Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cynicism as ideology? A lecture to the workers from their employees...

http://www.cpbml.org.uk/news/local-government-pay-disarray

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Marxist-Leninist) will know that your blogger has - over the years - paid unreasonable attention to the meanderings of a bizarre xenophobic sect on the fringes of Marxism and of the British labour movement.

The Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) is not (at least not deliberately) a joke. It is a tiny faction now consisting almost exclusively of those with full-time jobs working for trade unions (who therefore write anonymously as they issue their sage advice to the working class).

The link above presents the "analysis" of this funny little group in respect of local government pay - and it amounts to saying that we need to re-think what we are doing.

Wow.

Thanks.

What a good job there are "Leninists" out there to share their wisdom with the working class.

We mere workers would never have worked that out for ourselves without the collective wisdom of those who, merely by existing, crystallise the memory and consciousness of our class.

We can't get to that advanced level of understanding by ourselves.

I blog here when I have something (however little and however wrong-headed) to say. I don't pretend to be the political leadership of the working class. I'm just a trouble-maker (as, surely, are all good shop stewards).

I know that if I have nothing useful to say about a subject then the most useful thing I can say is nothing.

The CPB(M-L) (bless their amusing pretensions) appear not to know this. Perhaps, comrades, you should reflect upon whether your limited comprehension of the nature and role of the trade union bureaucracy stands in the way of your understanding what is happening to our class?

But then you would have to change the name of your magazine...

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Friday, April 29, 2016

UNISON and the Trade Union Bill - further concessions

https://www.unison.org.uk/news/press-release/2016/04/unison-welcomes-governments-change-of-heart-on-trade-union-bill-proposals/
 ‎
Following on from the Government climbing down from its plan to ban deduction of union subscriptions from salaries in the public sector, the further concessions announced this week are also to be welcomed.

The lobbying in the House of Lords, coordinated and led by UNISON, has borne more fruit than many (your blogger included) expected. Putting off the full scale onslaught on trade union facility time is a significant victory, whilst the delay in changes to the law on political funds (which shall not in any case apply to existing contributors) averts bankruptcy for the ‎Labour Party.

Those responsible for these - and other - concessions are to be congratulated. Although one might think that the Government will have proposed, initially, various measures they were prepared to sacrifice - there is no guarantee that such measures would have been sacrificed had opposition not been mobilised.

In any event, the attacks on facility time, political funds and union subscriptions have been part of the core agenda of the Tory right for years. Only the combination of mass mobilisation and "behind the scenes" lobbying has seen them off.

For now.

Because our enemies have retreated this does not mean that they have gone away. We need to be prepared to defend against future attacks - and much of the work which has been done to improve our ability to collect subscriptions by direct debit (for example) remains valuable as the public service workforce continues to fragment.

‎And - of course - the essence of the Bill, which is to restrict the right to strike - remains intact. About which there is much more to be said.

Later.

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Capitulation to pay cut signals end of national pay bargaining in local government?

http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2016/04/unison-moves-accept-council-pay-deal

It would not have been wise to have blogged immediately about the abysmal outcome of Wednesday's meeting of UNISON's National Joint Council (NJC) Committee.

Even your blogger can learn not to rush over hastily online when exceptionally angry. This can lead to one having to apologise (in which regard I should note that I make no criticism of our General Secretary in this blog post, although one of his prominent supporters certainly comes out of the reports of the meeting less well).

The NJC Committee is bound by the policy of our Service Group Conference to consult branches (who, in turn, are encouraged to consult widely with members) on any pay offer. This year they did that and the members rejected the offer (of 1% a year for the next two years to the majority with larger increases for the lowest paid in order to keep the bottom of the pay spine above the rising minimum wage).

However, the Committee was divided as to what to do about this - particularly after the GMB membership voted to accept the offer. Regions such as the North West and London understood that we should move to a strike ballot following rejection of a pay offer - but other Regions were less certain (the Welsh choosing this of all times to resurrect their demand to break away from pay bargaining alongside their English and Northern Irish colleagues).

The patchiness of support for action across the country (which is both a cause for and a symptom of the unwillingness/inability of some Regions to mobilise and motivate the membership) was reflected in the predictably confusing outcome of "multiple choice" consultation with the membership on different forms of industrial action.

