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How my union betrayed me Shop stewards are collaborating over unconscious bias training

Unions have turned into collaborators (Carl Court/Getty Images)


October 15, 2021   4 mins

Nobody familiar with the behaviour of public-sector unions will have been surprised at the University and College Union’s betrayal of Kathleen Stock. In fact, when it comes to defending freedom of speech, TUC-affiliated unions are a major part of the problem. Just ask the RE teacher who was suspended from Batley Grammar School this year. Or UnHerd’s Paul Embery, who was unjustly dismissed from standing as an FBU official for two years for speaking at a pro-Brexit rally.

I have worked in a government department for the past 33 years, but it was only in 2008 that I became aware that the unions not always on the side of their members. HR had sent round an intimidating email urging us all to complete our online diversity data: if we didn’t complete it by a specific date, we were told that out names would be added to “a list of non declarers”. That list would then be passed on to senior management. “In addition,” it said, “HR may contact non declarers by phone to update their details on the system there and then.”

Many of us immediately forwarded the email to our union, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), both to complain about the threatening tone of the email and to ask why the department needed to know such things as our “sexual orientation” or “religious belief”. Many of us also logged into our online HR profile and removed any existing diversity data we’d already completed.

The majority of us heard nothing in response. But one regional union rep in our building not only received a reply — that essentially this was voluntary data management which then union would also like us to complete — but the message also contained some of the disparaging emails being sent between senior union officials.

One exchange read:

“Clarification does need sending out as soon as possible. The members who have raised this with me are, at the moment, quite adamant that they will not supply this information especially given the way the e-mail was worded. This attitude will obviously soften with time especially when the “non-compliants” are interrogated over the phone by HRS.  If a reasoned argument can be provided by us as to why they should freely give the required information, but explaining that you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, then HRS will still get their answers. But at least we don’t look like we are supporting the way they’re carrying out this caper which is the impression people are getting
”

Once the email came to light, our HR department apologised and emphasised that the data grab was voluntary. But in many ways, that was only the start. Fast forward to 2014 and the roll-out of unconscious bias training (UBT) throughout the civil service. This, as with the supplying of diversity data, wasn’t mandatory, though many were led to believe it was. Again I contacted my union to complain that management was forcing some kind of Orwellian thought-training upon us, that I was refusing to do it, and to ask them if they would back me if I faced pressure to complete it or was threatened with disciplinary action for refusing.

In response, a PCS official phoned to tell me that the union backed the introduction of UBT. I was told the union’s officials had completed it, didn’t see my issue with it and would not support me if I faced any action from management. To which I replied: if that was the case, then he and the union were part of the problem.

But it was only after searching through the PCS website that I realised how much of the problem the union really was. I quickly came across several articles and even a conference motion from 2013 that demanded UBT be made mandatory for all staff. In effect, PCS were demanding intrusion into our very thought processes and, in the process, handing employers a means of disciplining us based on highly politicised, subjective and flawed evidence of “unconscious bias”.

Then, fortunately, in December last year it was announced that that UBT was to be scrapped throughout the civil service in England, after a Government Equality Office investigation found that it can actually “backfire” and reinforce stereotypes and biases. In any normal world, the scrapping of UBT would have been praised by those who value freedom of thought and conscience in the workplace.

Not so the deputy general secretary of Prospect, a union for civil service professionals, who told the Guardian: “While there is a debate as to the effectiveness of unconscious bias training, simply scrapping it without setting out alternative ways to combat discrimination in the work place is not acceptable.” His concern was shared by the assistant general secretary of the senior civil service FDA union, who told the BBC’s Politics Live that “to remove it without replacing it with anything seems absolutely illogical”.

But the story doesn’t end there. Perhaps in anticipation of UBT being scrapped, or aware of its discrediting, the civil service unions were busy behind the scenes collaborating on a replacement — in the form of a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) eLearning module, which was rolled out to us in September 2020. However, unlike with its predecessor, at least this time the collaboration between the unions and management was stated openly; we were informed that we had until the 31 December 2020 to complete it. (I am yet to do so.)

No doubt HR thought that highlighting the unions’ collaboration would give the training greater credibility. But to me it was evidence of our unions’ insultingly low opinion of their members and the wider workforce. That is, rather than seeing us as a collective solution to workplace problems, including in tackling discrimination, we are made to feel like would-be bigots who need to be saved from ourselves.

So, to return to the UCU’s disgraceful lack of support for Kathleen Stock, I would have been more shocked if her union had supported her right to think what she likes and express those opinions freely. But until the unions overcome their own conscious prejudices against the workforce, and stop collaborating with management to impose increasingly discredited diversity initiatives upon us, don’t expect them to defend freedom of thought and conscience in the workplace anytime soon.


