Saturday, September 30, 2006

Coventry UNISON starts indefinite strike

Good luck to UNISON members in Coventry local government branch who start indefinite selective strike action on Monday. This is part of Coventry’s dispute about an imposed Single Status deal.

There are many ways to support the dispute, including being part of a mass balloon release next Saturday! Plus of course you can donate to the strike fund.

This is the tip of the iceberg of disputes that could be taking place as a result of the failure of the Government to fund the introduction of equal pay through a harmonised job evaluation scheme in local government.

UNISON offers guidance to branches on how to deal with the challenge of implementing single status when the employers don’t have enough money and so want to rob Peter(or Polly) to pay Paul (or Pauline).

Last year’s UNISON Conference called on the National Executive Council to demand that the government ensures that initiatives to close the gender pay gap are fully funded, legally enforceable, and address past inequalities as a matter of urgency. I seem to recall at last year’s TUC that Gordon Brown said “Our aim is to end once and for all the gender pay gap in our country.”

That is our aim as trade unionists – but in Coventry a Single Status 'deal' that sees far too many people, including many low paid women lose serious amounts of money from their salaries has been imposed on our members.

Solidarity to the strikers! Click here for the latest on their dispute.

Blog off Dave!

So David Cameron’s secret weapon is to be a blog!

I shan’t be going there again! I’ve blogged before about why I don’t want to see a Tory Government. No doubt this development will kick off again the debate about why the Tories have more popular blogs than Labour. The most high profile political blog is clearly the one by the Tory who has the front to “rate” leftie blogs!

(Obviously I am very pleased this one was not approved by a Tory!)

I think it is obvious that those Labour supporting blogs (like this one) which focus on sycophancy towards New Labour are not going to be as interesting as Tory blogs which can have a pop at the Government. That said there are of course some very good left-wing blogs (here for example) The political left ought to be about a continuing struggle for equality and justice, which is exciting and interesting - not about personality contests between Cabinet ministers. The left ought to "speak truth to power" not say nice things to it...

While I am recommending things I should add that it is nice to see some posts on this blog being recommended at bloggers4labour – but I very much hope anyone doing the recommending is taking note of the guidelines on ethical voting on that site! (Remember comrades that we on the left are the good guys and girls and that we leave bad things to the bureaucrats, careerists and their hangers-on!)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pensions dispute - time to get serious

UNISON has lost our application for judicial review of the Government’s attack upon the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). So what do we do now?

Well, we could spend time remembering that many of us opposed the unfortunate decision to suspend industrial action after the very effective strike in March. More constructively we need to ensure that as many branches as possible respond to consultation on the future of the scheme before the deadline of tomorrow (29 September).

UNISON activists also need to give serious consideration to calling for a special Local Government Conference to debate the dispute about our pensions. Although if the Service Group Executive (SGE) can be persuaded to recommend rejection of any “final offer” and we move straight to a ballot for industrial action then we would not necessarily need a special conference – I can’t help but feel that demanding a special conference can do no harm, particularly if we link it to an instruction to the SGE not to support any unacceptable deal.

A special conference is not an end in itself – it is a means to the end of defending our pensions.

We need to reflect upon the mistakes made thus far in this dispute.

I know that everyone can be wise with the benefit of hindsight, but some of us also had foresight when the deal on public service pensions was done and local government was excluded.

Whilst the Joint Union Strike Team (JUST) was a positive development, bringing together 11 unions to defend the LGPS, it has also enabled the union officials to argue that their chosen tactics – having been endorsed by JUST – must be supported.

We need to face up to the fact that these tactics have failed to deliver and are failing to deliver. If we go back into dispute on this (and I think we must) then single days of strike action are not going to be what it takes to win.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Labour Party Conference opposes privatisation of housing and health services!

I’m glad I was right to predict that New Labour would lose the vote on Council Housing at Party Conference. I am even more glad that Conference voted against Government policy on the National Health Service.

Labour Party Conference has put the Labour Party on the side of the majority of the population and against the New Labour Government on the question of privatisation. Now Labour Party members and trade unionists have to choose a candidate for Labour leader who supports Party policy – not Government policy!

The BBC’s “Labour Conference at a Glance” page has a link to the site of one John McDonnell – he seems to back the policies that the Party has just agreed in defence of social housing and the NHS!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Real Labour to defeat New Labour on Housing (again)?

I’m glad that in spite of the NEC seeking remission of the Housing composite it went to a card vote. It should be passed. I imagine the card vote result will pop up at Bloggers4Labour before too much longer.

It is a disgrace that the Government have ignored the decisions of two successive Party Conferences to allow a level playing field for investment in social housing where council tenants want to remain council tenants.

Because the Government refuse to abide by Party policy, the newly elected Labour Council in Lambeth believes it has no option but to pursue an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO). This is one of the Government’s three options.

Tenants and housing workers in Lambeth are campaigning against the ALMO proposals because ALMOs are not a good idea. UNISON supports the fourth option (in line with Labour Party policy!)

Those (un)lucky enough to be in Manchester can find out more at the Defend Council Housing fringe meeting.

Will those who believe that Gordon Brown said that he would listen please watch carefully to see if he comes out in support of the fourth option? Don’t hold your breath. In the mean time you can sign online to support the fourth option.

Who is falling for Brown?

Having been disappointed at the official response of UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis to what Gordon Brown had to say yesterday, I though I would check what the other big unions had to say, Paul Kenny of the GMB says it was a “speech of great substance”. Derek Simpson of AMICUS was even more glowing;

"This was a unifying speech and one which will reconnect the government with the wider party.

“Gordon Brown captured the mood of the movement and demonstrated that he understands the insecurities and the concerns that people are facing, on jobs, affordable housing, the health service and pensions.

"Gordon said that that he was listening and this can only be a good thing."

The TGWU have yet to post anything commenting on the speech (or if they have I can’t find it!), but do report on an opinion poll which found that;
Labour voters strongly want more action for working people (95%) and for British workers to have the same rights at work as those in Europe (96%);
91% believe the Labour government should be more proactive in supporting manufacturing, in Wales (100%) and Scotland (93%) the responses were even stronger;
60% do not want anymore involvement of the private sector in health and education;
81% want a British foreign policy that is more independent of the Bush administration in the USA;
Only 18% think enough has been done to protect pensions.

I fear you would search in vain through the text of Brown’s speech for commitments which meet these aspirations. Of course it is a good thing if someone promises to listen to the trade unions – but what matters is whether they take what they hear into account, and Gordon Brown is not saying anything that suggests that he will. Why not back someone who would?

Well said Kelvin!

Kelvin Hopkins, co-Convenor of the UNISON group of MPs sums up Gordon Brown’s Conference speech very well in today’s Grauniad;

"It was a speech that will just mean continuing the same New Labour policies. There was nothing on the fourth option for council housing [allowing councils to build more council houses]; nothing on changing the policy on Trident or stopping moves to privatise the NHS."

This is the serious problem with what Brown had to say – and is a much more interesting comment than that made – or not made - by Cherie (although I suppose she ought to be able to spot a lie better than most…)

Gordon Brown has made clear that he is not going to deliver for the unions – what are we going to do about it?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Don't Get Fooled Again?

Oh dear, the UNISON website now confirms that our General Secretary welcomed Gordon Brown’s Conference speech, stating that; “there was enough in his speech to give us hope that he will listen about the direction of reform”. Mind you “it was only in his emphasis on "the driving power of social conscience" and "community" that he hinted at a different approach to public services if he becomes prime minister.”

We should be happy because Gordon has “hinted” at a different approach to public services if he became Prime Minister? No we shouldn’t. If Gordon Brown wanted to reassure Labour supporters of his commitment to Labour values he should do more than hint.

If you read the whole text of Brown’s speech it is hard to see where these hints are to be found.

