Saturday 4 September 2010

Consultation on the future of UNITE branches

On 23rd July 2010 the Joint General Secretaries wrote out to Regional Secretaries and Executive Council members to consult about the future of branches. At the July EC meeting, a few days later, concerns were raised that this had not been adequately circulated, and the Executive was assured that this would be addressed. To date, the letter does not appear to have reached branches, the most obvious bodies to consult.

For what it's worth, the letter is here:

To: All Regional Secretaries
Cc: All EC members

Dear Colleague

Purpose and Organisation of Unite Branches

The Rules related to Branches are contained in Rule 17 of Unite’s Rule Book which commences with the following two sub-sections:-

17.1 Wherever possible, Branches shall be based on the workplace, although provision shall also be made for local Branches and National Industrial Branches as appropriate and as approved by the Executive Council.

17.2 Branch membership shall be allocated on the basis of workplace if there is a workplace Branch at the member’s workplace; or the nearest local Branch if there is not a workplace or National Industrial Branch.

While we do not want to be any more prescriptive than was intended by the Rule, there is a clearly preferred route of establishing good workplace Branches. There is still plenty of scope for Branches to be organised according to local need and requirements and for their organisation to be based on a “common sense” approach.

In addition to the maintenance of minutes/decisions taken by the Branch, and the responsibility for the probity of financial accounts, Branches should be particularly proactive in the following areas.

· Developing a single Unite entity wherever practicable.

· Ensuring that where more than one Unite Branch exists in a workplace, that the activities of the Union are co-ordinated and not in conflict.

· Supporting 100% membership in the workplace(s) where the Branch is based and developing an ‘Organising Plan’.

· Developing membership ‘Recruitment and Retention Plans’ around the Branch.

· Distributing Unite literature and campaign material amongst Branch members.

· Ensuring Membership data is up to date and accurate.

· Ensuring access to and utilisation of, the Union’s IT structures and links to the centre.

While this consultation exercise is not about Branch administration, it nevertheless seeks to establish what is viable and acceptable spend from within Branch administration.

Please would you let us have your recommendations, after discussion with your Regional Committee, on how best you think we can take this forward in your Region, with a view to completing all the appropriate consultations and achieving the consolidation of Branches wherever possible and in line with Rule. Responses should be sent to Christian Matheson and Irene Dykes.

We look forward to receiving your response to the above as speedily as possible.

Yours sincerely

Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson
Joint General Secretaries

22 July 2010

I've gathered input from my National Industrial Sector Committee, reps in my company, my branch and beyond, and submitted the response below.
It would appear that branches have not been notified about the consultation about the future of branches, which is ludicrous. Branches are a key part of the UNITE structure and sidelining them in this way is unacceptable.

1. Maximise participation by members by making branches relevant and accessible
2. Encourage participation from a diverse membership, including those with caring responsibilities
3. Bring the union’s resources as close as possible to the members
4. Branches should communicate with their members effectively
5. Democratic accountability to the members
6. Support workplace organising
7. Encourage participation in the union beyond the workplace, both in the wider UNITE structures and in the local community / labour movement
8. Accommodate the wide variety of working patterns that exist today (e.g. mobile workers, home-based workers, agency/subcontracting/non-standard employment, varying workplace size, multi-site employers, multinationals)
9. Sensible use of union resources
10. Retain as many of the current activists as possible through any change, and seek to involve new ones

The current situation
UNITE has inherited a wide range of branch structures from its predecessor unions:
1. considerable duplication (multiple branches serving the same workplace or geography) does not assist coordination of union activity
2. funding is inconsistent (ex-Amicus branches get 3% and cannot accumulate money from one year to the next, ex-TGWU branches get 10% and can save)
3. many branches do not function properly (e.g. lack of activity, inquorate meetings)
4. there are branches based on a workplace, employer, industry, occupation or geography which do function well
5. members in a single workplace are often scattered amongst many branches
6. the link between branch and workplace(s) is often weak
7. the link between branch and the wider UNITE structure is often weak
8. The profile of branches is typically low