Paul Thomas is a government employee and co-founder of The Leeds Salon

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Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

when the “non-compliants” are interrogated over the phone by HRS. If a reasoned argument can be provided by us as to why they should freely give the required information,”

You know how every legal person will say ‘Never Talk To The Police’ without a legal representative……Well handing this kind of data over to anyone requesting it likely means you will end up being beaten up by it at some point. The ‘Race Game Industry’ is not out to fix things, to make things better, No, it is out to wreck things. It will be used against you, it always will.

It is Neo-Marxist (Neo-Marxism is Not like Marxism in that Neo is how the struggle of man is about oppressor and oppressed as viewed as ‘Intersectionality‘ (how groups based on sex, race, culture, education, religion, criminal history, welfare, and everything else are are related to each other in the only way groups Can relate to each other, as Oppressed and Oppressor (dialectic Post Modernism)), it is totally Identity Politics, and the goal is ‘Equity’, which is taking from the oppressor and giving it to the Oppressed.

Traditional Marxism is Capitalists and Proletariat as oppressors and oppressed – and any identity can be either – in Fact they can move from one state to the other. (It is 100% about the ‘Means Of Production’ ‘Land Labour and Capital; money). Neo-Marxism is a fixed form of Intersectionality – and you are born an oppressor or oppressed and that is for ever unless you get Equity, which does NOT FIX IT, but pays back for it. It is right from the Post Modernist ‘Frankfurt School‘.

The Unions were Traditional Marxist (Trotskyite really), but have been completely captured by Neo-Marxists, and so are an entirely different animal than they were – exactly like how the Universities have been Captured by the Neo’s. It is no longer about money and pay and conditions to the Unions Now Days – it is about Oppressed and oppressor Intersetionality, and thus Equity. They are pretty twisted, like Government and education, and MSM, and Social Media, and Corporate facades, all captured.

It is ushering in the ‘Great Reset’, and it will not be good.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

It is, in fact, a Neo-Marxist revolution without the bloodshed; a revolution which nobody has noticed.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

At the risk of repeating what a number of UnHerd btl posters have written recently, one means of fighting back is by joining the Free Speech Union.

I am a member, even though retired. FSU take up cases and challenge ridiculous and oppressive decisions by firms, broadcasters, university authorities, and so on.

By joining, we can at least contribute to doing something, rather than just wringing our hands.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I’ve been fortunate enough to work in environments where their services aren’t required but I joined anyway, as it’s a genuinely good cause.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

OK. Your interpretation, rather than what I meant.

I by no means underestimate the enemy.

So, please, be helpful here: what do you propose we do?

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Thank you for the reply.

Your point about identifiable individuals rather than amorphous institutions is one I made several weeks ago over on The Spectator comments on the Jess de Wahls case. Decisions aren’t made by corporate bodies, but by individuals in particular positions.

Still, the essential point is action. I am therefore looking into such organisations as Counterweight and History Reclaimed as suggested here by other posters on this page.

L Walker
L Walker
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

It wasn’t very veiled.

L Walker
L Walker
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Without the bloodshed. So far.

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

In a nutshell.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago

The Unions are often happy to do what they think is politically advantageous for the Labour Party, even if it’s at odds with the rights of the workers they represent. As long as Labour are dominated by woke activists, sadly, the Unions will be too.

Unless the government is willing to legislate to prevent employers from taking disciplinary action against workers for factors outside their competence in their role and allow them the freedom of their conscience, then I see no hope in stopping the woke’s increasing stranglehold on the work place and cultural institutions.

P.S. Great to see your writing for UnHerd Paul!

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Many political careerists in the Labour Party will not subscribe to the woke agenda, we know this – and they know we know -but if it is helpful to them they will be the loudest cheerleaders.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Ditto!

Clara B
Clara B
2 years ago

I cancelled my membership of UCU in disgust at their lack of support for Prof Stock and free speech. I sent an email to head office advising them why I’d done this. I’d urge others to do the same.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago
Reply to  Clara B

Good idea. Falling membership is the only thing the unions fear.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  Clara B

Bravo.

G A
G A
2 years ago

They won’t stop collaborating with management because they are management.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

It’s funny how long it takes leftists to notice that leftists hate literally everyone eventually.

Melanie Mabey
Melanie Mabey
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

That’s why the Puritans never made their revolution ‘stick’ it was said of them ‘They loved God with all their minds and hated their neighbour with all their heart’ Luther the greatest hater of all found fallow ground in the Middle classes of his day and the Woke are the same; as the Middle classes dwindle and they become more and more abhorent to the population at large, they will find themselves going extinct, it may take some time but society cannot thrive on hate.

Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
2 years ago

Much of the discussion on this issue has been about how the woke took hold of academia a few years ago and how they have now taken hold of the public sector. Yet it has been storming though private sector industry too, to the extent that it has infected almost every workplace. Larger private sector companies, for whom the Govt or a Govt department is often a major client, must make their staff go through UBT (now also referred to as EDI in the private sector) if they want to win Govt contracts (it’s written in the terms and conditions). I personally, as a private sector employee working on a Govt contract had to go through it to work on that contract. The larger companies, in turn, make it a condition that any smaller companies acting as their suppliers also have similar policies in place – the policy must apply to the whole supply chain. This is propagating throughout the whole of industry – pretty soon it will be almost impossible to gain employment without undergoing UBT / EDI training, given that the Govt is by far the largest ultimate client in the UK economy. The private sector is mostly un-unionised, so it almost doesn’t matter what the Unions do. It seems like they have already won. I will make my own small protest by refusing to undertake the annual refresher course (they assume that the brainwashing will rinse out if you don’t undertake an annual refresher) and generally not complying with their diktats.  

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

I presented on this topic in one of my doctorate classes earlier this week. What you describe is first and second wave managerialism (private and public sector). What we are experiencing now is third wave managerialism, the re-ordering of people’s private lives, thoughts, and identities.
Identities that enable this managerialism will be held up as virtuous, those that resist it will be painted as socially and ethically unacceptable.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

I was a PCS rep for 30 years and a trade union side officer (before PCS destroyed the Whitley structure). I am still a member – just – because I have a right to be and I can be a thorn in their side but, since our wonderful traditional working class Geordie branch chair died a year ago; the last of the proper trade unionists, I have distanced myself completely.
I was a TUS Equality Officer, I studied employment law at post graduate level and I have an in depth knowledge of the Equality Act. I won thousands for people in personal cases which were nearly all about physical disability. In many other cases, I negotiated with management on workplace adjustments and technology to enable disabled people to stay at work. Disabled people are by far the largest‘protected characteristic’ in an ageing workforce, but the union has no interest in them whatsoever. It is all ‘identity’ and their strings are being pulled by Stonewall.
Then there is the absurd PCS hysteria over Covid. If employees are required to wear an intrusive and potentially damaging item over their faces, for goodness sake, in the workplace, the union should insist on a risk assessment and an Equality Impact Assessment. PCS has not just acquiesced over the grotesque face masks, it has begged for them, with no attempt to go through the procedures that it would usually demand. PCS is rotten to the core.

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
2 years ago

Thank you Caroline. I am old enough to remember when PCS actually stood up for employees’ rights but I cancelled my membership some years ago, for the reasons many have given above.

Julia H
Julia H
2 years ago

Perhaps all union officials, both local and national, should be required by their members to declare that they have read Orwell’s 1984 within the last five years, have a basic understanding of the principles of Ingsoc, including doublethink and newspeak, and recognise, in consequence of that understanding, how thoroughly and profoundly unacceptable it is for either an employer or a trade union representative to encroach on the area of another human’s thoughts, conscience or beliefs. By all means set and enforce standards of behaviour in the workplace, but the sphere of an individual’s interior life and thoughts should be strictly off limits.

Melanie Mabey
Melanie Mabey
2 years ago
Reply to  Julia H

yes that’s the trouble they are trying to present CRT as a workplace ethic whereas in reality it’s a religion.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

No one should ever cooperate in these studies/surveys designed to discriminate against white people. Two examples from the USA:
Some years ago when I first applied for a mortgage, there was a mountain of “fairness” paperwork that I initially refused to fill out. One particular question asked my race. I told my estate agent it was none of the government’s business, that I would not answer the question. He said “Fine, but I am required to then use my ‘best guess’ as to your race, otherwise the paperwork will not be accepted and you will not get a mortgage.
The second example is the US census. The Constitution requires a “count” of the population every ten years. It does NOT require that the country be sliced and diced by race and many other extremely intrusive questions–though asking if one is an American citizen has been deemed racist and is therefore not asked. I have no problem with the government counting me, the rest is none of their business. I refuse to cooperate in this mess and have returned the census with an obscenity scrawled across it.
I would encourage everyone to join the resistance and do likewise.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago

Very powerful and important piece.
My own life experience has tought me that unions are not what they should be and worse, when it suits them, they can actually work against you.
Look how they treated Paul Embery?
Despicable.

Last edited 2 years ago by Karl Francis