Ian Allinson's report from the UNITE Executive Council meeting, June 2013
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. This was a four day meeting, so the report below can only be key points.
UNITE EC member, IT & Communications
Industrial & Political
- The UNITE response to the TUC on the practicalities of a General Strike had been sent to all Regional Secretaries and every committee should be discussing it.
- UNITE is encouraging members to take part in the People's Assembly on 22nd June and the People United tour that follows it.
- At the March EC there had been discussion of a request from the Health NISC for a national demo on the 65th anniversary of the NHS, which was passed to the executive officers. This is now not happening. Instead there will be activities around the country on 5th July, including the end of People's United tour at the Trafford General Hospital. UNITE is mobilising for a national demonstration in defence of the NHS at the Tory conference in Manchester on Sunday 29th September. We were told that Dave Prentis from UNISON is also backing this. Every sector should be building for this, and every region laying on transport.
- The 86% yes vote in the political fund ballot was universally welcomed, but my suggestion that we should start spending it in the way UNITE had told members we did wasn't.
- Regional Secretaries are responsible for ensuring there is a visible UNITE presence at key demonstrations and events in their region, such as May Day and Workers Memorial Day.
- The rise in the UKIP vote is a concern, but in most areas this represents a reorganisation of the right wing vote rather than a shift to the right. Rather than trying to chase after them, we should challenge racism. Mobilisations against the EDL & BNP trying to capitalise on the murder of Lee Rigby had generally been successful, though many people are feeling intimidated and need solidarity. Most of the Executive signed the UAF statement over this. There will be a national demonstration in Liverpool on 12th October.
- Councillor Kingsley Abrams continues to be suspended from the Labour Group despite reluctantly agreeing to vote for cuts. Kevin Bennett in Warrington is suspended but is appealing. Several of us argued that UNITE should affiliate to Councillors Against Cuts. This meeting the excuse had changed from some nonsense about their policy on Trident to the bizarre claim that there was discussion about Councillors Against Cuts merging with TUSC! [For an explanation of the issues, see here]. Len said he wanted to avoid that kind of open declaration and allow the situation to unfold. A remit calling for an investigation into Warrington CLP Labour Group was agreed.
- There was a lot of anger about Ed Balls speech on benefits and his promise to use Tory spending plans, Milliband's failure to pledge to repeal the bedroom tax and the lack of a robust public response from UNITE.
- Steve Hart has been replaced as Political Director by Jenny Formby. Steve will deal with CLASS and our anti-fascist work.
- There was considerable discussion about the attempt to get more members to support and get involved with Labour and to influence candidate selection.
- There was a lot of discussion about the campaign against blacklisting. It was good to see the BBC finally picking up the issue on Panorama. Pensioner George Tapp had deliberately been badly injured by a car on a protest - the solicitors are involved and UNITE is pressing the police to prosecute. If they don't a private prosecution may be possible. UNITE's organising & leverage department is currently focussed on the Crossrail project following the dismissal of Frank Morris and more than 20 other workers. This is already producing movement from some employers, but there is a lot more to be done. A remit from the north-west about the "otherwise agreement" against Steve Acheson was left on the table pending comments from Steve on notes and evidence sent to him by Gail Cartmail.
- During the EC, members visited picket lines at Equinox Care and a protest demanding union recognition at the London Gateway port.
- In the IT & Comms sector, members at CSC are facing further redundancies. A remit for organising in Fujitsu was agreed.
- Difficulties with USDAW and Community unions continue.
- Guidance will be circulated on the Children and Families Bill, improving parental leave, which is unfinished business from the previous government and with the current government has not entirely scrapped.
- A remit was agreed backing INQUEST, campaigning over deaths in custody, which are disproportionately of black people.
Strategy for Growth
- Talks on a transfer of engagements of the TSSA into UNITE are proceeding and the Executive Council was given copies of the Heads of Agreement. The majority of TSSA members would be in a new rail sector in UNITE. The aim is to bring definite proposals to the September EC for a decision.
