Thursday, February 04, 2016

FE strike set for 24 February

Members of UNISON and of our sister union for lecturers UCU (the University and Colleges Union) employed in Further Education (FE) in England will be striking for fair pay on Wednesday 24 February.

These workers in a vital public service of particular value to working class people have an unquestionably just cause. Although pay in the economy as a whole is beginning to recover from the impact of the banking crisis, FE workers aren't even being offered the Government's 1% public sector pay norm.

Perhaps because the FE workforce was recently re-categorised (for the purposes of national statistics) as private sector, the employers' side negotiators "offered" a 0% "increase". Of course a 0% "increase" isn't an increase - it's nothing. And an "offer" of nothing isn't an offer - it's an insult.

FE workers are absolutely right to strike against the pay freeze being imposed across the entire sector.

Well not quite the entire sector, at least not everyone in the sector.

‎Not everyone in the FE sector is suffering from a pay freeze. (‎) The link is to a report of last year's data on the pay of Principals in FE, who seem to be doing rather better than most of their staff.

‎The Chief Executive of the employers' body, the Association of Colleges, was prepared to justify the burgeoning pay of the College Principals - it would be nice to hear him speak up in the same way to justify an increase in pay for the FE workers without whom there would be no Principals.

For now, workers in FE need to prepare to strike, UNISON and UCU need to stand together - and UNISON activists in other sectors need to contact local College stewards to offer assistance.

In particular, those of us in local government branches with FE members need to lend a hand now getting the message across to members (and recruiting non-members) and on the day on picket lines (lay branch officials, including shop stewards, have a very legitimate and important role to play supporting our brothers and sisters in FE).

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

National Executive Council report to Regional Council AGM

‎I was very pleased to move (very briefly as I still have an impressive cough) a report from National Executive Council (NEC) members to the Annual General Meeting of UNISON's Greater London Regional Council this morning.

There had been an earlier misunderstanding, in that the report circulated before the meeting to delegates had been edited without the agreement of its authors.

The Regional Convenor had subsequently agreed to table the full report, which meant I did not have to warn delegates that this was something which had been obtained unofficially, which they had not seen and ought not to hand out.

I was therefore happy to move the report and to give the Convenor some special chocolate biscuits to express that pleasure and gratitude.

As always, if any UNISON members in the Greater London Region would like to ask any questions about the work of our NEC - please get in touch!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Fewer questions than answers?

Today saw the Annual General Meeting of the Greater London Regional Council of UNISON.

The meeting was noteworthy for the absence of the Regional Secretary, whose colleague from the Eastern Region ably filled in.

(It's worth reflecting that, since the Eastern Region is piloting an important organisational initiative for the Union, the unanticipated opportunity to share with a neighbouring Region is something which we in London could usefully make the most of).

The meeting was advised, quite correctly, on more than one occasion, that it ought not to discuss an investigation which is currently underway within the Union.

However, one delegate wanted the opportunity to ask a question of our guest speaker, UNISON's President Wendy Nichols, about her view as to the propriety of an email circulated on her behalf before Christmas which appeared (to that delegate) to have breached the spirit of the advice given to the Regional Council about not commenting upon an investigation whilst it is underway.

The Convenor therefore asked the meeting to vote on the question of whether or not questions should be put to the President. The meeting decided, by 65 votes to 64, that no questions should be asked.

The question was never asked and therefore could not be answered, but that was a democratic decision and those present respected it and moved on. 

‎I'll blog further about the rest of the meeting in due course.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Sticking up for trade unions with all our heart This is the link to the TUC site promoting next week's "heart unions" week. Go there and sign up to the campaign.

(As an ageing curmudgeon and pedant I am happy to say that I love trade unionism and trade unionists but wouldn't necessarily want to "heart" them because that isn't a verb).

The "heart" symbolism is clearly intended to promote the fluffy, friendly face of trade unionism - and to win "hearts" and minds in the ongoing battle to force back this Government's unprecedented assault on our movement.

It makes sense for any working person (whether or not a union member) to care about the wellbeing of our movement. It's a plain historical truth that the unions gave us the weekend, since it was only the organised opposition of the workforce to an ever lengthening working day during the industrial revolution that forced employers to seek profit by innovating to increase productivity rather than simply intensifying exploitation.

More recent history shows us that the weakening of trade union power increases inequality, reduces the share of Gross Domestic Product going to wages and salaries and encourages reactionaries to attack social gains which were fought for over generations.

The stronger unions are the better for all working people.

