Now -read the book!

Here is a link to my memoirs which, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can purchase online at
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, 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.

Monday, June 21, 2021

UNISON has a new Presidential Team - what do they have to do next?

UNISON has announced the election of a Presidential team for 2021/22. The first job of the Presidential team is to make some recommendations to the NEC (to be endorsed at its next meeting)(which should be very soon) for the composition of the various Committees of the NEC.

Custom and practice is that NEC members are invited to express preferences in two tranches, first between the “strategic committees” and then between all the others. The Presidential team are then responsible for preparing a proposal on the membership of all Committees to be put before the NEC meeting for approval.

When I was first elected to the NEC in 2003 we were told that all NEC members were expected to serve on at least three Committees, unless their work duties were such that they could only manage two - some members, we were told, would serve on more.

I served on three Committees from 2003 to 2005, just one Committee from 2005 to 2015 and two Committees from 2015 to 2017. I did express preferences for various Committees but somehow I was always unlucky.

The NEC member’s handbook issued to the NEC in 2011 described the “current policy on election/allocation to Committees” with the following series of bullet points;

  • where the numbers and general distribution of members facilitate it, members should receive their first preference for the following committees; development and organisation; services to members; policy development and campaigns, and; international. 

These four Committees were, at the time, the “strategic committees” and every NEC member did get allocated to one (and generally only one) of these Committees.

  • fair representation should be built in by accommodating the needs of the members in the reserved seats, those in the smaller service groups, additional members and young members first; 

I couldn’t say whether this was actually done since what happened in practice was that the NEC received a paper with proposals for Committee membership which it then endorsed.

  • proportionality should be achieved by ensuring that approximately 64% of seats are held by women; 

This was generally done (proportionality being so much easier to monitor than fair representation).

  • every effort should be made to ensure broad equality of involvement; 

Had I bothered to read this back in 2011 I think I might have felt that it could have made a cat laugh. Some NEC members would end up on several Committees whilst others (myself for example) ended up on just one.

  • where nominations/vacancies outweigh the number of positions on a given committee the outcome should be determined by election rather than allocation; 

This literally never happened in my time on the NEC. Apart from the political fund Committees, NEC Committee membership was agreed when the NEC “nodded through” the recommendations from (or on behalf of) the Presidential team.

  • elections for the Labour link and GPF committees should be held amongst the relevant sets of levy payers; 

This did always happen. The majority on the NEC would caucus in advance and issue a list of “who to vote for” (which one of the new members of the NEC once inadvertently showed me) just to make sure that the likes of Bernie Gallagher, myself and Paul Holmes did not get elected to the Labour Link Committee.

  • no member should sit on more than one political fund committee; 

This had not always been part of the approach but it was something that the NEC settled upon during my time (as I recall there was some resentment when one individual got themselves elected to both Political Fund Committees in addition to the ones they had been allocated to).

  • at least two members of each of the smaller bodies (three in the case of UIA) should be women, in order to reflect proportionality; 

This was easy to implement.

  • each committee should maintain a profile of its appointments which should be updated on a regular basis to measure the extent to which fair representation and proportionality are achieved; 

If this was done I never saw any evidence of it.

  • flexibility will be required and unforeseen circumstances will have to be dealt with pragmatically; 

Mere ordinary NEC members probably didn’t see this happening. I myself didn’t, but perhaps I wasn’t looking.

  • the presidential team will have an important ‘refereeing’ role in determining the eventual outcome and recommending an acceptable balance between allocation and election. 

This was slightly misleading. The “acceptable balance between allocation and election” turned out to be 100% allocation (apart from the Political Fund Committees) every time, and the proposed allocations came up at the NEC in the name of the Presidential Team. If they were referees they were also goalkeepers, team captains and senior officials of FIFA.

The new Presidential Team face a tricky first task trying to satisfy the preferences of as many NEC members as possible. Some NEC members may be unhappy with the proposed allocations. I was part of this process on seven occasions and was unhappy on six of them. I got over it - and so will anyone who is upset this time.

There will - I hope - be many changes in how the UNISON NEC operates over the coming period, but one element of sensible continuity will be if, the Presidential Team having done all they reasonably can to satisfy the preferences of NEC members, the NEC endorses the proposed Committee allocations, so that the Committees can proceed to elect their Chairs.

If the Committee allocations are put to the NEC en bloc then any members who are unhappy can vote against them and, if a majority are in favour, the NEC can get on with changing the Union.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

How does UNISON's NEC manage its relationship with its staff?

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris UNISON-Centre) sometimes wonder which of UNISON's many Rules are most interesting and important.

UNISON Rule D.2.12 is one of the most important rules in the UNISON Rule Book. It deals with the employment of staff as follows;

“2.12.1 The National Executive Council (or the General Secretary acting on its behalf) shall have the power to engage or dismiss such staff as may be required for the conduct of the business of the Union. 

2.12.2 The National Executive Council shall determine the pay and conditions of service of staff. The General Secretary shall be responsible to the National Executive Council for all remaining staffing matters.”

The UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) therefore has the responsibility for the appointment of UNISON staff, and for their pay and conditions, which - in accordance with Rule D.2.9 - it delegates to its Staffing Committee.

Every couple of years, during my fourteen years on the NEC, when given the opportunity, I would give quite a high preference to the Staffing Committee in my options for Committees on which to serve, but (in my time) dissident left-wingers were kept well away from that Committee in particular.

However, it wasn’t just the minority of miscreants who were kept at arms length from the goings-on of the Staffing Committee. The Committee kept most of its business pretty much confidential from the rest of the NEC.

