A whistleblower within Unison's London region has leaked an audio recording of a meeting of paid officials flagrantly breaching the union's rules by working for the election campaign of the incumbent general secretary, Dave Prentis.
Unison proudly declares itself to be "member-led union"1 . And its rulebook expressly lays down that elections for positions within union can only be campaigned on by members, not paid officials.
This is the equivalent of government departments and councils not being able to campaign for political candidates in local or general elections, and is a basic precondition of any kind of functioning democracy.
Rank-and-file members and activists within Unison have long suspected that the paid bureaucracy has actively campaigned for right-wing candidates and sabotaged election campaigns of lay members and left-wingers. However there hasn't been concrete proof of this, until now.
An anonymous whistleblower posted a recording and transcript of a meeting of London regional officers led by Linda Perks, the London regional secretary.
In it she directs Unison employees to assist the election campaign of Dave Prentis, and also explains how officials can sabotage the election campaigns of the rank-and-file candidates. She advises this can be done for example by blocking union branch nominations for other candidates on technical grounds, for example if the nomination was decided at an "inquorate meeting"2 , or the branch "did not fill in [the] form properly".
I include the full transcript below as I think it is well worth a read.
Following the leak, and complaints being submitted by several prominent union activists and the opposition candidates, Perks was suspended pending investigation. However none of the other officials who could also clearly be heard in the recording have been suspended, nor has Dave Prentis himself.
Prentis is directly implicated in the scandal, as Perks claimed "Dave is very pleased and has asked [her to] relate this to you personally it is very important as obviously this is going to be a very hard fought election", but he has not been suspended either.
It has even been rumoured that in Perks' absence the London region is now being run by Chris Remington, the head of the London health region, who also happens to be Perks' partner, but as yet I have not got confirmation of this.
The leadership election closed last week, and so it remains to be seen what the outcome will be.
Although the "left" vote will have been split as there were three individuals claiming to be the "left" candidates: Heather Wakefield, John Burgess and Roger Bannister, although only Burgess and Bannister hold any genuine claim on the name as Wakefield is another regional bureaucrat who has just fallen out with the current leading clique.
The leadership will probably try to paint this situation as being of one mid-level "bad apple" as opposed to a completely corrupt union practice encouraged by the general secretary himself. Whether they are able to get away with it probably depends on how Unison members react: if we accept it or if we kick up a fuss.
Personally I would encourage members to complain, which we can do to the union itself, and also the Electoral Reform Commission, by e-mailing [email protected] and [email protected] respectively. The deadline for complaints is 5pm on Friday 11 December 2015.
Anyway, here is the transcript of the meeting:
Sorry not much choice on this. The piece of paper that you have got handed out um you haven’t seen so it is not for distribution elsewhere.
Um because this has been obtained unofficially. You have not seen it and you don’t hand it out anywhere
We have done very well and I want to thank everybody and congratulate them on getting the nominations that they have got. This is a list of the Greater London branch nominations for Dave Prentis the deadline closed last Friday, I do not have a list of the other candidates, but that will appear in due course but I have not got it. But we have done very well, we have got almost 50 nominations here so that is excellent and thank you very much, Dave is very pleased and has asked me relate this to you personally it is very important as obviously this is going to be a very hard fought election.
There are a number of branches we know as Karen, most of you not all of you, sent them to Karen on what was going on and there are a number of branches also that choose not to make a nomination. And so particularly for those of you that work in Local Government and the EBS I know that some of you hard work in terms of getting the nomination but not getting the nomination because you have got the wrong one so just because you have got the wrong one so just because they are not spoken here health team worked hard on the health branches so long as they are effectively organised they produce results the heath branches the other teams have worked hard in different ways so you have done well thank you.
I do not have the final figure for John Burgess but I think he has around 15 nominations from London well more or less around that figures.
Heather Wakefield has 3 nominations from London of which 2 are being challenged and Roger Bannister I think has 2 nominations from 2 different branches.
So we have done well thank you.
So you can see here which are your branches and I do not want anybody to do anything without talking to their regional manager first. So um I do not want anything coming out of this meeting with these named branches here you need to talk to your regional manager about the approach.
What’s going to happen next and what we need you to do in discussion with Vicky or Helen or Chris and I remiss that I should have congratulated Helen on her appointment as Regional Manager she is not official Regional Manager until 2nd November but she is.
So what happens next the ballot will open on Monday 9th November and it will run for 5 weeks which actually I cannot remember the date, sorry closes on the 14th, closes on 4th runs for four weeks.
