Beresfords Solicitors, Miners Injury Compensation Scheme, trade union lawyers, Transport and General Workers Union, lawyers referral fees, complainants at employment tribunals, workplace bulling, complaints about trade unions, unions respond to disgruntled members, judge NUT, union member

Trade Unions are exempt from registering with the Fincancial Services Authority as claims handlers and do not have to give key facts

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1 66p legal budget or less
2 worst feedback
3 biggest complaint to help lines
4 non-response
5 there isn't a 5
6 money laundering
7 non-democracy

Trade Union failure

 1 Which Union charges lawyers referral fees in one set of accounts
& pays them 66p per member peryear in the public account

2 Which system scored worst-equal among complainants at employment tribunals?

3 What is the most common complaint to workplace bullying help lines?

4 Why don't unions respond to disgruntled members?

5 There isn't a question 5. The picture below is to illustrate the problem of Rachman employers who's tactics aren't the rational attempts to run a business efficiently which a tribunal tends to expect, but more of a game in which those who are best at lying rise to the top of big organisations, including ones who survive by supplying statistics of success and nods of sage agreement to ministers who dole-out our taxpayer money to these shits.
By the way this old site attracts more visits in 2015 to this page than any other. Anyone interested in this page might be interested in unison-lawyers.html, quoting published information about a union I have never belonged to and a member I have never met. It's easier to publish stuff that way. Less like sour grapes. My own case was against a public service subcontractor for failure to offer reasonable adjustments to the needs of a sick staff member, instead of their usual un-believable levels of triteness, muddle, timewasting, and machiavelliean plotting of the sort that Andrew Mitchell suffered in Downing Street. This is common among public-funded organisations. Reasonable responses would have helped all staff, taxpayers and clients and voters in whatever order you want to list us in our different roles (for client read pupil, student, patient, resident, claimant, policy-holder, borrower, customer, whetever; for taxpayer read VAT-payer or income tax payer).

6 Where does the money - apart from the political fund - go?

[There is no answer to this but it isn't members]

7 What happens when union member democracy is quashed into busy-body democracy?

1 Less than 10% of the union law budget spent on employment law

The Collective Conditional Fee regulations have allowed organisations like trades unions to use no-win no-fee lawyers for some time, so, like any other no-win no-fee lawyer, they may put a much higher priority on personal injury cases like the Miners' Compensation Scheme claims handled by Beresfords where they can make money than messy unfair dismissal and employment law cases where they can't. Or thousand-pound personal injury claims where the lawyer can add something like a 20% "success fee" to the other side compared to small claims where expenses are limited to £80.
The union's cartel, the TUC, succeeded in lobbying for the £999.99 limit on small claims to be kept and not increased towards £5,000 because, they argued, that is how cases are paid for. Others might wonder where union members' subscription goes if it is not to the claims roundabout scam so derided by backbench labour MPs - it certainly doesn't go to lawyers and it probably doesn't go to the salaries of officials or the rents of places they need to work so that leaves - well: backbench labour MPs and the party central office that they can't sort-out.

The new Unite union rule book mentions personal injury cases directly and then employment law as afterthought, just as their legal director's account of the legal budget tacks employment law on the end. This is quite different to the old rule book which was all for worker's responsibility and legal action without get-out clauses like "we will take profitable cases but fob you off on the rest" or "we used to be interested in ownership of firms for their staff but that's a bit unfashionable now and not on the agenda".

The best example of a union doing this is a motorcyclist's trade-union set-up by a no-win no-fee personal injury lawyer, called Rider Support Services Club.

Membership was free, including record-keeping, wipe-clean membership cards and a free magazine called Grunt, written by the same ghostwriters who write a magazine for Co-Op members and quite likely for Unite T&G members just before elections.

All of this was funded from the profits of a personal injury lawyer doing regular high-value claims against bad drivers' insurance companies. The regularity of the work made it possible to work out how to do it cheaply and well.

If you or your surviving relatives have a card with the number of a personal injury lawyer on it, you are more likely to ring that firm when something goes wrong and enough people did so to fund the magazine, the membership database, and the membership cards. Despite a general name - rather like a breakdown service or a trades union - no employment law help or break-down cover were provided because these are messy and expensive and take a long time. Nobody minded because the service was free although the Law Society have asked the lawyer to be more transparent now and it's not clear what will happen to the service. At the last count, the magazine was sent to 35,000 people. The only difference between this and my impression of Unite is that the claims handlers in a union are also volunteer co-ordinators to well-meaning volunteer reps, giving telephone advice and trying to make reps to as much of the work as possible to collect high value claims.

Large well-known trades unions can do just the same as Rider Support Services and the Collective Conditional Fee regulations make it clear that they can - getting commission from specialist lawyers who know how to do a simple standard case with a high payout like a claim to the miner's compensation scheme or a claim for an accident at work, ranging from the vital and important to the "I walked into a post that was not previously signposted" kind of claim, and taxpayers pay vast amounts to the Health and Safety Executive to write regulations making the second kind of claim easier at all of our expense while judges make case law on stress cases to make them almost un-arguable. There is a regulation to say that if you employ someone to climb a ladder without training in walking up stairs, and they claim to have fallen off, it is your fault unless you can show that you can show signed evidence that you trained them how to climb a ladder. Why not just get everyone to sign "an amount of GDP will go to Labour party PR in a way that is concealed from all of us" rather than bother with the ladder/court/insurance thing? In contrast, the French government doesn't bother with a Health and Safety Executive that writes obscure regulations telling people not to take risks and to sue their employers for doing so. Maybe this is because France doesn't have a major political party funded neusance claims. Part of the culture that comes of this scam is that people in power think all claims are neusance claims. Faced with a problem of too much money being spent on legal aid to low-income people accused of crime, the government has recently cut the pay allowable to their new franchised scheme of legal aid lawyers. The pay is cut below what a qualified lawyer would work for. The implication is that no legal case is really complicated, except the ones manufactured to fund the governing political party.

2% of T&G members make claims like this each year and they pay "from £11 a month" depending on the branch rather than joining a free magazine subscription list as RSS members do. Some unions are so keen on this kind of work ("we'll help you fill in a claim form and get a full standard lawyer's fee from the government") that they allow associate members to use their help. ASLEF uses the same call-centre legal firm that works with the Vista print Rewards Scheme that some people sign-up to by mistake after buying a cheap business card. It is all legal and above-board.

Meanwhile members of large well-known unions want more than members of Rider Support Services and think they have paid for them. "from £11 a month" was nearer £15 in my T&G branch and some unions like Unison have higher rates for higher-paid employees. Employment rights have mushroomed over the past decade, but only for those who can enforce the law - articulate people, people who are on a proper contract, people who cannot be bullied and so-on. When employers come to prefer casual staff or staff who are not a threat to their careers, ways are found to get rid of the established ones just as Mr Rachman found ways to get rid of controlled-rent tenants in the 1960s, and the reasons for bullying staff are endless.

  • Staff can claim maternity leave which is very expensive and gets no subsidy out of taxes.
  • Staff can be paid higher wages on incremental points for staying in the same job a few years
  • Staff can sue for whistle blowers discrimination
  • Staff can sue for trades union members discrimination
  • Staff can hired on contracts unrelated to performance, so rachmanism is condoned as a necessary evil by those running the organisation - even if the accused are the most productive ones who happen also to be troublemakers as in the Gerry Robinson / NHS program about surgeons.
  • Staff can claim reasonable adjustments to a temporary or permanent disability: embarassing for a feckless employer that runs on hints and chinese whispers up and down a management line and which can't do things like "supervision" that the law requires as it doesn't really know much about what the job is and how it's been mis-described and adapted over the years to fit in with government grant criterea.

    None of my supervision notes at Alchol Recovery Project where anything to do with alcohol recovery.
    For example a member of staff who cannot concentrate can ask the employer for reasonable help and be compensated for disability discrimination of the quango is feckless. If the quango hasn't a clue what the job is - if a hierachy of over promoted people communicate by hint and threat and chinese wispers and still try to look important in order to take their parasitic cut of a government grant, they can't help. They never did. To admit this undermines the social fabric of their careers and disability discrimination claims ought ideally to be a way to make public services reasonable.
  • Directors who don't direct ("Chief Executive" in the jargon) hire more of the their kind to share meetings. This avoids the need to stand awkwardly with nothing to do, or pick-up a phone or a voicemail or an email about something controversial, that needs direction. Such activity is bad for a career because it risks involvement in controversy.

    Some of these chief executives are good at being courtiers - at knowing how to beg for re-named government grants each year and give an appearance of newness to existing spending. The Chief Executive of Rotherham Hospital, featured in Can Gerry Robinson sort the NHS? wrote "remember I have to manage upwards and sideways as well as downwards", and even if such folk aren't any good at all at anything it is easy for them to pretend that to those above them in the funding chain that they are responsable for those below and pretend to those below that they are good at getting grants from above.

    Here is an example of how directorship works in the public sector. A published appeal case against ARP or Foundation 66 by an ex employee hinges on a human resources person not picking up the phone or voicemail or email or having anything to do with her job and knowing nothing about whether an employee was reasonably employable. The tribunal believed she know nothing. That was the appellant's story. All that's admitted is that she was at a disciplinary meeting, that she doubtless minuted. It's not admitted that she did her job on any other occasion and other staff are reported as filling-in for her by getting medical assessments and trying to draw the line. Would you hire her as a human resources worker? Would you buy a second hand car from her? In her position, would you seek a change of career after the ARP Foundation 66 job ended? If you were a chief executive of ARP or Foundation 66 would you give her a reference?

    The Royal College of Psychiatrists presumably got a reference from Foundation 66 to offer a £50,000 job - probably quite hard to fill because of the hype & jargon and commute to a plush post code and the likelihood of machiavellianism and (to exaggerate) the need to have experience in dealing with other corrupt organisations. Any sane human resources director would have been weeded out of public-funded jobs years ago. I exaggerate for effect but senior job adverts do of course requre experience and those who can talk the talk and big-up their previous careers are the only ones who can be shortlisted; it is a system that rewards shallowness and vanity. And the amount is beyond exaggeration - it is so high that people in such jobs are likely to bid manufacturers and farmers and the rest of us out of the property market. Of say 25,000,000 working people in the UK we each paid a two-millionth of a pound towards her salary and any equivalent posts in Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland plus employers' funders' and tax collectors' costs. Multiply by the number of managers round her table and you have a 480,000th of a pound each in direct salary alone.

    £50,000 a year goes on meetings like this attended by somone who an employment tribunal believed knew nothing. Hopefully the others round the table know something about something but if so why do they waste their time sitting there? There is an organisational problem that they have to commute into South Kensington to listen to something about Swine Flu from someone who attended similar meetings in a previous job about a Millenium Bug policy for the dodgy gas boilers:
    Vanessa Cameron, Chief Executive
    Adey Olawande,
    Deputy IT Manager (CRTU)
    Adrian Worrall,
    Head of CCQI, (NCCMH)
    Christine Sealey,
    Centre Manager (CRTU)
    Dave Jago,
    Head of Publications
    Deborah Hart,
    Head of Communications and Policy
    Gordon Malcolm,
    IT Manager
    Lesley Cawthra,
    Head of Facilities
    Marcia Cummings,
    Head of Human Resources
    Paul Taylor,
    Head of Finance and Operations
    Richard Burton/Rep from Divisions,
    Head of Membership Relations/Divisional Managers
    Sam Holder,
    Office Manager (CRTU)

    Eventually the costs come home - particularly if the directors don't have the nouse to manage IT or human resources or hiring plumbers, ordering stationary or more grant-artistry, and need a director of each round the boardroom table. Possibly they do hire plumbers and buy tables and computers at home - perhaps at five times the normal price - but they don't want to do it at work in case they can be blamed for something that upsets their career. Much better to have a meeting about the onward and upward initiative. Human Resources, for example, is a team with a significant staff turnover of people who are asked to do jobs like dealing with job applicants and ordering stationary under direction.

    When the money runs-out, as in any other situation, those at the bottom of a management line are easiest to blame and modernise onto lower wages by bulling those at the tops of the pay scales or who are a threat to the dignity of the management team. You would expect an organistion that can pay £50,000 to someone to talk pretensiously about things that might happen to do with swine flu would be pretty well staffed to do the more important and essential jobs, but no.
  • Staff can be on contracts that don't pay by results. Feckless directors can tell their trustees that bad staff can't be sacked except in a rather Machiavellian way (a quote from Gerry Robinson on the NHS). In the voluntary sector this is combined with a bit of double-speak: we hire on a care assistant's job description and person specification but we expect a social worker's and counciloor's performance alongside. An organisation gets credit and grants for 1.000 assesments - which are good for grant artists because there is documentary evidence that they have taken place. Individuals among the payroll, client group and all taxpayers take the strain of having to "assess" social problems without having any solutions to offer.

