Analysis Breaking

Unison exec member accuses union management of blocking NEC communications with staff

Steve North goes public because he says he has no choice

A member of the Unison executive (NEC) has dramatically and publicly accused the management of the UK’s largest union of blocking communication between democratically-elected NEC and union members.

Stevie North posted a tweet in which he said he was going public because he has ‘no alternative’ and accused the ‘general secretariat’ of blocking communication channels while smearing the elected exec as remote from and unaccountable to Unison members:

I’m writing this as a personal public status because it’s now been made clear to me that official UNISON channels of communication are being blocked for use by members of the elected UNISON NEC and its committees, including the Staffing Committee, which I chair.

Despite enjoying a really positive relationship with staff at all levels of our trade union, my NEC colleagues and I are consistently facing suggestions that we do not value the people who work for our union.

That just isn’t true. We think UNISON’s staff are fantastic and that they do a great job for UNISON members.

Any plans or intentions we have to deliver on our election pledges, like offering UNISON members the chance to determine whether the most senior officers should be elected or ensuring the union’s commitment to organising and campaigning is reflected in our staffing structures, in no way detracts from our respect and admiration for the employees of our union. We have given numerous commitments to engaging UNISON staff and their trade unions in discussions on how we act on the promises we were elected to keep and we have repeatedly tried to demonstrate this.

However, as we acknowledge change brings uncertainty and anxiety, the NEC Presidential Team and the Chair and Vice Chair of Staffing have asked that a message goes out to all staff offering them the opportunity to engage with us directly with any questions or concerns they have.

The General Secretariat have refused to send this out.

That decision effectively seeks to block the elected NEC from communicating directly with UNISON employees. Furthermore, it not only prevents staff from communicating their questions or concerns to us, but also means that they are not even aware that we are offering them the chance to do so – thus reinforcing the idea that we are to be feared. That is not acceptable.

After Conference, the NEC is the highest body of our union. It is charged with leading the union between Conferences. The NEC has to be open to members and staff alike and decisions should not be made to restrict vital communication between the NEC and other parts of our union.

We are simply trying to give staff a chance to speak to us, if they want to. No compulsion. No obligation. Nothing hidden from their trade unions, who are more than welcome to attend if they want to. But that is being denied.

I’ve shared this post directly with those who have refused to share our offer to staff. I’m not hiding anything.

I have no doubt I’ll be told it’s not appropriate to use external communications to discuss internal UNISON matters. But when internal communication is denied to you, what else can you do? We on the NEC will continue to find ways to make ourselves available and accountable to the many people who make our trade union what it is – regardless of obstacles put in our way.

Steve North – 22/03/2022

Emphases added

The Unison left, which won a democratic majority on the union’s national executive and Labour Link committee as well as the Unison presidency, has for months accused the Unison right of manoeuvres and machinations to prevent the new executive from exercising its democratic authority – including the long-term suspension of new president Paul Holmes and a series of refusals to carry out instructions that the UK’s leading labour lawyer said merited instant dismissal for gross misconduct.

General secretary Christina McAnea has also been personally accused of withholding staff needed by the union’s executive to carry out their duties, unilaterally cancelling NEC meetings without permission of the NEC and of blocking democracy.

Unison’s management did not respond to a request for comment.

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    1. Reply to Doug
      Because she is elected it is not possible to sack the Gen Sec. I assume she is also a member of another union so the NEC cannot even suspend her from membership. However I do think they can ( and should)start off by instigating workplace disciplinary proceedings against her for refusing to carry out reasonable instructions.
      In relation to other staff they are appointed and the Gen Sec is their line manager so again it would be up to her to discipline them- no chance of that.
      In my opinion the individual members of the NEC should make a complaint to the Certification Officer who can order certain actions to be undertaken by the Gen Sec .Members denied access to NEC members by the Gen Sec should also complain to the Certification Officer
      It is not easy controlling or getting rid of an elected official .She is answerable only to the membership who elected her. She knows this and is playing on it but they have to try. Studying the UNISON rule book would also be helpful so that the NEC know exactly where they/she stands in regard to actions taken or requested.

      1. If Paul Holmes – the President of the Union – can be suspended for, almost, two years, it shouldn’t be that difficult to suspend the Gen. Sec. Then they can proceed from there.

        Goose and Gander.

      2. Reply to George Peel
        Paul is a member of Unison and was suspended under the Unison rule book (allegedly). Employees of a union are not usually members of that union because their job is to implement policy not make it so the Gen Sec cannot be suspended under the Unison rules. The only way she might be able to be suspended is under work place disciplinary procedures but even if this is possible it is not going to be easy as she is elected to the job by the members in a secret ballot. To put it bluntly -she wasn’t hired so she can’t be fired.

