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!

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: www.writetothem.com

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)!

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 irrepressible.info site

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

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

Say NO to racism and fascism in Barking and Dagenham

The following is from an Email circular received yesterday evening - for anyone who can get to Barking this evening...

Say NO to racism and fascism in Barking and Dagenham
Wednesday 6th September 2006,
5.30pm onwardsProtest outside the Barking & Dagenham council meeting at Barking Town HallClockhouse Avenue, IG11 7LU Nearest train/tube: Barking
called by Barking & Dagenham Alliance Against Rascism & Fascism
supported by SERTUC and the TGWU Region 1 (South and East Anglia Region)

Since the British National Party (BNP) has targeted our borough, there has been a rise in the number of racist attacks, including two stabbings and other violent assaults since the local elections.

Barking Race Equality Council (BREC) which collates statistics for racist incidents in the borough have recorded a year on year rise since 2002: in 2002/3, a total of 413 racist incidents were recorded by BREC, an average of 34.4 incidents a month. In 2003/4, the figure went up to 486 (monthly average 40.5), 2004/5, they increase by over 200 incidents in the year to 693 (57.75 incidents a month), in 2005/6, 699 incidents were recorded (58.25) and 2006/7, 248 incidents have already been recorded in the first four months from April 2006, averaging 62 incidents a month.

These figures show that, in the 2 years between 2004 and 2006, racist incidents recorded by BREC have increased by a shocking 71.9%. This corresponds with increased BNP acitivity in the area. In June 2004 the BNP recorded by far the highest vote averaging 20.5% in the Barking and Dagenham borough in the London Assembly elections, in September 2004 the BNP gained a councillor in Goresbrook with over 50% of the vote, the BNP recorded 16.89% - the highest vote - in the Barking constituency in the general election 2005 (up from 6.4% in 2001, when Barking was one of the five constituencies where the BNP saved their deposit). By contrast, the same period saw a year on year fall in the number of racist attacks recorded by the Met Police across London.

Since May's local council elections, the BNP has 12 council seats in Barking and Dagenham, the highest number of BNP councillors in any single authority in the country.The BNP is a racist organisation: in Barking, they spread racist lies about African communities in order to win votes.The BNP is a fascist group: in several documentaries, key BNP members have been filmed praising Hitler and the Nazis. Fascism and the Nazis are responsible for the mass murder of millions of people, who they tried to systematically annihilate. We call on all those who are concerned at the advances by the BNP in Barking and Dagenham to join us in a protest outside the full council meeting. We will call similar protests regularly to ensure that the anti-BNP message is heard.

To add your support to this protest, please contact bdaarf@yahoo.co.uk

Barking & Dagenham Alliance Against Racism and Fascism “ Barking & Dagenham Alliance Against Racism and Fascism (B&DAARF) is a black* organisation of community groups, local community activists, public and voluntary sector workers, trade unionists and many others concerned at the rise of racism and fascist activity in the borough.

(*The term black in this context is used to refer to people of African, Caribbean, Asian and other visible minority origins with a common experience of racism and discrimination.)

May 2006 local elections have been accompanied by a number of serious racist attacks in Barking and Dagenham. Racist myths about African communities have been used to advance racist politics and Islamophobia has been whipped up with the sole aim of causing division and stoking up hatred. B&DAARF is opposed to these very worrying developments and exists to challenge them in an equal alliance with all others similarly concerned with the recent events. B&DAARF welcomes support and solidarity from and will work with other organisations and individuals in the borough that support its aims."

To show your support for this statement please email bdaarf@yahoo.co.uk

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Stop New Labour's crazy privatisation of NHS Logistics




The BBC report that the Government have decided to privatise NHS Logistics to DHL. As the BBC put it; “the move is the biggest example of what some regard as creeping NHS privatisation”. Let’s be clear, there is no reason on earth why the private sector should be able to handle supplying our hospitals better than a dedicated in-house service.

Only the most twisted ideologue would believe that a private company will automatically be more efficient – and in practical terms there is not a single thing which they can do which could not be done by the public sector. The one thing the public sector cannot do is make a profit for private shareholders.

UNISON is campaigning against this privatisation and balloting for strike action by our members employed by NHS Logistics. If you want to help the Government avoid this foolish and massively unpopular step you can lobby your MP. You can also download a poster explaining UNISON’s campaign in English and Polish.

DHL have had problems in their relations with unions in the past – last year GMB members had to threaten strike action. The Government’s obsession with privatisation now threatens further strife. It shows why we need to keep our NHS public – and why we need better policies and different leadership for this “Labour” Government.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Nice one Bob!


Full marks to the RMT Union for organising a national Conference for union activists on 28 October. RMT's annual general meeting instructed the union to organise a national shop stewards' conference, open to all trade unionists, with one of its focuses being to build support for a Trade Union Freedom Bill.

The depth and breadth of grass-roots organisation of workplace reps has always been a crucial barometer of the general health of the trade-union movement. Speakers include Bob Crow and representatives from T&G, CWU, PCS, NUJ, NUM, CYWU, FBU and BFAWU.

