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Thursday, September 03, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - Christina McAnea's manifesto

 UNISON General Secretary candidate, Christina McAnea has published a manifesto, as a service to regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris UNISON-obsessive) I thought I would have a look at some of what that manifesto has to say. 

First of all, in relation to “Resources for Branches and Regions”, Christina McAnea pledges that; “I will kickstart a modern organising strategy fit for the digital age.”


Let’s look in a bit more detail at what this means;


I will immediately develop an organising strategy that is fit for the modern world of work, with priorities agreed across all democratic structures of UNISON - not in years to come, but from day one.


This sentence offers a vacuous commitment with an internally inconsistent qualification. An “organising strategy fit for the modern world of work” means everything and nothing, and to promise that it will be developed both “from day one” and that it will also be “agreed across all democratic structures of UNISON” is to make promises which any informed observer of UNISON will know cannot both be kept at once.


Local organisers will be directed to branches to give immediate support and we will draw on the talents and experience of our activist base to deliver our future generation of local organisers.


This is the opposite of what UNISON branches need and require. Instead of devolving control over resources to elected lay officials at branch level, Christina McAnea is promising to “direct” (centrally employed) local organisers to (chosen?) branches (whilst more than hinting that the Union will recruit more such – centrally controlled - local organisers from amongst the already depleted ranks of our local activists.)


Members will be supported to lead on organising initiatives to grow and build on UNISON’s strengths. Resources will be directed where they are needed most to fight for our members and to stand up for working class people.


The first sentence says nothing specific – but it strongly implies that members (who will be “supported to lead”) will not themselves be leading (in our “member-led” Union). The second sentence begs the question of who will decide where resources are “most needed” (and will therefore “be directed”). It more than strongly suggests a perpetuation of the current culture of central control over resources.


Every branch will be resourced for sustainable organising by investing in training for branch stewards, officers and activists.


This is a non-sequitur. The resources which branches need in order to organise more effectively are the resources which they have been asking for. The problem of how to organise hundreds of members across dozens of employers who do not recognise UNISON cannot be resolved by the provision of any amount of training but requires a rapid and decisive devolution of resources to branches.


Every region will be resourced to campaign and organise to respond to devolved structures and administrations, regardless of who is in power. Regions will be resourced to sort out facility time for our activists.


The first sentence hints at devolution to Regions without in fact making any definite commitment. The second sentence is another non-sequitur, since facility time depends not upon any amount of resources in a Regional office but upon the strength and organisation of our Union in the workplace. The suggestion that Regions can “sort out” facility time perpetuates a debilitating culture of dependency of branches and lay activists upon the full-time machinery of the Union, which cannot take us forward.


This text is repeated in a series of bullet points, and summarised in three slogans (with accompanying graphics) as follows;


Local Organisers to lift the load on casework and support branches to build our union


Health and Safety reps in every workplace


Facility time sorted by regional staff


The first and third of these slogans are the antithesis of what an organising Union would do, perpetuating the culture of dependence upon the full-time machine without devolving control over resources to branch level, where it is needed and belongs. The second is quite simply fatuous – a worthy objective for which the manifesto offers no explanation of how it will be achieved.


On the next page, Christina McAnea promises; “I will ensure every member is supported by UNISON.”


Let’s see what detail supports this unwise – and undeliverable – pledge.


UNISON members have always been at the heart of everything I do, and as your General Secretary, you will always be my first priority. That’s why it’s so important to resource our branches and regions properly so local reps can support and represent every member.


The first sentence is merely pious. The second, in the light of what has already been said above, does not appear to offer a meaningful change to branch funding (which is what is needed) and – taken together – this paragraph speaks to a “service model” rather than an “organising model” of trade unionism (in which the Union exists to “do things for” members rather than to enable members to do things themselves).


Under my leadership, we will use your money carefully, responsibly, and transparently to ensure our services always deliver value for money.


This is a sentence to which the 'The Law of the Ridiculous Reverse' applies. This holds that "if the opposite of a statement is plainly absurd, it was not worth making in the first place". (This isn’t the only examples of the application of the law to the manifesto but it is a particularly obvious one).


I will ensure that your union is ‘there for you’ whether it’s advice and support, local representation, to resolve health and safety concerns or to campaign for you during your retirement.


This is a near perfect statement of the aspiration of a Union that exists to service, rather than organise its members. There is no way that a General Secretary can possibly “ensure” these outcomes and to promise to do so perpetuates the wrongheaded view that the Union is here to solve our problems, rather than help us to organise ourselves.


As your General Secretary, I will establish a new National UNISON College, offering free and subsidised education and training opportunities for all members. This College will mean that belonging to our union helps members get on in life and is essential to secure our members‘ futures.


This, at least, is a genuine and verifiable promise (to recreate something which we used to have in NALGO as the NALGO Correspondence Institute). Having picked apart every sentence so far it is only fair to acknowledge that this is a proper promise for a manifesto (although there is no indication of how this promise would be resourced – and therefore kept).


The text on this page is again repeated as bullet points.


The next page highlights the following promise; “I will demand a new deal for public services and public sector workers.”


Since this is a promise to say, rather than to do, it isn’t worth looking in detail at all the supporting text, which is – in any case – summarised in a single paragraph;


I will stand with every member to demand a new deal that delivers dignity at work, sees pay and conditions that reflect your essential work and sustained long-term investment in all our public services.


This offers a worthy objective, but no strategy or programme to achieve that objective. A reader less kind than this blogger might wonder why the Assistant General Secretary “responsible for Bargaining, Negotiations and Equalities” who has “worked for UNISON members for over 25 years, negotiating better pay and conditions for you across all sectors” needs now to make such promise of a “new deal.”


The next page promises; “I will lead the fight for a universal Social Care Service.”


What this amounts to, in practice is the following;


As your General Secretary I will direct UNISON resources to ensure we achieve wider organising, support and representation in isolated workplaces in the care sector.


This is also a promise worthy of a manifesto, and this time with the beginning of a suggestion as to how it might be achieved, although most of the rest of the manifesto (which fails to support meaningful devolution of resources to branch level) fails to point in the same direction. UNISON’s General Secretary lacks the power to “direct resources” in the way that Christina McAnea hopes (and every occasion on which resources have been directed outside our lay structures has been disappointing – remember the Three Companies Project).


The final substantive page of the manifesto offers the following promise; “I will always fight and challenge discrimination, racism and injustice wherever it occurs.”


This page then makes a series of sincere and worthy policy commitments with specific commitments and pledges to back them up. Since any reader of this blog post will realise that I am not generally inclined to support Christina McAnea for UNISON General Secretary, you will realise that the absence of a further detailed critique of the section of her manifesto on “Dismantling Discrimination” indicates general support for what it has to say.


Overall, the manifesto is a mixed bag. It is strong on support for equality. It has strong aspirations to defend the interests of our members, but these are not supported by clarity as to how those aspirations might be achieved.


In relation to organising our members, the vital task of our Union, the manifesto reveals a great weakness, seeming to be informed by a model of trade unions as service organisations “doing for” our members with centrally controlled resources, rather than – what we need – a Union that devolves its resources to the level at which members can organise for ourselves.

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