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

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Facts of Public Life

Last week UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis was appointed a Non-Executive Director of the Bank of England. As an experienced member of the TUC’s Executive Committee and President of Unity Trust, the trade union bank, he would appear the obvious choice to replace Brendan Barber, the retiring TUC General Secretary, as the TUC nominee at the UK’s Central Bank. Yet it is a sad reflection of the immaturity of some in the movement that representing trade unions in a key economic institution can be portrayed as 'collaborating' with the Con Dem Government. Surely the basic purpose of trade unions is to represent the interests of workers?

Some have accused UNISON's General Secretary of 'stepping further into the world of company directors' as though sitting around a table seven times a year to discuss the internal governance of a Central Bank in a non-executive capacity, with all business a matter of public record, is somehow tantamount to selling out for a trade union leader.

It is valid that trade union leaders should be held to account and judged on their track record, deeds as well as words. Whether conducting real or phantom industrial action; real or never-never-land civil disobedience - to name two recent examples.

But it is a strange 'stop the world and get off' notion of trade union leadership that workers' interests should not be put forward to policy makers in all walks of industrial and public life - whether in private company board rooms, the offices of cabinet ministers or in the case of the Court of Directors of the Bank of England, the management board of a public organisation:

Trade union representation on bodies such as the Low Pay Commission enables crucial arguments to be put against in-work poverty that would otherwise go unheard. No one is under any illusions that a single union representative at the highest level of the Bank of England gives organised labour control of the levers of economic policy. But it gives us a voice.

Until and unless British trade unions decide to abandon tripartism - which sees trade unionists sitting alongside employers and civil servants in hundreds of public bodies at national, regional and local level - criticism of individuals for holding public office on behalf of the movement will remain fatuous.