In 1997 I became an active member of the Transport and General workers Union [TGWU], and by the turn of the century I’d become an energetic member of the Labour Party campaigning tirelessly not only on behalf of Anne Cryer the former Member of Parliament, but also the many Labour Party Councillors serving the Keighley and Ilkley constituency.
My time was offered freely and without recognition given the countless hours spent door step canvassing, manning telephones, posting countless leaflets, and writing and maintaining the early constituency electronic newsletter, and website. I was content being a volunteer helping the community without compensation and had no specific inclination of furthering my involvement with either organisation.
That said in 2005 while in the employ of the City of Bradford Metropolitan Council a member of the Environment and Neighbourhood management team approached me suggesting I get involved in the workplace by putting my name forward to represent T&G members at Bradford Councils Stockbridge Depot. My contribution I was assured would be helpful to both management and union. I agreed, but only with the proviso that I was able to give 100% commitment to the role of shop steward with the expectation that management would act in good faith. However I was wrong and this agreement would set into motion events that would ultimately result in my dismissal, and almost destroy my life by the same management team, and self opinionated Labour Councillors I’d assisted into office over many years.
The year was 2006 and being a newly elected Shop Steward I gave myself a steep learning curve, and within the first 12 months of my stewardship I’d successfully completed 8 various educational courses in 13 modules. With this knowledge came a better understanding of the organising and recruitment required, sadly in my opinion TGWU branch 9-89 was unproductive, with an uninformed branch secretary who had little or no interest in trade unionism, no effective administration skill, or recruitment plan, but to his credit had a keen awareness of branch finances. Because of this obvious indifference, I found myself attempting to advance the trade union cause as a modern efficient collective only to find this message being undermined knowingly by management and branch officials. So appalled at the criterion use by branch I recorded my dismay formally by writing to the Regional office seeking their help and guidance in 2007. Further evidence pertaining to branch 9-89 incompetence can be found in a series of emails as I scrutinise the obvious Union ineffectiveness without reply.
Nevertheless I persevered, and within my first twelve months I’d secured a trade union office with access to a computer and stationary, telephone and privacy all located for the first time in Keighley. Throughout this period I also implemented a workplace mapping exercise utilising this tool to identify my own members, identify employees of other trade unions, and significantly freeloading employees. The result of this effort was a significant increase in the T&G membership around the Keighley district. The Union office was now a central contact point for members with the facility to consult privately. Again I believe this hard work galvanised a mutual respect between the membership and Union which was evident by the 100% walk out during the national Local Government industrial dispute of 2006 and the 98% response to the two day national industrial dispute of 2008, and for the next 5 years I continued to be proactive to the membership needs supplying information, inviting consultation, and encouraging participation. Although I’d lead the Unite members during these disputes it should also be recognised that all striking members to a man were disgusted by their colleagues at the Bradford depot who under the leadership of the T&G/Unite branch secretary refused the call to strike, and followed their shop steward across the picket line, thus in my opinion making any future negotiation with Bradford Council at best an up hill struggle, and the likelihood of collective action in the future very unlikely. These details were duly reported in a local joint Unison, Unite, strike report which I wrote and published sending copies to both Unison and Unite the union regional and branch offices : note Unison replied to the report T&G/Unite didn’t!
Yet despite my turbulent introduction into trade unionism I was still eager for knowledge and 2007 saw my enrolment on a two years part time Advance Reps Course through the centre for lifelong learning at the University of Hull. Bradford Council had initially agreed to my release to attend this course, but then recanted. My participation on campus was therefore reliant on my personal annual holiday entitlement. Nevertheless I successfully completed the A.R.C receiving a Certificate of Higher Education in Trade Union Representation in Context on 28th April 2009. However during my two year period of study it also became apparent to me that Bradford Council management continued to be antagonistic towards my activities a consequence I believe of the ambiguity being displayed by the branch and in effect seized control of branch by striking a sweetheart deal with the then Branch Secretary who continued to dictated branch policy without accountability until Branch being appointed a fulltime Regional officer some 18 months without Branch leadership. Sadly after such a lengthy period and before his arrived at branch the rot had set in and was noticeable. However with the leadership, and guidance of the newly appointed R.O.the branch began to organise, but management intransigent continued, raising the obvious question as to what can be realistically achieved by negotiating with an organisation which only has its own agenda?
