Right-wing machine’s manoeuvres to bar members’ democratic choice continue
The right-dominated Unison machine has again been accused by the elected representatives of the membership of trying to stamp out their democracy.
In a statement released this afternoon via the ‘Time for Real Change’ account that they have used in previous such instances, the left majority on Unison’s national executive described the latest attack on their decisions by unelected officers – and their intention to approach the UK’s leading trade union law expert for a definitive judgment:
UNISON’s new NEC, elected by members in June, has a mandate to bring real change to our union. Change is an exciting process for both members and staff and brings hope for a new chapter in UNISON which delivers real benefits to members. But change also brings with it challenges and we are prepared for these.
Due to early experience of how our union works and a lack of clarity on powers, the Presidential Team felt it necessary to bring six motions to the NEC of 6 October 2021, designed to be helpful and provide that clarity we need. All six motions were passed with substantial majorities by the NEC in line with UNISON’s democratic process.
There is a disagreement currently, however. The General Secretary sought their own external legal advice on the motions from a junior barrister and this was circulated one hour prior to the NEC meeting. The junior barrister expressed the view that four of the motions would be unlawful. That is not the view of the Presidential Team which thereupon took its own legal advice. This confirmed that all six motions are perfectly lawful.
Plainly this controversy must be urgently resolved, and the Presidential Team have directed that a full written legal Opinion be obtained within 7 days from the country’s leading authority on trade union law, Lord Hendy QC. That will resolve this situation, so we can go forward as a united union in line with the NEC’s democratic wishes. The NEC has consistently made clear it values the work of all UNISON staff and this of course remains the case. We will provide further updates as we work through and resolve these issues.
A senior Unison insider noted with some irony that one of the unelected staff involved in the above move was Emilie Oldknow, the former Labour party director who features prominently in the ‘Labour leak’ report on the activities of right-wing party staff, who was appointed to Unison’s staff by then-general secretary Dave Prentis, whose own problems with democracy have previously been reported.
Current general secretary Christine McAnea, who was elected after parts of the left insisted on standing their candidates against the clear left favourite, campaigned on a claim not to be a ‘continuity candidate’ of Prentis’s regime.
Skwawkbox can exclusively reveal that the unelected staff then took the ‘unprecedented’ step of writing to all of the union’s branches, ignoring the position of elected representatives and their legal advice, as if their own word is law:
Recent manoeuvres by the right-wing management against the elected left have included blocking the democratic decision of elected representatives on votes at Labour’s conference, helping David Evans in his own war on Labour members to secure his own position, and ordering delegates to vote for changes to rig Labour’s democracy despite official union policy – decided by Unison’s sovereign conference – to reduce the nominations threshold for would-be Labour leadership candidates.
Another Unison insider said:
We’ve seen these tactics in the Labour party and we’re not going to make the same mistakes Labour did of allowing the right to simply walk all over democracy and the members.
Unison’s new left-wing president Paul Holmes has so far been unable to exercise his authority because the union management suspended him. Despite this, the left has a democratic majority on both the national executive and the union’s Labour Link committee. Vital elections for regional positions on the committee are underway.
The union’s management, through another former Labour official prominent in the leaked report, has blocked attempts by branches to organise in support of Holmes, who also came close to winning the general secretary position, in what his supporters say is a coordinated effort between the union and Kirklees council to remove him permanently.
Unison’s press office was not answering phones this afternoon but has been contacted for comment.
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