Unison instructs its members to enforce the bedroom tax

Unison members protest against the bedroom tax

The UK's largest public sector union, Unison, has issued guidance to its members advising them to enforce the hated bedroom tax.

Earlier this month, June, Unison sent a circular to local government branches, which is attached below. In this circular, Unison acknowledges that the bedroom tax is "grossly unfair" and claims it is "campaigning for it to be repealed".

However, the key part of the circular is about the council housing workers who will be tasked with enacting and enforcing the bedroom tax, many of whom will be Unison members, stating:

It is… vital to ensure that UNISON members are advised, that if they are employed to administer part of the arrears recovery process, that they should follow the instructions of their employer and that they should be advised that they are placing their continued employment at risk if they choose not to fulfil their contract of employment.

This applies whether that is the sending of reminder letters, issuing possession proceedings, applying to the Magistrate’s Court for a possession order, attending Court, instructing bailiffs or attending with bailiffs in order to secure possession.

This advice is at odds with the positions of at least some Unison branches, like mine, who have democratically decided to oppose the bedroom tax and agreed in principle to attempt to resist enforcing it.

In my view, while it is true that employees who refuse to carry out the instructions of their employer can get in trouble, that is not a valid reason to instruct employees to do exactly what their employers tell them. If workers always did that, we would still be working 16 hour days 360-odd days a year!

When we stick together, we can get away with defying management. In this situation, where only a small minority of council workers are the ones who would have to bear the risk of refusing this work, the rest of us can support them, for example by adopting a policy of stating that we will all strike if any housing workers are disciplined for refusing to implement the bedroom tax.

Now, to be clear I am not opposed to advising workers factually on what their legal rights are. And this is something I do myself on a regular basis. However, by just instructing members to enforce the bedroom tax, and not even try to make any attempt to practically oppose it, Unison nationally is once again showing itself to be on the side of the government and employers against both public sector workers and the working class people who will be hurt by this tax.

And it is only by us organising together as a class to defy the government, the employers and the unions if necessary that will give us the best chance of defeating this tax.

AttachmentSize
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Comments

caden_godard
Jun 22 2013 17:43

Unison are just ridiculous. I got an e-mail from them today telling me that they were coming to my hometown next week to collect personal stories about people affected by cuts, especially the Bedroom tax, as part of a roadshow touring the country. No wonder so few people have faith in trade unions

antoniamautempo
Jun 22 2013 18:55

Interesting. I guess the local administration and (extra) state institutions are aware that they will have to face the social brunt of the cuts ordered from further above. At Tower Hamlet Homes, an arms-length ex-council housing company with around 70,000 mainly working class residents, management encouraged all 160 care takers and estate cleaners to take part in a work-shop on the impact of the cuts and bedroom tax - during official working time. They assume that the care takers are close to residents on a daily level and will have to deal with the social consequences. Knowing the cooperation between THH management and local state we can assume that the work-shop was seen by state and management as a wider effort to tune the social seismocraphic apparatus. But in the end they had little to offer. The first part of the work-shop was a woman of the credit union explaining us how great it is to take out a loan from the credit union, instead from loan sharks. She also said that their bank account has a special feature of comportmentalisation, where you basically only see your spending money, while money for bills and rent is already boxed away. Must be a sad experience at the cash machine, I guess. The second half was a good description of the cuts by a guy from an advice centre in Bow, but all he could say was that we should encourage residents facing the benefit cap to take on a 16 hours job in order to avoid it. Great advice.

I also went to a meeting on the bedroom-tax, in Bethnal Green end of last month, which turned out to be a SP meeting. It was interesting and depressing to see how the party and electoral circus is already waiting in position to gobble up any shoots of discontent. The meeting started with a unison organiser and SP member explaining that the struggle against the bedroom tax has to be imbedded in a wider political struggle and that the TUSC (trade union and socialist coalition) will stand for the next local election, putting pressure on the local (Labour) councils not to accept the austerity measures. They asked any of the 20 participants whether they would consider standing as local candidates in the coming council election. Things will have to snap.

rachaelstanley
Jun 22 2013 19:42

I hope UNISON don't expect my solidarity next time they strike. Go and do one.

Steven.
Jun 22 2013 20:27
rachaelstanley wrote:
I hope UNISON don't expect my solidarity next time they strike. Go and do one.

sorry, but this is not the reason I wrote this blog, at all.

I am a Unison rep myself, and as I said lots of Unison members want to boycott the bedroom tax and fight it. It is the union leadership that is trying to sabotage this: and they are nothing to do with the rest of us. They are extremely well-paid functionaries on six-figure salaries who are in bed with the Labour Party.

