Sunday, 14 June 2015

Division at the Top?

Unisons Local Government Conference has been taking place over the last 2 days without its Head of Local Government Heather Wakefield. The National conference starts on Tuesday this week.

These conferences are ostensibly an opportunity for Unison members (delegated by their union branches and self-organised groups), to vote on policy and, if necessary, hold the national leadership to account. This year, Local Government delegates have not had that opportunity.

 After the Tory victory at the general election, and the suspension of industrial action over pay in local government, this may be one of the most important conferences for years.

It is therefore unfortunate that divisions right at the heart of Unison's national leadership have not been communicated to members or delegates. Delegates are being kept in the dark over the real reason for Heather Wakefield's absence.

It seems that she is currently signed off with work-related stress until 29 June, preventing her from attending either the national delegate conference, or the two day Local Government conference on Sunday 14 and Monday 15 June.

This allegedly comes after a few years of ill treatment by senior officials in the union including Dave Prentis, and a disciplinary hearing that will be held in July due to Heather allegedly bringing the union into disrepute for following the wishes of the NJC committee.

It is reported that this disciplinary is the culmination of a serious disagreement between Heather Wakefield and Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis over who is at fault for the unpopular climb down from last year's pay dispute, which led to planned strike action being cancelled without any consultation with branches or members, and to a Local Government Special Conference in March of this year where the leadership of both the national union and the local government section received a very public slap on the wrist from angry local government activists. Furthermore, as someone who is seen as a potential challenger against Prentis for the upcoming General Secretary election, and as someone who attempted to run against him previously, Wakefield has a target on her back. Many believe she was unfairly blamed for the climb down by Prentis and his supporters in order to deflect criticism of the General Secretary and discredit Wakefield. However, Wakefield was in fact excluded from a number of key negotiations during the dispute. It was Prentis who first insisted on going ahead with strike action, before cancelling them after one day of action, pulling the rug out from under Unison reps, activists and members.

In a document detailing the history of the dispute submitted to the Local Government Special Conference, the leadership essentially blamed Wakefield for the climb down over pay.
There are also reports from concerned staff that Prentis has over a period of years shouted at Wakefield in an open plan office that she is “finished”, and criticised her for always going on about the “divisive” issue of gender.

The exact details of what Wakefield is being disciplined for are unclear, but it is reported to be about a press release announcing strike action on 30 September without GMB and UNITE and tweeting the same information. Wakefield was following the express wishes of the NJC committee.

At the TUC General council it has been reported that both UNITE and GMB claimed Wakefield had broken unity and brought the campaign and unison into disrepute by announcing without them. Prentis then allegedly intervened to first postpone that strike then do a deal with GMB and UNITE to call the whole thing off. Leaving our members worse off than the initial pay offer.

The disciplinary is said to be set to coincide with the leadership election at Prentis’s behest.

Obviously, many of the exact details of this affair are unclear, but given that it is clearly intertwined with two of the most important issues facing Unison at the moment - the public sector pay campaign, and the upcoming General Secretary election - the membership surely deserves some honest clarification from the union leadership and the General Secretary. We doubt many will be holding their breath on that one.

This sums up Unison's attitude to negotiations: stitch it up and keep it away from members, now it seems they are treating their staff just as badly if they dare to follow lay member instructions.


  1. Saw your tweet! Well what do you expect from someone who accepts a re appointment as governor of the Bank of England what with him and Paul Kenny accepting an honour they are a disgrace to the union movement.

    Awful behaviour.

    Not always Heather Wakefields biggest fan but it's been clear for a while she's being stitched up.


  2. It appears that Heather Wakefield herself is now subject to the same corrupt, bullying practices that have plagued that organisation's London Region certainly for as long as I can remember. The 'Jimmy Saville' scenario of the union movement - everyone knows what's going on but no one has the guts to do anything about it. Disillusioned members, often let down personally by this shower despite the honourable efforts of dedicated local activists, leave in droves. A clear case of what goes around comes around if ever there was.

  3. I thought I'd signed my comment, I don't do 'unknown'

    Rob Sale

  4. I thought I'd signed my comment, I don't do 'unknown'

    Rob Sale

  5. Currently being a victim of something similar to what is described about Heather, she now has my vote.

  6. It is alleged by Deborah Orr that Prentis is either a Blairite or neo Blairite. If even partially true, then vote anyone other than Prentis.

  7. Don't know much about internal UNISON politics but it's clear that Prentice has been in post too long and that under his leadership UNISON is in massive decline. Heather Wakefield looks like a much better prospect for General Sec.