Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I was very happy to join striking workers on the picket line outside Whipps Cross Hospital this morning. The BBC website explains what their dispute is about.
I was greatly encouraged by the strength and determination of the strikers. The media have reported that the employers have made an offer to settle the strike – but may have forgotten to mention that this is not an offer to pay all the money the strikers are owed!
The contractor which pays staff working at Whipps Cross barely more than the minimum wage is not a cash strapped concern – they manage to shell out £2.2 Million a year for their Chief Executive! Perhaps this important fact will get noticed by the media tomorrow…
I have blogged before about this important dispute, in which low paid workers are fighting to ensure that a private contractor honours a deal done with a previous contractor. It is important for all workers that the strikers win, so that privateers cannot make their profits at the expense of cutting the pay and conditions of the workforce.
Those who support the Tory/New Labour policy of privatisation need to know that they support the making of profits out of the exploitation of low paid workers. The Whipps Cross strikers and their UNISON branch are in the front line of opposition to those who want our health service to be driven by profit.
If you are reading this then you ought to support this dispute.
Send messages of support to the strikers’ union branch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send donations (cheques payable to UNISON) to Chris Remington, Regional Head of Health, UNISON Greater London Region, Congress House, Great Russell Street. London WC1.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I thought therefore I should post a link to the campaign in solidarity with the people of Venezuela, who offer hope to us all.
UNISON policy is to support the colossal advances being made by the Venezuelan Revolution under President Hugo Chavez in carrying out policies, which benefit working people, the poor and the landless. That sounds good to me!
In looking for solidarity websites I found Hands Off Venezuela, the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign and the Venezuela Information Centre.
Let’s hope we can all unite in a good cause comrades – and let’s not forget to fight for socialism in the UK too!
Wellington Chibebe, General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) was recently released on bail. Unfortunately, the charges against him have not been dropped, and he is due to appear in court on 4 September.
M. Chibebe was arrested at a roadblock on August 15 and detained at Waterfalls Police station. The police demanded to search his car, supposedly in order to look for cash. The Government is currently campaigning to prevent currency speculation while it is conducting a major monetary reform purportedly aiming at fighting hyperinflation, which currently stands at over 1000%. At first, Chibebe was accused of resisting a police search. According to ZCTU legal sources, however, the police later deliberately changed the charges to common assault against a police officer so as to make the issue more serious, given his profile.
The ZCTU are now calling for a national strike to protest the government's skewed economic policies, specifically a sharp hike in fuel prices last week that they say has made it too expensive for most workers to travel to their jobs.
The Howard government in Australia is one of the most anti-union in the
world, breaking new ground in its efforts to smash the trade union movement in that country.
Among its first victims are 107 construction workers, who are being prosecuted for alleged "illegal" industrial action following the sacking of a union delegate.
According to Kevin Reynolds, Secretary of the West Australian Branch of the CFMEU union, "Under the Howard Government, the basic right to vote to take strike action in support of better conditions and a safe workplace has now been criminalised."
The workers made their first appearance in court yesterday (Monday). They are asking workers around the world to mobilize and send messages of protest to government officials today.
Click this link to go to LabourStart and show your solidarity.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Today’s Guardian boasts a column by one Peter Wilby, former editor of the New Statesman, in which he predicts that the Tories will win the next General Election and says he thinks that that is a good thing!
Regular readers of this blog (all four of you…) will know that I am no fan of New Labour and want to see real change in the Labour Party – to the extent of supporting a socialist challenge for the Labour leadership.
However, to welcome the prospect of a Tory victory is daft beyond words. If you are in any doubt check out the policies of a Party committed to cutting hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs and eliminating regulations that protect workers rights.
I don’t suppose Peter Wilby is a low paid worker who will suffer even worse under the Tories than under New Labour. Someone who only aspires to commentate upon events can have the luxury of sitting back and watching as things get worse (particularly if they can sit back on the cushion of relative wealth and comfort).
Working people cannot afford a Tory Government - which is why we need to replace New Labour with a Labour Government. Peter can dismiss John McDonnell as a no hope candidate, but a candidate broadly sharing his politics got more than 50% of the votes in the recent elections to Labour's NEC.
And whilst John may be older than Blair the crucial difference is that he is promoting new and exciting politics, whereas "New" Labour is so far past its sell by date it is smelling very bad now.
However, with the opinion polls suggesting that we could see another Tory Government, it is increasingly urgent that the unions and the Labour Party membership act to reclaim the Party from New Labour.
Ruth Kelly says the government will close extremist schools. See article on the BBC:
What perhaps is missing from this interview is the fact that there are already extremists schools in existence, with the sanction of the state, Peter Vardy formerly better known for selling cars, runs academies in the north of England, is a fundamentalist Christian who believe in teaching creationalism in schools. Despite numerous complaints the government has continued to support such academies. But should we be surprised when Kelly herself is a supporter of the rightwing fundamentalist Catholic sect Opus Dai making her comments seem somewhat hypocritical.
It no secrecy that I do not support further expansion of faith schools and in fact all schools should be secular. I understand why some Muslims will want Muslim schools with the dominancy of Christianity in the education system and the presence of anti Muslims and Islamiphobic expression as we recently saw on Monarch airlines. But in fact the new expansion of faith schools caused by this governments policies including academies and Trusts is in the main leading to more and more Christian schools often under that Church of England front organisation, United learning Trust, Whilst Government policy may lead to the increase in actual number of Muslim schools it will likely lead to a reduction in the proportion of Muslim schools to other faiths.
