Union democracy

GMB rules hamper democracy

Published on: Wed, 23/10/2019 - 08:35

Dale Street

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?

Published on: Wed, 16/10/2019 - 08:23

Will Stephenson

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

IWGB debates democracy

Published on: Wed, 19/06/2019 - 10:05

Zack, delegate to IWGB AGM

This is the second part of a report on the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) union’s AGM on 8 June (first part in Solidarity 510, see here).

The AGM committed IWGB working closely with – and trying to revitalise – the wider labour movement, but voted against changes which would have made the union significantly more democratic.

Submitted by a sympathiser of Workers’ Liberty, the first motion stated that “IWGB is part of the broad labour movement… direct coordination and links between unions, at rank-and-file level, is essential for developing workers’ struggles and building

PCS leadership censured for evasions on trans rights

Published on: Fri, 24/05/2019 - 23:25

A conference delegate

Motion A21 at the 2019 conference of civil service union PCS dealt with the leadership's approach to trans rights. (See the motions document, p12.)

In 2017 and 2018 conference voted to support amendment of the Gender Recognition to facilitate self-identification; despite opposition from the NEC in 2017 these motions passed overwhelmingly.

This year A21 condemned and proposed censure of the NEC for its response and for General Secretary Mark Serwotka’s unilateral signatory of a letter published in the Morning Star, alongside numerous vehemently trans-exclusionary individuals, suggesting that

Industrial officials are never wrong?

Published on: Wed, 27/02/2019 - 09:24

Ann Field

“We, the lay members of PULS, stand in solidarity with our left officers and organisers. We know they will always do the right thing.” So says a recent open letter recently from “Progressive United Left Scotland” (PULS), a faction in Unite the Union launched in 2016 because of the supposed demise of the existing United Left Scotland (ULS).

PULS purports to be an organisation committed to a lay member-led trade union. But if the bureaucrats are always right, who needs the rank-and-file? Although signed off by the PULS chair, the letter is in the characteristic style of Mark Lyon, who set up

Industrial news in brief

Published on: Wed, 13/02/2019 - 11:23

A joint union day of action against outsourcing has been called for Tuesday 26 February, 8 a.m. to noon in London. It is sponsored by the IWGB (Independent Workers of Great Britain, a small new union focused on precarious workers), United Voices of the World (UVW, an organisation similar to IWGB), the BEIS Branch of the PCS civil service union, and the Bakerloo and Finsbury Park branches of the rail union RMT.

The demonstration will coincide with the day the IWGB is facing the government and the University of London in a landmark legal case. If successful, the case could open the door for the

Fighting fire in the class struggle

Published on: Wed, 26/12/2018 - 22:56

Sacha Ismail

In 2018 the Fire Brigades Union, which organises operational firefighters, fire control staff, fire brigade officers and others in the UK fire and rescue service, celebrated its hundredth anniversary as an independent union. For its centenary the FBU has published a book, Fighting Fire, about the last thirty years of its history.

(For centenary resources on the FBU website, see www.fbu.org.uk/centenary. For an interview focused on this that FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack did with The Clarion in May, see 'One hundred years of the Fire Brigades Union'.)

The FBU is a fairly small union (today

Michelle Rodgers for RMT National President!

Published on: Sun, 23/09/2018 - 13:13

Michelle Rodgers works for Arriva Rail North, where she is a local RMT rep. She sat on the union’s National Executive Committee from 2014-2017, and is the secretary of RMT Manchester South branch. She is standing to be the union’s next national president; Tubeworker is supporting her campaign. We spoke to Michelle about her approach to trade unionism and why London Underground workers should vote for her. Ballot papers will be delivered to RMT members’ home addresses from 1 October. Speak to your local rep to ensure your details are up-to-date.

Q: How would you explain the role of the president to an RMT member who isn’t necessarily engaged in the structures of the union?

A: The president is there to ensure the union is run democratically, in an open and participatory way, and that members’ voices are heard. It is the highest “lay” position in the union, rather than being an “officer” position; this means that the president is released from their job for a three-year term before going back to work. The president is a voice for the grassroots membership in the national leadership of the union, helping to ensure the union takes its direction from the wishes of the members.

Q: What kind of president would you be?

A: I cut my teeth in a lengthy unofficial strike in 1993. That taught me a lot. The key lesson I learnt was that as workers, our power ultimately comes from our ability to withdraw our labour. I’m well aware of all the industrial issues London Underground workers are facing, across all grades, as well as the major political issue of the Tories’ cuts to TfL funding, and the struggles of outsourced workers like cleaners. Our best means of winning change on all of these is through coordinated industrial action. RMT has a proud history of helping members organise to take action; as president, I’d ensure that any group of workers who wanted to take action to improve their conditions at work were supported and encouraged in doing that, rather than being dissuaded or held back.

With the “Corbyn surge” in Labour, we’ve seen a lot of young people energised by radical politics and inspired to get active. We need something similar in the trade union movement, including RMT. As president I’d work to make our union as open and democratic as possible, as well as continuing and developing our militant traditions, to ensure members could take ownership of union structures and use the union to fight for change at work.

