Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What are we going to do now?

At the end of each episode of Spike Milligan’s Q series I seem to remember the characters approaching the camera asking “what are we going to do now?” It is a good question for trade unionists.

When even former enthusiasts for partnership between unions and employers can see the social space for this shrinking under the economic pressures of globalisation, and when the Chancellor, in whom some trade unionists place hope, urges us to evangelise this globalisation, it is increasingly clear that the unions face difficult choices.

What is our political strategy? UNISON decided in 2005 what it wanted from a third term Labour Government. Without denying the positive achievements of the Government since 1997, you have to admit that we are not currently getting what we wanted. On the contrary we are forced to confront the Government over the LGPS, the future of the health service, housing and education. That’s without even thinking about Trident, Iraq and a dozen other issues.

My personal views are pretty clear to anyone who reads even a little of this blog. I think the trade unions need to back a challenge to the current Government within the Labour Party. I know that there are those of you out there who disagree with me, so please, accept this invitation to tell me what the other strategy is. How will acquiescence in the accession of Gordon Brown advance our interests?

(Thanks to both of the John’s whose blogs inspired me to write this…)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Solidarity with Australian Unions

I always remember that when the London dockers struck in 1889 the Australian unions were swift to offer support. (Not because I was there you understand, I just paid attention at school) – so you should check out this news over at another useful union blog. The Aussie union website shows how unions should work together in adversity.

Monday, November 27, 2006

UNISON United by Pensions Anger



UNISON is united in anger at recent developments in relation to the Local Government Pension Scheme, about which I commented here earlier.

General Secretary Dave Prentis is urging all local government pension scheme members to take immediate action to let their employers, councillors and MPs know how angry we are at the pensions negotiations being spiked by the "hostile intervention" of the local government minister.

His occasionally vociferous critic, local government member of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) Glenn Kelly (pictured here to your right and Dave's left, which is not a political comment on anyone) has circulated a report to branches making the following points.

Glenn reports that; “Having already scrapped the right to retire at 60, (if you have 25yrs local government service) which has saved the employers £15billion, they have refused to even move on the protection offered for existing members of the scheme. Only those over 50 are being offered protection.

They now want us to pay more. At the moment ex manual workers pay 5% of their salary in pension contributions and the rest pay 6%.

The government offer is now saying contribution rates will be 5.5% on the first £12k earned and 7.5% on rest. It will be some of the lowest paid who will suffer most out of this.

But, It won’t stop there, unlike the past where the rates of contribution were fixed they now want us to bear the brunt of any future problems. They are proposing that the amount we pay is reviewed again in 2009 for any further changes being implemented in 2011.

Whilst we pay more, the employers will be able to cut their contribution rate down to 13.2% from 14.5%.

At the moment you can take your pension at 50 if your made redundant and in many council’s you can also get added years. Both these measures are now to go and you will not be able to take your pension even if made redundant before the age of 55 this is to be introduced in 2010

At the moment if your declared permanently unfit for your job you can take your pension and get added years service. The government are now proposing that is not enough. If your declared unfit for your job but told you are fit for “any gainful” employment even outside public services then you lose the right to this benefit and will only get the pension you’ve accrued.

On top of this even if you are declared unfit and get your ill health pension, it could be taken off you, if later on your declared fit for gainful work. This could be a bully’s charter of the sick.

The only real plus on offer is the promise that the accrual rate will now be 1/60th rather than 1/80th. In the main this would mean that you could get a bigger pension or a higher lump sum than currently.

However this higher rate will only apply to service after 2008. The government documents do not mention what happens to all your existing service.

In return for this slight increase we will all be forced to work an extra five years longer or lose significant proportion of our pension.”

Since Glenn has yet to join the select (but growing) band of union bloggers I am posting his views up here. I agree with his conclusion that the UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive meeting on 4 December needs to set the ball rolling for strike action – in line with the policy agreed at our Conference last June.

There does not seem to be any other option. If we can stand united as a Union we can defeat the Government and defend our pensions!

UNISON - Expecting elections

In the fourth and (sadly) final episode in the enthralling tale of UNISON’s recent Development and Organisation Committee debate turned to a subject close to the heart of many NEC members (and if cynics from one or two “vociferous” branches say “expenses” I shall be very cross as they would be wrong!)

