Unite the union is holding its election for General Secretary. As a branch of Unite, NUBSLI members will have the opportunity to discuss the candidates at their branch meeting on 16 February.
The NUBSLI committee sent five questions to each candidate on questions we felt were pertinent to our branch. We had responses from both Ian Allinson and Len McClusky. No response was received, despite several attempts, from Gerard Coyne.
In our first nub post we hear from Ian Allinson. Ian’s campaign describe him as “the grassroots socialist candidate for Unite General Secretary“.
“Unlike the other candidates, who have been paid officials of Unite for many years, Ian is an experienced workplace activist. Ian is the only candidate who knows first hand the experiences and frustrations of members and he has proposals to make Unite a more effective union“.
NUBSLI drafted a rule change which was accepted by Unite in 2015 to establish a central access fund so that deaf and disabled people can access the union and all its functions. This has not been put into practice and BSL users in particular are still facing barriers in accessing support.
What will you do to change this?
I think you are referring to rule 19.10. This is a clear rule – it says “shall”, not “might” or “may”. It is scandalous if this has not been implemented after well over a year. It must be. I’d be interested to know what consultation has taken place (if any) with your branch and the disability committees about how best to implement it. We should be setting an example in this regard
NUBSLI is a predominantly self-employed/freelance branch. There is currently no seat or representation on the NEC for this rapidly emerging group within the union and we have very different needs. Will you commit to establishing a new structure of support for freelancers and the creation of a new position in the NEC?
I’d be interested to see the figures for the proportion of Unite members who are freelance or self-employed. This is clearly a feature in many sectors – from taxi drivers to construction to IT (my own industry) to newer areas of the gig economy. I’d want to see those figures and have further discussion before committing to support an EC seat. I suspect that in many cases people would identify more closely with their industry than with a grouping based on employment status. In many industries the two are working side by side and might be better served by being integrated into the same representative structures rather than separated off. I’d be interested to hear what members affected think.
I can see a need for specific support structures, as the issues faced by people not in a standard employment relationship can be different. Their employment rights are different. Contracts with customers/employers are different. Non payment can be a big issue in some sectors. The notion of bargaining takes a different form if it exists at all. I think as a starting point it would be good to get together activists grappling with these issues to discuss what support would be useful.
Most of the membership benefits are aimed at employed members. What will you do to change this?
The main benefit of membership is collective voice. I’m sceptical whether the other benefits (free wills etc) really contribute much to membership or the value members put on their membership, though occasionally they can help offset the cost for members who might struggle to pay union subs. I’m not clear what benefits would be of most use to members like you – I think this is a good example of where members themselves are in the best position to work out what they need, and the union should support them getting it.
Much of the technology and support available to branches is only available during the day. As a group who need to meet outside of normal working hours (or we lose our income), will you commit to changing this?
All Unites training is aimed at employed staff who can take paid time off work. This is prohibitive to freelancers who would lose their income. What will you do to meet the training needs of branches such as ours, and ensure the union runs in a more equitable way?
I think this is actually a much wider issue than the self-employed. Current arrangements are tailored to the minority of employed workers who have union recognition and good facility time arrangements. Even where people have employee status, many have to take annual leave to participate in union training or attend meetings. If we are serious about breaking out of the islands of trade unionism in the public sector and dwindling areas of the private sector, we have to change this.
Union education is absolutely vital to the effectiveness of the union. It is about equipping our activists, the engine of the union. But our education faces a massive crisis because the government is stopping the remaining state funding for it. This means we need a complete review. The TUC has abandoned its previous education programme, moving to a totally online approach. I think online training has its place, particularly for those who might not be able to access in-person training, but it is second-best, or sometimes a useful complement to face-to-face training.
The silver lining of the very dark cloud on funding for union education is that it removes the requirement for us to “tick the boxes” for accrediation and to draw down FE funding, which should give us much more freedom to tailor education to meet members’ actual needs, rather than trying to fit the members to the courses available. This is a huge change, and I do not claim to have a ready-made template for how education should work in future. But I have committed to a major review of Unite education, which must make it accessible and relevant for as many of our activists as possible.
Tomorrow we’ll hear from Len McCluskey on how he would support the work that NUBSLI is doing.
Incase you missed it, you can also listen to and read the transcript what Len and Ian had to say in our podcasts and read Len’s and Gerard’s response to the questions we posed to them in our previous Nub.