Wednesday 19 December 2012

UNITE Branch Standards and Standing Orders

The recent Executive Council (EC) meeting approved two documents that will be useful for branches.

  1. Branch Standards
  2. Model Standing Orders for branches
I think the branch standards document is a massive improvement on previous versions, and I was also pleased that the EC has made clear that the Standing Orders are just a "model" that branches can adapt to suit their own circumstances.  I think this is a huge step forward from a position we used to have where the EC imposed Standing Orders which even dictated the order of agenda items, putting significant barriers in the way of branches that wanted the flexibility to make their meetings more interesting, accessible and relevant for members.

Government attack on redundancy rights

Yesterday the government announced its plans to cut the minimum period for employers consulting their employees before making large scale redundancies from 90 days to 45 days.  It's already easier to cut jobs in the UK than in many other countries, but the Tories and Lib Dems want to make it easier still.

The 90 day period only applies where an employer plans to dismiss 100 or more staff through redundancy in one establishment, so this change only affects bigger employers.

I was pleased to see that UNITE promptly put out a press release attacking the move.  This is an issue we should take into the workplaces too.  Many employees, whether union members or not, know from bitter experience how important the consultation period is for protecting jobs.  We need to mobilise them against this threat.

The consultation period is supposed to allow employees, usually through their unions, to get information from the employer and put forward ideas for avoiding the redundancies, reducing the numbers of redundancies, and mitigating the consequences of the redundancies if they go ahead.  This process often does save jobs.  Cutting the time available means fewer jobs will be saved.

The consultation period is also useful for individuals.  It gives them time to consider their options, to seek redeployment within the company and to look for work outside.  In my own workplace we have negotiated time periods better than the existing legal minimum and this has been a major factor in securing redeployment within the company for many staff.  Shorter consultation periods mean fewer redeployments, more lives wrecked and employers wasting more money making staff redundant and then hiring new ones.

There's another factor in this which unions need to take very seriously indeed.  The change would, when combined with the anti-union laws, make it extremely difficult for members to take lawful industrial action in defence of jobs.  The anti-union laws require the union to provide the employer with an accurate breakdown of the numbers and categories of members to be balloted 7 days before a ballot opens.  Preparing this can take weeks.  Ballots rarely run for less than two weeks, after which the union has to give another 7 days notice to the employer before lawful industrial action can begin.  So even if the union is perfectly prepared and can issue the notice of ballot instantly, without any checking of membership records (pigs might fly) you still need a minimum of about 4 weeks before action can begin.  If the government goes ahead with this I foresee more and more workers feeling that the anti-union laws give them no way of defending their jobs lawfully and deciding to take unofficial action instead.

I heard one government spokes-idiot referring to the proposed change as getting a better balance between employers and workers.  The employer-employee relationship is an inherently unequal one and rarely more so than in a redundancy situation.  Can workers decide to make their bosses redundant?  Yet the Tories and Liberal Democrats obviously think that the feeble employment protection workers currently enjoy gives workers too much power in the relationship and it needs to be reduced!  Is it too much to ask that Labour's front bench vigorously oppose this?

The proposals are fully in tune with the overall government approach, which sees working tax credits and other benefits being cut for the poorest, while corporation tax is cut for their city mates.

Solidarity with Steve Acheson

I joined a protest today at Fiddlers Ferry power station marking five years that Steve Acheson has been protesting there.

Steve is one of many activists in the construction in industry who have been sacked and blacklisted by employers - despite this being illegal.  Steve has played a crucial role in exposing blacklisting, a campaign that has made real headway recently.  The electricians' successful campaign against the attempt by major contractors to impose the BESNA deal increased the visibility of the issue, particularly because of the key role blacklisted workers played in the campaign.  Steve's tenacity in protesting for five years has been matched by relentless efforts by Steve and others to use legal action to obtain vital information about this shady world.
The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee has been investigating blacklisting, and took evidence from Ian Kerr, one of the people involved in running a blacklisting outfit called the Consulting Association which has been exposed.  Kerr gave evidence a few weeks ago:

Kerr declined to give evidence publicly about certain topics relating to the security services, and was due to give evidence on that in private, but he died before he did.

