Thursday, 10 December 2015

UNISON NEC tries to shut #unisongate after the horse has bolted

There was a meeting of the full NEC yesterday (I will blog a full report of the rest of the meeting later) before which a lobby took place by some London UNISON branches demanding an independent investigation, outside the ranks of UNISON's senior officials, into matters that are now clearly in the public domain (I bought a copy of 'Private Eye' magazine on the way home this evening, issue dated 11th-18th December 2015 No. 1407 and there is an article on Page 35 entitled 'UNISON on tape').  My fellow NEC member Jon Rogers has already blogged about this. See:

There was a statement read out at the start of the meeting by the President along the lines that the ballot for election of General Secretary had closed the previous Friday and that there was an ongoing investigation into complaints concerning a member of staff and ERS the ballot scrutineer were considering complaints that were their preserve, and that we should not discuss this at the meeting today and we were encouraged to refrain from commenting on the issues. This was the only comment that was going to be made.

This was challenged by the left NEC members present arguing that we should be able to discuss the process of investigation i.e. that we protect the reputation of our union and the confidence of our members in our own democracy by ensuring that there is a full and transparent process. This was not to expect the NEC to comment on whether individual members of staff have acted in breach of rule or committed acts of misconduct.

In reply we were told that a decision had been made by the top table. An NEC member raised a 'point of order' that we move to next business. A left NEC member (from the North West) asked for a vote on this which the President agreed. The subsequent vote was 32 to 21 in favour of moving to next business (I was one of the 21). It was then asked by another of the North West NEC members could we have a named vote of the NEC to which the reply was it was too late we were not taking a named vote. So the highest lay body in the union in between National Delegate Conferences did not discuss the process of the investigation. Watch this space in terms of what may unfold in the next few days and weeks. Any UNISON member who has concerns about alleged malpractice in connection with the General Secretary election should raise these concerns with the Returning Officer by email to (before the deadline of 5 p.m. 11th December 2015).

I will blog further about the rest of the NEC meeting later. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Personal report of Development and Organisation sub committee of the UNISON NEC 24th September 2015

Recruitment report
The national officer for Strategic Organising in his report stated that the number of members leaving the union has increased as a result of austerity.

August was always a bad month for recruitment but we were losing more members compared to the same month last year. With the recruitment figures down there was a need to refocus on recruitment. Local Government had suffered in particular under the austerity agenda. By the end of the year judging by the direction of travel we may have lost more members in local government than we did last year. There had even been a decline in schools membership despite school rolls increasing (it has been an area of increase in previous years). Young members continued to be a group where recruitment was up. There was a net loss in all Regions except Northern Ireland. Membership in the Health Service continues to decline at a slower rate than membership in Local Government does. The impact of the DOCAS conversion for National Probation staff will take some time to show up in the figures for this service.
There was a concern from one or two NEC members regarding the format the recruitment figures were presented in. The level of detail supplied was welcomed so we could see what is going on but the smallness of the font in the printed material meant the figures were hard to read in hard copy. The material needed to be fully accessible.

An NEC member with reference to schools recruitment said that members had lost confidence in the ability of the union to deliver on pay after the dispute last year and that nothing had come out of the Local Government special conference that had been held.
Another NEC member stated that a large number of members had joined as a result of the pay campaign in schools because the union was prepared to fight over pay but comparing the Year to Date (YTD) figures for 2015 with 2014 we were going backwards. Some Regions were facing cuts because of cuts to school funding – there needed to be a strategy to deal with cuts.

Another NEC member said that we all know we recruit best when we have high profile campaigns.
The national officer said that the situation in Northern Ireland where we were doing better might be explained by the fact that the structure of Local Government is not the same there.

Switching members from DOCAS (Deduction of Contributions at source) to Direct Debit – lessons to date.
It was stated by the national officer that UNISON was the primary object of the attack. In August the Government announced that it intended to include in the Trade Union bill provisions for removing DOCAS from public sector workers along with draconian strike provisions.

The scale of the challenge facing us is that we have 800,000 members paying by DOCAS. It was anticipated there would be a certain level of loss in the switch over. Not everyone would switch. Even if everyone switched to DD there could be a significant impact on membership retention as the average length of time someone paying by direct debit stays in membership is 5 years as opposed to 7 or 8 when paying by DOCAS.
There was an interesting reference to the International situation regarding Government attacks on Check off or DOCAS where Government's at state level in Australia and the United States have mounted similar assaults.The organising response of the Australian trade unions appears to have been a more effective defence than the legal challenges of the US unions.

There would be a number of ways in which members would be contacted regarding the switch over. UNISON Direct could have a significant role. There may be a web based system to switch. There would be over the phone contact and face to face contact. A good point I thought was made that we should use this exercise as an opportunity to talk through all of the issues around UNISON. Having accurate data on the system would be very important (e.g. addresses, phone numbers) so some serious data cleansing would be necessary. It would be a factor how employers interacted with the legislation. This had been relevant for the PCS (Civil servants union) where some Government departments had better relations with the union than others.
An NEC member said that we were right on this and we should get on with this piece of work. The emergency motion at National Delegate conference had pointed us in the right direction. We had to make a virtue out of a necessity otherwise we could lose members. Material should be sent out to branches encouraging them to think about this. If the switching was being done by face to face contact branches would have a crucial role in this. Contact would have to be made at least annually to check members were paying the correct level of subs.