    Trustees or directors get more and more sick of this and eventually a new regime authorizes a kind of purge after a while or a bogus restructuring, hoping that most of the people they get rid of are the ones that never got any results. Maybe they get ride of their henchmen next, or maybe the henchmen stay-on because there's no way of getting evidence to sack them, even if they are terrible managers and half way round the twist. It can become a rule-of-thumb that the maddest nastiest troublemaker is made manager in order to control the rest. Obviously this prevents any kind of service being provided to customers - as at Harringay Council the Victoria Climbie case - but the customers aren't the funders so it doesn't matter.
  • Staff who have done the job a while may be best, and not be managers, undermining the social fabric
  • Staff can be not part of the new faction, as at Liverpool Social Services where a staff team had done a perfectly sensible job for years but a new layer of management decided that they should be "modernised" onto lower wages to pay for more management and more credit to the managers.
  • Staff can be popular and make managers nervous
  • Staff can be unpopular and make managers nervous
  • Staff can be neither popular nor unpopular, but just get on, and make managers nervous
  • Staff can need sacking in a hierachy where all decisions are muddled-up-and-down the line; middle managers make-up simple lies rather than listen to homilies from top managers who have half-understood some second-rate legal advice given in response to their badly-explained version of events.
  • Staff can be next on the list after a manager has grown to like serial bullying
  • Rights and wrongs above are about the public-funded sector that a lot of us work for or use as customers or patients but it's not much known how many of us use this sector for directorships and committee work. A minister comissions a think-tank to advise how to re-slice the existing budget. The budget is spent as before via intermediaries. Councils, health trusts, The Housing Corporation, and things we've probably never even heard of like Wildlife Communities Sport and Heritage for England Monorities Section (which was closed to fund the Olympic Delivery Authority Millenium edition). The next tier down discuss how hard they have worked recieve some grants, how unfair not to recieve others, and then spend the money as they have always done but under new labels. And so-on down the funding feudal system. For example I needed a pick and pack mail order distributor in London, and they are rare, but I found one via Action for Blind People. He was a redundant foreman who had previously worked for Action for Bind People. The grants for the Visage Project, allocating European Union funding for partially sighted and blind people who want to be self employed, are partly administered by Action for Blind People. On the door of the store room was a plaque, comemorating the funding. "I don't know how that works", he said when pressed, and just as a lot of recipients of funding don't knwo the route that the money has taken, so a lot of staff who administer the work don't follow the detail either. A team of directors or Executives or whatever they are called can make the best of this by sacking the bright ones, so nobody in the world knows how Action for Blind People spent its Visage initiative grant from the EU except themselves. And even they may be a bit unsure.

All of these employment rights have employment wrongs to balance them like the tendency to hire on short term contracts, on commission, with frequent assessments or re-organisations. Often private sector employers simply get around all employment law while public sector ones operate in more of a mess - where a feckless employee may be hard to sack on one desk but another good employee is easier to sack on another because a human resource department is paid to smooth over the contradictions of an employer's position.

If unions were any good, there should be a wave of trades union revival and headline cases in which their core membership of long-term public sector employees fight back with all these new employment laws against Rachman management. The legal director of the Transport and General Workers Union says that this has not happened: that less than 10% of his legal budget is spent on messy machiavellian employment law claims and ninety percent is spent on simple health and safety law.

It is not reported that more people are physically hurt at work than are unfairly dismissed, bullied, harassed or discriminated against. Obviously they are not, and that's a big reason why people join unoins rather than relying on no-win no-fee lawyers who only cover the simple cases with high-payouts. And that is why we are ripped-ff because it is reported that the TGWU charged solicitors referral fees. Dispite appearing to be a trades union that fits the reasons why people want to join trades unions, Unite the Union is a claims handling agency with a speciality in co-ordinating volunteer reps. The report comes from Stoy Hayward accountants, commissioned to write a report on a proposed merger partner above. The same Executive Council notes "repudiations" of strikes as a routine item without saying whether they get a fee for that as well.

One sign of a union trying to divert money away from helping members is when the solicitor is provided at the very last minute - late enough to use the member's own work but too late to do any more and early enough to settle and take a success fee. The typical scam is that there is no clear contract about what's available to members, so an official has to nominate a case to the organisation's solicitor. The T&G rule book states that there is a Schedule of services available to members. No such schedule exists, unless it is the membership leaflet which just says "legal representation".

The member's status is so low in the union hierarchy that s/he might not even meet the official: rejection might be passed via a volunteer, even in a case is strong enough for a private lawyer to win. Or, after pretended misunderstandings and difficulties getting clear answers, there is a sudden change of mind and the member is referred to a named solicitor, who may be junior in the firm or even an unpaid intern. A rep reported to me that the union would back me if I submitted by own complaint form to the tribunal. I was given an hours' interview by a solcitor who appeared to be doing this for free as a favour to his peronal injury colleagues: he showed no sign of wanting to read evidence or make-up a bundle from it. I asked for my own choice of lawyer but was forced to use one on the other side of town that an ex-colleague had complained about before. This inflexibility meant something, but I was not sure what it meant and vaguely gave the union the benefit of my doubt. The union had missed basic time limits, and during this interview the lawyer did not want the hassle of reading the disability discrimination questionnaire, the grievance letter, understanding time limits or looking at the evidence which I had in bags full. Nor of course did he tell me the the union had missed basic time limits - he simply advised me not to attend the pre-hearing review so that I wouldn't see the mess that the union had got-in to.

It's likely that solicitors firms are pressured to pretend they can handle employment work cheaply in order to get the union's personal injury work, leaving their employment lawyers over-worked & pressured to cut corners. The quote below shows pressure - resisted - on unqualified union officials to represent more of their members in tribunals. This pressure on officials to work beyond available time, qualification, and inclination when the union has been paid for a proper legal service may be passed-on-down to volunteer reps and to members themselves, even when off-sick, over-worked by the employer or on maternity leave.

A Unison document baldly states that union lawyers are paid for by the loosing side through costs awards and that if the system were changed there is a "real danger" that Unison would not even back personal injury cases.

Unite the Union, 
 Transport and General Workers Union section's legal director, Furgus Whitty,  who admitted they spend less than a tenth or their legal budget on employment cases,  concentrating instead on cases that pay no-win no-fee lawyers to ring ACAS and settle. Dear Unite: why not just provide a service?Less than 10% of the union law budget quoted below goes on employment law; 90% goes on the cases that are easy to fund from costs awards. This is Mr Whitty, legal director of Unite the Union's Transport and General section explaining to The Lawyer magazine:

From (underlining added)

From the glory days of two million members to the doldrums of the Thatcher years, Fergus Whitty has seen it all during his time as Transport and General Workers Union legal director. Steve Hoare finds out where it's at now

"I'd say that the Labour Government has done tremendous things, states Whitty. ... it introduced the

  • collective conditional fee agreement, which is a very helpful way of funding the personal injury claims... very helpful to trade unions.

  • ...personal injury claims take [...] Ninety per cent of the departments £5m expenditure [£6.66 per member per year] [...]. Last year Whitty, his team and its 60 law firms supported around 15,000 claims and recovered £74m for people injured [...] [plus lawyer's costs back from the other side]. [This is 2% of T&G members using the service a year]

  • Unite Transport and General Workers Union spends less than 66p per member per year on employment solicitors for union members. The same 66p also pays for defending the union against complaints.The T&G also supports members at employment tribunals. [out of 10% or 66p per member per year] Generally, the local union official will give the member advice about the tribunal and take the matter to the employment tribunal. If the local official is overloaded with claims, or a claim is particularly complex, the department has an arrangement to use local solicitors. Last year, £5m was recovered for members through employment tribunal claims. [plus lawyers costs but nothing like the true cost of a well-argued employment law case]

  • Other issues that Whitty faces include legal challenges to the way the unions rule book is interpreted from solicitors acting for disgruntled members." [also out of the 66p per member per year]

    £6 per member per year or 90% of the legal budget is paid to solicitors who can pay it back again for lucrative personal injury cases in a way that isn't made clear to you, me, this web site or the press, but Stoy Hayward accountants tried to make sense of the books for Amicus before the merger. These are the minutes of Amicus National Executive Conference, November 2006:

    A summary of the due diligence report from BDO Stoy Hayward had been circulated. This had reviewed all the available financial information which had been adjusted to place the information on a comparable basis. After pension deficits the new union would have net assets of over £200 million formed equally from the two sections. Contribution income was also very similar although Amicus had more paying members. TGWU branch costs were higher. Staff numbers were similar. Legal procedures were different in a number of ways - the TGWU charged solicitors referral fees, for example.

    BDO suggested TGWU financial controls needed improving. In the TGWU membership processing and payroll were decentralised.

    So the ratio of personal injury to employment law is very much like the no-win no-fee lawyer adverts in the column on the right: mainly personal injury, sometimes simple employment law. The method of funding is said to be £6.66 per member per year but accountants report that the lawyers are paying the union for the privelage of having late claims dumped on their desks. Accountants also report that the books are hard to make sense of.

    The union advertises membership from £11 a month and the Parliamentary Branch get it down to £9.35. I have a feeling I was being charged £15 a month. Taking the union's figure of £132 a year, £0.66p goes on:

    1) employment law.
    2) defending the union against disgruntled members.

    It isn't said what proportion of each takes more of the £1 annual budget per member, but a clue is that the government's certification office warns against complaints about "failure to represent" on its web site and it's own little tribunal has decided in Foster v Musician's union that the legal right of a member to see lawyer's receipts doesn't mean receipts but "an intermediate ledger".
  • Factual note 1:
    "Dear [name of solicitor] Last time I contacted my union's legal director for details of how their legal service is funded, he wrote
    >>>Dear Member,
    >>>The solicitors should send this to your direct.
    >>>If you have any difficulties please contact me again.
    I got my MP to write to him next (with a reminder) but have had no response. I've also emailed reception:
    Can you confirm that you still do not have authority to let me know how my branch's legal service is funded?"
    "Dear [name of union member and client]We were told categorically by Mr Whitty that we should not release the documentation to you.Yours sincerely [name of compliance officer for solicitor]"
    My MP has tried writing to him to ask how legal services are funded, given the bad service, and has had no reply despite reminders.
  • Background note 1
    Without facts from Unite-Transport and General about how they do their claims-handling, it makes sense to look for ex-panel solicitors describing other claims handlers for background.

    Personal injury lawyer's campaign hots up to ensure taxi drivers get legal service they deserve
    describes the claims handling industry a few years ago, probably describing a firm that has closed. He describes a naive market that needs more transparency: nobody is sure who ought to be paying who and how much. Sometimes even a simple case with a high payout like a claim on insurers for a road traffic accident causing an injury can be badly handled because it's thought to cost a thousand pounds to argue and most of the money has gone to a claims handling agency. A system that has trouble coping with simple, high-value cases is likely to have more trouble coping with the complex, low-value cases of employment law.

    Life of a trade union lawyer by a Mr Bindman in the New Law Journal
    ...says how unions handled their lawyers and members in the 1960: badly. It was an informal version of the same thing:
    ~The claimant's lawyer had a financial interest in only taking on very strong and straightforward cases. ~Claimants find it hard to pursue difficult cases, even if the risk of losing is small.
    ~Basically the system is for dealing with insurers of injured people, and unions have never done more.
    ~It relies on union members not knowing the arithmetic of how much legal insurance should cost or how much the union costs to run per member.

  • Factual note 2: Unite The Union Transport and General accounts for the year of the article, 2003
  • Factual note 3: The research below does not mention any official representing at a tribunal.

    The full article does not mention any separate panel of employment law solicitors; the "arrangement to use local solicitors" may be something expected of those who bid to do the trade-union's more profitable work as a kind of freebie.

    My union's panel solicitor was two hours from me and an hour away from the tribunal, with London (and its other solicitors) in the middle or the triangle. The branch was called South London but the solicitor wasn't in the south of London. His performance makes me suspect that his boss was the cheapest bidder, not the best in tribunals and when I asked if he had been to one before he said
    "Oh yes. But usually the Central London"
    and his online CV says that years ago he worked for some firm closer to the centre of London that handled employment tribunal cases.

    If a union-referred case did go to a tribunal, two hours would be spent commuting for which the solicitor would bill £200. If his success fee is 20% and he expects to win 50% of cases, he would have to win £2,000 per successful tribunal case just to pay travel. According to this graph, the most common payouts for unfair dismissal cluster around £1-3,000 with a tail of higher payouts for some types of well-argued case. Median awards are higher for my type of case - disability discrimination - but this lawyer wasn't a specialist in discrimination and of course these costs don't allow for time reading evidence to put a well-argued case or prepare a bundle of documents. I expect there were admin workers at this office but all the notes I saw from the solicitor were written in longhand: I doubt he had a secretary and I doubt he could touch-type. I doubt the bid which his employer had made to get union business was viable and I know that the process isn't transparent.
  • Factual note 4: There is no way of knowing how much of the 10% of the legal budget is spent on employment law, and how much on "disgruntled members", but the UnisonLawyers.html page gives an example at another union of a lot of money being spent on disgruntlement and none at all on employment law.
  • Factual note 5: Small Claims, Big Deal , Thompsons Solicitors for Unison, 2005 :
    "The problem for those bringing personal injury cases is that the Small Claims Court does not award costs in cases brought before it. There is a real possibility that this could result in fewer cases having legal representation from a trade union lawyer (who is paid out of costs received from the employers insurance companies)".
  • Factual note 6: I've sometimes been asked what my personal experience of Unite the Union's lawyer service was in a case against ARP / Foundation66, the social work charity. It was a wrecking experience. A loyal rep informed me at the last minute - or later as it turned out - that the union would

    "back a member if the papers had already been sent to the tribunal"

    I had done the work, amassed the evidence dispute disabled concentration, but I went to see a lawyer called Edwards Duthe near Barking somewhere since the union refused me any choice, even from their own panel. Edwards Duthie is not now listed on that posts reviews.

    The man there told the court that he now "represented" me, spoke to me for an hour in which he seemed distracted, refused to go back over vital points like why I didn't claim earlier, the politics of whether or not to attend a final sacking meeting, or the nature of the disability (which was concentration caused by memory loss), and refused to look at any of pile of evidence. He didn't even accept the file. He then attempted to settle with the other side for commission. In he tried to be straight forward with me: "you do realise I am only taking on this case because the other side have a history of settling", but without reading web sites like this I had no idea how much worse than useless the man could be. He advised me not to attend the pre-hearing review, which is nowadays more of a court case in itself - neither of us knew this and the lawyer mentioned that he didn't usually go to Croyden tribunals. The judge Mr Gumbiti-Zimuto discovered the hopless lawyer and decided that "the case could not continue" without my turning-up, adjourning until that afternoon, but he also decided without any hint to me what points had no prospect of success or no evidence to back them up; in that sense I think it was a bit of a trick to make it look as though a fair hearing had taken place and make appeal difficult. I had no evidence. I had a fluerescent green courier bag full of files but he showed no interest in evidence of any kind, preferring to act on his own prejudice and pressure to reach targets for quick case management. After a brief show of discussion on a couple of questions he played a kind of trick in springing all the decisions on me as a judgement. The other side had a city lawyer looking very reasonable, with a barrester and a 250 page bundle neatly printed out in a printed ring binder at the taxpayer's expense. The system hasn't changed. In 2008 the same judge wrote this about another case where the representative simply dissapeared:

    "I note also however that the claimant has never in terms informed the Employment Tribunal that she is no longer represented by Community Law Project and that correspondence should be addressed to her. However I do consider that since the 17 October 2008 the Employment Tribunal should have been communicating directly with the Claimant about her case rather than sending letters to the Community Law Project address. In this case this failing does not in my view justify a review of the judgment made"

    With a chance of talking about my bag of files to a legally-minded person, I might have been able to start again or appeal but the judge made very clear warnings specifically to me (not the other side) that there was a risk of costs against and I found a private lawyer to settle and wrote this rambling web site instead: you can tell by the style of the web site that the evidence was there somewhere but needed someone with healthy concentration and preferably legal training to make it clear.

