The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) is the largest trade union in the North of Ireland, did have a strong reputation as a democratic union but the recent actions of NIPSA ruling body, the General Council, has deeply damaged that reputation. Their behaviour has exposed a massive gap between union democracy, in theory, and the actual practical experience of members.
Like many unions, NIPSA was forced to postpone its Annual Delegate Conference 2020 following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the absence of Conference, the union began a direct ballot of its 160 plus branches who elect the Officers of the union – the President, Vice-president and Treasurer and various Committees.
The election process commenced on 27 May and was due to close on 10 June. Before the election could run its course, however, 14 members of the so-called “Independent Group” on NIPSA’s 25-member ruling General Council used their majority to cancel the election and appoint their own people as President, Vice President and Treasurer of NIPSA.
They used the spurious excuse that this was necessary because NIPSA Branches have stopped functioning due to Covid-19 and members could not be consulted. However, this manoeuvre was exposed when two and a half hours after a circular was issued cancelling the elections, a new circular was issued instructing all NIPSA NICS branches to consult members on pay.
What might be next? The democratic right of members to decide where NIPSA stands on terms and conditions, the right to democratically decide conference policy or the right to democratically re-elect the leadership of branches?
This blatant gerrymandering of the elections is a direct challenge to NIPSAs 44,000 membership. Already branches are in an uproar. Every branch of the union should be calling upon the General Council majority to respect the democratic rights and hold real elections for President, Vice President and Hon Treasurer and Committees.