Wednesday, July 23, 2014

All out on 30 September!

It's good that we have a date for further strike action in the fight for fair pay for local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - Tuesday 30 September (that's #S30 for those twittering about I imagine).

It won't be easy to persuade members to take further strike action. There is not a tidal wave of such anger that rank and file workers are only being held back by timidity or perfidy within our movement.  (That's almost never true).

It is, however, necessary that we persuade our members to take further action if we are to stand a chance of a decent settlement. ‎In order to win this (unavoidably) difficult argument, we need to make a convincing case that the sacrifices which we will ask our members to make will be worthwhile.

That means that we need to demonstrate that we have a coherent, thought out strategy to maximise political pressure on‎ the relevant decision makers to stand a realistic chance of securing a significantly improved pay offer.

I think that those who argued, at yesterday's meeting of the UNISON National Joint Council (NJC) Committee ‎for the previous decision that we should take two consecutive days of strike action can make a plausible claim to having advanced such a strategy. They were, however, in a minority and a decision has been taken for a strike on 30 September and the possibility of further action in October.

We never get to make history in circumstances of our own choosing - and these are certainly not those. What we do get to do, if we are UNISON activists, is follow our leadership when it shows us the sort of leadership the lack of which we so often criticise - even if we have tactical differences.

And for those who are not in UNISON, many of whom have spent some time in recent years criticising the unwillingness of UNISON's leadership to lead the fights that they would like to have seen, here is your test. Can you (in UNITE) set aside illusions in selective action to join us on 30 September and thereafter? Can you (in the NUT) call for the further (united) action on 30 September which will have the impact you have been looking for? Will you (in all unions, including the GMB) join us or will you stand aside?

And - perhaps most importantly of all - will members of UNISON's Health Group Executive accept that a strike ballot which closes on 18 September can support action on 30 September? And will you call for the united action between health and local government which shows what UNISON might be and might achieve?

‎Should answers to any of these questions begin to emerge I shall be sure to blog further!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Health and local government - strike together over pay!

In a development which will be welcomed by all those who want to see fair pay for all public service workers (and an increase in living standards for workers more generally), UNISON today announces a ballot for industrial action‎.

The strike ballot will run from 28 August to 18 September, meaning that the earliest date for strike action would be the last week in September. I hope that friends and comrades at today's meeting of UNISON's National Joint Council (NJC) Committee, considering the timing of further action over local government pay, will take note of this development.

We are strongest when we strike together!
Two minor supplementary points. Our members in Scotland are part of neither dispute, their pay negotiations already having been devolved (whatever the outcome of another vote coming up soon). Also, there is a contradiction between striking for higher pay and supporting Ed Balls' "austerity-lite" economic policy for an incoming Labour Government.

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Unions back austerity?

A hat tip to Comrade Berry on Facebook for drawing to my attention the report above, from Jon Lansman of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (and from many other places, including, on this occasion, a van in the car park outside Labour's National Policy Forum).

‎Jon reports on the overwhelming support for the foolish decision to endorse Ed Ball's hare-brained scheme to continue Tory austerity policies in the first year of a Labour Government. This policy of "austerity-lite", intended to burnish Labour's reputation for economic competence subordinates fiscal policy to unreliable electoral calculation.

‎As a local government worker in a borough facing the loss of fully half it's central government funding between 2010 and 2017, this decision suggests no hope of respite even if Ed Miliband is in Number 10 a year from now with a solid majority in the Commons. As soon as we finish the TUC demonstration this October we had best start planning one for the autumn of 2015, since Chancellor Balls will be promising us more of the same.

All of this will be music to the ears of those involved in the various vanity publishing outfits with electoral ambitions, who will repeat their calls to the trade unions to break our links with Labour and back other candidates. However, these comrades will be missing the target quite spectacularly.

The problem is not that the trade unions will back Labour in spite of an economic policy which is contrary to the interests of our members (and to the health of the economy - but that's a different blog post for another time). That may be A problem - but it isn't THE problem.

The problem is that trade union delegates at the National Policy Forum voted to support Ed Balls and against the policies of their own unions and of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The question we need to be asking is not "why do we support Labour?"