The Committee spent some time debating procedures for the forthcoming elections to the NEC. There was some controversy around proposals for branches to make nominations by electronic consultation without meeting – about which I raised some questions – and it was agreed that this would only apply to those branches (such as nationally organised branches like Barnardos) which routinely conduct business in that way. Fellow London NEC member Louise Couling also objected to proposals to prevent nominations being submitted by fax (since they may now be submitted electronically).

There was also considerable debate about how to define the eligibility of members for low paid seats given that pay increases can occur at any time in the year but the Union, under Rule, uprates the “low pay” definition annually in October (see below). I don’t think that this discussion is yet concluded and we shall return to it in future years. Branches and other nominating bodies can expect to hear early in the New Year that nominations will open on 8 January and close on 16 February with the ballot period between 16 April and 11 May and the results out on 11 June.

UNISON - Committee discusses Conference

In the third thrilling installment of the report from the November meeting of UNISON’s Development and Organisation Committee, the Committee turns its attention to the Union’s Conference…

The Committee had its annual debate about the structure of branch delegations to Conference and agreed to stick with the status quo (branches of more than 2,000 must send a low paid delegate, branches of more than 3,000 must send a young member, all branches should send black and minority ethnic (BME) delegates in proportion to their membership). We also agreed to encourage branches to include disabled members in their delegations.

I pointed out in the discussion on this item that the Chair of the National Black Members Committee had commented about the disparity between the treatment of young members’ and black members’ representation and was assured that a survey to be undertaken at the forthcoming National Black Members’ Conference would be the next step in seeking to assure fair representation for BME members.

Once more it was reported that only in the London Region are there a significant number of appeals. This probably reflects the relatively smaller proportion of low paid members amongst our membership in Greater London.

A related item was a report from the survey of delegates at last year’s Conference. The response rate to the monitoring forms issued at Conference has now risen above 80%. These demonstrate a continuing under representation of women, black members, young members and disabled members at Conference.

The Committee resolved that this should be addressed through the consistent application of the scheme of branch representation. As the scheme of branch representation has remained largely unchanged for several years this may not be a winning strategy, and we shall have to return to this issue. Branches may wish to consider this as a topic for Conference motions next year or in future years.

UNISON - Surveys and Structures

The second part of my report from the recent meeting of UNISON’s Development and Organisation Committee finds the Committee considering some lengthy documents…

The Committee considered a detailed survey carried out by the Labour Research Department into the view of our members about their attitude to our Union and the effectiveness of our structures. If anyone would like the full survey electronically please get in touch with me at jonrogers1963@btinternet.com.

This item led logically to the next major subject for discussion – the review of our lay service group and branch structures kicked off at National Delegate Conference 2005 and due to report to next year’s Conference. In the sort of discussion that will be familiar to many old hands in trade union Committees, the Development and Organisation Committee spent quite a long time discussing whether or not to discuss this item before deciding not to.

There is a report from the working party set up to discuss this subject which has been issued widely within the Union and on which UNISON bodies are invited to comment by the end of December. I thought that we had missed an opportunity to discuss this at the NEC Committee to which the review will report. I hope that branches will look at this report and make a response – otherwise there must be a risk that future developments will not be sufficiently informed by the views of experienced activists on the ground. The report itself asks a series of structured questions to which branches can respond.

The report is available online on the UNISON website, but if anyone has any problems identifying a copy and would like one please Email me and I can forward a copy. The debate for UNISON members in London at least will continue at the Regional Council meeting on 14 December. As a branch activist as well as an NEC member I am watching out for proposals to review branch funding which may be looming.

Recruitment to UNISON - must try harder

Well I have finally got round to writing up my report from the last meeting of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation Committee and have circulated it to London branches. Please Email me at jonrogers1963@btinternet.com if you are a UNISON member in London who would like a copy of the report. The first major discussion was on recruitment. This is picking up again and is now forecast to fall only just short of the 3% target. Alan Kerr, Recruitment Officer gave a typically enthusiastic presentation and pointed out that we are within view of a figure of 1.4 Million members. There is no scope for complacency.

