebook citing Christina McAnea's involvement in this campaign as part of the reason why she will be casting her vote for Christina.

 

One thing which can be said with some certainty about retired members however is that we weren't born yesterday, and I think we can see an attempt to give one candidate an unfair advantage over others when it stares us in the face. If the National Retired Members Committee want to avoid the perception of an abuse of their position of authority over UNISON resources they should surely invite the other candidates for General Secretary to speak about the issue of "Care after Covid".

 

Otherwise this looks not quite right.

 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - everything to play for?

With one week to go until the deadline for nominations in the UNISON General Secretary election it seems clear that Christina McAnea will finish with the largest number of nominations in each category of nominating body (branches, Regions, Service Groups) as well as having the nomination of the National Executive Council (NEC) (however questionable).

 

In previous UNISON General Secretary elections, the candidate with the most nominations has gone on to win the election, but this election is already different in a number of respects – and today, rank and file challenger, Paul Holmes, became the first lay member candidate to secure the nomination of two Regions, when UNISON's largest Region (North West) joined the South East in supporting his candidacy. Paul had of course earlier become the first rank and file candidate to win the nomination of a Service Group Executive – also the largest.

 

The other novelty in this election is that there are two senior officials in contention, neither of whom is an incumbent. Roger McKenzie may be trailing Christina McAnea in nominations but he has secured impressive political endorsements, including from former Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the value of which may amount to something of a "wild card" in this election.

 

Since the NEC of the Union has decided that the winner of this election (like previous such elections) will be decided on a "simple majority" ("First Past the Post") basis – unlike their own decision as to whom to nominate – it is perfectly possible that a candidate who secures less than an overall majority will win (as happened in 1995 and 2015). Any one of the three main candidates will emerge from the nomination period feeling that they could emerge victorious.

 

As this campaign began, I was worried that the two candidates promising change (each in their own way) would split the vote for change but as the campaign has developed it has become clear that the candidates are not simply differentiated on that one dimension. It is equally clear that there isn't a static pool of votes to be shared between the candidates. Given that turnout in the last General Secretary election fell below 10% a lot may depend upon how successful each campaign is in mobilising members to vote.

 

In this election, the more we find out the less we know.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - further details of the NEC nomination called into question

Today, 16th September, UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) nomination was secured for Christina McAnea using an unprecedented procedural move. UNISON's NEC has never – as I observed earlier this afternoon used an exhaustive voting system for any previous decision about a General Secretary nomination, and a preferential voting system (such as a Single Transferable Vote (STV)) will not be used for the vote itself which members will have from 28 October.

Further information has now come to my attention about how it was decided at the eleventh hour, inside the actual (virtual) NEC meeting, to use this method of exhaustive voting for the first time, apparently for fear of the rank and file change candidate Paul Holmes winning the vote. The proposed change of voting method was not notified prior to the meeting.

This decision caused huge controversy. By the time the decision to use STV was taken, 70 minutes of the scheduled 90 minutes had been taken up. This meant the meeting would considerably overrun, arguably breaching UNISON's rules on equality. (This would not have happened had the issue of the method of voting been dealt with in advance - as it certainly should have been - and gives the impression that those making the proposal only did so having "done the maths" about how the vote in the meeting would be likely to turn out.)

I understand that ninety-minute meetings have been agreed as the maximum permitted time for virtual meetings in order to maintain the participation both of disabled members and of representatives who have to attend to their work commitments. The scheduled meeting over-ran by a full hour.

I understand that the details of the voting was as follows;

In the first round of voting, votes were:

Christina McAnea, 22; Paul Holmes, 22; Roger McKenzie, 12; Hugo Pierre 4.

In the second round of voting, votes were:

Christina McAnea, 23; Paul Holmes, 25; Roger McKenzie, 11.

In the third round of voting, votes were:

Christina McAnea, 29; Paul Holmes, 26; Abstentions, 5.

Christina McAnea therefore "won" the vote, by the unprecedented use of exhaustive voting, the proposal to use which had not been notified prior to the meeting, and without receiving backing from a majority of the NEC members present.

Paul Holmes was only put into a close second place when supporters of Roger McKenzie decided either to abstain or support Christina McAnea in the final round of voting.

It is clear that Christina McAnea only won this vote by a hair's breadth through this procedural device, as a result of NEC members giving them the opportunity of preferential voting which they have refused to consider for the wider membership.