The question we need to be asking is "why do we fail to support our own policies when we are involved in Labour's policy-making machinery?"

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Taking the movement to the workers

I've helped set up at the first day of the Lambeth Country Show (#LCS40 for those of you twittering) and will be back tomorrow.

As one of the largest community events in London, the Country Show absolutely needs a trade union presence - and it is a tribute to the work of our Trades Council that we have a "Union Village" marquee which brings together local union branches and progressive campaigning organisations.

A generation ago - when half of all workers were in trade unions and the great majority worked in unionised sectors where their pay and conditions were set by collective bargaining - we could rely upon our workplace profile to know that workers knew where we were and what we were.

Now - although the retreat of trade union presence at the "point of production" may frequently be overstated - it is nevertheless the case that the fragmentation of the workforce and decline of collective bargaining together mean that we cannot rely upon workers coming to the movement.

We have to take the movement to the workers.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Labour NEC elections - vote for the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance

Like all other individual members of the Labour Party I have an opportunity to vote in elections for Labour’s National Executive – and will be following the recommendation of the Labour Representation Committee to vote for the candidates of the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance.

Alongside the pressure we need to put within our trade unions for our unions to stand up for our progressive policies, we need to find allies in the Constituency Labour Parties committed to a radical reforming Labour Government.

Vote for:
Ann Black
Ken Livingstone
Kate Osamor
Christine Shawcroft
Darren Williams
Pete Willsman

A flyer for distribution at Labour Party meetings, or to Labour Party members, is online here.

Members can vote online at - votes must be cast by 5pm on Monday 18th August.   

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It is up to the trade unions whether Labour's manifesto is worth voting for

A hat tip is due to a Mr Berry on Facebook for alerting your blogger to the excellent article above by Labour Left stalwart Jon Lansman.

‎I won't repeat here the detail, but will take the liberty of trying to summarise the points made in a couple of sentences.

Every reactionary move and disappointment in the Labour Party since Blair ditched Clause IV (and before) has rested upon the tacit (or not so tacit) support for the Party leadership from union heirarchies.

If the trade union leaderships want progressive outcomes from Labour's National Policy Forum they have the power to achieve them (whether - and here I am elaborating a little - by putting together a majority at the NPF or by creating a large enough minority that the matter has to be voted on at Conference.)

‎Everyone who absents themselves from the Labour Party, or engages in this or that project of leftist vanity publishing with electoral ambitions, renders themselves irrelevant to the fight in hand - but those of us who can see what needs to be done ought not to waste time and energy on pointless arguments with those determined upon the purity of such irrelevance at the next General Election.

Our real adversaries are twofold.

First, there are those in the ranks of the Labour Party who remain committed to the ultra-Blairite project of breaking the link with the trade unions.

Secondly, our most important adversaries are those within our own trade unions who will fall (often willingly) for the tired and unconvincing argument that we must not "rock the boat" or "defeat the Leader" in the year before a General Election.

Jon Lansman rightly castigates those who mistakenly think that the problem is a reactionary Labour Party dragging trade unions to the right. A similar error is made by those who fail to understand that there are not separate bureaucracies of the Party and trade unions, but a single, interchangeable caste of careerists, some of whom hold positions in both "wings" of our movement.

Our problem is with that layer - and with all those who won't push for the bold, radical policies which would make Labour popular in 2015 (and which could be pretty much extracted from the policy decisions of recent annual meetings of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).‎)
The trade union leaders have the power to push Ed Miliband into adopting the forthright policies that can deliver a Labour majority next year. If he does not adopt those policies it will only be because our trade unions will have refused to use our muscle.

The General Secretaries of the big unions have a once in a lifetime opportunity to leave a positive legacy. 

Watch this space.

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Stand with workers at the Ritzy: demand the living wage

The inspiring struggle of the workers at our local cinema, the Ritzy in Brixton, who have been striking for months in their campaign for the Living Wage, is stepped up a notch today as they and their supporters are marching through Central London to take their message to cinema goers‎ across the city.

Those of us fortunate enough to be attending the Greater London Employers Forum this afternoon, and therefore unable to attend the demonstration, can support the campaign online at the link above - and can join the boycott of the Ritzy and all other cinemas in the Picture‎house chain.

