The second meeting of the Unite Executive Council took place on 7th and 8th July. My report of the meeting can be downloaded here. This is of course a personal report, giving my own impressions of the meeting.
It’s probably fair to say that there were some disappointments in the meeting, but also some really positive things.
Disappointments include the likely erosion of the right of Executive Council members to place items on the agenda of Executive Council meetings. This is a significant reduction in the ability of Executive Council members to raise issues of importance to members and activists.
The meeting discussed the relationship with the Labour Government. Quite rightly, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley were scathing about the record of Gordon Brown, and the attacks on our members – but the only envisaged solution was to keep asking for things to change. The reality is that unions now provide almost 90% of Labour Party funding, with Unite being probably the biggest donor. If we want change, all we have to do is tell Gordon Brown we’re pulling the plug on the money. Why should we go on handing over the cheques to a Government that’s dismantling the NHS and kicking workers in the teeth?
Another disappointment was the emergence of a threat to working time – a change to the Working Time Directive that means that on call only has to be treated as working time when it is ‘active’. This is an obvious threat to NHS workers, with legislation expected to be enacted in 2010. A summary guide to the changes is here. Union negotiators will need to be alert to this, and ensure NHS working hours aren’t increased.
There were some good things too. The Shell tanker drivers victory is genuinely inspirational – a proof that good old fashioned trade unionism delivers for our members. There are important lessons to be learned from this dispute.
The Union’s organising agenda is a strength – the opportunity not just to recruit, but to build real collective organisation that can deliver for members in the workplace.
There was also a serious debate about equalities, culminating in the creation of new Regional Women’s Organiser posts. This is a good step forward. Unions have got to start being representative of the communities in which we are rooted. That means building unions that are welcoming to women, LGBT members, Black members, people with disabilities, and young people. We’re not there yet – but we’re going in the right direction.