I am writing to London UNISON branches for whom I have email addresses, as one of your members of our National Executive Council (NEC), concerning deeply troubling developments in UNISON’s Greater London Region on Friday 5 March.
Early yesterday morning UNISON officials turned up at the offices of the Bromley, Greenwich and the Tenant Services Authority branches having given no notice. I understand that attempts have been made to seize control of computer hard drives and other resources, including documents on on-going personal cases.
This action follows immediately upon the conclusion of the disciplinary action against the Branch Secretaries of those branches, Glenn Kelly, Onay Kasab and Suzanne Muna, who have now been banned from holding office within UNISON for periods ranging from two years.
There are of course exceptional circumstances in which the Union does need to move in and run branches, the Rule Book deals with these thankfully very rare cases and the National Executive Council has a system of reporting where branches are placed under what is known as “Regional supervision.” This procedure now appears to be being applied to these branches. I also understand that our members in the Hackney branch, where Branch Chair, Brian Debus, has been banned from holding office, have been told that an election for a new Chair will be organised at Regional level.
The basis on which this might be done is unclear to me and I am awaiting further information.
Although I and other members of the National Executive Council representing Greater London have been given notice of such action in the past, I had not notice of this action and my requests yesterday for an explanation from the Regional Secretary and the Chair of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee have thus far gone unanswered.
I am therefore unable to confirm that there are good grounds for the interventions in these branches.
Indeed all the indications are that the action which is being taken breaches our Rule Book, undermines lay democracy and branch autonomy and threatens to waste scarce UNISON resources at a time when our members in local government, health and higher and further education all face the threat of unprecedented cuts in jobs in Greater London.
The Branch Secretaries who have been banned from holding office have been through the Union’s disciplinary process and now know the outcome of that process. It would not be appropriate for me, as an NEC member, to comment upon the outcome of the disciplinary process in a communication of this nature and I do not do so.
However, the action taken yesterday against three branches is a completely different matter, unrelated to the allegations which have now been dealt with, and gives rise to serious concern that officials of our Union are breaking UNISON Rules. It is difficult to conceive of any valid justification for this action being taken now, when those deemed to have breached our Union Rules are no longer holding office.
UNISON members in these three branches have the same rights as members in all our branches, including the right to elect their own branch officers and determine the policies of their branch within Union Rules.
For UNISON officials to cancel Branch Annual General Meetings (as I understand has happened in Bromley) and to cooperate with the employer to cancel agreed trade union facility time and send lay activists back to work (as I understand has happened in Greenwich) clearly contravenes UNISON Rules. Rule B.2.2 states that UNISON is a “member-led” Union in which decisions taken by members will be carried out.
Rule B.2.5 promotes the rights of members to participate in decision-making.
Rule G.3.1 confirms the rights of members to attend branch meetings, and Rule G.4.1.2 gives us the right to elect the officers of our branches. Our members in the Bromley, Greenwich and the Tenants Services Authority all have these rights and ought not now to be denied them because of unrelated disciplinary action against individuals which has now concluded.
Our Union Rule Book is not a trivial or irrelevant document. It is a contract between members and the Union, endorsed in the ballots which created UNISON in 1992 and amended, in accordance with Rule at successive National Delegate Conferences since 1994.
The preservation of the democratic rights of trade union members is a matter of considerable importance to all who care about trade unionism. I shall continue to press for a full explanation of yesterday’s events and for the immediate return of these branches to the democratic control of their members in line with the Rule Book.
If you have any comments or questions please do not hesitate to get in touch with me as I would welcome feedback from UNISON members in Greater London.
Please feel free to pass this report on to UNISON members in the Region. I can be contacted at this email address or on 07957505571.
UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) member