When Brown says;

“And let me say that the renewal of New Labour must and will be built upon these essential truths: a flexible economy, reformed and personalised public services, public and private sectors not at odds but working together so that we can truly deliver opportunity and security not just for some but for all.”

This is essentially a restatement of New Labour economic policies. A flexible economy, in their language, means one in which we don’t have proper trade union rights. And when the public and private sectors work together they do so to enable the private sector to take a profit out of public services. We should be fighting for trade union rights and public services, not congratulating a Labour leader with no commitment to either.

Brown was not at all dishonest about this. He said; “We can't just be pro-Labour we've got to be pro-business too.”

I have already commented on what Brown said about the NHS. What is clear is that he made no commitment to halt or reverse the tide of cuts and privatisation. As UNISON observes officially on the website;

“He did not however make any comment on the current market-driven reforms of the NHS through which the private sector has become involved in patient care and services such as NHS Logistics are being privatised.” If we are supposed to take this as a “hint” that he is not in favour of the privatisation which he imposed on the tube in London then I think it is just conceivable that we are fooling ourselves.

It is great news that NHS Together had a packed fringe meeting at Conference and that Dave Prentis laid down a challenge to Labour activists to back UNISON's motion to conference calling for a stop to the privatisation of NHS Logistics and a re-think on strategy, saying:"There are MPs who will join us on a picket line to save a ward in their constituency. Now they have got to have the guts to stand up and say enough is enough."

But surely Gordon Brown is also an MP, of whom we should be demanding that he say “enough is enough”. He didn’t. He won’t. He doesn’t deserve our support. We need another candidate who will back union policies.

What should the unions make of Brown?

So Gordon Brown is starting to tell us what he wants to do as Prime Minister. The whole speech is online thanks to the BBC.

Dave Prentis, our General Secretary reportedly said of the Chancellor’s keynote speech to Labour Party Conference: "This was a speech with vision, based on working together, something we have not heard for a long time." I hope this didn’t reflect any shift away from the commendable caution Dave showed in commenting on plans for a “board” to run the NHS. Dave rightly said that " The last thing NHS staff need at the moment is another gimmick. We've had reform after reform, pushing services into the private sector and we need to slow that down. We would want to know how any proposed NHS board would operate and how it would be accountable. It could end up with a board controlled by big business with the interests of big business being put before those of patients and the NHS. We would want to be reassured that the health service is not being placed in the departure lounge for privatisation."

UNISON has already told Party Conference to listen to its supporters. We won’t get far by praising the architect of privatisation – Gordon Brown.

Left-wing leadership challenger John McDonnell said Mr Brown’s speech had been "content-less" and was offering only more of the same.

That seems right to me – look at what Brown has to say about our NHS;

“But when some people say as they do, why all that modernisation? Why all these New Labour reforms? Why continue to change?
I tell the country:
This is not reform for reforms sake but reform to deliver the best service possible, and Britain cannot lead the world by standing still.”

At one level this is vacuous nonsense worthy of Tony Blair. It can all too easily be read, however, as a pledge for “business as usual” from a Government seemingly committed to dismantling our health service.

Also, we know that Brown would replace Trident nuclear submarines – and that Party Conference is not even going to be allowed to debate this issue.

Let’s hope the union leaders don’t fall for the illusion that they can have the influence with Brown that they used to tell us they had with Blair!

Stop the Closure of Islington Green School – No Academy.

“Hey Tony, leave our school alone”

Islington UNISON along with the Islington National Union of Teachers are Continuing the fight against the second academy in Islington. I am posting a report from the local NUT Branch, which has our full endorsement. The Campaign to stop the Academy will also be part of the Islington Campaign Against Privatisation, Public Meeting called by Islington UNISON and supported by the NUT.

Some the older readers will remember that it was the kids from this school that sang on the Pink Floyd album, Brick in the Wall. Well we say, hey Tony leave our school alone.

Islington Campaign Against PrivatisationPublic Meeting Tuesday 3rd October, 7pm
The Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Upper Street, N1, (Highbury tube)
Speakers Include:

  • John McDonnell MP (Chair, Public Services not Private Profit campaign)
    Jon Rogers, UNISON National Executive Committee.
    Ken Muller, Islington NUT and Islington Green School NUT Steward.
    Andrew Berry, Islington UNISON, Deputy Branch Secretary.

  • Defend Staff in Elderly people homes, against a 50% wage cut by care UK.
    Bring back under council control Elderly Persons homes run by Care UK.
    Campaign against Islington Green school closing to be come and academy.
    Campaign to bring School Catering back in council control
    Stop Home Care being privatised
    Stop children home closures which will lead to more use of the private sector

Called By: Islington UNISON and supported by Islington NUT

I will hopefully post on other issues included in this meeting during the week.

Update on Academy at Islington Green School –Islington NUT

On 29 July the exclusively Lib Dem council Executive voted to issue a closure notice on IGS on 5 September in order to replace it with an academy. This was despite a sizeable anti-academy lobby attended by a large contingent of IGS teachers and being comprehensively out-argued in the debate prior to the vote.

However, the Laboor Group “called in” the decision for further discussion and the Overview Committee split 4-4 when it met the following week, the decision to confirm the vote to issue the closure notice only being forced through on the chair’s casting vote.

The closure notice was not issued on 4 September as planned because the NUT wrote a protocol letter to LBI giving notice of its intention to seek a judicial review of the decision on Ken Muller’s behalf, as a teacher at the school. The judicial review will question whether meaningful (statutory) consultation can take place on a closure notice when the funding agreement for the new academy has yet to be published.

Notwithstanding the outcome of any legal action, the issue of a closure notice will be followed – after the consultation period - by a meeting of the Islington Schools Organisation Committee which must unanimously agree to the closure of IGS if it is to go ahead. If the decision at the SOC is not unanimous (and it wasn’t in the case of St Mary Magdalene last year), it has to go to the Schools Adjudicator for a final decision.

Earlier this year, a meeting of over 40 IGS staff voted almost unanimously (there was one abstention) to oppose the school becoming an academy. Since then the summer’s outstanding SATs and GCSE results have shown that, far from being a “failing” school, IGS is a rapidly improving one. Given that academies are meant to replace failing school, why are the head, the governors and the Lib Dem council continuing with their efforts to close it? They should stop allowing political considerations impacting on the decisions they make and act instead in the educational interests of the school’s current and future pupils - as well those of all children in Islington, whatever their background. They should reverse their decision to close IGS and instead seek to include it in the next phase of Building Schools for the Future.

What’s in store for us?

According to this month’s CEA@Islington Statistical Update, the school’s “net capacity” (which is currently 1058) will next year “will reduce by 60 because the City Academy will have a net admission number of 120 (compared to Islington Green’s intake of 180). In 2009 the net capacity will further reduce by 398 when the move to a new site is completed bringing the Academy’s net capacity to 600”!

In other words, lots of us are going to lose our jobs if the academy goes ahead. We have been promised our pay and conditions will be protected by TUPE when we (or those of us remaining) transfer over to the academy. So were those of Islington’s care home workers who transferred to Care UK when the service was privatised in 2003. This week’s Islington Tribune, however, reports on its front page that Care UK is to cut its former LBI employees’ wages by 50% to maintain the “long term viability” of its contract!

We cannot be reassured by our new academy sponsors’ decision to employ the US educational firm Edison to facilitate the move to an academy. According to Wikipedia, “Edison Schools keep in mind ten fundamentals and various core values. The fundamentals include a better use of time (which means a longer school day and a longer school year – 198 days as opposed to 180 in the standard American school).

Our head teacher gave us his personal assurance that he would not allow our pay and conditions to become worse than our current statutorily protected ones. We told him that this undoubtedly sincere commitment was of limited worth because either he might leave the school or because he would come under pressures from the new sponsors which he was unable to resist. Unfortunately, the first of these predictions has come to pass and we are faced with an unknown quantity as a replacement head teacher, not bound by our current head’s commitments.

Just who are Edison?