When the Industrial Action Committee considered the request of the NJC Committee for a ballot for serious and sustained strike action‎ it therefore referred the request back to the NJC Committee to consult Regions and branches afresh on a clear choice between accepting a real terms pay cut for the majority of our members on the one hand - and balloting for serious and sustained strike action on the other.

At Wednesday's NJC Committee the Chair permitted a member from the East Midlands Region to raise a proposal, of which prior notice had not been given, and which was plainly outside the policy of the Service Group Conference, that the pay cut be accepted without further consultation.

The presumed justification for this proposal was the "new information" of self-fulfilling prophecies from several Regions that there was no appetite for action amongst the membership. On this basis (and in a vote which your blogger understands the Chair refused formally to record)‎ the Committee voted by 13 votes to 10 that UNISON should accept responsibility for a continuing failure to improve the living standards of local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland until at least 1 April 2018.

Activists need to ensure that those responsible for thus bringing our union into disrepute are held to account by means of Emergency Motions to Local Government Conference - but we also need to face the consequences of this catastrophe.

Since one element of the Trade Union Bill we have yet to defeat concerns the strike ballot thresholds, we would have a massive hurdle to leap to take national strike action in 2018 - but it is unlikely that national pay bargaining will still be particularly relevant by then.

It is ironic that some of the Regions who most depend upon national pay bargaining for their pay, conditions (and in some cases recognition) are those who have repeatedly refused to show leadership to defend national bargaining.

Local government workers in London now need to begin to address the need for a London Pay claim, which is quite possible within the context of the existing Gold Book arrangements‎.

We have waited long enough for the rest of the country.

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

UNISON and SERTUC - time to re-think

News reaches your humble blogger (from an Annual General Meeting) that one of the three unsuccessful candidates from amongst the 19 candidates contesting 16 seats on the Executive of the Southern and Eastern Region of the Trades Union Congress (SERTUC) was one of the UNISON nominees. It is astonishing that UNISON should not be able to secure the election of one of our candidates to a Regional TUC. We are the largest trade union in the Region.

This outcome shames UNISON and demonstrates the folly of our decision ‎to nominate a candidate who plainly could not command the respect of other trade unionists. Our nominated candidate (not having been elected to the Executive) is ineligible to stand for any other position to which we might have nominated them.

I draw two conclusions from this defeat for UNISON. First, we should not conclude that all trade unionists are as tolerant of utter disrespect for lay trade union activists as are those in UNISON who are desperately trying to deny that we face a crisis. Secondly, UNISON activists in the Eastern, South East and London Regions need to get together and work out how we ensure that our future representatives in SERTUC are drawn exclusively from elected lay UNISON members, accountable to UNISON members in a way that paid officials cannot be.

UNISON could be the greatest of trade unions. Our members have a breadth of experience without parallel in our movement. Within our ranks we have members who know more about the law than any lawyer our movement can employ, we have members who have a greater understanding of how to run elections than anyone accredited to act as an "independent scrutineer" - and we have people with a range of skills wider than any other organisation in civil society.

And yet we seek to subordinate these members to a small fraction of those whom we employ (with our members' union subscriptions). 

There are many employees of our trade union who do not seek to usurp control from the lay members to whom it belongs as they devote their professional expertise to the service of those members - I am proud and happy to be a member of the Executive which employs these good people. 

Then there are others who perceive some activists as "hostile" and who would prefer the support of "sympathetic employers".  I regret very much that our trade union pays the wages of those people. I think they would do best now to plan their retirement and I know that they shall never know peace or comfort in their roles in UNISON now that their treachery to our class is so well advertised.

I should add that I make no allegation against our General Secretary.

The worst critic of our current union leadership would not accuse UNISON (and certainly not in the Greater London Region) of being a meritocracy.

The result of the elections to the SERTUC Executive today demonstrates clearly the folly of permitting our trade union to be run by reactionary authoritarians who lack the capacity and capability to provide our class with the leadership we need and deserve.

Or, as your blogger believes, it will always be a mistake to cede leadership of our workers' movement to those who are not workers. (And at least if we are going to we should cede that leadership to people who have the intellect and charisma to accept it).

SERTUC took the right decision today.

UNISON members need to learn how to treat paid officials who show contempt for lay activists - and that goes way beyond one sad sorry arrogant individual.

Our trade union belongs to our members.

Not our employees.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

The future of UNISON?

What would people who care about the future of UNISON be doing in the run up to our National Delegate Conference?

I suppose that part of the answer to that question depends upon identifying the people to whom it is (implicitly?) addressed.