Another NEC member said there was obviously a relation between steward density and contact with members in workplaces. A further NEC member said this was a very important debate that we had to have in all NEC Committee’s not just D&O. Members will keep paying their subs if they see the value and the benefit. Members trust their stewards the most in terms of the switch but this brought the question should there be training for stewards on confidentiality and data protection.
Lessons learnt from the National Probation service switch campaign – i)easy and efficient systems are essential, ii)face to face switching is the most effective means of switching members, iii) switching takes time and we need as much time as possible in order to switch as many member s as possible, iv) the principal concern expressed by UNISON members has been over double payments - if they pay by DD before DOCAS ceases, v) it is important for people doing face to face switching to understand the issues, vi) Where there have been incomplete or not updated RMS records it has been difficult to contact members.

Learning and Organising services – There had been a slight decrease in Union Learning reps (ULR’s) trained. An update of the activist learning database is scheduled for November 2015. This should make reporting on the number of trained stewards more accurate and for identifying reps who require Employment Relations Act (ERA) accreditation.
Continued development of the RMS
The Head of RMS Operations reported that UNISON processes around 330,000 direct debit payers every month. A second cycle collection option was introduced in June 2015. Regions, UNISON Direct, Join online and branches via WARMS can choose either the 1st or the 15th of the month for the collection date. 800 Branches have WARMS access with 700 Branches actively using the WARMS system. In response to a question from an NEC member about the branches that just use RMS and not WARMS it was stated that RMS will not be switched off overnight and there would be phased approach. WARMS/RMS technology is being refreshed early next year. RMS Operations had taken on board comments from branches in terms of processing direct debit members via WARMS. Enhancements should be made in the autumn of 2015. Current systems have been reviewed so they are capable of transferring members from DOCAS to DD. Lessons had been learnt from the National Probation service. It was important to track progress when switching members - it was asked by an NEC member if a dashboard type facility could be put on WARMS so branches could have an overview of their progress in switching members. It was anticipated that a considerable number of members would only switch when DOCAS is actually removed. RMS is being adapted to include reporting of DOCAS members who have provided bank account details. Regions and branches will be able to monitor the DOCAS members who require transferring to Direct Debit.

Honorary life membership awards - The committee approved an honorary life membership award.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Personal report of the UNISON National Executive Council 29th July 2015

It was requested that in future meetings take place on the ground floor of the UNISON building to make the NEC fully accessible. This would be looked at.

Obituaries were read out and condolences given including UNISON members affected by the tragedy in Tunisia.

NEC members were asked to complete a National Delegate Conference review proforma.

Dave Prentis in his General Secretary's report welcomed newly elected NEC members. Dave also on behalf of the union pledged full support to Max Watson in his attempt to keep his job. The union believed there was a major element of discrimination by the employer at London Metropolitan University. Resources would be given to defend Max and the branch.

There was good news in that the Glasgow homelessness caseworkers had won their dispute for parity of grading. The NEC sent congratulations to the Region and the branch. This showed what we can do when we have the strength of the members. The General Secretary made reference to Barnet's ongoing campaign against outsourcing and that John Burgess, Barnet branch secretary was a great union activist. John's car had recently been vandalised with offensive and anti union graffiti.

Probation service - there would be a 2 hour strike to keep the legality of the ballot. The employers were refusing to talk even through ACAS. There was an exercise in probation to get members signed up to Direct debit.

A major issue was the Trade Union bill. A very good TUC briefing was circulated to NEC members that could be used in speeches etc. The main areas of attack were the use of agency workers, picket rules/limits, turnout percentage in ballots, facility time and political funds. We would campaign with NGO's like Liberty and Amnesty international against the bill. The Trade Union bill was also an attack on democracy in this country.

We needed a very big presence on the demo at the Tory party conference on 4th October 2015 and on 2nd November 2015 there was a parliamentary lobby over the Trade Union bill. NEC members asked for this to be turned into a demo as well but approval may be difficult to acheive. Dave Prentis in response to a question about the position of Labour on the welfare bill to abstain (only 48 Labour MPs voted against) said there was a job to get some backbone into some Labour MPs. It was remarked by an NEC member that there had been 'uproar' in the discussion on the Labour Party NEC on the decision of the acting leader to say MPs should abstain on the welfare bill. The 48 who voted against should have been joined by many, many more.

It was agreed that the Industrial Action report the NEC sees should go to every service group as well.

