Thursday, December 05, 2013
I am indebted to a friend in UNISON for forwarding me the response to the Collins Review from the lobby group for insipid political careerist funded by Lord Sainsbury ("Progress").
I see that the Church of the Latter-Day Blairites are lauding UNISON's two section political fund model (without, it would appear, understanding it).
However, their real agenda (and hostility to collectivism) keeps showing. First, they propose that Labour should require that all unions establish two section political funds.
This is the arrogance which is familiar to those of us required to deal with Progress people, but is plainly calculated to antagonise and drive away trade union affiliates. The UNISON model was created to cater for very particular circumstances and may not appeal to all affiliates. Anyone who has read this blog over the years will have read many criticisms of the structure and use of UNISON's political fund.
Secondly, Progress want to prohibit members of other political parties from being members of "affiliated" funds. UNISON Labour Link retains (regrettably in my view) the "UNISON Berufsverbot" to prevent those who are not individual Party members from holding office within our APF - but we cannot ask our members what Parties they are members of!
Given that the author of anything published by Progress can be assumed to be a PPE graduate from Oxford whose parents can afford to support them as they work (unpaid) as a political intern I would hope that they know that trade unions cannot interrogate our members about their party affiliation except in tightly circumscribed circumstances. If they do, then they know that they are setting up conditions which cannot be met, which would only make sense if their long term aim were to dissolve the collective relationship between trade unions and the Labour Party.
The third - and most revealing - of the attacks upon trade unionism advanced by Progress is their demand for an end to the "block vote." They want trade union delegates to vote individually (in a secret ballot) - which would certainly prolong Conference debates (or, which may be the intention, ensure Conference has almost no time for debate).
The so-called "block vote" is simply the concrete expression of collective affiliation, which is the manifestation in the political sphere of the core trade union principle of collectivism.
It is true that the call for "collective responsibility" can be abused (and is sometimes within UNISON as I have often commented on this blog). The application of "collective responsibility" to the elected leadership of a trade union in relation to internal union affairs is, for example, an undemocratic perversion of collectivism.
However, the application of collective responsibility for the pursuit of the policies of a trade union by delegates representing the union (to, for example, the TUC, the Labour Party or a joint trade union side) is simply the proper and democratic application of collectivism.
Because Progress is an organisation created to promote the individual political careers of politicians who are fundamentally individualist rather than collectivist in outlook, they believe that the application of democratic collectivism is undemocratic.
They believe that the unaccountable action of an individual delegate casting a secret ballot according to a personal whim is a more democratic way of representing the interests of working people than for elected delegates to abide by the policies agreed, through democratic structures, by those whom they represent.
But then, as their fervent support for "primaries" reveals, Progress are in the camp of those who want to make twenty first century politics in the image of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries free from the burden of parties in general, and of a working class party in particular.
As a UNISON member I already have enough enemies not to need friends like these.
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
That's the link to the official report from today's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC).
For the full, uncensored version of the bits I found most interesting come back here in a while...
I will (honestly!) blog a full report of today's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) when this is ready.
The highlights of the meeting included the following points.
- The General Secretary began his report by acknowledging the scale of cuts in local government. The Head of Local Government confirmed that UNISON national officers were looking to arrange a meeting with the group "Councillors Against Cuts" as agreed at Conference;
- The NEC expressed continuing support for members who had taken action over pay in Higher Education yesterday, and for members at Liverpool University on strike today in opposition to an attack on conditions from the employer;
- A ballot of UNISON members in the Probation service will take place with the aim of UNISON joining with the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) in taking strike action in January in opposition to the impact on employees of the disastrous privatisation plan of the Coalition Government;
- The threat of industrial action in the Ambulance sector had brought the employer's back to the negotiating table (the NEC received a summary report of industrial action ballots held in 2013 which indicated a revival of action across the Union);
- UNISON had been isolated at the TUC in calling for a major national demonstration against austerity in the spring, and this was now planned for the autumn;
- 22 March is pencilled in as the date for a major anti-fascist demonstration, further details of which are awaited;
- The outcome of UNISON's legal battle against employment tribunal fees is still awaited (branches can expect urgent guidance also on recent case law in relation to TUPE and collective agreements);
- UNISON will ballot our members on the retention of our political fund in the autumn of 2014 (ahead of the 2015 deadline to avoid a clash with the General Election);
- The NEC reaffirmed a message of support to members at Whipps Cross hospital;
- The 6th and 7th floors of the UNISON Centre will not now be rented out as office space but will be turned into meeting rooms.
More detail later.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
"Labour aims to reassure trade unions by easing in party funding changes" according to the Grauniad headline, although the full story suggests a slightly more complex story emerging from discussions between Ray Collins and the unions (and UNITE in particular).
It would appear that a selective drip feed of information to the Guardian Political Editor is being used to float ideas which might form the basis of a hoped for compromise, thereby avoiding a major row at the unnecessary Special Conference in March.
