Unison officials spy on their own activists to ensure yes vote on pensions

Unison's paradoxical pensions propaganda

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:

All Organisers
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.
Cheers
Ravi
[my emphasis]

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.

Posted By

Steven.
Aug 25 2012 12:18

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Comments

working class s...
Aug 25 2012 13:47

Disgusting

A Wotsit
Aug 25 2012 15:31

Fucking treacherous gits!

Looking forward to your piece on the pensions dispute Steven.

Chilli Sauce
Aug 25 2012 16:01

Disgusting, but not surprising. Good on you for exposing it.

EdmontonWobbly
Aug 25 2012 16:45

It seems like we're getting a lot of really interesting leaked documents these days there was also the recomp one on the CLC trying to crush the Quebec students. Would libcom be interested in sponsoring some kind of a "union leaks" website?

Between Your Teeth
Aug 25 2012 16:51

there's only one regional unison sec by that name i can think of and that's Ravi Subramanian.

he's on twitter: @RaviSubbie

If it's him he coincidentally happens to be married to the Labour MP for Nottingham South, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilian_Greenwood which neatly adds some context. She became an MP through the same route he's taking ie ascending the unison ranks, so go figure.

he was also the regional sec in charge of the birmingham healthcare branch who decided to allow workfare to be allowed in hospital. he defended it initially as just training, backtracking in face of criticism with, "we all make mistakes"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/may/21/unpaid-jobseekers-deliver-patient-care

Steven.
Aug 25 2012 18:21

Hi, thanks for that info, it is very useful, I hadn't heard of him before.

It's also good example of the toxic relationship between unions and the Labour Party, which isn't just institutional (through the unions setting up Labour, being its primary funders, etc) but also personal!

Steven.
Aug 25 2012 18:27
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
It seems like we're getting a lot of really interesting leaked documents these days there was also the recomp one on the CLC trying to crush the Quebec students. Would libcom be interested in sponsoring some kind of a "union leaks" website?

TBH I don't think we need a separate website. It would be better just posting stuff here.

Leaking stuff from unions you wouldn't need any crazy encryption software or anything like that as they wouldn't have the capacity to find out where information came from electronically (half of the unions can barely use e-mail).

Libcom already has site infrastructure and a sizeable reader base from which the information can get out - if you set up a new website no one might even see it. Perhaps we could set up a page though to encourage people to send us documents/e-mails whistleblowing dodgy practices however

Theft
Aug 25 2012 18:53

Steven will your article also include the role Unison played against health workers and the pension dispute?

Steven.
Aug 25 2012 18:54
Theft wrote:
Steven will your article also include the role Unison played against health workers and the pension dispute?

yes

Khawaga
Aug 26 2012 11:21

Steven, what about just making a tag for "union leaks"? At least that way all such articles could be accessed on one page.

Chilli Sauce
Aug 26 2012 14:13

I think having libcom as the go-to source for leaked union documents would be fucking awesome. Any way to encourage that is a good thing.

Rob Ray
Aug 28 2012 10:25

Had a couple of asks on Ravi Submarinan's Twitter page and he's steadfastly refused to respond - I can't imagine he gets that much correspondence that he didn't see them. So it's likely that yes it is him and he's trying to ignore the email in the hopes it goes away.

jinxy
Aug 30 2012 16:36

Thank you for exposing this. Are members aware that in Nottingam Unison donated £14.000 to become part of the Nottingham Citizens for Sanctuary. Most members don't seem to have any knowledge of this decision how it was made or who sanctioned it.

Steven.
Oct 13 2012 09:36
jinxy wrote:
Thank you for exposing this. Are members aware that in Nottingam Unison donated £14.000 to become part of the Nottingham Citizens for Sanctuary. Most members don't seem to have any knowledge of this decision how it was made or who sanctioned it.

what do you mean by this?

Normally donations by union branches are approved by the branch committee. Branch committee minutes should be available to any members.

oscar
Aug 13 2013 18:13

Do you think that union members are aware of their union bosses' activities? I do not think so. If they know how they can approve their union dues spent(wasted) on Cuban beaches under the name of "Internationalism" or "solidarity"

Steven.
Aug 13 2013 20:21
oscar wrote:
Do you think that union members are aware of their union bosses' activities? I do not think so. If they know how they can approve their union dues spent(wasted) on Cuban beaches under the name of "Internationalism" or "solidarity"

I think in general for most people the answer would be no.

Although TBH a few quid on some "solidarity" jaunts to Cuba are small beans compared to the massively messed up stuff they do in terms of undermining our ability to defend our living standards and working conditions