We understand that any change is always initially resisted. It’s natural to be more comfortable with the familiar rather than the unknown. However change is our constant companion and those who don’t recognise this reality will be left behind. That’s the motivation behind this manifesto.
However you analyse the facts the trade union movement has been in decline for the last three decades. Whatever political beliefs you hold it can’t be denied that under the last Labour administrations millions of jobs were created and the best we could do was stem the rate of decline in organised memberships. Yes, thankfully, there have been success stories along the way but the overall picture is a negative one. Now once again working people are under severe and sustained attack on all fronts; terms and conditions, pensions, NHS, higher and Further education, housing and transport costs, increasing energy bills, hospital and library closures, out-sourcing and the miserable list goes on. We are in the midst of the worst times that most of us have ever experienced and yet we seem unable to take advantage of people’s anger and build effective opposition based on organising broad based fight backs in the workplace or the community.
This manifesto is addressed primarily to the members of the GMB but we hope that some of the ideas outlined here will have some resonance elsewhere and hopefully stimulate debate and further and better ideas.
It is not our purpose to personalise these issues. Our view is that whatever criticisms one may have of any individual we are determined to concentrate on the collective. Pursuing individual agendas, for whatever reason, makes not an iota of difference to the lot of working people. These matters are too important to be muddied by ego and individual agendas and therefore we centre this manifesto on the need to develop ideas and structures that have the capacity to meet the needs and aspirations of working people in the 21st century including those outside organised labour.
If we fail to project a vision outside of our diminishing strongholds we will become ineffectual bystanders, heckling from the side lines while others struggle to take on the corporate and financial elite that are squeezing out all those gains that past generations of trade unionists struggled to win in the pursuit of a better, more enlightened, more fulfilling existence, lived in a socially and economically just society.
That simply is the purpose of this manifesto – how better to secure these goals. We know that unanimity is always elusive, but that is not the goal. There are many of us with differing political views and loyalties but to do what we do, we by definition, share the same objectives and we trust that many of you, will contribute to this process as sisters and brothers looking to build our movement and make it stronger at a time when our strength has never been more in need.
It is in this spirit that we welcome discussion and debate.
Where Power Resides
Trade Unions can either reflect the values of the society they function in or they can challenge them.
If we wish to challenge them we have to examine ourselves to ensure that our structures are fit for purpose.
The GMB operates a bureaucratic centralist regime that concentrates power in the offices of the Regional Secretaries.
At present regional Secretaries are appointed by Regional Committees and once in office they are there for life.
Regional Secretaries are given ascendancy over branches by dint of the rule that they are able to close and open branches. This rule can and has been used to effectively allow only those who support the status quo to progress through the union’s structures i.e. Branch, Regional Council, Regional Committee as well as election to attend Congress. The distortions created by this bureaucratic dictatorial approach fundamentally undermines the relevance of the branch.
The power that unelected Regional Secretaries have over the active membership of the union is unhealthy and is a recipe for an officially sanctioned autocracy.
Criticism of the present power structure is not necessarily a criticism of the individuals who occupy these positions. However the manner in which people conduct themselves in these powerful offices is often too reliant on individual character and personality which often proves to be too much of a challenge especially as there is no democratic accountability to the general membership through the ballot box.
Conversely the Branches which are meant to be the bastion of membership power are in essence in the gift of the Regional secretary. Branches are meant to be the focus of local activism and the forum for workplace leaders to influence the direction of the Union.
Some Branches have sought ways and means of making their meetings and activities more meaningful and relevant to the daily experience and lives of the general membership however “Branch life” for want of a better phrase in many cases is essentially dead.
The question we have to pose therefore is are our present structures and practises informed and controlled by the membership or by the senior full time officers employed by the membership?
The old chestnut of membership apathy has to be challenged and put to bed. Apathy is essentially a result of powerlessness and is graphically illustrated by the society we live in when all our institutions , including the Labour Party, are considered by many citizens to be detached from everyday experience because of their lack of responsiveness to people’s real concerns. Union members can at least correct that imbalance by demanding that our organisation should lead by example.
So how to address this issue? This manifesto is centred on giving power back to the members because through power comes the ability to make effective decisions, hold office holders to account and to bring necessary changes. If that objective is achieved members will see a purpose in active membership.
Corporate Britain and the Financial Institutions are supposedly “governed by” Chief Executives who report to a Board who in turn are “answerable” to the shareholders. This is a form of theoretical democracy that doesn’t work in practise. If we are honest our own structure is not that dissimilar. This manifesto is rooted in the belief that the real strength of trade unionism is the collective, creative intelligence of working people, combining together to gain economic and social justice and build power that can effectively challenge those who govern our lives, not only in our workplaces but also in our communities.