General secretary election - Any potential candidates were asked to leave the room while the rest of the NEC discussed the election timetable and procedures. Dave Prentis, Roger Bannister (NEC member North West), Heather Wakefield (Head of Local Government) and Karen Reissmann (NEC NW) left the room. Karen has subsequently withdrawn. Several NEC members commented that the nomination period was short for the election. The procedures and timetable were agreed as presented however.

Allocation of NEC members to various NEC sub committees was agreed and also to the General Political fund and Affiliated political fund (APF) committees. The APF (Labour link) committee met and agreed to nominate Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader with Yvette Cooper as second preference. Angela Eagle was nominated for Deputy leader. An NEC member asked for earlier circulation of NEC minutes. The President noted this and confirmed that the minutes would be issued as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Personal report of UNISON NEC - 3rd June 2015

A message of support was sent from the NEC to Barnet UNISON members in London currently taking Industrial Action against mass outsourcing proposals. Action had taken place on the 1st and 2nd June 2015.

A large part of the NEC business was concerned again with National Delegate Conference (NDC) business. We received reports from Strategic Committee (NEC subcommittees) Chairs on the current policy recommendations from these sub committees to the full NEC meeting on motions, amendments to motions and amendments to rule.
The dealing with of NEC policy on motions etc. was made more difficult as the NEC currently sits in two rooms with the bulk sitting on the 9th floor and other members sitting in an upper ground floor room made available to a disabled member who has access issues and those joining the member in solidarity, who participate by video link. Members in one room are unable to see fellow NEC members in the other.

There was an emergency motion on the outcome of the General election from Development and Organisation subcommittee of NEC which had become Composite A to NDC. This proposed an organising response to Government attacks.  In relation to the threat to collection of union subs by DOCAS (Deduction of Contributions at source) under Tory proposals, Dave Prentis, General Secretary said that we should not wait for legislation to be carried but we should not ‘push the button’ now. Direct debit was not a panacea. Members sometimes did not tell us when they went up through the subs bands. Concern was expressed from the North West NEC members (after similar concern was expressed at the prior North West Regional Council of UNISON) that should we be just moving to Direct Debit without a fight on the issue? The Tories had published their intentions in relation to Trade Union ‘reform’ so we would not be putting ideas in their heads. Paul Holmes, UNISON NEC member made a good point that we should be having a political argument in public over this – why is the Government doing this? The DOCAS arrangements had been in place since before the 2nd World War. In politics there was a fine line between being prepared and encouraging the other side.
Dave Prentis in his General Secretary’s report referred to the 42 bills in the Queens’ speech a few days earlier – quite a few affected our members.

Dave said the ‘the job of the union to a large part is to resist’. There needed to be ‘militant action’.
The discussion went back to Composite A. A proposed amendment by the North West NEC members to lobby parliament when the Trade Union reform bill was being discussed was voted down by the majority on the NEC. Also opposed was an amendment from North West NEC members calling for a lobby of the Tory party conference in the Autumn. It was later qualified that these protests would be supported (though presumably not led) by the union. A proposal to write to all members as part of a recruitment drive for stewards was also rejected.

Many North West UNISON members rightly see the presence of the Tory party conference in our Region as an affront.
Bernie Gallagher, North West UNISON NEC member asked that information be sent out to branches quickly regarding the anti-austerity demo in London on 20th June 2015.

Discussion returned to the General Secretary’s report – Dave said there were disputes in schools around changes to terms and conditions and schools were one of biggest growth areas. We needed to raise our game on Industrial Action ballots and ‘we are a union that seeks to take Industrial Action’. We would fight proposed Tory measures regarding Trade unions ‘all the way to the U.N and ILO’ (International Labour Organisation). We would take national Industrial Action if need be over the threat to unsocial hours payments in the NHS. Dave referred again to the dispute in Barnet Council and the need to support also the struggle of the Glasgow Homeless caseworkers fighting downgradings and changes to terms and conditions. Helen Davies, UNISON NEC member and from Barnet branch thanked Dave for the support. 8th July was a possible future strike date. Jon Rogers, NEC member London Region referred to the need to support these local disputes that were however of national significance including the dispute at London Metropolitan University over cuts proposals. These branches were at the sharp end.  
An upcoming 25% cut to further education had already led to 4 colleges closing down Trade Union education units. Budgets may need to be reviewed to support Stewards education and there will be an increase in Fighting fund organisers to get support to branches on the front line.

The decisions taken at the Local Government special conference were in the process of being actioned and the General Secretary undertook to come back to the NEC on the non-payment of the Local Government pay rise to transferred health workers.  


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Personal report of Development and Organisation (D&O) subcommittee of the UNISON NEC - 13th May 2015

We received a presentation on the Young members survey which explored issues faced by Young members. Recruitment was more successful when young members first start work so therefore we should optimise the use of induction sessions and starter lists.
There was a risk review following the disastrous result of the 2015 General election. The Tory manifesto had commitments to attack workers rights to organise. There was a prescription in consequence to move from DOCAS (Deduction of Contributions at Source) or ‘Check off’  - to all UNISON members paying by DD (Direct Debit).  

