Open letter also warns general secretary of Britain’s largest union that Unison’s management must get its own house in order
Furious elected members of Unison’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and lay members have published an open letter calling on the union’s general secretary Dave Prentis to act following the leak of a Labour report that accuses former Labour staffers of undermining the party’s electoral campaigns and of political interference in disciplinary processes.
Emilie Oldknow and John Stolliday, who ran Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) and feature prominently in the report, now hold senior positions in Unison. Neither appear to have commented publicly on the report’s allegations.
The Unison members’ letter, already signed by more than twenty NEC members and hundreds of other members, states that the Labour report “lays bare the factionalised and coordinated undermining of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership“, criticises “mishandling of complaints to the Party” including complaints relating to “anti-Semitism, sexual harassment and other serious matters” and the “language used to describe women, racism complainants and those with mental health conditions“, which it says “belies insidious sexism, racism and disablism on the part of the identified individuals“, before describing an “unforgiveable” and “orchestrated” “anti-democratic campaign to undermine Labour’s chance of achieving victory in the 2017 General Election“.
The letter calls on Prentis to take immediate steps to arrange the union’s own investigation of the events in the Labour report, to publicly condemn the behaviour the report describes – and to take action against any of the people involved who currently work for the union, “to retain the confidence of our members, who look to the Labour Party to deliver the political change they need“.
It goes on to remind Prentis that Unison has not yet acted against staff found by the government’s Certification Officer to have interfered in Unison’s own general secretary election, that Unison’s own internal culture bears distressing similarities to the factionalism described in the Labour report – and warns him that with another such election due this year, he must make sure the union has its own house in order:
Open letter to Dave Prentis
CC Gordon McKay (Chair Labour Link Committee)
CC Josie Bird (National President)
Re: The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019, March 2020
We write as concerned members of UNISON’s National Executive Committee and also from within the broader union in response to the above referenced report and associated revelations. As an affiliate organisation of the Labour Party, UNISON must carefully consider the implications of the report, make appropriate demands of the Labour Party and consider any steps to take within our own organisation.
The report lays bare the factionalised and coordinated undermining of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership (which we supported in two leadership elections), that resulted in the mishandling of complaints to the Party. These complaints relate to anti-Semitism, sexual harassment and other serious matters. If this were not sufficient cause for concern, the language used to describe women, racism complainants and those with mental health conditions belies insidious sexism, racism and disablism on the part of the identified individuals.
The orchestrated anti-democratic campaign to undermine Labour’s chance of achieving victory in the 2017 General Election is unforgiveable. In the context of our current national crisis, the glimpse of an alternative outcome is cold comfort to our members and communities fighting for survival. The devastation of austerity, which our union has done so much to fight, has been allowed to continue and there have been literally deadly consequences for many of our members.
– UNISON must address these very serious issues with full transparency and democratic oversight by lay leadership.
– UNISON must identify if any individuals employed by UNISON, or those which held Labour Party positions by virtue of their membership of UNISON, in the period of the report were aware of these actions.
– UNISON must address the underlying discriminatory attitudes for any named individuals who hold positions in UNISON, to retain the credibility of and confidence in those individuals.
– The sexist, racist and discriminatory attitudes exposed in the report must be condemned by UNISON.
– UNISON’s Labour Link must demand immediate action by the new Labour leadership to take immediate steps to retain the confidence of our members, who look to the Labour Party to deliver the political change they need.
As National Executive Committee members and concerned members from within the broader union, we note the following:
– That UNISON has taken no internal action since the Certification Officer’s report concluded its own staff had interfered inappropriately and outside of UNISON’s rules in the general secretary election of 2015.
– That the level of hyper-factionalism and paranoia found in the report, where everyone who disagrees with you is a ‘trot’, is one which many recognise to be a similar prevailing culture as that within UNISON
– That if UNISON’s own investigation into this report shows conduct by staff (including at another employer) to be so extreme and prejudicial that UNISON can no longer have faith in the integrity of these staff, it must take appropriate steps to protect the union, its reputation and ability to function
– That many members will be extremely concerned to leave the running of UNISON’s internal governance, disciplinary processes and elections to staff who appear to have played such a destructive role elsewhere in our movement. UNISON members will rightly demand that staff are beyond reproach and will serve the whole of UNISON and not one set of individuals within it
– That with a general secretary election due in 2020, there is an urgent need to address this and then thereafter for root and branch cultural change within UNISON.
We look forward to your response by return.
Unison members who wish to add their name to the letter can do so here.
The SKWAWKBOX needs your support. This blog is provided free of charge but depends on the generosity of its readers to be viable. If you can afford to, please click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal or here for a monthly donation via GoCardless. Thanks for your solidarity so this blog can keep bringing you information the Establishment would prefer you not to know about.
If you wish to reblog this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.