According to the NUT website, Edison “as been opposed in its native country by those alarmed by the involvement of the private sector in education, and has been accused of attempting to keep pupils with special needs out in order to boost its schools’ results”. The American Federation of Teachers notes that “In 14 out of 20 states where the company operates, Edison schools performed below average compared to public schools”. It also records that the “company has lost contracts to operate 30 of 64 schools in districts that contracted with Edison in the company’s first four years”. And perhaps more luridly, a press release issued last year by Parents Advocating School Accountability is headlined: Sex, cheating scandals cost stumbling Enron Schools another client ( One “respected veteran principal in a struggling Edison School in Albany, N.Y., recently quit and told the Albany Times-Union, “It’s about my integrity. I can’t subscribe to another four years with Edison”. According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (21 April 2005), moreover, the NY state attorney general was about to investigate financial mismanagement at a New York school from which Edison was recently removed.

Given Edison’s record, the fact that no final decision has yet been made about IGS becoming an academy and the near-unanimous vote against this happening at last term’s joint union meeting, colleagues should ask themselves whether they should be speaking to the company about what kind of school they would like the academy to become.

Instead we should be doing all we can to continue our campaign to stop it happening at all. Academies are a step along the road to the privatisation of our schools. They are divisive, promise to create a socially unjust two-tier system of education and threaten our pay and conditions. As the Albany head realised, it’s about integrity. It’s a pity that Islington Lib Dem’s, whose national party opposes academies for the very reasons stated above, don’t seem to have any. Those that do should speak out before it is too late.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Greedy stupid bosses back poverty pay

So the dear old bosses’ organisation – the Confederation of British Industry (as pictured above) are worried about the implications of increasing the minimum wage – to the extent of having issued a press release!

In its submission to the Low Pay Commission this week (20 September), the CBI warns that rising energy costs, lower 2007 growth forecasts and the increasing cost of employment regulation mean that the economy simply cannot accommodate further heavy minimum wage rises.

Somehow I don’t think that either the author of the press release or the suit who approved it are getting by on £5.35 an hour.

The CBI follow in the footsteps of those early nineteenth century capitalists who opposed restrictions on child labour. I particularly like Andrew Ure who famously observed;

“I have visited many factories, both in Manchester and the surrounding districts, during a period of several months and I never saw a single instance of corporal punishment inflicted on a child. The children seemed to be always cheerful and alert, taking pleasure in using their muscles. The work of these lively elves seemed to resemble a sport. Conscious of their skill, they were delighted to show it off to any stranger. At the end of the day's work they showed no sign of being exhausted.”

Economists of the day seriously argued that working hours could not be reduced because “the whole net profit is derived from the last hour.” Of course this turned out to be nonsense. Indeed it was the success of the trade unions in limiting working hours which compelled capitalists to look for new ways to increase labour productivity (what Karl Marx called the strategy of “relative surplus value”) – leading to the growth in output and living standards over the past century and a half.

If there are sectors of today’s economy which can only thrive on the basis of poverty pay then the bosses in those sectors are stupid as well as greedy and they, and their friends in the CBI need to be treated with the contempt they deserve. What we, as trade unionists and socialists need is a candidate for leader of our party who will stand up for the rights of workers and not someone who wants to suck up to the bosses – now who could I mean?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Good luck to the NHS Logistics strikers

Good luck to the UNISON members about to start their first 24 hour strike at NHS Logistics. This is a dispute caused by the Government’s daft decision to privatise a vital part of our health service. Read the latest news about the dispute here.

Get the full information about the dispute here. Send a message of support via the UNISON website by clicking here. And get the information about how to contact your Member of Parliament to lobby them about the dispute here.

I am only sorry not to have been able to join some other comrades from the Greater London on a trip to the picket line this evening.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Support strike to save our NHS

UNISON members employed by NHS Logistics start national strike action tomorrow.

Around 900 staff were balloted by UNISON, with 74% voting for strike action on a 66% turnout."Our members at the five NHS Logistics depots voted overwhelmingly for the strike action," said UNISON head of health Karen Jennings."They have a very strong sense of loyalty to the NHS and have worked hard to make NHS Logistics a highly competitive, innovative NHS service. "Last year it delivered savings to trusts of £2.8 million: cash that can be ploughed back into front-line services."NHS Logistics has a fantastic track record on innovation and awards for efficiency. There can be absolutely no justification for privatising this service."HS Logistics is a not-for-profit organisation supplying hospitals, GP surgeries and patients with more than 43,000 items including essential surgical supplies and products such catheters, hand-gel, swabs, bandages, disposable bedpans and food.

Patricia Hewitt may want more private sector involvement in our NHS, but UNISON members do not. Opinion poll evidence shows that we have majority public support for our opposition to further privatisation. As Keep Our NHS say in their recent press release – privatisation is also the cause of cuts in our NHS.

We can’t all be on the picket lines at NHS Logistics but we can all give political support to this important struggle.

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:

Below are some key points you may wish to include in your letter.

NHS Logistics provides the health service in England with an enormous range of critical products – from thermometers and syringes, to baby milk and patients’ slippers and bandages to cleaning products.
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?

Patricia Hewitt thinks it should, but only Tony Blair agrees with her (and perhaps some of the less intelligent shareholders in DHL...)

Hewitt - "no limits to private role in NHS"

So Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt says there will be “no artificial limits” on the role of the private sector in our Health Service.

What on earth does that mean? How could any such limits be anything other than “artificial”? Are there perhaps “natural” limits, set by climate or topography? Our health service is entirely “artificial” in that it was created by people, and is daily recreated by the labour of those employed within it.

What this means is that when Ms Hewitt talks about retaining the values of the NHS all that she means is a service free at the point of use (for now?) She has no commitment to in-house provision of any service. When she says that there are no “artificial” limits to private involvement she simply means that, on her watch, there will be no limits at all.

This comes from a misunderstanding of very simple economics, and the belief that the “market” can somehow automatically bring efficiencies. On the contrary, health services are not the sort of commodities for which this mantra holds true. The arguments against this misconception are neatly summarised in this UNISON pamphlet.

Details of alternative vision for modernising our health care – based on a shift towards prevention and public health, an embedding of collaborative networks and integrated care pathways, the mobilisation of professionalism and a public service ethic, and genuine forms of patient empowerment and public accountability are set out in a number of articles collected together here by Keep Our NHS Public.

This latest reiteration of the threat to our health service demonstrates why we need united opposition to the privatisation plans of New Labour, such as the new NHS together campaign and the established Keep Our NHS Public campaign. If the Labour Party cannot be shifted from its current path then we face the even worse prospect of a Tory Government at the next election.

UNISON members in NHS Logistics, striking tomorrow against privatisation, are leading the way. Good luck to them!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Labour in legal threat to trade union

Thanks to an even more avid reader of posts from John McDonnell MP I was alerted to the threat of imprisonment against the leaders of the Prison Officers Association because they refuse to repudiate the actions of their members who are refusing to work voluntary overtime.

Keen as ever to provide readers of this blog with a balanced view I hurried to the news page of HM Prison Service, where the latest news, six days old is about a very worthy family friendly prisons initiative. Not so family friendly to those prison officers who are being told their union could face fines because they won’t work voluntary overtime!

Earlier on Tuesday, Colin Moses, national chairman of the POA, said forcing prison officers to work overtime was a breach of their human rights.

"If someone finishes a day at work then they have a human right to come home.”

"The Prison Service is in crisis and my members are fed up to the back teeth of being treated like second-class citizens because of the failings of inept managers, the drive of the Prisons Board to achieve paper targets and efficiencies set by government which will only lead to wholesale problems within the Criminal Justice System."

The POA have now decided to call off their proposed strike. After calling off the strike, POA general secretary Brian Caton said the union would continue to press for the full return of its right to take industrial action, which was taken away under the Conservatives.

What a disgrace to the Labour Party not to have restored that right already!

