Thursday, 3 June 2010

UNISON: who is really "self-serving"?

UNISON Active bills itself as "the first port of call for rank-and-file UNISON news and activities", "supporting a trade union that is committed to a fundamental change in society and that puts the interests and values of working people at its heart". In fact it is rumoured to be written by full-time officials and acts as the mouthpiece as the mouthpiece of UNISON's right-wing, class-collaborationist, witch-hunting bureaucracy.

In an article entitled "The self-serving conceit of a worker's wage", UNISON Active condemns left-wing general secretary candidates Paul Holmes (United Left) and Roger Bannister (Socialist Party) for their pledge to take only an average worker's wage if elected and their criticism of Dave Prentis' huge salary and perks.

1. "The ultra left candidates [present themselves] as ordinary ‘rank and file’ members when manifestly it is not the case. Both candidates opposing Dave Prentis have been seconded to full time union duties for decades and are paid on Principal Officer grades. They are among the top 10% earners in local government."
Being on 100 percent facility time and working in a branch as a locally elected officer, after working on the 'shopfloor', is not quite the same as being the union's top full-time official after never having worked in the industry it organises!
(That is before you compare what Holmes and Prentis have actually achieved: a strong union branch which has won major improvements for its members versus a national union more interested in witch-hunting socialists than organising or defending its members from the most savage attacks.)
On pay, the article is even more disingenuous. It's like the Evening Standard using the relatively high wages Tube drivers have won to justify bankers' bonuses.
Salaries for the PO grades in Kirklees council are between £28,000 and £51,000. Clearly this is more than most Unison members get. However: we haven't checked yet, but is it very unlikely that Paul Holmes is anywhere near the top end of that range - whereas in 2008-9 Dave Prentis was paid more than £92,000, with more than £11,000 expenses.
In any case, Paul Holmes has pledged to take only something between £25,000 and £30,000 if elected.

2. "It is contemptible that one of the candidates combines the employer’s pension contribution to give the false impression that the salary of the UNISON General Secretary is over £120,000. Unlike his opponents, the salary of Dave Prentis is a matter of public record" (the article then links to the website of the Certification Officer, the government official who registers trade unions).
That's how UNISON Active chooses to present it. The point is that Prentis receives £127,436 (£92,187 salary, £23,603 pension contributions, £11,646 expenses and car benefit) from the union. That's as much in pension contributions as the average UNISON member probably takes home before tax!
Those are the figures for 2008-9. We'll see how things have developed when the Certification Officer brings out this year's report.

3. "No rational trade union negotiator would say that UNISON - a complex UK wide organisation with over 1.35m members and 1200 staff – is paying its Principal Officer excessively or out of line with all other trade unions."
It's certainly not out of line with other trade unions - unsurprisingly, since all the unions are run by a self-serving bureaucracy. (On which, see 4 below).
Why does it follow from the fact that UNISON is a large, complex organisation that its Principal Officer should be on many times the salary of most of his members? Isn't that the same argument the bankers and bosses use to justify their huge salaries and out-of-control bonuses?
Do we really want unions where one of the reasons to run for high office is the possibility of becoming wealthy?
Do we really want unions where the top officials have a standard of living more similar to that of the bosses, and have lost all real memory of what workers' lives are like (not that Dave Prentis was ever a worker!), and cannot empathise with the situation most of their members face?

4. Unfortunately the article then goes to score a point against the left - due to the behaviour of the Socialist Party.
It reports how at last week's PCS conference, the SP-dominated executive opposed and defeated a motion which instructed "the NEC to immediately commence negotations with the GMB with the aim of ensuring that full time-officer pay rates in PCS are much closer to the pay received by the majority of PCS members."
UNISON Active comments: "That’s what happens when easy, populist, rhetoric hits the hard wall of organisational reality."
Socialist Party members should think very carefully about how their organisation's behaviour in PCS is providing political ammunition for the same right-wing bureaucrats who are witch-hunting their comrades in UNISON.

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