This post is a comment following from a previous article which discussed the ongoing disciplinary action against Heather Wakefield, Head of Local Government, in Unison.
One might ask why Unison activists should care about an obscure falling out amongst the leadership. It could be argued that the union leadership is in fact collectively responsible for the sell out of the 2014 pay campaign, and the squabbles about who said what when are ultimately irrelevant, and certainly tedious. Furthermore, is it not the case that, while Heather Wakefield may be being stitched up on this particular occasion, she shares responsibility for similar sell outs in the past, such as the pensions campaign in 2011 for example?
There is an element of truth in all that, however there are some fundamental issues of democracy, which make this matter of great importance to all Unison members:
At the Special Local Government conference in March activists in Unison Local Government unequivocally expressed their displeasure, by democratic vote, at the handling of the 2014 pay dispute. They therefore have every right to know who was ultimately responsible for the decisions made, in order to decide whether to take further action against them.
A key part of the accountability of an elected leadership is transparency. In order to make decisions as a union collectively on policy, and also on who we believe should lead our union, we require all the facts. If there is a fall out between our leaders over who is responsible for decisions made during one of our principle campaigns, we have a right to know. We need to know what decisions were made by who, in order to decide whether to hold them to account, and whether to vote for them in the future.
3) Collective Debate
It may be argued that until the issue is resolved through Unison’s disciplinary procedures it is out of order to comment on this or to demand comment from the leadership on it. This may seem reasonable at first glance, but is in fact nothing more than another example of bureaucratic sidestepping to avoid democratic discussion. The fact remains that if there is any question about the conduct of our leadership, particularly over an important industrial dispute, the forum for the discussion is not behind closed doors in a confidential disciplinary hearing, but amongst the membership itself. It should be debated at Local Government and National Delegate conferences, in branches, and at the NEC. Arguments and counterarguments should be circulated and debated, resolutions should be submitted and voted on. The debate about what went wrong with our pay campaign could, if handled properly, be transformed from being a squalid and undignified episode of backroom manoeuvres, whispering campaigns and character assassinations in the top echelons of the union into an open debate about what went wrong and why, and how best to move forward, which could include the entire membership.
Instead, we are kept in the dark, and forced to rely on rumour and supposition, while the Unison General Secretary attempts to scapegoat one individual in order to avoid accountability for his own actions, and sideline a potential leadership contender in the process. You do not have to be a Heather Wakefield fan or supporter (this writer is certainly neither) in order to be angry and disappointed with this.
If Unison is ever to be transformed into a democratic, fighting union this sorry state of affairs, and many others like it, must be challenged.