The three key principles of my campaign are “democracy, equality, solidarity”. Democracy, because as president I’d work to ensure the union’s democracy was upheld and extended so rank-and-file members can lead; equality, because I fight for a socialist society based on equality, and because I want to advance equality within the union; and solidarity, because it’s only by standing together with each other and taking action as workers that we can win change.

Q: The workforce in many parts of London Underground, especially on stations and amongst cleaners, is very diverse; if elected, how will you ensure the full diversity of the unions’ membership is represented?

A: I am the equalities candidate in this election. It was debates in our union, including in the pages of RMT News, around equalities that finally spurred me on to stand. I’m a strong believer that all the equalities campaigns within the union – women members, LGBT members, BAME members, and disabled members – should be empowered, so they’re better able to make sure members from these backgrounds, who are often under-represented in the union, are at the heart of what the union does.

Q: How will help members, who may currently see the union as a kind of “insurance policy” that’s only relevant to them if they get in trouble, become more engaged and active?

A: Union reps and activists can sometimes become insular, only really talking to people who are already involved. We need to turn outwards. As a local rep, I’ve made particular efforts to engage with new members, and especially young members, about what the union is and how they can get active. They’re now amongst our core branch activists. I’ve also ensured our branch meetings have enough time on their agenda to allow any member to come along and have their workplace issues discussed. As president I’d work with everyone – from NEC members down to local reps – to build that same culture of openness and participation throughout the whole union. The union is all of us, and it belongs to all of us.

Q: The pressures of working life, including shift work, as well as the pressures of being a union rep and activist, can lead to burnout, and mental health issues. There is a growing conversation about mental health in society; how would you continue that conversation within the union?

As a local rep and branch officer, my door is always open. That would be my policy if elected as national president. My door would always be open to any member. We need to be open and honest with each other about pressures we’re facing, and mental health issues we may be experiencing. The union should be a supportive environment for all members. We’re starting to take those issues more seriously, with some excellent courses on mental health awareness at work, and how reps can organise to fight for positive change at work around these issues, being run via our National Education Centre. I’d support those efforts and encourage as many reps and activists as possible to attend.

Q: There’s sometimes a frustration that, when we pass resolutions through our RMT branches, they seem to get lost in union officialdom or knocked back for bureaucratic reasons. What would you do as president to improve that?

A: I will be in constant communication with your elected reps and officers at all levels, from workplace reps to branch officers to your National Executive member, to ensure that the resolutions you pass through your branches are responded to and acted on as swiftly as possible. I’m not afraid to stand up to national officers like the General Secretary and Assistant General Secretaries when necessary. The union must be led by the democratic decisions of our members. The president is there to ensure that happens.

The “Piccadilly Four” strike, and what it taught me about trade unionism

Michelle says...

I cut my teeth in the union in a lengthy strike, which began as unofficial action, in 1993. The employer at the time was still British Rail, and I was working out of Manchester Piccadilly station as a guard. Our reps were negotiating with management about rosters, and the talks had reached an impasse. There was an agreed procedure for what should happen next, but instead of following it, our bosses decided to sabotage the negotiations. They ripped up papers in the meeting, told the reps they’d be imposing the rosters whether we, the workers, liked it or not, and stormed out.

The next day the rosters were imposed, so we walked off the job. It was a spontaneous, wildcat strike. We just walked off our trains. The impact showed me the power that workers’ action can have.

The bosses accused our reps of inciting us to take unofficial action, as sacked them. That just made us more determined to fight. We were on unofficial strike for three-and-a-half weeks. We had mass meetings of guards in a club near Manchester Piccadilly. I was driving round union branches in the region collecting for our strike fund. That taught me a lesson too, about the need for the union to be prepared to support members taking sustained industrial action financially. When I was on the National Executive, I consistently pushed for proper strike funds to support our members taking action against Driver Only Operation. If elected president, I’d work with NEC members and reps to make sure we did that.

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Democracy review in danger?

Published on: Wed, 19/09/2018 - 12:19


As we go to press (17 September) the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party is finalising the Party’s Democracy Review which will be voted on at conference. Both Momentum and the press have jumped on rumours that the unions will attempt a “power grab” for the selection of leader.

The five biggest unions have apparently come to a compromise position on the election of Leader in the case of a vacancy. According to the Guardian the change would stop someone from both the far left of the Parliamentary Party and from the right being able to stand. A proposed increase in the

Officials suppress the rank-and-file at UCU Congress

Published on: Wed, 06/06/2018 - 14:51

a Workers’ Liberty UCU member

The congress of the University and College Union (UCU) on 30 May to 1 June was repeatedly shut down by officials to prevent discussion of motions criticising the General Secretary, Sally Hunt.

The 14 days of strikes this year to defend USS pensions in 65 universities, and a coordinated wave of local campaigns in further education colleges, have boosted union membership and pushed forward a new generation of activists.

But in mid-March Hunt attempted to sell members a raw deal from the employers to halt the strikes, only to be pushed back by a resounding “no” from branch delegates and a

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