If you want to end the dominance of Christianity in our education system then the only solution is to support a secular system and oppose the government expansion of faith schools. This is not some anti religious position but a means of bring cultural differences together nor is it even a step to far such as in France - banning religious and even cultural expression in the school. The route to a successful multicultural society is through an education and schools that embrace diversity of culture and religion. Don’t be fooled by the words of Kelly whose policy will lead to the opposite of what she preaches i.e. to further dominance of Christianity including a fundamentalist Christianity.
UNISON needs to continue to campaign for comprehensive education, with a good local school for all, within the structure of the local education authority. That’s why I hope UNISON and the rest of the TUC will not only support the motion that UNISON is amending but the motion from the NUT which calls for a national demonstration in defence of comprehensive education.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
When there are thousands marching in Cornwall I think it is time to wake up to the fact that the threat to our NHS is nationwide.
UNISON members at NHS logistics are fighting privatisation. I’ve blogged before about other campaigns. In particular I look forward to joining the picket line at Whipps Cross Hospital on Wednesday 30 August.
Feminists fight back! www.fightback.org.uk
Discrimination and exploitation at work, unequal pay, domestic violence, sexual objectification, denial of reproductive rights, rape, racism, war, poverty and religious fundamentalism...
The fight for women’s liberation has not yet been won.
Women’s rights are everywhere under attack, and yet all over the world women are at the forefront of some of the most inspiring struggles for freedom, equality and social justice – as women’s rights campaigners, as community activists and as workers.Despite our continued desire for freedom and equality, too many women today feel that feminism doesn’t speak to them.
Too many people think that feminism is about being made to feel guilty for what we do with our bodies or how we express our sexuality; about a group of ‘experts’ telling other women how to live; or about a handful of rich and powerful women getting to ‘the top’.
We think feminism is about ordinary women coming together to challenge sexism in their own lives, and to support women round the world demanding their rights.
We want a feminism that fights. A women’s movement that is about activism, not just talk; about grass-roots campaigning, not just lobbying; about politics, not just about lifestyle choices; and about liberation for all, not just equality for a privileged few.The Feminist Fightback event aims to empower women of all ages to fight back against oppression and exploitation.
It is a one day event where women can debate the issues which affect their lives, share their experiences, and, most importantly, develop practical ways in which they can turn feminism into activism.Feminist Fightback is open to all.
Whether you want to share your experiences and ideas as an activist, debate with us about how to end oppression, or just find out more about what feminism means - come and get angry, come and get active, come and help us change the world!
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Having written the last post on this blog I got to thinking about how little benefit the trade union movement has had from the “New” Labour Government since 1997 and that lead me to thinking about the question of what our unions are doing being associated with the Labour Party…
The friendly folk at the Socialist Unity website asked me for my views. So I explained why I think socialists should be active in the Labour Party.
I believe this because there is a viable socialist organisation within the Labour Party and because the Labour left has found a standard bearer willing to challenge for leadership of the Party – which means that we can try to force socialist ideas onto the Party’s agenda. The recent results of the elections to the Party’s National Executive give some grounds for optimism.
I know that many good trade unionists have given up on the Party and have other ideas about how to organise politically, whether in coalitions or new parties. I sympathise with and respect these comrades but disagree.
It is 100 years since the Party created by the trade unions became a serious force. We need a political voice more than ever if we are going to fight for trade union rights or against privatisation. I really don’t see why we should abandon the Party we created and go away and try to build a new one – when the majority of Party members who voted in the last elections to the National Executive backed left wing candidates.
We need a campaign around a Labour leadership candidate who will stand for what we believe in…
The annual report of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has been published. The picture above may not be of the most recent General Council… ;)
In his introduction, the General Secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber, says;
“Despite the efforts of unions and some genuine improvements in employment legislation over the past nine years, not least the introduction and uprating of the minimum wage, too many workers in Britain today are vulnerable to exploitation by rogue employers. Many are migrant workers, new to this country with little knowledge of their rights. Many are young - often students trying to work their way through college. A considerable number are employed by agencies with more limited legal rights than those on permanent contracts who often work alongside them.
These workers need better rights. They need trade union support. Above all they need their voice to be heard. And that is why, at this Congress, we are launching a new 'vulnerable workers campaign', bringing together the different work currently being done by unions and the TUC into a campaign which we hope will have a major impact; striking a chord with both the public and government; and leading to genuine improvements in the workplace.”
These are laudable sentiments – and the trade union movement certainly needs to reach out and organise the unorganised. I worry that the top of the trade union movement is a bit complacent about the current state of our movement. The recently published report of the findings from the 2004 Workplace Employee Relations Survey shows that only a third of workers are in trade unions and that almost two-thirds of workplaces (64 per cent) had no union members, and that union members made up a majority of the workforce in only one-sixth (18 per cent) of all workplaces.
