UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday 3 February 2022

Build real lay control and local organisation, not power-play at the top

With the division, and what looks like organising stagnation, in UNISON’s lay national executive (NEC) following the election of a majority running under the Time for Real Change (TFRC) ticket, it is a good time to look at what exactly lay control is, its history and how that works in partnership with the full-time structures.

It certainly wasn’t intended to centre on paying for various legal opinions to try to justify TFRC attempts to meddle with National Conference rule decisions. There may be legal loopholes but there’s also the spirit of what the supreme lay Conference intended – and Conference is the place to address that.

That of course will affect our current troubles at the top. Our lay UNISON President has just been sacked from his job and that will no doubt play out in the rules controversy and a tribunal one assumes. But difficult that is for all concerned (with members affected across the issue it seems) it doesn’t so far alter the political situation on the NEC.

No matter what the politics are, lay control surely shouldn’t be about a union of 80% women, a union that pioneered self-organisation to recognise and promote our diversity, using a TFRC ticket to replace an expected low paid woman president and most national committee chairs with white males. It’s worth remembering that some so-called ‘left’ groups historically opposed self-organisation of structurally disadvantaged groups.

Monday 31 January 2022

Damaging action behind TFRC rhetoric

I won’t lie - it has been a profoundly depressing experience attending meetings of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) this year.

Just when the pay, conditions and safety of women, many of them low paid, who make up almost 80% of our members, and who have been the heroes of Covid, should have been centre stage at NEC meetings, we have seen the unedifying spectacle of our Time for Real Change (TFRC) leadership instead spending hours debating internal wrangling.

Instead of promoting equality and diversity, TFRC has replaced most committee chairs with white men. Instead of debating and confronting the challenges of building confidence in the Local Government pay ballot, we have had to sit through engineered attacks on staff and the undermining of our own democratic processes for changing rules.

Despite TFRC’s fine words like “member led” and “union democracy”, I cannot for the life of me see where the interests of our members are being served. Their stated aims may seem to be something we can all sign up to, but what I am witnessing is the self-serving and damaging action behind that rhetoric. 

Saturday 29 January 2022

Local Government Pay Campaign - What a Shambles


'Gizza Job' - the famous words of Yosser Hughes in Boys from the Blackstuff rang true for so many in 1980s Thatcher’s Britain. Joblessness and unemployment rife and job insecurity endemic as workers were treated as collateral damage in the monetarist reshaping of the economy.

Fast forward to the 2020s and for many those issues of job insecurity and risk of unemployment has not gone away. The difference now is the claim that there are jobs aplenty for anyone who wants one. Of course, this analysis fails to take into account the issues of under-employment, the mismatch of skills to the jobs market and the flagrant attempts by employers to avoid obligations to their workers; instead, the gig economy is alive and kicking without any semblance of contractual obligations to workers.
"The paltry 1.75% pay increase for local government was highly predictable. A lesson not yet learned is that rhetoric within the walls of UNISON HQ and the parallel universe of the ultra left will not solve the pay crisis"

The results of these changes can now be seen in the volume of worker movements, exacerbated by the pandemic, many are leaping to the next job seeking better pay to compensate for their otherwise poor conditions of employment. This can only be described as a jobs crisis. But it is not limited to the private sector.

Within the public sector it looks like a pay ‘rise’ of 1.75% will land on council workers. This is against the context of a reported shortage of around 170,000 – 190,000 care workers, with 105,000 in England alone. 

Tuesday 26 October 2021

UNISON GS nails Radio 4's Any Questions


Last weekend UNISON General Secretary Christina McAnea made a strong debut on BBC Radio 4's 'Any Questions' panel discussion. The programme focused on the upcoming budget with Christina contributing well received answers on NHS funding, social care, public sector pay and levelling up. Listen here:

Any Questions? - Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, Christina McAnea, Nick Timothy, Nadhim Zahawi MP - BBC Sounds


Wednesday 20 October 2021

Turning our back on the world - UNISON NEC disaffiliates from ICTUR

On 23 September 2021 the NEC's international committee declined to reaffiliate to the International Centre for Trade Union rights (ICTUR), on cost grounds. 

This appalling decision ends over two decades of UNISON support for the London based organisation which defends and extends the rights of trade unions and trade unionists worldwide, including raising awareness of their violations. 


Friday 15 October 2021

'Not in our name' - Police & Justice Conference condemns NEC rule breaking

UNISON's first in person conference for almost 20 months was held in Brighton over the past two days. https://www.unison.org.uk/news/2021/10/police-and-justice-delegates-stress-frontline-pandemic-role/

Police and Justice branch delegates gathered to debate pay, job security, displacement of support staff workers by police officers, the welcome insourcing of a majority of probation staff and other key issues.

Notably an emergency motion condemning last week's unconstitutional, unprincipled and unviable decisions by the NEC was carried overwhelmingly. Full text below.