Learning and organising activity – There was a report on the number of new stewards trained, the number of Health and Safety reps trained and the number of Union Learning reps trained in 2014 compared to 2013. It was asked by Max Watson and John Jones could a supplement to the report be produced that showed a breakdown of steward density by Service Group.
Trade Union funding – there was no Labour Government coming on a white charger. By August 2016 there could be no Government funding at all for Trade Union education.

An emergency motion from D&O was agreed for recommendation and to be considered alongside any wider statement from the NEC after the election result. There needed to be an organising response to the unanticipated outcome of the General election with a majority Tory government.
The Tory manifesto had included a commitment to ‘ensure Trade Unions use a transparent opt in process for union subscriptions’ and there was a commitment to ‘tighten the rules around taxpayer funded facility time for Trade Union reps’.

This was clearly intended to weaken the ability of workers to oppose further cuts and privatisation.
There should be a campaign against such legislation but we should also prepare an organising response – there should be mechanisms in place to facilitate transfer of members from DOCAS to DD. ‘UNISON needed a whole union strategy to support such a transfer’. The NEC was called upon to ‘ensure all members paying by DOCAS are retained in membership through transfer to Direct Debit.’   

It was clear we needed to recruit members and activists more than ever in the workplace. There was an opportunity to re-engage with existing members and ones we had not recruited yet. We should not wait and hope the Tories would be nice to us.
Continued development of the RMS - Guidance would be issued to branches on how to convert DOCAS paying members to Direct Debit. DOCAS had already been withdrawn in the Probation service where UNISON organises and lessons would be learnt from that.


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Personal report of UNISON NEC – 8th April 2015

This NEC was to a large part concerned with National Delegate Conference (NDC) business. NDC is to be held in Glasgow in June. There are 117 motions on the preliminary agenda for NDC as well as 28 rule amendments submitted by various bodies in the union. I therefore won’t go into detail on every one. Most of these motions are supported by the NEC.

A couple dozen each of motions and amendments to rule have been ruled ‘out of order’.
There is an important branch motion on ‘Solidarity with PCS’ (Civil service union) which the current NEC position is to ‘defer’ pending discussion with other Trade Unions.   Check off (DOCAS or Deductions of Contributions at source) was being ended in the Civil service as the Tories ideologically did not believe employers should collect money for Trade Unions. It is therefore vital that the rest of the Trade Union movement openly express solidarity with PCS. Dave Prentis, General Secretary stated later in the meeting in his General Secretary’s report that PCS had been successful in signing up around 115,000 members to paying union subs by Direct debit since their members were removed from check off. UNISON could be in the firing line if the Tories are re-elected in May in the same way. The motion also calls upon a Labour government if elected in May to ‘reverse these attacks as a clear signal of their respect for the positive role Trade Unions play’.  

In response to a good motion in opposition to ‘Fracking’ (shale gas extraction) it was requested by an NEC member that further consultation take place with all relevant service groups before a common policy was determined. One NEC member reminded us that our opposition to Fracking was based not just on the effect on the local environment but the world-wide environment with the burning of fossil fuels.
There was contention on a motion on ‘Changes to strike pay’ where the current position was to remit or oppose. The motion calls for an increase in the amount of daily strike pay payable. This amount has not been changed since the early 1990s and stands at £15 per day. One NEC member stated that whilst it was understood that for national disputes involving large numbers of members we don’t pay strike pay sometimes even if we get to a 4th day on strike the issue was that for local disputes there was a problem with the amount paid and also that the strike pay wouldn’t get paid till the 4th day. There was not a massive amount of Industrial Action at local level despite the huge attacks on us therefore we needed to show encouragement to local disputes where they occur. Another NEC member suggested that we put in a constructive amendment to this motion.  

In terms of the rule amendments please refer to my previous post - 
The NEC approved its 12 priority motions and 6 priority rule amendments.   

The draft NEC annual report was discussed (to be circulated to delegates before the National Delegate conference). Bernie Gallagher, NEC member North West region asked that in relation to the reference in the report to the English Combined authorities could there be mention of what had happened in Greater Manchester recently with the transfer of the £6 billion NHS budget to a Greater Manchester level and the implications this would have.
On the NEC Conference plan it was acknowledged that there may need to be emergency motions to NDC depending on the outcome of the General election on 7th May. The Orgreave truth and justice campaign would have a solidarity table at the conference. There would be a guest speaker from Canada on TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). I asked had we been able to secure a Greek trade unionist or representative of Syriza (the Greek anti austerity party that is now in Government) for national conference as the Greeks were at the sharp end of the fight against austerity and this would be an act of solidarity. We currently do not have a speaker from Greece although the minutes of the previous meeting stated that this was being looked into.   