During my 5 year of experience as elected shop steward in the department of Environment and Neighbourhoods I found managements to be both aggressive, and anti ‘unite the union’ I saw no evidence of a management with a desire to enter into meaningful negotiations or compromise, but a corporate bully with evidence to suggest management manipulate our once proud and independent local union branch. As a branch we sat back and assisted in the beating of a workforce into submission, we sat back and watched a workforce be intimidated too scared to defend their own rights. Given the above is it any wonder the union density continues to drop year on year, and in my opinion the local Labour Party councillors need to shoulder some of the responsibility for abandoning their natural supporters in favour of protecting a corrupting local authority system which I experienced personally. As a human being I find unacceptable the scale of bullying I witnessed at Bradford Council I find it even more offensive that our self-serving and righteous political masters condone this practise.
I’ve experienced management bullying myself often abused by managers in the privacy of their own office, and latterly being set up to fail. I found no recourse to this maltreatment due to formal bullying grievances being investigated by managers probing manager’s conduct in the same department. Thereby allowing managers the opportunity to protected managers against criticism or accountability, and likewise the Director of services would be protected shamefully by the elected members. Unfortunately for me I was dismissed before my own Grievance had been concluded, and even though I’d been suspended for a total of 14 month there wasn’t sufficient time to resolve the issues I’d raised.
By 2009 I’d made sufficient enemies to merit management’s displeasure, and by July that year evidence would suggest my employer took a singular view to encourage, directed or suggested an employee should report a workplace incident to the police for reasons best only known to themselves, but would suggest dismissal being their objective on the balance of probability as there was and never has been any evidence against me. While I have to accept the many judgements made against me over the years I have never agree with said judgements or admitted fault which is evident by my unfair dismissal claim. It should also be noted that throughout my two year struggle with Bradford Council and the Courts Unite the Union and Local Branch offered little or no support to me whatsoever. The sum of their advice was to capitulate, admit guilt, show remorse, and apologise whereby my job would be safe, and guaranteed employment. However I chose to have the moral courage to stand against these bullies alone rather than capitulate and reject my own beliefs. Again I reiterate I’d have rather tried and failed than not tried at all!
Thankfully I did however receive support from a Unison Steward who appeared at all my hearings unpaid and without hesitation which restored my faith partly in mankind, but what a contrast to my own union.
In conclusion there is little doubt of my passion for the Trade Union movement my record over the years speaks for itself. During my stewardship I represented many members, and saved many livelihoods, and in the process I became a target of disapproval from a vindictive management. However in truth my passion has personally brought nothing but sorrow, anguish, and financial hardship to my family and in reality it has been my own demise. That said it also gave me an education, and I’m now pragmatic enough to recognize that even though I’ve been a real shop steward, working in the real world, assisting real people with real problems commitment alone isn’t enough to earn the respect from the righteous who live outside reality. As a steward I witnessed greed, self importance and incompetence not only in the ranks of bloated managers, but sadly also in the guise of trade unionism, and the labour Party. I saw enough on the shop floor to realise it’s not what you know, but who you know to succeed which I believe only leads to corruption and incompetence, and benefits few. I believe union members and local constituencies would be better served by acknowledging those individuals who selflessly volunteer to serve their community, and collective interests. Nonetheless I’ve personally experienced the opposite being abandoned by the union that I’d served loyalty since 1997 and the political party who knowingly tried to destroy my livelihood and good character simply to save their own face and embarrassment. I now feel utter shame when admitting to myself I campaigned and believed in the Labour movement since being a boy.
To say my faith in both organisations has been somewhat uncertain of late would be an understatement, but here I am today still with enough passion to assist those people who lives are often blighted and overlooked by the bureaucracy of large organisation, and because of my life experiences I believe I’m in a unique position to well understand the hopelessness and frustration some stewards and members live through. Today I still busy myself ensuring fair conduct within the workplace, albeit without Union sanction or facility. I’m still approached by individuals (including Stewards) many from Bradford Council dissatisfied with their situation and seeking advice or guidance, and I gladly help them wherever I can. I’m still disillusioned that a Labour Councillor upheld my dismissal, and chose instead to protect an incompetent vindictive manager with no detectable ability apart from being related to the Conservative Councillor sitting on the same appeal panel which I fully accept may be the reason for his misplaced loyalty, but I live in hope that similar circumstances to that of my own are never again allowed to advance without challenge from the Union.
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