Whether the sympathy which we may gain from the wider public will make any significant difference to the success of our current struggles is, of course, the question.

The best way to promote trade unionism may be to practice it vigorously, in order to demonstrate to unorganised workers the benefits to be gained from organisation.

The history of our movement is a history of struggle and the twenty first century poses us challenges no less than those we have faced in the past.

The "heart" our unions need is the heart to fight hard in the battles ahead.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Lambeth branch back online - to save Libraries is the web address for Lambeth UNISON, and I recommend readers of this blog bookmark the site to keep up to date with developments in the only borough to have a music hall song named for us.

This week the branch site will be keeping readers up to date with UNISON's campaign to save Lambeth's libraries, in connection with which, and in furtherance of a trade dispute, UNISON members in Lambeth libraries will be taking official strike action this coming Monday, 8 February.

As any other branch activist will understand, the disputes which lead to action and which we publicise online (and elsewhere) are the tip of the iceberg of union activity in the face of the Tory Government's onslaught on our public services.

UNISON in Greater London needs to raise our game if we are to be worthy of the members we organise and lead. The lay leadership of our lay led trade union needs to take seriously our responsibility to provide leadership to our members (and guidance and direction to our employees). Tomorrow's Annual General Meeting of our Regional Council will be an opportunity for us to rise to that challenge.

I may pop by here tomorrow to remark on how successful we have been.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

FE members back national pay strike

UNISON members working in further education (FE) colleges have voted decisively in favour of both strike action and action short of strike action in opposition to the employers' "offer" of 0%.

The Sector Committee meets tomorrow to decide what action to take on the basis of the mandate given them by their members (although a final decision will be for the Industrial Action Committee of the National Executive Council (NEC) - or its Chair.

UNISON members in FE‎ face the same barrage of attacks as our members in other sectors, at the same time as our organisation is caught between the malevolent legislative intent of a viciously hostile Government on the one hand, and the organising challenge of a continuously fragmenting public service workforce on the other.

These other challenges are, however, not at all arguments against a focus on national pay claims and national pay disputes. On the contrary, the opportunity to mobilise (and recruit and organise) members around a unifying demand for fair pay is also an opportunity to face up to all our other challenges.

A vigorous national pay campaign can strengthen our hand in each locality to respond effectively to cuts and mergers. A commitment to use our right to strike is the very best response to the Tories' threat to that right. A high profile example of the use of trade unionism to promote the collective interests of organised workers is the best possible advertisement for trade unionism to the unorganised millions.

The decision to call for strike action is never an easy one, but, the members having spoken, UNISON needs now to show our members in FE the support and leadership which can inspire the effective national action which is needed.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

The General Secretary election and the complaint to the Certification Officer

‎As your blogger was dragging myself back to work following a particularly nasty chest infection I received word as follows from an informed source (as they say);

There is a hearing before the Certification Officer on Tuesday 1st March to consider a complaint made by Keith Henderson alleging that the GMB misapplied laws governing the General Secretary election in the GMB that prevented him or any other ordinary member of the union standing in that election. An election where only 4.5% of the members voted and where the victor won with the backing of 2.4% of GMB members.

The specifics of the complaints to be heard are as follows;

1.    On or around 1 July 2015 GMB breached section 47(1) of the 1992 Act in that the Union's by-law 13 relating to the Election of General Secretary and Treasurer 2015 prevented Mr Henderson, and other lay members of the Union, from contacting branches to advise them of their intention to stand as a candidate in the election for the post of General Secretary and Treasurer.
2.    On or around 1 July 2015 GMB breached section 47(1) of the 1992 Act in that the nomination period of 8 weeks was insufficient for intended nominees to gain the required nominations from 30 branches and was insufficient for branches to arrange and hold meetings to decide upon whether to support a given individual's nomination.
3.    On or around 1 July 2015 GMB breached section 47(1) of the 1992 Act in that the Union's London Central X58 branch was not provided with the necessary papers/information for the election of General Secretary and Treasurer, including the nomination form, until 3 weeks into the nomination period which curtailed the 8 week nomination period thereby leaving insufficient time to write to branch members, arrange a suitable date for a nomination meeting, arrange a venue and give reasonable notice to members of such a meeting.
4.    On or around 1 July 2015 GMB breached section 47(1) of the 1992 Act in that the Union did not provide sufficient information that the election of General Secretary and Treasure was being held and, in particular, most members did not know of the 22 June to 17 August 2015 nomination period as no written notification to the membership was allowed and there was no notification on the Union's website.
5.    On or around 30 June 2015 GMB breached the Union's by-law 13 in that Regional Secretaries Tim Roache, Paul McCarthy and Paul Maloney and National Secretary Gary Smith contacted the Morning Star newspaper directly or indirectly which published an article stating that these Union officials were seeking nominations from GMB branches for the election of General Secretary and Treasurer. This article constituted the issuing, on behalf of candidates in the election, of a text, circular or other material (whether written, typed or printed and whether communicated electronically or otherwise), other than an election address according with by-laws 6 to 12 inclusive, and so was prohibited under by-law 13.