Dave Prentis in his General Secretary’s report mentioned the victimisation case involving Charlotte Munro from Whipp’s Cross Hospital in London who was a whistle blower in this big NHS trust that has also been placed in special measures.  UNISON had supported Charlotte in a case of unfair dismissal. This is significant in the current climate of cuts, privatisation and attacks on trade union activists. Charlotte has been reinstated after a long battle which is tremendous news.
UNISON had been granted permission to appeal against a High Court decision regarding fees for employment tribunals. There was, Dave said, a commitment from Labour to review the whole tribunal fees system.

We were urging members to get out and vote in the General election - our message is 'not that we are Labour but that we are UNISON’. If the Tories got in there would be another 5 years of austerity. There were 61 marginals and we had to ensure the Tories did not win the marginal seats.  
It was suggested by an NEC member that we send Charlotte Munro a message of congratulations for her courage in this case and that the case is appropriately publicised.

In response to a question Dave stated that Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary had told the TUC General Council 2 months ago that he had been told by Labour that they would reverse the changes made to the check off system if elected.
Under the ‘Organising update’ it was requested that in the case of online joiners when this has occurred - and new members are allocated to a branch - it is not always known by the branch - could there therefore automatically be a mechanism for informing branches in this circumstance.  

Paul Holmes, UNISON NEC member in response to the updates on the Service Groups (Pay campaigns) stated that the Local Government special conference that had taken place recently had been a serious conference which was well attended with a good debate. There had been a decision to resubmit a pay claim – how were we approaching the other 2 unions involved (UNITE and GMB) ?
In response it was stated that the Local Government SGE (Service Group Executive) were meeting the following day and this would be considered. The Local Government NJC Committee would meet on April 14th.

General election update – There were 29 days to go. Labour was 2 points ahead. The vote flight to the Scottish National Party was continuing north of the border. A U magazine (UNISON magazine) special was planned to members in the 61 marginal seats identified by the union and there would be a direct mailing to those members in the marginal seats.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Personal report of Development and Organisation (D&O) subcommittee of the NEC – 7th April 2015

This D&O meeting was concerned with National Delegate Conference business (which will take place in June in Glasgow) and motions and rule amendments from various union bodies and amendments to motions from the NEC that were specifically to do with Bargaining and under the remit of this subcommittee of the NEC. The meeting took a view on what our position was going to be on these motions, amendments and rule amendments which would be the recommendation for policy at tomorrow’s full meeting of the UNISON NEC.

I won’t go into detail of every item that was considered as these included 16 motions, 2 amendments to motions and 28 rule amendments.
It is good to see a motion (Motion 102) on Domestic violence, a gendered issue from the National Women’s Committee and the D&O policy of support. There was major contention when a similar motion was ruled out of order last year on the grounds of ‘legal jeopardy’. Considerable debate was generated at conference. Whilst raising awareness of existing guidance, the motion calls on the NEC to work with the National Women’s Committee to develop guidance on supporting women who allege violence whilst ensuring branches can represent all parties involved fairly and impartially.

As last year there are a whole raft of rule amendments that seek to change internal UNISON elections from annual to biennial and also to change the frequency of meetings of various bodies of the union from annual to biennial. It was stated that Consultation has recently taken place with Regional Convenors and the view was that we are still (as last year) opposed to biennial elections.  
It was stated by some NEC members that as NEC (National Executive Council) elections and SGE (Service Group Executive) elections take place every 2 years shouldn’t the same apply to branch elections? The position of the Left NEC members present was that there was a difference between someone serving a 2 year term on the NEC and a Branch Secretary who could be undertaking a full time role. Annual elections at branch level were vital for the democracy of the union. If a Branch Secretary, for example, was doing a good job they would be re-elected therefore it would seem sensible to stick with annual elections. I stated that it would be potentially a nightmare for members if there was a cycle of elections in branches every 2 years and to be saddled with a Branch Secretary for example who was disinterested, disengaged from members, not representing them etc. and there was no way to remove that person from the role.

There was a very good contribution from one of the Assistant General Secretaries along the lines that whilst there were clearly varied views on the D&O committee on this there was a problem in terms of how you could get rid of someone who was not performing in their union role and annual elections were vital for this and to keep branches re-invigorated. There was therefore an organising dimension to this also.
In the end it was agreed we would recommend opposition to rule amendments proposing a move from annual to biennial elections for Regional Council and Regional Committee. It was agreed to defer consideration of rule amendments to do with Branch Committee elections as this would give more time to consider our position and look at what this would mean in terms of the organising agenda.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Victory for rank and file democracy: UNISON Local Government special conference

Delegates at the UNISON government special conference this week (24th March 2015) have delivered a massive blow to the current leadership by voting to submit a new pay claim for 2015-2016.

The special conference was called following an initiative from the North West Region of UNISON after the fiasco of last year's pay dispute. The strike was called off, with Local Government Trade unions accepting a worse deal than what had previously been on the table.
The mood of activists is clearly such that they have had enough of the leadership’s attempts to blame the membership for an unwillingness to fight and to accept continued pay restraint. There is a glaring need for a determined and confident lead to be given over pay.