In 1998, 57 per cent of workplaces had no union members and union members made up the majority of the workforce in 22 per cent of workplaces. Compared to the 1998 survey overall union density (the proportion of workers who are union members) has fallen, slightly, from 36% to 34% during the period of (New) Labour Government. These figures aren’t necessarily accurate – other recent research suggests current union density could be as low as 29% (in 2005) – although that research suggests an increase of 0.2% from 2004.
What is clear is that we have not experienced the sort of recovery in union membership we were hoping for over recent years. So the TUC does need to reach out to vulnerable workers. I read somewhere that it would help if the TUC would back an amnesty for undocumented migrant workers. Anyone reading this who is not already a trade union member should join. UNISON members should sign up to recruit new members as part of the Union’s Challenge X campaign.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Good news from the UNISON website. The NHS has been told to ditch plans to hand a Derbyshire GP practice over to a US multinational firm – thanks to a pioneering legal fight by pensioner Pam Smith.The Court of Appeal quashed the selection of United Health Europe – the British arm of the biggest US healthcare corporation – to run the practice, and ordered North Eastern Derbyshire primary care trust to start the tendering process from scratch.
This is a good result for the Keep Our NHS Public campaign and for UNISON’s campaign to keep our NHS working.
BarnetUnison have joined us here in the world of blogs, so well done you and welcome!
Their blog can be found here.
Avid readers of this blog will recall that Barnet are currently facing a crisis in their care homes that are run by Freemantle, who are attempting to cut members pay and conditions. see Jon's union blog: Barnet UNISON - attack on care homes
A good reason to support a joint union campaign to defend public services!
Thursday, August 24, 2006
I was very pleased to attend yesterday’s event, organised by the Greater London UNISON Regional Black Members Committee as part of the Remembrance Day for Slavery.
This event was held to implement and support UNISON’s policy, which is that there should be a national day to commemorate the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition, just as there (rightly) is to commemorate the Holocaust.
It was good to be reminded of the work of CLR James on the slave revolt in Haiti in the 1790s, and also to hear from today’s campaigners against slavery.
The wealth of Europe and North America in particular was built on the slavery and oppression of African people kidnapped from their homes and subject to the most appalling treatment. This is not simply a piece of history, because its consequences are all around us. When slave owning was abolished in the 1830s, compensation was paid to the owners. Nothing was given to the former slaves to compensate them.
Next year it will be 200 years since the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, so now is a good time to find out more as well as to support the campaign.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Low paid privatised workers at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London are taking further strike action for three days from next Wednesday (30 August).
The strike concerns the refusal of Initial (the current contractor) to honour an agreement on harmonisation reached with ISS Mediclean (the former contractor) following strike action in 2003.
The strikers have already taken several days of action, and the picket lines have been well supported by 220 strikers out of 242 balloted!
For those who are near enough to London, please support the picket lines at Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone from 6am to 6pm on each day (Wednesday to Friday). A number of London branches will try to get there with their banners at 8.30am on Wednesday, but the strikers can use our support at any time.
Wherever you are in the world you can also support the dispute by sending donations (cheques payable to UNISON) to UNISON Greater London Regional Office, First Floor, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS. Please be sure to indicate that this is a donation for the strikers in the Waltham Forest Health Branch!
Cash donations can, of course, be handed over on the picket line!
As avid readers of this blog (all three of you ;) ) will know, I was keen to see the sensible proposal for an “amnesty” for so-called “illegal” migrants get discussed, but was knocked back at the UNISON delegation meeting on the grounds (essentially) that there was not yet a sufficient consensus for this demand (although it is supported by both UNISON and the TGWU) and that as TUC policy was “inching forward” in our direction it was better not to push the issue at this year’s Congress.
Whilst it is pleasing to see that the level of union interest in organising migrant workers is such that the worthy motion from the Educational Institute of Scotland has drawn helpful and supportive amendments from USDAW, UCATT, UCU and the Bakers’ Union, I think it is a shame the union movement is moving so slowly towards support for sustainable regularisation of the position of undocumented workers. Without this, attempts to organise migrant workers whose legal position is insecure can easily be undermined by the unscrupulous employers who are exploiting migrant workers.
Thanks to the Government’s underestimate of inward migration from Eastern Europe, the debate about migration is being run from the political right at the moment (as I suppose it almost always is) – and the chances of shifting this New Labour shower in the sensible direction of an amnesty is slim enough between now and the next General Election.
I hope that the TUC doesn't "inch" towards our position so slowly that we lose the opportunity to free thousands of migrant workers from the fear of deportation.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
As Blair staggers through the final months of his tenure as Prime Minister there is no let up in the push to privatise our health service. Yesterday’s Guardian reports on plans for six new hospitals built using the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) whilst other hospitals face closure (including Central Middlesex hospital shown above).
Mike Jackson, senior national officer for Unison, is quoted in the Guardian as follows: "Using PFI to finance these schemes is a waste of taxpayers' money. PFI schemes are expensive, inflexible and adding to the current financial burdens of many hospital trusts." We also know that there is no public support for further privatisation, based on recent opinion poll evidence.
UNISON members are preparing for action to defend our NHS from Cornwall to South London and for a strike against the privatisation of NHS logistics. Why should UNISON members have to be doing this under what is supposed to be a Labour Government?
Meanwhile Stephen Byers (who is famously not too keen on the unions’ relationship with the Party) thinks the Government’s priority should be to end inheritance tax! This lack of focus by one of Blair’s chief outriders on the real issues confronting the country shows just how out of touch the Blairites now are. Unfortunately they are still calling the shots in Government.
