It is a tragic development that the elected lay leadership of UNISONs Bromley local government branch have left UNISON to join UNITE, as reported by the Socialist
This follows the decision of a number of individual activists in our Greenwich local government branch to do likewise.
I can understand the frustration which has led good trade union activists to take this drastic action, but I do think its an error in judgement.
In the case of Bromley, the disgraceful treatment of former Branch Secretary, Glenn Kelly, by our Union has understandably provoked outrage amongst rank and file union members (just as the similar disgraceful treatment of former Greenwich Branch Secretary, Onay Kasab, has provoked similar feelings).
Each case started with the (now widely discredited and further with the witch hunt believed to have stopped) disciplinary action arising from the production, at UNISONs 2007 Conference, of a leaflet critical of the Unions Standing Orders Committee.
No one can now be found who will admit in public to believing that formal disciplinary action was the correct response to the production of that leaflet. Nevertheless it led to four activists being suspended from holding office for periods varying upwards from two years.
An employment tribunal has since found this disciplinary action to have been unlawful. The action UNISON took was clearly unwise and damaging to UNISON and our members.
Of course UNISON in London made it worse by taking these two well-functioning branches into regional supervision - a state of limbo in which full time officials take over the roles which should be performed by elected lay officers.
In each case the results of these foolish moves have been catastrophic for UNISON members. In Bromley, our Union has failed effectively to resist job losses and in Greenwich we have failed adequately to contest an attack on incremental progression which, now having been achieved by one London Borough, will now threaten our members in local government across the city.
So, I can understand the frustration that has driven our activists in Bromley.
However they are badly wrong.
UNISON is and will remain the largest local government trade union by many a mile. As important as local organisation is - and it is vitally important - none of the fundamental problems which we face in local government can be resolved other than nationally.
Socialists who want to change things for the better are, if working in local government, better placed to achieve this as UNISON members than in any other trade union.
Outside of UNISON you choose to have no say over the negotiating position of the majority of national negotiators.
As hard as it may sometimes be for UNISON activists to feel that we can positively influence our leadership, it would be a hundred times harder outside UNISON.
Library workers in Bromley, and housing workers in Greenwich (of which I used to be one) will not be best served by their activists trying to lead them away from the Union which organises the great majority of their co-workers up and down the country.
I am proud to count Onay Kasab and Glenn Kelly as friends, I am as angry as anyone at the disgraceful way in which they have been treated and I have organised many of the events to support them including in Parliament over the last few years. However, I do not believe that any good socialist comrade should believe for a moment that personal feelings about their personal treatment should come before the interests of our class.
I believe that the interests of workers in Bromley and Greenwich are best served not by a futile attempt to replace UNISON but by a forthright attempt to reform our Union.
To this end, I believe we need members of our National Executive who will make clear that they wish to lead and organise a union which would welcome once more in its ranks great activists such as Onay Kasab and Glenn Kelly.
Kathy Smith was one such newly elected member and I am terribly sad she has taken this decision that many from all organisations (inc I understand SP) in UNISON counselled against.
I am sorry to see the departure of anyone of our activists in Bromley and, whilst I respect their decision, I think they are wrong. I pledge to work for a Union that can welcome them back, and that they shall be enthusiastic to re-join.
Arti Dillon said. . .
I think youre wrong. . . they have fought for years and never wanted to leave but read Kathys email of resignation. Whilst cuts are being made were they expected to stay silent or mobilise their members whilst full time officials sat idly by. The need to properly represent the members was key and it is their collective decision.
Kathy Smith, who was the Unison branch chair, issued the following statement:
Faced with the biggest onslaught against our jobs, wages and conditions in our history we had a right to expect that every ounce of energy of the union would be used to fight the employers.
However in Bromley, Unison nationally has put in massive resources, but not to fight the employer and organise the members, but to effectively strangle the rights of the branch and its members and its ability to resist the cuts.
It has now been 16 months since the ban on the branch secretary Glenn Kelly was illegally imposed and 16 months since the branch was placed under the control of unelected full time officials.
Even if you were to put aside the blatant breach of rules of the union and a betrayal of our democratic rights, the most damning thing is that we find ourselves in the position of being part of a branch run by full-time officials who have sat back and not led a single campaign in defence of members.
We had the disgraceful position of 140 personal care workers being made redundant, yet the only meetings, lobbies and campaign organised to defend these members were run by the staff side secretary.
Whilst 35 education and youth workers jobs were attacked, not one of the full-time officers attended negotiations or organised any protest or allowed us to do so.
One third of the parks service jobs have recently been cut and the union officials did nothing again. The only lobbies, petitions and protests were organised by the staff side secretary.When the council set its budget in February, where £30 million of cuts were passed, the full-time officials walked through a lobby of members without a word to them.
The officials simply sat at the back of the council chamber rather than joining or indeed organising a lobby in defence of jobs and services.
In these circumstances is it any wonder that members are asking what they are paying their subs for?
Alongside all of this it has been shocking to find out from senior officers of the council that these union officials have been regularly meeting with our Tory employers.
They have not only tried to get Glenn removed from his role as the staff side secretary but they have also demanded the council remove my facility time as the Unison branch chair.
Given that I was and have never been subject to any investigation let alone a ban by Unison, such actions are despicable and demonstrate the real motivations of the actions against the branch.
Jon Rogers said. . .
Well said MJ.
I completely agree.
It is a sad loss for UNISON, but we have to go on trying to build UNISON into what it might yet be.