We should be a bottom up organisation not a top down institution. Most trade unionists would agree with that objective – but how to achieve it?
This manifesto suggests that all Branches get automatically 15% of the Branch's overall income every three months in advance and this manifesto proposes that all Branches should draw up 5 year organising plans for their localities. Branches could choose to cooperate in drawing up these plans which would be required to address the following:
· Identify all unorganised workplaces in their locality.
· Map all organisations/institutions where people come together in their locality e.g. schools, Churches, Mosques and other places of worship, colleges, sports clubs, social clubs, historical societies, walking clubs, Tenants and Residents Associations, other union branches etc.
· In short produce a comprehensive picture of the social and economic fabric of the community.
· Engage with these organisations to assess whether they would be prepared to work with others to achieve common goals through a social action agenda to promote action on community concerns.
· Assess the potential for workplace membership increase in every location.
· Consult with the Branch membership to gauge the support for the organising plan via a general meeting, text and email.
· To achieve approval for the plan the Branch must obtain evidence of positive support from the membership.
· The plan should then be submitted to the CEC for registration.
· Once the plan is registered the CEC would release a further 10% of the Branch's income (making in total 25%) going back to the Branch in six monthly instalments of the further 10% in advance to be forwarded to the Branch for the purposes of funding the organising plan including the appointment of a full time Branch Organiser if so desired.
· Introducing the position of Branch Treasurer.
· The Branch Treasurer and auditors would be responsible for monitoring all expenditure and would be supported in this work by the elected Regional Treasurer.
· Any misuse of funds would result in immediate investigation by the elected National Treasurer. All payments would be suspended until completion of the investigation. Any member involved in wrong doing would be deprived of membership. In the event of any financial loss not being made good criminal prosecution would be statutory.
· Anyone guilty of making false charges of misappropriation of union funds will be subject to the union's disciplinary procedures that could lead to dismissal or being expelled from the union.
· If the Branch membership wishes to engage a full time Branch Organiser they could appoint only by competitive interview by the Branch Committee and once a Branch Organiser is appointed by the Branch Committee he or she must face an election of the Branch's membership within the first year of the appointment.
· The Branch Organiser's post will be up for re-election every two years at the Branch's AGM.
· No member of the Branch Committee would be eligible for the post of Branch Organiser unless they resigned before applying for interview or standing in the election.
· Any member of the Branch will be eligible for standing in the election of Branch Organiser as long as the Branch Committee believes they are suitably qualified and capable of efficiently carrying out the duties of the office.
· The Branch would have to demonstrate its direct contact with and attempts to build relationships with every organisation identified in the mapping exercise bar those who do not share our values. A major objective of the organising plan would be to establish working relationships with as many of these organisations as possible.
· The plan should include an objective to publish a Community Action Plan at the end of the first year. This plan should include at least two issues but no more than four identified by the community organisations as important to them.
· The prime objective of the organising plan has to be to build power within the community so that instead of being the passive recipients of decisions they become proactive in setting the agenda.
· The Branch should plan to become a focus of change as well as building profile and credibility within their community.
· The community organising plan should shadow and complement the workplace organising plan.
· The Branch would have to review the plan every six months and send the review to the CEC who would be responsible for ensuring that the Branch keeps to the plan.
The lack of active involvement of trade unionists in the Labour Party has been a concern for decades. This manifesto believes that the membership disinterest toward the Labour Party has the same roots as the disengagement of the general membership in their union, namely they have no power locally and therefore no influence. Generally speaking Branches are only seen to be important at candidate selection time and in the run up to elections.
Branches who wished to re-engage their membership with the Labour Party would first have to establish and register their organising plan.
On application they would receive 50% of their political fund, 25% in advance and 25% in arrears.
What this means is the Branch would receive a political fund on top of the 25% of the Branch's income.
In the Branch's political fund would be 50% of the Branch's political levy payers, the Branch would receive 25% in advance and 25% in arrears.
The Branch would elect a lay member as Political Officer to oversee all political activity.
The fund could only be used to finance Labour Party members and candidates who identify with and share our values and political agenda.
Branches could decide to finance local campaigning so long as it was in line with union policy.
Branches in receipt of the political fund would have to identify an achievable Party membership increase and membership activity with a view to full engagement with local Party activity and campaigning.
