Tuesday, 11 August 2015


Degradation Ceremonies & a Curious Caste System
 by Brian Bamford
WHEN, in the 1970s, I wrote my unpublished dissertation 'Members and Officials:  Some aspects of a Trade Union Dispute', I was mindful of the model proposed by Harold Garfinkel in his essay 'Conditions for doing Degradation Ceremonies'.   Degradation in Courts of law, the defrocking of priests, and even at disciplinary hearings of trade unions etc. is an accomplishment which must be brought about by demonstrating that the proposed 'offender' has conduction him or herself in some untoward way which would put the proposed 'offender' outside what is considered to be proper.  Somehow the interrogation must artfully show that the 'offender' is beneath contempt or is acting outside the rules in some way.
On the 12th, August 2015, I have been called to an 'investigation' under Rule 27 of the Unite Rule Book, specifically 'Rule 27.1.5 Bringing about injury to or discredit upon the Union or any member of the Union'. 
The allegation is that in March a report appeared on this Northern Voices Blog entitled 'Unite Committee Bins Blacklist Motion' that was 'inaccurate', and contained material that had consequences for the Unite union and undermined Mr. Sidney Graves, who was merely doing his duty as Chairman of the North West Local Authority Regional Industrial Sector Committee (Risc.) at a meeting on the 5th, March 2015.  The problem was that the crucial decision or the non-decision of the North West Risc. to move a motion supporting the promotion of an effective Ethical Procurement Policy in the way local authorities award contracts to companies that have been involved in blacklisting building site workers.  Northern Voices considered that this failure to find anyone on the North West Risc. to move such an important motion or for the chairman to even hold a discussion, was something that was in the public interest.
Mr. Graves seems to have taken a contrary view, and he quickly complained to the North West regional secretary of Unite, Mick Whitley, that the report on the Northern Voices Blog was 'inaccurate' and he believed had consequences for  him and his committee.  As I write these words I am listening to a report on the Radio Four 'Media Show' in which a Scottish football journalist has just been banned by Rangers because he had refused to oblige the Club by producing what is called 'corporate journalism' or reports that please the football club.  Can it be that this week's investigation (12/08/2015) by Unite into Northern Voices is an attempt to produce a kind of 'corporate journalism' for Unite the Union?
Interestingly, Unite Rule 27.1.4 says:
'A member may be charged with ... Inciting, espousing or practising discrimination or intolerance amongst members on grounds of race, ethnic origin, religion, age, gender, disability or sexual orientation.'
Yet, Unite Rule 27.8 determines that:
'A member may not be charged under this rule in respect of any alleged act or omission in connection with the performance of his / her duties as a full time officer and / or employee of the Union.'
Hence, there will be no discrimination on grounds of race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, disability or sexual orientation, and yet discrimination is enshrined within Unite Rule 27 at Point 27.8 on grounds of functional status:  It is clear here that in Unite that there is an 'officer class' which is beyond the reach of Rule 27, and at the same time that there is an ordinary 'membership class' which is covered by the rule.
This represents a 'Get out of Jail Free Rule' and the consequences of this predicament as demonstrated by Rule 27:8 are not difficult to predict:  in terms of this Rule 27 the 'officer class' of Unite the Union are unaccountable, unelected, and untouchable. The rule therefore clearly discriminates between two classes of 'member' – a rank and membership class subject to discipline under Rule 27, and a privileged 'officer' or 'staff' membership category.  As a consequence ought we to be surprised that there have been widespread allegations of full-time trade union officials being inclined to incompetence, corruption, and complicity in blacklisting with the now disgraced Consulting Association?
But the situation is now worse than a simple apartheid within the rule, because by invoking Rule 27 to seek to  investigate a report on an independent publication outside the remit of the trade union by the potential use of this rule Unite is surely creating a precedence which could have serious implications for future reporting of trade union affairs.  Does this decision to investigate the editor of Northern Voices mean that Unite the Union is seeking influence editorial decisions of people who also happen to be members of Unite?  Of course, if Mr. Sidney Graves as the Chairman of the Risc, felt he has been defamed by the report in Northern Voices, then he always had the remedy of writing to the editor to seek to correct the report.  Instead of that he sent a complaint to the Regional Secretary of Unite in the North West. 

Similarly sources in the Unite Greater Manchester Community Branch have reported to our Blog that another lay officer, Evan Pritchard, has also put in a complaint to the Unite North West region about other reports appearing on this Northern Voices' Blog under Rule 27:  these reports have commented upon certain internal attempts to censor a face-book page of the Greater Manchester Community Branch and are clearly in the public interest. 
All of these actions  could easily be seen as an attempt to censor and gag the media through the machinery of the Unite union book by the use of Rule 27.  This is bad news for transparency and freedom of the media and suggests a degree of small-mindedness among some of the lay-functionaries within the Unite today:  it appears to be another attempt to establish 'corporate journalism' such as was applied by the Rangers Football Club.

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