Sunday, 18 December 2016

BreakingNews: “UNISON: Union democracy on trial.” #Unisongate

On Monday 19 December UNISON the Trade Union with 1.3 million members is on trial facing serious allegations about the running of the election campaign that saw Dave Prentis elected general secretary of Britain’s largest public sector union, Unison last year.

The complainants allege that Unison breached its rules and the 1992 Act in relation to the election for the position of General Secretary of UNISON in late 2015.

The Hearing begins Monday 19 December to Wednesday 21 December (10am) inclusive and it is being held at:

Employment Appeal Tribunal, Fleetbank House, LONDON, EC4Y 8JX.

The complaints were registered by UNISON members after a whistle-blower provided an audio-tape of paid officials plotting to campaign for Dave Prentis.

The complainants allege:

“The breach occurred at a meeting organised and attended by UNISON officials in the Greater London Region which took place at the UNISON premises known as Congress House and where UNISON staff received a briefing on how to campaign for the re-election of David Prentis.”

The plot thickened when an article regarding campaign “Team Dave” emails were published by Private Eye in February 2016.

“Team Dave; Update No 20 sent at 09.44 on Friday 23 October 2015. States ‘It may be that in some circumstances you may be able to “circumvent” hostile branches by covertly working with sympathetic employer contacts. ….”

Full details of all of the complaints can be found on the Certification Office website here:

If the Assistant Certification Officer were to find against UNISON and make an Enforcement Order to order a re-run of the election then (with the recent announcement that Len McClusky, Unite General Secretary has called an early election next year) there could be two general secretary elections taking place in 2017 affecting more than 3 million trade union members.

Notes to Editors.

Contact details: John Burgess 07835116441 or email:
Background #Unisongate complaints:

1. #Unisongate makes BBC Radio 4 Today Programme

2. “UNISON: Union democracy on trial.”

4. Whistleblowing tape – 21 October 2015
A damning audio-tape emerged in early December 2015 providing evidence that senior officials of Britain’s biggest public service union, UNISON, had allegedly acted in blatant breach of the union’s own rules to secure the incumbent General Secretary’s re-election. The 23-minute tape appeared on an Anonymous Blog here: 

The audio file can be downloaded online here:  

The audio recording largely features the voice of UNISON’s London Regional Secretary, repeatedly thanking paid union officials under her management for their work in securing branch nominations for the three-term incumbent UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis.

“We have done very well and I want to thank everybody and congratulate them on getting the nominations that they have got. This is a list of the Greater London branch nominations for Dave Prentis the deadline closed last Friday, I do not have a list of the other candidates, and that will appear in due course but I haven’t got it. But we have done very well, we’ve got almost 50 nominations here so that is excellent and thanks very much, er Dave is very very pleased and he has related that to me personally er it is very important because obviously this is going to be a hard fought election.”

(UNISON London Regional Secretary to UNISON London Region paid officials on 21 October 2015).  

The recording includes derogatory references to Mr Prentis’ three election opponents (Roger Bannister, John Burgess and Heather Wakefield) and their supporters along with a detailed discussion of what London regional staff can do to bolster the Prentis campaign in the days running up to the start of the postal ballot on 9 November. There is also an explicit warning not to get “caught out”, while mention of the union’s election rules provokes widespread laughter.

5. Team Dave campaign emails
The public were first made aware of the Team Dave campaign emails when an article appeared in Private Eye in early February.

You can read the Private Eye article here

Here are some extracts from the above Private Eye article:

“Leaked emails reach the Eye providing more evidence that full-time staff of Unison mobilised to get general secretary Dave Prentis re-elected in December making the union’s claim to be a “member-led” look increasingly questionable.”


“The emails passed to the Eye from within the Prentis campaign indicate that Unison officials were in fact the backbone of “Team Dave”. The emails were sent by assistant general secretary Cliff Williams in October and November. The bulk of the recipients were other Unison officials – a rough count shows 45 of 50 addresses are regional secretaries, head office staff and other unison staff.”

 “One striking “Team Dave” note says: “it may be in some circumstance you may be able to ‘circumvent’ hostile branches by working with sympathetic employer contacts. I acknowledge that some colleagues may feel this is ethically inappropriate but it doesn’t breach campaign rules; it will have to be done with caution.”
It may not break campaign rules, but it still doesn’t look good. Similarly, having Unison officials lead the Prentis campaign doesn’t match the spirit of the union being “member led”.

The third extract above is in our view one of the most damming, especially for those grassroots reps and members who have been fighting employers who are sacking, privatising or cutting the Terms and Conditions of our members. The idea that union paid unelected officials would go behind the backs of locally elected branch officials is appalling and has no place in a trade union. To date there has been no condemnation of these remarks or any investigation.

 Repeated calls for an independent investigation were turned down.

The “Team Dave” emails provide a context to the content of the audio tape of the meeting in London on 21 October 2015. 

Read Three earlier Private Eye articles here

1.    Unison on tape
2.    A family affair
3.    A greasy poll


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