Friday, 28 March 2008

Draft UNITE rulebook

Officially, despite being on the Amicus NEC, I haven't seen a draft of any part of the proposed new UNITE rulebook - I've been in the same position as the vast majority of Amicus members - in the dark. It's therefore of great interest to see that Gill George has published on her blog what she believes to be the draft rulebook.

Gill's post raises a number of valid concerns about the draft. Here are my initial observations (mainly a comparison with the current Amicus structure):

National bodies are generally elected through the regions, rather than from national conferences. In some cases this will be beneficial, increasing accountability to the regions. In other cases (for example where a sector has several distinct components) it could reduce accountability.

Pace: The general cycle in the new rulebook is 2-yearly, as in the Amicus rulebook. Let's hope we don't still have to submit motions a year before a conference - a good way to ensure they're less relevant.

Rule 4 (contributions & benefits): The level of dispute benefit (stike pay) is not defined in rule, but set by the NEC

Rule 6 (lay office): NEC members being accountable to committees is a good idea, though it's unclear how that would work. Learning Reps are omitted from the list of "accountable representatives of workers" in clause 3, so it would require an NEC decision to allow them to hold lay office.

Rule 7 (sectors): Sector structure to be determined in May (i.e. AFTER the first UNITE NEC replaces the JEC) - this is a key issue for our sector. Sectors still have no money. The national conference looks even more toothless, no longer electing the national committee or sending motions into the wider union. There's no mention of regional sector conferences any more.

Rule 8 (regions): Only get up to 1% of subs, lower than either TWGU or Amicus. Regional responsibility for affiliating to local trades councils seems odd. In some ways the area activist meetings and committees seem strengthened (the regional committee is partially elected through them) but no frequency is defined and it's up to the Regional Secretary to call them. Regional Committees can have sub-committees and delegate powers to them - a really vital step for meaningful lay control.

Equality structures: Rules 9 & 11 have the young members' and equality committees elected from existing activist bodies. This may make them more representative, but would get in the way of using these structures to bring through a new layer of activists. No money.

Rule 9 (Young members): Unclear who goes to the national conference or what it's for.

Rule 10 (retired members): almost completely disconnected from the rest of the union structure. No money.

Rule 11 (equalities): Clause 2 on gender and ethnic balance is strong.

Rule 12 (policy conference): 1 delegate for 2000 members - as our union has got bigger the conference stays the same size and gets more distant from the membership. Branches can submit policy motions. Standing Order Committee consists of delegates from each region.

Rule 13 (rule amendment): 1 delegate for 4000 members! Takes place 4-yearly.

Rule 14 (NEC): Black and Ethnic Minority (BEM) members get a full seat. Women and BEM seats within other constituencies. NEC members who don't turn up or send apologies can be removed (we could have used this one in Amicus!). Can delegate powers to any person or committee in the rulebook. Officers are appointed, not elected. All promotion, allocation or reallocation of offices is supposed to be subject to NEC approval. Other than a "Finance & General Purposes" committee there's no reference to other sub-committees, but rule 29 clause 3 implies there could be.

Rule 15 (General Secretary/s): Officers under the control of the GSes subject to the "ultimate" control of the NEC

Rule 16 (elections): Only women vote for the women's seats and similar arrangements for BEM seats.

Rule 17 (branches): Preference for workplace rather than geographical branches. No facility for local industrial branches (like my own "Greater Manchester IT branch"). Clause 2 could cause problems for industrial branches not getting new members allocated to them. No subs income defined. Clause 5 is bizarre - how can a branch appeal against its suspension if it's already been suspended and can't meet to discuss it? There's a more sensible way of approving special branch meetings or changing branch meeting dates. Quorum of 5 members.

Rule 18 (workplace representation): No money. No "Green" or "Environmental Reps". Clause 5 says that the constituency of a rep is their workplace, which conflicts with the (good) practice in most large workplaces of dividing it into multiple constituencies and electing one or more reps from each. There's no defined structure within the workplace - committees, convenors, senior reps etc.

Rule 19 (funds): Clause 8 is worrying, maybe because it's so badly worded. It could be interpreted to mean that all hardship funds, stewards funds etc are included in the union's accounts, or even that you couldn't circulate any appeal for funds for any campaign without approval from all over the place. We had a "policy" nearly this stupid in the dying days of MSF, and it was used to victimise a convenor doing his job.

Rule 21 (expenses): Rules on expenses to be ratified by policy conference.

Rule 22 (Political organisation): Explicitly and exclusively tied to the Labour Party. Some of the fund is under regional control. Regional Political conferences (the bottom level of the structure) are only open to CLP delegates and individual LP members elected from other union structures. This means that (as in Amicus rules) even the vast majority of Labour Party members are excluded, never mind the rest of the membership.

Rule 23 (political fund): Clause 8 doesn't yet specify the size of the political levy.

Rule 25 (Republic of Ireland political fund): A masterpiece of drafting. Taken literally, doesn't this mean that the affiliation etc is still to the British Labour Party?

Rule 29 (membership discipline): Clause 3 refers to a "branch committee" which isn't defined anywhere. Overall, this is a clearer process than in Amicus, with issues more likely to be dealt with locally. The bit on the appeals "tribunal" is odd - can a tribunal consist of only one person? It seems anti-democratic to give the final decision to someone appointed by ACAS rather than to a body elected by the members.

What do you think?

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