For Greater London the good news is that we are the fastest recruiters in the country, recruiting at an annual rate of 15.23%, however since we have by far the highest turnover figure (14.5%) our actual net growth rate is a mere 0.73% (second lowest). To hit the current national target with a turnover rate of 14.5% we would need to recruit more than 17.5% in total – or (put another way) for each 200 members an average Greater London UNISON branch we need on average to recruit 35 new people a year to meet the target for growth – or 3 people a month. For a branch of 1,000 that is 15 people a month, for 2,000 it is 30 people a month (this does not take account of exceptional membership loss where there are significant job losses for example). All no doubt a good reason to get more branch activists to sign up to Challenge X and recruit ten extra members.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

If I were Venezuelan...


I would vote for Chavez. I have just signed a petition to that effect because I was asked to. I am not immediately convinced that my signature will make any difference to the Venezuelan electorate…

It is a fairly limited form of solidarity to sign a petition, but that doesn’t make it pointless. In line with UNISON policy I am very happy to express solidarity with Venezuela in one way or another.

We may have our problems with Pensions, Privatisation and Single Status but we don't necessarily face the same problems as comrades in some other parts of the world. The example of Colombia, most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, is an indication of what would be in store for Venezuelans if the US managed to derail their Bolivarian revolution.

Blogging trade unionists

I don’t normally write posts about blogs and blogging. Congratulations to John though for setting up a new site to bring together trade union blogs. This could be a useful way to maximise the benefits to our movement from using this relatively novel form of communication.

I am very encouraged by the number of union branches now blogging. I have commented before on Coventry UNISON’s picket line blog – an innovation more of us may need soon given what is going on in the LGPS dispute!

The Barnet local government branch of UNISON are also blogging as are Doncaster local government branch and my own local government branch in Lambeth. Nottinghamshire County are blogging too, as are Shropshire UNISON Labour Link. Has anyone found any others?

Such is my popularity with all officials of the Union that they occasionally come up with new names for me – one wit recently described me as Jon Blogs. Having been called worse (just occasionally) I don’t take offence. I would like to encourage more union activists and branches to get blogging.

A blog is much less work to update than a fully fledged website – it is much more appropriate for busy branch officers, who can update a blog as long as we know how to write a word document and cut and paste!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Phil Woolas set to provoke local government strike


So Phil Woolas has pre-empted further discussions between local government unions and employers by announcing proposals for the new Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). This picture of Phil appears to show him sneering at local government workers as he remembers how much more generous the MPs pension scheme is!

The LGPS scheme proposals are a mixed bag. They do include some things which the unions have long wanted (e.g. partner pensions). They also include objectives of the Government which we have long opposed (e.g. tighter restrictions on ill-health retirement.)

The headline news has to be that there is no extension of current protection arrangements for existing scheme members losing the right to retire with an unreduced pension at 60. This maintains the exclusion of LGPS members from the protection offered to other public servants. This unfairness is what provoked our strike action on 28 March and it leaves the joint trade unions with little choice but to ballot for further action.

The most fundamental change which the Government propose in respect of future service after 1 April (apart from their refusal to offer LGPS members the same deal as other public servants) is to shift from the current pension accrual rate (1/80th of final salary for each year of service plus a lump sum equivalent to three times the annual pension) to a more generous accrual rate (1/60th of final salary for every year of service) minus the guaranteed lump sum but (in line with all outher pension schemes) the right to “commute” up to 25% of the pension into a lump sum at the rate of £12 of lump sum payment for every £1 of pension commuted.

This will eventually result in a slightly more generous pension. For example, someone retiring on a final salary of £10,000 with twenty years service in a 1/60ths scheme would be entitled to a pension of £3,333 p.a. or, by using the full commutation they could reduce their pension to £2,500 to obtain a lump sum of £10,000. Under the current arrangement (1/80th accrual rate plus the guaranteed lump sum) their pension would have been £2,500 and their lump sum £7,500.

