Monday 29 June 2009

The new UNITE structures, EC meetings

The new UNITE rulebook finally came into effect on 1 May 2009, formally bringing to an end the existence of "Amicus" and "TGWU" sections.

While normally you might think that rulebooks lag behind reality, sadly in this case it is the other way round.

Proposals for the lay-member structures were at last brought before the Executive Council at a special meeting on 11th June. The EC approved a vast number of new Regional Industrial Sector Committees (RISCs), Area Activist Committees (AACs) and Equalities Committees. There were quite a few which still had issues to be resolved, but the overall framework was agreed so that the conferences can at last be called.

For those who've been following this issue, the biggest change is that there won't, after all, be a need for reps to elect some of their number to be "voting delegates" at the conferences, with the rest of the delegates having no vote. All "accountable representatives of workers" will be able to attend their respective conferences and vote. To address the concerns about some larger workplaces or groups packing conferences, delegates will only be able to vote for seats allocated to the "constituency" they are in.

For those of you in the new "Electrical Engineering and Electronics" (EEE) sector or the new "IT and Communications" (ITC) sector, I can give you the details of your RISC if you drop me a note saying which sector and region you are in. Generally speaking, the EEE sector has seats allocated by company, whereas the ITC sector tends to have broader constituencies.

The EC also agreed a provisional timeline for progress on setting up the constitutional structures. This has been subject to change since then, and the latest version I've seen shows:

  1. Mid June: Regional Secretaries set dates and issue calling notices for the Regional Industrial Sector Conferences, Area Activist Meetings, Equalities Conferences, the Young Members Forum and Retired Members Association (RMA) Coordinating Committee.
  2. 6-8 July: Proposals for Regional Committees, National Industrial Sector Committees and National Equalities Committees agreed by the EC.
  3. 13-25 July: First time slot for the various regional conferences to take place. [The committees elected meet immediately after the conferences to elect delegates on to other bodies]
  4. 2-27 September: Second time slot for the various regional conferences to take place. [The committees elected meet immediately after the conferences to elect delegates on to other bodies]
  5. 2-18 October: Time slot for Regional Equality Conferences/Committees and Regional Young Members' Forums. [The committees elected meet immediately after the conferences to elect delegates on to other bodies]
  6. 19 October - 6 November: Time slot for Regional Committees, National Industrial Sector Committees, National Equalities Committees and RMA National Committee.
  7. 23-27 November: National Industrial Sector Conferences
Confused? I'm not surprised. It will take a while for us all to get used to the new structures and how to make them work for the members. When that happens, no doubt we'll change them all again.

The key is to ensure as many members as possible are actively involved. However bureaucratic these structures appear, they are opportunities to get together with other activists from your industry, area, region or equality grouping. It's only when lay members exchange ideas, take decisions and take action that the union is really effective.

To get involved, you need to make sure that the union holds your membership details correctly, including which sector you're in, any relevant equality grouping, and that you are correctly recorded as a workplace rep, safety rep, learning rep, equality rep, branch officer etc. You SHOULD then get an invitation to the relevant conferences.

If you're willing to make a contribution to the work of the union beyond your workplace on an ongoing basis, you'll need to stand for one of more of the committees. These are elected for a 2-year term so if you don't stand this time, you won't have another chance until 2011. Nominations have to be made before the conferences take place, so don't miss your chance and make sure you encourage others to get involved.

The "Joint General Secretaries' briefing" (a kind of official summary before the minutes are out) is now available from the May EC meeting. If you're a UNITE member and want a copy, drop me an email.

Some great wins. More needed.

Given the anger among working people against the way we've been treated by greedy employers and market-addicted government, I've been saying for quite some time that we needed some visible victories to give people confidence to turn that anger into action.

Now we have some.

1) Visteon workers forced Ford to intervene and fund sizeable redundancy payments. While it's sad that they didn't secure their jobs, overturning one of the world's most powerful corporations is not mean feat. Starting your fight when you've already lost your job and you're told your employer is bust is far from the easiest campaign to win. But by occupying their workplaces and threatening to picket Ford plants they did win.

2) Bristol refuse workers won a pay rise after deciding to escalate their action to all-out strike.

3) Workers at Linamar in Swansea won the reinstatement of their convenor, Rob Williams, after a great vote for all-out strike action.

4) Construction workers at Lindsey Oil Refinery and dozens of other sites defied anti-union laws, got the sacked strikers reinstated, overturned the original redundancies and secured agreement for no victimisations.

When the general picture is still one of job losses and cuts in pay and conditions being pushed through without resistance, these four victories show an alternative.

The lesson is clear. If you don't fight, you will lose - your employer will take whatever concessions you give and come back for more. If you do fight, you can win.

The trade union movement is never good enough at celebrating our successes. We have to shout these wins from the rooftops. We have to make sure that no boss can arrogantly believe they can mistreat their workforce without someone piping up "Why don't we do what Lindsey did?".

I've been to two interesting conferences in recent weeks. Firstly the "Right To Work" conference, and secondly the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference. Both had a flavour of this new idea - "winning". Let's hope it catches on!