Lambeth UNISON is proud to support our friends at the Ritzy.‎ Solidarity with the BECTU members at the Ritzy is an excellent way in which public sector workers can break down the false divide between private and public sector workers - as the Ritzy strikers themselves did by taking strike action alongside us on 10 July.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Labour prepares for power or does it?

Post from Andrew Berry, UNISON National Labour Link Committee in a personal capacity.

This weekend is one of the most important events on Labours calendar the National Policy Forum (NPF). With most of the democracy torn out of the party conference it will be the policy forum that will set the agenda and manifesto for the election in less then 10 months. The policy forum consists of  constituency elected delegates trade union delegates amongst others

Whilst we had a good a useful discussion on policy at the UNISON  Labour Link Forum the other week we will have delegates at the NPF who must remember Labour Link Policy is subservient to policy passed at our National Delegates Conference. While some Labour policies are welcome and  they must be firmed up including the repeal of the Health and Social Care bill and Lobbying bill and Scrapping of the bedroom tax. UNISON delegates however must this weekend fight tooth and nail, for anti austerity agenda, commitments to Tory spending limits are simply not acceptable to our members facing more cuts higher workloads and lower wages. We need commitments to end the pay freeze, Labour has clearly made the running that there is a cost of living crisis therefore Labour must end the public sector real terms pay cuts otherwise it's just talk.

Further we need commitments to fund public services including Local Government and the NHS to renationalise rail, mail and energy, amongst others, Labour has marginal shifted to the left from Blairism in now accepting that capitalism can not have free reign however as Tony Benn said " we are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and define it finer values". Labour should commit to ending policies it started including the attacks disability benefit and the reassessments never mind just sack ATOS. Reverse tuition fees and end academies school bring all state schools back into the local authority control. Labour must take on UKIP and positivity support immigration.

Getting few crumbs from our policies is not only not enough for our members but will make Labour look timid and therefore less likely to win the election. 2015 needs to see Labour not just in power but to using that Power. The Trades Unions can and must make sure the manifesto is positive one that our members can get behind.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Schedule C.7 of the UNISON Rule Book

‎As I was leaving the office this evening after a meeting of the Pension Fund Investment Panel literally no one asked my views on the provisions of Schedule C.7 of the UNISON Rule Book.

Regulars outside the Lambeth branch office (Sid and Doris Skunk-weed) will be able to confirm that, of all the things one can be offered on our corner of Acre Lane,‎ an opportunity to offer an opinion on Schedule C of the UNISON Rule Book is very rarely one of them.

Therefore I shall share my views here.

Schedule C governs elections within UNISON, including those we are required to hold by law (for General Secretary and the National Executive Council (NEC)) and some which we are not (Service Group Executives).

Schedule C.7 gives the NEC‎ the power to determine, among other things, the method of voting in our internal elections ("whether to be by simple majority, by single transferable vote, by multi-transferable vote, or by some other system").

In my eleven years on our NEC we have yet to have a serious discussion about whether we should use any system other than simple majority in any of the elections which we have held. We continue to use the system we have used, without debating this.

One consequence of the use of the "simple majority" method (in which ballot papers are marked with a cross or tick and whoever gets the most votes wins, regardless of whether they have a majority of the votes cast) is that it imposes some discipline upon those of like minds to stand only one candidate so as not to "spilt the vote."

This may be an approach welcomed by those who value the approach to democracy developed in the former Soviet Union (and not only because they can rest assured that critics to their left will never manage such discipline and restraint). 

However, it may be unhealthy for the culture of our trade union that employees (and some lay activists perhaps) are "whipped" into line to support an "official" candidate (not, of course that that ever happens).

It may be that it would be healthier for UNISON if some preferential system of voting allowed members to express their opinions in greater depth, and meant that a wider range of candidates could take the risk of offering themselves to our members without fear that their supporters, by backing their chosen candidate, might contribute to the victory of a candidate they would oppose over another candidate whom they would have preferred.

Or it may not.

There are arguments on both sides.

I would simply like to hear those arguments before we embark upon another General Secretary election.

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