However the Government are proposing to increase pension contributions from the current level of 6% (with many former manual workers paying 5% on a protected basis) to 5.5% on the first £12,000 of earnings and 7.5% thereafter. This means that for those already paying 6% everyone earning more than £16,000 will see an increase in overall pension contributions, whilst those earning less than £16,000 will see a modest reduction (unless they are currently paying the protected 5% in which case they will also see an increase). The total pension contribution will amount to 6.3% on earnings of £20,000, 6.7% on earnings of £30,000 and 6.9% on earnings of £40,000.

Whilst the proposals could no doubt have been worse the Government’s failure to offer fair protection to LGPS members makes the overall package unacceptable as it stands. As critics of the Government have rightly pointed out, they are in a mess over this dispute and risk serious political consequences. However, the trade unions have not yet covered ourselves in glory through the tactical decisions which we have made – we need the earliest decision to press ahead with a strike ballot and the most vigorous campaign for the serious and sustained action which is required to win the dispute.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Say No to Unilateral Nuclear Rearmament!


So, today the Cabinet will be debating replacing Trident nuclear submarines, those worthless yet dangerous white elephants, with newer weapons of mass destruction. Since there are no conceivable circumstances in which any decent human being would ever sanction the use of weapons such as the nuclear missiles carried on Trident submarines there can be no justification for retaining our so-called “nuclear deterrent” (whom does it now deter I wonder, how does it do so and where is the evidence?) The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) have published an alternative white paper which sets out the case for not replacing Trident.

CND point out that the Government acknowledge that there is no current military threat to the United Kingdom. In September 2005, the then Defence Secretary John Reid suggested that a replacement for Trident would be necessary in case we face a nuclear enemy in the future. 5 Another former Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind has recently described our nuclear weapons as an insurance policy for the future. But rather than providing insurance against an unspecifi ed future threat, replacing Trident will increase the danger of nuclear proliferation and will contribute to a new nuclear arms race. If the UK envisages at least another 50 years of British security being based on threatening other populations with mass destruction then we encourage other states to do the same and thus paradoxically we increase our security risk rather than decrease it.

The Government appear to want to retain nuclear weapons in order to cling on to the UK’s Walter Mitty Great Power status and our seat on the Security Council – thereby undermining any credibility which they have to argue against further nuclear proliferation. We need an alternative to the present approach.

UNISON has crystal clear policy of opposition to Trident. This is very much a trade union issue. It is not only that, as part of an international labour movement, our trade unions need to press our Government to honour its obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (to disarm rather than rearm) – we also need to spell out our opposition to such enormous wasteful expenditure when resources could, as Kate Hudson from CND told our Conference this summer, be so much better used developing our public services.

I hope that the trade unions will make our position clear in any “debate” about Trident. I was disappointed that, owing to the poor organisation of UNISON’s TUC delegation this year, we did not have a delegation meeting to discuss our abstention on a wishy washy statement from the General Council which may be used to blunt overwhelming union opposition to nuclear weapons. Trade unionists and Labour Party members in particular need to be lobbying MPs to oppose unilateral nuclear rearmament! You can also sign a petition to the Prime Minister opposing the replacement of Trident simply by clicking here!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Save Our Pension!

Several hundred trade unionists (mostly I think UNISON members) were present at today’s lobby of Parliament in relation to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). Labour MPs need to realise that they risk upsetting more than a million of LGPS members and their dependents if the Government legislates to offer us a less valuable pension scheme for a higher rate of employee contribution as seems likely. This will damage Labour in the polls as our General Secretary pointed out at the briefing session today.

The Government are not listening – their briefing to Labour MPs for today’s lobby says that “the LGPS was not included in the Public Service Forum Agreement of October 2005 because it is a funded Scheme and has historically always had a pension age of 65, as opposed to 60 for the other public sector schemes. Consequently, it did not come within the remit of PSF, and this exclusion was made clear to the LGPS unions when the Agreement was approved by Alan Johnson.” In other words the (New) Labour Government are happy to stand by the unfairness to local government workers!