- PCS conference had passed a resolution allowing their leadership to discuss merger or transfer into UNITE. Len reported that there had been no communications since then, but that he was due to meet Mark Serwotka next week and would keep the EC advised.
Internal & Administration
- It was agreed to send a proposal for reorganising the sectors, which would include splitting the IT & Comms sector between the GPM and SGI sectors, out to affected sectors for consultation. In line with comments received from NISC members, I opposed this. [I would welcome activists in the sector getting in touch to discuss how we should respond to the consultation]. The response to the consultation is required for the September EC meeting. Len said that a similar exercise would be required for Area Activist Committees.
- I raised the fact that some branch reorganisations appeared to have gone ahead without coming to the EC. Andrew Murray confirmed that they should have come to the EC and he will check with Regional Secretaries.
- One person per region has now been appointed to deal with member complaints. This is in addition to the national guidelines produced a couple of years ago.
- The September EC will decide on whether members paying reduced subs (Retired Member Plus, Community Members) should be eligible to vote in the Executive Council elections.
- The web site and membership forms need updating to reflect the fact that reduced subs for part-time workers apply to those working 21 hours or less a week.
- A proposal for changes in the running and staffing of the Eastbourne Centre which had been recommended by the staff reps was agreed.
- The target for the new Birmingham office a training centre to open, if all goes to plan, would be 1 May 2015.
- An existing UNITE Defined Contribution scheme is being expanded to be available for more members. The main advantages are a larger scale than many employers can achieve and being run not for profit.
- It was agreed to seek a new Assistant General Secretary (AGS) to cover political, international and policy work, to fill the vacancies for National Officers in Passenger Services, RTCLRD and Health, and to advertise the post of North West Regional Secretary. No decision was taken on replacing Tony Woodley as Executive Officer.
- The EC was given a list of approved severance applications and "known leavers", with the aim of implementing the "no more golden goodbyes" motion passed at the 2012 policy conference against the EC recommendation. A number of EC members weren't satisfied that this went far enough. A copy of the template Compromise Agreement was circulated, along with a copy of the standard terms. No voluntary severance payments over and above the standard terms will be paid without EC permission. It was agreed that the EC should receive a list of all those who left with any payment, whether this was "severance" or something else. A subcommittee of 5 was elected to oversee payments to leavers.
- A document was agreed clarifying who can apply for which officer positions and the process for appointing "stand-down officers" (reps who temporarily act as officers) was agreed, but it was accepted that more action is required to ensure we get more women and BAEM candidates. Andrew Murray said that now (or soon) there would be no stand-down officers who had been in place for over 12 months.
- A remit from the IT & Comms NISC asking the EC to reconsider the exclusion of an activist under rule 6 was defeated, with the advice that he can appeal to a panel but to succeed it is likely that the guidelines would need to be revised.
- Following discussion at the North-West shop stewards seminar, Andrew Murray will ring round the Regional Secretaries to see if there are communication problems with activists in other regions.
- A report from the Election Commissioner into the recent General Secretary election was presented for information. I proposed that the EC should refer the second complaint to the Election Commissioner but was told that it was too late for the EC to do this.
Legal & Affiliate Services & Membership
- The qualifying period for legal representation on employment matters has been cut to 4 weeks, but it will still be the policy that pre-existing issues are not covered.
- UNITE's legal department recovered £26m for members in the last quarter.
- UNITE's victory in the courts in the Waterford Crystal pensions case is of huge significance in the Republic of Ireland.
- New membership cards will be issued this summer, and this will be used as an opportunity to promote the member get member scheme. Work is also ongoing on new membership forms.
- There's a lot of activity on contacting lapsed members, which has a good success rate in retention.
- There was an encouraging update about the Miami 5 campaign
- Contrary to some reports, the existing International Committee will oversee our solidarity work with Palestine. People who have participated in delegations and other activities will be involved.
- There was some debate about the Marikana massacre. UNITE had received a delegation from the NUM and the report gave their account of the situation. A delegation will be sent to hear both sides of the story.