Socialist Worker

New leak raises concern about Unison union general secretary election

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2491

Unison members lobbying their unions national executive committee meeting in December last year demanding an immediate independent inquiry into allegations of widespread malpractice in the general secretary election

Unison members lobbying their union's national executive committee in December last year to demand an immediate independent inquiry into allegations of widespread malpractice in the general secretary election (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Did senior Unison union officials use their positions, against union rules, to get general secretary Dave Prentis re-elected last year?

New claims made in Private Eye magazine that Unison officials were “the backbone” of Prentis’ campaign raise that question.

Leaked emails from “Team Dave” reveal the involvement of up to 50 regional and national officials and full time paid staff of the union.

Socialist Worker has seen leaked emails from assistant general secretary Cliff Williams. The contents are disturbing and show he even wanted to look to friendly bosses to help the campaign.

It also raises concerns about whether these officials used union resources to campaign for Prentis, contravening union rules.

“If you have any contacts that you can lobby, in any of the Regions involved please do what you can to support Dave,” Williams urged Team Dave in September to secure nominations for Prentis.

In October he wrote, “You all did a great job in bringing in the nominations we now need to translate that into votes.”

Unison rules say staff “should not take advantage of their position as employees of Unison”.

Private Eye said, “The Prentis campaign points to other rules, however, that say; “in their own time i.e. outside their working time…staff are free to carry out campaigning activities.”

But officials have working relationships with elected union bodies. Officials appear to have been asked to secure nominations for Prentis from those bodies – suggesting a breach of the rules.

In October officials were asked to “do everything that is possible to keep our people to the line and turn up for the meeting” of one elected union body.

Williams urged them to “do what you can to get them to support Dave”.

Allegations

The new leak comes on top of allegations late last year of malpractice.

Prentis supporters were caught on tape breaking union election rules after a meeting of Greater London region officials was recorded.

Linda Perks, Unison’s Greater London regional secretary, instructed paid staff to campaign for Prentis. She also relayed thanks from Prentis for the work staff did getting him nominations.

Perks warned them not to get “caught out saying ‘vote for Dave’”. They were told that if there were witnesses to them breaking the rules, to “make sure they are friendly witnesses”.

And it was all done in the presence of other senior regional officials.

The Team Dave emails include Perks. Those emails also suggest a knowledge of flouting the rules.

Williams wrote in early October, “Don’t assume that because we are using personal email accounts, in our own time that these cannot be accessed by determined individuals.”

One of the most disturbing parts of the new leaked emails seen by Socialist Worker was the suggestion from Williams of another way to turn out votes for Prentis.

“It may be that in some circumstances you may be able to ‘circumvent’ hostile branches by covertly working with sympathetic employer contacts.

“I acknowledge that some colleagues may feel that this is ethically inappropriate but it doesn’t breach campaign rules; it will however need to be done with caution!”

How out of touch with the work of a trade unionist must a union official be to suggest such a course of action? This is the kind of thing that discourages members from being involved with the union.

Indeed, low ballot turnouts was certainly on Williams’ mind. “You will be aware of the GMB GS [general secretary] result. The turnout was frighteningly low…4%. I[f] this is replicated in Unison we have problems,” he wrote in mid-November. The ballot turnout was below ten percent.

Socialist Worker is not aware of the Unison hierarchy denying that the taped meeting took place or that the new emails are not genuine.

Numerous complaints to the returning officer over the original leak have yet to be answered. Yet nearly two months after the result members are still waiting.

Private Eye said a spokesperson at the Electoral Reform Services told them that these complaints “had been passed to Unison, which was also carrying out a disciplinary investigation”.

Roger McKenzie, another assistant general secretary, was appointed to run the Unison investigation. He was also a recipient of the “Team Dave” emails.

Union activists have demanded an independent inquiry, for the election to be declared null and void and a new election run. The new emails only add weight to those demands.


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