As it is announced that the majority of Unison members have voted in line with the union's recommendation to accept the new pensions deal, libcom.org has obtained a leaked e-mail from a senior Unison official instructing organisers to spy on branches and individual activists who campaigned for a no vote.
I will write a more full account of Unison's conduct throughout the pensions dispute shortly. This is a much briefer piece which I have been prompted to write as libcom.org has been passed a leaked e-mail from a high-ranking Unison full-time official which was sent to all Unison-employed organisers.
Yesterday Unison announced that over 90% of Unison members voted to accept the new proposals. Importantly, while they are an improvement on what was on offer before the November 30 strike, they still include the key attacks on pension scheme members making the majority of them work longer (by increasing the retirement age), pay more (by contributing for more years) and get less (by switching from RPI to CPI uprating, moving from final salary to a career average scheme and again by increasing the retirement age which will mean many people will have to retire early on a much-reduced pension).
In the run-up to and during the pensions ballot, Unison campaigned hard for a yes vote, and sent multiple communications to Unison branches instructing them to also campaign for a yes vote, and forbidding them from campaigning for a no vote. Some branches had been campaigning for members to reject the deal, as it constitutes an attack on their pensions (which are effectively their deferred wages).
Here is what the central Unison dispatches contained:
Branches should promote their Service Group’s recommendation.
Branches in those Service Groups should also be campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote , in line with their Service Group’s recommendation. UNISON’s ‘Code of Good Branch Practice’ (4.4) makes this very clear. It says:
‘Once UNISON policy is determined, there is an obligation on all constituent parts of the union to work to achieve its objectives by campaigning and promoting the policy’.
Now, what makes this particularly perverse is that rule 4.4 which is cited here was actually brought in to stop individual branches campaigning against industrial action when it had already been voted on by the membership.
Here its original intention has been flipped on its head by the union, who are now using it to stop union members and activists campaigning for further industrial action to protect our conditions.
However, despite these warnings some branches continued to defy the national union and campaign for a no vote. Which led to this e-mail being sent to all Unison organisers by a senior Unison official:
With respect to my email sent on Sunday about compliance with the union’s Democracy in UNISON Guidelines we’ve had a couple of reports of possible breaches and we need to get tighter on this. So can I please ask all ROs to do the following
- Please re-read the email below
- For all ROs who have a county or unitary / met borough branch can you please (casually and unobtrusively) check with your branch secs [branch secretaries] that they have received and read my email from Sunday and try to establish if their branch is going to follow these guidelines. I’m asking we focus on the County and unitary councils as this is where the bulk of the membership is and where we are likely to have the most problems.
- Please have these discussions in a casual way and don’t say “I’ve been asked to do this by the regional secretary” – we need to be subtle about this.
- Please report back the results of your discussion to me cc whole RMT by 4pm this Thursday. If you’ve not been able to speak to your br sec I still need you to email me to say so. Sorry about this extra work but we do need to get on top of this.
- If you are out and about at a branch committee meeting and this is discussed and the branch seek to vote to campaign against the SGE recommendations remind them of the points in the third bullet point in the email below. If they then vote on the issues please ask them to take a recorded vote and also take your own privates notes of who voted to breach the guidelines.
- And finally, if any of you doubt the advice is correct, think on this. If we were running a national industrial action ballot with a recommendation to vote yes to action, would we find it acceptable for branches to campaign for a no vote? I’m pretty sure none of the branches unhappy with the current SGE position would happy about this.
The passage in bold to me is the most disturbing, as it shows that officials are being instructed to spy on individual Unison activists. Who could then be singled out and subjected to disciplinary action by the union as a result -as has happened to several high-profile activists in recent years who have tried to fight for workers' interests against the bureaucracy.
As mentioned earlier, I'm working on a more detailed account of how Unison has handled the pensions dispute, but I thought this e-mail should be publicised urgently, as it is yet another example of how the interests of the unions are not the same as those of us, the working class.