    It's a pity because cases about failure to provide supervision to long-term staff who have suddenly disabled their concentration, combined with 18 months of machiavellian bullying, do expose public funded employers for what they are in a way that nothing much else does. For example, anyone funding using or working a social work agency would want the staff to be able to get clinical supervision quite easily, but the management never allow it and pretend that some kind of matron who they've appointed as team leader can do the work.  Few will take the job of henchman for a public sector management team and those that take the job aren't always able to type, let alone supervise social work and run an office. The very disability that caused the problem was caused by an NHS consultant who herself nobody to ask in a health care trust that's been taken to employment tribunals for treatment of whistleblowers. If anyone wants to get in touch with me personally about experience of legal cases against ARP, please email j o h n a t e m p l o y e e s etc. I can dig-out what the judge wrote in reply to a letter to my MP if it helps. I've still got most of the evidence.

2 Which lawyer funding scores worst among employment tribunals complainants?

This from p12 about people at employment tribunals /back


There appeared to be a slight differentiation between satisfaction levels and types of representatives used, with thoseJane Johnson of Coventry University, 
      who co-wrote the report with Geraldine Hammersley, 
      "The Experiences and Perceptions of  Applicants Who Persue Claims at Employment Tribunals". 
      ACAS, Trades Unions, and Employment Tribunals were investigated. applicants using trades union to represent them being the least happy. Several applicants identified instances of inherent conflict:

I found the union too happy to appease employer to my detriment.

This can possibly be explained by the move to a partnership approach between employers and employee representative bodies and may have resulted in individual union members losing out in terms of the quality of the advice or representation provided by union officials at local and regional level. There was evidence of a clear belief that political factors had affected the situation:

I think there was a political agenda because I understand there were conversations between my union representative, the head of HR and the Mayors advisor. I did think there was a political agenda to try and get it stopped. I felt very let down, when it came to twenty four hours before we were due to go to tribunal and he phoned me to say he hadnt taken any statements from my witnesses. He said this offer is on the table. I am going to see the Councils legal department, I can accept on your behalf but I would prefer it to come from you. Basically if you don't accept you are by yourself tomorrow. He told me he could accept without my authority, he could go in to a meeting and say I am settling.

This applicants experience indicates that the role of a trade union representative has become that of arbitrator rather than ensuring employees interests are paramount. This is compounded by many public sector organisations determination to preserve their reputations at all costs, thereby applying undue pressure on the trade union to settle cases prior to a public hearing wherever possible. For one union member it resulted in a damaged view of their union:

I would never ever again go to a trade union for assistance, nor will I ever join a union again.

        AT EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNALS, Geraldine Hammersley & Jane Johnson, 
        Coventry Business School, Coventry University, 2004
There was only a marginal difference between these applicants and those who used a solicitor on a no win no fee basis. In these cases interviewees had frequently felt pressurised into accepting settlements

Factual note: the reseach quotes union members as giving the worst feeback against their lawyers as well as quoting some examples of how members suggested reasons and suspected that they had been badly treated. It also states that the difference in badness is not statistically significant between no-win no-fee lawyers, possibly hired through a claims management agency, and the same system applying under the false pretence of being a trade union that pools membership dues to provide legal services in an emergency. Unions also imply by tradition and vague statements on application forms that they offer help before a claim reaches a tribunal; preventative work, collective bargaining, consulation of members, provision of enough officials to attend recognition-agreement meetings of members disciplinary and dismissal meetings. In this sense, most union members have already been let-down before they reach the tribunal and the fact that their union's lawyer "hadn't taken any statements from witnesses" for example before trying to settle adds insult to injury.

Factual note: There are instances of employer's solicitors advising a settlement if the other side is represented, otherwise not. This knowledge prevents individuals from benefiting from ACAS's service, which would otherwise be a taxpayer-funded settlement service for people who's claims have already gone to a tribunal.

Factual note: Several unions and the TUC have made statements about another stream of unprofiable cases. In the small claims courts winners can only claim £80 expenses from the other side, or loose £80 expenses if they loose against the other side. This ought to work in favour of the low-income claimant, but these courts hear personal injury claims under £1,000. Unions advertise for the profitable cases. They can't easily write "over £1,000" on the adverts, just as they can't easily write "except employment law". And a recent proposal to raise this limit to £5,000 led to a TUC campaign for more expensive and legally intensive courts with greater penalties for costs against people who loose. In effect they were campaigning against their own members. ASLEF explains how they pay for small claims as though they were giving to charity:

"We, along with our solicitors, essentially absorb this cost".

In other words they expect solicitors to take the cases as a back-hander in exchange for getting the more pofitable claims referred. It may say on the solicitor's letter to the client that the union is paying £100 an hour but a law society investigation found over a third of firms visited to be misleading clients about who was paying who. No embarrasment is shown about charging members over ten pounds a month for combined union services and admitting that a big part of them are got for free and with back-handers from legal firms, such as offers to represent unprofitable members cheaply. No wonder the solicitor quoted above used a dirty trick of phoning the complainant 24 hours before the hearing to say that he hadn't interviewed witnesses and the complainant had better settle. This is how lawyers do cases on the cheap.

Factual note: Unison v Jervis shows an example of what people complain about. A member was told his case was weak by memo from a volunteer who had "spoken to" a paid official. Mr Jervis paid for his own case and won it despite the volunteer and official turning-up as witnesses for the other side and not thinking to warn him first. When he and asked for Unison to pay his legal costs again, and complained, they hired a London city solicitor and a team of two barristers to fight him at every stage up to an appeal tribunal. Worryingly, I got the same tribunal chair that had heard Mr Jervis' case a few months later. The union did so badly that I told him my case was now against the union and asked if he could bear that in mind while writing his judgment. The chair replied:

"I cannot do that and I think you know the reason why not"

I guess this means that people in the legal trade like tribunal chairs know how bad union representation is, but are under political pressure to say nothing. That's why employer's solicitors often call union reps as witnesses, knowing that the rep or the official will be badly-briefed, will not contact the member, and will possibly have lunch with the employer's side. The case I saw just to see how the system worked was of a finance clerk from a housing association who had got the sack after being a bit strange.

"why hasn't the union rep taken your case here?"

The other side asked. It's nasty.

This from someone who believes in the voluntary side of unions, on

...a few years ago, I spent 3 years working for a solicitors firm that dealt almost exclusively with employers liability claims (accidents at work) for one of the largest TU's (which i shall not name) in the country.

I think in all, the TU's have more good points than bad, and agree that in an [Employment litigation] claim a union funded claimant is in a better position than one on a conditional fee agreement, however the unions have become increasingly aware of the value of their unique access to claimants and now view this as an increasingly valuable income stream i.e. by selling the claims to solicitors.

No problem with this per se, but the union members I always dealt with had no idea this was happening. If it does happen it should be transparent to all what is going on. I don't work there anymore, and cannot be certain if anything has changed, but the transparency which helps keep everything objective and honest certainly did not exist with this Union, then.

That said, to anyone at work with problems - Join a Union - together we're stronger!

For lack of a leak from a lawyer who says how much this scam effects members' cases - there are none yet on - but this from Mark Lampkin of RTA110% solicitors describes claims management agencies. Similar stories emerged from agencies that have collapsed, and although they are now regulated by the Financial Services Authority, trades unions are exempted by a Labour government for obvious reasons.

Road traffic accidents are an occupational hazard for professional drivers and the risk of being in a non-fault accident increases every year as roads become busier. An RTA can threaten a taxi drivers livelihood. Its essential taxi drivers get the best legal advice they can in such circumstances.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, according to Personal Injury Claim Solicitor Mark Lampkin, of RTA110, based near Chester, UK. He claims that in most cases non-fault drivers are being palmed off with a cost-cutting service from a solicitor who has already spent a chunk of the costs allocated to help them.

Lampkin explained:

Most personal injury claim solicitors pay insurers, credit hire companies, garages and big taxi firms, among others, for details of drivers who have been involved in an RTA that wasnt their fault.

Standardised costs have been worked out by the Law Society Regulation Board and are paid to solicitors working on RTA cases. These costs legally belong to the client but most solicitors pay for referrals out of these costs. This means there will be less money to pay for their services.

The result, says Lampkin, is a poorer service because a solicitor is unlikely to spend time for which hes not being paid. Reduced damages may be the ultimate result of that poor service. Lampkin recently started a campaign to bring an end to the referral system. Now, no less a figure than the Lord Chancellor the UKs most senior lawyer has added his voice to the growing clamour calling for a review of the situation.

Speaking at the Law Societys annual conference, Lord Falconer of Thoroton said:

I have a distaste for the financial traffic in personal injury litigation. He added that he would like to see as much pressure as possible to get rid of referral fees.

Chief executive of the Law Society Desmond Hudson said the time was right for the Regulation Board to look again at the issue of referral fees. It is understood that the board is considering imposing a ban or toughening up legislation.

Mark Lampkin says he is delighted the issue is now being discussed at such a high level. He said:

Its important to spread the word about this scandal. The average costs agreed for handling, say, a simple whiplash injury case is £1,200. Yet I have heard of incidents where solicitors have paid up to £825 for a referral, leaving just £375 to fight a case. What sort of service is a client going to get for that?

With referrals banned, says Mark, drivers who have been unlucky enough to become involved in an RTA will be guaranteed a decent legal service and value for money.

He stresses, however, that taxi drivers already have it in their power to avoid the scam.

Please remember you have a choice, he said. You dont have to let the costs youre entitled to get chopped up by referral fees. Miss out all the middle men. Dont phone your insurers first. Get straight on to the solicitor of your choice and get the service you deserve.

Frank Field's book "Bully In Sight" identifies the kind of serial bully that bad employers and trades unions allow to thrive. An ACAS settlement for an amount of money is unlikely to involve these people being sacked. His web site is now at BullyOffline 3 What is the most common complaint to workplace bullying help lines?

This from .htm : [picture © Photogenic Photography]

The number one complaint of those contacting my UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line [ now closed after a libel action funded by the NUT ] and Bully Online and similar organisations including DAWN, OXBOW, Andrea Adams Trust and Freedom to Care has been the refusal of trade unions to support their members in cases of bullying and stress.

The trade unions in the UK whose names most commonly crop up are:
1) National Union of Teachers (NUT)
2) Unison
3) Amicus-MSF [now slowly merging with the Transport and General Workers Union to become Unite the Union - link is to comments about their service EO]
4) Royal College of Nursing (RCN)
5) NATFHE [NATFHE joined with the AUT to form the University and College Union (UCU) - link is to comments about their service - link to what an established rep is doing]
6) To a lesser extent, most other trade unions, especially public sector

Sometimes the local (unpaid) trade union officer is helpful and supportive, but once the case moves up to a paid union official, the member finds their case frustrated. Many people report that their paid trade union official appears indistinguishable from the management and that their trade union, despite the rhetoric, appears to be more interested in maintaining its good relationship with the employer than meeting the legally-binding contractual obligations to its members. [...] The notion that trade unions exist to support, protect and fight for the rights of their members seems to have fallen by the wayside - especially if bullying and stress are the core issues.

Factual note 1: click "employment tribunals"

4 Why unions don't respond to "disgruntled members"

One reason for union misbehaviour is that disgruntled members are often exhausted, sometimes sick, sometimes looking after new babies, or hoping to keep up appearances at the next employer. They are as unlikely to sue as people who buy fake viagra, and unions know this. In commercial terms, these members are often at the end or their relationship with the union and out of touch with new recruits. Unions know this too. A vague little implied contract is all unions need to make it very unlikely they will be sued.

So there is little commercial market pressure from members to make a union do more, hire more and better officials or increase a legal budget, even for those decision-makers in the union hierarchy who believe in keeping themselves in business by competing well with other types of employment law help or providing help to people still in work. The problem is recognised in the annual-report-TGWU.html article quoted here, but union decision-makers find it hard for some reason to distinguish between paying to back-up good volunteer support and paying to back-up student union politics. They certainly don't want more good staff: the till is raided enough as it is and the article warns that "tough choices" are necessary which won't help "individual" services to members. The author - Sharon Graham - sees herself as a volunteer co-ordinator to employees, encouraging them to do ever more unpaid work while the union gets £15 a month.

In contrast there is plenty of pressure to provide a bad service.