Criminal justice crisis requires trade union unity

It is alarming to read it today’s Guardian about the crisis in our criminal justice system. According to this report new national offender management service (Noms), which runs prisons and probation services in England and Wales has a £40 million deficit – and the London Probation Service has a £10 million shortfall half way through the financial year.

These financial problems come on top of continual pressure to privatise services, which are familiar to those of us working in local government and in health. With UNISON members also under threat it is obvious that joint union action is needed.

Probation Officers union – NAPO and the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) both supported the joint union Public Services not Private Profit campaign, the success of which helped to contribute to the TUC policy proposed by UNISON last week which calls for a coordinated campaign against privatisation. The sooner the General Council implements this policy the better.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Solidarity with Merseyside Firefighters

I was pleased to have the opportunity to hear first hand from Merseyside firefighters at the TUC in Brighton last week. On Wednesday, the Fire Brigades Union in Merseyside commence four days of strike action.

The first four days will start at 10.00 on 20 September and finish on 10.00 on 24 September and the second set of four days will start at 10.00 on 24 September and finish at 10.00 on 28 September.

The strike is in opposition to proposed cuts which include:

Cutting 120 firefighter posts – one in ten of the workforce –in addition to the 68 posts cut last year;

Introducing a 96 hour week at some fire stations;

Cutting 15 emergency fire control operator posts –one in four of the workforce

Axing four fire engines at night time;

There will be fewer rescue appliances, fewer firefighters on fire engines and a longer wait for crews to arrive at all 999 emergencies.

Good luck comrades…

The real scandal behind the payout

The story in today’s Guardian, about confidential payments allegedly made by the TGWU to a couple of its members is initially shocking. We tend not to think of trade unions as being respondents in litigation and having to make payments – though actually such cases are inevitably not uncommon.

On reflection, and reading between the lines a little, there is a real scandal behind this story. The scandal is that nine years and four months into a Labour Government we still have such illiberal labour laws that trade union members cannot safely take solidarity action.

Not for the first time I find myself agreeing with John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and leadership contender, who said the size of the payout was "bizarre”.

I agree with John when he says that “this shows the need for a new trade union freedom bill which legalises limited solidarity action by workers in disputes like the Gate Gourmet affair and would have prevented the T&G being put in this position."

Why should trade unionists face dismissal if they are prepared to take solidarity action to show support for brothers and sisters who are victims of injustice?

As I reported last week from the TUC, the union movement is now united in support of the Trade Union Freedom Bill, which has the support of 182 MPs. Now we need to take the campaign back out onto the streets and into the Labour Party. Tony Woodley was right to say at the TUC that workers need unions more than ever. Unions also need legal rights and freedoms to be able to defend workers' interests.

If you are not yet persuaded you can download a detailed briefing from the Institute of Employment Rights at their website.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Solidarity with NHS Logistics strikers

Good luck and best wishes to the UNISON members at NHS Logistics taking strike action next Thursday.

Full details of this dispute are on the UNISON website (from which I have borrowed the picture above). Everyone reading this story who cares about our National Health Service (and wants to avoid a Labour Government picking an unpopular fight with its own supporters!) can lobby your MP!

The combined threats of privatisation and spending cuts in our health service have already inspired unprecedented unity between health unions who have come together to campaign as nhs together.

I hope that this joint union campaign will line up alongside successful established campaigners in Keep Our NHS Public, established by (among others) Health Emergency.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

59% of union activists back John McDonnell

The Electoral Reform Society stall at the TUC Congress ran an online poll for delegates to vote for their preferred candidate for Leader of the Labour Party.

Over 200 delegates voted. Alan Johnson got 8%. Gordon Brown got 10%. John McDonnell got 59%.

I think that Union linked MPs should get the message and nominate John to ensure that trade unionists get the chance to vote for a candidate who backs trade union policies.

Otherwise our members will wonder what the point of our link to the Labour Party is. We don't want to be left with a choice between Scylla (Brown) and Charybdis (Johnson)!

Hands off Iran!

Given this debate I thought I would post this excellent article which first appeared in Workers Action

By Darren Williams

At the time of writing, there is something of a lull in the diplomatic stand-off between Iran and the so-called ‘G6’ (the five permanent UN Security Council members, plus Germany). The Iranian Government is considering the offer of technical assistance and diplomatic concessions presented on 6th June in a bid to secure the termination of its uranium enrichment programme. For its part, the United States’ agreement on 31st May to participate in talks represented a significant climbdown from its renewed rejection of negotiations less than a week earlier. Nevertheless, there are strong indications that the Bush administration remains committed to a military attack on Iran, with the possible acquiescence of the British Government. US aggression against the Islamic Republic has seemed a real possibility ever since Bush included Tehran, together with Baghdad and Pyongyang, in the so-called ‘Axis of Evil’ in his State of the Union address on 29th January 2002. In recent months, US rhetoric directed against Iran has become increasingly strident and its persistent, wide-ranging accusations disturbingly recall the build-up to war in Iraq in 2002-03. The danger that Iran, like Iraq before it, may be subjected to the might of US imperialism is ever present. Readers of Workers Action will hopefully not need to be persuaded of the imperative to oppose any military attack but it may nevertheless be useful to address systematically the arguments being presented in support of US intervention, to assist in building the opposition to war over the coming months.

1. There is no clear evidence that Iran is seeking to produce nuclear weapons
It is important to spell this out, as the constant accusations and insinuations, coupled with the general demonisation of the Iranian government, are likely to promote the idea that there is ‘no smoke without fire’. Iran may be seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but we should not assume this to be the case simply because the US and its allies say so. Iran announced on 11th April that it has enriched uranium to 3.5% - slightly more than the level necessary for energy purposes but a long way short of the 85-90% required to produce weapons-grade uranium. The rigorous inspection regime applied by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to which Iran voluntarily submitted in December 2003, has failed to turn up any hard evidence of a weapons programme. The US Government has questioned why a country with so much oil needs nuclear energy but the Iranian population has doubled since the 1979 revolution, increasing domestic demand, and it is estimated that the country will become a net oil importer in less than twenty years if current consumption trends continue.

The Iranian nuclear programme actually predates the Islamic Republic, having begun under the Shah in the 1950s with technology provided by the United States. Subsequently abandoned by Ayatollah Khomenei as ‘un-Islamic’, it was later re-commenced, initially in secret. It was only this failure to report that the programme was underway, that represented an infringement of Iran’s international obligations. Uranium enrichment itself is explicitly allowed by article 4 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a signatory, which allows states to develop nuclear power if they agree not to acquire nuclear weapons, or to take steps to give up those they already possess (Iran did voluntarily suspend its right to enrichment in December 2003 and again in November 2004, in an agreement with Britain, France and Germany that it abandoned when the latter backtracked on their side of the bargain.) Of course, the nuclear weapon states that have signed the NPT have – so far from giving up their weapons – regularly re-stocked their arsenals – the latest example being Britain’s plans to replace Trident. The hypocrisy of Iran being cajoled and threatened over its nuclear programme by states with their own nuclear weapons – including Israel, which has not even signed the NPT – surely does not need to be underlined.