I've got to go out now so not time to respond to this property. However the majority of Unison members are low-paid women, many of them part-time, and most in receipt of some kind of benefits themselves.

fingers malone
Jun 22 2013 20:57

It's not like this guidance was put to a vote of the whole unison membership and they voted in favour of it, the ordinary unison member doesn't have any control over the leadership putting out something like this.

The only way realistically that people will feel confident enough to decide to disobey instructions and resist implementing the bedroom tax is if there is a really big movement against it, and a culture of solidarity that will back them up.

Celticus
Jun 23 2013 08:20

I'm also a UNISON rep and a lay official, and I can't help feeling that the people attacking the recent circular are either hopelessly naive or recklessly sectarian - and neither will do UNISON members any good.

The circular re-states the obvious position - we have to advise members to perform their duties, within their job description, unless there is a legitimate industrial dispute in progress.The idea that a re-statement of the legal position of the members and the union should be put to a vote of the membership is just plain daft.

Celticus
Jun 23 2013 08:59

As if to prove my point here's what samotnaf, a user of this site, sent to me in a message - admin: private message text removed ...'

Nice work samotnaf - what the working class needs is more doughty eliminators of the collaborationists, especially on the basis of one post.

Uncreative
Jun 23 2013 09:14
Celticus wrote:
I'm also a UNISON rep and a lay official, and I can't help feeling that the people attacking the recent circular are either hopelessly naive or recklessly sectarian - and neither will do UNISON members any good.

Care to give a reason why you think that?

Celticus wrote:
The circular re-states the obvious position - we have to advise members to perform their duties, within their job description, unless there is a legitimate industrial dispute in progress. The idea that a re-statement of the legal position of the members and the union should be put to a vote of the membership is just plain daft.

You do realise no one is advocating that, right?

Stevens original post states that:

Steven wrote:
Now, to be clear I am not opposed to advising workers factually on what their legal rights are. And this is something I do myself on a regular basis. However, by just instructing members to enforce the bedroom tax, and not even try to make any attempt to practically oppose it, Unison nationally is once again showing itself to be on the side of the government and employers against both public sector workers and the working class people who will be hurt by this tax

(EDIT)So the problem isn't the legal advice, its that all they've offered is legal advice and that legal advice is do what they're told.(EDIT)

Fingers was (i believe) pointing out that its not as though there has been a ballot of the unison membership and they've voted 100% in favour of enforcing the bedroom tax, so itd be mistaken to take the position of the poster who said theyd not be supporting Unison when they next go on strike.

Also, "internet forum user in sending angry personal message shock".

Chilli Sauce
Jun 23 2013 11:31

Celt, there's a long history with Sam and let's just say it's no surprise he sent you that in a PM than posting it here on the forums.

In any case, there is a larger point that Sam has touched upon: namely by accepting the trade union bargain (state registration, privileged status in representing workers to management), UNISON is obligated to enforce the law. This mean that officials are put in a position of helping to enforce anti-worker laws like the one laid out in the circular.

I speak as an ex-UNISON rep myself and a big part of the reason that says 'ex' is because when I tried to organise my fellow teaching assistants not to cross NUT picket lines, I was specifically told it was part of my responsibility as a steward to instruct members in my workplace to go in during a strike. If I did anything different, I could get UNISON 'sued out of existence'. And that's why I think it's okay to use unions for what they're worth, but we must also understand there are limits which will be reached very quickly if we try to take any sort of action that even has a vague chance of success.

This is all covered pretty well in Libcom's intro to the unions. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on that:

http://libcom.org/library/unions-introduction

Chilli Sauce
Jun 23 2013 11:36
rachaelstanley wrote:
I hope UNISON don't expect my solidarity next time they strike. Go and do one.

Rachael, I don't want to come across as attacky, but I really hope you'd reconsider why you feel this way. The point is that, yeah, of course UNISON is shit. But by not showing solidarity, you're not hurting UNISON, you're hurting workers.

What's key is to find ways to show solidarity directly. We need to bypass the 'official' union structures which, through their adherence to the law and their cozy relationship with management, actively work against the interests of not only UNISON members, but the wider working class.

Steven.
Jun 23 2013 11:41
Celticus wrote:
I'm also a UNISON rep and a lay official, and I can't help feeling that the people attacking the recent circular are either hopelessly naive or recklessly sectarian - and neither will do UNISON members any good.

The circular re-states the obvious position - we have to advise members to perform their duties, within their job description, unless there is a legitimate industrial dispute in progress.

now this latter part of this sentence I think is the key one.

