Members of the University of London Senate House branch of Unison staged a protest outside Unison headquarters in Euston today. They were protesting the decision of the Greater London Region to annul the results of the branch committee election.
This move by unelected regional officials disenfranchised scores of the union's most low-paid and precarious workers, many of whom were involved in the 3 Cosas campaign for sickpay, holidays and pensions, as well as other University of London staff.
Though they insisted on a postal ballot, the regional office oversaw a shambolic process during which two different coloured ballot papers were sent out and many workers received no ballots at all. Region then used the high level of re-sent ballots as grounds to annul the election, effectively seeking advantage from their own incompetence.
Several complaints were made by members regarding the number of disenfranchised members who failed to receive ballots, the exclusion of one incumbent branch committee member from re-standing, concerns about the use of facility time for campaigning, and the alleged partiality showed towards some candidates by unelected officers.
Nevertheless, these complaints were ignored, with Region instead citing a London Student article which was printed near the close of the election when most ballots had been returned in the post as having constituted "interference in a Unison ballot from an external source".
The protest was loud, lively and visible, with many workers commenting that they had not expected to have to demonstrate outside the headquarters of their own union. Many carried signs saying "Unison wants our money but not our votes" and "We voted...you count it!", and chanted in both English and Spanish demanding union democracy.
It received support from members of local Unison branches and a member of the Unison Higher Education Service Group Executive, as well as the Industrial Workers of Great Britain union.
When members tried to gain access to the Unison building, they were forcibly stopped by security guards who physically blocked the entrance and locked the doors. Unison staff took pictures of members outside and called the police, summoning two plainclothes officers to the scene.
Members are discussing the way forward in taking back ownership of our branch so that it can continue to fight for members' interests, rather than get stalled in a battle with the regional officials who are supposed to be answerable to us.