2. Even if Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, this is not in itself evidence of aggressive intent
Iran has a reasonable desire for self-defence – surrounded as it is by nuclear powers (India, Pakistan, Russia, China and Israel) and by US bases in Qatar, Iraq, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. It has also suffered the effects of foreign intervention in the recent past: the United States and Britain engineered a coup that overthrew the country’s first democratic government in 1953, initiating the dictatorship of the Shah. It sustained hundreds of thousands of casualties in the 1980-88 war with Iraq, during which the Reagan administration supported Saddam with arms, destroyed almost half of the Iranian navy and shot down a civilian passenger plane.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hostility towards Israel is cited as evidence of aggressive intent – in particular, his supposed threat last October to "wipe Israel off the map". In fact, as Jonathan Steele has pointed out in The Guardian, after consulting experts on Farsi, what Ahmadinejad actually said was: ‘the regime occupying Jerusalem must be wiped from the page of time’. As Steele concludes: ‘He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future.’[1] In response to UN Security Council criticism of Ahmadinejad’s statement, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said, ‘Iran is loyal to its commitments based on the UN charter and it has never used or threatened to use force against any country.’ Ahmadinejad has denied promoting ‘A fight between Judaism and other religions,’ and explains that conflict in the Middle East ‘will be over the day a Palestinian government, which belongs to the Palestinian people, comes to power; the day that all refugees return to their homes; a democratic government elected by the people comes to power.’[2]

By contrast, both the US and Israel have openly threatened to attack Iran and given their past record, these threats should be taken seriously. In January of this year, for example, Vice-President Dick Cheney said that Iranian nuclear advances were so pressing that Israel “may be forced to attack facilities”, as it did in Iraq in 1981. In March, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, gave visiting members of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee a detailed description of the form that military action could take.

3. There is no imminent danger to other countries
The handling of the Iranian nuclear issue by the US and other ‘G6’ members has imparted a sense of imminent crisis. In March, the UN Security Council gave Iran thirty days to end its enrichment programme; when it failed to comply with this (non-binding) deadline, the Security Council discussed – albeit inconclusively – a resolution that would have insisted on a mandatory suspension of the programme. Now the US is demanding an urgent Iranian response to the offer currently on the table – no later than the G8 summit in St. Petersburg in Mid-July, whereas Iran intends to give its answer on 22nd August. The US offer to negotiate is contingent on the suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment. The impression created by all this is that every day is precious as diplomats struggle to prevent an Iranian acquisition of WMDs, which could – it has been stated in some quarters – happen ‘within months’.

This alarmism is at odds with all the expert assessments of the timescale – including the US Government’s own. In August 2005, the Washington Post reported that a major US intelligence review, presenting the consensus view of all US intelligence agencies – the first on Iran since 2001 – concluded that Iran was unlikely to be able to produce a sufficient quantity of highly enriched uranium to produce nuclear weapons until ‘early-to-mid next decade’.[3] A paper produced for the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in January estimated that ‘Iran could have its first nuclear weapon in 2009’ at the earliest and acknowledged that several analysts considered it more likely that technical difficulties would cause further delays.[4] The ISIS authors anticipated an early completion of the enrichment process, consequently their timetable may be considered unchanged by the Iranian announcement of 11th April.[5]

4. The US Government’s actions suggest that it has an ulterior motive for pursuing a confrontation with Iran
Throughout its supposed membership of the ‘Axis of Evil’, the Iranian government has consistently been willing to negotiate over contentious issues; not so the Bush administration. In May 2003, according to Flynt Leverett, then a senior official in Bush’s National Security Council, Iran proposed an agenda for talks to resolve all its bilateral differences with the United States – including WMDs, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the future of Lebanon’s Hizbullah organisation and co-operation with the UN nuclear safeguards agency. The US refused and reprimanded the Swiss diplomat who conveyed the offer. A year later, the EU and Iran agreed a temporary suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, in exchange for European assurances of no US/Israeli attacks on Iran. Europe withdrew under US pressure and Iran renewed its enrichment processes. More recently, Ahmadinejad’s open letter to Bush was also an invitation to dialogue, albeit one couched in somewhat elliptical terms. The US recently agreed to hold direct talks with Iran for the first time since 1979 – but only about Iraq, refusing to discuss the nuclear programme, as Iran wanted – then, on 24th May, withdrew its agreement to talk to Iran at all. Finally, it agreed to negotiations, together with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, but only on condition that Iran suspend its nuclear programme – and still refused to rule out a military attack.

Meanwhile, the US Government has taken measures that suggest that its bellicose language is not empty rhetoric. In the summer of 2004, Congress passed a resolution authorising ‘all appropriate measures’ to prevent the Iranian weapons programme. More recently – on 27th April this year – the House of Representatives passed the Iran Freedom Support Act, making permanent US sanctions against Iran under the 1996 Iran Libya Sanctions Act, unless there is a change of government in Tehran. The Democratic congressman, Dennis Kucinich, who opposed the bill, argued: ‘this is a stepping stone to the use of force, the same way that the Iraq Liberation Act was used as a stepping stone.’

An article in The New Yorker (17th April) by the veteran investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, based on interviews with senior figures in the US military and political establishment, claims that the White House is set on the use of force, not just to wipe out Iran’s nuclear facilities, but to secure ‘regime change’ in the country.[6] ‘Current and former American military and intelligence officials’ told Hersh that
Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups.

A former defence official explained that the administration believed that ‘a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.’ The use of tactical nuclear weapons (‘bunker-busters’) is even being considered, to destroy underground installations. The US Government has recently allocated $75 million to promote ‘democracy’ in Iran by broadcasting propaganda, funding NGOs and promoting ‘cultural exchanges’. US officials have also reportedly been working covertly with the armed Iranian exile group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK; ironically, once a Marxist group), and leading neo-cons have been lobbying for the MEK to be taken off the State Department’s list of terrorist organisations.

‘This is much more than nuclear issue,’ a high-ranking diplomat told Seymour Hersh. ‘The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years.’ Iran is OPEC's second largest oil producer and holds 10% of the world's proven oil reserves. It also has the world's second largest natural gas reserves (after Russia). The United States has not purchased Iranian oil since the Revolution and Iran’s principal customer is now China – the main economic competitor to the US in the long-run. Iran also plans to establish a new International Oil Bourse on the island of Kish in the Persian Gulf, trading oil priced in euros (rather than dollars, as in all other markets). If successful, this could strengthen the status of the euro as an alternative oil transaction currency and cause a major currency flight from the dollar to the euro, threatening the status of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency and causing major economic problems for the US.[7]

A shorter-term consideration is the fact that the worsening disaster in Iraq and the deaths of more than 2,500 US military personnel have seriously damaged Bush’s domestic support; an apparently ‘successful’ strike against a popularly-reviled external ‘threat’ could boost his popularity in time for November’s mid-term elections.

5. The British Government has failed to distance itself from US belligerence
Britain has echoed US condemnation of Iran, albeit while promoting a negotiated settlement more assiduously. While Blair has sought to discourage speculation about military means, his commitment to the ‘Special Relationship’ and his track record in Afghanistan and Iraq suggest that British forces might well be involved in any attack. In April, Jack Straw dismissed the idea of military action against Iran as ‘inconceivable’ and said that any nuclear attack on the country would be ‘completely nuts’. His subsequent replacement as Foreign Secretary by Margaret Beckett has prompted speculation that Blair was seeking to assure Bush of continued British support for US policy. Certainly, Beckett refused to rule out military action quite as emphatically as her predecessor when asked to do so after a meeting with UN Security Council colleagues. (The furthest she would go was to say: ‘No-one has the intention to take military action. That was not discussed, it's not an issue.’) The revelation that, in July 2004 British officers took part in a US war game aimed at preparing for a possible invasion of Iran, hardly eases concerns.

6. Any military attack on Iran would be disastrous for the Iranian people
The death toll resulting from any aerial bombing of Iranian nuclear facilities would be in the thousands, with ‘many hundreds’ of civilian casualties, according to a report produced in February by Prof. Paul Rogers for the Oxford Research Group. His conclusions were based on the fact that most of the facilities are in densely populated areas and the likelihood that the US would launch a surprise attack, leaving no time for evacuations or other precautions. Rogers’ estimate may even be conservative, since he cites a relatively small number of likely targets, whereas a US military analyst who taught at the National War College told Seymour Hersh that ‘at least four hundred targets’ would have to be hit.