Or - as it was put in one of the NEC member’s handbooks I was sent during my time “for reasons of staff confidentiality and data protection, staffing committee minutes are not circulated to the NEC. Summary reports are prepared for the NEC on major staffing issues.” This is, of course, no good reason why the Committee’s minutes should be kept secret from the UNISON NEC - it would be a simple matter for the Staffing Committee, like a Committee of a local authority, to have a “Part One” agenda and minutes, for wider circulation, with “Part Two” (dealing with genuinely confidential matters) having a more restricted circulation.

There are Committees which the UNISON Rule Book specifies should have a degree of autonomy from the NEC as a whole (the two Political Fund Committees). The Staffing Committee is not give such autonomy by UNISON Rules - indeed the Rule Book does not require that there should be a Staffing Committee. Rule D.2.12 gives staffing responsibilities to the NEC itself, and the NEC simply chooses to allocate these to a Committee. Over the years, the Staffing Committee has given itself a status for which there is no basis and the majority of the NEC have allowed this.

In my first term on the NEC, which began in 2003, some of the newcomers (myself included) tried to argue for greater accountability of the Staffing Committee to the NEC as a whole, but all we got were occasional written updates from the Chair of the Staffing Committee.

In 2021, the incoming NEC has the opportunity, if it wishes to take it, to re-set its relationship with its own Staffing Committee and reassert the authority of the NEC as a whole in relation to staffing matters. 

There are, of course, staffing matters which need to be dealt with (on behalf of the NEC) without all the details being shared with the whole NEC (individual recruitment to senior posts would be an obvious example) - but there is no reason whatsoever that, for example, the NEC as a whole ought not to in a position to exercise its own power under Rule D.2.12.2 and to be in full possession of information about negotiations concerning the terms and conditions of staff.

The NEC members allocated to the Staffing Committee for 2021-23 will face particular challenges and will need the full support not only of their NEC colleagues, but of UNISON activists generally.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Industrial Action - #timeforrealchange in UNISON

Sometime soon the newly elected UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) will meet to allocate its members to its various Committees. Most of the NEC’s Committees exist pursuant to the right of the NEC - under Rule D.2.9
“to appoint such Committees from amongst its membership as it shall see fit, and… …to delegate to such Committees any of its functions as it considers appropriate.”

The Industrial Action Committee (IAC) also exists by virtue of Rule O.2, which says that the NEC may “appoint a sub-committee, officer or member to act on its behalf in issuing any particular instructions to take industrial action.” The IAC is that Sub-Committee.

The NEC delegates to the IAC the donkey work required to comply with its duty under Rule O.4 to “draw up a Code of Conduct applicable either generally to all industrial disputes or in relation to any particular dispute.” The IAC also deals with the requirements of Rule O.5 which states that; “Dispute benefit and other costs and expenses arising from and connected with the dispute will be paid under regulations drawn up by the National Executive Council from a fund specifically maintained for these purposes.”

When I was on the NEC I took an interest in the IAC and - although for five terms of office after my doomed bid for the General Secretaryship (from 2005-2015) I was only placed upon one Committee by my NEC colleagues, I did get to sit on the IAC from 2003-2005 (before I blotted my copybook) and from 2015-2017 (when my misdeeds were - perhaps - sufficiently in the past).

Most NEC Committees meet according to a schedule which will be drawn up and will cover the period until the end of the term of office of the current NEC, at the close of National Delegate Conference 2023 but, whilst the IAC may - and probably should - have some scheduled meetings to deal with predictable work, it may also be called to meet at short notice to deal with industrial disputes as they arise.

It therefore makes sense for the NEC to put as many members as it can on the IAC so that sufficiently well-attended meetings can be called when required - and it makes sense for as many NEC members as possible to be prepared to serve on the IAC (and therefore to express a preference for that Committee along with the others on which they would like to serve).

If the newly elected UNISON NEC want to demonstrate to our membership that there is real meaning to the slogan “#timeforrealchange” then there are a couple of things that the incoming IAC could then do, fairly quickly.

First, the Industrial Action Handbook (which was last updated in June 2019) could be redrafted, following a brief consultation - in particular - with those activists in UNISON with recent experience of leading industrial disputes. 

At present, the introduction to the Handbook states that “industrial action becomes a legitimate strategy when negotiations have broken down and where any agreed disputes procedure has been exhausted” - exemplifying an attitude of mind which leads UNISON officials to discourage activists from pursuing industrial action, because that is the message that they have received from more senior officials.

Industrial action becomes a legitimate strategy whenever a group of workers decide for themselves that it is a legitimate strategy and UNISON’s Industrial Action Handbook should be a helpful guide for workers having to negotiate the many obstacles placed in their way by a succession of hostile Governments and by the courts - not another such obstacle.

According to their latest return to the Certification Officer (for 2019) UNITE (a smaller trade union than UNISON) held 245 industrial action ballots in that year, whereas UNISON’s return for the same period indicates that we held 234. (An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly reported that number as 25 and I am indebted to a comrade from the NEU who pointed out that I had misread the document).

UNISON needs to be much more inclined to encourage - rather than discourage - members whose interests will be best served by a willingness to take industrial action. The difference between a left-led trade union and the other sort is not that a left-wing leadership can (or would want to) provoke strikes or foment discontent - however, left-wing union officials, and representatives, can decide not to obstruct union members from taking action.

Secondly therefore - and this is something which the IAC could recommend to the NEC following its first meeting as a Committee - the daily rate of strike pay could be increased (perhaps from the current rate of £25 a day to match UNITE at £50 a day). 

These changes - to the Industrial Action Handbook - and the rate of daily strike pay would matter as much for what they symbolise as for their substance, but they would provide practical assistance to members and activists on the front line of defence against the attacks coming at UNISON members from the Tory Government and the employers.