Members are also questioning the union's relationship with the Labour Party and it’s influence on our internal affairs. The union leaders’ strategy to give a Labour government, if elected, breathing space of a year against any new local government pay claim was defeated by conference delegates.
An amendment to a motion on the decision to cancel strike action for 14th October last year ensured "at least one" lay member would be present at future talks with the employers.

The conference passed a motion branding senior officers’ decision to cancel the strike a “complete denial” of union protocols.
It was a victory for rank and file democracy. It will remain to be seen if the leadership carries out the decisions of conference – activists will have to keep up the pressure.

The special conference should now be a platform to transform UNISON into a fighting, democratic union. All UNISON members and activists should be encouraged by it to make a determined effort to get the 'Reclaim the Union' slate of left-wing candidates elected in the forthcoming UNISON NEC elections that start on 7th April.

UNISON Left slate:



Saturday, 14 March 2015

Stand up to racism!

As the continuing crisis unleashed by the banking collapse continues to work itself out racism is on the rise in many European countries and beyond.

Nigel Farage of UKIP (aka the ‘pound shop Enoch Powell’) from his comments this week is clearly looking for racist votes in the General election and to stoke up racism by scapegoating migrants.

Farage as a former commodity trader is one of those who has contributed to the banking crisis but is now trying to put the blame on migrants.

As a result of our campaigns in the labour and trade union movement against racism in the past we have made progress and made gains but there is clearly still inequality in society – witness the higher rate of unemployment of young black people with the same qualifications and the fact that women still get less pay than men.

Farage wants to take us backwards to the days when ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ signs were displayed. We therefore have to protect the progress we have made.

The trade union movement as a bulwark to the prevailing ideas in society (i.e. those of the ruling class) is vital to the fight against racism. The issue of racism will be important in the General Election. We should be cautious of those who have an interest in scaring working class people and distracting them from austerity. Wages are historically low because of government policy over many years – this is not the fault of migrants. All workers are victims of these global market forces – the solution is stronger collective bargaining and unionisation.

This needs to be one of the issues addressed at the UNISON National Delegate Conference this June.

As an important next step UNISON and the other Trade Unions are supporting the major demonstration against racism next week in London on Saturday 21st March 2015. This needs to be as big a demonstration as we can make it.

Transport details to demo:

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Personal report of UNISON NEC meeting 18th February 2015

This is the link to the official report of this NEC meeting:
A number of obituaries were read out and condolences given including Jean Atkinson from Liverpool Community and Hospitals branch from the North West. The NEC held a minutes silence.

We first discussed National Delegate conference business. The motions considered included 2 from Development and Organisation subcommittee of the NEC – ‘Meeting the training needs of activists in challenging times’ and ‘Consolidating activist development planning for sustainable organising’.
There were also a number of motions that had been considered at the policy subcommittee of the NEC.

There was some comment that I thought was valid that the motions whilst worthy contained few action points – a cue for Branches to send in amendments.
Conference motions – 1. Fairer taxation and the future funding of our public services 2. The dangers of the New Pension choice and the urgent need for increasing employer contributions. 3. Tackling the pay trap: raising wages through bargaining and the living wage. 4. Tackling vulnerable employment and casualisation. 5. Promoting trade union and employment rights. 6. UNISON and devolution. 7. Time for a new direction for public procurement. 8. Campaigning for our public services and those that provide them. 9. Supporting the campaign for rights and democracy in Swaziland. 10. The rights of migrant workers in Qatar. 11. Planning initiatives to get more members active. 12. Meeting the training needs of UNISON activists in challenging times.

There was also a concern that the NEC has not currently got a motion on combatting racism (there is a rising tide of racism across Europe) and were we confident that this would be addressed? - The problem of the racist UKIP party is not going to go away in a hurry no matter who won the General election.
There were motions on Zero Hours Contracts and the Agency workers regulations. It was suggested that an activity plan goes with these like a lobby of parliament demanding legislation on Zero Hours Contracts. It was stated in response that ‘we don’t know who the Government will be in June so we can’t commit to any activity’.

We discussed guest speakers for national conference and I suggested given what had happened in Greece with the victory of the anti-austerity Syriza party we invite a speaker from either that party or a Greek trade unionist as an act of solidarity. Greece has been on the sharp end of austerity and the Greek left had seen their fight as one not only to challenge austerity in their country but in the rest of Europe.

The General Secretary’s report – Dave Prentis stated that UNISON was the union that had been most affected by austerity. Local Government was our power base and Local Government had been used as a whipping boy by the coalition. 800,000 jobs had gone in the areas where UNISON recruits. The Tories were only 40% the way through their austerity program – the price being paid for the failure of the banks in 2008. UNISON had balloted ten times the rest of the Trade Union movement together. Dave spoke of Tory proposals for fresh restrictions on balloting. If the Tories allowed workplace balloting the turnout would be 60-70% but they don’t. This was the most important General election in his 40 years in the union. Check off (DOCAS or Deductions of Contributions at source) was being ended in the Civil service as the Tories ideologically did not believe employers should collect money for Trade Unions.
UNISON NEC member John Jones (Water, Environment and Transport) referred to the developments in the Civil service and that the Environment Agency (where UNISON organises) had never been civil servants but all the curbs that affect PCS (Civil service union) are affecting us. E.g. refusal of paid time off to attend meetings. The union should take the issue seriously and stage a fight in the service group and wider union on this.

