Saturday, August 01, 2015

The implications of UNISON's support for Jeremy Corbyn for the General Secretary election

Socialist comrades have expressed as much shock as pleasure at the news that UNISON gave our supporting nomination in the Labour leadership contest to Jeremy Corbyn. (Even though some reported this without comment...)

I really should have believed the well placed source who assured me of the likelihood of this outcome and – with the benefit of hindsight – it can be seen that the rushed last minute consultation with members who contribute to the Affiliated Political Fund (APF) was a device to justify the unavoidable decision both externally and internally (for whilst our General Secretary has always demonstrated a commendably deft dexterity in arriving at a pragmatic position some of his supporters will have had to practice unprecedented gymnastics to arrive at a position where they are comfortable supporting an unashamed candidate of the left).

How did this position become unavoidable? The whole of the answer is the growing groundswell of rank and file support for Corbyn’s campaign. In part this was channelled by activists within UNISON (and this was not unimportant), but such is the political earthquake unleashed by Jeremy Corbyn that our General Secretary, and those around him, concluded a little while ago that his personal support for Corbyn, as expressed on Channel 4 News, was a prerequisite for his re-election.

The most credible rank and file candidates likely to oppose Dave Prentis (in the sense that he is the candidate with by far the best electoral record) is UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) (and Socialist Party) member Roger Bannister. Roger has come second to Dave Prentis in three previous General Secretary elections, on each occasion pushing another “left” candidate into third place (your humble blogger having been one such bronze medallist). Roger presumably believes that the anti-Labour position which clarified his differences with the UNISON machine in the New Labour epoch will provide a similar electoral advantage in 2015, but (after the Corbyn phenomenon) this seems very unlikely.

As thousands of workers flock to join Labour in order to vote for a socialist candidate to lead the Party, the Socialist Party view that the Labour Party is simply another “bourgeois party” (like the Tories) looks increasingly absurd – and it will hardly help Roger as a candidate for UNISON General Secretary that he will be able to boast of his abstention from the Corbyn campaign.

Something similar could be said (albeit with less force) for the other potential rank and file challenger, UNISON NEC (and Socialist Workers Party) member Karen Reissmann. Karen is less hostile to the Labour Party than Roger, but her organisation exists in order to try (and fail) to replace the Labour Party – and she is denial about the damage that will be done to her candidacy by her personal role in the grotesque mismanagement of rape allegations by her political organisation, the fall out from which has left “UNISON United Left” boasting a website which, in August 2015 has not been updated since last November.

It is likely that our General Secretary, and his supporters, were in a position to foresee the fourth declared candidacy (so far) in the coming election – that of Heather Wakefield, UNISON national officer. Whilst Heather will doubtless stand “to the left” of the incumbent General Secretary her appeal on the rank and file left is seriously mitigated (to put it gently) by her central role in delivering an unsatisfactory compromise over the Local Government Pension Scheme in 2012 and in failing to deliver a worthwhile local government pay campaign in 2014.

Had Heather been able to differentiate herself from Dave Prentis by her support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign this might have been a significant vote winner for her. She cannot. She will still win support from those who want to see a woman General Secretary, and has a base of support in the official UNISON structures, but will struggle to present herself as a “left” alternative to the status quo. She may have missed her moment.

Without doubt, UNISON’s support – and that of our General Secretary – for Jeremy Corbyn are factors which make the re-election of the incumbent in our own election more likely (an outcome which will postpone the necessary debate about UNISON's future).

This blog retains a position of “armed neutrality” on the General Secretary election, since what our Union needs is plainly both change from the inadequate approach of the past five years (as personified by both Prentis and Wakefield) and a candidate who can capture and express the energy and enthusiasm of the Corbyn campaign (as neither Bannister nor Reissmann can). For now, I respect and admire (in different ways) all four declared candidates – and will endeavour to offend all of them without fear or favour.

I shall hope for a fifth candidate.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

UNISON nominates Corbyn

I should leave the country more often!

For the first time in 12 years I miss a meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) and what happens?

Our General Secretary pledges vigorous opposition to the Trade Union Bill, the NEC offer solidarity to Max Watson (facing the threat of dismissal) and John Burgess (facing threats from the far right) - and the NEC elects the majority of members of a National Labour Link Committee who go on (on the same day) to offer a supporting nomination for Labour Leader to Jeremy Corbyn‎.

