Monday 25 February 2008

A tale of two NEC candidates

When people are standing for election, it's always interesting to compare what they say with what they do.

Contrast June Hitchen and Jane Stewart, two candidates from my region standing for women's seats.

June Hitchen is standing for one of the four women's seats. As far as I know, I've never met her, and I don't recall every hearing of her until she wrote to my branch seeking nomination. I was surprised to find out from her letter that she is a Labour councillor for a ward right near my own workplace in Manchester, though she doesn't mention where she works or anything she's done at work. During our dispute at Fujitsu last year we sought and obtained support from (amongst others) local MPs, councillors and Labour Party activists. I don't remember hearing from June. June's letter says "Increasingly we are seeing management victimising shop stewards; nothing is more important than supporting out (sic) stewards in the workplace". During our dispute, there was an attempt to discipline me, which was thankfully dropped after protests from employees and supporters across the trade union movement. I don't remember hearing from June.

In Manchester, the biggest issue and campaign in the trade union movement for the last few months has been the disgraceful sacking of nurse and UNISON activist Karen Reissmann, whose members took all out strike action to seek her reinstatement. Like most active local trade unionists, I've been heavily involved in supporting this crucial campaign. June sits on Manchester City Council, which provides half the funds to the trust that sacked Karen. Seeing the encouraging statement in her letter, I wrote to June to check that she was sticking to her principles and supported Karen's reinstatement. I was delighted to receive a prompt reply saying "I agree with the principle that reps should not be victimised is fundamental in any Trade Union movement. When I receive further information I will gladly pass this onto you". So I wrote back on 2nd February asking if she would be prepared to put her name to a motion on the subject in council. I'm still waiting for a reply.

Contrast this with Jane Stewart, another candidate from my region (though in Merseyside rather than Manchester) for the same women's seats. You can't get involved in the union in our region without bumping into Jane fairly soon. She's a senior negotiator at Unilever, involved in her industrial sector, the regional and women's structures, as well as being a sitting member of the Amicus NEC. More importantly, she doesn't just talk about supporting members when she wants our votes - she does it. During our dispute we received donations and messages of support from Jane and her workmates. Actions speak louder than words.

I don't know June Hitchen. Maybe she's a fantastic trade unionist I've just been unlucky enough never to meet. Maybe I've forgotten all the support she gave us during our dispute. Maybe she's not very good at writing nomination letters and missed out all the good things she's done. Maybe the council email system had a bit of a glitch.

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