In my mind what we - i.e. workers who want to help other workers fight in our own interests - should be doing, is thinking about how we can do things like defend our conditions and stop regressive taxes like the bedroom tax. Of course any time we try to fight the employers we can get in trouble. But this doesn't mean that we don't try.

Hence in this instance instead of just telling members to do what they're told, we should be trying to find ways of supporting workers who want to help their fellow workers who will be hurt by the bedroom tax. So my suggestion, above, was that you could possibly have a "legitimate industrial dispute" against disciplinaries being carried out on our members who were boycotting implementation of the tax. Or if it turned out that wasn't legally viable we could manufacture a fake "legitimate" dispute which we could then ballot over, say for an increase in holiday or something.

Or of course it could be a dispute over workloads. Enforcing the bedroom tax will be extra work, almost certainly for a smaller number of workers with all the cuts. So we could have a "legitimate" dispute refusing the additional work.

And certainly, as I said in my original blog which you don't seem to have read properly, I have no problem with advising members of their legal rights. But we should also be saying that we have strength in numbers (isn't that the fundamental basis of unions?). In my workplace we have used selective boycotts of certain bits of work, or the threat of it at least, to win things like the reinstatement of a suspended worker.

Quote:
The idea that a re-statement of the legal position of the members and the union should be put to a vote of the membership is just plain daft.

I never suggested that. However, union policy on the bedroom tax could be put to a vote of the membership. Like in the post office, the postal workers' union, for example have decided to ballot members to boycott private mail companies' post. Now of course anyone boycotting work could get in trouble: but if we stick together we can win.

Indeed, in some branches like mine the membership already voted to oppose and attempt to boycott the bedroom tax. This national union advice is going directly against our policy democratically decided by members, who are aware of the risks but despite them want to try to stop this tax which will hurt other working-class people.

Celticus wrote:
As if to prove my point here's what samotnaf, a user of this site, sent to me in a message -

If it makes you feel any better, Samotnaf also thinks I'm a cop.1

N.b. though in future if somebody sends you a private message please do not post it publicly. If you are unhappy with the contents please let an admin know.

  • 1. A point of clarification following a complaint from Samotnaf: this is a tongue-in-cheek comment he did not exactly call me a police officer
Glimmer
Jun 23 2013 16:54

No! When they strike it is workers in struggle that we must support despite the beurocracy. We support the rank and file against the leadership every time.

Glimmer
Jun 23 2013 16:59

Kirklees Unison branch had just passed a motion supporting the anti Bedroom Tax campaign and calling for a meeting of workers to discuss not implementing this tax. The ruling from the leadership that Unison cannot support people who tefuse to implement this tax has come as a response to a groundswell of opinion from the ranks and is an attempt to head off such action.
This Unison branch is also balloting for strike action against compilsory redundancies. We must support the interests of rank and file workers against the machinations of the beuracracy every time to try to move the struggle forward.

fingers malone
Jun 23 2013 17:28

Good luck to Kirklees branch and hope we see much more of this. Please keep us posted Glimmer.

Celticus
Jun 24 2013 06:49

In reply to your bit about noo-ne advocating putting the guidance to a vote, Fingers said 'It's not like this guidance was put to a vote of the whole unison membership and they voted in favour of it.'

Why do I think some of the people opposed to the guidance are sectarian? Because of people like the pondlife who called me a cop in a private message you won;t allow me to quote from. It's dead easy to be a keyboard warrior when you don't spend half your day in disciplinaries advising your members how to keep their jobs.

The point about the trade union bargain is well made -it is a bargain, and because we spend so much time defending individuals we do get tied in to a process and a system. The calculation reps like me make is that for the people I represent the outcomes would be worse if we didn't consent to that bargain,

I replied to Steven's original post because I thought it was not representative of what UNISON is doing in my area - we're organizing a broad based campaign against the bedroom tax, in our branch, in our region and via partner bodies like the PSA. Either Steven's area isn't like that, or he chose not to mention it. We couldn't run that campaign without support from the full time officials of the union, because they have time and resources we don;t have.

Someone asked if I'd read your paper on the unions, and I have, In response to the preachy, snotty tone of some posters I'll say this - it read like a second rate undergraduate essay on the topic of left anarchism. There's nothing in it (despite the heaps of anecdotes about things that happened in the 70s and 80s) that wasn't covered off in the debates around 'The Miners Next Step' in the years before World War One.

