London bus workers show how building from below counters shuffling to the right

Ian Allinson, the grassroots socialist candidate in the Unite General Secretary election, talks about how his campaign is already helping shake things up and preventing the debate drifting rightwards.A London bus

One of the aims of my campaign is to strengthen the networks of activists who want to see a more vibrant, bottom up, union that is more effective in standing up to employers. This will be essential whoever the next General Secretary is. So I was delighted when London bus workers got involved with producing a specific leaflet.

The leaflet caused quite a stir. Not only did it highlight bullying and disciplinaries, and the huge pay disparities, it also asked whether the momentum of the London-wide pay campaign was squandered merely to avoid embarrassing Sadiq Khan and revealed that Unite wasted an opportunity to coordinate action with the other unions on the London Underground. It highlighted the unaccountability of the Unite representative on the TfL board. I pledged to call together a conference of Unite reps and activists on the buses, and invite activists from all the underground unions to explore how we can coordinate action and fight for the renationalisation of London buses.

Now, by an amazing coincidence, Unite has issued this news release, quoting Len McCluskey (didn’t he step down for the campaign?) addressing a London bus workers conference, talking about needing to tackle pay inequality. If this is more than election-period rhetoric, everyone should throw themselves into the campaign, but keep building up the networks of activists so that the campaign can’t be thrown under a bus again.

There’s something of a pattern developing. North Sea oil activists are frustrated at what they see as partnership arrangements with employers and a lack of communication from union officials. Their unofficial networks organised an online hustings for the General Secretary candidates, though I was the only one to take part. Not long afterwards, McCluskey’s campaign issued a statement about offshore workers (claiming credit for everything the members have achieved).

If there wasn’t a rank and file left challenge, this contest would have continued in the same vein as McCluskey’s campaign launch, backsliding on workers rights to travel freely and be treated equally to try to fend off right-winger Coyne. We would have seen the great shuffling right show. Instead, where activists resist the pressure to fall in line behind the union establishment, McCluskey is being forced to respond to pressure from below. If my candidacy has contributed to that process then I am delighted.

Oppose Trident, resist partnership, campaign for sustainable jobs

Ian Allinson, the only candidate for Unite General Secretary to oppose Trident, argues that the union’s support for weapons of mass destruction is part of a wider partnership agenda which hinders effective campaigning for sustainable jobs, including the million climate jobs campaign.

Trident missile launching

Opposition to Trident and its renewal was growing even before the latest debacle where the government appears to have tried to cover up a failed test launch before a crucial vote in the House of Commons.

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The suppressed report on women officers in Unite

Unite General Secretary candidate Ian Allinson had asked Len McCluskey for a copy of the report into women officers in Unite and asked for it to be made available to members before nominations opened. The union refused to release it. Ian Allinson has now been sent the report anonymously, and has published it alongside this statement.

Now having had the opportunity to read the report, it is clear both why it must be made available to members, and why the leadership of Unite has sought to supress it.

Many union activists have to argue with employers that hiding problems prevents dealing with them, and to be more open and transparent about equality issues. This was the logic behind our lobbying for mandatory equal pay reviews, and even behind the Tories’ watered down gender pay gap reporting. How can activists expect to be taken seriously challenging employers when our own union is adopting a less than role-model approach?

The research was commissioned by the Officers’ National Committee in 2016 and undertaken by two experienced and reputable independent researchers, Jennifer Hurstfield and Sarah Silcox. They have previously published in both academic and professional journals, and led research projects for organisations including ACAS, CIPD, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Institute of Employment Research, ACAS, and the Health and Safety Executive.

The heart of the research was a detailed survey sent out to 76 female Unite officers, which achieved a 100% response rate.

The report shows significant problems with sexism, bullying and harassment within the union and that many women officers do not trust the leadership to deal with these problems fairly. Many perceive that management will deal with problems according to the relative power of those involved within the Unite structure. As well as issues specifically affecting women officers, the report indicates problems with management and working practices in our union (e.g. work allocation) that are also likely to affect male officers. The wider implications involve not just women and those with other protected characteristics / equality strands but all employees and members of Unite.

  • 68% of the 69 women officers who answered the question said they had experience a hostile working environment, and the breakdown of what that meant is frankly horrific. Over 70% said that Unite members were primarily responsible for the hostility they experienced – which shows this problem cannot be tackled under a blanket of secrecy.
  • 70% of women officers report they have experienced hostility at work (primarily from Unite members) because they are women. The breakdown of what the hostility meant is frankly horrific. Around 40% have felt frightened because of a real or threatened incident.
  • Over half of women officers have raised a bullying or harassment issue with the union in the past five years. Half of these do not believe that the issue was handled at all well by management. Only a quarter said management handled their problem well.
  • Concerns were raised that how management dealt with a complaint of bullying or harassment could depend on the status of the people involved
  • While many women said there had been an improvement in how complaints were dealt with, the largest group of women officers (42%) believe the working environment at Unite has stayed the same over the past five years (with equal proportions either side believing it has got better or worse)
  • Many officers feel the current process for allocating work lacks transparency, 40% do not feel able to discuss work concerns with their line manager, and 40% also believe that talking about their work concerns is viewed by some colleagues and the organisation as a “weakness”.
  • One third “struggle” to achieve any sort of balance between working for Unite and their life outside the union. One fifth have taken time off work that they attribute to work-related stress in the past 18 month.

