Most of the major trade unions in Scotland have adopted a positive and sensible approach to the referendum, as have the STUC. This year’s Congress was a real debate conducted in the best spirit of trade union principles – and contrasts significantly with the chaotic contribution of the Confederation of British Industry. I accept the right of some individual trade unions and the STUC to adopt a position of challenging both sides , whilst welcoming those unions and branches that support a Yes vote.
However todays Communication Workers Union UK Conference decision is disappointing as they have gone down the same cul de sac as the GMB in that their leadership have imposed a line without consultation in exactly the same way as the CBI did – to support a No vote without consulting any of their members.
The consequences for those trade unions are yet to be seen, but I have heard that individual members are unhappy about a basic tenet of democracy being ignored, and would have wanted to be consulted on this most important of issues – the future direction of our country and the role their trade union intends to take in the campaign. It’s their subscriptions from their hard earned wages which underwrites any campaigning and the leadership “we know best” approach is hardly a 21st century approach to politics.
So it proved for the CBI - registering of CBI for the No campaign without the basic requisite of consulting its own members was only going to have one effect. Resignations. Another part of this however, begs the question as to why so many public bodies were members in the first place.
At the STUC Congress, correctly, the decision was taken to challenge both sides. This was a genuine engagement, and any trade union who has engaged with their members properly will tell you, that whilst they may have an individual view, they wish the trade union to challenge both sides – exactly the course taken by PCS.
These recent events leave the decision taken by the Communication Workers Union , all the more baffling. Already on social media, CWU members are signalling their resignations, in what was described only a few weeks ago by the Sunday Herald as a “sham consultation”. Whilst I would never encourage any member to resign, the feeling of being ignored and not consulted is an anti-democratic practice, which, given the importance of the decision is indefensible.
The approaches all organisations take in this debate, have consequences no matter the result. Organisations which have taken a view without consultation may very well find after the 18th September that they are left behind in determining the next steps on Scotland’s future, due to mistrust, and a feeling that they do not represent the interests of those they claim to. This calls for open, transparent, and democratic processes – for the sake of their members who deserve better. After all – who would have ever imagined that the CBI and some trade unions would have something in common ?