  • Union directors can vote money to a political party they think most favourable to their unasked members, and unions that do this have chosen the same party for 100 years, suggesting closeness beyond the public & rational. Those unions which have tried to break-away from subsidising the same old party like ASLEF or the Welsh part of Unison have been criticised.
  • Most big union's directors met government ministers at the Warwick University campus a few years ago for a public pact, and Amicus boasts of the great things offered by government after the "Warwick Agreement" like good government, with some surprisingly detailed twists that look as though they came from hard negotiation in long committee meetings. Other favours include a cap on damages that can be claimed against unions in court and an abolition of an obscure quango, the Commission for the Rights of Trades Union Members, a small government office that could considered funding about one request a month by ex-union members wanting to sue unions. If there was negotiation, delegates from big TUC unions must have packed detailed concessions in their briefcases as they went home on the train. Unfortunately these must be on the back of the leaflet because they don't show on the Unite-Amicus website, and the TUC claims to migrant workers above that it is "independent of any political party" but the BullyOffline link above gives good grounds for guesswork including a TUC boast that 90% of TUC-Union-backed tribunal claims win. So they don't take cases without 90% chance of success, even with a no-win no-fee budget and volunteer support from reps according to Unite-T&G and Unison.
    This is a giveaway because my Unite-T&G union official claimed that they backed claims with a 50% chance of success. My membership leaflet says the union offers legal help and advice for money - not highly restricted legal help - and few people would join a union that said "if your case is 90% certain and any no-win no-fee lawyer would take it even in employment law, we'll take it as well and possibly get a kick-back from the lawyer". If the intention were true, something similar would show in the statistics of how many union-backed tribunal claims win or loose, which is a hard fact to research because the tribunal service library in Bury St Edmonds only allows personal callers to see the summery data. You would have to have some time and at least the cost of a train ticket to find how many cases unions win, but Brendan Barbour, president of the TUC, backed this press release to the BBC:

    Unions won or settled nine out of ten of the 2,619 tribunal applications recorded in the survey, and won four of five cases that went all the way to a hearing, compared with a 13 per cent average for all tribunals. And unions won an estimated £16.2 million in compensation for their members - in unfair dismissal cases, which still account for over 40 per cent of all claims, compensation to union members was three times higher than the average award.

    At the 2005 Election, Unite-T&G declared a £20,128.00 donation to the Labour Party's central election expenses, but there is another explanation. Maybe Unite-T&G are not failing to represent members and paying money to Labour instead. Maybe tribunal judges like mine appointed by Labour ministers have to be biassed towards the dignity of trades unions - and not their members - to hold down their jobs. Or not.

    As the BullyOffline website notes -

    Brendan Barbour of the Trades Union CongressBrendan Barber who has recently announced the trade union's achievements in reducing the number of cases taken to employment tribunal and how unions are good for you but who must now answer allegations of why some trade unions appear to limit their interest in cases to cherry-picking those members with interesting cases which, if successful, can be used in press releases to trumpet union achievement. What this means in practice is that any trade union member with a run-of-the-mill everyday case of bullying and stress resulting in loss of job, career, income, livelihood, health and detriment to home and family life will, regardless of how many years they've being paying subscriptions in expectation of services in time of need, be rejected in favour of the few sexy cases. Whatever happened to original trade union principles?

    Some people devote their lives to unearthing the history of trade union principals and they know better than me, but my guess is that the TUC was always in part a cartel to reduce the choice of members between different unions and so increase the power of union central offices to hike the price.

    This is a quote from the Amicus National Executive Committee:

    Political Report
    The main issue reported on by Deputy General Secretary Tony Dubbins was that of Labour Party funding. Following the loans for honours debacle, the Labour Party set up an enquiry into the future of party funding. The reports from the enquiry recommended extensive regulation of the funding of political parties by trade unions. Amicus and other unions have objected to this, as this would strongly weaken the link between the Labour Paty and trade unions. Tony Dubbins reported that the debate is moving in the direction advocated by Amicus and other unions i.e. for continued TU funding of Labour.

    One NEC member commented on the sea of sleaze and corruption engulfing No 10 on the question of Labour party funding and cash for honours.

    Another NEC member reported on the successful TUC Speak Up for Public Services lobby, praising the resources produced by Amicus and the turnout of Amicus members particularly from Health and Local Government sectors. However, the meeting with Amicus sponsored MPs had been disappointing. Only one MP (Lindsay Hoyle) had seemed to understand the issues around privatisation and financial crisis in the NHS; the others had showed a profound lack of understanding. Although Amicus was doing a good job, the message was evidently not getting through to the Government or MPs.

    After the agreement, government ministers have continued to decide which unions get Union Modernisation Grants from the EU, or make speeches like the recent one on Remploy to suggest that they are being influenced by union contacts. In both cases there may be no connection, but the suspicion may effect behaviour by unions and ministers, encouraging unions to stick to the Warwick Agreement. Since I wrote that, Peter Hain has resigned as minister. If union directors can give-away your money, it's hard for them to prevent the next problem.

  • donations from the unite transport and general workers union: cheque made out to 'Friends of Tony Woodley' Activists can propose giving union money away, leaving less for the rest.
    In large TUC unions they think it's normal to give money away.
    There is a political fund which takes something over two pounds from a monthly full-time subscription of eleven to fifteen pounds, and different unions have more or less off-the books donation. Several claim that more than 100% of their members subscribe to the political fund. Mine writes to me personally to urge support for Labour Ken Livingstone (although not when he was independant, and they didn't write personally in response to complaint about bad union service or funding of lawyers - my MP is on her third reminder). Whether members get about £10-worth of service is less clear, when the diagram below shows fifteen internal committees per member and the Unite-T&G region one web site lists twenty two external organisations that the region one office funds, alongside a similar overlapping list funded by branch 1/1148. In the middle of the organisation, just as in the branches there are people who think unions are fund-raising organisations and that it's normal to give members' money to a campaign. In an organisation where local committees "may" hold a ballot for re-election (Rules.html#10.4 b) or just re-elect themselves on a show of hands it's easy to see why the activists are often people who give money away without much monitoring.

    "a union is not about legal insurance but solidarity",

    said the treasurer of branch 1/1148 when refusing a to provide a lawyer. The same meeting he OK'd a payment to the Communist Party's landlord.

  • Employers can also recognise a trade union, recommending a steady stream of new paying customers for free while membership generally has declined. At these employers, volunteer reps may be given paid time-off for union duties and other very small & proper benefits, like access to speak to directors, that get them in the habit of seeing the managements' side better than they see other members' points of view. Mr Jervis on the night shift above was simply advised "not to get up the management's nose" by his Unison rep. Unions can become certified by a government office - the certification office - as independent of employers but the certificates are not always worth the cost, as in a 2007 case of the Stable Lads Association which turned out to be funded entirely by stable owners. And the closed shop is not yet dead. Employers can exclude all witnesses from disciplinary meetings except an approved union union rep, so solicitors, friends, and reps from other unions can be denied access while a volunteer rep's expulsion from the union may make a practical difference to them.

  • Public sector employers may be part of the same political culture as public sector unions, linked by individuals given time-off to work as counsellors, branches funding labour MPs, as well as union central budgets subsidising a political party. For example the minister for Employment Relations is sponsored by Unite-TGWU. Culturally, officials may respect hierarchy and "procedure" more than truth, type with two fingers, be clueless about efficiency or money, and assume that members are illiterate ("the learning rep post remains vacant", I read about my own branch). They may be more like the public sector than the public sector itself and simply not understand good ideas or valid complaints that they should be passing-up the management chain. When my union should have been proposing alternatives to redundancies and ways of avoiding stress and overwork, the volunteer reps' quarterly negotiations with management were bogged down in the small print of the employment contract and the paid official was not to be seen. The public-funded voluntary organisation I worked for had wasted its grants on a "development unit" and too many directors, then exaggerated it's own faults in order to shed staff. We were expected to attend seven team meetings a week. It would have been nice if the union had offered employee-friendly management consultancy, or a quiet word to the trustees. Unfortunately, union officials may also think that a "development unit" is a perfectly good way of spending money and there's nothing wrong with seven team meetings a week. According to the author Naomi Klein in her book No Logo, US unions have helped sweat shop employers upgrade their machines to get a better deal all-round. But UK unions are the last people who could offer management consultancy or prevent dramas turning into the crisis of a tribunal case. An article by a Unite - Transport & General insider on Union Ideas Network suggests an unspoken pressure not to rock the boat at recognised employers, a great article but one that doesn't distinguish money to real union reps from money to activists. To pay more money to a branch committee who have a good foreign policy and a cheap lawyers is, I think, trying to put a fire out with petrol.

Unions take the precaution of avoiding any adult written contract with members while officials may even avoid face-to-face contact, preferring to pass messages via volunteer reps as in the Unison v Jervis case above. Instead of a clear contract there is a tradition of vague little rule books (available on request) which allow officials to control access to legal assessment. Even a the strongest, simplest case can be delayed by an official to save the union face or money. In an imaginary extreme case, a no-win no-fee lawyer could be appointed on the last day before a court case is out of time, speak to the member about the DIY legal work they have done already, use that information to try and settle with the other side, and claim a 20% success fee. A "due diligence" report by Stoy Hayward accountants for Amicus pre-merger suggested that something like this is going on, which on the face of it is different from what the union's usual accounts, based at Transport House, write for the government's Certification Officer and so to members. Organisations that used to be unions turning into dodgy claims handling agencies in return for funding a political party may sound like an extreme theoretical xample but it looks almost identical to the example quoted in a Coventry University research document above. As Mr Whitty of the T&G explains, there is very little money in employment law, with only £1 of damages won for every £15 of damages for personal injury, but even the worst and most cheapskate service makes it less likely that a member will join his third expenditure category of "disgruntled members".

Insurance companies are now bound by the Legal Services Bill to register with the Financial Services Authority, which asks them to develop the familiar A4 contracts with key facts made clear at the start. They cannot appoint a volunteer to tell you

"I have spoken to the manager and he says that you do not have a claim", or
"the purpose of an insurance company is not payment on events but solidarity", or
"you do not understand: you paid all the money to me by mistake. What a pity I forgot to tell you earlier".

The law applies so mutuals just as to PLCs, and trades unions have no difficulty registering for their side-line businesses of selling pensions and insurance to members. But Trade Unions' legal services have been exempted both times this act has been passed by the trades-union funded government, despite the House of Lords sending the bill back for more debate.

Despite the vague rule books, some people do still take unions to a county court to ask for their membership fees back under an implied contract.

Joanne Sherry managed to sue her union for failure to deliver a service after continuing a case with cheap legal insurance. She took the union to court for failing to honour an implied contract to do something for their money.  ACAS is a good key word.





5 What did a county court make of an NUT member's service from the union?

Joanne Sherry's story from Pam McClounie of Coventry News and Star, 16.2.2006

NUT failed to support teacher in dispute

A CARLISLE teacher who sued the National Union of Teachers (NUT) for failing to give her legal advice when she ran into difficulties at her school has won her case. Joanne Sherry, 48, paid £3,000 over 23 years to be a member of the countrys largest teaching union, but when she sought help from its officers they failed to act on her behalf. Miss Sherry, who taught at Trinity School, asked for help from her union in 2000 when she felt she was being bullied and intimidated by former head teacher Mike Gibbons.

She successfully fought her case at Newcastle County Court yesterday in what is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

With a mounting workload and a breakdown in communication between Miss Sherry and the schools management, she began to suffer from work related stress. NUT officers, Mike McDonald and Bryan Griffiths, advised her to stay off work until Mr Gibbons left the school in October 2001. The school also issued Miss Sherry with a letter in December 2001 outlining six allegations against her. She was suspended from school for a year. Miss Sherry says these allegations were designed to cause her undue stress and anxiety and force her to resign. She refused to do so and continued to battle for an investigation into the allegations against her.

But, despite continuing to plead for assistance from the NUT, nothing happened. Union reps failed to accompany her to meetings, did not return her phone calls and e-mails and refused to give her proper advice. Eventually, in 2002 she reached a compromise agreement with her employers and left the school due to ill health.

District Judge Alderson said:
The NUT had Miss Sherry over a barrel. They basically told her if she didn't accept their advice then that was it. They washed their hands of her.

After the case Miss Sherry told the News & Star:
I feel justice has been done. The NUT refused to give me advice on the procedures of my employers and refused to accompany me to disciplinary hearings. It failed to pursue my grievances."

The NUT must now pay Miss Sherry £3,800.
Factual note 1: Joanne Sherry discovered cheap legal insurance bundled with her home contents insurance after the National Union of Teachers refused to help her, so she used that instead and won her case. Her next job was for the county court service. She sued the National Union of Teachers for her wasted subscription.
Factual note 2: NUT fought the case and threatened Joanne Sherry with extra-ordinary costs if she lost
. The NUT then refused to pay without a bailiff visit.
Factual note 3:
Hamilton v GMB is a case of a long-serving volunteer rep badly treated by his union because officials believed he told members of another legal deal available at Stefan Cross solicitors, who were no-win no-fee, during negotiations on equal pay. The union held that their second-rate pay negotiation was better for members in the long term than a short-term victory by a no-win no-fee lawyer about equal pay.
GMB cases in the appeal tribunal have been about disgruntled ex-GMB staff, rather than the GMB making case law for its members.
Factual note 4: NUT did back one member's case - a libel action against someone who criticised the union's actions while the member was union rep.


6 Where does your money go instead? Why are committees called the "Membership"?

An alternative world exists, little publicised even on the net, in which union activists back causes.
This is convenient to those who run messed-up, failing, close-to-suable and derelict unions, because these few activists provide the illusion that something is being done. It is almost as good as the union leader's other usual line, that other people such as government or employers should do something.

Decentralised unions don't exist - only their ghosts, and their self-election committees of three, two, or one minute-taker who is willing to take a bet that nobody else turned-up to the meeting either. Some branches like Manufacturing and Science Federation's "MSF Daxo" and "MSF Guildhall" branches don't exist but were used as "shell accounts" for making payments to the General Secretary for which records should not be kept, according to the secretary of the finance director:

Nowadays it's probably easy for the two or three activists to get the four or six half-activists or even the fourty or sixty vague members into a consultation system online, but those who can don't do. They could. They don't. Maybe they don't know how and nobody from central office wants to tell them. More likely they could have a go, probably failing the first few times, but don't want to rock the boat that floats them a budget a banner and a position in the world.

This is a pity because what the inhabitors of this strange pretendedly-elected world try to do is rather good. It is to force MPs and journalists to recognise real issues in the world and not to concentrate on those few percent of the electorate who want a letter forwarded on a hopeless issue, who in politemess to their neighbours indulge in a kind of bullying and mobbing process of complaint against something like houses, aeroplanes, mobile phones or people of a different age. The people who mistake their MP for a local counsellor and indulge in vague complaint against council staff. All these constituents should be deported to a desert island so that the rest of us and our MPs can live in piece. Some MPs simply wouldn't know what to do with their £80,000 salaries, three secretaries and right to vote in the house of commons.

