I have been a member of the United Voices of the World Union (more recently through its LWSU division) for a number of years, given my membership of PCS (recognised in my workplaces) I have never been a particularly active member but have supported because, in my view, they have been trailblazers in organising previously unorganised workers and using strategic litigation as an organising method. Regular readers will recognise that at the end of every one of my posts is a blurb that includes an encouragement for eligible workers (those working in the legal sector) to join LWSU, I will continue to do so.
However, it is now clear that all is not well at UVW. The union had its AGM scheduled earlier this month but then, late in the day, members received an email cancelling the event until next year. The reason given was the union had been aware of significant financial issues in the accounts and the union could not afford to put on the “family friendly” event. The intention to make what in other unions can be quite a mundane meeting an inclusive event is a good one and in keeping with the ‘we are family’ ethos of the union. However, it is not strictly necessary to fulfil the legal obligations of a union to its members. One would think that the time when member engagement in a member led union was most needed was precisely in the moment of crisis, not after it (the etymology of “crisis” being the moment of decision).
At the time the decision prompted me to look at the Union’s rulebook and, in my view, the decision not to hold the AGM probably placed the union’s executive in breach of its rules, specifically rule “8.1: “The union shall hold an AGM at least once every 12 months”. The previous AGM was on 27 March 2021.
There are two viable interpretations of rule 8.1 that I can see: i) that there must be an AGM in any rolling 12-month period (the interpretation I would prefer), or, ii) there must be an AGM in every calendar year (i.e., at any time in 2019, 2020, 2021 etc). I infer that the executive committee’s position is the latter because, even holding the AGM in November would be in breach of (i).
It appears that UVW were ignorant of their financial position (and, no doubt, in future there will be inquiries how that was the case) – only recently for example the union were advertising for new staff (I know as I very nearly applied for one of the roles – in retrospect I am thankful I did not).
In response to the financial precarity the real threat UVW faces does not appear to be its ability to put on a family friendly event but its ability to pay its staff their wages and provide secure employment. Redundancies, and compulsory redundancies at that, are reportedly a real prospect.
The Union Workers Union, the union representing UVW has reacted to the threat to its members jobs with a declaration of a formal trade dispute. A statement explaining the decision reads:
We accept there is a financial crisis but UVW staff should not be paying for this with a threat to their livelihoods. We are deeply concerned that the process of consultation is being rushed and no time is being given to look at alternatives to ensure the sustainability and longevity of UVW. We have repeatedly requested for the minimum 30 day consultation period, meaningful exploration of alternatives to redundancies and consideration for staff welfare. We have also asked for clear structures and pathways through which UVW, the union our members work tirelessly for, will survive. None of this has been met.UWU statement.
As I wrote last month it is always regrettable when a union representing union workers is compelled to enter into a dispute with their own union employers. The situation here is clearly different to that faced by the GMB in opposing USDAW’s actions as an employer but as a UVW union member it is much more gut wrenching.
Regrettable as this situation is it is still the case that UVW have done great work in raising the profile and enforcing the rights of precarious workers in the UK – I hope that work continues and grows in strength. Much of that work was however done (together with the members) by the very same workers who are now in dispute with UVW.
In writing this I would ask readers to do two things.
First to stand in solidarity with those UVW workers who are now in dispute with their workers. While we will all hope the crisis will be resolved successfully and all jobs are saved any worker in this position deserves to be treated with respect and meaningfully consulted with, and that is precisely the demand of the UWU. Every worker deserves to be treated with dignity, and that includes union workers themselves.
Second, UVW is a union focussed on organising precarious workers – often without the (resource effective) machinery of negotiation that comes with union recognition. That is costly and it is right that the burden of this is not placed solely on the workers affected. Any trade unionist can join as a solidarity action and, by doing so, provide much needed funding to the union that can help avoid the worst excesses of the current crisis (membership is £10 a month). If you can, please consider joining the struggle by helping UVW ensure it has the resources it needs to effectively fight for worker rights among some of the UK’s most precarious workers. Join UVW here.
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