Those who care about the future of UNISON are not those who confuse loyalty to leadership with loyalty to our Union.

The difference between a good (or - which is another word for the same thing - left-wing) union official and a bad (or right-wing) one is that, when confronted with a vociferous critic, the right-winger thinks \'how can I silence this trouble-maker\' and the left-winger thinks \'how can I encourage ‎this trouble-maker\'.

The very worst of the right-wing are those who wonder how they may gain the assistance of \'sympathetic employers.\'

But what should good (left-wing) people be doing now in UNISON, in anticipation of our National Delegate Conference?

We should be organising.

I hope very much that plans are in hand for a meeting on the Tuesday evening of Conference, and I hope that those making such plans have the good sense not to have involved, at the outset, a troublesome blogger with a knack for oppositionism.

Mind you.

I also hope that those making these plans have the sense to ensure that activists involved in parties with the word \'socialist\' in their title are neither central to, nor excluded from, such a meeting. There is a tightrope to be walked between the failures of the last two decades (in which we have organised \'the left\' from too far to the left) and earlier failures (in which a \'secret left\' was so secret it failed to announce itself to the left).

It is also essential not to take sides in the never-ending squabble between the SP and SWP. I have made the mistake (in the past) of taking each side (and have also made the mistake of being sectarian in hostility to each party). I hope not to be the only person who can learn from my mistakes.

We cannot organise around the idea of agreeing now a single candidate in a re-run General Secretary election when such a re-run is so unlikely. (Anyone who read the papers for the recent Industrial Action Committee meeting will appreciate the difficulties with such an approach).

We cannot, at this moment, unite around an individual. Nor would we be wise, now, to seek to unite around a \'programme\' or \'platform\' of policies or demands - these are precisely the ways in which we may divide ourselves.

What we do need is some organisation.

We need to ensure that there is a constructive, democratic challenge for each seat on our National Executive Council (and on many other elected bodies in our trade union) - and we need to make sure we make the best such challenge available in each case.

We also need to network in support of those trying to use the structures of our trade union to fight in the interests of our members - to maximise UNISON\'s effectiveness in the here and now as we try to improve it for the future.

So, as I say, I hope that those to whom circumstances have given this responsibility are taking that responsibility seriously.

And I wish you luck.‎



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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

An excellent result for UNISON - credit where it's due

https://www.unison.org.uk/news/press-release/2016/04/unison-welcomes-government-change-of-heart-over-check-off/

Although (of course) I ‎am not in the front rank of those who will praise UNISON's leadership (albeit I am consistently clear that our General Secretary has done no wrong - and that I am sorry for any suggestion to the contrary which may ever have been attributed to me), I am very clear that the news that this Tory Government is abandoning its attack upon the way public sector unions collect our subscriptions is a tremendous victory for UNISON.

The unprecedented lobbying of members of the House of Lords by UNISON has clearly created circumstances in which a Government with a tiny Commons majority has caved in. Trade unionists in the public sector will now continue to have the choice to pay their subs from their salary just as our private sector colleagues can.

This is a good result. We still need to improve our administration of subscription income from our growing private sector membership‎ - but we do not (yet) need to transfer the bulk of our membership away from the most efficient and economic means of collecting substriptions.

We now need to work out how to respond to the unreasonable restrictions on strike ballots with which the Lords have not interfered.

We have won a battle which (I will concede) I did not expect we would win. I salute those who won this battle.

It is excellent that we have protected the income of our trade union, upon which it depends. Now though we must defend the rights of our members to take action in their interests.

The interests of the members of the trade union are infinitely more important than the interests of the trade union.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Local Government Pay - the story continues

Following a full and frank exchange of views between members of the Industrial Action Committee (IAC) of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) yesterday afternoon, the Committee was then pleased to agree unanimously a proposal from the Chair.

The debate had been, at times, heated as members of the Committee grappled with the complex position in which we find ourselves in relation to local government pay. Whilst our members had rejected the employers' offer decisively, the GMB had voted to accept. Whilst some of our branches and Regions (notably in the North West) had won their members to support action, others felt that their members would not join them.

The Chair's proposal was to refer the matter back to the National Joint Council (NJC) sector Committee to consult members on a clear (if not stark) choice. Either we must be sure we can take solid and sustained all-out strike action or we must accept the employers' offer to continue to impose real terms pay cuts on the majority of our members.

