Socialist Party members in Unison
For years Unison activists have suspected that there has been illegitimate interference from unelected officials in the union elections in breach of the rules. As such the 2015 general secretary election was no different, except this time they got caught red handed.
The union had hoped to silence the anger of the members. Unfortunately for them the three left of Prentis candidates weren’t going to let them off that easily and now a court will determine if the election was free and fair and if it should be re-run.
Unison national executive committee member Roger Bannister, who was one of the candidates, is currently locked in this legal battle with the union. There are three other similar cases also being heard.
Roger has made two complaints. Firstly, that a meeting held in the greater London region for all organising staff breached the rules by organising for incumbent general secretary Dave Prentis during the election, when the rules are clear that no Unison resources should be used on behalf of any candidate.
And secondly that election rules were changed unconstitutionally during the election in order to get around the fact that the Prentis camp were breaking the rules.
All complainants are claiming that there was so much widespread malpractice and breaches of the rules by unelected full-time officials that the election should be re-run again.
In the face of overwhelming evidence, the union is not disputing the key facts. Instead they are accepting that there was some rule breaking, but claiming that this was by a lone “rogue” official – London regional secretary Linda Perks. They claim that once they had found out about the tape of the London meeting, they took action against her (she was initially suspended and then given a final written warning and transfer).
As such, the union wasn’t liable for her actions. In addition the problems were contained to London, and such was the margin of Prentis’ victory that even if his London vote was discounted, he would have still won. After three days of the hearing on 19-21 December, the outcome is an open question.
The judge is clearly of the view that there was a shoddy and overly restrictive investigation into one official only, when there was clear evidence that there was the open and willing participation to knowingly break the rules by the majority of London officials in the infamous meeting.
At one point she asked a national union official, pointing out that in the tape the regional secretary was instructing staff to lie, “wouldn’t this normally result in summary dismissal?” The officer being questioned had no option but to agree.
What also came out in the hearing was the extent of the involvement of senior national officials in ‘Team Dave’ (his campaign team).
In breach of the rules they organised a meeting of paid officials, funded by the union, to launch his campaign. They subsequently intervened to overturn a decision of the union election officer and the Electoral Reform Society by not allowing branches to say why they had nominated a candidate, only the fact that they had.
The judge was also clearly unhappy that when a complainant was raised that this was a breach of the rules, he was served with a lawyer’s letter threatening him with libel by Prentis, seeing this as an attempt to silence complaints.
The decision to only investigate one official was taken by the president (a member of Team Dave); the investigating officer appointed was a member of Team Dave and the panel hearing the case were members of Team Dave!
Whatever the outcome of the case, it won’t be good for the union leadership. They could be forced to re-run the election, and/or initiate further action against other officials in London.
In the meantime, the left in Unison needs to let rank-and-file members know exactly what is going on.
Through the newly-formed Unison Action group, we must assemble slates of candidates for this year’s NEC elections to ensure that an anti-Prentis majority is elected.