In completely unrelated news, the NEC had on its agenda proposals for an election for General Secretary. 

About which I'll blog when I'm back in the country.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why it's right to strike (2) - support London Met this Friday
UNISON members at London Metropolitan University are striking this Friday in opposition to three threatened compulsory redundancies (including that of UNISON Branch Secretary, my comrade Max Watson).

The deliberate making of compulsory redundancies even when financial savings could be made without them reflects the worst sort of managerial vindictiveness - particularly ‎ when one of those selected happens to be a union activist who has been victimised before.

Whereas all public spending cuts, and all associated job losses, should be opposed there are at least some managers and organisations who will abide by the spirit as well as the letter of section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act and do all they can to avoid compulsory redundancies.

There are others - some of whom seem to be calling the shots‎ at London Metropolitan University - who seize the opportunity of financial crisis to try to show their power to impose unjust dismissals in order to weaken both the organisation and the spirit of a workforce they wish to cow into submission.

Follow the link above for suggestions from the branch as to how you can help them in their fight for justice.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Why it's right to strike (1)

In many ways the highlight of this year's UNISON National Delegate Conference, which took place last week in Glasgow, was that it took place in a City where UNISON members were striking for justice.

Now it's good to learn that the homelessness workers have - after seventeen weeks on strike - accepted a settlement recommended to them by their branch and shop stewards.

In today's local government it is sadly all to common to see groups and individuals swallowing reductions in pay or conditions in the (invariably mistaken) belief that this can secure their jobs.

It was therefore heartening to see a group of workers prepared to fight for the fair, higher rate of pay which they deserved - and it is all the more encouraging to learn that they have obtained a settlement which they can accept.

It is precisely the ability to take such action which the Tory Trade Union Bill seeks to eliminate.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The first shot in the war on trade unionism

I go on leave for a week to enjoy the sunshine in Sussex and the Government introduces draconian restrictions on the rights of workers to organise and take action as trade unionists (in the Trade Union Bill).
This isn’t quite the existential threat to trade unionism itself which many of us continue to anticipate. The easy-to-legislate-for threat to the finances of the major trade unions, successfully piloted twenty two years ago, has not (yet) been resurrected.
The Tory Government aren’t (yet) quite returning to the Combination Acts, but they want only timid and tame trade unionism on their own terms. They don’t want industrial action, and they want depoliticised trade unions (with the beneficial side effect of undermining the income of the main opposition Party). Furthermore they want to uproot workplace trade union activism with an attack upon trade union “facility time”.
Apolitical, collaborationist organisations run by paid officials rather than lay activists are the only sort of trade unions which this Government would want to tolerate (for a time). This is a more intelligent - and therefore more dangerous - attack than one which sought to wipe us out completely, since it does not immediately threaten the livelihoods of the officials of the movement.
However, toothless trade unions would be worthless for workers and the future of our movement if we acquiesced in these attacks would be one of continuing decline into irrelevance. If this Bill passes another, within a couple of years, will come along to finish the job.
Official opposition  to the new Bill has been expressed by our General Secretary and by the TUC and the Trade Union Group of MPs. I am pleased that my own UNISON Branch Committee agreed to help initiate a new rank and file campaign to mobilise branch level opposition to this legislative attack across the trade unions.
Without doubt, the first step in our response to this assault upon workers’ rights must be to resist – but we must also prepare our organisations to continue to be battle ready whatever happens in Parliament. We need to build trade unions which are more democratic, more political and more willing to take action.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Harriet Harman - A Modest Proposal

Harriet Harman has reportedly claimed (without mandate or authority) that the Labour Party will not oppose the restriction of child tax credits so that they shall bring no additional benefit to households where the parents have more than two children.

This craven acceptance of the politics of George Osborne (whose budgets are always all about politics and have never yet been about economics) is perhaps intended to show Labour's "economic credibility" and to appease the presumed envy felt by some poor people against other poor people.
Taking this (unauthorised) policy pronouncement alongside the related claim that Labour will not oppose the lowering of the benefit cap‎ it is clear that those currently leading the Labour Party see the need for Labour to stand firm against the sourge of large families. (As I have never myself appreciated that this scourge even existed I can only applaud the perspicacity of these wise leaders).