"Vote?" - they might say;

"Undersand legislation?"

"Disobey the whip that gets us £80,000 & 3 secretaries?"

"Even if I could think for myself, how can I find a special interest & speak to constituents from all-over the UK about it?"

"We don't have a system for referring consituents between each other & to the party spokesperson."

"Most of us never get invited to talk on TV. On the radio it's hard: people listen. Some of us would have trouble finding any subject to sound sharp & intersting about. The few constituent listeners might know something about their subjects".

"Why can't my employee and trades union member constituents be like the campaigners against mobile phone masts who ring me on their mobile phones, get a letter of support from my secretary and give a sympathy vote? Or the people who are against shops, housing and air travel while using all three?"

That is a fictional quote. This is a real one, more or less, from Sue Kramer, thick XMP for Richmond:

"I mainly deal with local issues because most of the issues that people bring to me are local issues"

She was also "a strong voice for local people", who reduced her majority from about 3,000 to minus 3,000 while an MP for the neighbouring constituency in the same party increased his majority by talking to national people about national issues, which is his job. Clearly MPs should not always agree with party HQ advisors, nor the cartoon characters amongst their constituents who are only interested in a mobile phone mast or hedge regulation or grafitti outside the local school, or who read the local paper while lining the kitchen bin and see something about the MP on those subjects. MPs need to find a way to be national political representatives who can ask questions of ministries and ministers and get careful replies because they are known to be informed and consistent, rather than the sarcastic replies that Kramer's secretary got while writing letters for a cynical boss.

The difficulty with political activists in trades unions is that they do not pay for their political hobbies as other fringe activists do, nor do they find free or cheap ways to consult membership on issues where membership might want to be consulted, so the bases of marching down the street with a union branch banner in support of one thing or another is nothing to do with the name of the unnion the banner - it is simply a statment that you are willing to march with it, and a perk of the job for people who may possibly do depressing rep work in a union where so few vuluteer that there is no need for election.

This from backed by The Worker Spring 2007p2

Don't laugh: the system by which a trades union claims to be democratic..Keywords: Joanne Sherry, T&G Complaint, complaint to trades union, ACAS,. Oh dear Unite. Bringing the union into disrepute

Trade unions are often accused of corruption: sometimes it's true.

But as well as blatant hand-in-the-till corruption, there is also "let's give our friends some money" corruption. It's less blatant than simple stealing and bribery, but it's no less dishonest; and it goes-on very widely. Unfortunately, the "left" are the worst offenders.

Until 1989, the Soviet Union and other Stalinist states in Eastern Europe subsidised the British Communist Party's paper, the Morning Star. With the collapse of the Stalinist empire, it looked like the Star was finished; but no! It managed to survive, mainly because of massive donations from British trade unions - none of which consulted their members on this matter. The Transport and General Workers Union was probably the biggest donor.

Now that scion of leading British Communist Party family, Anita Halpern has come into at least £20 million as a result of inheriting art stolen from her family by the Nazis, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Star aught now to be self-sufficient. But no: they are still at their old game of screwing the trade union movement (with no reference to the membership), for funds in order to keep their Stalinist lying-sheet in business.

Motion to
Region 1 (London) Committee of the Transport and General Workers Union

from the
1/1148 (ACTS) branch:

The Morning Star is unique in being the only daily national newspaper published in the UK, which is co-operatively owned by is readers[1]. The Morning Star has been a voice for trade Unions, anti-fascists, progressive causes and peace for seventy-six years and played a vital role in the working class movement and despite set backs continues to be a bright independent beacon in a capitalist dominated press.

This branch notes the importance of the Morning Star continuing to defend and represent the workers of this country. That it has been the only paper to provide coverage of the Trade Union Freedom [sic-JR] Bill and the current attacks on Trade Unions and Shop Stewards. Its articles and news coverage reflect a wide range of progressive views in a non-sectarian way.

This branch believes that the organisation for defence and advancement of ordinary people's rights is the trade union movement ; therefore Trade Unions [sic] should have a voice in the running of the paper. This branch notes that the TGWU Region 1 is a major share holder in the PPPS [Peoples Press Printing Society] and believes that our union should increase its share holding to be entitled to a seat and be represented on the PPPS and believes that our Union should increase its share holding to be entitled to to a seat and be represented on the PPPS Committee. This Branch notes that FBU [Fire Brigades Union] London and RMT [Rail Maritime Transport Union] already have a seat on the PPS Committee.


  • This branch calls upon the Region to increase its shares in the PPPS to £20, 000, which will give entitlement for a seat on the PPPS Committee
  • That the Region take-up [sic - JD] the seat and play an active role on the committee.

In recognition of the vital role that the paper plays for Trade Union Rights we call upon the region to

  • Send out an appeal to all Region 1 branches for the Morning Star
  • Request the national Union website has a link to the Morning Star web site.

PASSED - TGWU 1/1148 branch - 14th November 2004.

...And, as I understand it, the fake-left-dominated Region 1 committee has passed this, so that £20,000 of T&G members' subscriptions will be spent on subsidising Stalinism. What a disgrace! No wonder Trade Unionism in Britain is held in contempt, even by the membership! This is corruption: and we should say so."

This from T&G 1/1148 Branch News ("The Worker") Spring 2007 p2
suggests a second wad of worthless shares bought after the £20,000 in 2004.

Branch's Star Turn

We have also been able to support the regeneration the Morning Star Readers & Supporters Group in Region 1 [...].

A motion submitted by our branch calling on the Region to increase their share holding in the paper and to promote readership was passed by the Region 1 ACTS Trade Group. The ACTS Trade Group will now send the motion to the Regional Council.

This happens to be the group of cheer-leaders for the T&G who helped dupe me into believing that I had got fair value for my £11+ a month and so would get legal insurance if sacked in a cack-handed way. I was stupid. They were wrong as well, with less excuse and less willingness to change their minds. At the end of the year they all turned-up unpaid to meet the taxpayer-funded industrial organiser, who seems to have got a flipchart out and listed their pretensions such as meeting nearly once a month. (action point: persuade real reps to attend. next month's action point: acknowledge that real reps have a lot of real things to do and don't want to come to these stupid meetings even for the money).

In exchange for decieving colleagues into believing that a union did still exist in any useful form, these activists got wads of money for political hobbies. Maybe this site made a difference though, becase all Unite The Union branches will get next to no money from next year according to the new rule book. I'd advise them to put all branch accounts into Zopa or somwhere that pays decent interest and to donate it to another organisation for the purpose, because money earmarked for branches in any grabbable account may be un-ear-marked. This means that branches which have been doing great things for no money will also be ruled-out, and if that is the fault of this site: sorry. The problem is that local initiatives with a lot of democratic support should get a lot of membership money (the idea that they could change unions or go it alone is a good one) while local initiatives that elect each other on a show of each others hands deserve no money. Maybe many branches are in the middle: genuinely trying to do the right thing for their membes, but without any way of consulting members who don't want to turn-up at a monthly meeting at the town centre with no coffee available. Unions do not make it a priority to help activists consult members - they do not ask their IT managers to dream something up, nor send cards to all members saying "this is what you do to be consulted". No. Bollox.



  • Tibet's Feudal past is the start of a series of reports in recent Morning Star editions. Those who subscribe know what the articles are about. A paper that supported the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Russian tanks (and known as "Tankies" by other left wing groups ever since - a pun on their dress sense because they look like geography teachers and are might sport a knitted tank top) can still provoke a response by advocating invasions. The only good part of the article is the last line, which could be directed at Labour party taking away money from trades unions and allowing dodgy voting systems for the people who sign the cheques:

    "those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones".

    Daft though it seems for an old relic of a political group to syphon money out of trades unions, the mainstream labour party is also based on the principal of rigging meetings, discouraging online votes or power to the people who do the work. According to the Independent in 2003, a union official called Brian Pemberton made this public enough to get in the papers; usually it is too dull and too concealed to be noticed

  • Morning Star accounts show a £292,000 loss - after sale of uneconomic adverts and ever-more non-dividend shares to trade unions - to be met somehow. (The Central office of the union buys shares in Tribune).

  • Communist Party of Britain accounts and report read..
    "There are criticisms of Amicus but its continuing record of support for the Morning Star is an indication that it will, along with other unions continue to play a valuable and progressive role."

  • Peoples Press Printing Society rules allow one vote per one pound share, regardless of who reads or writes for the paper, very much like other newspaper PLCs except for the small, politically-charged nature of the trade union shareholders and the lack of dividend on the shares. "They won't pay a dividend till hell freezes over" said the tankie who took money from my branch account and refused to fund a proper lawyer. To claim that it's different from Mirror Group Newpapers - a co-operative of shareholders including many shares owned by the Maxewell family - or Northern and Shell that's another shareholder co-operative of opinionated folk - is a statement of editorial line. It is not a statement about financial structure. The Morning Star is no more or less a co-op of one pound shareholders than any other tabloid.
  • The Unite T&G Region One for London and the South East likes to affiliate to organisations even though some of the branches in the region are also affiliating and donating to the same ones. Other regions don't keep similar lists. Despite subscribing to Labour Research Department, Institute of Employment Rights and Emplaw, they weren't able to give me any information about how to sue a dodgy employer, presumably because they didn't want to start a job without paid back-up. These subscriptions are for officials, not members, and if there are not enough officials to use them for members then members cannot use them directly. I had to join Labour Research myself to find out if it was any use to me, which it wasn't. Unite don't contribute towards , which was useful. They didn't even tell me about it when refusing to let me use their Emplaw subscription. I contacted Emplaw about this who referred me to the T&G. My official said "There's another one that's easier to use - I've forgotten what it is" after an interview that began "I'm too busy to read cases".

  • A Guardian interview with the Morning Star editor reads
    "But what I don't understand is, if there are 38,000 shareholders, why aren't there 38,000 readers?"
    "Well, some of the shareholders are trade union organisations"
    [including trades groups]
    "...some of them are dead" [meaning that the shares have never paid dividends so there's no way of knowing].

  • Unite-T&G Branch 1/1148 account headings and amounts were given to me at their annual general meeting.
    Morning Star contributions were a significant amount, with the rest donated to other organisations. Subsidies to the regional office's "hopeless" lawyers were nil, and discussion of what the branch official was doing was nil.

  • At about the same time as the motion quoted above, someone's career was hitting the rocks at my employer. The person was the boss who I planned to return-to after illness, who had a duty of care to make reasonable adjustments to disabled concentration. She had no idea how to do this. Her appointment had been dangerous in itself, but instead of being sacked for a fair reason she complained of bullying by her boss. My boss walked out of a meeting with her boss at one point, which was about how a colleague who took maternity leave and myself (about to return from sick leave) were to be managed. No official to come with her to meet a director about it. She managed to get a rep from our former employer who was a friend of hers. The director who heard her complaint had little to say in the minutes about bullying or the reason she had walked out of a meeting - in fact he asked for "tighter management" of the two staff. Nor did he seem very specific about what the job was meant to be, and allowed her to remain in post for a few more months to bully and be bullied and be berated for vague things like "leadership" when the point was whether I got supervision. Anyone who has worked in voluntary sector social work has opinions about what a decent union should be doing, and probably none of those opinions is that they should have a duff lawyer, and absent official, and leave the budget to hobbyists who give it away. In contrast to the Morning Star writing about Tibet's Feudal past, Indymedia writes "3% of staff sue Alcohol Recovery Project in one year: is this a record?" about one of the firms where Unite T&G Branch 1/1148 is the recognised union (others are Shortstop, part of Centrepoint, and CAFOD).

  • Personal note: I'm not always for or against the places where the money goes.
    I am against a bad union service which is so much worse than the employer's human resources staff and legal insurer's panel. I'm against gaps in the union budget left when money and time is given-away by busybodies. The Labourandcapitalblogspot, noticed just the same problem with my Fidelity stocks and shares ISA, which has lost a few hundred pounds in value recently but is lightened even more by donations to causes its customers don't all support. I'm not against oddballs and odd parties either, but committees with budgets should contain a majority of people who are sane enough not to give money away, and preferably be sane enough to monitor the daily grind of union business. They should be elected on the broadest cheap balloting system, not a self-election by show-of-hands (rule 10.4b) that the union's rule 10 clause 2 says is invalid if most of the members don't attend branch meetings. For the past few years the equivalent of the show of hands in the union rule book has been and branches should start experimenting with it now.

  • An envelope has just come through my letter box with candidates names for the General Executive Council. I've never heard of any chance to stand in this election and don't know any of the people, but had added a hustings.html page.



7 Dragons Den on Drugs: entryism in a five-vote thousand-member union branch.

Indented paragraphs are an update since 2008/9

When I tried to get services off Unite T&G they hankered after lay branches and paid several percent of membership fees to branch volunteers. Different branches paid up to half as much more than each other per month - about £9.35 - £15 - depending on the cut to the branch. A branch with functional democratica backing and an appeal procedure to somone outside the circus might be a great idea, but this needn't be a rep in the place where you work or anything to do with all of the reps at local employers They could be like the South London Branch of Unite T&G.

In some branches this meant that volunteers did all the work for the T&G for free. The hustings.html page links to comments from one of the Irish branch secretaries of a trucker branch who has probably been trying to do a good job for members for no money for a long time. Otherwise branches probably withered away if they weren't connected to an employer or a trade where people were in touch with each other.

Most branches probably had a few hangers-on who liked donating the money to various causes: the election system of a show of hands was so out-of-date as to allow self election in practice and keen committee attenders could simply donate all the union budget to their choice of causes, such as charities and policitical campaigns which choose not to keep public accounts. Obviously you have to keep-up appearances. Voters and causes have to look like part of the labour movement. But T&G decisions were taken at regional offices and the London and South East Office put a handy list on their web site of labour movement political causes and charities which did not keep accounts.