While a military attack would undoubtedly cause chaos and suffering, the idea that it would precipitate a popular rebellion seems an example of neo-con strategic thinking being clouded by ideological delusions. One might imagine that the experience of Iraq would have taught them that they cannot expect to be treated as liberators when they lay waste to cities and slaughter civilians – but apparently not. Iran, although facing significant economic problems (including an unemployment rate unofficially estimated at around 25%), is in nowhere near as desperate a state as Iraq in 2003. Moreover, it is far more ethnically and religiously homogeneous than Iraq. And, while there is widespread popular opposition to the authoritarianism and repression of the Islamic Republic, that opposition would be weakened, rather than strengthened, by a military attack, with most Iranians putting aside their differences in defence of their homeland. Already, Ahmadinejad has seen his popularity boosted by the resolute stance he has maintained in the face of diplomatic bullying and threats. An opinion poll conducted in Iran in February showed that 85% of those surveyed supported the continuation of the nuclear enrichment programme, and 75% would do so even if it meant Security Council sanctions.

How should socialists balance their duty to oppose imperialist aggression with the need to support progressive forces in Iran, which currently face repression by the Islamic regime?

Clearly, there can be no weakening of our defence of women’s rights, our opposition to official homophobia, our condemnation of human rights abuses or our support for the (illegal) workers’ organisations, whose resilience was demonstrated in December by the strike by 3000 bus drivers in Tehran. The Islamic Republic is fundamentally reactionary – born out of the eradication of the progressive forces in the 1979 Revolution. Any real political progress on the part of the Iranian working class and its allies will involve a frontal challenge to the present theocratic state. The class struggle is also, however, played out at the global level, between states. Any political destabilisation that might result from external pressure – whether military, diplomatic or economic – would surely deliver no lasting benefits to the Iranian people. It would more likely strengthen US hegemony, by weakening Iranian autonomy and promoting US proxies within Iran or among its neighbours. Moreover, it would represent a victory by imperialism over all the subaltern states of the so-called ‘Third World’. To the extent, therefore, that Ahmadinejad is playing an anti-imperialist role, by facing down the threats of the US and its allies, he deserves the support of socialists and progressives around the world.

It should also be said that the political character of Ahmadinejad’s government is by no means clear. His election last year provoked alarm, not just in the seats of government and the stock exchanges, but among liberals and the left; he was widely portrayed as a dangerous, reactionary demagogue, in contrast to his main rival, the ‘moderate’ and ‘pragmatic’ ex-President, Hashemi Rafsanjani. Much of Ahmadinejad’s support comes from the poor and the unemployed, however, and was secured by promises to ensure that Iran’s oil wealth is more equitably distributed. Rafsanjani, on the other hand, was seen by many as a corrupt plutocrat (he is the country’s richest man) who promoted the IMF agenda of privatisation and deregulation during his previous two terms in office (1989-97) – as, to a lesser extent, did his reformist successor, Mohammed Khatami. As the US-based Iranian writer, Rostam Pourzal, explains:

‘To millions of voters of modest means, Ahmadinejad symbolizes resistance to the anti-democratic global free-trade elite with whom the relatively secular reform movement has aligned itself.’[8]

Ahmadinejad has angered the Iranian establishment by sacking senior ministers, officials and diplomats and replacing them, in many cases, with former comrades from the Revolutionary Guard. He has criticised privatisations set in motion by his predecessors and boosted economic support for Iran’s most impoverished regions. And, while he remains a religious and social conservative on most issues, he has sought to allow women the right to attend football matches (only to be overruled by the clerics). Ahmadinejad’s increasingly friendly relations with left-wing, anti-US leaders like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez is also significant. While it seems a gross exaggeration to call him, as some left-wing commentators have done, ‘Iran’s Chavez’, Ahmadinejad shares with the Venezuelan leader an nationalist-populist approach to the economy, based on a determination that the people should benefit from their country’s natural resources, rather than allowing them to be looted by global capitalists. It is to be hoped that his association with the progressive, anti-imperialist forces in world politics will exert a positive influence on Iranian domestic politics.

Speculation about the future direction of Iran must, however, be secondary to mobilising opposition against an imperialist assault. While the immediate threat may have temporarily receded, it would be over-optimistic to imagine that the US Government will desist from its attempts to impose its will on the country. The growing charge-sheet should set off alarm-bells about US intentions: in addition to the nuclear issue, Iran has recently been accused of being the leading state sponsor of international terrorism, of stirring up the ‘cartoon’ protests in Denmark and elsewhere and of providing weapons and bomb training to anti-U.S. insurgent groups in Iraq. Many of these claims have as little substance as the accusations of links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda and of his supposed attempts to obtain uranium from Niger, etc. Nevertheless, they are likely to be pursued as vigorously as the US pursued its war-drive 3-4 years ago.

In this context, socialists need to be actively building the campaign to prevent another war, through the Stop the War Coalition and Labour Against the War. We should be winning the backing of trade union bodies and demanding that Labour MPs give assurances that they will vote against any moves to deploy British military force. Finally, we should be building links, especially at local level, with individuals and organisations in the Iranian community in Britain. We need to assure them that the left will work to prevent any attack on their country, while also supporting their aspirations for democracy and civil rights.

Setback for Equality at the TUC

Congress has just had its first card vote of the week. A motion from the TUC LGBT Conference, moved very well by Maria Exall of the CWU, and supported by UNISON, fell by 3,789,000 votes to 2,411,000.

The motion asked for the General Council to listen to the views of the TUC equality conferences, and to consider allowing each equality conference to submit two motions to Congress (rather than just one as at present). It also asked for direct representation for the equality conferences on the General Council.

This disappointing decision is a setback for equality within our movement. I was pleased at least that UNISON stood firm in support of self-organisation.

I am also very pleased that Maria Exall will be on the TUC General Council from today - no doubt she will continue to educate some of the less enlightened unions about equality issues. Good luck Maria!

Health and Safety debate at the TUC

Congress has just agreed a worthy composite on workplace bullying and is now debating a call for a national occupational health scheme for the construction industry. Away from the media circus which surrounded the visit of the Prime Minister on Tuesday the trade union movement is concentrating upon the issues which matter to our members.

The Health and Safety Executive is facing cutbacks as part of Gordon Brown’s continuing attack upon civil service jobs. These cuts really are a matter of life and death for working people.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

TUC set to oppose Trident replacement

TUC Congress is currently debating the replacement of Trident nuclear submarines.

UNISON policy is clear – we support the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in opposition to this major unilateral nuclear rearmament backed by right-wing New Labourite Gordon Brown.

The debate is classic TUC. There is a good motion, well moved by Bob Crow from the RMT Union and a wishy washy statement from the General Council. This is to keep the peace between the big unions. The TGWU are backing both the motion and the statement. The GMB are abstaining on the motion and voting for the statement. UNISON is voting for the motion and abstaining on the statement…

Mind you some in the UNISON delegation are wondering when and where we agreed our policy on the General Council statement as we cannot remember having discussed it at a delegation meeting.

We need the whole labour and trade union movement to unite in opposition to the replacement of Trident nuclear submarines, expensive and dangerous white elephants. Today's debate is a step in the right direction.

Public Services Fringe Meeting at the TUC

I haven’t covered much on this blog about fringe meetings this week at the TUC. In fact for most delegates, fringe meetings are the main event since we have no opportunity to speak at Congress itself and are largely spectators.

Indeed UNISON delegates have no forum to express opinions at all after Sunday morning – when we had our one delegation meeting! We may need to look at how we organise our TUC delegation in order to increase its democracy and the accountability for decisions taken in our name.

I was very pleased to attend an excellent and well attended fringe meeting organised by the Public Services Not Private Profit campaign. John McDonnell gave a stirring introduction to the need for a joint union campaign drawing together the different struggles against privatisation in every sector.

John – and a number of General Secretaries of the unions supporting the campaign – have had to play the role that the TUC should have played in pulling this campaign together. Now as a direct result of the success of the campaign, the TUC has agreed on Monday a composite motion instructing the General Council to organise further joint union campaigning activity on this issue.

