The trades union act says that members should have access to the accounts and that the accounts should be made known to members. It's quite vague and initially it's often an obscure little tribunal called the Certification Office that hears complaints. They are run by someone hired by the Labout government so obviously they're impartial.

Foster v Musicians Union ruled that a member cannot "conduct an audit of the unions affairs" even if the local branch of a union has its own budget and "audit" means a member reading the bank statement of the local branch. The first case is on http://www.employees.org.uk/case-foster-v-musicians-union.html and it's re-iterated on http://www.employees.org.uk/accounts-tgwu.html

I want the Trades Union Act slightly amended with a line to change the Foster v Musicians ruling. Otherwise unions will centralise budgets from their embarassing branches, like the taxi drivers branch in the second case, and carry on being just as daft amongst paid full time staff at central office, where the daftness can be hushed-up better and lawyers can be paid to sort out the mess – which was Foster's reason for a complaining about the Musicians Union: he wanted to know how much they had paid in legal fees and bribe to get their director to go.

I suggest that every member should have a right to see the bank statements and receipts of their local branch and ideally the same right should apply to members of building societies, customer co-ops and mutials like Equitable Life.

I suggest that union activists and their national paid offices should be as accountable as MPs. If the law says that accounts must be "made known" to members, the Certification Office should make sure that a member can see scans of every bus ticket and every bank statement and that the union branch emails the member to say where to look on the net. If MPs have to suffer this, why not union activists? I think that if the honest ones could give people a reason to trust them, more of us would benefit.

That's all.

Why is this idea important?

A wise person would think of a perfect law for all simliar groups – member of customer co-ops, mutuals like Equitable Life or mutual building societies, and such. Few of us take such a philosophical view until some injustice slaps them in the face and this is what happened to me.

I was bullied or over-worked out of a job for being disbaled: I couldn't concentrate. With reasonable help, the employer could either have decided that I was too ill to employ or that reasonable help had done the trick. Like a public funded charity is ever reasonable. They were so hooked on the idea of managers bullying each other and front line staff being caught up in the cross-fire that no one person ever had a clear view of what was happening until I sued and the bills started coming in. When I complained to my union about bad representation by a no-win no-fee lawyer trying to settle without reading the case so he could claim a commission and share with the union, I discovered three things.

The regional office does not answer letters, even recorded delivery or from an MP. If you can finally coax them into answering a complaint, it is with a stilted and mis-applied standard answer – a bit like a complaint to PayPal.

The monthly meet-up of south london (voluntary sector) activists is a bit of a fund raising scheme for something quite different, with other priorities. About three people usually go. I had never heard of it before making a complaint. As one stalwart on the committee said "we are not here to provide legal insurance, even though it says so on the leaflets. That is a mistake. We are not the fifth emergency service". A paid official turned up to that meeting – unusually – but was no more interested in reading the case than other officials and lawyers I was complaining about. "I wash my hands of this", the man said, looking at my files of evidence against and employer, "…and you can take your leaflets with you".

One thing I took away with me was the minutes of the previous monthly meeting where a colleague I didn't know personally – the team leader of another part of Alchol Recovery Project who had worked at their Choices branch in Brixton – had tried to sue the same bullying manager with the same rip-off legal service and had a worse expericence than me. It's all there in the minutes. A freedom of information request showed that about 50 employees had tried to sue this employer (I don't know how many via the union) and that in one year 1% of the entire staff team had tried to sue. You'd think that in such a situation the union branch would make itself known to members with something like a Yahoo Group email system for suggestions and complaints to be passed to reps, for paid officials to go to recognition agreement meetings with management, and for everyone who paid £10 a month to know where the £10 a month went. I still don't know, but from what I've discovered since I'm sure it wasn't to many officials or soclititors.

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