Branch Secretaries and Chairs in each Region would be at liberty to meet and collaborate on both organising plans and political campaigns.
Membership responsibility and office holder’s accountability
To make the union a bottom up organisation and not a top down institution requires some fundamental changes to the present structure:
· Regional Secretaries would be subject to a direct ballot of the Regional membership every 4 years and candidates will need to be nominated by 12 Branches within the same region.
· Introducing the position of Regional Treasurer, the Regional Treasurer will be subject to a direct ballot of the Regional membership every 4 years and candidates will need to be nominated by 10 Branches within the same region.
· Regional Organisers can be appointed only by competitive interview by the Regional Committee and once he or she has been appointed they must face an election of the regional membership within their second year of appointment, there will be the right of recall.
· Regional Committee Members would be subject to a direct ballot of the Regional membership every 4 years and candidates will need to be nominated by 3 Branches within the same region.
· Regional Council Members would be subject to a direct ballot of the Regional membership every 4 years and candidates will only need to be nominated by the Branch they are a member of.
· Branches being able to elect one delegate directly to Congress for every 1000 members they have.
· Branches of any size being able to send at least two motions directly to Congress.
· Reintroducing the position of Deputy General Secretary, the Deputy General Secretary would be subject to a direct ballot of the entire membership every 4 years and candidates will need to be nominated by 25 Branches.
· Splitting the positions of General Secretary and National Treasurer, the National Treasurer would be subject to a direct ballot of the entire membership every 4 years and candidates will need to be nominated by 25 Branches.
· The General Secretary would be subject to a direct ballot of the entire membership every 4 years and candidates will need to be nominated by 30 Branches.
· National Organisers can be appointed only by competitive interview by the CEC and once he or she has been appointed they must face an election of the entire membership within their second year of appointment, there will be the right of recall.
· CEC Members would be subject to a direct ballot of the entire membership every 4 years and candidates will need to be nominated by 5 Branches.
· There will be a right of recall on all elected positions.
· The Union’s decision making Congress would be held every year.
In order to maintain the ascendancy of the membership a 4 year cycle of elections would be held with the CEC being elected in the first year, the Deputy General Secretary and National Treasurer in the second, the General Secretary in the third, Regional Treasurers, Regional Secretaries, Regional Council Members and the Regional Committee Members in the fourth.
The purpose of this proposed structure would be to make sure there is accountability to the membership.
The Congress would remain as the Union’s prime decision making body but would become much more vibrant with this and other changes.
The difference would be felt in that the direct democratic elections for all posts and the 4 year terms and the right of recall of all posts would ensure accountability.
• Regular elections and right to recall of all full time officials, who should be paid no more than the average wage of a skilled worker.
• Lay members control over all negotiations and industrial action through mass meetings and elected strike committees.
• Striking workers to be given strike pay.
• For militant action, strikes and occupations, to stop all cuts against working class people.
• We support the calls for a General Strike.
• Ending the anti-union laws.
• For the rights of all women, black, lesbian, gay, disabled, migrant and undocumented workers to caucus in the trade unions and voice their own demands, against any discrimination at work.
• Workplace democracy.
• Full employment rights for everyone from day one of employment.
• Employment for all.
• For social and economic reasons, we believe that all transport systems and industries, on- land, sea, rail, inland waterways and air, should be in public ownership, managed in a fully accountable way.
• The right to free Education.
• Bring all energy companies into public ownership.
• Britain needs a long term integrated energy policy based on a deep mine coal (clean coal only) industry which is publicly owned and controlled but at the same time our country needs to develop all forms of renewable energy such as wind, wave, tide, geothermal and solar power.
• We support a greener Britain.
• We are committed to a National Health Service available to all at the time of need, on demand and free of all charges, including prescriptions, dental care and eye care.
• We believe that there is a fundamental right to housing.
• We want a full programme of council housing, homes built and renovated, employing building workers hired directly, using the capital receipts at present still held by local authorities from the sale of council housing. Such a programme would provide not only homes but jobs for the multitude of building workers currently unemployed.
• We wants a complete overhaul of Britain's justice system, we will fight for proper legal representation, a fair hearing and a fair opportunity to put your case, these rights should be available to all, not just a privileged few.
• We want the introduction of a national living wage of at least £10 per hour.
• Abolishing 0 hours contracts.
• Proper terms and conditions.
• Right to a decent pension.
• To bring the banks and the whole of the so-called Financial Industry into public ownership and under pubic control.
• We are committed to abolishing capitalism and replacing it with a Socialist system.