Had the NEC acted consistently with its past practice, the nomination decision being a tied vote on the first round of voting, my view – as a long serving former NEC member – is that no NEC nomination would have been made (as I cannot believe the President would have used a casting vote to give a nomination).

Whether or not the process leading to this highly questionable NEC nomination leads to complaints to the Returning Officer (or, subsequently, to the Certification Officer) – UNISON members and activists who become aware of the goings on at today's NEC meeting will look askance at this decision of their NEC, whose nomination - even if it is allowed to stand - will carry far less weight than it has in previous elections.

Dodgy goings on at the UNISON NEC?

A couple of months ago, from my comfortable position here on the sidelines of life in UNISON, I blogged about the fact that the National Executive Council (NEC) had the power to choose to use the Single Transferable Vote system in the (then forthcoming) election for General Secretary. I suggested that might be a good idea.

 

I had made the same argument during my fourteen year tenure on the UNISON NEC (more than once). I found not only that my arguments in that forum fell on stony ground, but that the Standing Orders Committee wouldn't allow the issue to be debated at Conference in 2016 (although it had not tried to prevent this some years before).

 

There are arguments both for and against a preferential voting system in a trade union election (as there are in relation to elections to the constituency section of the Labour Party NEC) – what disappointed me most over many years of activity on the UNISON NEC was the lack of enthusiasm for a debate about these arguments.

 

Whilst there have been a number of changes in the procedures for General Secretary elections over the years (some of which I have commented upon recently) one thing which has remained the same is the voting system, set out in paragraph 53 of the current procedure; "The method of electing the general secretary will be by a simple majority of those voting in the election."

 

This is the established voting system which has been used in every previous UNISON General Secretary election, and whilst I have long been a lonely voice advocating that we ought at least to consider changing the voting system, I certainly wouldn't expect a change to be made without notice or debate.

 

Equally well-established has been the method of determining the nominee of the National Executive Council in past General Secretary elections. NEC members have been invited to make nominations and then there has been a single round of voting to determine the winner.

 

I reported the detail of that voting five years ago as follows;

 

"Paul Gilroy from the Northern Region nominated John Burgess, Hugo Pierre nominated Roger Bannister, Debbie Potter nominated Dave Prentis, Tomasa Bullen nominated Hayley Garner. The voting was as follows;

Roger Bannister – 4

John Burgess – 16

Hayley Garner – 1

Dave Prentis – 32

Abstentions – 1"

 

Five years before that, I had reported the vote here as follows;

 

"The NEC meeting commenced with consideration of the General Secretary election. Vice-President Angela Lynes proposed that we nominate Dave Prentis, local government NEC member Glenn Kelly proposed that we nominate Roger Bannister and South East Region NEC member Mike Tucker proposed we nominate Paul Holmes. There were 38 votes for Dave, 5 (myself included) for Paul Holmes and 4 for Roger Bannister."

 

As you will see, in respect of the last two elections – as reported on this blog – the simple majority of those voting for the candidate who secured the NEC nomination in 2005 and 2010 was also an absolute majority. There was not, however, any question of the ballot being an exhaustive ballot, or any suggestion that – had no candidate received an absolute majority on the first ballot – that there would have been a further round of voting.

 

Indeed, since the NEC has resolutely refused even to open a discussion about UNISON members being allowed a preferential vote for General Secretary (as Labour Party members have for Party Leader) an informed observer would not imagine that the NEC would think that its own members should use a different system to decide their own nomination.

 

And yet.

 

And yet.

 

Word reaches your humble blogger that today's decision about the NEC nomination in the current General Executive election was decided in an exhaustive ballot, following a proposal made (and agreed by a majority) without prior notice.

 

I will blog again with more detail of the voting at the meeting soon (and would point out to current NEC members that, of all the many things I was threatened about, and subject to investigation over, during my years of UNISON activism, no one ever criticised me for publishing the detailed voting figures from the decisions on the NEC nominations in the 2015 and 2010 General Secretary elections which I have quoted above).

 

What I want to say now is that it is truly, truly remarkable that an NEC that refuses to permit a discussion about a change to preferential voting for UNISON's membership to elect its General Secretary should be prepared to abandon its own long-established practice for deciding its nomination in a General Secretary election at a moment's notice.

 

You might call it inconsistency.

 

You might call it hypocrisy.

 

Whatever you call it, this unprecedented development casts a cloud over the NEC's decision-making process and raises a question about the legitimacy of its nomination.