Wednesday, 31 March 2010

What's going on in my union?

Much as it pains me to say it, I am almost as concerned about what my union is up to nationally as I am about the antics of the employer.

When Unison was founded some 17 years ago from the merger of three public sector unions, it was loudly proclaimed that it would be a democratic, member-led union in which dissent and discussion would not only be tolerated but positively encouraged.

But in 2010, it is hard to see much of those noble aspirations still intact.  Over the past few years, we have seen a concerted attack by sections of the full-time bureaucracy of the union upon anyone regarded as being "on the left".....and "left" in this context can even include members and supporters of Labour.  Quite often these attacks happen in concert with attacks by the employer, and in some cases it has been impossible not to conclude that active collusion has gone on.

Take the case of Yunus Baksh,  secretary of a health service branch, who was simultaneously hit by accusations of "bullying" by both the Trust which employed him and by regional officials of Unison.  Yunus ended up both sacked from his job and expelled from the union to which he had given years of unpaid service. His branch was taken under regional control, with the employer facilitating the entry of regional officials onto Trust property to "seize" the branch office.  It later transpired that there was clear evidence that the trumped-up charges against Yunus were racially motivated and moreover that BNP members and supporters inside the Union were helping to orchestrate the campaign against him.  Unison has persisted in a state of denial about this evidence and has done nothing about it.

Other branches get taken over and their democratically-elected officers turfed out, because some regional official decides that the branch is "failing".  This happened in the Newham local government branch, where, for good measure, the regional bureaucrats installed a senior manager as the new branch secretary!

Fast forward to today and the case of "The Four".  Local government Branch activists who were disciplined for the "crime" of questioning the decisions of the Conference Standing Orders Committee (this was the fallback charge after the original outrageous allegation of "racism" against the Four failed to stand up).  These activists were duly banned from holding office in the union for varying amounts of time.  Using this as a pretext, their branches have now also been taken over by regional officials mounting dawn raids to gain entry to branch offices and remove computers and other equipment.  No prizes for guessing who let them into council property to do this.

The common denominator in all of this is not hard to see - Yunus is a member of the Socialist Workers Party; the Four are members of the Socialist Party (in fact the Four were originally Five - it was the non-SP member who got off with no case to answer!)  I am not a member of either of these organisations (not that this necessarily makes me safe) and I do not always agree with them, but the use of organisational devices to settle political scores belongs to a bygone age of Stalinism.  You would have thought that we would have left this behind long ago.

I should add here that leaving or refusing to join the union is precisely the wrong way to protest against this.  Workers need to join Unison in order that we can reclaim the union for its original and proper purpose.

All this is going on against a backdrop of a pay freeze in local government, which comes into effect in 35 minutes from when I am writing this.  There has been no attempt by Unison nationally to do anything about this - the possibility of taking action alongside our brothers and sister in PCS this month passed us by.  We are also facing an onslaught on jobs in local government and in the NHS - Unison's two biggest sections.

But my union's leadership is too busy attacking conscientious and talented branch activists to lift a finger against any of this. 

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