Springingtiger's Blog


Thou Shalt Not bear False Witness.

 

I have been a member of one Trades Union or another more or less since I left school. I have been in what was C.O.H.S.E, S.O.G.A.T, B.E.C.T.U and the C.M.A but for most of my working life I have been a member of the C.W.U and it’s previous incarnations: U.C.W and the U.P.W. Yes I am old enough to have been employed as a telephone operator by the Post Office Telephones. I spent fifteen happy years as a branch official. The Union of Communication Workers had a three tier training program, it’s guide to the Disciplinary Procedure was so good that British Telecom management tended to prefer it to their own. I learned a lot as a Union Official, but most of the essential things I learned are really plain common sense.

In the years since I ceased to be an official and it the years I have been in the Retired Members section I have seen no change in management or government attitudes and behaviour that suggests to me that the need for trades unions is in any way diminished. Sadly I have recently observed cases that make me wonder if management is becoming more dishonest (I should point out that I am not talking about BT as the cases I am referring to are not BT cases. However reading our Union paper gives me no reason to exclude them).

The first lesson is get into the Union early, they will bend over backwards for a member in good standing. Those who wait until they are in trouble before joining will get support if accepted as members, but may incur a degree of resentment. Membership also makes it less likely that a worker will find themselves at a loss when faced with a problem because they will know to whom to turn and will already have been advised of their rights.

The big lesson is NEVER go into a meeting with management without a witness if there is any possibility that it may involve the disciplinary process. On a first meeting even if a union representative is not available, take a colleague in as a witness. Without a witness what happens will only be known by what is reported and management hold the cards. I regret to have to say this, but it is a general rule that the report of an unwitnessed meeting will always reflect what the management wants regardless of what actually happened, particularly if the manager is backed up by another member of the management team. I would add that the worker should always make a detailed note of the proceedings and agree it with their witness. If a manager says you don’t need to be accompanied then it is all the more important that you are. Should you go into any meeting with management alone they will represent it as you having waived your right to representation and it will be your word against theirs. Management tends to be dishonest when they can get away with it, don’t let them away with anything.

Some people think that Union representation is only necessary when facing a serious disciplinary matter. Not so! It is in the early investigatory meetings that the management constructs their case and if you are not represented they can, and frequently will, fabricate evidence against you including alleging you have said things you haven’t. A Union representative with experience will be aware when management are trying to trick you into saying something that may be misrepresented, whereas ordinary members suddenly facing discipline may be upset and disoriented and unable to give a good account of themselves.

Ideally in a good company workers and management will cooperate in harmony. But when there is any sort of problem the blame is always passed down the pecking order. However smoothly and happily your days at work may pass at the first sign of trouble management becomes the enemy and you won’t realise it until they are stabbing you in the back. Get into the Union while the winds are favourable, when they change it won’t be Mary Poppins that blows in!

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