The South London Branch of the T&G seemed to have been allocated to a group for historical reasons, a group who were always willing to help pretend that elections had been contested in return for a few of the seats - for example at the last T&G general secretary election, a man physically unfit for a tiring job stood against the main candidate, and favours are returned. It's an odd relationship, because the union also breaks employment law by stating that it will not employ communists in certain jobs, but both sides somehow co-exist and this puts people like Opus Dei or the Chistian Socialist movement in charge of a £20,000 branch bank account. They are called the Communist Party of Britain. I only know this because as people who like to meet monthly they can end-up answering complaints from members who have been fobbed-off by the paid staff with un-answered letters, and this is why I met a volunteer for the Communist Party of Britain to tell me that "It is true that the union web site says they provide legal insurance but this is a mistake. We are not the fifth emergency service! A union is about solidarity."

This is changing at the end of 2008 with an imposed rule book: good branches that did all the work for now pay are now excluded from the budget altogother. Branches that were in it for the money like this one have ceased to add pages to their web site since the bad news. The last one was about a meeting with an "industrial co-ordinator" paid for from taxpayers' Union Modernisation Grants. They listed their strengths as meeting eleven times in the year (note: try to meet twelve times next year), recruiting new members to their bogus union and producing an edition of "The Worker" magazine which shows committee members marching down Whitehall for greater union shits rights. Since the money has been cut off there have been no new sets of meeting minutes posted on the union branch web site.

For the record, if you have a bogus branch that is the only part of the union willing to listen to your complaint, this is what you might find.

At the time I was working for a firm that was attached to this budget-holding volunteer branch, but had no way of knowing it. The union administration had allocated me to something called branch one in region one, and my file was only moved to branch 48 region one and their lawyer when I asked for help. Neither branch had ever got in touch.

This is not unusual. Members of Unite-T&G are not polled about anything but the legal minimum: a choice between unknown candidates on a list which comes through the letter box every few years. "Branch Membership" on the T&G diagram means "branch committee membership" unless there is some broad and inclusive method of election which I have never seen. The committees act as exclusion committees. They may be public in theory but there's little point in going unless you want to share a table with the self-appointed while they give money away, and their other function is to exclude ordinary members from electing senior officials at delegates conference. They do the deligating. Few people could hope to win a vote on this kind of committee unless they are part of a political hobby group.

My interest in my employer and my colleagues had been channelled through an entirely different, un-funded group of people loosely called a shop who had never had any help from paid union staff even when asked. Those of us who belonged to the union were spread across different parts of a firm. Some were reps and met each other at quarterly meetings. I think someone tried to use their right under the union recognition agreement to meet directors quarterly with concerns, but this wasn't something that worked in practice for whistle blowing or negotiation.

There was a paid official who did not attend quarterly meetings with directors in order to pass on concerns about stress levels or bullying, nor did even attend my bosses disciplinary meeting or mine. He has now taken early retirement.

The system at Unite-T&G since the 1980s has been that "branch" means volunteer committee with a budget and a name like "South London branch" or "Vauxhall Branch" and "region" means one of thirteen office blocks with paid officials hired from job advertisements and a paid regional general secretary chosen - I think - by the sector biennial... No: I'm not sure. Anyway the official was employed by Transport & General at region one, but the staff / member ratios, the quality and pay of the staff and the intricacies of how he was employed remain a mystery, to me and to a smaller extent to the branch. I know that his remit included voluntary sector social work staff, Sainsbury's staff and Stagecoach bus drivers (who have a "steering committee") and so he knew about as much about my trade as I knew about his.

When I did discover the existence of my new branch committee, I was refused any kind of online vote or a postal ballot. I asked if they could use a free online system for elections, because I was beginning to smell a rat. "The region would probably not allow it" I was told, of online votes or elections; "the purpose of a union is to bring people together" and accounts aren't sent to members either by post or online so there is little to vote about. When this organisation was several months late in providing a lawyer I decided that I had better go personally to the annual general meeting which brought together about five people who elected themselves on a show of five hands to represent the other thousand branch members. There were other people in the room, but I think most of them were there to receive donations for causes. The meeting was held at the back of the Bread & Roses pub in Clapham and if you're ever there at the beginning of December you might see a branch committee that you can join-in. They don't expect many of the thousand-odd members to turn-up because this year's meetings have moved to somone's office.

This year, since my complaints, the branch secretary has forgotten to invite me back so I don't know when and where meetings are held but in my short acquaintance I never saw any great interest in the technical side of running a union. Perhaps that was the job of one of the other committees on the flow diagram above (found on the internet from an activist's site), but I have never had any communication from them so your guess, looking at the diagram, is as good as mine. I am still a Unite member and according to the Unite T&G website they have been having elections since December. I have heard nothing about any election from them directly. When I was a more regular member of the union, brown envelopes would arrive every year or more inviting postal votes for printed lists of candidates for obscure committees. Each candidate's name had a paragraph of rhetoric next to it but nothing very concrete except the names of nominating branches: by branch had a turnout of about from perhaps a thousand members to elect five office holders; this web post and this one claim 10% turnout for senior officials' elections, and the surprising fact that they're elected like politicians. Mr Camfield, the outgoing regional general secretary and Mr King, the incoming one, have both written me letters of pretended misunderstanding about complaints and lack of legal help. Both seemed indistinguishable from each other or the employer which also specialised in pretended misunderstandings, but apparently they are from different political factions.

Curiouser, for committees so distant from other union members, they know members' thoughts. They know what causes members want to pay for. I was too polite to say "Causes that don't give receipts" when I attended the annual general meeting, and the branch account was "no longer frozen by the branch" that year so I suppose someone else had asked, an accountant had been called-in and declared everything OK.

I would be interested to know what a receipt from the people of Cuba, Palestine and Venezuela looks like. Do they give receipts separately or together? Maybe there is a company called Overseas Solidarity Services which streamlines the process and collates feedback about how much the campaign effects people in these countries. Do the outbound payments from branch 1/1148 match the inbound payments to the Morning Star? Or is there some legal and unspoken exchange of favours, such as a Communist seat among the trustees of each organisation?

This from The Worker, T&G 1/1148 Branch News Spring 2007

In November the Branch sponsored the Southern & Eastern TUC [...] conference, which saw two of our members elected to officer posts. Julia Brandreth is one of the Co-Chairs and Anton Johnson is Secretary.

Most unionised workplaces have the odd notice or bulletin email like the one above, suggesting business as usual: a deception which it has to be hoped is not deliberate. Many of the people who read this site will know someone who is listed in union publicity or be quoted themselves. The Worker does not say whether Anton Johnson and Julia Brandreth are on the committee to raid the petty cash for the Communist Party or whether they think that keeping-up appearances for a scam of a trades union is useful voluntary work, or whether like most of use they'd like to think that the union can't quite be a complete scam and are more persuaded that helping the union is a good use for their time than that founding an honest union would be. A pity, because this little site that you're reading gets quite a few readers and one targeted at an organisation would probably get most members of that organisation. Those names happened to be linked to the branch and employer I belonged to, so I presume they've read this site before letting their names be used again and although I don't know them it seems fair game to quote their name or pictures here, because, to put harsh facts harshly, they are promoting a fraud.

One of them has let her photo be used on the organisations' web site and she doesn't look crooked or stupid: she looks like someone doing a middling-paid, high-stress, low-status, self-taught, low-reward job in an expensive part of the UK who should not be discouraged by having her photo attached here. So A well meaning union repwhy does she attach her name to a bogus union? The same question could be put to people who join committees of trustees or become local councillors for a year or two until they realise that there's nothing they can do to make the system work, and of course most people are very busy doing their day jobs and trying to lead their lives; this sort if thing is a once-a-month commitment. Those who aren't the most critically-minded may take more than a year to drop-out, and maybe it seems to them unlikely that a more-honest, small union could be formed than the doubtfully-honest, big union they belong to. Employment is about loosing self-confidence in business in exchange for getting a monthly wage in a workplace. It could almost be designed to make you think you can't set-up thinks for yourself, even if you know you could do better than a web site like this one.

In the trades where workplace bullying is worst - higher education, ambulence services, arts, councils, quango social work or supported housing, NHS trusts, the chance of an individual or a small clique getting a grant are about zero, so the pressure to believe that only big old organisations can achieve things even if they are duff is greater than it is for stallholders or couriers or people who are close to self-employment.

exchanging self-confidence in business a garanteed wage from people who make-out that they are the tops and those who are keen trades unionists often know what it's like to be at the bottom: they are the least likely to set something up themselves. From what I remember of that employer they were quite capable of putting somone on the web site as a good example while plotting unfar dismissals for months as a bad example, so I might be showing the picture of a fellow victim in which case it's even more bizarre.

But even after all the excuses it's a puzzle to know why people front-up bogus unions.Why?

As Hitler's secretary said "I didn't know all of what happened but I could have found out. I could have asked. All I can say is that I was very slow to grow-up and a lot of other people were taken-in as well". They, you, or anybody who keeps-up appearances for a bogus union could add "this is a different degree of wrongdoing", which is true, "I am shocked", which I hope is true because nothing else will stop them backing-up a system that inflicts so much harm on their colleagues, and "those who are ripped-off must have been taken-in as well", which is partly true but many people who need unions in a crisis do not join because of a vague and justified sense of rip-off. Finally, someone who is wrapped-up in their own rightnousness can say something as stupid as "it can't be as bad as this site makes-out, maybe the person had a bad case", which is why this site is on the net. So that people can print it out, show it to a union activist and point to detail before asking: "are you still not advising all members to take out private legal insurance?", because if they know all the facts, and they still don't advise proper legal insurance to members, they are either very stupid or very crooked. Offence is justified and intentional. It is far smaller than the offence caused by these people to others who they mislead. If any journalist or reasearcher is reading this, incidentally, and wonders why insurance brokers and PLC board members who rip people off in specific ways end-up in prison while this lot don't, I have to admit I don't know either. Please get in touch if you want to compare notes because I am still puzzled.

Getting back to activists who raid the petty cash, stories about Anita Halpin have got the technique into the papers

What she does is the grindingly boring meetings that are the lifeblood of the left wing, said a trade union activist who knows her.
The modus operandi is to attend every single meeting and get yourself into positions where you control the agenda. Shes done that very well.

Her firm's accounts to the electoral commission include thousands of words in house style - all exhortation of other volunteers to do more and more and to be ear-bashed at ever-more regular meetings. Volunteer party members should buy the Executive Committee's opinions with an extra subscription on top of their membership, and then sell- them-on to local left-wing bookshops. The pressure is so remorseless that a couple of CPB members lost their health in the build-up to the Pensioners Advisory Committee meeting. With people like this on the trustees of an organisation, it's easy to see why some of the other trustees would melt away, the remainder be side-lined while the organisation and its budget, buildings, mailing list, trust-funds, money-laundering potential and good name taken-over.

I expect that payments match receipts of charities in most branches, but transparency would help a lot at the Register of Friendly Societies (who charge £15) and the Co-Op bank which runs low-interest bank accounts for clubs and societies. It would be great if a bank could launch a club account which allowed anyone to see the online bank statement, but the only difference between other accounts and these Co-Op managed Unity-Trust-owned ones is the ratio of interest to risk. The most transparent system was at the Morning Star itself, which sends accounts to anyone who buys some shares. I've transcribed them as accounts-ppps.html. If you are a union accountant or staff auditor, I suggest you buy ten shares in the Morning Star and use your right to go to their office and check payments inwards.

There is a special section in the special law that governs unions, the Trades Unions and Labour Relations Act, about members who would like to see a receipt. Mr King of a neighbouring cab driver's branch (also newspaper publishers) took this literally and tried to use his statutory right: accounts-tgwu.html . Mr King never did get to see the accounts.

There the newspaper was Cab Trade News rather than Morning Star and the same need for subsidy was acknowledged by a committee. A special court exists to hear complaints under this special law, called the tribunal at the Certification Office. Personally I would prefer a proper county court, but Mr King trusted this one and the civil servant paid by you and me who heard the case agreed that in a small union, a member might very well want to see the actual receipts. But in a small informal branch of a large union that would

"give members the ability to conduct their own audit of a unions affairs. I respectfully agree that Parliament is unlikely to have had that intention". "I respectfully believe that the governing parties who pay my wages treat union members as scum"

Some of this quotation is fanciful.

To distinguish anything from politics is impossible but you would expect a point to be reached were (as for Fidelity unit trusts and the Conservative Party) shareholders or members are consulted. I don't know what happens at my unit trust management company's board meetings, but at my union branch's meetings there is no attempt to separate business from politics or consult members on a political fund. There is no mention of union business anyway. I heard no mention of political funds or general funds in my two committee attendance, nor read of any in the one set of branch accounts I got, but the distinction is vital to deciding how much a lawyer or an official is paid, how much is sent to Cuba, and whether the Certification Office account of the political fund is true. From the layout of the account it appears not to be true, as branch money is shown as separate from the political fund.

I would expect a branch to be interested in these, because minutes showed that the month before an ex-colleague from my old employer had been to the same group with a similer complaint of bogus lawyers after the union had failed to do anything about a round of bullying and redundancies there. The minutes describe how she was told that she had a case, lent a lot of papers to the branch lawyer, who at the last minute changed his mind and did not return the papers, so she could not argue the tribunal case herself. The branch committee had gone through the motions of calling on the regional office to do something, so I would have expected the entire meeting this month to be about the result. I would have expected them to be resigning from the union, telling all members why they had done so, and setting up a proper one. I would have expected them to be a little embarrassed to get a second complainant from the same employer the next month while they exercised their right under rule#10.4b to re-elect themselves on a show of hands and pass a set of accounts to themselves that are not shown to other members.

Legal services were mentioned by chance because I was there and put my hand up to interrupt an ask about them.