In decreeing that Labour will not oppose "for the sake of opposing" Harriet Harman has taken a bold stand against the excessive breeding of the poor. Her words, which will give confidence to all those who support Liz Kendall - and consolation to all those "socialists" who know that we must never espouse socialism for fear of losing elections, do not, though, go far enough.

Jonathan Swift, writing more than two hundred years ago in the link above, had the courage and confidence to follow the politics expressed by Harriet Harman to their necessary conclusion. Whilst Labour Party members wait for Liz Kendall to show that same courage, we can (of course) draw the conclusion for ourselves.

If you are the third (or fourth, or fifth) child of parents who depend for a decent life upon tax credits (or if you are the sibling of such a person) Labour's current leaders believe that you deserve to have less than the children of smaller families. You are a lesser person. Harriet Harman has had the strength to join George Osborne in speaking this truth to you, even if we must wait awhile before Liz Kendall can draw Jonathan Swift's conclusion.

Obviously it is slightly difficult for those of us who joined the Labour Party out of a belief in social justice ‎to have to come to terms with this new wisdom (but we have former SDP member Polly Toynbee to help us to do so).

At the risk of seeming like someone who isn't prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to win an election all I will say is, if you're offered an opportunity to attend a fundraising dinner hosted by Progress for Kendall please take the vegetarian option.


(Oh, and if you have the affliction of principle or the problem of decency and therefore cannot follow the necessary trajectory of New Labour to the Modest Proposal of Jonathan Swift then I suppose you'll just have to support Jeremy Corbyn).

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

No hopers offer no hope...

Labour's right-wing are taking fright at the prospect of significant support for socialist candidate, Jeremy Corbyn.

The link above reports the desperate attempt to unify supporters of the three pro-austerity candidates in order to quash Jeremy's growing challenge.

Interestingly, the co-thinkers in the trade unions of those for whom a serious socialist challenge for the Labour Party leadership is horrifying are also doing all they can to minimise support for the policies of their own organisations.

Someone must have briefed that UNISON's National Labour Link Committee (half of whom have yet even to be elected) will, on 29 July, back "Cooper or no one." Quite how that benefits any UNISON member not hoping for a Lordship is perplexing to say the least.

It's because the resistance to Corbyn from within the labour movement machine is increasingly as obvious as it is absurd that UNISON GPF payers wishing to be sure that their vote for Corbyn is eventually counted will be wise, first of all, to transfer to the APF.

We would be unwise to fail to foresee almost any disreputable move being made to weaken the socialist challenge for the Labour Party leadership.

The tragedy of Labourism includes the tragedy of a Labour Left so habituated to our subordination that there are many good people who, whilst agreeing with the politics of Jeremy Corbyn, will consider casting a vote elsewhere in pursuit of "electability".

It sometimes feels as if many socialists in the Labour Party feel that our socialism is something private, if not shameful, and that we must always choose leaders well to our right because what we believe is somehow inappropriate.


None of the other three candidates for Labour Leader is any more electable than Corbyn.

The agonising death of social democracy across the European continent is dragging the sorry remnants of Blair's "third way" (and Brown's accommodation to it) down into the same abyss. Twentieth century Labourism is over.

No one knows whether democratic socialism can offer parties of the Left, and our movement, a path out of this destruction, but we may as well grab hold of that hope‎ - which Corbyn offers us.

Trade unionists need a voice in the legislature. Burnham, Cooper and Kendall do not offer that voice - and their supporters in the trade unions are not supporters of trade unionism.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Friday, July 10, 2015