This dispute does however expose very clearly the political limitations of our current approach to dealing with this hostile and reactionary Government. Perhaps the most useful part of the day was the meeting called by the Kirklees branch of UNISON (the largest trade union branch in Yorkshire) who have taken the lead in forcing UNISON to agree to call a special Conference about this dispute. We could challenge New Labour by supporting electoral challenges to the Labour Party (which I would not support) or by supporting a challenge to New Labour within the Labour Party (which I would). As things stand we will do neither – and an NEC colleague attacked me for giving out John4Leader leaflets at today’s lobby! Our leadership appear to think that we can get somewhere by having influence over a Brown/Johnson leadership of the Party. Dream on…

Paul Holmes, Kirklees Branch Secretary, gave a very positive introduction to the meeting, correctly identifying the lack of direction from our national leadership in this vital dispute. He suggested that our leadership don’t know what they are doing with this dispute.

This is quite a persuasive argument.

First we managed to lose the unity of all public sector workers in October 2005 and leave the LGPS members to fight alone.

Then, having taken the most successful and largest strike action for 80 years we suspended further action in order to allow for negotiations which got nowhere.

In June we were persuaded not to resume industrial action because we were awaiting a judicial review which (predictably) got nowhere. This foolish challenge (not agreed in advance by the elected representatives of our local government members) has enabled the Government to say in their briefing to MPs that; “UNISON challenged the removal of the Rule of 85, claiming the Rule did not breach the age discrimination legislation, to be introduced in October 2006. However, their Judicial Review application was dismissed on all grounds by a High Court ruling in a judgement given on 27 September 2006.”

Now we have the likelihood of an industrial action ballot and the inevitability of a Special Service Group Conference – because 90 branches representing 300,000 of our 800,000 local government members have called for this. The support for the call for a Special Conference amounts to a devastating critique of the failed strategy of our national leadership hitherto.

UNISON local government activists need to be meeting now so that branches can take view on the important questions of what industrial action we should call for (in my view we must look at all out action involving all members in strike action of more than a single day and escalating from there) and how we run our dispute (I agree tha the governance of our dispute should be in the hands of LGPS members – not paid officials – and that we need a transparent, democratic and accountable strike committee.

Our members are up for a fight on pensions. Our leadership needs to live up to our membership.

Off to Parliament to save our pensions...

We’re off to lobby Parliament today in the continuing dispute over the Local Government Pension Scheme. UNISON members will join those from 11 other unions – AEP, Amicus, Aspect, CYWP, GMB, NAPO, NIPSA, NUJ, NUT, T&G and UCATT – in the joint lobby.

Check back here (or here) later to hear how it went, but in the mean time, wish us luck. If the Government legislate to alter our pension scheme so that we are not protected as other public servants were – and so that we have to pay more for less – we can look forward to a major dispute in the run up to next year’s elections. Labour MPs ought not to want this to happen! (And I won’t even mention the generosity of the pension scheme they voted for themselves…)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Support Tony!


When I say support Tony I do not of course mean the wrong Tony.

Our trade union movement depends upon the voluntary effort of thousands of lay activists, some of whom are motivated by their political beliefs. One such activist is Tony Staunton (pictured).

Tony Staunton is Branch Secretary of City of Plymouth UNISON Local Government Branch,and has held various elected positions in the South West Region in over 10 years of UNISON activism. He is the Secretary of Plymouth Trade Union Council (TUC).

Tony has represented UNISON internationally as a member of a Human Rights Delegation to South West Colombia in 2001, protests against the G8 in Genoa and Gleneagles, protests against the World Trade Organisation in Nice and Geneva, the European Social Forums in Florence, Paris and London, and the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Mumbai and Caracas.

He has led successful strike actions against cuts to social services and privatisation, with Plymouth City Council being the least privatised council in the South West of England.

Tony is also a founding member of the Nuclear Free Coalition supported by CND, dedicated to the scrapping of Trident and all nuclear weapons.

Over the past few years he has driven campaigns against neo-liberalism, climate change and ID cards winning UNISON policy initiatives at national Conferences.

Typically, Tony travelled up to London for the NHS Together lobby of Parliament on 1 November. Whilst he was there unannounced, a team of senior regional officials entered the UNISON offices on the ground floor of Plymouth’s Civic Centre on at 11:00am, having first confirmed he was in London leading a delegation to lobby Plymouth MP against NHS cuts. All information on the office computers was downloaded, the Branch Administrator and Treasurer questioned, and all records and financial documents taken away.

