Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Toy Town revolutionary “ballot rigging” allegations in UNISON Labour Link Elections

A series of astonishing admissions rocked tonight’s London UNISON Labour Link Forum meeting held at the House of Commons. UNISON “Labour Link” (which use to be known as the Affiliated Political Fund or APF) is the voluntarily levy paid by many UNISON members in order to support the Labour Party and lobby for member positive policies within the Party.

Every year a Labour Link forum is held in all UNISON regions. Labour Link Delegates from every branch in the region are invited. These delegates are also Labour Party members. This year’s forum I believe was the best attended for many years.

West Ham MP and long standing UNISON member Lyn Brown (see above with delegates) and her Parliamentary staff had organised the booking of the committee room and also attended the meeting

Before the “ballot rigging” allegations there had been what I considered to be a pretty interesting and informative meeting with contributions from UNISON Labour MP’s Sidiq Khan (I missed him due to a late running discipline hearing), Joan Ryan MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP and Joanne McCartney, London Assembly member. The reports concentrated obviously on the London GLA/ Mayor Elections and stopping the BNP getting an assembly member. However, we also discussed “bread & butter” Labour issues such as affordable housing, London Living Wage, Agency workers, Equalities, transport and Policing.

I asked Joanne about UNISON working with a Labour GLA members and the Mayor over the new housing investment powers and trying to ensure that all construction workers and housing staff in GLA supported projects are paid a living wage. Joanne was positive about working with London UNISON over these new powers and supporting a London living wage. However, she warned that there were serious legal problems with trying to “insist” that contractors pay a living wage.

Head of Labour Link, Keith Birch was also a guest speaker. Amongst over things he reported on was the work that Labour Link were carrying out on rights for agency workers (fingers crossed positive news – I’ll post on it anon)

The fun and games occurred during the debate on resolutions. There was a motion from Islington Local Government Branch about improving member participation in London UNISON Link. The motion (non Labour Movement trekies please bear with me) proposed changing the existing system where London regional committee delegates are elected by a ballot of regional branch Labour Link delegates (or if there is no Labour Link officer the Branch secretaries) to electing all committee members at the regional forum meeting.

Now, there are various arguments for and against such a proposal. However, what was absolutely astonishing is that the supporters of this motion argued the case on the grounds that under the existing system branch secretaries who are political enemies of the Labour Party cast votes in favour of far left labour Link candidates.

Andrew Berry, the proposer of the motion admitted that he had received the vote in all the past Labour Link elections from Rahul Patel, the branch secretary of Westminster LG UNISON who is a well known member of the SWP/Respect. Another speaker said that in Hackney LG branch, there was no Labour Link officer so the ballot paper was always filled out by either SWP or SPEW branch secretaries. Other speakers alleged that this practice was widespread and that non Labour Party supporters were voting for candidates in UNISON Labour Link elections.

I think this is nonsense. The regional Labour Link officer clarified this issue during the debate that a branch secretary cannot vote in the ballot unless this is as a result of a consultation process of Labour Link (APF) payers. No-one used any “honest broker” arguments. (Yeah)

So, it would appear from what the speakers in favour of this motion said tonight they have received votes in Labour Link elections from political enemies of the Labour Party without there being any consultation or meeting with Labour Link members. Other speaker’s alleged that this practice had been widespread in other branches where there is not an elected Labour Link branch officer. These speakers were quite definite that there had been no consultative process and that the ballot decision was taken by SWP/SPEW branch secretaries purely on their own political bigotry.

What I found absolutely fascinating about this whole process is that no one who had benefited from the receiving of, lets say... “improper votes” from declared revolutionary enemies of the Labour Party appeared to be concerned why the SWP/SPEW wanted to vote for them in the first place?

It’s a strange world.

The motion (and similar ones) was thankfully defeated.


SimonD said...

I’m not entirely sure the point your getting at here. It seems to me that the splitting of the political funds in UNISON might have been a gift for the right wing as it has meant they have been able to maintain a tight control over it, but it is a disaster for union democracy.
Decisions are made completely against the wishes of ordinary union members and even where branches might have hundreds of levy-payers only a tiny handful take part in the Labour Link decision making process. The byzantine internal rules have been successively added to deliberately to exclude ordinary members having any influence over decision making, and undermining our ability to speak as a union. At the same time this is continually justified as a way of keeping out the red terror of Trotskyism.
If we had a single fund in which the entire union membership decided how we influence the Labour Party ordinary members might find its activities to have some relevance to them. Then perhaps our delegates on Labour’s NEC would start voting for unison policy, we could start using our weight to get MPs selected who broadly agree with us, and we might even force the Government to rethink it’s attitude to privatisation, the anti-union laws, council housing and so on.

Anonymous said...

I might be wrong, but don't we legally need two separate funds? One to campaign on political issues, e.g. against the BNP, and one to give us a voice inside the Labour Party? If simond is proposing just one fund, which one would it be?

Anonymous said...

No you are wrong. It is perfectly possible to have just one fund as every other affiliated union has to my knowledge.

John Gray said...

Hi Simon 1.
Sorry about not responding sooner. "My point" was really just reporting what was revealed? (and taking the mick I suppose)I can’t agree that the splitting of funds being a disaster? I think you run the danger of being accused of sour grapes?
I am certainly absolutely 100% certain that the Labour Link reflects the views of “ordinary union members”. The gulf between “ordinary” members and the far left is absolute immense and getting wider each year. I think that this is the reason for the failure of the far left is for this reason rather than any “byzantine” rules.
Your point about the evils of having two funds is in my view rather illogical. The other big beasts of the affiliated unions T&G & Americus Unite and the GMB have single funds and have worked together and voted collectively on nearly all issues. So having two funds is itself not a factor. However, I think that Labour Link is more effective at lobbying and campaigning because of the nature of our fund.
At the risk of sounding like a patronising git....Time has moved on Simon. The world has changed.

John Gray said...

Hi Anons 2 & 3
You are both right I think. One positive thing with UNISON is that if someone does not want to support Labour then they have the choice of joining the General Political fund and still doing good work. However, in the other unions where there is only one fund if you don’t want to pay any money to Labour your are stuffed (I think this is right)