Saturday, April 25, 2015

General Secretary fails to win fourth term...

Between work, life and the General Election I have neglected to comment on the outcome of the General Secretary Election in the Communications Workers Union, in which incumbent Billy Hayes was defeated by his Deputy, Dave Ward, and therefore failed in his attempt to win a fourth term.

I'm not a CWU member and would not claim any specific expertise with which to discern the political differences (if any) between the General Secretary and the General Secretary elect. I know that Billy Hayes has stood out as a thoughtful and committed activist in the upper echelons of our movement.

‎It is however - without doubt - a healthy sign that a major trade union can elect a new General Secretary and defeat an incumbent. The point of democracy (when it comes to the election of trade union officials) is to achieve accountability and this requires that incumbents should feel discomfort and uncertainty.

Of course, this situation could not possibly be repeated within UNISON for two reasons. First, the Deputy General Secretary could not stand against the General Secretary because the National Executive Council's (NEC) Staffing Committee has chosen not to fill the vacancy for Deputy General Secretary.

Secondly, as is well known, the current ‎UNISON leadership has done such an exemplary job of encouraging both democracy and succession planning that it is highly likely that there will be a tolerant approach to more than one paid official standing for General Secretary so that members face a good choice from a competent, confident and mutually supportive field of candidates (and it is unthinkable that transparent administrative manoeuvres would be used in an attempt to eliminate any potential candidates).

UNISON can therefore look forward to an exercise in democracy on the model of the CWU.

Or maybe not.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Workers need collective action - not Clegg's promises - and that means a Labour vote

I doubt any readers of this blog would be daft enough to believe that Nick Clegg's promise to end real term pay cuts in the public sector can be relied upon any more than his promise on tuition fees five years ago.

Generally, the only sensible voting option for public sector workers in England is to vote Labour. (I'd vote Labour anywhere else too - but I'm not commenting here on politics in the other nations of the United Kingdom).

Those who see voting primarily as a means of expressing their conscience and individuality (a bit like writing poetry) can indulge themselves if voting in a constituency where the result is not in doubt.

For those of us who see voting as a form of collective action to be carried out in the interests of our class, a Labour vote (particularly in marginal seats) is a clear socialist duty - even where having to vote for the tedious reactionaries associated with the "Progress" faction.

We will not see an end to the pay freeze because Nick Clegg may (perhaps) be deputy to whoever is Prime Minister next month - only trade union action can end the pay freeze.

If we succeed in changing the Government we will be fighting the Government we have just elected within months, if not weeks - as Ed Balls austerity-lite policies are contrary to the interests of our members.

If we do not succeed in changing the Government then they will take the fight to us immediately, restricting further our right to take collective action and preparing to undermine the income and viability of our trade unions.

‎We will have to fight against the policies of the next Government whoever forms it, but we will start from a far worse position if David Cameron is re-elected. 

It will be easier to defeat Ed Balls' pay freeze than it has been - or would be - to defeat the Tories'.

Workers must vote with our heads - and activists must do all we can to return a Labour Government.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Vote Labour - don't be on the side of those lower than vermin

This morning I had to take some recycling round to the communal recycling bin (which is part of my Green local authority’s utterly inadequate approach to environmental policies) and I found that someone had dropped some recycling straight through the letterbox.
These were some leaflets boasting implausibly about our Conservative Member of Parliament and encouraging readers to vote for him so that he might continue to support reactionary policies which have devastated our society.
Luckily I was able to add this material directly to the communal recycling bin.
I have no qualms about directing Tory propaganda directly to somewhere where it will be destroyed. Their poisonous encouragement to all that is worst in humanity should not be circulated or encouraged in any way. The Tories are the party of greed and selfishness and they only ever hold power by winning over many of those against whose interests they will always legislate.
If anyone ever needed to be reminded that the Tories are lower than vermin then surely the last five years is enough of a reminder?
If anyone ever needed to be reminded that the worst day under a Labour Government is better than the best day under a Tory Government then surely the last five years remind us of that also?
I am a libertarian socialist and a firm believer in freedom of speech and choice, but I draw a line at supporting the Tories or doing anything that would facilitate anyone else doing so.
This coming General Election is the most uncertain, and the most important, of my lifetime. Anyone who fails to cast their vote with the sole objective of preventing there from being a Tory Prime Minister in three weeks’ time is failing to take seriously the plight of workers in our country.
David Cameron in 10 Downing Street will legislate to prevent strikes and bankrupt trade unions. Votes cast by those whose conscience is so important to them that they cannot bear to support the Labour Party, and who vote for the Greens, or TUSC, or any other party in a marginal seat will be cast on the side of reaction.
The Tories are the enemies of working people and there are few tactics which are unacceptable in resisting them. Those who vote against Labour candidates in marginal seats are allies of the Tories and are also enemies of working people.
If – for example – the Green candidate in Brighton Kemp Town were a socialist (concerned with the class struggle and the interests of the working class) he would call for a vote for the socialist Labour candidate. (This is also the conclusion of the non partisan voteswap website).