Friday 14 December 2012

West Midlands workers stand up to 2 Sisters Food Group

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Support the Tesco / Eddie Stobart strikers

The all-out strike by UNITE members against mass sackings at Tesco / Eddie Stobart in Doncaster continues.  The photo below is from a Unite the Resistance meeting in Manchester which decided to organise a solidarity protest outside a store and to invite strikers to visit workplaces in Manchester to raise support.

Send cheques payable to "TGWU 8-9/490 Branch Tesco Contract" to Harriet Eisner, Unite, Sovereign Court, 300 Barrow Road, Sheffield S9 1JQ.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

More information on the UNITE General Secretary election

A page has been set up on the new UNITE web site for details of the UNITE General Secretary election 2013.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Report from UNITE Executive Council meeting, December 2012

The report below is incomplete - I will update it to add more, but I thought it worth posting now as I'm getting so many questions.  As well as the points marked where incomplete, there are whole sections still to put in.

N.B. This is not an official Unite Report; it is based on my notes of the Executive Council (EC) meeting. I believe it to be a fair account of some of the key points and decisions taken (where I give my views about them I make this clear), and I will willingly correct any errors upon receipt of official notification from Unite.

Ian Allinson
UNITE EC member, IT & Communications

General Secretary Election
The main excitement in this meeting surrounded a statement from Len McCluskey and decisions of the Executive Council to call an early General Secretary election.  The official press release is online.  Due to concerns about the election process I voted against this decision.  The timetable is:

  • December 2012: notice of election and nomination forms sent to branches and Regional Secretaries
  • 1st January – 15th February 2013: branch and workplace nomination meetings (which must be convened in accordance with the election rules)
  • 31st January 2013: date upon which eligibility to vote is based
  • 22nd February 2013 (noon): deadline for receipt of nominations by the Independent Scrutineer
  • 1st March 2013 (noon): deadline for receipt of candidates’ acceptance of nomination by the Returning Officer, along with their election statement
  • 3rd April 2013: Ballot enquiry service for members opens
  • 18th March – 12th April 2013: Ballot period
  • 13th – 14th April 2013: Count
  • 15th April 2013: Declaration

There is a ten page set of rules and guidelines for the election here (subject to the correction of a date on page 7 which has December 2013 instead of 2012).

Nomination forms will be sent to branches.  Workplaces may also nominate unless they have a workplace branch, which would mean duplicate nominations, but workplace reps have to request nomination forms from their Regional Secretary.

Following advice from the Director of Legal Services the Executive agreed a change to rule 16.2 to reduce the qualifying period of membership to be a candidate for General Secretary from 10 years to 5 years, because a 10 year requirement was likely to be discriminatory on grounds of age and sex.

General Strike
There was an extensive debate about motion 5 at the TUC Congress about considering the practicalities of the General Strike.  UNITE has had to fight to ensure this wasn’t dropped from the agenda and to avoid a defeatist consultation document being circulated to unions.

The work of John Hendy and Keith Ewing on the legalities of a General Strike was welcomed, but it was recognised that this did not overcome the problem of the law being used against workers or their unions.  Historically, effective action by working people has often had to be in defiance of laws intended to prevent them organising and winning.

Some unions oppose the idea of a General Strike outright, while others support it rhetorically while doing little practically.  Some want to wait for a general election in the hope that Labour will undo the destruction of our services, the welfare state and the economy.

At the EC there was consensus that a General Strike should be one of the tools in our armoury against cuts and austerity, but that serious campaigning was required to ensure that members supported this and it was effective.  We need to avoid this being counterposed to other action, such as coordinated action in the public sector over pay.