I am sure I read somewhere that we on the left were not in favour of inherited wealth :)
Friday, August 18, 2006
Contrary to what you might read in the Tory press – public servants are certainly not pay and pensions fat cats (as illustrated…)
Gordon Brown (the person some of our union leaders dream of “influencing”) wants to force the supposedly independent pay review bodies to hold public sector pay rises down to 2% according to the Guardian. This is the day after it was reported that bonuses paid out in the City now total £19 billion!
While trying to hold down public sector pay, the Government want to see increased pension contributions even from those whose pension rights are being protected – like health workers and teachers. At the same time, the Association of British Insurers have written to directors of our largest private companies to complain about over generous pension pay outs for company directors.
This is the sort of thing which makes me think we need a socialist candidate for leader of the Labour Party, who can be relied upon to promote the interests of trade unionists before those of the overpaid city fat cats – John McDonnell springs to mind!
SPECIAL DEAL FOR UNISON MEMBERS AND THEIR FAMILIES ON THE STOP THE WAR TRAIN TO MANCHESTER ON
SATURDAY 23 SEPTEMBER 2006
UNISON Greater London Region are subsidising a limited number of tickets on the train, organised by Stop the War,
from London to Manchester on 23 September
The train will leave London Euston at 8.30am (arriving in Manchester for 12.20pm) and will leave Manchester at 6pm, returning to London for 10pm.
UNISON is subsidising tickets on 2 carriages of the train. Normal ticket price is £35 per ticket. UNISON members can purchase tickets for themselves and their family (maximum of 4 tickets per member) at a cost of £15 full price and a concessionary price of £8 for children, OAPs, unwaged and low-paid.
Members should contact Stop the War direct on
020 7278 6694
to purchase up to 4 tickets and will need to give their
membership number, name and branch.
For further information and for details of alternative travel arrangements please visit
Special rate UNISON tickets are limited –members should book early to avoid disappointment
Thanks to Katrina Hoogendam, London Unison Regional Publicity Officer for bring this to my attention
Plus advice from Sean Fox, Haringey:
"Make sure you tell them you are from unison at the beginning of the conversation by the way or they will have to take all your details again as they did with me!"
Thursday, August 17, 2006
I have just sat, with other stalwart comrades, through hours of the most interminable and direst discussions about "which option of the four and a bit before us is the least worst".
Heather Wakefield explained on 5 occasions that the proposals come from the government and are not those of the trade union side even though it says on her document that option B was included at the request of the TU's! But when Malcolm Campbell (Croyd0n) questioned her about this she became all dithery.
Tom Broderick (Hammersmith) kept asking why could we not have an option E, with our own position.
Malcolm kept hammering away at the top table about Heather's remark that as a trade union side "But we have no bottom line".
Malcolm asked at least twice why this was the case. He said that all trade union negotiators had a bottom line.
The top table openly shuffled on their seats as the frustration of many of us who had given up a whole day to be told there is no bottom line boiled over. Ian Dury's mantra, which applied last week in Haringey to the bin strike, could now be applied here: what a waste!
The morning began with the top table getting each others names wrong and in a scene that was almost surreal and like a sketch from Monty Python calling themselves by different names. A power point presentation, which told us stuff that we already knew, was shown to us!
Whilst a lot of the factual material was interesting the setting was not conducive to working groups etc.
No explanation was give as to why the strikes were called off or why we were not looking to escalate industrial action. Huge attention was given to the outcome of the honourable lords coming home form their hols for the judicial review.
The main argument put to us was that the whole debate had moved on and we'd better accept it.
In the end after a huge ruck, the meeting agreed to have a question and answer sessions and put forward the following a s a plan for a UNISON proposal--much to the chagrin of the top table:
No detriment to current scheme members retiring at 60
Partnership pensions for all (including co-habitees)
Clarity for those joining the scheme in the future
An increase in death benefits
Parity with the other public sector schemes
Tapered contributions in the future scheme
But what a dreadful waste of an afternoon. When we should have spent the time planning the next stage of the campaign and how to use industrial action to win.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Delegates had a lot of questions and expressed a good deal of concern and dissatisfaction from members over the loss of momentum on protection of retirement at 60. When the top table tried to cut this off in order to split us up into workshops to discuss 'why is protection important?' there was, basically, a rebellion - we refused.
They were forced to re-jig the agenda to give more time for debate and feedback and more discussion of how to revive the campaign for full protection. Apparently this will re-shape the remaining Regional briefings, and I suspect there'll be some feedback to Mabledon Place about stroppy Yorkshire folk too.. Don't know if they'll want to come up here again!
UNISON members in the Greater London Region will be meeting tomorrow for the Regional Pensions Briefing. I’ll miss this as I will be on the beach.
It does seem to me that as well as asking why we should accept any of the Government’s options for the future of our pension scheme, we do need to ensure that we are continuing to fight for the full protection which a million workers struck for on 28 March.
I look forward to hearing how the event tomorrow goes!
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
I was pleased to read the news that members of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) have voted to strike – in spite of the refusal of the New Labour Government to restore their right to strike, which was removed by the Tories. I read this this morning in the Morning Star.