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, reported on the debates on the General Council – and the problem posed by those who foolishly believe that national demonstrations are not a good idea. Brian Caton of the Prison Officers Association expressed his justified anger at the attitude of some big unions who think it better to campaign on their own, leaving smaller unions aside. I agree that these are serious and legitimate concerns.

Any UNISON activists who would like a model motion for branches on this issue please get in touch!

International Solidarity at the TUC

After putting up with Tony Blair wasting an hour or more of our time yesterday, this morning the TUC is listening to an interesting speaker with something worthwhile to say to us – Thabitha Khumalo of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

Trade unions in Zimbabwe are operating under extremely difficult conditions as they continue to face repression and intimidation. It was the trade union movement that led the call for democratic change in Zimbabwe in the face of the deepening political and economic crisis. As a result there has been a consistent intimidation campaign by the government against trade unionists and workers. Despite this, the unions often remain in the forefront of opposition to Mugabe's policies. There is more information on UNISON’s international site and from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

Our international guest is giving us far more useful information than Blair did – she also got Congress singing and earned a standing ovation!

TUC discusses the internet!

Who says the trade unions are living in the past?

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) have just put a motion to the Congress in Brighton condemning Google for responding to political pressure to limit access to information on the internet. Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) – in seconding the motion – criticised Yahoo for passing information to the Chinese Government.

Your blogger was so pleased to hear a debate about the internet at the TUC that I was inspired to sign up to Amnesty International’s pledge on internet freedom at the site

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lies, damned lies and Care UK

Murial Street, Care Home ran by Care UK

Care UK, who currently run two elderly care homes and two elderly day centres in Islington are attacking staff terms and conditions. Staff met with former Council and NHS staff to inform them that they intend to cut their wages by 50% by forcing staff onto Care UK terms and conditions. In addition to loss of pay it will also mean less holidays, less sick pay and increased hours worked and no final salary pension scheme. Care UK is offering money as a bribe to staff to voluntarily accept these terms. Care UK were due to meet staff on a one to one basis to no doubt to arm twist them into accepting the offer. The one off payment being offered will be lucky to cover their loss of earnings for a year.

Three meetings with staff took place today simultaneously and UNISION reps were able to make two, members at both meeting unanimously agreed not to cooperate and a further meeting we had with the staff of a combined home and day centre later in the day also voted not to cooperate.

Islington UNISON has demanded that they demonstrate with evidence, their statements that the contract they have with Islington is not “viable” and their statements that if staff do not change over to Care UK terms and condition’s that this will put the home in jeopardy and lead to loss of jobs. We further pointed out that Care UK pleading poverty was contradicted by their interim report to share holders dated June 2006, which states:

“Residential Care achieved an improvement of 10% in turnover and 12% in operating profit, reflecting the successful commissioning of new contracted homes in the London Boroughs of Islington, Richmond-upon-Thames and Hammersmith & Fulham and the maintenance of a high level of beds paid for (financial occupancy at 98% in the first half, similar to recent years)”.

Our production of this report seemed to surprise the representatives of Care UK, maybe they should pay attention to their website more often. If they are telling us on the one hand, that they are in financial difficulty and tell their shareholders that the homes have lead to an increase in profit then both statements cannot be true! We have informed Care UK, as they continue to claim poverty, we will be investigating how to make a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading (if that is the correct body for selling shares on false information). If anyone knows how you go about such a complaint please let me know?

Care UK is in no way a poor company and is floated on the stock market. The Chief Executive Officer (Mike Parrish) earns £359,000 per year. We are discussing with the members about taking strike action and are campaigning to bring the homes and daycentres back in house.

You may have read that a similar issue faces comrades in Barnet UNISON and has been reported on this blog, Barnet UNISION have recently submitted a motion to the next UNISON Greater London Regional Council meeting which we will of cause be supporting, if not amending to include Islington, if these attacks on low paid mainly women our spreading across London then UNISON should be campaigning on a regional basis.

We are having a public meeting opposing privatisation and indeed the action of Care UK will now be part of that meeting, the details below:

Islington UNISON public meeting:
Campaigning against privatisation:
Tuesday 3rd October, 7.00pm Union chapel, Upper street, N1
Speaker Include:
John McDonnell, MP Chair Pubic Services not Private Profit
Jon Rogers, UNISON NEC,
Ken Muller, Islington, NUT.

Blair cannot answer on privatisation

In his “question and answer” session at the TUC Blair has just been asked by UNISON, PCS and Prospect delegates about privatisation. He has tried to defend the record of his Government in terms of the increased employment in public services overall. He has then said that voters want to see improved public services.

He has however completely failed to engage with the questions asked – at least two of the questioners explicitly asked why the Government was pro-privatisation. Blair set out his belief that “reform” in public services was necessary but completely failed to answer as to why he believes privatisation will achieve this.

Questioners from the Prison Officers Association and the Probation Officers union have tried to pin him down on details. He is visibly unable to deal with this detail. He has an ideological commitment to privatisation and he cannot see beyond that.

This shows the need for UNISON’s Positively Public campaign and for the joint union Public Services Not Private Profit Campaign.

But it also shows why the unions need to find – and support – a candidate for Labour Leader who supports public services.

Blair picks a fight over foreign policy

Blair clearly sees that his slavish support for neoconservative foreign policy is the major threat to his “legacy” – he is in the process of picking a fight with large sections of the floor of the TUC Congress.

He has just argued that our troops are in Afghanistan and Iraq at the request of the governments of those countries. Since these are governments set up after the Western invasions I think that may not be too suprising.

Watching him speak I can only think of Steve Bell’s cartoon images – this man is delusional (and dangerously Islamophobic from what he is saying).

Blair is awful

Blair really is appallingly bad. Listening to him is positively painful. He has just started droning on about globalisation (working up to a justification for the pitiful ambition of his centre-right Government no doubt).

The RMT delegation walked out as he started speaking, accompanied by some leftwing members of the UNISON delegation. The PCS delegation held up posters in protest but have largely remained in the hall.

A claque of New Labour supporters are trying to start applause from time to time, but in the middle of the UNISON delegation, where your blogger is sitting, he is being heard mostly in silence.

Blair says that people are fearful because of globalisation and terrorism. I am fearful because of the capitulation of the parties of the left to the ideology of the market – and he embodies that capitulation more than any other living individual.

Why on earth did the General Council think it was a good idea to invite this pillock?

What's going on at the TUC on Tuesday morning?

It’s Tuesday morning at Congress and we are debating Employment Rights. Tony Woodley has just explained why the General Council has “reservations” about a composite motion (number 5) which we are about to pass in favour of the Trade Union Freedom Bill.

The one thing everyone is talking about here in Brighton is the one thing that isn’t on the agenda – the Labour leadership. For the first time we have had our bags scanned coming in (to protect the safety of one Anthony Blair).

John McDonnell has been very well received at fringe meetings, including those called last night by the Institute of Employment Rights and by the Stop the War Coalition. The General Secretary of AMICUS is reported as backing Gordon Brown, but without (your blogger understands) any mandate from his Union for allowing his views to be spun in that way.

The coffee bar gossip has it that there has been a major falling out between the General Secretaries of AMICUS and the TGWU arising out of this development. Given that Gordon Brown backs privatisation and Trident nuclear submarines it is difficult to see why any self-respecting trade unionist would want to back him.

The other discussion among delegates is what to do this afternoon when we receive a farewell speech from Anthony. Bob Crow has announced that the RMT delegation will walk out, and a number of leftwing delegates appear to agree with this view. Other ideas include wearing slogan t-shirts.

In the event that I manage my laptop battery more successfully today than I did yesterday I will let you know later what happens…

Monday, September 11, 2006

New campaign to defend our NHS

The new campaigning coalition NHS Together, was launched this lunchtime at a fringe meeting. The campaign is supported by all the trade unions and professional associations in the health service and reflects the unprecedented mobilisation taking place around the country in opposition to health cuts and privatisation.

UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, who spoke at the fringe meeting, has just moved Composite 9 seeking the full support of the TUC for this campaign, which will certainly be forthcoming. Dave announced that the UNISON members in NHS Logisitics have returned a large majority for strike action in their ballot – he had already told the fringe meeting that UNISON will be mounting a legal challenge to the privatisation of NHS Logistics.

Dave also said that a key test of any candidates for Labour leader would be how they deal with the crisis affecting the NHS…

TUC pledges support for Local Government Pension fight

Congress has just passed Composite 6 on pensions having heard from a stream of speakers from various unions reporting on the fight to defend pension rights across their industries and sectors.

UNISON Vice President Carole Maleham spoke to pledge that our fight to defend the Local Government Pension Scheme continues – and pointing out that there would be further industrial action if we did not get an acceptable deal.

Some local government activists here on the UNISON delegation have been discussing the need for a Special Local Government Service Group Conference to agree on any recommendation to put to members in a ballot.

Pensions debate starts Congress

The Conference Centre is filling up for the first morning of the TUC – we are set to debate pensions. Thanks to a UNISON amendment the Composite motion on Pensions (Composite 6) calls on the General Council to back the unions fighting to defend the Local Government Pension Scheme.

UNISON activists need to consider how we take that fight forward so that we take action to give the General Council something to support!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

TUC General Council doubtful about revolution shock...?

The General Council of the TUC are currently seeking remission of Motion 73 on Venezuela, proposed by the National Union of Journalists (which you can read in the Congress Agenda).

As this motion is not due for debate until Wednesday morning there will be time for further horse trading and it was reported to this morning’s meeting of the UNISON delegation that UNISON would be deferring taking a decision for the time being.

It is difficult to see how we could do other than support the motion in view of UNISON’s clear Conference Policy on Venezuela. We should certainly be sending a clear message of solidarity to the people of Venezuela.

No doubt we will be discussing this subject at the TUC’s Latin America Night on Monday and at the fringe meetings called by the Venezuela Information Centre on Monday lunchtime and by Hands Off Venezuela on Wednesday afternoon.

UNISON TUC delegation arrives...

UNISON delegates to the TUC have to arrive in Brighton on Saturday in order to be at a delegation meeting at 10.30am.

This year the meeting lasted all of half an hour! There was little debate or controversy - local government NEC member Glenn Kelly asked a sensible question about what questions UNISON was going to ask in the Prime Minister's "Question and Answer" session on Tuesday afternoon. The Chair of the Policy Committee responded characteristically that it was obvious that we would be asking about privatisation.

Newer lay delegates are currently drinking (coffee!) on the beach with your blogger and expressing concern about the cost to our members of our having to arrive a day early for a delegation meeting of this nature.

Still, the sun is shining... :)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Time for Congress

TUC delegates are gathering on the seafront for a wild, wild time!

The papers for this year’s Annual meeting of the Trades Union Congress – which kicks off on Monday in Brighton - are now all available, including the Congress timetable, Composites motions and details of fringe meetings.

Your blogger, who will be on the UNISON delegation, is hoping to hear more about the unions campaigns to defend the NHS and to defend public services.

As Congress is not always thrill a minute stuff, I’ll blog only the best bits. Tony Blair’s reception by delegates may be interesting…

Always assuming I can get in – photo ID is being demanded for the first time at Congress this year (which is ironic since the report of the TUC General Council records the opposition of the TUC to ID cards!)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Mentally ill march to save community care

This news just in from Health Emergency:

What: Demonstration and march with banners and props

Where: Kennington Park (Oval) SE11 to Windrush Square, Brixton, SW2

Who: Users of psychiatric services in Lambeth & Southwark

Why: To protest against plans to axe £millions from mental health services

When: Meet Kennington Park (Camberwell New Road entrance)

1.30-2.00pm Saturday 9 September 2006

1.45 – photo opportunity with drums and banners

Psychiatric service users across Lambeth and Southwark are uniting against plans to axe vital mental health services. Lambeth Primary Care Trust and Southwark Primary Care Trust have announced that they intend to “disinvest” a total of £6million in the current financial year with a further £2million scheduled for 2007-2008.

Resources under threat range from specialist services for older people and children, to nursing homes and crisis services. Proposals to close the renowned Emergency Clinic at the Maudsley Hospital are so controversial they have been referred to the Secretary of State by the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee of Lambeth and Southwark Councils. (1)

Lambeth and Southwark are both areas with higher than average levels of mental illness (2) and campaigners fear that local services will not be able to cope if funding cuts go ahead. “We are terrified that these cuts will damage some of the most vulnerable people in our community for whom mental health services can mean the difference between life and death” says Mary Roberts, Chair of Lambeth Mental Health and Disabled People’s Action Group (3).

“The government claims that mental health services are a funding priority but this is obviously not the case in Southwark and Lambeth” says Teresa Priest, Co-ordinator of Southwark Mind. “This is short sighted penny pinching which will cost lives”.

UNISON Rule D.3.4.11 and the fight for our pensions

There has been some discussion of convening a meeting across Service Groups to look at the impasse in the pensions dispute. However the rules only allow for a special service group Conference convened in a particular way. I think the attached motion might do the business but would welcome comments!

Local Government Pension Scheme dispute

This Branch/Branch Committee resolves to submit the attached motion to the national head of local government on 1 November 2006 in accordance with Rule D.3.4.11;

“In accordance with Rule D.3.4.11, we call for a special Service Group Conference to discuss the following motion;

‘This Conference instructs the Service Group Executive (SGE) to make a definite recommendation to members in any ballot on the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).

We instruct the SGE to recommend opposition to any proposals which fail to deliver, at an absolute minimum, full protection for the rights of existing scheme members..

In the event that the SGE is not able to recommend support for Government proposals for our pensions, in accordance with the spirit of this motion, we resolve to instruct the Service Group Executive to take all appropriate steps to organise sustained national industrial action in support of our objectives.’”
Comments please!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Seven dwarves desert sinking ship?

So, as reported by the BBC, seven people we have barely heard of have decided to leave the Government – does it matter?

(I post this with apologies to the fellow blogger who gave me the idea for this post.)

Yes it probably does matter. Rats normally desert a sinking ship, but if the ship is not yet quite finished the answer is not just to change the captain – but to change direction.

The leadership of the big four unions agree with this analysis – as Derek Simpson of AMICUS makes clear on the AMICUS website.

Simpson writes that;

“At the Labour Party conference I will join the general Secretaries from the GMB, T&G and Unison at meeting to discuss a “New Leader and a New Agenda”. It will be an agenda not of the past but one that recognises the challenges of the modern world and it will be an agenda designed to protect our people from consequences of those challenges. It will be an agenda that seeks embed equality, security and prosperity for all within it. It will be an agenda that a new leader can take to the next election to win.”

The question the General Secretaries of the “big four” have to answer is whether they really believe that the Chancellor – architect of New Labour economic policies – is going to adopt the agenda of the trade unions?

There is another declared candidate for Leader of the Labour Party – John McDonnell will be launching his national leadership campaign tour at a public rally at the Mechanics Institute in Manchester on Thursday night. Joining him on the platform will be Tony Benn, Alice Mahon, Jeremy Dear NUJ General Secretary and Dave McCall Regional Secretary of TGWU.

Perhaps the trade unions should be backing a candidate who will support our policies, rather than dreaming of “influence” over one who never will?

John McDonnell will support;

the trade union freedom bill,
an end to privatisation and restoration of public ownership,
protection of pension rights,
increased state pension and restoration of the earnings link,
a new health and safety regime and quality of life at work legislation,
a peace programme including withdrawal from Iraq, justice for the Palestinians and scrapping of Trident.

Trade unionists should support John McDonnell and fight for these policies to be implemented by a “Labour” Government.