It is a stark choice, but an honest one - and it poses a particular challenge those of us who believe that the future of national pay bargaining in local government depends upon our waging a serious fight to defend living standards in (what is almost certainly) the last pay round before the new ballot restrictions proposed in the Trade Union Bill come into force.

We have an opportunity to try to persuade enough members to express support for action - so that the NJC Committee can go back to the IAC with a compelling case for a strike ballot (following which we can win both the ballot and the dispute).

This opportunity will be very challenging - and there are those who consider that, since it will be impossible to win our members to support for the action required to win the dispute, they will not try.

It is up to us to mount a persuasive case for the plan of action already agreed by the NJC Committee - and activists in branches (whilst waiting for guidance on how precisely to consult members) need not wait to make the general case in the workplace and raise the profile of the pay dispute among the membership.

The future of national pay bargaining in local government may hang by a thread - but that thread has not been cut.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The future of UNISON?

One issue which is not on the agenda for tomorrow's meeting of our National Executive Council (NEC) nor the Preliminary Agenda for our National Delegate Conference (NDC) is the issue of the future of UNISON.

What will UNISON look like in ten - or twenty - years time?

Who will be our members?

What will be our structures?

Who will lead us?

The closest we may come to such a forward facing discussion may be in the debate about branch funding. Otherwise we are enmeshed in responding to day to day events (or engaged in avoiding doing so).

As is generally the case on the evening before a meeting of our NEC, I have attended a meeting of our left caucus. This is an open group amongst the members of which there are many disagreements (topically, for example, in relation to the European Union referendum).

A larger number of NEC members sometimes attend larger (pre) meetings, but those have no name and are never reported upon.

I wonder if, at those meetings, my NEC colleagues discuss our future.

I wonder what is said to justify the ‎position of those who think that when two thirds of local government workers reject a pay deal on a turnout above 10% we should not honour their decision with a strike ballot, whereas when a minority of members elect a General Secretary on a turnout below 10% we should laud their decision.

I wonder what questions are asked about UNISON's future, about succession planning at the top of the Union, about the relevance of a national trade union which does not promote national pay bargaining.

But these questions do not stand to be asked only of those who have supported our current leadership. They require answers from all those who in different ways have supported alternatives and (perhaps most of all) from those who so visibly have adopted a position of armed neutrality.

I (of course) will continue to bore you, dear readers, with my answers - but we probably cannot simply blog our way to a better union.

In the run up to NDC there are those who will, in the name of unity, wish that the questions raised by the lowest ever turnout in the General Secretary election, and by the victory of a candidate who did not command majority support, would go away.

They won't.

I will - at the risk of repeating myself - make clear that I allege no wrongdoing whatsoever in connection with the recent General Secretary election upon the part of the winning (or any other) candidate.

That's not the point (and never has been).

What I am asserting is that the whole experience of the recent General Secretary election has revealed to us a crisis in UNISON which we ignore at our peril (and - which matters more - the peril of our members).

We have a leadership with overwhelming support in the union machinery but pitiable reach in the lay structures facing an ever more divided opposition in circumstances in which lay activists do not believe that officials are committed to lay leadership. Both this leadership and this opposition confront a Government committed to unprecedented attacks upon trade unions and workers' rights at a time of declining membership and conflict over dwindling resources.

I have no idea what the answer to this crisis might be, but I am quite certain that a failure to acknowledge that there is a crisis is not part of such an answer.

I continue to hope for a dialogue about how we respond to this crisis (but do not expect this tomorrow).

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Conference priorities on branch funding - it's as easy as 123

UNISON branches wondering what motions to prioritise on the Preliminary Agenda for our National Delegate Conference in Brighton in June should look favourably on Motion 123.

This motion, from the West Sussex, Manchester, Salford and Barnet branches proposes devolution of resources to branches which don't have substantial reserves - and a corresponding review of activity at national and regional levels.

Prioritising this motion for debate will ensure that the point of view of those who know that the future of our trade union is at the front line of representation in the branches is clearly heard.

Whilst there may be scope for constructive dialogue before Conference - and to try to build a consensus around positive amendments to the NEC motion on branch funding (Motion 121) to build upon progress which has already been made - this outcome is much more likely if Motion 123 is prioritised for debate than if it is not.

So, when it comes to prioritisation of UNISON Conference motions - it's as easy as 123!