      3. There should be a right of recall within the union movement for all union officials, elected and unelected, paid and non paid.

      4. Reply to John FrancisPaul
        I agree but the legislation regarding the election of the Gen Sec by ballot of all the members was brought in by Thatcher as part of her anti union crusade and it was designed to make things as difficult as possible for unions.
        It dates from the Miners Strike and it and a raft of other legislation was enacted at the time in an attempt to destroy the NUM.
        Up to then Gen Secs were appointed. Thatcher believed this meant they did not have a mandate from the members so compulsory elections were brought in. Successful candidates had also to stand for re election every 5 years if they were under the age of 55 ( over 55s did not have to be re elected)
        Of course this and the other anti trade union legislation caused uproar at the time but it went through parliament and none of it has ever been repealed despite 13 years of a Labour government so unfortunately Unison is stuck with McAnea for the foreseeable.

      5. Smartboy
        If Mcanea is a member of another union how did she get elected to Unison
        Apologies if I’m being thick

    2. Reply to Doug
      Once a person takes up employment in a Union whether elected or appointed they can no longer be part of the Union’s decision making process as a member. If a paid employee was able to remain a member they could influence policy by putting forward motions to Conference or they could be be elected on to Union committees e.g. the NEC which is the governing body of the union, This would clearly be a conflict of interest as they would in effect be the employer – running the union between Conferences- and the employee carrying out paid work for the Union/NEC.
      Therefore people who were previously members have to give up membership once they take up paid employment in the union. However to protect themselves and their employment rights they invariably join another Trade Union . All unions have recognition agreements with each other to allow their staff to be independently represented in grievances etc and which allow the “outside” trade Union to carry out pay and conditions negotiations on their behalf.
      Also since I posted earlier I googled Christine McAnea’s age and see she was 63 when elected Gen Sec so unfortunately Unison is stuck with her until she decides to retire.

  1. Or at the very least sack the most high profile fucker
    Send a warning and be prepared to follow it up until the message gets through

    1. Reply to Doug
      I downloaded the Unison Rule Book ( I have a very sad life) and under the rules the Gen Sec OR the NEC can employ or dismiss staff. So you are absolutely right – the staff ( apart from the Gen Sec) obstructing the NEC can be dismissed by the NEC.
      I have posted previously to the effect that the NEC need to grasp the nettle and carry out the job they were elected to do. I know they were inexperienced but they need to start right now otherwise they become part of the problem too.

      1. Smartboy
        Much thanks for going the extra mile
        Can UNISON NEC call in the Union that Mcanea has joined along with the TUC and ask the question what the hell are you doing
        By definition Unions should have the highest employment and membership standards, the arrangement you mention must have inbuilt grievance procedures

      2. Doug
        I don’t think the Union McAnea is a member of or the TUC could become involved. This is an internal Unison matter and it is up to the NEC to deal with it. McAnea is well aware of how difficult it will be to control her and that is why she is behaving so badly,
        I think the answer is as you suggested for the NEC to start disciplinary proceedings against obstructive staff and then have a vote of no confidence in McAnea following which they have the power under the rules to curtail her workplace activity and limit her authority.
        If they do this she could resign and make a constructive dismissal claim to a tribunal but even if she won the case it would be worth paying out compensation just to get rid of her.

    1. Nobody on these boards is an apologist for Oldknow- why are you using HER for whataboutism today?

      1. kenburch – What whataboutism would that be? Look it up if you are unsure what it means.
        So to sum up you agree with what I’ve said but for some weird reason you are pissed off that I said it.

  2. I simply don’t understand why the Unison NEC haven’t taken the advice of the lawyer and sack those involved with instant dismissal for gross misconduct.

  3. These servants of the union paid for by members subs arrogantly think they are the masters?
    Some of us believe democratically elected officials who won on policies should have the Democratic power.

  4. In fact didn’t a few of the key player unelected officer/s jump ship just before the Forde Report was originally due in Labour?
    If there was any justice in the world there would be dismissals, huge fines and criminal convictions?
    Imagine if council officers tried to subvert democratically elected local councillors?
    What is disturbing is how arrogant these people are thinking they can do exactly what THEY want as though they are untouchable by democracy when they are highly paid thanks to the subs of often thousands of low paid grassroots workers?
    Needs to be a grassroots revolution in this union!

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