Sunday, April 12, 2015

UNISON Greater London Regional Office breached UNISON Rules

‎As we face elections to UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) in which - in the London Region - candidates drawn from lay activism face candidates supported from the Regional Office - it is important to note that our Regional Officials were responsible for undemocratic conduct which forced the Union to concede that UNISON had acted wrongfully in litigation brought legitimately by one of our members.

After the unfortunate and misconceived disciplinary action which the Union brought against four activists following events at our 2007 National Delegate Conference (and which eventually led to a comprehensive legal defeat for our Union), officials in the Greater London Region eagerly took control of the Bromley and Greenwich local government branches.

This eager affront to trade union democracy, informed by a rotten political tradition still expressed by the remnants of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), was plainly driven by a continuing agenda to control union branches in our Region (on behalf of people whose only interest is in their control over our union not in the ability of our union to fight for our members).

Thanks to the diligence and determination of former Greenwich branch chair, Roger Barton, we now know that our officials acted shamefully in breach of the law and - more importantly - of UNISON's Rules. 

Those UNISON members who approve of paid officials undermining our democracy and breaching our Rules can safely disregard the fact that our Union conceded that the conduct of London Regional officials was unlawful, and will doubtless happily vote for my opponent and the other right-wing candidates in the NEC elections.

If, on the other hand, you are a UNISON member who wants a trade union which fights for, and is controlled by, its members then I would suggest that you vote for the "Reclaim the Union" candidates in the NEC elections.‎

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Statutory recognition, the fragmented workforce and UNISON's future

One of UNISON’s central priorities at the moment is to organise the increasingly fragmented public service workforce. This entails seeking to organise the employees of a diverse range of private companies, some contracting directly with public sector bodies, and some receiving public money to deliver services without such a direct contractual relationship.
This brings us up against the flawed statutory recognition process introduced in the Employment Relations Act 1999 (which provided some of the misplaced optimism behind John Monks’ “Millennium Challenge”).
Sian Moore, of the University of the West of England, analysing the limited and declining reach of statutory recognition over its first ten years concluded as follows;
“The central trend has been the decline in applications and this may result from the operation of the procedure which has been to discourage unions from making applications, but it also reflects the capacity of the unions to organise. The operation, but more importantly the design, of the procedure places few restrictions on employer advantage in the workplace, whilst an examination of union strategies suggests their limited capacity to generate new recognition claims. Both are a function of the wider landscape of work and employment relations and its political and legal context. This interaction suggests it is unlikely that CAC applications will increase substantially in the future.”
This downbeat assessment of the utility of statutory recognition procedures for union organising chimes with practical experience on the ground. However, for a UNISON activist there is another dimension worthy of comment.
From the inception of statutory recognition in 2000 until the end of 2013 there were 861applications to the Central Arbitration Committee from UK trade unions for statutory recognition by an employer. UNISON made just 19 of these applications. The list of more recent applications discloses no further UNISON applications. Since the coming into force of the relevant provision of the Employment Relations Act 1999, UNISON has been responsible for only about 2% of all statutory recognition requests.
The thorough analysis by Moore and her colleagues leads to the conclusion that statutory recognition procedures are of limited efficacy and are being used less and less, and also suggests that one of the positive features of the existence of the statutory recognition procedures may be their “shadow effect” of encouraging voluntary recognition (about which there is, however, little data). Voluntary recognition is always going to be a better option to establish an ongoing relationship with an employer (which is essential for meaningful collective bargaining) and so the fact that we are now prioritising private sector organising shouldn’t necessarily be expected to lead to a sudden rash of statutory recognition applications.
But if we don’t rise above 2% of all applications being made by UNISON then it will be difficult to take seriously our protestations about priorities.

The inherent caution of UNISON officialdom, in which the consent of various parties is needed for anything to be done, whilst the objection of only one can lead to inaction, breeds a culture which is not so much risk-averse as risk-paranoid. This will need to change if we are to rise to the challenge of organising the fragmented workforce.

Friday, April 10, 2015

After 50 years - what sort of trade unions do London Borough workers need?,3AOQK,HX1I9V,BSRGV,1

It is fifty years since the London Boroughs which we now have were created - they've lasted more than twice as long as the Greater London ‎Council which was created alongside them.

That still means that, in London local government, our employers are less than half as old as our union branches (allowing for the creation of UNISON in 1993 and subsequent merger of branches in 1997).