Apparently this shocking episode arose from a complaint to the General Secretary of UNISON following the UNISON South West Regional Council on 8th October 2006 which stated that a 2-sided A4 colour newsletter of the UNISON UNITED Left South West was allegedly printed using UNISON resources outside of the union’s Rules.

Now the Union is seeking to take possession of computers which are Tony’s own personal property, having been given to him in the past by the trade union branch in line with long standing past practice.

Tony, who was already under investigation for walking out of the TUC in September when Blair began to speak, is being threatened with further disciplinary investigation. In what must just be an unfortunate coincidence, these events have occurred shortly after Tony announced his intention to seek election to the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC).

It is very regrettable that the Union should expose itself to the perception that there may be an intention in some quarters to derail left-wing challengers for NEC seats.

Although I respect and admire Tony as an activist, I don’t share his politics (he is a member of RESPECT and of the Socialist Workers Party whereas I am proud to have been in the Labour Party for twenty six years). However, I don’t share the childish sectarianism of some of those (not all loyal Labour Party members themselves) who favour knee-jerk opposition to those who are members of other left-wing parties.

We need the active unity of all those who are opposed to privatisation, cuts and attacks on our pensions. There is no future for our Union in an approach of seeking quietly to influence a hostile Government – and our members should have the option of voting in Union elections for candidates who will offer an alternative approach. Avoidable internal strife has weakened us before and would do so again.

Tony is a great asset to our trade union, and I hope that our members in the South West Region will be offered a fair chance to decide for themselves whether or not to support him. I hope that common sense prevails and that we do not need to launch a major campaign in Tony’s defence. We need our energies to defend our pensions and our health service!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Health and Safety matters

Simon Jenkins in today’s Guardian chooses to criticise the under resourced Health and Safety Executive for what he sees as an over zealous approach.

Perhaps the only major work related hazard he faces is lunchtime over indulgence, but very many workers face daily risks to their health and safety – and need an organisation which will enforce the regulations which are there to protect us.

Hundreds of people die every year as a result of work related incidents, many if not all of which are preventable. There is almost no deterrent effect from the low fines imposed for breaking health and safety regulations.

If there is a problem with the HSE it is that it is that its safety inspections, prosecutions, convictions etc. have all reduced significantly, prompting justified criticism from the TUC. This scandal receives little coverage in the mainstream media.

Comments on the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” are easy to make – if you have a moment why not visit their site and comment on the article?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stop the victimisation of Yunus!


Yunus Bakhsh, a former member of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) and current member of the UNISON Health Service Group Executive (SGE) has been suspended by his employers in what looks to an impartial observer like a pretty clear cut case of victimisation of an effective (if somewhat bolshy) union representative.

Some details are available online in a leaflet. The latest news is available in Socialist Worker, to which I would not normally blog a link but this case warrants it. Trade unions have to be prepared to defend our activists against the employers. We also have to be alive to the risk that sometimes divisions in our own ranks will embolden the employers to victimise an activist. I hope that this is not one such case and that we can rely upon all colleagues to close ranks against the employer.

I was concerned to hear at yesterday’s meeting of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation Committee that the branch of which Yunus is a member (and joint Branch Secretary) has, along with other branches involved in a recent reorganisation, been placed under regional supervision as part of a “shadow” merged branch. It is important that this step towards unity is not also a step away from principled support for a victimised activist – and I very much hope and expect that UNISON will continue to fight hard against the victimisation of Yunus Bakhsh.

Another Queen's Speech is Possible...

The Queen’s Speech was a bit of a disappointment – so short it would fit on one page of Labour Left Briefing (though I think they’ll have better stuff to put on it) – it offered nothing to the trade unions.

While Blair was praising his (now?) chosen successor, Gordon Brown, Brown’s opponent John McDonnell MP has published an alternative Queen’s Speech  It sets out what a genuine Labour Government would be doing (which would happily coincide with the policy priorities of my trade union, UNISON). The alternative speech deals with a host of issues of importance to trade unionists – it includes;

An Equalities Bill which would protect LGBT people from discrimination in the provision of goods and services and remove age discrimination from the minimum wage (both UNISON policies).

