As the returning officer report about the Unison general secretary election is published, more leaks have shown the level of corruption inside Unison.
Prentis was re-elected general secretary of Unison on a tiny turn-out of 9.8%, an incredibly diminished vote, and with allegations of union staff campaigning for him against the rules of the union. A report by the returning officer report was due out on 10 January, but was published five weeks late.
It makes very dull reading. Although some of the very many allegations were upheld, no decision was made on the allegation that London Regional Staff and London Regional Secretary were instrumental to winning votes across London because there is an ongoing investigation. The report argues that since Prentis’ vote in London at 46% was lower than other region then even if the investigation proves wrongdoing then it wouldn’t significantly alter the result. So never mind!
What makes more interesting reading is the new whistleblower reports to Private Eye. “Team Dave” emails sent out by Cliff Williams (Unison assistant general secretary, whose boss is Prentis) were leaked. Williams was organising the campaign for Dave Prentis in defiance of the rule that staff should not play such a roll. The email was sent to 50 people including 45 unison regional secretaries, full time union staff in regions, and national officers including Roger McKenzie, who is leading the investigation into the London region allegations and National President Wendy Nichols, who is charged with ensuring investigations and Returning Officers reports are published and acted upon. Of course there is no evidence that Dave Prentis knew any of this, but it seems unlikely he didn’t. Apart from those in the London region, there is no evidence that full-time staff campaigned during work time, but staff should not campaign for candidates — in work time or out! We hope that the next revelations come through Unison channels and not just through Private Eye.
Librarians plan more strikes
We have lost access to 14 million library books and 400 libraries in the UK since 2010. The Tory's assault on local government has meant brutal cuts in our local library services that academics, professional bodies, unions and user groups agree is an existential threat to the national library network. With four more years of the Tory government, library campaigns and unions must unite to fight back against these cuts. Some industrial action is already underway. February saw strikes in the Lambeth, Barnet and Greenwich library services. This is spreading and deepening. This week Lewisham library workers in Unison have announced a ballot for strikes against cuts in their local service. Lambeth Unison is set to an announce a strategy of escalating strikes in their library service and are seeking to strengthen the library workers’ strike by holding a consultative ballot for strikes across the entire council workforce in solidarity with library workers. Shop stewards across Unite and Unison have begun to discuss how to support each others’ action and are calling for a demonstration in London, bringing together campaigns from across the capital. Given there will soon be live industrial action ballots on five London boroughs, trade unionists should push for coordinated action in London library services.
FE college workers strike over pay
On Wednesday 24 February, as Solidarity goes to press, workers in Further Education (FE colleges) in England will strike over pay.
University and College Union (UCU) members struck in November but this time they will be joined by workers who are organised by Unison. The dispute is in response to the imposition of a pay freeze by the employer organisation, the Association of Colleges. Further action will be needed after 24 February if the tide of cuts to FE is to be stopped.
Workers need to be given confidence from their unions that there will be an organised fight, as opposed to single days of action that win nothing. But that confidence should not just be trust in the leadership to do something, but a confidence in members own ability to act. Workplace-level organisation needs to be rebuilt, learning the lessons of public facing campaigns like that of the junior doctors currently.
The National Union of Teachers is currently balloting workers in sixth form colleges who are also hit by the huge funding cuts to post-16 education. Action should be coordinated between the unions. We need emergency conferences, uniting all the unions in post-16 education, to begin this work and we should call on and unite with the new forces of anti-austerity in the Labour Party to stand with us.
Tube drivers and DLR balloted for strikes
Drivers in the RMT union on London Underground's Piccadilly Line will be balloted for strikes in a ballot lasting from 22 February to 8 March.
RMT says Piccadilly Line management has abused disciplinary procedures. Drivers previously voted for strikes in October 2015, over similar issues.
An RMT statement said: “Following the strong 'yes' vote in the [October] ballot result, some progress was made over the issues and LUL gave commitments regarding the above which allowed us to await the outcome of further discussions in the hope that a resolution would be reached. “However, since this time there have been further breaches of the disciplinary procedure and a lack of consistency by local management dealing with issues on the line.”
On the Docklands Light Railway, RMT will ballot cleaning workers employed by Interserve for strikes over job cuts and unilateral changes to their contracts and shift patterns. Interserve is one of the main contractors providing cleaning services across Transport for London, and is notorious for abusing its staff, including by routinely short-paying them. In December, Interserve workers and their supporters demonstrated outside the company's offices to demand an end to short-payment and job cuts.