With only a handful of votes left to be counted, nearly 15,000 members have backed action and 2,400 voted against. The union has described the dispute as being over the independence of the pay review body and claims its members have seen a pay cut. According to the BBC, the Prison Service said it was a matter of grave concern that the POA might act in breach of a legally-binding accord.
I think it is a matter of grave concern that our Labour Government hasn’t fully restored the democratic rights of trade unionists which were taken from them – and which Labour was pledged to restore when in opposition.
The threat of legal action against the POA if they carry out the wishes of their members is a good indication of why we need the Trade Union Freedom Bill, in line with UNISON policy.
I hope UNISON, and other unions, will show solidarity with the POA.
Monday, August 14, 2006
The Beatles’ wondered whether we would still be needed when we were 64.
A TUC report today reveals that over one million 50 - 65 year olds who want to work can't get a job because employers won't recruit older workers or retain the ones they already employ by investing in training or making minor adjustments for disabilities.
For those of us who are approaching that age (which is all of us) these are worrying findings. On the one hand the Government want us to work further into old age – on the other hand, the employers won’t actually employ those who aren’t in the first flush of youth!
This is in spite of some fairly sensible advice from the Government being available on the web.
Those of us who are negotiating regularly about redundancies (which is far too many of us in the unions I fear!) need to be on the ball about defending the rights of our older members, and ensuring employment opportunities for the over 50s.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
The main discussion will be on the campaign for the Trade Union Freedom billThe conference will be open to delegates from Trade Union branches, trade union councils, and joint union committees. This follows on from the conference on working class representation organised by the RMT last January, where Bob Crow spoke about the need to build a shop stewards movement as part of rebuilding the trades union movement.
I hope UNISON Branches send delegates to this conference I would certainly encourage they did so.
We will post more information as it becomes available
Today’s Guardian has an interesting piece on trade union responses to globalisation, based largely on how the GMB and SEIU (Service Employees International Union from the USA) have been dealing with Group 4 Securicor and showing solidarity with workers employed by the company elsewhere in the world. (http://money.guardian.co.uk/workweekly/story/0,,1842717,00.html).
This set me thinking about how we should be developing our international work as trade unionists in public services. Our traditional approach to international work is to show solidarity – this is defined on the UNISON international website as follows; “Solidarity means speaking out when fellow trade unionists are under threat - in Colombia, Burma or Zimbabwe, for instance. Solidarity also means helping sister trade unions to build their organisations on their own terms.”
This is an important part of our obligation as part of a global labour movement. However, trade union international work is generally controlled very much from the top of the union and is about as distant from accountability to the rank and file as anything we do. There is a degree of cynicism about international delegations, which are seen by some activists as holidays for a favoured few.
Some delegations, such as the recent delegation to Venezuela are clearly very useful in building links and gathering information (see the report on the web at; http://www.venezuelasolidarity.org.uk/ven/web/articles/tu_delegation_dec_2005.html). Another example of a useful project is the delegation from UNISON’s Greater London Region which recently visited the Dhaka Water Union and the National Electricity Union in Bangladesh, as was the recent visit to London by South African comrades from NEHAWU.
However, in other cases, delegations made up through the complex mixture of patronage and “buggin’s turn” which is widely favoured in our movement seem to be of more limited value.
From a practical point of view, trade unions don’t have the resources to send loads of people travelling round the world – and now that we have the internet to organise with, we don’t need to in order to coordinate our activities.
We need to explore more concrete organisational relationships if we are going to deal effectively with global employers. UNISON’s twinning relationship with Ver.Di – the largest German union, may offer a glimpse of the way forward, given our common interests (e.g. http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/B1846.pdf). The SEIU are also obviously thinking ahead in this area (http://www.seiu.org/about/global%5Fpartnerships/).
But what should we be doing? Are we heading for “international” unions, or for some other form of coordination? How different are the challenges facing predominantly private sector and predominantly public sector trade unions? Can we extend “twinning” to the level of branches and shop stewards – and should we?
Friday, August 11, 2006
In a move designed to save over £1.6million a year, Fremantle urged on by Ealing Family Homes, now known as Catalyst, are seeking the money from staff wages and conditions.
Staff are angered and calling on their unions to ballot for strike action. Threatened are salaries with cuts of up to 35%, the complete loss of sick pay and cutting back holiday entitlement to the bare minimum.
John Burgess UNISON Branch Secretary said " Nobody living and working in London can absorb pay cuts of 30-40%...I can only imagine this has been engineered to force our members out of care homes. Anyone who has worked in a care home, and I have, can't be in any doubt the serious risk to fragile vulnerable residents if experienced well trained staff are forced out."
A list of the terms and conditions facing cuts are:
· LINK TO NATIONAL PAY INCREASES
· WEEKEND WORKING
· BANK HOLIDAY PAYMENT
· ANNUAL PAID HOLIDAY
· SICK PAY
· PREMIUM PAYMENTS
· INCREASE IN WORKING WEEK
Barnet UNISON are holding a public meeting to discuss the financial crisis on the 26th October at 7pm in Hendon Town Hall Committee room. Please do all you can to support them.
If you want any further information please contact Barnet branch on 0208 359 2088 or email email@example.com
or go to http://www.barnetunison.org.uk/
UNISON, Oxfam, War on Want and Crisis Action are among the signatories of an open letter to the government, to be published in The Guardian and The Scotsman tomorrow (12 August).