Conference, there is great concern following a meeting of our National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on Wednesday 6th October 2021.

At this meeting resolutions were put forward on the agenda for this meeting and our own legal department made representations suggesting that four of these resolutions were a breach of UNISON rules, unlawful and could possibly bring our union into disrepute.

Thursday 14 October 2021

Why UNISON needs to campaign on Integrated Care Proposals

On the face of it ICPs or Integrated Care Partnerships (or Services) proposed for England make a lot of sense. Anyone who has looked after an elderly relative or been in a carer role will know the frustrations of care falling between two stools. ‘Who does what?’ is often the question, and beneath a shallow surface, ‘who pays for what?’. But the model is flawed and lacks scrutiny. Like most ‘good ideas’ it has fallen into a bureaucratic framework which means ‘form’ is taking precedence over function.

The form in this case is the Health and Care Bill currently at Committee stage in Parliament. Whilst there are always concerns about the role of private companies in NHS provision some have sought to argue that the Bill in fact rolls back some of the damaging privatisation provisions from the 2012 reorganisation of the NHS.

A lot will depend on the new bodies who will inherit commissioning from the clinical commissioning groups, but there are few safeguards to prevent increased private sector involvement in NHS service delivery – though CCGs have hardly been the bastions of supporting in-house NHS or local authority services either.

At best the Bill is Janus faced. On the one hand it arguably removes some tendering requirements from NHS commissioners – something they have protested has been a costly waste of time – but on the other it could lead to unregulated procurement without tenders. Contracts for Cronies anyone?

Perceived wrongs don't justify undermining UNISON democracy

The NEC meeting on 6th October was, for me, a low point in my entire time as a UNISON activist, as the self styled “Time for Real Change” faction on the NEC forced through a series of “resolutions” despite independent legal advice deeming them to be ultra vires or beyond the scope of our powers.

On even a cursory reading of the “resolutions” it was clear to me and to anyone else that reads the rule book, that some were seeking to change or extend existing rules or were in conflict with the rule book.

A number also had implications for members of UNISON staff including the General Secretary, who was to be directed “from time to time as may be necessary” by the presidential team, conveniently forgetting that in rule it is only the GS that has the authority to act in between meetings.

It’s also worth noting that when it comes to democratic mandates, the GS was elected by the lay membership on almost twice the turn-out that many NEC members enjoy.

Friday 8 October 2021

Black History Month – Mandela’s visit to Glasgow October 1993 video

To celebrate October’s Black History Month, the Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation is launching a short video to mark the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s historic visit to Glasgow on 9 October 1993 to collect the Freedom of the City of Glasgow awarded to him in 1981 when he was still in prison. He also collected the Freedoms of eight other authorities, Midlothian, Aberdeen, Dundee, Newcastle, Hull, Sheffield, the London Borough of Greenwich and Islwyn.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Mandela famously said: “Whilst we were physically denied our freedom in the country of our birth, a city 6,000 miles away, and as renowned as Glasgow, declared us to be free.” Later he said that, while in prison: “it (the Freedom) made us realise that the world hadn’t forgotten us.”

Brian Filling, NMSMF Chair and Honorary Consul for South Africa in Scotland, said: “Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in Black history and it is important in Black History Month, and on the anniversary of his visit to Glasgow, that we remind people of his and the African National Congress’s struggle, and Scotland’s role in the fight against South Africa’s apartheid system, labelled by the United Nations as a crime against humanity.

“The apartheid system in South Africa was based on white supremacism and cheap black labour making vast profits for the West led and supported by Britain over decades”.

The six minute video will go online at 1pm on Saturday 9 October on the Foundation website at www.mandelascottishmemorial.org/9oct2021, Facebook www.facebook.com/MandelaScottishMemorial and YouTube https://youtu.be/tBo6v26ugjU It includes archive footage of Mr Mandela’s visit and a first-hand reminiscence from Michael Kelly, Lord Provost of Glasgow in 1981 when the Freedom was granted. Music comes from Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra playing “Nelson Mandela’s Welcome to the City of Glasgow” by Blair Douglas.

Monday 1 June 2020

A new resource to keep Rodney Bickerstaffe’s legacy alive for current and future generations

First published (edited) in the Morning Star April 2020: Legendary Scottish miner’s leader Michael McGahey famously and often reminded us that, "We are a movement not a monument".

It was a quote that the late Rodney Bickerstaffe, ex UNISON general secretary and president of the National Pensioners Convention, kept returning to in his wonderfully crafted speech at the unveiling of a memorial to McGahey in Bonnyrigg at the 2006 Midlothian TUC Workers’ Memorial Day.

In light of that, what would Bick (as so many knew him) make of the new memorial website launched this week by friends and comrades to celebrate his life and learn from his legacy? rodneybickerstaffe.org.uk

We hope he would have welcomed it. He certainly put enough work in during his latter years to ensure that as much history, information and learnings were deposited in the archive at Warwick University.