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Unison self-destructs at TSA but unionism stronger than ever
There was widespread outrage among Unison members at the Housing Corporation in 2007 when the union charged branch secretary, Suzanne Muna, with racism.
An ex-Unison member
The Corporation's Unison branch was exemplary: well organised, a good recruiter, financially healthy and highly democratic. Like the other three branches, it had a history of successfully defending members' interests across a wide spectrum of diversity strands, including race.
When the branch secretary's three-year ban from office was eventually imposed in March 2010, it came at a critical time for union members. The Tories had signalled their intent to close the Housing Corporation (now rebranded the Tenant Services Authority) in the forthcoming 'bonfire of the quangos' if they won the election. This was later changed to plans for a merger with another housing quango, effective from April 2012, but with staff numbers cut by up to 40%, a pay freeze, and a restructure of remaining staff.
Unison decided to waste time on imposing regional control on the branch. The regional officer cancelled the planned AGM without reference to remaining officers, appointed himself the new unelected branch secretary, and wrote a series of letters to members attacking the branch committee.
Not surprisingly, the members were repulsed by this behaviour, and, denied a say in branch matters, voted with their feet. Unison's membership numbers at the Authority rapidly collapsed.
While the self-destructive actions of the regional officer and wider Unison bureaucracy destroyed confidence in Unison, it did not shake faith in collectivism, nor in the representatives who had served members over the years. Members understood the need for a strong union to protect them from the impending Con-Dem attacks, and when the ex-Unison representatives took up stewards' positions in Unite, members rapidly followed.
Unite is now overwhelmingly the union of choice for staff at the Authority, and union density is around 64% within the bargaining group. This is at least 10% higher than average density before Unison's attack. Unite has also won some significant victories at the Authority with the help of their regional officer, including a pay uplift for around 60% of members.
Now that Unison's actions have been found unjustified and unlawful, Unison members are urged to call for an immediate investigation into how the union has repeatedly managed to make such disastrously bad judgements, repelling the very workers who should, at this time in particular, be flocking into its ranks.
In The Socialist 2 February 2011:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party Marxist analysis