The accounts also showed that they had paid a large amount of money out of the branch budget to Bindman and Partners to support "a member" in a legal dispute. Usually another firm is used and paid from another budget, so things had gone wrong before, but for some reason on my second complaint to the committee I was refused anything similar and the paid official who had dropped in said "I wash my hands of this".

It is odd to write about this and read it because I would have expected a branch committee, given a zero-budget lawyer by the branch office, to become experts in what they are meant to be doing. It is odd to write and then read what a disgusting act this committee commited, because the tone at the time was like the old Harvey's Bristol Cream advertisements:

"one instinctively knows when something is right",

and this unanimity helped the five hands to take money out of the branch bank account. As with the Olympics the Millennium Dome, the Private Finance Initiative or the most recent daft reorganisation of the NHS, the most blatant vanity and removal of scarce money is so blatant that you don't know what to say back:

"Good morning Madam I have come to steal your video".
"Oh: right you are then. Go ahead. Would you like a cup of tea?"
"No thank you madam: I always like to make my exit before the shock has worn off".
"Good morning Mr Union director: I am offering legal services at below the market rate."
"Well: that sounds too good to be true but start on those bloody goody-goody communists who never hold proper elections and are scared to complain whatever I do. If it goes well I'll give you a proper branch and if not I'm retiring anyway. You'll deserve each other. I'll be in Blackpool".

If my local union branch were taken-over by the womens' institute they would be setting-up a rival union or picketing the regional office or both, but communists are more like contestants on Ms World, Eurovision or the XFactor, so happy to have been short listed at all that they will never question the process as though it were real.

Donations to Cuba, Palestine, Venezuela or other causes - which I often agree with - work very much like Dragons Den on drugs. The tone is pious, like a church congregation near a free faith school funded by the taxpayer. But this is the branch that likes to say "yes". Dispite the complaint in the minutes the month before and the clearly bogus nature of the whole fraud, they are going to keep-up appearances, elect each other on a show of hands and approve their budget. Whatever you think of exotic political parties, they certainly fill a gap where union democracy should be.

£250 for printing local leaflets? "yes", [foot note]
£2,000 for a sponsored march to Westminster from University of London Students Union? "yes"
Thousands of pounds for more non-dividend hard-to-sell newspaper shares? "yes"
A three hundred pound advert wishing the newspaper staff a happy christmas? "yes"
A speech about the branch's foreign policy?""yes"
A donation to an overseas solidarity campaign? "yes" [foot note]
A donation to the London Socialist Film Co-op? "yes"
A donation to the Marx Memorial Library? "yes"
A payment to the comminist party's landlord? "yes"
A payment to Lambeth Trades Union Council? "Does it exist?", someone asks.
"It meets. A bit inward-looking but it meets.", says a calm voice from the Morning Star proposer.
The paper is also funded by Lambeth Trades Union Council and which is funded by Lambeth Trades Union Council and branch 1/1148"yes"

The response to motions about bad services to members such as the need to pay for legal insurance is different. The tone and language sound well-worn and habitual. The treasurer of the Communist Party of Britain who happened to be on the committee along with others from the same 37-strong party said:

"A trades union is not about legal insurance but solidarity"
"It is true that the union web site says that we offer legal insurance, but that is a mistake.
The purpose of a union is solidarity
We are not the fifth emergency service!

I would have expected the branch to have higher priorities but in that wood-grain veneer meeting room in Holborn where the unclubbable clubbed together the priorities were various & different. They weren't bad - there is nothing wrong with Black History Month or the introduction of the new official or pledging of money for accountable causes - but those should have been a lower priority than whether to rip-off members for a load of un-accountable cack or performing the functions that the law says they took money for, just as any other person should be accountable for the things they take money for. It is just a rigging of the rules by a union-funded political party that postpones reality for such folk. To be fair some supporters of the other big political party are so fixed in their hatred of trades unions that detailed debate about unions doesn't often happen on the website of the Daily Express or the Telegraph or the Evening Standard and opposition politicians would rather let the problem rest.

Eventually the agenda of item of union work is reached. As the chair explains, I have

"come to complain about lack of help from the union after bullying by Caroline Sharp, and last month [one of the team leaders] came to complain about lack of help from the union after bullying by Caroline Sharp

I forget if he said union of solicitor, but the previous month, according to minutes, an ex-colleague from the same firm had visited them with a similar complaint about the employer and about the same union solicitor too. records no reviews of any kind about this firm of solicitors, who have been removed from the panels of Unite and RMT. The minutes record a slightly different experience, with the same lawyer accepting my colleague's papers (he refused to take mine) and stating that she had a food case, then stating that there was no case, but then not returning them. He did not think to combine the two similar cases on his desk. It's recorded that the same firm and the same individual were still doing business with trades unions as late as 2010 although the individual is no longer a member of the law society.

It looked to me from the minuted complaint as though the lawyer was deliberately trying to loose cases where the other side doesn't settle before the hearing. Later, speaking to the someone else on the committee, I discovered that he too had given up on union's panel lawyer as hopeless against the same solicitor - Devonshires - that my ex employer uses. The chances of Devonshires being bluffed again when they have refused before are nill. Clearly the branch had to give-up on the union hirachy and hire their own lawyer or even break away from the whole fraud or not. They did not.

I would have expected this month's meeting to be about whether the same lawyer was still on the panel, if so why so, how much he was paid, how much the union officials were paid, why there are only 400 paid union staff per 800,000 members: under £10 a year each leaving the rest for a black hole in the accounts. I would have expected this meeting to be a kind of melt-down at which the farce of feckless unions began to unravel. But this lot were terrible goody-goodies and mainly interested in who they could give money to. They were like school governors who say

"Mrs Parent: you don't understand. The purpose of a school is not to pay teachers but solidarity. May we get-on with our garden party now?"

If the governors of a school blew the money I guess they would end-up in prison, but these union branch people are still leading relatively normal lives and I guess wreaking havoc on others'.

I would also have expected a Tribunal chair to warn me that something was up. The lawyer had asked me not to attend but the chair had stopped the hearing and insist I come. He had done cases for the T&G as a barrister and had worked in South London for some time, so I would have expected him to warn me that most of the case had been discussed with no evidence behind my back and help me to sue the union when writing his written judgment.

"I cannot do that and I think you know the reason why not"

The people who were nothing to do with anything at my employer were something to do with another South London employer. Two of the current committee claim to work for a firm called "CPB" and share names with officials [source] according to the accounts of a Croydon employer, Communist Party of Britain. The office is at Ruskin House, also a charity which branch 1/1148 donates to, which is convenient because CPB have just increased the amount of rent they pay and taken over a full floor of a Georgian house, which is expensive for an organisation of between 36 and 1,000 members (depending on the counting method). Other communist parties with thirty six members are not so wealthy. Their rival CPBG trades from a PO box and a second hand printing machine which has just broken down. The difference in wealth is so great that it must be coming from somewhere other than membership subscriptions. CPB's slogan is a favourite sign-off of another committee member, the branch secretary at branch 1/1148 who is mentioned on the CPB web site. I would have expected the paid officials to notice a problem too, but at my second complaint meeting with the branch the new branch official turned-up to say

"I wash my hands of this" of my need for a new lawyer and in a follow-up email to all members
"The branch works exactly as it is supposed to work, making donations to working class charities. A gem."

He remains a paid regional official, employed by the Regional General Secretary who was elected on a 10% turnout at the sector biennial delegate conference after discussions of foreign policy.

Comments & suggestions to disagree with.

Occasionally, student-union style people contact me after glancing at this web page and tell me that I should "get involved"; that a £15 - a - month organisation that doesn't even have a contract is "like all organisations", "imperfect" rather than bogus, and might want my unpaid help and advice to become like a £15 a year commercial equivalent. They are like me and most of us, but unlike volunteer union reps and trades unionists of previous generations. They do not want to do something embarrassing, hard and thankless like run a regional union with a funny name or going with someone who has a hopeless case to a dismissal meeting. If I have been let-down by a union then the same correspondents know it's my fault without asking for detail. The current generation tend to be rather shrill and quick to form the opinion that I "do not understand", using vague words like "solidarity" when they think they are being businesslike and other vague words from the students union when they're not. Luckily hardly any people get in touch directly, but one did, objected to my press release on Indymedia an started a thread on a message board called urban75, so I got to know the arguments that people use.

I suspect that these people's hands are in the till: they or their employers or some cause they approve of are doing very nicely from the current system and they do not want your advice or mine about how to make it fit for purpose. They are nothing to do with colleagues who help each other at work and nothing to do with the productivity and thrift of past generation's mutuals and unions.

I suspect that student unionist's hobbies are gesture politics & evening committees and they have no more interest in helping union members than the people I met at branch 48. They may believe that all political causes join together in some sort of jumble which only they know how to interpret on members' behalf. They do not dare do real concrete difficult things like

    • re-fill their own ink or toner cartridges to print leaflets. Tonertopup offer very reasonable rates.
    • sell their their favourite newspaper at a station (or give away samples). They might have trouble selling the one that justifies invading Tibet though.
    • buy shares in employers, or buy failing employers off the receiver, or set-up rival employers like The Workers Beer Company.
    • ask awkward questions like "does it exist?" more often. Cuba Solidarity Campaign (against US Cuban sanctions) solidifies in Seven Sisters Road, North London where it has four staff and has just advertised in the Morning Star for a fifth employee on £22,000 (this is the job description). It is an un-incorporated society with five members of staff, one of which works full-time on soliciting donations from trades unions. Staff are encouraged to join branches in the ACTS trade group of Unite-T&G.

Student unionists do not want to end the system in which they talk about other people and spend other peoples' money. Talking is, after all, difficult enough. Few of us in our right minds would commute monthly to a beige-painted room in a town centre to discuss motions, grumbles, and perhaps sincerely-held beliefs of other people we do not choose to hear from and have probably come to the meeting because nobody else wants to hear from them. The places they meet probably don't even offer a cup of coffee[2]. These who do go to meetings may feel they have done enough and deserve the perk of voting donations to favourite causes, even at the expense of a union doing its job, and in time the perks of being able to talk politics and give away money become much much more important than checking the efficiency of the rest of the union. And once you claim £650 for leaflets you can't mention a word like efficiency. Best not to draw attention. Leave it unsaid. Pretend that the organisation would be legal under an ordinary legal system and is not a scam run against members.

This is why I think of these grant-artists as student unionists: like students they are quick to jump to conclusions, they live in expectation of grants and are not used to being judged by the service they provide. I've been a student myself and don't mind their behaviour on University Challenge or a debating club ("fingers on buzzers: Is Iraq good or bad? No opinion? Over to you Maudlin") but it belongs strictly at the end of an agenda, after business.

Organisations with a 5 out of 1,000 election turnout and committee structures like the Freemasons don't happen by accident. They are designed to allow cynical people and over-idealistic people to take other peoples' money while preventing proper trades union services from being provided. When a more down-to-earth group of people would be picketing the union office, setting-up a new union or lobbying MPs for a clearer law, this political bunch - communist, Labour or anything - keep-up appearances as though nothing was the matter and carry-on raiding the till for their political hobbies. It doesn't matter whether they're the small minority of communists or the large majority of Labour-types; they are nothing to do with union members.

Polical unionists are allowed to take all this money in a legal framework set-up by a parliament where the majority party's central office declared over £200,000 from the Transport and General at the last election. Some MP's local expenses are funded by Unite-T&G branches including the most vehement in opposing the Legal Services Bill where it could have applied to Trades Unions. For example one of the ministers of employment - the one who answers MP's letters complaining about unions and allocates Union Modernisation Grants - is also a T&G sponsored MP. His letter said that he believed union rule books formed a contract between members and their organisations and like his party he voted that Unions should be exempt from having to register with the financial services authority.

They believe in tight expensive bureaucratic and powerful regulators for insurance companies but not unions. They would wouldn't they?

Comments & suggestions to agree with.

One good point that critics have made is that a unions are more likely to start from the ground-up - from a conversation in a tea brake - than from an online insurance deal like mine where:

    • members are dispersed & not encouraged to help each other, for example by asking for a recognition agreement, acting witness in disciplinary meetings, or passing ideas up the management line; they are certainly not encouraged to strike
    • officials & human resources workers are probably not part of the deal, or, if they are, they will at first be used to working for the employers' side and not used to building-up volunteer effort. They will be offering advice to individuals all over the place, mainly on the phone, rather than knowing one trade or helping people at one workplace. I've only seen one human resources web site that mentions the employees side, and this presumably isn't the firm that legal insurers like this one would use if they wrote a policy that included human resources cover.

So, I've changed this web site to say that I don't think trades unions and legal insurance are exclusive; if unions are bad, you should have both, if they are non-existent, you should have legal insurance, and if they are good: well we should make that happen. Many small unions may already be doing good things and perhaps I should writing a website called "Which Union?" to discover a really good union that people should join, rather than the one recommended by an employer, or following an employer's campaign not to have a union. People click on the union parts of this page despite DIY legal links being at the top, so there's certainly interest in good unions and any branch that gets bad value from its regional office should simply set one up.

Another option is for lots of people to set-up lots of trades unions from scratch. I have not looked-though all the ones at the Certification Office, but there is one new small union beginning with A called the Associated Train Crew Union. There was another attempt next to my T&G union's accounts called the Twenty First Century Aircrew, which was a union of ten people to buy proper legal insurance and that is more than the millions of members of big unions get. There is no need to be big enough to hire staff or offices. Human resources workers might be available by the day or the hour and legal insurance might be available wherever there is a clearly-definable risk. Only this year the General Union of Loom Overlookers and its retired membership merged with the GMB, the hundred and forty-four members of the Union & Federation of Employed Door Supervisors and Security transferred their overdraft to Unite - T&G. There is a list of defunct unions on the Certification Office web site and dwindling lists of small unions on the rest of the site and on their trades association, the General Federation of Trades Unions. These lists ought to be growing, not shrinking.