At heart I know that either this post will be deleted or I'll be dismissed by you all as a collaborationist, but this tactical debate, about working for a glorious revolution that may never come or working for your members today is as old as the hills - should we wait for pie in the sky sometime before we die, or scrap for more bread today? However, if you ant to be taken seriously, you have to at least try to tell the truth.

fingers malone
Jun 24 2013 08:12

Ok just quickly, Uncreative already explained where I was coming from, but I was specifically replying to the poster who said that they wouldn't support a strike by Unison members, so I was just saying that it's not like every Unison member has voted and agreed to implement the bedroom tax.

Got a lot more to say but I have to go to work.

Unison in my area organised a meeting against the bedroom tax a couple of weeks ago, I think branches vary widely across the country and unions (like this website) are not monolithic entities.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 24 2013 08:29

Celt, you're in no position to judge anyone for being preachy or for making sweeping statements.

If I had more time I'd respond to your post in more detail, but for the time being, I'm only going to address this:

Quote:
Why do I think some of the people opposed to the guidance are sectarian? Because of people like the pondlife who called me a cop in a private message you won;t allow me to quote from. It's dead easy to be a keyboard warrior when you don't spend half your day in disciplinaries advising your members how to keep their jobs.

Steven is a UNISON rep. I used to be a UNISON steward. And at least one other person who's posted on this thread is, if not a rep, certainly very active in their union. So you're right that a lot of this comes from a theoretical standpoint, but that's bolstered by the practical experience we've had as reps.

Now, I accept that from your perspective it might seem like the trade union bargain is the only option. In the absence of other viable options that's fair enough. But even from the perspective of trade unionism, how has that bargain worked out for the past 30+ years? Union membership has been in decline for decades. Real wages have been stagnant and declining since the 80s. Practically, the trade union movement hasn't made any real gains in a very long time and the each subsequent government since Thatcher has tightened anti-worker laws.

The unions' response to this? Vote Labour? Sit back while UNISON continues to individualize grievances and disciplinaries and undermine any attempts to link struggles across trade union boundaries. But, hey, Brendan Barber is a knight now, so there's always that...

I don't mean that as a criticism of you, but it seems to me that trade unionism has been failing on its own terms for a long time. Given that, I think it might make sense to re-evaluate your position that accepting that bargain is the best option and perhaps give some thought to other ways workers can support each in the workplace.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 24 2013 08:37

Also, Celt, I just had a re-read of the intro the unions piece. I'd say about half the examples (and certainly the most detailed ones) are from post-2000. I don't think you actually made a serious attempt to engage with it--in general, I don't think your snarky, dismissive tone suggests any real interest in having a serious discussion.

Perhaps, if you intend to respond further, you could quote the specific bits of articles and posts to which you are responding?

fingers malone
Jun 24 2013 09:08

Celt is a new poster, could we all try and be a bit polite? We might actually have a useful discussion here.

Spikymike
Jun 24 2013 12:37

There is nothing wrong with 'firefighting' the employers attacks on individual members using the 'rules and regulations' where we can, and trade unions today often (but not always) deliver a useful insurance policy for their members in this way, but that is no substitute for self-organised collective action and has to be viewed, in the case of UNISON and local government for instance, against the failure to even dent- accross the board wage cuts, pension cuts, massive job losses and restructurings all to the detrimant of local government workers.

As to the response of UNISON and UNISON branches to the bedroom tax (which presumably affects some of their own members personally) this seems, as with other unions like UNITE to be opposition mostly in the form of information giving and political campaigning and I will be suprised if this results, even where motions in support of refusal to implement are passed at branch level, to see any widespread refusal by workers on the ground - unless there is at the same time some external organised pressure from tenants directly affected by this latest measure.

Ex-UNISON member.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 24 2013 22:54
fingers malone wrote:
Celt is a new poster, could we all try and be a bit polite? We might actually have a useful discussion here.

I don't know. I feel like, given Celt's tone, folks were pretty restrained. What particular bits do you feel were impolite?

Steven.
Mar 3 2014 23:57
Celticus wrote:
At heart I know that either this post will be deleted or I'll be dismissed by you all as a collaborationist, but this tactical debate, about working for a glorious revolution that may never come or working for your members today is as old as the hills - should we wait for pie in the sky sometime before we die, or scrap for more bread today? However, if you ant to be taken seriously, you have to at least try to tell the truth.

must have missed this at the time: this particularly sticks in my craw, as of course the phrase "pie in the sky" was coined by a revolutionary, Joe Hill.

Whereas in fact the person sitting around waiting for "pie in the sky" is not me or those of us who are actually trying to organise to win things, but is you, who think that if we all just do as we're told and don't break any rules, somehow the great and benevolent union leaders (and probably the Labour Party) will save us all in the end.