Ideas discussed included:

  • Focussing action around a particular issue, such as defence of the NHS, or coordinating action over industrial issues across sectors
  • Ensuring that key powerful sectors were on board
  • Using speakers from countries that have already had mass action for speaking tours
  • Ensuring the issues and barriers are discussed at RISCs etc
  • Submitting our own paper to the TUC to shape the consultation with other unions
  • Using marches, rallies, civil disobedience and smaller industrial action to build confidence and consciousness
  • UNITE is working on a number of plans to build resistance including a demonstration linking up major cities culminating in a Rock Against Poverty concert.
  • More to add

Branches & Sectors

  • Someone from the Research Department will be identified to be seconded to ensure queries about branch financing are dealt with promptly
  • A report on elections to the Regional Industrial Sector Committees (RISCs) showed significant gaps across most of the union, with certain sectors (including IT & Comms) and regions faring particularly badly.  The EC agreed some initial actions (including remits from the IT & Comms National Industrial Sector Committee) to address this and to consult sectors on further proposals.

Organising, Campaigning and Communication

  • Over 50,000 new members have been recruited as part of the “100% campaign” over the last twelve months.  The rate is expected to drop a little as organisers are gradually withdrawn from supporting officers to return to more strategic organising.  The organising department has begun looking at targets for strategic organising, and is looking at key industries with potential power.
  • UNITE has produced a new booklet explaining our “leverage” strategy.  The strategy is worrying employers – UNITE has obtained copies of a report by a QC commissioned to try to find ways to stop it - unsuccessfully.  Leverage should be used to complement rather than replace collective strength.  Companies which dismiss or blacklist reps or withdraw from union agreements will be priority targets for leverage.  It will also be used to support members fighting to save jobs (rather than to improve redundancy terms).
  • A new guide to industrial action for officers and activists is in final draft.  More to add.
  • Members face massive attacks on the welfare state, including working tax credits and Disability Living Allowance.  Many don’t yet realise the impact this will have next year and we need to involve everyone in campaigning against the attacks.
  • There was discussion about the need to defend the NHS which faces cuts, privatisation and even hospitals going bankrupt.  This included how to mobilise our wider membership and the community with our members in health.  The recent campaigns in Bristol and Lewisham were highlighted as examples.
  • The new web site is live at and is intended to be far more interactive and to link better with social media and campaigning.  Some glitches are being ironed out.  The old site has been archived at
  • Many industrial issues were discussed including the threat to manufacturing of black cabs at Manganese Bronze, the threats to Ford Southampton and Dagenham, the all-out strike against job losses at Eddie Stobart Doncaster after outsourcing by Tesco, opposing attacks on Agenda for Change in the NHS, blacklisting (get your MP to sign EDM609), the disputes at Amnesty and Crossrail, more to add
  • The pensions bill is going through parliament – Labour is abstaining.  There are also problems getting the government to stick to the agreement in Local Authorities.
  • The EC was appalled to hear the decision to close all the remaining Remploy factories.  Of those already made redundant, only around 2% have found alternative employment.


Youth and Community

  • The EC welcomed Bryan Simpson, the new young members’ EC observer.
  • Six UNITE regions now have Community Coordinators appointed on a 12 month basis to stimulate the community membership initiative.  Other regions are being consulted about when to start theirs.


  • 14th November saw an unprecedented level of coordinated industrial action and protests across Europe, though northern Europe had been much less involved
  • There was a presentation from Union Solidarity International (USI) which is providing resources to help branches and workplaces raise awareness amongst members about international issues
  • There was a welcome for the result of the US Presidential election.
  • EC members were pleased that the union had issued a statement about the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza and felt that UNITE had played its part in preventing a ground invasion.  There were lots of volunteers for a delegation to Palestine – names had been selected randomly.
  • The question was raised of whether UNITE’s statement about the massacre of miners at Marikana in South Africa was still appropriate as more information had come out and this will be reviewed.  A delegation from the South African NUM is coming to the UK early next year.
  • UNITE is the main union in Gibraltar and the General Secretary had visited and taken part in commemorations of the 40th anniversary of a General Strike which won equal rights for Gibraltarians.  UNITE has been campaigning for equal rights for Moroccan workers in Gibraltar, many of whom have lived and worked there for years.  The new Chief Minister is progressing their naturalisation.
  • Tony Woodley reported on the ongoing efforts on behalf of the Miami 5.


