As the ballot closed for Unison’s general secretary election on 4 December, 23 minutes of audio recording were leaked revealing a covert campaign by Unison’s full-time staff to favour incumbent Dave Prentis in clear breach of Unison rules.
Left-wing challenger John Burgess has called for an independent enquiry led by respected labour movement representatives and for any result that secures Prentis’ victory to be declared null and void.
Burgess is right. Although this mess is probably illegal, the labour movement should hold its own to account and mete out its own justice.
This leaked file is a secret recording of a briefing by then London Regional Organiser, who instructs her colleagues in minute detail on how to campaign for a “Dave”, using Unison resources and on Unison time. During the recording we hear the contempt our regional staff have for lay members and our union’s democracy.
The briefing, held on 21 October 2015 at 2pm (when the full-timers were working on union time) starts with the organiser thanking her colleagues for their hard work in securing over 50 branch nominations for “Dave”. She tells us “Dave is very, very pleased and he’s relayed that to me personally”. Does this mean Dave Prentis himself was in on the conspiracy?
We hear that bundles of “Vote Dave Prentis” propaganda will be stored in a fellow Regional Organiser’s office. ROs should put aside 3-4 days to canvass “friendly” branches and lay activists to distribute these materials.
Branches that “nominated the opposition” should be “tied up in other activism” during the election period.
And repeatedly the full timer instructs her colleagues not to get caught.
Any casual observer of Unison’s London Region will know there is something rotten in this section of the union. The militant Tres Cosas campaigners at the University of London were originally organised in Unison. They broke and formed an independent union under the banner of the IWGB after their victory in the branch elections was declared null and void. When they protested at Unison’s offices, the bureaucrats called the riot cops.
Save Lewisham Hospital campaigners will remember the hostility of the local Unison branch and regional organisers to the campaign.
This issue is not simply an abstract question of union democracy. The regional officials implicated in this recording are the same fulltimers who thwart attempts to organise a fightback against the Tories and bully the activists that do. For the past five years public sector workers have endured an unprecedented assault on our pay, terms and conditions. There has been an onslaught of privatisation and cuts. Yet Unison has barely organised a protest.
Strikes, protests, and organising workers are hard work for union officials. This audio clip demonstrates what many of us have suspected for many years. A large section of the full-time staff see their work as “organising” a few compliant reps whilst creating a hateful, witchhunting, clique atmosphere against the militants, choking off democracy, shutting down attempts to organise.
With weak leadership few workers agitate for a fight, and so the officials can claim their pets are the true voice of the rank-and-file.
• Full article: bit.ly/Unisongate
• Call for an inquiry: bit.ly/UnisonInquiry