Self Organisation – Is there a Glass Ceiling?

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2006 National LGBT Conference
25 July 2006

Trades unionism is all about organising workers around a common experience. Traditionally, this included employer, occupation and geography but it has come to include shared experience of prejudice and discrimination. These are deep-rooted in society and women workers, black workers, disabled workers and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) workers have often been under-represented or invisible in trades unions’ democratic structures.

Conference welcomes how the Trades Union Congress’s (TUC) constitution has developed to provide equality conferences and committees for black, disabled, women and LGBT trades unionists and seats on the General Council as follows:

1.Section D: Four women who are members of an affiliated organisation with fewer than 200,000 members;

2.Sections E & F: One black member who is a member of an affiliate with 200,000 or more members and one from an affiliate with fewer;

3.Section G: One black woman who is a member of an affiliated organisation;

4.Section H: One member representing disabled trades unionists;

5.Section I: One member representing LGBT trades unionists; and,

6.Section J: One member under the age of twenty-seven.

Conference considers it to be a fundamental characteristic of trades unionism that workers elect delegates from among themselves and delegates remain accountable to the bodies that elect them.

Conference therefore believes that elections to these General Council seats should each be from the respective TUC equality conference or committee.

However, the TUC’s constitution specifies that elections for sections D-J take place at Congress with those for sections D-F by ballot of the affiliates allocated to those sections and G-J by ballot of all affiliates.

Conference accepts that the TUC equality conferences and committees are not ‘self-organised’ in the sense we use the term in UNISON since unions may appoint as conference delegates and nominate as committee members whoever they like. They do not have to be from the respective groups. Nevertheless, members of the groups make up a large majority in each case whereas, at Congress, they are fragmented minorities.

Besides, the current system of election enables certain large unions, UNISON among them, to barter votes contrary to TUC rules, arrange with each other in which sections to nominate and support each other’s candidates in any election.

One of the effects of this is that LGBT members of UNISON, indeed LGBT members of all but one of the TUC’s affiliated unions, have had no say whatsoever who the LGB&T representative on the General Council is to be. UNISON co-operates to bring this about.

In defence of the present arrangement is sometimes asserted a “principle of trades union sovereignty.” Conference does not wish to challenge any such principle but does wish to assert:

A.That UNISON’s delegates to the TUC equality conferences are just as trustworthy as its delegates to congress and just as accountable when it comes to voting for the General Council; and,

B.That the value of workers self-organising around common experience sometimes crosses union boundaries – presumably why the TUC exists in the first place.

Conference further notes:

I.The consistent view of UNISON’s former Lesbian & Gay conference that the General Council members in sections H-J should be elected by unions’ delegates to the respective equalities conferences rather than those to congress and the similar view of last year’s LGBT conference;

II.This has been the subject of lengthy debate in the UNISON National Executive Council’s (NEC) Self-Organised Groups Liaison Committee;

III.The NEC’s Policy Development and Campaigns Committee (PDCC) agreed in 2004 that, “In the longer term, UNISON will seek, in co-operation with other affiliates, to ensure that these seats are elected by the unions’ delegates to the respective equality conferences (after consultation with those conferences) and appropriate rule changes are brought forward”; and,

IV.During 2004/05 each of the TUC equality conferences carried a motion calling for “a reform of TUC procedures allowing for the election of the seats in sections D-J by the appropriate equality conferences.”

Conference considers that the four TUC equalities conferences each voting for change met the PDCC’s condition for UNISON to seek to change the TUC’s rules. But the NEC then moved the goalposts so that:

V.The TUC Black Workers’ Conference selected the motion at (IV) above to submit to Congress 2005; but,

VI.After lengthy debate in the UNISON Congress delegation in which representatives of two national self-organised group (SOG) committees argued against change, UNISON opposed the motion and it was defeated.

Conference also notes that, since Congress 2005:

VII.The TUC has carried out a structure review but, in its submission, UNISON was not even willing to convey to the TUC the view we adopted at our conference last year;

VIII.All four TUC equality conferences have carried motions in favour of change for the second year running; and,

IX.Despite UNISON’s abstention at the TUC LGBT Conference 2006 on this motion and its opp