(Credit where it's due, the title of this blog post is attributable to a regular reader, although not Sid nor Doris Blogger...)

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The end of national pay bargaining in local government?

Tomorrow UNISON's Industrial Action Committee will meet to consider a request from the lay Committee representing the largest bargaining sector in the Union (which is also the largest bargaining group in the UK economy) for a strike ballot of local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The decision of the UNISON National Joint Council (NJC) Committee to request the ballot arises from the paltry response from the employers to the joint union pay claim for an increase of a pound an hour (essentially the same claim for which the same workers struck in 2014 before accepting a settlement less generous than the offer against which we had been striking).

The fiasco of the 2014 pay dispute led to angry scenes at a UNISON Special Local Government Conference last year and an abortive attempt by UNISON to reopen ‎the two year pay settlement last April. At the time it seemed that a decision to squander a campaign of industrial action by settling for something worse than the original offer could mark the beginning of the end of national pay bargaining in local government.

Now that the employers have made an offer which can dishonestly be presented as representing something of an achievement for the lowest paid, elements within our own movement are moving in for the kill, taking action which will draw to a close the period of national pay bargaining for local government workers which has lasted since the restoration of the National Joint Council after the Second World War.

The employers' offer to the majority of the workforce is 1% a year for each of the next two years, a proposed increase below the current Retail Price Index which will represent a continuation of the decline in our living standards which has been most pronounced since the economic crash and the 2010 election (but started earlier).

Larger percentage increases for the lowest paid (which are driven by the need to keep ahead of the increasing minimum wage and are not the product of negotiation or collective bargaining) have provided an excuse for the officials of the GMB to sit on their hands (having "consulted" members in a top-down national ballot without suggesting that there was‎ any alternative to acceptance and therefore securing a large majority for capitulation).

The GMB want to accept the munificence of our kind employers and are only now concerned that the other unions might hold things up.

In UNISON and UNITE, where lay members have at least some influence over what is done in our name, member consultation which involved activists produced significant majorities to reject the employers' offer. However, the turnout in the consultation (whilst equivalent to the turnout in UNISON's General Secretary election and twice that of the GMB's) was low enough to reinforce the timidity of those in any case inclined to that state of mind.

In UNITE this appears to have led to a "left" variant of the approach of the officials of the GMB, as the UNITE sector committee has concluded that its members won't be asked to take all-out action but will only contemplate selective action alongside UNISON. This sounds a bit militant but is really a complete sham.

Illusions in the possibilities for and potential of selective action by "key workers" in local government have long been fostered by memories of the 1989 NALGO pay dispute (the last really successful national local government dispute and one which did not depend either upon trade union unity or complete unity even within the union in dispute).

It is true that some of the selective action taken by NALGO members in 1989 contributed to the relatively satisfactory outcome of that dispute (and then to a couple of reasonable offers in the following years). However, the employers found a response to selective action in Newham a couple of years later - whilst wave after wave of privatisation took many of the "key workers" out of the local government workforce.

Half way along the downhill journey taken by the local government trade unions from 1989 to today, in the London Weighting dispute of 2002/3 we tested to destruction the hypothesis that selective strike action could be an effective tactic to shift recalcitrant local government employers. We found that it could not.

To say that a trade union in local government will ONLY consider selective action is to say that it is giving up and accepting the real terms pay cut proposed by the employers.

‎This is also the position of those within UNISON whose position is expressed in the self-fulfilling prophecy that their members do not have the "appetite" for action (as if the views of union members were a fact of nature, like the weather, which activists had no responsibility to seek to lead and influence).

Several Regions, represented by the minority of the NJC Committee opposed to strike action, take this view - and officers have been sure to list these Regions in the report‎ to the Industrial Action Committee (whilst omitting to mention the Regions representing the majority who favour action).

The decision of the Cymru/Wales local government comrades that now is the ideal time to stress their desire to abandon UK-wide national pay bargaining anyway also goes to show that it is not only Albion that can be perfidious.

Tomorrow's decision by the Industrial Action Committee could keep UK-wide national bargaining alive (if on life support) by proceeding to ballot our members and campaign for action - demonstrating that there is still some purpose and usefulness of our national union for members in our largest service group.

Or we could write the final words in the story of national pay bargaining for local government workers and go back one hundred years to bargain authority by authority. In which case local government workers will wonder even more why three quarters of their subscriptions should pay for a toothless national trade union (however impressively housed on the Euston Road).

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