Equality must be part of our industrial agenda

Ian Allinson, the grassroots socialist candidate for Unite General Secretary, has Ian talking with membersmade equality issues central to his campaign. Ian expands on some of his ideas for improving Unite’s work in this area.

I’ve previously posted about the need to tackle sexism within Unite and the need to integrate our equalities and young members work better with our industrial agenda. Most of Unite’s activity takes place within the workplace and equality issues run through almost every issue we tackle, yet we are nowhere near good enough at either addressing discrimination or taking advantage of equality legislation to help our wider industrial agenda. All members lose out when we fail to tackle equality effectively, because discrimination runs through almost every employer practice that we spend our time challenging.

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Ian Allinson announces radical proposals for Unite the Union on International Women’s Day

Ian Allinson, the grassroots socialist candidate for Unite General Secretary, has announced a range of radical proposals to promote equality and challenge discrimination against women in the union.Ian talking with women activists

Last year’s “Women Officers in Unite” report showed that many women officers working for the union experienced bullying and harassment that they felt was inadequately dealt with by the union. The report had significant implications for other union employees and for women members. The proposals Allinson has announced are:

  • A review of all the union’s education and training for members and staff to raise the understanding of equality and diversity of everyone actively involved with the union
  • A review of the union’s women’s structures to ensure they provide a representative voice for Unite women, champion issues of particular concern to women, and provide a route to participation in Unite for members who face additional barriers due to sexism
  • Ending the requirement for Regional Women’s and Equalities Officer roles to be done as a part-job alongside an industrial allocation, so that equality issues have more focus and resource
  • Extending the recommendations of the Women Officers in Unite report to all women employed by union
  • A review of Unites grievance and complaints procedures to remove any bias against women who make complaints related to discrimination, bullying or harassment
  • Make equality and diversity a standing agenda item for all Unite’s constitutional committees

The measures will be put out for consultation and implemented as an urgent priority if Allinson is elected as Unite General Secretary.

Allinson said:

“Women still experience lower pay than men and worse promotion opportunities. Employment is highly segregated, with women over-represented in low paid, insecure, caring, cleaning and sales jobs. Women are still largely excluded from other industrial and occupations.”

“Fujitsu, where I work, has a largely male workforce and we are currently having to take industrial action to try to force the company to come clean about huge pay inequalities and work with the union to tackle them.”

“While unions play a vital role in challenging discrimination, we have to do more to put our own house in order. Women want our union to be better than the sexist society they live in.”

“Three years ago when I was on the Executive Council we had to overturn Len McCluskey to agree a proposal from Unite’s National Women’s Committee that education about what women’s oppression is should be compulsory for Unite’s tutors and elected officials.”

“Last year’s report shows how far we still have to go. It is not acceptable that women are still facing sexism within our union and not having confidence in support when they raise or challenge it. Women involved in the union have asked that I make this a priority issue. As soon as I am elected I will invite all Unite’s women members, representatives and staff to give their views on the proposals I am suggesting.”

“We must make Unite a more equal and welcoming environment for women. We can’t afford to waste the energy and expertise of women members. Real change in our union is vital if we are to properly tackle the inequalities women face at work.”

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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.

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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Unite general secretary candidates should join me to champion workers’ rights to free movement

There has been a very positive response to Unite General Secretary candidate Ian Allinson’s article in the Guardian yesterday defending workers’ freedom of movement, and explaining why Len McCluskey’s approach gives too many concessions to the racists and nationalists.

What is even more worrying is the silence from Gerard Coyne on the question. He is being backed by many of Corbyn’s opponents in the Labour Party, the people who brought us the infamous “racist mug”. As if people motivated by fear of immigration would vote Labour as a result.

Mug reads "controls on immigration: I'm voting Labour"Ian ended the article:

“No general secretary candidate should chase votes by undermining the unity members need to defend their jobs. I am calling on Len McCluskey and Gerard Coyne to join me in championing workers’ rights to move freely (not just within the EU) and opposing any employment restrictions based on nationality.”

So far at least, neither of the two establishment candidates for General Secretary seem willing to take a clear stance for equality on this question. They really should.