It is the coalition’s third open letter urging the UK government to hasten a ceasefire, since hostilities began between Israel and Hezbollah.
The letter talks of the "worsening humanitarian crisis" in which one million people – a quarter of the Lebanese population – have been forced to leave their homes.
“While the diplomatic wrangling goes on, more than 1,000 people have died,” it says, “and many thousands more seek shelter wherever they can, living in fear of the next attack."
MPs from all parties are calling for a return to Parliament to discuss the crisis. And to delay any longer, the letter says, "would be irresponsible.”
The signatories urge the government "to recall Parliament now and maximise pressure on Israel and Hezbollah to stop all military action immediately.”
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
UNISON members working for NHS Logistics are preparing for strike action against privatisation.
Set up in 2000, NHS Logistics provides the health service in England with an enormous range of critical products - from food to complex magnetic resonance imagers, needles and syringes to electricity and fuel, mattresses to vehicles.
The non-profit organisation helps the NHS reduce costs and free up much-needed resources for patient care. And though it has won numerous awards for doing this,the Department of Health is proposing to outsource the services provided by NHS Logistics and the Purchasing and Supplies Agency to DHL/Novation.
UNISON is prepared for industrial action to safeguard NHS Logistics, a key NHS service, if the government realises its threat to outsource the service and transfer staff to a different employer.
UNISON is encouraging branches and members to write to their local MP to urge them to tell Health Minister Andy Burnham why NHS Logistics must remain part of the NHS and staff must not be outsourced.
You can contact your MP via the website:
These are some of the key points UNISON is encouraging members to put to MPs;
- NHS Logistics provides the health service in England with an enormous range of critical products – from food to complex magnetic resonance imagers, needles and syringes to electricity and fuel, mattresses to vehicles.
- The non-profit organisation helps the NHS reduce costs and free up much-needed resources for patient care. And it has won numerous awards for doing this.
- Last year (2005) £3m was returned to NHS trusts as a value rebate - will the shareholders of a private company be generous enough to share their profits with the NHS?
- We believe the decision to outsource the work of these loyal and committed staff was taken without proper consultation - UNISON believes that there is no viable business case for this decision and has told ministers so - they are not listening.
- We know that this decision has been taken purely for financial reasons, based on potential savings for the NHS, but we believe that cost cutting will reduce the quality of the products purchased for the NHS to use.
- NHS Logistics delivers directly to hospital wards and operating theatres. Getting it wrong could be a matter of life and death - should this be left to a parcel delivery company?
Monday, August 07, 2006
There are now a thousand dead over 900 lebanese (most of them civilians) and more than 80 Israelis( most of them soldiers)
Congratulations to Stop the War coalition for organising such a well attended demo with a weeks notice. Over 50 thousand people attended the rally in London.
Also you can check whether or not your MP has signed the letter to Tony Blair calling for immediate Ceasefire at
http://www.ceasefiretoday.org/ and if they haven't put some serious pressure on them to do so today.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
CND handed in a No Trident replacement petition to Downing Street on Friday 4th August, just before todays 61st Anniversary of Hiroshima.
Whilst in Japan at the anniversary memorial Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed to maintain Japan's three principles of not producing, possessing, or allowing nuclear weapons. "I will again vow that (we) will continue to stand at the forefront to realize the abolition of nuclear weapons and permanent peace," http://firstname.lastname@example.org
Tadotoshi Akiba, Hiroshimas Mayor said he expects Japan, the only country that has experienced the devastation of nuclear warfare, to take a potent role in the campaign of nuclear elimination.
U.N. Undersecretary General Nobuaki Tanaka attended the ceremony, and read a message from Kofi Anan which said "A world without nuclear weapons may be distant, but it is not a dream. The end of the Cold War made possible a measurable reduction in nuclear arsenals. That progress must now be accelerated and solidified,"
I encourage everyone to join CND and attend the rally on 23rd Sept and help turn this dream into a reality.
Friday, August 04, 2006
Good news from Scotland Tommy Sheridan MSP has won his defamation case against NOTW - they will now have to pay him £200k damages.
(I reckon it was tommy sheridan offering to de-robe that did it for the jury!)
On a serious note this is good news for Tommy so congrats.
Hopefully the SSP can find a way to pull together and not go up in flames.
However if you do split theres always space for you to join the labour party and help support the John 4 Leader campaign!
"Mr Cruddas, who serves an area where the BNP won 11 council seats in this year's local elections, said last night: "Sooner or later we are going to have to come back to this issue. Unless we come up with some progressive policy solutions we are going to have more of a problem, because the language of immigration will be so at odds with the empirical reality in constituencies like mine."
Jack Dromey, T&G deputy general secretary: "Ministers recognise the importance of migration to our economy and this is very welcome. However, we are extremely disappointed that any discussion of a one-off regularisation programme, or amnesty, has been dismissed in favour of tough talk of cracking down in the workplace. It may be a politically unpopular bullet to bite but only regularisation will make it transparent who is actually working in our economy.
This is inline with UNISON policy and something I support as does Jon (see previous post on TUC amendments!!)