DATE/TIME: Saturday October 28, 11.30am to 3.30pm
PLACE: Camden Centre, Bidborough Street, London WC1H 9JE

To register, email j.croy@rmt.org.uk, or write to RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Support Whipps Cross strikers

We all need to be focusing on how to build and develop our support for the strikers at Whipps Cross hospital who are on strike because their employer, Rentokil Initial is failing to honour an agreement. Initial had problems with cleaning at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust last year. Last year the company also avoided a takeover bid.

I also note, from a little research on the internet that this is an employer which knows that electronic campaigning can support workers’ rights. I found an article by Steve Davies in People Management, September 1998 (online here) which includes the following;

“At the CBI's Annual Dinner in May, Sir Clive Thompson, Chief Executive of Rentokil-Initial said: "a third party that comes between employer and employee can only interfere... and harm our drive for quality". On 15 June, FIET, the international union federation, launched an internet-based campaign against Rentokil-Initial, demanding it allow it's British employees representation on the company European Works Council. Two days later, the company contacted FIET to arrange talks which began on 1 July…

…Flying pickets may have disappeared but it looks as though cyberpickets are here to stay. Ask Rentokil-Initial.”

I am therefore very pleased that an earlier post on this blog was published by labourstart and is therefore now featured on the news page of the UNISON website. This arose from a number of lay UNISON activists in the London region agreeing to go along and express solidarity with the strikers.



So let’s get on with the solidarity! Send messages of support to the strikers’ union branch at unisonunion@tiscali.co.uk.Send donations (cheques payable to UNISON) to Chris Remington, Regional Head of Health, UNISON Greater London Region, Congress House, Great Russell Street. London WC1.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Support low paid strikers against multinational employer!

Having been very happy to support the strikers at Whipps Cross Hospital earlier this week, I have been looking into the company that employs them – Rentokil Initial. I was particularly struck by some of things Rentokil Initial have to say about corporate social responsibility (CSR).

“Rentokil Initials principal asset is people. Our success is entirely dependent on the efforts of the 90 000 (approx) people we employ around the world.” Does this include the workers at Whipps Cross I wonder?

“A strength at Rentokil Initial has always been its people management.” Does that include causing strike action at Whipps Cross hospital?

“The board as a whole is responsible for ensuring that social and ethical considerations form part of the management function at all levels and Doug Flynn, Chief Executive, is the main board director with responsibility for CSR matters.” Is it ethical to refuse to honour an agreement to play fair by low paid workers I wonder?

Not everything in the garden is rosy as operating profits for the company were down 10% in the first half of 2006. The company attracted criticism last year when it closed its defined benefits pensions scheme in the UK.

Still, Mr Flynn, the recently appointed Chief Executive will probably survive. According to the company’s 2005 Annual Report, when he was appointed, “a one-off award was put in place at the time of his appointment to facilitate the recruitment of the chief executive at a time of significant transformation of the business.”

“An award of £2.4 million was made in compensation for awards forfeited. This has been paid one third in cash and two thirds in Rentokil Initial shares. The unconditional cash element of the award (£0.8 million) was paid in two equal instalments, with the first due after six months in employment and the second due after 12 months in employment.”

Then there was his transformation incentive award – “the award is in respect of 2,609,263 shares (the number of shares being calculated by reference to the value of five times Mr Flynn’s base salary of £800,000 on appointment).”

On August 31st, NHS domestic, Lorna Ayeh challenged Millionaire Chief Executive, Doug Flynn, about Rentokil’s subsidiary, Initial Hospital Services Ltd, reneging on a pay deal that guaranteed her at least £7.40 per hour by April 1st 2006. She currently earns £5.52 per hour.

Doug, who has been at the helm of Rentokil/Initial since April 2005 was reported to have earned £2.1 million in his first nine months with the UK multinational. At their current rates of pay it would take Lorna 195 years to earn what Doug has earned in his first 9 months.

Lorna didn’t ask Doug to take less for himself out of the Rentokil pot she just asked Initial to honour the agreement that was made three years ago to give her equal pay with her colleagues in the NHS by April 1st 2006.

"If you make a deal you expect people to keep it but that has not been the case with Initial Hospital Services Ltd" says Lorna who is justifiably angered by the company's refusal to honour the pay agreement made in 2003. "London is great if you can afford it. But you can't have much fun on £5.52 an hour. The £7.40 I was promised would have helped me but the company has let me down. It's simple. What they are doing is wrong and I am not going to let them get away with it!".

Lorna and her colleagues who are employed by Initial Hospital Services Ltd (RENTOKIL GROUP) leafletted outside Rentokil's HQ in Belgravia (Buckingham Palace Road) from 9.00am to 1.00pm on Thursday August 31st to distribute information about Lorna’s case.

So the company which cannot afford to honour its agreement with the Whipps Cross strikers (or so it says) and which has closed its pension scheme, can still find some rewards (you can see which of its people it really thinks of as a “principal asset”!) This is what the Tory/New Labour policy of privatisation means in practice.

Companies like Rentokil Initial are trying to take profits out of our National Health Service. This is why we need to support UNISON’s campaign to defend the health service, and organisations like Keep Our NHS Public.

Also please send donations to support the strikers to Chris Remington, Regional Head of Health, UNISON Greater London Region, Congress House, Great Russell Street, LONDON WC1B 3LS (cheques payable to UNISON)!