Roger Bannister, North West NEC member stated that the problems faced by PCS in terms of the loss of check off were unprecedented and that we should openly express solidarity with the PCS. This could happen to our members in the NHS for example – how could we survive the loss of check off?
The discussion about the PCS and ‘check off’ was lengthy and at times heated. Some NEC members were concerned that PCS might not feel supported by UNISON whilst others felt that some PCS officials were making unjustified criticisms of UNISON at meetings of PCS members. Dave took great exception to PCS comments that Francis Maude would rather deal with Dave Prentis than Mark Serwotka (General Secretary of PCS).  Dave said that he had not spoken to Francis Maude (the Tory grandee) for 18 months or more since the pensions dispute. ‘No-one in UNISON had done anything to undermine PCS’ and ‘we do not and have never poached PCS members’. We should put the blame on Francis Maude and the Tory government rather than fight amongst each other.

It is obviously correct that the main enemy is the Tory government and we should rally around PCS at this time.
There was discussion of TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership) and that since 2008 and the crisis of global capital, social gains were being attacked. With TTIP now democratic gains were being attacked as well. UNISON stands on the side of our people against the ruling class on this.

NHS Pay dispute – 2nd March was the closure date for consultation. If there was rejection there would be Industrial Action on 13th March to coincide with action in the Northern Ireland.
Local government have their special conference on 24th March in London to discuss the widespread concern about the handling of the pay dispute and how to move forward.

It was noted by some left NEC members including myself that our failure to sustain mobilisation over pay can in part be attributed to the retreat over pensions in 2011.
Bernie Gallagher, North West UNISON NEC member asked about the Alemo Herron judgement and members who were in the position of being TUPE transferred and that since that legal case had received neither an NHS pay award nor a Local Government one.

UNISON and the General election - We received a slide show presentation on this – there were 77 days to go to the General election to get rid of this vile and vicious government. There were ‘9 possible scenarios’ and ‘a 2 way battle had turned into a 6 horse race’.  Political disaffection was at an all-time high. We needed to appeal to every member and our aim was to get rid of the Coalition on 7th May. UNISON has selected 60 seats where UNISON membership is significant or exceeds the current Tory or LibDem majority. 69% of UNISON members are likely to turn out to vote and UNISON members are interested on hearing from UNISON on politics. We should not give the perception of an over claim of what to expect from Labour but our message should be that ‘the best party on this occasion on balance to get rid of the coalition is Labour’.

Tony Wilson

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Mobilise Trade Union members for the General election!

We need to mobilise our Trade Union members for the General election - Given that 1 million voters have dropped off the electoral register (as a result of the switch from household to individual registration).

See link:

As well as a voter registration drive we need to encourage our members (as they will be more receptive) to vote for a message that is more hostile to the Condems than an attempt to talk up what is on offer from Labour.

A variant of the current Condem coalition would pose a threat to Trade Union organisation worse than that we have seen before. Mobilising our members to vote must be a priority in the next 3 months (and it is only 3 months now).

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Report of Development and Organisation subcommittee of the UNISON NEC 14th January 2015

This report was also circulated as an addendum to the NEC reports at the North West Regional Council meeting in Manchester on the 17th January 2015 (given that the D & O meeting only took place 3 days prior) .

We received a PowerPoint briefing on ‘organising fragmented workers delivering public services’. 2 academics Professor Sian Moore of the University of the West of England and Professor Geraldine Healy of Queens University, Belfast produced the briefing for the union in the light of increased pressure on the union as a result of austerity and fragmentation.
Under the Recruiting and Organising report it was noted that despite a difficult year recruitment was holding up. A quarter of new members are now from the private sector. Online joiners account for 54% of all joiners. (The figure for the North West was 52%). We are recruiting more lower paid members and losing less lower paid members but also losing more higher paid members. There was an issue in terms of activist development and what we do around this as a result. More detailed analysis was asked for in terms of how the various pay disputes had given a differential boost to recruitment.

It was hoped we would have a better government in 6 months’ time however the question arose as to what if we have Cameron as Prime minister. DOCAS (Deduction of Contributions at source) or ‘Check off’ was being withdrawn in the Civil Service. How much longer could we keep check off for in the NHS for example as a right wing government would have direct control over this? And how were we preparing for that eventuality? One of the Assistant General Secretaries stated that our systems could cope if large numbers of members changed to becoming Direct Debit payers. The Head of RMS Operations said we needed to have clear procedures in place if DOCAS is withdrawn. One NEC member suggested that it may be beneficial to have contracts or Service Level agreements in place with employers.
The Annual Line count process – This is done at the end of the calendar year and involves a manual line count (count of DOCAS schedules plus the addition of numbers of members who pay by other means) to obtain accurate membership figures for Regions and Service Groups so mitigating the scenario where an employer has not been DOCAS cleansed for some time (although it was stated that the accuracy of RMS/WARMS information has increased greatly over the last 2 years).  There was a membership drop of 1.1% or 13,000 over the year. It was noted UNISON has to deal with a large number of employers (29,000) as opposed to the PCS (Civil servants union) who only have 30 employers.