You can read more about the background to this story from the Labour Representation Committee online at‎.

As‎ an interested observer from outside the GMB (and one who, like any UNISON activist in local government, has a pressing interest in how the GMB fights for, and is guided by, its members) it does seem bizarre that, having set a minimum number of branch nominations for a candidate to stand as General Secretary, a trade union would not then facilitate communication between would-be candidates and branches.

This blog has never, and will never, pull punches when making justified criticism of my own trade union - but UNISON's election procedures ‎do not erect such an obstacle course in the way of those challenging for office.

It is a matter of regret whenever an activist takes a complaint about their trade union to a Government official - but it is a matter of greater regret that ‎a socialist such as Keith Henderson should be left with no other option for redress.

If we one day want to win the argument against the ever more onerous regulation of our movement by the state we will need to develop democratic means to resolve such disputes transparently in front of (and in a way that is genuinely accountable to) our members.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Don’t let them silence you – a message for UNISON activists't-let-them-silence-you-–-switch-direct-debit-today

This is a link to the organising response of our sister union, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to the proposals in the Trade Union Bill to prevent public sector employers from operating deduction of union contributions at source (directly from our pay) - a long standing arrangement known as "DOCAS" or "Check-off."

The FBU are preparing to switch members to pay their subscriptions by direct debit in anticipation that the Trade Union Bill will make it through the Lords with the relevant clauses still intact.

UNISON is playing a leading role in lobbying the Lords to try to limit the damage to our movement by this pernicious Bill - and has not given up hoping that we may be able to defeat the attack on DOCAS, for which no one has been calling (and which was only added to the Bill in late amendments).

However, we need to be ready for the eventuality that the prohibition on public sector "check off" reaches the statute book - and for a campaign such as that being waged by the FBU. UNISON, with 800,000 plus members paying their subscriptions via DOCAS is at the sharp end of this particular attack.

Direct Debit is a far less satisfactory way to pay union subscriptions (particularly for low paid workers whose pay goes out of the bank account as fast as it comes in). However, we already have well over a third of a million members paying UNISON subscriptions from their bank accounts rather than their wages (a number which would be set to increase regardless of the Trade Union Bill owing to the increasing fragmentation of the public service workforce).

UNISON activists have no choice but to prepare for an increasing number of members paying by direct debit - and a campaign along the lines of that being organised by the FBU seems unavoidable.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Lambeth Library staff vote to strike over library cuts

I'm pleased to be able to link to the new Lambeth UNISON website which carries the positive news of overwhelming support from UNISON members in Lambeth libraries for the leadership from their shop stewards.

Libraries are at the sharp end of austerity in many areas and the workforce will need to be prepared to fight to save their service (and jobs). Workers in Lambeth are not alone in preparing for action in defence of the library service and it will make sense if activists and branches can coordinate this action to maximise political pressure.

The challenge for the official structures of our trade unions beyond branch level is whether the unions can play a positive role in facilitating this coordination.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Apology to Dave Prentis

Apology from Jon Rogers to Dave Prentis

In December of last year, prior to the conclusion of the election for the post of General Secretary of Unison, I made various comments about Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison, who has now been re-elected for a further term, on social media and in other forums. 

I accept fully that Mr Prentis has "clean hands" in relation to the meeting of Unison staff in the Greater London Region which took place on 21 October 2015. I wish to make clear that I have no grounds to believe that Mr Prentis sanctioned or condoned any misuse of Unison staff resources at that meeting. 

Further, I also wish to make clear that Mr Prentis has done nothing, to my knowledge, that warrants his disqualification as a candidate or gives grounds for the election to be re-run.

By making this statement, I apologise unreservedly to Mr Prentis for the concern and distress I have caused him and for any negative impact my words may have had upon his or Unison’s reputation.

I am happy to confirm that I have provided Mr Prentis with undertakings which he has accepted that I shall make no statements which are at variance with this apology.

