Monday, 4 November 2013

Consulting the Members

The blog is back! and firstly I should note my delight that a former leader of the best employer I ever worked for, Strathclyde Regional Council, has endorsed Independence.  Well done Charles Gray!

I am moved to share my thoughts on the continuing debate within the Trade Union movement on Independence given the mysterious decision of the GMB to announce that they back a No vote. Mysterious in the sense of lack of clarity about how this decision was reached.

The GMB position as announced by their leadership is curious.  Here's a resolution that the GMB put the Scottish Trades Union Congress this year;

"That this Congress notes the continual contraction of the Scottish Economy, the rise in unemployment, particularly youth unemployment and the clear evidence that Austerity is NOT working. What jobs there are, are temporary, insecure, part-time and low wage....
Congress believes that there is an alternative path based on a people-centred economics, which puts democracy at the heart of it.
Congress calls for the development of credible, popular alternative based on common ownership. Investment in public services based on need, a manufacturing renaissance and full and fulfilling employment as an urgent macroeconomic goal, greater industrial economic democracy, including co-operatives, pension fund reform and proper investment in and the reconstruction of, our industrial base. This requires a wide- ranging STUC led campaign, building on the platform of, There is a Better Way."

Also reads like the Common Weal project to me. 

Last week the Scottish Council of the GMB voted to support the No campaign.  How does this motion square with the statements by both Labour and the Tories that over £2 billion of cuts are on the way in 2015? 

Having spoken to many GMB members over the last two days, I can say that they are in shock at this decision.  Claims of an extensive consultation appear wide of the mark - a consultation can only be a consultation if members feel involved - and can be described as patchy at best.

Here's some of the questions GMB members have been asking;

(1) How were consultation meetings advertised, and why do so many members claim they didn't know about them?
(2) How many attended meetings?
(3) Were both sides of the debate asked to send representatives to engage in hustings?
(4) Was a vote taken at these meetings?
(5) Why make the decision now, before publication of the White Paper, and the Labour Party's report on further devolution of powers?
(6) What was the level of engagement?
(7) Why were members not balloted on an issue of such importance?
(7) How does this square with the STUC stance of asking both sides questions, and keeping a neutral approach?

GMB members deserve answers to these basic questions.  If the process has been found to be flawed, they have a duty to re-open the consultation.

We now have 5 Trade unions, traditional full time official led - as opposed to lay member led - making decisions on members behalf on how their money will spent on the Independence Referendum.  In each case, the level of  trade union member engagement and consultation is open to question.  In most cases, these Trade Unions have lost members - usually to other Trade Unions.

Other Trade Unions should think very carefully about how they engage with their members on this issue, and should serve as a warning that top down diktats will alienate their members.

In a time of deregulated markets, a low wage economy, attacks on health and safety legislation and cuts to the public sector, the role and function of Trade unions is as important as ever.  The Trade Union movement, as the largest part of Scottish Civic Society, has a duty to full engage with members on the biggest political decision in decades.  Those Trade Unions backing No appear to have done members a disservice.

Finally, I am curious as to where Trade Union funds will go.  It was my understanding that United with Labour was created to give trade union activists and labour party members some space to campaign to remain in the UK in the absence of Conservatives.  What exactly is the relationship between United with Labour and Better Together?

Union members are entitled to know where and how their money is being spent on campaigning and what exactly is funded by whom to do what. In other words...follow the money ?

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