Footnote about BECTU / Back

The chair of my Unite T&G union branch had an employment dispute himself that he felt so strongly about that he wanted to take legal action - maybe something to do with this and this. He approached the branch lawyers. "They're hopeless", he said; "they don't read anything". He was also a member of BECTU. Their lawyers did read his evidence and BECTU paid for legal action, with enough budget, enough help and advice from officials, a good enough lawyer and an early enough assessment for the case to work. I don't know any other way of telling which unions are good and which are bad except for anecdotes like this.

Footnote about Law / Back

It is unreal to base employment law on the idea of two equal contractors who have fallen-out and need persuasive clarity to settle.

In the public-funded sector where many trades unionists work, it is the front-line staff who have to bluff through the day and teach themselves what they are meant to be doing, while the hierarchy does the same. Except the upper levels of the hierarchy don't have to worry so much about what real live customers want, and can absent themselves into a parallel world of grant proposals and relations with funding bodies and departmental re-organisations. They don't even have to visit the place they are meant to be directing - in the case above they sent security - but in the law's eyes and many trades union official's eyes it is them who own the job and you who have to prove that you followed procedure on the day of the allegations.

Reality is more like this.
A thief mugs you and steals your video. You know there is a problem of thieving and track the boy down because there is no crown prosecution service or police force for employment law. You have to prosecute the thief privately, thinking "the stress is bad for my health and career, but someone has to do this". Then the judge says "what efforts have you made to watch other channels and reduce your losses caused by the thief's removal of your video?". In the judge's eyes, the video belonged to the thief all along. "Anyway, it is all a long time ago and the boy has moved-on to armed robbery and extortion. The fact that you were in hospital after being mugged can hardly excuse your late prosecution, and the fact that you managed to prosecute makes me wonder whether you were ill at all".

Footnote about the cost of ink and paper / Back

This is another quote about the branch's donations to a federation of trades councils:

"Branch agrees to cover the costs for the production of leaflets to advertise GLATUC public meeting [...] to which there will be a speaker from our Region. Cost £650-700.

This pays for 10,000 double-sided A4 sheets on a leased photocopier, with refilled toner cartridges

" The Branch pay GLATUC affiliation to the United Campaign for the Repeal of Anti Trade Union Laws

GLUTUC isn't yet shown on the website of that organisation as a sponsor

" The Branch through its delegates sends a motion to Trade Councils on make up of delegations from TUCs to GLATUC.
" The Branch encourages its delegates to Trade Union Councils to be delegates to GLATUC.
" The Branch through the correct channels asks the Region to advertise GLATUC events and send out an appeal to London branches.

If photocopies cost 2½p that's up to 26,000 leaflets for paid officials to do something with. That's if paid officials have a slack period in which none of their members have any need for advice, no disciplinary or recognition-agreement meetings fall due, and if none of them are the sort of people who would have things to get-on with on their own initiative. When I tried to see my official (Mr Green who took early retirement) to say I needed someone to sanity-check and organise DIY legal paperwork because I had disabled short-term memory and couldn't concentrate, he said:

"You've found him. But I'm to busy to read a case. What I get is two or three pages at the most with bullet points. The most I've had is a ring-binder"

Maybe he was stuffing envelopes. He showed me out before I'd opened the case or read a single page.

" The Branch Committee agreed that the Branch funds an advert for the 14th October meeting in the Morning Star."

Previous Morning Star adverts have cost £300-£600. £500 is 5p a reader on a very generous guess of 10,000 readers, and several-times more for a realistic guess of genuine readers near London. Maybe the space is so valuable because so many un-sold or trade-union-bought copies of the Morning Star lie around Transport House where the meeting was held. But there was probably a notice stuck on the door anyway so I still don't see the value for money.

Getting back to the cost of ink and paper, the treasurer, Dr Graham, knows the cheapness of photocopying with a leased copier because he's also treasurer of another organisation where the accounts p17 read

"In November 2004 ... leasing agreement for a digital printing machine. This has revolutionised our capacity to produce leaflets, broad sheets, posters and stickers including in full colour"

...and an office volunteer at that organisation has taken a turn as press officer for Unite T&G Branch 1/1148. You would think Dr Graham would say

"I've got an idea: why don't we print you a months' worth of leaflets at a time, at cost?
I'll bring them in next time we meet. There's an employee of SERTUC who happens to be press officer for branch 1/1148 meetings and one of my bosses at CPB is also her boss at SERTUC, so we can do the leaflets without it costing a thing in postage. By the way, if her boss is Anita Halpin of the Communist Party she'd be lucky to get a good service off the T&G in a dispute because it all seems so in-bred, and even people who we've never heard of before come-in to complain when they try to use the branch lawyer: it's so embarrassing fobbing them off. She'd do better with the Society of Union Employees - but we all make mistakes like this. Look at me: I joined the union to protect my volunteer job and quite by accident I got landed with a second volunteer job."

"I've never understood why we spend so much on things that are hard to verify, like sponsored walks, solidarity campaigns & printing. I very nearly said something when we spent £250 on Battersea Crane Disaster leaflets. At 2½p a copy that's 20 reams. They'll need another crane to lift 20 reams. There's about a hundred thousand people who live in Battersea but we never heard anything about distributing the 20 reams of leaflets. I bet they're just sitting in a garage somewhere".

Footnote about "functions exactly as a branch is meant to function, making donations to working class charities"

When I visited the Communist Party of Britain / Transport and General Branch 1/1148 meeting I wanted a good lawyer, as paid-for with 12 years' subscriptions, to be provided according to contract law. Not one who had been complained about before but was willing to help conceal a hole in the budget.

I was past caring about how these people chose charities except to notice a strident student-union tinge.

A number of charities cluster around the Communist Party of Britain. I doubt they are cash back-communists and suspect that any hoped-for favours are best known to those in the movement. Maybe a tendency to avoid criticism of the Communist Party of Britain, the allocation of a committee post, or a bulk subscription to the Morning Star with occasional advertisements like the Cuba Solidarity Campaign's recent job advertisement there. Maybe no favours are received. After all, if you've giving-away someone else's money there's no cost to being generous. If you have trouble finding a political or charitable donation that can be given to an oganisation without public accounts - these organisations must be rare - Unite's London office for the T&G section publishes a handly list. Not all keep their accounts to members only. Labour Party branches and the central office have to publish their accounts to the Electoral Commission, although a recent scandle in which they filled-in the wrong figure on the form by a few million lead to the establishment of a committee to investigate the relationship between the parties including impartial figures like Jack Dromey, the finance director of Unite - T&G, who said he didn't know there were massive soft loans made to Labour. This lead to disussions with the next most over-funded political party, the Conservatives to halt what politicians call the "arms race" of policital funding. Talks have broken down. Some unions and government-funded charities still use Unity Trust Bank, a vehicle set-up to fund UK manufacturing but which goes at least to the legal limits to make more soft loans to the labour party while paying zero interest to the charities that first invested in it.
The charities themselves are vague about their funding:
"SPONSORS: Cuba Solidarity Campaign does not currently have a sponsor. If you are interested please contact us."
Doesn't the big donation from Unite-T&G branch 1/1148 deserve a thank you, like with grants from region one?
Here is the Region One list
Labour Movement:
TUC South & East Region (SERTUC)
Institute of Employment Rights; the labour movement employment law think tank. Usual branch subscription £45.
Labour Research Department; the trade union funded and supported research and information service (misnamed: it didn't provide me with any useful information when trying to research my case; emplaw and Bailii are better bets. US unions should fund, a similar project there)
London Hazards Centre Trust Ltd
Labour Party: (doesn't present regional accounts to the electoral commission but does present local ones)
London Region Labour Party
South East Region Labour Party
Eastern Region Labour Party
International Solidarity:
Cuba Solidarity Campaign (job description of one of the five staff)
Justice for Colombia (explanation)(acknowledgement with no amount stated)
Venezuela Information Centre
Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
War on Want (history)
Action for Southern Africa
Liberation formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom
Anti-racism, anti-fascism:
Unite Against Fascism
National Assembly Against Racism
Abortion Rights (one that I agree with)
Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (one that I agree with)
Marx Memorial Library for books, pamphlets and other writing on Marxism, the science of socialism and history of working-class movements - see The Independent and Workers Liberty. Name to note: Rosser.
Trade Union Disability Alliance - an odd choice for a union which doesn't help disabled members
Some other causes chosen by branch 1/1148 but not the regional office
Ruskin House, Croydon office block housing the communist party. The house is "itself a co-op run by major shareholders" no obvious accounts
London Socialist Film Co-Op "Industrial and Provident Society register 29459R" £15 charge to see accounts. They invite online requests for socialist films but have not responded to my online request for accounts.
Lambeth Trades Council no obvious accounts but a note that they are affiliated to

  • Defend Council Housing
  • GLATUC (below)
  • Labour Representation Committee (above)
  • Lambeth LGBT Forum - doesn't look as though it costs any money; if it did I'd donate a little. Part of the farce of donations-on-behalf is that the forum is in Lambeth but I live in the next borough, so I'd be more likely to help with a different LGBT forum if there was a proper direct system of donations.
  • Lambeth SOS
  • London Socialist Film Co-op (above)
  • Morning Star (above)
  • SERTUC (above)
  • Socialist Campaign Group of MPs who have forgotten how to cash their pay cheques and need more cash. I haven't looked but these are quite likely the rabid ones who spoke out vehemently against union members rights during the passing of the legal services bill.
  • Stop the War Coalition - no accounts but you can download resolutions passed at their general meeting. The address is a conference room at the former NATFE offices now merged with University and College Union, so maybe there's a bit of office space free since the merger where officials and lawyers used to work.

Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Council - which looks worth donating money to . "Unfortunately Battersea & Wandsworth TUC accounts are not publicly available. They are circulated to members of the BWTUC General Council (comprised of delegates from union branches affiliated to BWTUC) at the BWTUC AGM."

  • "Our accounts are registered with Companies House - if you go to their website
    you should be able to find details of how to get copies (though I believe there might be a small fee involved)".
    There's also a photo of the donation cheque on the Battersea web site - £74,000 towards in a good cause towards 14 union organisers in anti-union regimes. The £74,000 doesn't even seem to have been taken without permission from unions: volunteers were given free tickets to Glastonbury but in exchange for staffing the Workers Beer Company tent, which funded the £74,000.

Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils no obvious accounts
Payment to Secretary
Large payments to Bindman and Partners for un identified court case of a member - possibly the chair - when the union's panel lawyer proved "hopeless".
and more

Footnote about the cost of office space / Back

Dr Graham's other volunteer treasurer job involves renting the £11,000 a year top floor of the Georgian Ruskin House in Croydon which is used for offices, meetings, and the Communist University of Britain. Like McDonalds, his Communist Party of Britain also describes itself as a University. But this is a lot to pay for a 1,000-member organisation of which half the members are unwaged. On one count it only has 37 members and the previous office in Camden Road only cost £5,000 a year.

It must have been a relief for Dr Graham to think that, if all else failed after talking to the landlord, he could mention that his union branch had made a donation to them on behalf of the thousand Unite-T&G 1/1148 members and quite independently of any need to call-in favours should things go wrong: simply because the thousand T&G members wanted to support Croydon landlords so much that there was not point asking them: it could be done on the nod at a branch meeting. I don't know if my union subscriptions were diverted from helping reps and paying lawyers to the business gamble of the Communist University of Britain, because the accounts do not tell me, but anyone can guess the relief it must have been for the gambling tenant Dr Graham to pass-on a charitable donation (made independently by another organisation) to his landlord. Did he win any favours such as a seat among the trustees? I don't know, any more than I know if he has taken money off the Co-Operative Party's Croydon branch who were the tenants downstairs until their domain name was abandoned. I know the Co-Op isn't a Co-Op, Co-Op MPs call themselves Labour and the "principals" of co-operation defined by the party look like an invite to entryism, designed by the "sister party", either Labour or the tenants upstairs, to sit on committees for no very clear reason.

Credit to Dr Graham and his volunteer associates like Ben Stevenson, also of branch 1/1148, at CPB for keeping the firm afloat. They have got a lot out of a small budget. For example they do their own printing and they don't bother with silly affiliations and donations, except to their own shared platform at the 2005 election. They don't even show a massive donation to the Morning Star on their accounts, although they do have an expenditure line for advertising. You would expect the treasurer to say at branch 1/1148

"I've got another idea. Why don't we stop making all these donations and concentrate on services members want? It works at my other job and we're very successful. We sell loads of publications that not even left wing bookshops are willing to stock."

Again Dr Graham hasn't transferred all the frugal ideas used at Communist Party of Britain to himself in his other role as treasurer of branch 1/1148. For organisations about the same size, it's odd that one can afford offices and pay a couple of staff while the other seems to do nothing but give money away. But we've all been in jobs where things haven't turned out well or looked-good, and maybe that was just Dr Graham's motive for joining the Unite's Transport and General Workers' Union. With his colleagues.

Footnote about six people electing themselves in a back room: what their party handouts say:

Our campaigns should take account of the widespread concern about the erosion of democracy. Parliament is by-passed and decisions are taken by New Labour ministers and their un elected advisors. When supporting Blairs legislation on anti-terrorist measures, educational changes, ID cards, and other matters, many Labour MPs are defying the views of the people who elected them and the trade unions which sponsor them. Privatisation, public-private partnerships and competition for resources undermine the freedom and independence of local councils and reduce accountability, resulting in fewer and fewer people using their votes.

More recently one of them - Ben Stevenson - has been interviewed in defence of frauds which Dennis McShane MP admits. The defences were that the frauds were not a criminal offence (they were frauds), and they were first exposed by bad people, which is probably true but not relevant.

Footnote about coffee in meetings / Back

There are exceptions. But if the meeting is held in a cafe or a pub, it is harder to tell who has wondered-in out of curiosity, who has come to ask for money and who is member of the branch.

Some system of cards or checking might get around this. Meeting in a pub or a cafe is easy to ridicule, as are small trades unions with funny names, high interest bank accounts in the treasurer's name, and online votes held on a Yahoo Group, but the issue in all cases isn't just what's easy to ridicule, but what's bogus, what fails, and what works.

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