Because we're older than they are we rightly expect to be treated with respect by our employers - and indeed it is often the case that union activists have more experience of their employer than the managers with whom we negotiate.

Next week UNISON's Greater London Regional Local Government Committee will hold its Annual General Meeting, and Sue Plain from Southwark and Sean Fox from Haringey will be re-elected as Chair and Vice-Chair.

Sue and Sean exemplify the sort of independently-minded lay activists who have been the lifeblood of local government trade unionism for more than a generation (since the socialists chased out the freemasons in most authorities).

The local government workforce is the most multi-skilled in the economy and it deserves vibrant, lay-led trade union branches. Following the trouncing of the right-wing lackeys of the paid officials at last month's Special Conference, we who believe in trade union democracy need to renew our efforts to assert the trade unionism our members deserve.

Those of us who will be at the Regional Local Government AGM will have much to do there to oppose those whose mission is to do as they are told by those whose salaries are paid from their union subscriptions - everyone else can vote for the Reclaim the Union candidates in the elections for UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) - ‎ 

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Trade unions and the failure of the "Millennium Challenge"

Sixteen years ago, in anticipation of the introduction of statutory union recognition by the then New Labour Government, then TUC General Secretary, John Monks,‎ set the movement his "millennium challenge" to increase membership by a million in five years.

‎In fact, figures from the Certification Officer suggest that there was a loss of half a million members over those five years and, although membership has fluctuated somewhat since it has continued to decline.

We have failed, and continue to fail, the "millennium challenge." There are a number of reasons for this failure - and some are to do with flaws in John Monks' original thesis. He seemed to believe, for example, that there were opportunities for membership growth through "partnership agreements" with employers (a proposition for which there is a dearth of empirical evidence).

As for statutory recognition, I don't know whether this has had little impact or has helped to avert what would otherwise have been even swifter decline - and that is a matter for another blog post.‎ I was reminded this week of the "millennium challenge" because of another part of Monks' appeal to our movement - to rationalise our structure through mergers having some industrial logic.

‎The current structure of the UK trade union movement has arisen from the application of successive waves of mergers to a structure originally consisting of craft, general and industrial unions. Occasionally mergers (such as the creation of UNISON) have brought together workers in particular sectors in a way which at least looks like it might strengthen our bargaining position - but as often mergers (and "transfers of engagements") driven by membership decline have led to the growth of vast general unions (the GPMU was briefly an industrial union for the printing industry before disappearing into AMICUS, now UNITE).

Of course, some of the evolving structure of the union movement reflects the changing structure of the economy - there probably is no longer a "print industry" to sustain an industrial union. Similarly, the once mighty Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, now lives on as part of the small "Community" union (while the National Union of Mineworkers is now smaller than some UNISON branches).

However, even where "industries" still exist as sectors where different unions could be brought together, this outcome has been persistently out of reach. Merger talks between the RMT and TSSA proved fruitless, leaving transport - like teaching - with three unions where it appears that one might do.

Teacher trade unionists - whom John Monks made an explicit target of his "challenge" all those years a go - have at least kept up a dialogue about "professional unity"‎ - and the latest hint of the possibility of a material outcome from this dialogue has come in the form of close working between the NUT and ATL.

Unfortunately - because the ATL compete with UNISON (and the GMB) to recruit and organise teaching assistants, the possibility that ATL and the NUT might take steps towards the unity of teachers is being seen as a potential threat by national officials of UNISON.

Each individual trade union seems so wrapped up in its own survival (with representation of members' interests seemingly a means to the end of recruitment, retention and financial stability) that even the attenuated imagination of a John Monks is beyond our current leadership.

No one could accuse the trade union movement of being a meritocracy, but we clearly need a change of direction at the top.‎ I think a vote for the "reclaim the union" candidates in the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) elections is worth a try (see the elections page of this blog or

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Charlotte Monro reinstated - a victory for UNISON

Delegates who will soon gather in Liverpool for UNISON Health Conference ‎will be able to celebrate an important victory for UNISON in the health service; the reinstatement of victimised whistleblower, Charlotte Monro.

UNISON fully supported legal action which contributed to Charlotte's reinstatement, in a great victory for workers' rights, public services and our NHS.

This case shows that we cannot simply rely upon "partnership" with employers to defend our members - and that we need to work with vigorous and diverse community campaigns (such as the campaign which saved Lewisham hospital).

Our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, reported this important victory to our National Executive Council (NEC) yesterday and confirmed that UNISON would be publicising this excellent result.

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UNISON and the future of civil service trade unionism (not)

I’ll blog a full report of this week’s NEC meeting when I have a little more time (in the mean time Tony Wilson has a useful summary of the meeting online here).