The unions need not to fall for "phasing-in" of anything other than cosmetic change - and Constituency Parties should have an eye not just to the potential consequences for party funding of adverse change, but to the political consequences of cutting the Party adrift from its trade union moorings.
It will be ironic if the "one Union, two sections to our political fund" fix which was brokered more than twenty years ago to enable a merger between affiliated and non-affiliated unions now emerges as a favoured model, but the UNISON approach is at least consistent with collective affiliation, as opposed to the total individuation of the relationship between trade unionists and our Party hinted at by Ed Miliband in his 9 July speech.
The battleground may be shifting to the arrangements for voting at Party Conference, where the 50% of the vote for affiliated organisations has to be a red line which we do not cross. No amount of concessions on policy questions in the here and now (up to and including a pledge to bring the Trade Union Freedom Bill into law) would be worth a further dilution of union influence in the Party.
UNITE is "seen as the swing union" (which hardly amounts to praise for the clarity of the approach of its officials on this issue up to now). Jim Kelly, lay chair of UNITE's London and Eastern Region, has it right when he says that the link can be defended if the unions stand together. The forthcoming meeting of the UNITE Executive will be critical and I hope that the good sense expressed (for example) on the website of UNITE's United Left will prevail.
I was pleased to speak last week to Party members in Edmonton, North London, on behalf of the Defend the Link campaign, and some positive suggestions were made by sympathetic Party members about how to renew and strengthen the link at a local level. If we can defend the link we need to move the debate on in that direction.
First though, we have to defend the link.
Monday, December 02, 2013
I'm looking forward to being part of a branch contingent joining our nearest Higher Education picket line tomorrow morning, and wish luck to all those who will be supporting the second day of cross-union (UNISON, UNITE and UCU) national strike action against the 1% pay offer in that sector.
It's the second day of strike action in a campaign of discontinuous action which indicates the seriousness of the unions' leaders and members. If the leaders are serious about securing a real shift in the employers' position at the commencement of action, the call for a second day demonstrates that the campaign is about more than simply token action. In heeding the call the members then show that they are serious about achieving a just outcome.
Tomorrow is a vitally important day not just for all workers in higher education, but for all trade unionists. The joint action in this sector is an (as yet regrettably isolated) example of the co-ordinated action for which delegates from all our unions keep calling at the TUC. The outcome of this campaign has implications for us all.
For UNISON activists in local government, support for our brothers and sisters in Higher Education is also an excellent opportunity to practice picketing, ahead of the strike action which will be essential if we are to secure a meaningful pay rise in 2014.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
I spent today at the Annual General Meeting of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).
The Labour Left is considerably fewer in numbers than once we were. But I don't think we have given up hope that there shall be more of us in future.
Like any worthwhile trade union activist, I've never been bothered about being the only person in the room who's right (which is helpful when you've spent a lifetime being both a socialist and a Labour Party member).
Today I was in a room with a fair few people who agreed with me (and a significant number who doubtless did not).
For me the most important debate was on the defence of the relationship between the Labour Party and the trade unions.
This featured an impressive and thoughtful contribution from Maria Exall of the CWU, and a barnstorming tour de force from Ian Hodson of BFAWU, and 15 contributions from the floor.
Nevertheless, the most significant feature of the debate for me was that my friend and comrade, UNISON Labour Link Committee member Andrew Berry, spoke with the official sanction and support of UNISON.
UNISON has consistently taken a solid position of support for the collective political voice for working class people which is provided by the affiliation of trade unions to the Labour Party - and has consistently described as a diversion the foolish attack upon the link from the Party Leader.
I'm quick enough to tell my Union's leadership when they are wrong. Let me therefore repeat (for the particular attention of my many friends and comrades in UNITE) that, on this occasion (and on this vital issue) UNISON's leadership have got it right.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
There wasn't a quorum of delegates at today's meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Local Government Committee. This is in large part due to the fact that the Regional Office makes no effort to encourage participation in the Local Government Service Group (just as they do nothing much to encourage local government branches to attend the Regional Council AGM).
However, the bizarre and dysfunctional politics which haunt the first floor of Congress House are a sideshow when it comes to the real grown up trade unionism of the local government pay dispute (as they are generally I suppose). Local government pay is a national issue across England, Wales and Northern Ireland and activists need to think about what needs to be done at a national level (turning to how we remove or work around right-wing obstacles at Regional level very much as a secondary matter).
The delegates who were present this morning made some constructive suggestions as to the steps we need to take to develop a pay campaign for local government workers, starting from a clear-headed understanding of the enormous difficulty of persuading hundreds of thousands of local government workers to take strike action in 2014, twenty five years on from the last really significant victory in national action over local government pay.
We have a mountain to climb.
But that means we need to strike camp, get our boots on and head on up.
