Tuesday, November 09, 2021

UNISON lay leadership in East Midlands "tell it as it is" on attempt to destroy our unions democracy & sack our General Secretary

Well done the East Midlands Regional Convenor Team for this. A number of other Regional Teams have sent similar advice to branches. The Greater London Regional Convenor Team (which I am one of) sent a request to the new "Presidential team" and the London NEC members asking them to explain their actions.

Of course we never got even the courtesy of an acknowledgement, never mind a reply.

This is an attempt to sack Christina, our recently elected first ever female general secretary, destroy our union's ability to defend members and hand it over to ultra left political extremists

"Dear Branch Secretary 

 We are writing to you following a letter circulated last week by signatories representing the ‘Time for Real Change’ faction currently in control of the UNISON NEC. 

 We have no desire to enter ‘tit for tat’ letters game but some glaring omissions could result in inaccurate assumptions being reached if not corrected. 

What’s in Dispute? 

 As you are probably aware ‘Time for Real Change’ voted to approve 6 motions at the last NEC meeting. The motions are largely designed to achieve two objectives. Firstly, the NEC is attempting to subvert a set of rules that relate to holding of office in circumstances where a member ceases to be a ‘full member’ of the union. 

Their motion turns the existing set of rules on their head creating a set of new conditions that will allow activists, as distinct from members, to maintain elected of office in the event they are dismissed and no longer remain in employment. The motion not only creates an unhelpful division where activists and members are treated differently but fails to safeguard against the type of dismissals that most reasonable people might regard as being entirely justified. 

For example, under the motion adopted by ‘Time for Real Change’ a member elected to a national committee, who was subsequently dismissed for bullying and harassment of female colleagues, would automatically retain their seat even when most ordinary members might regard their behaviour being inconsistent with a national union role. 

 We think that’s a bad rule change but whether you think it good or bad is to an extent slightly missing the point. Rules in our union can only be amended National Delegate Conference. 

The NEC can interpret rules where there is doubt, conflict or dispute. But it does not have the power to simply take a rule and overturn it because they disagree with it, or they find it represents an unhelpful obstruction to their own interests. 

 To allow this to happen is to condone a direct attack on the democracy of our union. Secondly, the remaining motions when taken together amount to little more than a crude attempt to confirm power and control in the hands of the ‘Time for Real Change’ faction. 

Sadly it’s not a surprise, but the time trodden route of entryist movements, a tactic used to steer organisations along a route of ultraleft ideology. 

But we’re not a political party to be infiltrated but a democratic union who’s rules protect the rights of all union members. Power in our union has always been shared to guarantee that everyone has a voice. 

It isn’t an accident that our rules are structured this way it was intentional to guarantee that we remain representative of our members not dominated by one strand of opinion or interest. 

Service Group Executives hold responsibility for bargaining and industrial issues. The NEC oversees the strategic direction of the union, setting our priorities and delivering on conference policy. And our General Secretary, Christina McAnea, has been elected by our members to lead our union. Each hold power in their own right. 

But our culture has been one of partnership where all sections of the union work together operating collectively as a unit working in the interests of our members. 

 The motions are deliberately designed to alter the role of the General Secretary reducing Christina from an elected Leader to that of a Chief Executive. Paid to do what she is told by her political masters ‘Time for Real Change’. 

Not only does this of end our members who overwhelmingly voted for her to be General Secretary but it serves to tighten the ultra-lefts grip on control of the union. 

 Legal Advice 

 The Union initially obtained legal opinion to determine if the NEC had the power to adopt the motions from Barrister Stuart Brittenden. He said the NEC were acting ‘ultra vires’ or outside of their powers. 

‘Time for Real Change’, as their email explains, obtained legal opinion from Lord Hendy QC who disagreed with Bittenden. In the opinion of Hendy QC the NEC could legitimately act to pass the motions. What ‘Time for Real Change’ conveniently omitted from their letter is that the Union obtain a third legal opinion this time from Michael Ford QC who is arguable the foremost authority on such matters. Ford QC disagreed with both Brittenden and Hendy QC. 

Well, there’s a surprise, three lawyers all of whom disagree with each other! 

Ford QC thought two of the motions [1] [4] were of insignificance and therefore didn’t consider their effect. On the remaining four he decided two were ‘ultra vires’ and the remaining two required further investigation. 

 Motion 2 is the motion that drains Christina McAnea of her powers. He found it to be ultra vires stating: “the motion [sic] would be at odds with the Rules and how the post is portrayed to the membership if a permanent committee of the NEC could strip her of her most important functions or subject her to control in her day-to-day activities.” 

 “The members voted for the General Secretary in a large national ballot, in the knowledge of the importance of that post. Not all members of the NEC are appointed by national ballot and, perhaps more significantly, there is no membership ballot for the office of President or Vice-President, who are elected from within the NEC to what are described as honorary posts. 

Yet, on the natural reading of resolution (2), the Presidential Team has now replaced the important functions of the General Secretary (or is able to exercise day-to-day direction and control over her work). This seems an unlikely result from the perspective of the ordinary member.” 

 He also found Motion 6 ultra vires. The motion protects the right of activist dismissed by their employer to retain office. He said: “The effect of the resolution is, therefore, that a member dismissed by their employer (a) continues to be a member until the NEC decides otherwise or he or she resigns; and (b) continues (i) to be eligible to hold office and (iii) to hold any existing office unless and until the NEC decides otherwise or the member resigns. 

“This resolution runs counter to the existing meaning and effect of the Rules.” 

Whether Hendy or Ford are ultimately proved right would be a matter for the courts which, we might add, would come at great expense to the union. Isn’t it far better that such matters are resolved by us, UNISON members and activists, using our internal democratic structures? 

 If ‘Time for Real Change’ want to introduce a new rule to preserve the rights of dismissed NEC members, or they wish to redefine the role of the General Secretary, they have the power to bring NEC rule amendments to NDC 2022. Conference can then decide the merits of the respective arguments with the benefit opposing sides setting out their case. 

 Finally, we would repeat our request for a special meeting of Regional Council to debate these matters so all members hear a full exchange of opinion on what is an important issue for the future of our union. If you have not already done so join our call by writing to our Regional Secretary, Chris Jenkinson, c.jenkinson@unison.co.uk. 

 Thank you in anticipation of your solidarity.

Thank you in anticipation of your solidarity.

Roz Norman (Joint Regional Convenor) Chris Tansley (Joint Regional Convenor), James Minto (Deputy Regional Convenor) Emma Proctor (Deputy Regional Convenor) Lynn Booth (Deputy Regional Convenor)

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