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...)

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