1. There can be no single solution that is appropriate throughout a union as large and diverse as UNITE, but there should be more consistency
2. As a guideline of when a separate branch should be set up, a branch needs a reasonable pool of activists (perhaps double the quorum?) to function well. This is more important than the number of members
3. All branches should receive 10% of members’ subs
4. There should be a sensible cap on the funds a branch can accumulate (e.g. 5 years’ subs or £10,000, whichever is the greater) to discourage branches feeling they need to “spend up” each year, allow flexibility of spending from one year to the next, but avoid large sums of union money being tied up in inactive branches
5. Branches should be free to spend money as their members see fit in line with union policy
6. Branches should submit audited annual accounts. If a branch fails to do so, or spends no money, the Region should investigate whether the branch is functioning.
7. There should be no honorarium, salary or other payment to branch officers. Branches should reimburse reasonable genuine authorised expenses
8. The definition of “workplace” should be flexible. The priority is industrial logic – bargaining with the employer.
9. Where a workplace is not large enough or members do not want a workplace branch, the sector should review whether it should be grouped with other workplaces in the same sector in a reasonable geographical area to form an industrial branch.
10. Where members are not allocated to a workplace or industrial branch, they should be allocated to a geographical branch, which should be local enough to facilitate attendance.
11. Members not in workplace or industrial branches should be able to choose whether to join a branch which meets near their home or their workplace.
12. In determining geographical branches, consideration should be given to the UNITE Area structure, to ensure there are local branches reasonably spread throughout.
13. All branches should be affiliated to their local TUC and encouraged to get involved in local campaigns, promote union policies and campaigns in local media etc.
14. Branch officers should have ready access to membership information in electronic form and be encouraged to maintain it. They should be able to access this through a secure online facility.
15. The union office should facilitate a mailing to branch members when reasonably requested.
16. Branches should be encouraged to have a wider range of branch officers (e.g. branch equality officer, membership secretary, press officer, branch organiser) to encourage greater activity and involvement, rather than concentrating all the work in a few hands.
17. Every branch should be allocated an officer.
18. Branches should receive copies of Area, Regional, EC (and where appropriate, RISC) minutes
19. Minutes should be taken, signed and retained.
20. Existing branches should be invited to submit a short outline of their purpose and plans.
21. Branches should not be closed or merged against the wishes of their members.
22. Organising should be part of the standard agenda of all branch meetings
23. The dates, times and places of all branch meetings should be published on the union web site
24. The union should issue membership cards at least every two years, and the card should include the branch and sector details.
25. Retired and unemployed members should be able to remain in their previous workplace branch.
26. Members should readily be able to see how to contact their branch officers, including through the union web site.
27. Each Region should produce an electronic guide to the branches in the region, listing what branches there are, what they cover, where & when they meet and who the main officers are.
28. Representatives should be encouraged to attend branch meetings and give reports on their work and negotiations. Branches may wish to maintain attendance records.
29. There should be regularly scheduled branch meetings (normally monthly), with a facility for emergency meetings when required.
30. There should be limited facility for branches to delegate certain decisions to an elected branch committee.
31. Branch officers should be lay members.
32. Branches should have their own cheque book. Cheques should be signed by at least two people, which must not include the payee.
33. One of the risks with workplace branches is that they can become insular and cut off from the wider union and movement. To counter this it is important that the EC decision to hold regular Area Activist Meetings open to all accountable representatives (in addition to the Area Activist Committees) is actually implemented. This can provide coordination and exchange of views with a geographical focus that cuts across workplaces and sectors. Area Activist Committees should be allocated a budget so that they can meaningfully undertake campaigning and other appropriate activities.
34. The union should provide written guides for branch officers explaining what the role of (at least) chair, secretary and treasurer is and how to carry it out. Training courses should also be available for branch officers. For example, how would a new branch treasurer know how to complete the accounts etc?
35. Communication from head office and the regional centres to branches needs to be significantly improved. The standard branch agenda includes items referred by the EC, but there never are any. Why not have a monthly bulletin to branches, which could include JGS report from EC meetings, information about current campaigns, union events etc? For many branches this could be electronic.


Anonymous said...

This is a full time job isn't, and you dont want pay the people whoyou are asking to run it all?

Ian said...

@anonymous: I assume you're referring to branch officers?

No, it isn't generally a full time job. Most of us do it in our own time on top of a full time job.

There are a few huge branches where it might seem that way.

Branches can of course reimburse members legitimate expenses, including loss of earnings where appropriate.