I recognise that Unison’s interests are best served by everyone giving their full support to the investigation currently being undertaken by Roger Mackenzie, Unison’s Assistant General Secretary into the circumstances surrounding the 21 October meeting. I recognise that there should be confidentiality around that investigation and, whilst it is ongoing, I have confirmed that I will refrain from commenting on the investigation or from circulating any material concerning these matters. No one should prejudge the outcome of the investigation.  Mr Mackenzie must be allowed to conclude the investigation without further speculation, interference or distraction.

I am also happy to confirm that I will abide by and respect the outcome of the investigation as required by Unison’s Rule Book as determined by the members at Conference.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Junior Doctors' Picket lines across England

Any UNISON member who can should show solidarity tomorrow with the junior doctors' strike action. (The link above gives details of all the picket lines which will be mounted tomorrow).

No worker makes the sacrifice of taking striking action lightly, but junior doctors have been left with no choice.

‎Their union - the British Medical Association (BMA) - has not yet reached a settlement with the Government and, under the Tories' own anti-union legislation, the BMA must call strike action now if they do not want to lose the mandate for action given them by the near unanimous vote for action by their junior doctor members.

This is not simply a dispute about the pay and conditions of an important group of public servants, it is also about the future of our National Health Service, which will not be able to recruit and retain staff in future if they are saddled with unworkable or dangerous contracts of employment.

Tomorrow's action will be an important expression of opposition from public service workers to a Government which has declared war on public servants.

The junior doctors deserve all our support.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Friday, January 08, 2016

2016 service group executive elections - a chance for UNISON to step forward?

Next Tuesday nominations open in the biennial elections for the directly elected seats on UNISON's Service Group Executives (SGEs), the bodies which direct our Union's activities in relation to the pay and conditions issues which are the main reason why workers join trade unions.

Several years ago our National Delegate Conference rejected plans to vary the responsibilities of our Service Groups so as to further devolve responsibility for bargaining to (smaller) "sectors" (a sensible step in my view as SGEs can - at least in principle - be held collectively to account by annual Service Group Conferences as Sector Committees cannot).

Therefore it is the members of each SGE who are, collectively, responsible for the bargaining on pay and conditions, and campaigning on workplace issues, which together comprise the work which is most important to trade union members.

As a member of the Local Government Service Group in the Greater London Region I have been fortunate to be represented by three excellent SGE reps, Helen Steel, Sue Plain and John McLoughlin, all of whom have been committed to seeing UNISON fight in the interests of our members.

I hope that activists in every Service Group in each Region will be considering how best to use these elections to sharpen UNISON's work to defend jobs, pay and conditions.

Our leading Committees cannot engender struggle where there is not both the will and the organisation to fight for a better deal, but they can be obstacles in such circumstances unless a clear majority of members are clear that their loyalty is to those who elect them and that their role is to encourage and support those members who are willing to fight.

If you are a UNISON member, make sure you engage with the SGE elections.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Fight the Pay Freeze in FE - Vote Yes for Action

UNISON members in Further Education (FE) colleges have the distinction of kicking off the fight for fair pay for public servants in 2016.

Members will be receiving ballot papers asking them to vote "YES" for both strike action and action short of strike action after national negotiators made a 0% pay "offer" and the majority of local colleges failed even to respond to a request to consider improving on this "offer" locally.

FE‎ has been hit very hard by the past five years of needless austerity (the Tories having no love for a service of such value to working class people). However, joint campaigning by the unions and the Association of Colleges did limit the further damage to the sector anticipated in the autumn statement.

Like every other group of public servants (albeit they are now categorised as part of the "private sector") FE workers face the dilemma of demanding fair pay from employers plausibly pleading poverty.

There is, however, no real contradiction between defending public services and demanding fair pay for those who deliver them. There is certainly no evidence that pay restraint saves jobs (just look at local government, where the pay freeze which has sliced 20% off our standard of living has been accompanied by a 20% cut in jobs!)

We need decent, well-resourced public servants provided by workers who are fairly remunerated - and we need to fight against the pay freeze and to defend our jobs and services at the same time.

‎UNISON members in FE should vote "YES" and "YES" - and activists in the many local government branches which include FE members, not all of whom enjoy the level of workplace organisation we would wish, need to step in to help in their local College (and to recruit members to raise our density in the sector).

With every prospect of a dispute over NJC pay for local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (and no one wanting to repeat the fiasco of 2014), the FE dispute - vitally important in its own right - could also be the precursor of larger fights to come.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.