So it opens Monday 9th November and closes on Friday 4th December the announcement I think will be on 17th December so the work really needs to take place in that week before the ballot opens and in the first week of the ballot.
So there are two jobs to be done one is to get the branches to encourage as many members to vote as possible and the other is to talk to the branches that have made nominations.
So let’s start with the branches that have made nominations.
The branches that have made nominations can legitimately and democratically should notify their members that they have nominated Dave and that they have made the nominations so they can send out an email to their members telling them that the ballot is going to open on 9th November and that their branch nominated Dave Prentis. They can also legitimately put a footer on all emails saying vote in the General Secretary elections and that our branch nominated Dave Prentis. They can also send out a newsletter with a small piece in it that says General Secretary Election opens on 9th November all members encouraged to vote and our branch nominated Dave Prentis. Now I am told that we are going to get wording for that but we have not got it yet, but will get wording for that next week I am told so we can get that to you. So what we should get next week is a bundle of leaflets from the vote Dave Prentis campaign, a huge bundle of leaflets I am told and we will get posters as well. So the priority once we have got those is going to be for, not all of you necessarily but some of you, to be approaching the branches that have made the nominations and get the leaflets to them with the posters and sit down with them, go through with them what they should be doing. What you should really be doing is setting aside the three or four days immediately after the lobby of parliament. The lobby of parliament is the 2nd of November it is the week before the ballot opens so we should have the materials by then it would be good to talk to the supporting branches now or this week or early next week, early next week will be fine. But set some time aside week commencing 2nd November to actually get the leaflets and posters around the branches and to sit down with the branch secretary with the wording and say right you can put this email out and put this in the newsletter and put this as an email footer. There are also branches that do Facebook and twitter there is some text for Facebook and Twitter. So we need you to start planning ahead on that one talk to the branches to be prepared and get them focused, the best will in the world the branches will mean to do it but they won’t do it so you need to get them focussed that this has to be sorted out by week commencing 2nd November cause ideally they start putting stuff out just before the ballot starts um we do not know for certain but I presume the ballot papers will start landing on 2nd November. So talk to the branches get their head around the fact that the first week Monday 9th November is when people will vote, if they do not vote that week they will not vote at all, the ballot papers will be going out to their home addresses so it’s quite obviously not straight forward to get them organised to vote but if branches can get stuff out in the few days before the votes opening, we want you to vote, we nominated Dave that’s what we need to do, so that’s for the branches on this list.
For all the other branches there is still a job to do but it is less focused and less directed so you will have to use your judgement but everybody can get a supply of leaflets and everybody can attempt to talk to friendly people in branches, there will be branches that didn’t nominate because they could not get their act together and there will be branches that nominated one of the opposition and that you may not find it easy to go into at all or there may be one or two people in silos in the branch who may be able to get leaflets out to people who are interested in voting for Dave. So you will have to use your judgement on that but we will have leaflets I hope sometime by midweek next week so you can get a bundle and start getting them into the hands of those in the branch who did not nominate.
This is a lay member activity briefing so you understand so the lay members can hand out leaflets to who they like there is nothing to stop them handing out to any member at all and they should but they won’t have that benefit of openly banging it round the branch publically and say we have made a nomination and effectively we are not encouraging you to vote for Dave. But they can still hand things out put stuff on notice boards scatter things in canteens and that is what we want them to do.
We have not been given this yet but there will be a helpline for people that have lost their ballot paper and we do not normally get that until the ballot has opened which is a pain in the neck normally opens a week after the ballots open as soon as we have got that we will put it round and then you can talk to the branches, those where there are queries or they think they need to contact them as people will lose their ballot papers or the dog will be sick on it or kids will rip it up.
Hand shot up there and I will take questions in a minute.
This is an absolutely critical election, John Burgess and Heather Wakefield.
I understand that Dave got about 200 nominations they got around 50 each Roger Bannister got around 25 30.
The SWP and the ultra-left in the labour party are right behind John Burgess and have a machine that they will attempt to get a vote out for.
Roger Bannister might have a few nominations Niverton socialist party has a good machine and will always turn a vote out for him.
Heather Wakefield is an unknown entity as she is a woman and she is going to play the woman’s card even though she has inspired her I did not hear it or I have heard about it, on woman’s hour she was blaming unison for failing to do enough for low paid women when she was responsible for it, I am not sure why that happens but there will be an issue around her pushing I am the only woman candidate. This is one of the toughest election that Dave has had to fight and it is very important that Dave is delivered as I have said before that not one of the others is capable of running the union quite frankly.
