The Origins of  SUE

The Society of Union Employees (SUE) was formed in 1977 as an independent registered trade union out of the former NUPE Staff Association. It represented Regional Officer grades (then called Area Officers) and above in NUPE. At the time it was hoped that SUE might be developed as a specialist union for staff of other unions.

Prior to the founding of the Society of Union Employees, there existed a  Staff Association for organising staff within the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE). In 1974 the Staff Association, following a decision at its Annual General Meeting, embarked  on a review of whether or not its members would be better served  by being organised within a  Trade Union. At this time, most of the large British Trade Unions had staff associations for their organising staff.

The Staff Association of NUPE considered joining one of the large General Unions but felt that there was a fundamental conflict of interest summed up at the time by Tony Nicholls,  the Secretary of the NUPE Staff Association;

“If N.U.P.E. officers joined a Trade Union would they be free to wholeheartedly support  decisions reached by “Their Union”, ignoring the policies of N.U.P.E. on the same subject e.g. the principle of a “General Union” as opposed to a specialised Union. “ (Management Committee Report – N.U.P.E. Full-time Officers – Trade Union Membership.)

There continued a long debate within the NUPE Staff Association about the various merits of joining a trade union and the matter came to a conclusion at its 1977 Annual General Meeting which adopted the new constitution of the Society of Union Employees, but not without strong and vocal opposition.

SUE Certificate 1977

SUE is certified as a Trade Union  14th July 1977.

At the same time that the Society of Union Employyess was being formed, similar discussions were taking place with other Full-Time Officials from other unions. There was a a common view that there were advantages to be gained by having some form of unity across Trade Union employees.  A draft constitution for a “Federation ” was drawn up and “discussed with NALGO Officers’  Representatives  who found it acceptable.” (Management Committee Report  to the 1977 Annual General Meeting)


The original SUE logo. Updated in 2008.

Society of Union Employees (NUPE)

The first National Conference of SUE was held in Sheffield at the Wentworth Woodhouse Site of Sheffield Polytechnic on 14th April 1978. SUE subsequently held Conferences in 1979  ( White Swan Hotel , York), and in 1980 (Stoke Rochford Hall, Grantham).  This third SUE Conference  saw Tony Nicholls stand down as the National Secretary having served as such for over 5 years. Chris Humphreys was elected to take over as National Secretary alongside Paul Dunn who continued as President until 1988.

The issues facing SUE at this time, were staff salaries, the provision of cars for Officers and workload. The Health & Safety at Work Act was creating more work for Organisers  and there was concern that the number of members allocated to each organiser was increasing their workload as well, Efforts were made to establish a norm of one Area Officer to every 5,000 members.

The admin and clerical staff of NUPE were organised in APEX with a clear demarcation between both unions. But with the impending merger of NUPE into UNISON it was decided to open the membership to all staff employed by the new union.

Society of Union Employees (UNISON)

Following the merger of NUPE, NALGO and COHSE into UNISON on 1st July 1993, SUE debated the future of staff representation and concluded that whilst in principle it supported the creation of a single staff union, SUE should continue for the foreseeable future. There were very good reasons for this that might be summarised as follows:

  • Staff at that time continued to be employed under former union terms and conditions
  • There was no common grading structure or job evaluation scheme
  • Separate pension schemes continued to operate
  • ACTS was primarily an ex-NALGO staff union with a very different culture to SUE

Since that time a UNISON terms and conditions handbook has been agreed (1998), three of the four pension funds have merged (2004) and a job evaluation based pay and grading structure has been agreed (2006)

Over the following years, relations between SUE and ACTS was not always smooth although a common united front was presented to the management on most occasions.

SUE, TUC and GFTU Affiliation

SUE has always sought affiliation to the TUC and made various approaches seeking this. On 13 February 2002  a final meeting between members of the SUE Executive and the then Deputy General Secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber brought the matter to a close. At that meeting the TUC spelt out that affiliating SUE would be seen as giving UNISON an additional seat on the General Council and could also cause embarrassment to UNISON since issues that SUE raised about employment matters would directly relate to the employment practices of another General Council member.

After this final refusal for affiliation, SUE considered its options and approached the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) and affiliated successfully in 2008. Since then members of SUE have been able to attend courses put on by the GFTU and the union has had representatives sitting on various GFTU bodies.

SUE has always acted as the independent union that it is. As such it has had on numerous occasions to speak up for members not just collectively but individually, even if necessary lodging Employment Tribunals on behalf of members.

This may seem surprising to those who see the employer as a large Trade Union that such action is necessary, but SUE is only too well aware that UNISON, although a Trade Union is also a large multi million pound organisation and as with all such organisation the staff need the protection that an independant trade union like SUE affords them.