In the mean time I just want to mention an aside from the report of our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, who commented that a merger between our sister trade unions, PCS and UNITE was once more on the cards and that this could change the face of public service trade unionism.

Last year’s PCS Conference knocked back a drive for a “transfer of engagements” to UNITE, but agreed to continuing talks. The politically motivated assault upon the civil service trade unions, through the Tory withdrawal of arrangements for civil servants to pay their union subscriptions from their salaries, is clearly one factor which may impel further progress in this direction.

Any prospect of the coming together of the largest private sector and largest civil service trade unions is clearly viewed with hostility on the political right – with Tory politicians worrying about the possibility of the largest civil service union being affiliated to the Labour Party. Ironically, some Labour supporters are fearful for the opposite reason, believing that a merged UNITE/PCS “mega-union” would likely disaffiliate.

PCS have considered supporting non-Labour candidates in the past, and the influential Socialist Party elements within UNITE’s dominant United Left have rebutted attempts by leading UNITE United Left activists to assert the importance of a Labour vote next month. Given occasional comments by UNITE’s General Secretary it is easy to see why some think that any new union might not be within the Labour Party.

While political commentators obsess about the tiny fraction of trade union resources which go on party political campaigning, the really interesting question for UNISON activists to ask is, why (if looking for a potential partner) is PCS not in such discussions with our own trade union.
Whilst UNITE is a diverse general union, with its membership scattered across numerous sectors and more numerous in the private than the public sector, UNISON (although increasingly having features of a general union) remains – at least in intention – an industrial union in our largest sectors (health and local government) (and for support staff in education). 

There can be no doubt that at least some of those who supported the bringing together of NALGO, NUPE and COHSE in the member ballots which took place twenty three years ago, aspired to continue to build unity by brining on board other unions. So far the only takers have been the British Association of Occupational Therapists.
A civil service Service Group within UNISON, with the same autonomy as other Service Groups, its own Executive and Annual Conference would sit much more comfortably than would the addition of the current PCS membership to UNITE’s current small civil service presence.
From the point of view of any industrial logic, a PCS-UNISON merger would be a far better deal for members of both trade unions than any relationship with UNITE (we even have some spare room on the Euston Road…)

Five and a half years ago, UNISON and PCS signed an agreement at the TUC for closer working, which optimists in both unions hoped might presage an even closer union. Why did it all come to nothing?

I think that there are a number of reasons, and that not all fault lies in any one place. However, the long running attack by UNISON on four activists who happened to be members of the Socialist Party (and which eventually led to complete defeat for UNISON) was hardly helpful.
Critically, UNISON’s role in leading the withdrawal from industrial action over public service pensions in December 2011, which left PCS and some other unions isolated, drove a wedge between the two organisations, which have moved further apart with time.

A progressive and imaginative approach from UNISON’s leadership since the signing of the memorandum with PCS at the 2009 TUC could have seen the emergence of a new public service trade union to take forward the work of UNISON for another twenty years – instead we are now in a position in which UNISON and PCS are squabbling about recognition and representation and lay and full-time officials are nursing hurt feelings on all sides whilst a reactionary Government rides roughshod over our members. 

The political choices made by UNISON’s leadership, and supported by the majority of UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC) seem to have ruled out the logical future for public service trade unionism. Only an NEC with a majority of members from the Reclaim the Union slate could possibly retrieve this situation.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

UNISON General Secretary election -It'll be alright on the night?

‎I can authoritatively report that the question of how and when we shall organise an election for UNISON's General Secretary shall be a matter for the 2015/17 National Executive Council (NEC) of UNISON, having been told as much by the most senior person in our trade union.

This means that it will be July before we discuss a timetable to elect a General Secretary who will take office the following January (remembering that it is certain that there will be a legal challenge to any attempt to wriggle out of an election).

In making these observations I am saying nothing about which candidates may run in such an election, nor which I might support, nor how decisions about whom to support might be made. This blog has a position of armed neutrality in relation to the General Secretary election (and on each occasion when I participate in a discussion about this matter that position firms up).

I do, however, observe (as I shall endeavour to do at tomorrow's NEC meeting) that it is absurd that the obsequious stance taken by our lay leadership to the blatant failure of succession planning by our full-time leadership has left us (as NEC members) in the position in which we shall have precisely nothing to say to delegates at National Delegate Conference 2015 about who will have been elected as their General Secretary before National Delegate Conference 2016.

For the avoidance of doubt, this blog post reveals nothing of the discussion which took place at this evening's meeting of the NEC Left Caucus on this topic.‎ ‎Nor does it say anything about the even more frantic (and less productive) discussions going on in the Great White Elephant of the Euston Road...

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