UNISON must support Jeremy Corbyn, the UNISON candidate for Labour Leader

Below is a message which I have sent to relevant members of my UNISON branch, in line with the agreed policy of the branch. I would urge every UNISON activist to encourage their branch to send a similar message (if your branch has taken a similar decision). As UNITE’s decision to nominate Jeremy Corbyn clearly shows, this is a time at which we must make use of the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party if it is to have any meaning.
Jeremy Corbyn stands, in the most obvious way, for everything which UNISON stands for. Whether UNISON nationally supports Jeremy (who has supported UNISON throughout our existence) will be decided by the National Labour Link Committee on 29 July. Were the Committee to decide to nominate any other candidate that would be tantamount to declaring in favour of disaffiliation. Were the Committee to decide not to make a nomination that would be tantamount to declaring their own complete irrelevance.
Maximising the vote for Jeremy Corbyn maximises the influence of UNISON policy. Every UNISON member should do all we can to maximise this vote. Here, then is the message to APF members which I have sent (having sent a similar message to GPF members encouraging them to switch);
As a UNISON member you can have a say in the election for the leadership of the Labour Party.
Your trade union branch, Lambeth UNISON, supports the candidacy of UNISON member, and London MP, Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy stands for opposition to austerity and supports the policies which UNISON supports – in favour of a fairer society with well funded decent public services provided by workers who are well paid and treated fairly. You can read more about Jeremy’s campaign at
It is important for us as public service workers that Jeremy’s clear cut opposition to the economic policies which threaten our job security and have undermined our living standards receives as much support as possible. It is in your interests as a UNISON member to support Jeremy Corbyn in this election. (There are three other candidates and you can read about them at
You can watch the UNISON hustings at which all the four Labour leadership contenders spoke online at
As a contributor to UNISON’s Affiliated Political Fund you can then obtain your right to vote in the Labour leadership election by registering online (free of charge) at (check the box for “yes” that you are a member of an affiliated organisation and then tick the box for UNISON). The last date to register to vote is noon on Wednesday 12 August. Ballot papers will be despatched from Friday 14 August and the ballot will close at noon on Thursday 10 September.
I hope that you will consider registering to vote in the Labour leadership election in order to support Jeremy Corbyn.

Barnet UNISON Secretary Victim of Hate Crime

‎I pass on the following news without comment except to express full solidarity and support to John Burgess and Barnet UNISON.

As trade unions resist the attacks we face and show solidarity against oppression we can anticipate such reactionary hostility and must stand solid together to defend brothers and sisters at the sharp end.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Barnet UNISON Press Release: 10 July 2015: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Local Trade Unionist Victim of Hate Crime

"It is with deepest anger I have to report that our Barnet UNISON branch secretary, John Burgess, had his car vandalised as it was parked up outside his own home. After the day's activities on 8th July, which involved a strike and protests, John returned home to find a large note stuck on his car windshield: "Fucking Union Faggotts Get Back Home From Here!"  and a nail stuck into a front wheel of his car. This came within 2 weeks of the Barnet UNISON banner, and a branch presence which of course included John, proudly appearing on the Pride Demo. It is our view this particular use of offensive language is far too coincidental for us not to understand this as an attack on John as a trade unionist and also for being seen on the Pride demo.

We also think there is a strong coincidence that our branch was a very early signatory to the Unite Against Fascism statement about the proposed Fascist gathering in Golders Green and encouraged our members to attend the protest last weekend (4th July). We are proud that we were part of a larger community mobilisation which meant Fascists could not raise their heads in our community. Fascists are organisations which peddle hatred and what happened to John is in every sense a Hate crime which has been reported to the police.

John has a job to do and that is to represent the members of his union branch. We choose him year after year as we believe he is the best placed person to do this. He enjoys the confidence of the branch membership. This means whoever did this is trying to intimidate and silence all of our membership. We will not be silenced!

We believe it is the demonisation of trade unions by the current Government which also encourages this type of personal attack on individual trade unionists. We condemn such attacks and call on our supporters to rally round and show solidarity and support to one who has done nothing other than defend us and offer solidarity to all those fighting the effects of Austerity and oppression." Helen Davies, Branch Chair Barnet UNISON.

George Binette, branch secretary, Camden UNISON had this to say: "On behalf of Camden UNISON I express our shock and horror at the vicious homophobic vandalism carried out against John Burgess, Barnet UNISON branch secretary. This attack is a perverse tribute to the effectiveness of John's tireless commitment to both his members and the defence of public services. Unfortunately, all too many politicians and sections of the media seem set to whip up a Jeremy Clarkson-style climate where it is literally open season on active trade unionists. Solidarity with John and the Barnet branch."


Notes to Editors.

Contact details: Helen Davies Barnet UNISON on 07432733168 or 0208 359 2088 or email:

Keep up to date go to the new Barnet UNISON website at The information in this e-mail is confidential and may also be subject to legal privilege. It is intended solely for the addressee. If you are not the intended recipient please reply to the sender. You are hereby placed on notice that any copying, publication or any other form of dissemination of this e-mail or its contents is prohibited. Whilst every endeavour is taken to ensure that e-mails are free from viruses, no liability can be accepted and the recipient is requested to use their own virus checking software. Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this email?