So it is important that we get stuff out, there is also, getting the Dave Prentis leaflets out are the most important thing when they arrive but there are some about using your vote, get your vote heard which are the officially unison leaflets about encouraging people to vote and some stickers which we have here you might find that useful.
So any questions.
One more point sorry Chris has just prompted me your role in all of this you are entitled to brief branches on what their rights are and what their role is in this election you clearly cannot be caught out saying vote for Dave but we do expect you to talk to branches, the nominating ones certainly about that. You re entitled to speak with them about the processes and procedures and I would want you to do it just be careful what is put into the public domain you should not be using official unison email to do this just be careful about witnesses to conversations make sure friendly witnesses. Only reason for saying that, two reasons, one is if we are caught out the opposition may raise a complaint so it is important, opposition gets evidence that people using unison resources which includes staff unison resources there could be complaints so you just need to be careful and use your discretion and do not use emails as these can be traced so carefully.
Right sorry questions Carol first then Dario.
Carol – Before when we have been talking to branches we were told we could say that the NEC was supporting Dave, when the branches email members can they say that the NEC and region is.
That is a good point I had not thought about that one I think the important thing is where branches have nominated him they can say that they have nominated but yes I think branches can say that NEC and London Region have nominated him
Dario – bit of a tricky question, with those branches that have nominated Dave it is straight forward they can receive leaflets but those branches that have nominated other candidates but we find that we can trust someone let’s say within the branch so we can hand these leaflets to and then the branch officers ask questions where did they get them from
They got them from the regional convenor is all you need to tell them, they got them from the regional convenor of the regional convenor team is perfectly fine
Jamie then Zecial
Jamie – The branches that made no nominations – inaudible – they can still put an email to encourage people to vote and still say the NEC and Region support, it still encourages it rather
The priority message has to be the election is happening and encouraging members to vote and then as a sort of drop in and throw away then yes the NEC and Region nominated Dave.
Zecial – branches that have not nominated no one and then they cannot be encouraged to vote for particular candidate but if they use their personal email account but they cannot use their branch chair or branch secretary email – inaudible –
Yes it does if anything is sent out in the official mail to the branch or by the branch secretary in their official capacity can only do so if they made an official nomination. So if the branch has not made an official nomination then, you’re talking about the opposition?
Zecial – no nomination but someone in the branch wants to encourage the members
Well they can only do it in a personal capacity and they should not be using unison resources and they shouldn’t be using unison titles and they shouldn’t use unison mailing lists, yeah. So that I the official line and the official position and that applies to people supporting Dave as well, means they can still do personal emails but they shouldn’t be using unison mailing lists.
Clare and Rachel
Clare – so the two weeks you have mentioned before and after the opening of the ballot would that be a good two weeks to tie up the branches to vote wrong way in this other activity – laughter – one if I have one branch vote the wrong way I could get them to convert their intention
Yes excellent idea, lobby of parliament that is a good idea Clare.
Rachel – inaudible
I think they can we have always said they can, inquorate meeting, did not fill in form properly then they still can but if it was not a quorate meeting it more important
Barry – Branches putting out positive messages from their own, negative messages about other candidate’s
They should not put out negative messages about the other candidates Dave campaign is a positive campaign it is about them so no they shouldn’t that might invite challenge slander liable
Joy and Joe
Joy – I cannot wait for your newsletter – inaudible-
Ok Good I think it will be next week mind, if you want to put something out this week not a problem perhaps put the wording through one of us first.
Joe – Unfriendly branches that have not nominated Dave, we will come across those branches, if we come across those campaigning in ways they should not have been
I think it depends what it is but the best bet is to contact the RMT, contact Karen, it depends what it is and how serious it is as to if it is worth registering, but there is a complaints process.
Clarification Hayley from Southampton
I do not know for sure, but there was word she was not going to get enough votes. She needed 25 votes for nomination, I do not think she got that but I do not know for certain.
Inaudible question –
Yes they can yep 2nd November yes they can definitely
The burden talking to health branches will mainly fall to health team but you should talk to Chris. Some staff will have a heavy burden and other not so much so share it out a bit.
Local government speak to Vicky
EBS to Helen about the nominated branches.
As soon as we have leaflets Karen will get the word around the region that they are in her office even though she will not say what they are.
So set some time aside 3rd, 4th 5th November to see the branches.
Vicky – Just a quick one on emailing that also includes you don’t email Karen to say you want more of those leaflets it’s any email no emails at all on this. Don’t email the branches you want to see.
Shall we move on to the trade union bill.