We need a major rally/meeting/training session for stewards in every Region (or every major city) to draw together as many shop stewards as possible. The size of such gatherings should give confidence to participants - but we are not so naive as to want to build the shallow confidence of a "ra ra" rally. We need "mythbuster" leaflets which take on the foolish argument that miserly pay restraint saves local government jobs. We need to equip every activist with arguments for the pay claim - and then with arguments for industrial action. We need each shop steward to leave that rally/meeting/training session equipped to make and win the argument for strike action.
In tandem with a campaign to win our members first to support the claim, and then to support strike action, we need a campaign for public support and to apply political pressure upon our employers. Every single local authority should receive a deputation in support of our claim in January, while dozens (or hundreds) of our members and supporters demonstrate outside. This should be preceded by a model letter for ALL UNISON members (and friends and family) to send to their local Councillor(s) and followed by the publication of a statement in support of our claim open to the signatures of all Councillors and Council candidates (other than those from the far right) - so that voters in May's local elections know who was with us and who was against us. We also need an Early Day Motion, and an e-petition on the Government website, with a co-ordinated joint union campaign to lobby MPs to support the EDM (and with a view to a mass lobby of Parliament if we can force a debate).
These are just the first steps we need to take. But if we are going to climb this mountain we need to take those first steps.
In the spirit of the Clyde Workers Committee we need to give the official structures of the Union a chance to get moving.
If they don't we'll press on unofficially.
A fortnight should be long enough to assess whether we should continue to wait before acting ourselves. We can't reasonably expect our own employees to work through all their weekends or until midnight - but we also can't reasonably expect our most committed activists to do anything else.
This national local government pay dispute (because a dispute is inevitable) will involve the largest bargaining group in the economy and will represent a turning point for our movement.
Either this is the beginning of the end for austerity politics (and therefore for both the Coalition Government and their "Progress" co-thinkers within the Labour Party) or it is the beginning of the end for national pay bargaining (and therefore perhaps ultimately for the national offices of our trade unions. )
It's not unimportant.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Section 14 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 introduces a new section (111A) into the Employment Rights Act 1996, to provide that details of "pre-termination negotiations" should not be admissible in evidence in employment tribunal hearings about unfair dismissal.
For good employers this new law is unnecessary. For those who want to strong arm employees out of the organisation it appears to offer a handy new tool which they can use to bully workers without fear of being held to account.
Happily the tool is so poorly designed as to not be fit for this nefarious purpose. This is because evidence about the "pre-termination negotiations" will be admissible in evidence in any tribunal claim other than unfair dismissal (as well as being admissible in all cases where a dismissal is alleged to have been for a reason which would make it automatically unfair).
This doesn't just mean that (for example) the veil hiding the so-called "protected conversation" can be pulled away in any case where allegations of discrimination accompany those of unfair dismissal - it also means that the fact of the "pre-termination negotiations" can always be made admissible in any case in which an employee is summarily dismissed.
This is because, by virtue of the Industrial Tribunals (Extension of Jurisdiction) Order 1994 an employee who has been dismissed can bring a breach of contract claim before an employment tribunal. An employee who has been summarily dismissed can bring a claim for wrongful dismissal alongside any claim for unfair dismissal and can therefore introduce evidence about the conversation which their employer had hoped would be "protected."
No decent employer should consider making use of s111A anyway. But if they try, they should watch out.
It's not really news that a handful of large contractors are raking in billions of pounds from the taxpayer. (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/nov/12/public-sector-paid-outsourcing-firms-4-billion-pounds)
The function of outsourcing for a capitalist economy is precisely to open up to private profit (capital accumulation) areas previously excluded, in order to provide opportunities for profitable investment. It may be that this or that contractor makes super-profits through ripping off the public sector (and the private sector often seems adept at driving a harder bargain) but that really is incidental. Margaret Hodge and the Public Accounts Committee can expose particular scandals, but it would take both a change of Government and a change of tack by the Opposition really to address this issue.
Outsourcing expresses the primal urge of capital to penetrate and commodify every area of our lives. This drive is, of course, dressed up in an ideological worship of the supposed "efficiency" of the private sector, a foolish mantra which, having been swallowed whole by politicians of all parties, continues now to be excreted over our public services.
It's deeply ironic that, while every local authority has a staff code of conduct that defines as gross misconduct any attempt by a public servant to profit personally from their professional role, Councillors think nothing of handing over whole swathes of service delivery to organisations with precisely that motivation.
While, among the many thousands of workers outsourced over the past decades, there are many good people trying to do a decent job, their bosses are all too often spivs and chancers who care only for shareholder value (and their own inflated salaries and bonuses).
As public service trade unionists we need to remember to assert that a public service ethos is both morally superior to, and practically more effective than the profit motive as a guiding principle for the delivery of public services.
And we desperately need more Labour politicians, at every level, who understand this.