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Local Government: NEC Division IV (local government) - the following were elected to the NEC:
The media seem to be concentrating on Walter Wolfgang at the moment
This is wonderful news for the John Mcdonnell campaign http://www.john4leader.org.uk/ , its the strongest result for the CLGA since it was established.
These results have been achieved despite the fact that, over the past nine years, Labour’s membership has halved and thousands of socialists have deserted the party in droves.
Theres no guarantee that anything like all of those who voted for the Grassroots Alliance would support a McDonnell candidacy, but what these results do suggest is that we have a much stronger potential support base in what remains of the Labour party than some of us had perhaps imagined. However we shouldn't be complacent and must continue to call on all socialists to join/re-join the party in order to support this campaign.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Your blogger is now on holiday for a few days (though not I fear at UNISON's wonderful holiday camp at Croyde Bay http://www.croydeunison.co.uk/ where this picture was taken). A trusted comrade has agreed to keep this blog updated in my absence. Whilst you enjoy your holidays, remember that you only have them because trade unionists fought for your right to have them - in fact almost everything worthwhile in our life today is the product of the struggle of working people over the last couple of centuries. So come back from your holidays with renewed enthusiasm - and if you are looking for somewhere to direct it, then I recommend (officially) http://www.unison.org.uk/challengeX/ and (personally) http://www.john4leader.org.uk/. See you soon!
UNISON's TUC delegation meeting today endorsed the action of our General Secretary in sending a letter to MPs reiterating our call for our Government to demand a ceasfire in the war in Lebanon.
In a letter to Labour MPs today, general secretary Dave Prentis voiced the union’s feelings about the “humanitarian catastrophe” and urged them to put pressure on Tony Blair “to make an unequivocal call for an immediate ceasefire” between Israel and Hezbollah.
“To many of our members, our failure to do this in recent weeks has put at risk the moral authority of our Labour government both at home and abroad,” he wrote. “It is widely perceived that our apparent inaction has undermined international efforts to halt the violence and isolated us from key European and Muslim world allies.“The deaths of innocent women, children and men, and Israel’s latest declaration that they now intend to widen their ground offensive against Lebanon, make the case for speaking out for an immediate ceasefire even more pressing.”
He said that UNISON members the breadth of the country had contacted him to express their horror. “They spend their lives caring for others, helping the vulnerable, building safe and healthy communities. They are appalled at the scenes of despair and destruction, as entire villages and communities are destroyed.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that there will be no ceasefire in Lebanon until an international force is deployed in the south of the country.
About 750 people - mainly civilians - have been killed so far by Israeli action in Lebanon, according to Lebanon's health minister. A total of 54 Israelis, including at least 19 civilians, are known to have been killed by Hezbollah.
Those who can get to London on Saturday can join the national demonstration. Saturday 5 August: Assemble 12 NoonSpeakers Corner, Hyde Park, LondonMarch to Parliament Square for rally - for more details and other actions go to www.stopwar.org.uk.
You can sign a letter to Tony Blair online at the Stop the War Coalition website.
UNISON’s TUC delegation meeting today agreed two amendments for submission to the annual meeting of the TUC in September – not including the amendment calling for an amnesty for so-called “illegal” migrant workers, which I proposed without success.
The successful amendments dealt with the dispute over the Local Government Pension Scheme and the marketisation of education. The latter amendment was not in fact available in writing before – or indeed at - the meeting, but a large majority of the delegation nevertheless felt that this was a higher priority than an amnesty for migrant workers.
The decisive argument against the amnesty proposal was probably that we could not be certain of winning the majority of votes at the Trade Union Congress. This view was put by General Secretary, Dave Prentis, who said that he could not guarantee that we would win our position at the TUC. It was reported that, based on discussions at the Scottish TUC, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), who are the movers of the motion we would have amended, would not have supported our amendment, which would therefore have been forced to a vote. Jane Carolan, Chair of UNISON’s Policy Committee, said that we did not need to confront our friends on this issue at a time when TUC policy was “inching forwards”.
In the event, the delegation meeting of 63 voting delegates voted to put in amendments on the LGPS (56 votes) and the marketisation of education (48 votes) and not the amnesty for migrant workers (10 votes). Whilst I appreciate the importance of the two issues upon which we have put amendments, I am disappointed that UNISON – for the second year in a row – has failed to put our own policy on migrant workers before the TUC.
I think that we should be more confident that a policy supported by UNISON and the TGWU could win at Congress. This is not like the debates about the Euro. There are no unions who are militantly opposed to our position, as there were over Europe. There may be unions who are less enthusiastic about the issue – but we have the largest and third largest affiliates in support of an amnesty for so-called “illegal” migrants (and the second largest affiliate is looking to merge with the third largest…) Add in the votes of the leftwing unions whose delegations could be expected to come down on the right (left) side of the argument and we could have TUC policy in line with the views of UNISON and the TGWU. This could help to build pressure on the Government to adopt a sensible and progressive approach, rather than pandering to the reactionary politics of the tabloid press.
Several speakers at the delegation meeting said that now was not the right time perhaps next year would be the right time to press this demand. I think that there is no time like the present – but if UNISON members re-elect me to the NEC I will remind those who said that this time next year! Mind you, I think some of them may have said the same thing last year… :(
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
I’m sorry that this is such a long post – I don’t think that is good blogging practice, but this is an important issue for more than a million of us in the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).