While Unite’s leadership claims that it is implementing the specific recommendations of the report, there is no way these issues can be effectively tackled behind closed doors.

How can we win an argument with members and activists about challenging aggressive and sexist behaviour from members without talking about the problem, its scale and its impact?

How can we reduce over-reliance on managerial authority and patronage without increasing democratic accountability?

There should be no climate of fear in our union. Officers should have confidence that issues they raise will be dealt with fairly and effectively. No organisation in this sexist society can be immune from it, least of all one that deals with such a variety of employers, members and others. But we can aspire to be a role model in how we tackle such issues. Not only is this the right thing to do, but failing to do so makes the job of all our activists, challenging employers over similar issues, much, much, harder. Tackling these problems is essential if we have to have the best possible officers, rather than being unable to recruit, retain and get the best from some because of how they are treated.

If elected I will:

  • Begin an open discussion on how our union can address bullying, harassment and sexism within the union. This will include seeking the views of members and union employees about their experiences and their views on how we can address the problems we may find.
  • Involve members, officers and staff in a major review of Unite’s structures to make them fit for purpose in the 21st century.
  • Champion lay member democracy and participation, including a move towards election of officers, to shift the culture from top-down management to bottom-up democracy.
  • Expand the lay companion scheme to involve more members (including those not in paid work) and free up officer time from individual casework.

Video: Ian Allinson speaking at London launch of campaign for Unite General Secretary

On Saturday Ian Allinson, the grassroots socialist candidate for Unite General Secretary, spoke at campaign meetings in London and Cambridge. Below you can watch his speech at the London meeting.

If you’d like to support the campaign to elect Ian, please leave your details, and get in touch if you’d like to invite Ian to a meeting or hustings. Tomorrow nominations open. Here are details of how to nominate Ian.

Bad arguments against supporting Ian Allinson for Unite General Secretary

Perhaps the strangest thing about the campaign so far is the failure of the other candidates or their supporters to engage with the ideas I’m putting forward for making Unite more effective.

Photo of Ian Allinson
Photo: Steve Eason

Do they agree that we need fortnightly email bulletins to all activists, not filtered through officers and committees? Would creating case studies of members’ successes to save us wasting so much effort trying to reinvent the wheel be a good idea? Do we need to restructure the union to provide better support for the 80% of workplaces in employers that span multiple regions, and where our organising is currently so much less effective? Do we need to build a civil rights movement to challenge an increasingly repressive state rather than fighting anti-union legislation in isolation? Do we need to integrate our equality work better with our industrial agenda?

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Ian Allinson for Unite General Secretary hits the road

Nominations open on Monday and the campaign is hotting up. Here are details of how to nominate Ian Allinson for Unite General Secretary.

Ian will be on the picket line at his workplace 7-10am on Thursday 12th, Friday 13th and Monday 16th January as part of the strike for pay, pensions and job security at Fujitsu. The picket is at Fujitsu, Central Park, Northampton Road, Manchester, M40 5BP. There’s more information on the dispute online.

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Organising needs experimentation and sharing lessons

Lots of small fish turn on big fish

Ian Allinson, the grassroots socialist candidate for Unite General Secretary, argues that the union needs to build on the success of its organising strategy by doing more to involve lay members, support experimentation, and share lessons and successes.

Unite’s organising has been a success, helping to stop the decline in membership and increasing members’ power to win in many workplaces. But our efforts have not yet been sufficient to turn the tide or prevent the balance of power being tilted massively against workers, who generally face downward pressure on pay and benefits, and feel vulnerable to managerial whim and job insecurity at work; while housing, welfare and vital services are eroded outside work.

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Time to arrange your Unite General Secretary nomination meeting

This week Unite should be sending out letters and forms to branch secretaries to enable them to organise branch nomination meetings for General Secretary and the Executive Council. Where a branch covers more than one workplace, the workplace can also make a nomination, but the rep needs to contact the Regional Secretary to request the necessary paperwork now.

Nomination meetings must take place between Monday 16 January and Friday 17 February 2017.

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Oppose scapegoating of migrant workers – unity is strength

Mug reads "controls on immigration: I'm voting Labour"

Ian Allinson, the grassroots socialist candidate for Unite General Secretary, argues that McCluskey’s fudge on free movement stops him effectively defending members from the damage caused by Coyne’s attack on workers’ rights to free movement and equal treatment.

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