There was a presentation on the fragmented workforce with particular regard to private contractors. 150,000 members were in the outsourced sector which had been growing. A question arose ‘are we becoming a general Trade Union’. Also do some of the online joiners meet the rule book definition? For multi sector branches there was a link from this to Finance some branches had had difficulties in terms of funding caseworkers and had we done enough to follow members who had gone into the private sector. It was agreed that this would become a standing agenda item for Development and Organisation committee.
Under Learning and training activity – there had been a slight drop - 7% in the number of reps trained in line with a slight fall in the number of reps recruited. The question arose as to whether there was an efficient process for flagging up when existing ERA (Employment Relations Act) accredited stewards were due to have their training refreshed. (This reaccreditation should take place every 5 years).  The process was being discussed between RMS and Learning and Organising services and needed to be more efficient and improved but there would be more information at the next meeting.  

On ‘continued development of the RMS’, the hard work of Branches, Regions and staff was acknowledged. It was not cost effective to maintain RMS and WARMS together but there was currently  ‘no magic switch off date for RMS’. 2015 would be a challenging year but we needed to focus on retention as well as recruitment. If there were any performance issues with WARMS branches would receive help - There was an escalation route. Another collection date is being offered to members for Direct Debit collection.
There were 2 draft motions to go to the 2015 National Delegate conference from D&O (these will need to be agreed by the full NEC) these were ‘Consolidating activist development planning for sustainable organising,’ and ‘Meeting the training needs of union activists in challenging times’.

We approved a number of applications from branches for Honorary UNISON life membership.  There was one member from the North West.
Tony Wilson


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Personal report of UNISON NEC 3rd December 2014.

I have referred in an earlier blog post to the debate around the Local Government pay dispute at this NEC meeting – please see the earlier blog post for this report:

An NEC member asked the question under the Finance report was their adequate budget provision for the election of General Secretary in 2015 and he was assured there was.
We heard from the General Secretary that there had been an 87% vote amongst UNISON members to keep the political fund (imposed on us by Thatcher’s anti-trade union legislation that has survived since the 1980’s) after the recent ballot. Police and Justice service group UNISON members had voted 60% YES to Industrial Action in their pay dispute. Best Wishes were sent to police staff in their dispute.  It was emphasised there would continue to be real difficulties for Public services if the coalition got back in in May.

This may include the ending of ‘check off’ (union subs being automatically deducted from pay). This was already being done in the civil service. Whichever political party anyone was in the fight was to get the Tories out.
The union would be supporting a project to help tackle Ebola in West Africa. The NEC agreed to donate £50,000 from the union's international development fund for each of the next two years and agreed to ask branches if they want to contribute. The NEC was shown a moving video commemorating and naming the 325 health workers in the four countries affected who have died in responding to Ebola.

I asked the General Secretary, Dave Prentis was there any update on the campaign against TTIP the ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ the proposed EU – US Trade deal.
If TTIP went ahead there would be a major effect on the provision of public services and services may not be able to be brought in if privatised even if political parties could be persuaded to renationalise. There would be kangaroo courts involving commercial lawyers from multinational companies. The French based multinational company Veolia, are suing the Egyptian government for increasing the national minimum wage – claiming this will “hurt” its investment. There was a growing and massive wave of opposition to these Trade talks. We needed to start questioning MPs and put pressure on them so the Trade talks moved to the top of the agenda. Branches were encouraged to get involved in local coalitions against TTIP.

General election planning – this would be the most critical election any of us had fought. There was a line of attacks from the Tories already in place. However the election outcome was probably also the most unpredictable for a long time with political engagement in the country the lowest in the last century. Clear guidance was requested of the centre in terms of what branches could and couldn’t do given the provisions of the lobbying act. The emphasis should be on encouraging branches to engage in political campaigning through the Affiliated Political Fund and General Political Fund. We would concentrate on 60 seats where the number of UNISON members exceeds the majority of the incumbent. It was also emphasised rightly that talking to members about the key issues is free.
Recruitment and Organising campaign – This was the second best year for recruitment figures since the union came into being although the overall picture is still difficult due to government austerity.

On the Legal update it was reported by the Legal officer that there had been a shocking drop of 91% in sex discrimination claims as a result of the coalition’s employment tribunal fees and the requirement to charge these fees up front. Women and low paid workers have been the worst affected.  
Finally a message of support was sent to Barnet UNISON, in dispute over the North London councils’s attack on terms and conditions.