Union democracy

Democracy in the labour movement

Workers' Liberty activists in the Unison public services union have decided to support Paul Holmes in the coming general secretary election (ballot 28 October to 27 November). They also urge Holmes to demand prompt investigation by his employer into the (undisclosed) allegations on which it has suspended him, and by Unison into the (undisclosed, apparently different) allegations on which it too has suspended him. Suspension from the union doesn't block Holmes from running. But here, as increasingly across the whole labour movement, rules or customs which block suspended activists from speaking...

GMB: democracy vs Regional Secretaries

The GMB union is institutionally sexist. There is gender-based job discrimination. Branches are male-dominated, with deliberately engineered limits on female participation. And bullying, misogyny, cronyism, and sexual harassment are endemic in the union. That is the conclusion of Karon Monaghan QC’s report on her investigation into the GMB, commissioned by its Central Executive Council (CEC) in late April, and published on 2 September. Monaghan’s remit was to investigate the GMB’s record on responding to complaints of sexual harassment, assess the effectiveness (or otherwise) of GMB policies...

Factory gate meeting

Unite members working for Great Bear distribution recently organised a factory gate meeting at the Unilever Port Sunlight factory to protest at the dismissal of a Unite shop steward and the company’s refusal to pay full sick pay for workers self-isolating. The meeting, organised by Unite North West, showed how protests and workplace meetings can still be organised safely and effectively. Everyone observed social distancing rules. When the organisers were explaining why the meeting took place, they made sure that they explained to local residents who were watching and listening why the meeting...

Tim Roache and the cabal system

On Tuesday 28 April, Tim Roache, general secretary of the big GMB union, which organises in many different sectors, stepped down, just months after his re-election. He cited ill-health. On Wednesday, following the circulation of an anonymous letter to press outlets, GMB issued a statement: “GMB received an anonymous letter, last Wednesday, in which a number of allegations have been made about Tim’s conduct whilst he held the office of general secretary.” The news of the allegations against Roach has reignited discussion of conduct in the labour movement, echoing previous incidents including...

Tackling the union bureaucracies

Trade union organisation has always tended to centre in the better-off sections of the working class. But that tendency has been sharpened in the neoliberal era by increased inequality within the working class, and union organisation receding into more limited “bastions”. In Australia — and in general — trade unions have been able to hold on to a degree in some strongholds, but in my working life, 45 years now, the influence of trade unions in society has markedly decreased. Unions have become much more bureaucratic. Most union leaders put the trends down to the anti-union laws which have been...

"Get out of jail free” for bullying bosses?

On 5 December, a slightly revised version of an agreement between the National Education Union (NEU) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) was put to the NEU National Executive for approval. That agreement had been used in June, as I’ll describe, to sink an NEU dispute at Harbinger primary school in East London. Kirstie Paton, one of the four Executive members representing Inner London, where the strike took place, moved an objection to reject the agreement and I seconded it. We reminded the Executive of the Harbinger story and emphasised the flat-out contradiction between the...

New university strikes from 20 February

A sectoral conference for University and College Union (UCU) members working in universities in the USS pension scheme, where workers struck in November and December, has voted for an escalation of the strike, passing a proposal to strike for two weeks from 20 February. The Higher Education Committee of the union will now ratify that proposal. That does leave a big gap between the end of the last strike and the next, but many universities have exams through January, so striking then wouldn’t have any impact on teaching. Negotiations are ongoing; the fact of a further planned strike will...

GMB rules hamper democracy

Ballot papers have been sent out to GMB members in the union’s General Secretary election, a choice between the incumbent Tim Roache and the union’s European Officer, Kathleen Walker-Shaw. That an election is taking place at all is an achievement. In previous elections only 30 nominations were needed to get onto the ballot paper. But last year’s GMB conference agreed to increase the number of nominations by two thirds, raising the number to 50. The GMB’s rules also make it notoriously difficult, and deliberately so, for anyone who is not already a union full-timer – such as an incumbent...

UVW reinvents the wheel?

The AGM of United Voices of the World (UVW), on 5 October, packed out the meeting hall, with nearly 10% of the membership turning up. There was no delegate system. Anybody could come and take part in the embryonic UVW democracy. I’m happy to give a certain amount of leeway to UVW. They are a relatively new union that has often deployed effective, aggressive industrial tactics and organised previously “unorganisable” workers into a fighting force to turn the tide against outsourcing at universities around London. The launch of Sex, Cultural, Design, Architecture and Charity worker sections this...

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