UNISON activists will be aware that our application for judicial review of the detrimental changes to the LGPS (which remove the right currently enjoyed by most scheme members to retire at 60 with an unreduced pension if we have 25 years service) will be heard in mid September.
In the mean time the Government have pressed ahead with a slight extension to the protection offered to existing members (essentially protecting the over 50s and offering partial protection to those aged 46 and above)(but nothing for the rest of us!!!)
For those who have noticed that the pensions fight has sunk from the front page of the UNISON website, it is reassuring to know that Regional pension briefings are taking place – but perhaps less reassuring to hear about the content of the briefings?
I can’t claim any credit for the following information, which I have received from my friend and comrade, Emma Goodall, from UNISON’s South East Region. What follows is Emma's report;
Yesterday, the South East was the first region to undergo the LGPS Briefing. This is a one-day session run by national officers where branch activists are told about the 4 options which the government are offering on the future of the LGPS. This is being rolled out across all the regions over the next few weeks. The day's agenda was as follows (this might change in other regions, but I assume it will be broadly the same):
11 - 12 Overview of the options for consultation This presentation will give you a clear overview of the negotiations and the options presented for informal consultation. We will then give you the opportunity to ask questions about the options.
12 - 12.45 The Trade Union Side Agenda During this activity we will discuss the key elements of the trade union agenda and outline arguments to back up our position.
12.45 - 1.30 Lunch
1.30 - 2.15 Option B - Getting to know the option further Option B is the closest to UNISON's view on the way forward. However, there are parts of Option B that we will seek improvements on. We will develop some ideas about how to describe this option to members, outline our view on improvements and answer their questions about its potential impact.
2.13 - 3 The Next Stage of the Campaign In this final session we will consider the next steps of the campaign. We will specifically focus on engaging members and potential members, identifying areas to organise and campaigning locally to keep the pressure up.
Firstly, four hours (which includes a 45 minute lunchbreak) isn't nearly long enough. Glyn Jenkin's overview (first item) took over an hour and a half, including questions, so the second item was reduced to under half an hour. There was no time for debate, just hurried questions answered even more hurriedly.
I said to the organiser, National Education Officer, Louise Chinnery, that the day needed to be longer to allow for proper discussion and debate, but she said it wasn't possible and Glyn would just have to stick to his hour in future. Glyn's presentation was just the right length and cutting his time will only further reduce the opportunity for questions and discussion. I strongly recommend that you push in other regions for the briefing day to run from 11 to 4 at least.
For the second item, we had to look at the following objectives, coming up with reasons why each was an important TU side issue and what our key arguments were:
· Max protection for existing LGPS members
· LGPS remain as final salary scheme
· Improving take up among low paid by graduating contributions
· Single tier scheme
· Partners pensions for all and backdated to 1972
· Equality proofing the scheme
· Improvement in death benefits
Note there is nothing about keeping the 85 year rule, or keeping contributions for the majority at 6%!
The third agenda item is the real worry. The activity's stated aims are:
· To explore option B as closest to the trade union proposal
· To outline further improvements that we are seeking to this option
And, worst of all:
· To consider how we communicate the trade union side view to members
Glyn said the timescale is now too tight for us to look at any options other than the 4 the DCLG have given us for consideration. So we are accepting the government and employers' timescale and can only pick from their options!!! The third aim suggests there is already a trade union side view. Who decided what that view is? What is the point of a consultation if the trade union side has already made its mind up? And now they want us to accept it and try to sell it to our members.
For those who haven't already seen Glenn Kelly's helpful SGE report on the options, this is what he says about Option B:
"Option B - A new final salary scheme with an improved accrual rate (1/60th rather than 1/80th) and no automatic lump sum on retirement
Once again on the surface this looks good and the employers estimate that this would cost them 1.1% on the pension bill.
So where is this additional money coming from….You guessed it out of the pockets of our members.
The scrapping of the 85-year rule (with protection only for those over 50 years old) will save the employers at least 2.2% on the pension bill. If the government and employers agree to give half of those savings back into the scheme as promised you get an additional 1.1% put back into the scheme to pay for improved benefits. So the money for this improvement comes out of the pockets of those members under 50 years old. Brilliant! They make out that they are giving us something, but in reality we’re paying for it ourselves. Look out for Prescott and Co. appearing on rogue traders next week!"
They are also proposing increasing contributions, to between 6.6% and 8.1% as well as detrimental changes to ill-health. Early retirement due to redundancy is being "dealt with" separately!
Our group asked "Are any of these 4 options worth working 5 years longer?" but Glyn ducked the question by saying that it depends what sort of pension scheme you want. I strongly suspect the real answer is "NO!"
It is clearly important that activists attend their Regional Pension Briefings (details are at http://www.unison.org.uk/pensions/doc_view.asp?did=2603 )
I am convinced by Emma’s argument that whilst it may be that Option B really can be turned into a good deal for our members through negotiated improvements, we need to have a proper open debate around the issues, rather than being steamrollered into accepting a weak compromise.
The full consultation paper is here: http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1501206 – activists need to look at this in order to determine how we should develop an argument around a fifth option, better than those on offer from the Government, and how we prepare our members for further action, which will be needed if we are to achieve the objectives we came out on strike for in March.