  • A large survey of the individual cases being handled by full time officers showed that 43% were from workplaces without union recognition, the rest from recognised workplaces.  Cases should generally be dealt with by workplace reps so that officers can focus on their other functions.  We need to ensure we have as many well-trained, confident reps as possible.
  • The General Secretary reported that a number of senior officers have left or taken Voluntary Redundancy and informed the EC of his plans to reshuffle their responsibilities.  The new roles will be communicated shortly.  The General Secretary made clear that the process is not complete and he expects to make further changes.
  • The March EC is expected to consider whether to appoint a Regional Secretary in the North-West or continue using an “acting” one
  • It was agreed that using “acting” positions, particularly for long periods, tended to give an advantage to that individual in subsequent appointments and could therefore undermine the efforts we are making to promote diversity in appointments.  We will try to minimise the use of acting roles.
  • UNITE is introducing new employment policies including Capability, Absence and Equality.
  • Howard Beckett, the head of Legal Services, is also taking over responsibility for membership

Wednesday 5 December 2012

All-out strike at Tesco / Eddie Stobart

UNITE members at Eddie Stobart in Doncaster start an all-out strike tonight against plans to get rid of them straight after they were outsourced byTesco.

They will be protesting at Tesco stores and are holding a demonstration in Doncaster on Saturday.

For more information, see the UNITE press release.

Many workers across all sectors are affected by outsourcing and the weak protection offered by the TUPE regulations.  We should all get behind the members at Eddie Stobart and put as much pressure on Tesco to sort this out as possible.

New UNITE web site and broken links

UNITE has launched a new web site at the same address -

Unfortunately this means links to pages on the old site no longer work - and the error page doesn't suggest a solution (hopefully this will be fixed soon).

In broken web addresses (URLs) replacing "www" with "archive" should take you to the old page - for example the new rulebook is now via

I will go through this site and try to update all the links when I get the time.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

UNITE General Secretary election

Following a statement from the General Secretary, the majority of the UNITE Executive Council (EC) today agreed the following statement:

The Executive Council welcomes the progress made towards creating a common Unite constitution, structure and culture over the last two years, and believes that the benefits of this are starting to be felt throughout the union and the wider labour movement.
With a devastating economic crisis unfolding, the need throughout the movement for clear and purposeful leadership will be of continuing importance.  Unite's own further integration and development would also be enhanced by clarity and stability regarding the union's leadership over the next period.
The Executive Council also notes that rule 15.2 mandates that the next General Secretary election will take place in 2015, at the same time as the General Election itself is scheduled.  Any outcome of the General Election will certainly raise important issues for Unite and its membership, in particular in relation to our political strategy and our links with the Labour Party, requiring strong leadership at that time.  It will be no time for a vacuum such as would inevitably be the consequence of a General Secretary election campaign at the same time.
In the light of these considerations, the Executive Council resolves to hold an election for the post of Unite General Secretary as soon as practicable, and directs the Chief of Staff to bring forward proposals to this end.
I expect the Chief of Staff to bring forward the proposals for the timetable and conduct of the election so that they can be decided at the Executive Council meeting which continues this week.

Monday 3 December 2012

Updated version of UNITE Rulebook

An updated version of the UNITE Rulebook is now available via here.

This includes recent amendments to the rules as well as the Executive Council's guidance on interpretation of rules.