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

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

UNISON's LGPS Ballot - Questions of Democracy and Leadership

UNISONActive has endorsed the democratic process of the union in relation to the ballot on the LGPS proposals for England and Wales, particularly in regard to the Local Government Service Group. This was not a process imposed on the union by officials. It was the decision of the local government conference.

On 17 June the UNISON's local government conference voted to carry out a full consultation of members before deciding any recommendation in the ballot on proposals for a new Local Government Pension Scheme in England and Wales from 2014. The vote came after almost two hours of full debate on both the consultation process and the proposals themselves in a lively conference session.

Further it was agreed that “Consultation will now take place in branches and regions to inform the service group executive, which will meet in July at the same time as the other four UNISON service groups with members in the scheme, before it decides on any recommendation to members in the ballot, which will take place from 31 July to 24 August”.

The course of action that was laid out by that Conference has been followed. All five LGPS service groups carried out consultation exercises and four out of five followed the democratic mandate that the members gave them to recommend the LGPS proposals in the following ballot. It was not the local government service group that ignored the members' views, and the small number of SGE members in Higher Education who deliberately and divisively flouted the members’ mandate will have to face their electorate. The Local Government SGE took the democratic results of consultation and made the recommendation that flowed from that.

UNISON is not an anarchic conglomeration of autonomous branches. As a union we accept collective discipline and decision making, or rather the majority of us do. At branch level we have all engaged in debates about employers proposals that are laid before us but as shop stewards and branch officers we all accept that there is a time where the debate stops - and that is when a democratic branch decision has been reached . It would be inconceivable that those who lost the vote would then campaign against the branch.

When the national situation is the same, when the union has undertaken a democratic decision making process, it should be equally unbelievable that those who lost the vote should expect to campaign against the democratic decision

For a small minority within our union, democracy is an optional extra that only applies to them when it is their voice that prevails. The last refuge of the scoundrel in this case is an arrogant assumption that that they have a monopoly of wisdom with regard to the rules, and a right to trumpet their flawed “interpretation” in the blogosphere, though ignoring the collective view of the union that has been consistently expressed in its support for the union’s Democracy Guidelines through the national delegate conference.

To quote those guidelines and conference policy: 'there is an obligation on branches, regions and the NEC to promote existing policy and to accept collective responsibility once decisions have been democratically taken. Once policy has been agreed by democratic means at an appropriate level, all members should expect that those who may not have agreed with the decision establishing policy but were in a minority, should not be able simply to withdraw it. Such action would undermine the whole principle of collective strength and solidarity which the democracy of the union is established to promote. Democracy cannot thrive if agreed policies count for nothing. Outside bodies should not be able to seek to undermine the established and agreed policies of the union’. http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/13305.pdf

In the pensions debate, there has been a clear union agreement made through the service group conference about the procedure to be adopted, about the involvement of branches and about the construction of a recommendation on the pensions proposals by the SGE. The policy of the local government service group is to recommend a YES vote and was determined by its elected SGE in accordance with UNISON rules. It is ironic that those who usually call for the union to show leadership are the most reluctant to accept that leadership when it is arrived at by the democratic processes of the union.