A Housing Bill which would give local authorities the fourth option to improve public sector housing whilst retaining both ownership and management of the housing stock – in line with the policies of UNISON, the TUC and the Labour Party.

An Education Bill which would abolish tuition fees and Academies – again in line with UNISON policies.

An NHS Reform Bill which would abolish foundation status and bring services, including NHS Logistics, back in-house. These too are UNISON policies.

A Trade Union Freedom Bill in line with the policies of the unions and the TUC.

A stronger Corporate Manslaughter Bill as promised at Warwick – but not delivered.

There is plenty more and it is all good stuff – it is worth reading in full.

Trade unionists need to be debating these alternative proposals, which reflect our policies, and considering how to promote them. None of these proposals were in the programme for the Government which is supported by the present Cabinet. Maybe that’s why there is no news release welcoming the Queen’s Speech even on the website of the TUC. (At least, not as I write this…)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

London UNISON members love meetings - official

This morning the Development and Organisation Committee of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) is meeting. I’ll post a summary of my report to London branches later. The Committee will be looking at a report of some research conducted by the Labour Research Department based upon a questionnaire sent out to UNISON members.

The report makes interesting reading. It shows that half of all our members have sought the help of a local shop steward at some point – and that members are most likely to be satisfied with the help they receive from their local representatives. About half of our members have attended workplace meetings – and almost half have recently participated in the campaigning around pensions.

I don’t know if this means that the bucket is half full or half empty – but I was encouraged to read that members from Greater London were more likely than those from other regions to have attended both branch and workplace meetings of UNISON. Well done Greater London! I hope that delegates to the Regional Council meeting rearranged for 14 December can live up to this record of participation.

The report touches on the question of the relevance of our branch structures – members clearly relate more to issues in the workplace than issues in the branch. Those of us committed to lay control of a democratic trade union will need to monitor closely how the findings of this research are used.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Thursday - show solidarity with Filipino workers

Some important news from the UNISON website. There is a protest this coming Thursday lunch time (for those working in or able to get to Central London).

The peaceful protest outside the Philippines Embassy, on Thursday16 November, is being organised by The Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP), and a range of other organisations, including Filipino migrant organisations in the UK and trade unions. It takes place in front of the embassy gates on Palace Green, at Kensington High Street between 1-3pm.

More than 770 political killings have been reported since President Arroyo came to power in January 2001 (following the impeachment of President Estrada in 2001). Victims include political activists, farmers' leaders, students, priests, lawyers and journalists.The murdered have included 64 union activists and 982 cases have been reported of trade union and human rights violations, including picket line assaults, illegal arrest and detention, harassment and abduction.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Card carrying hero of the working class?

Well dear reader, according to an article in today’s Sunday Times magazine I am a “card carrying hero of the working class” – do I add it as a strapline at the top of the blog I wonder? I think I prefer being described as “affable”… :)

I was interviewed because of my involvement with the leadership campaign of John McDonnell MP. John has been invited to speak at the next meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Council on 14 December because of his involvement with the Public Services Not Private Profit campaign, and his general support for trade union policies.

Single Status and Equal Pay in local government

I attended a useful seminar on Equal Pay for UNISON local government activists in Greater London last week Monday – I haven’t yet written up a full report but will do so and will post it on the Lambeth branch blog as well as circulating it. There are clearly a number of problems in several London boroughs with the implementation of the ten year old agreement on “Single Status” – not least the absence of any significant progress in some boroughs.

As I have mentioned here before, UNISON members in the Coventry local government branch are engaged in a continuing campaign of strike action over the imposition of an unjust “Single Status” agreement – their latest bulletin is available online here.

We face a serious problem because of the failure of the Government to put any money into funding the harmonisation of pay and conditions in local government. This leaves us haggling with the employers about who loses how much and who gains how much, all the time looking over our shoulders at opportunistic “no win no fee” solicitors who are as happy to encourage workers to take legal action against the unions as against the employers if they can make money out of it.

As in all negotiation and industrial disputes it is important that we are open with our members about the circumstances in which we find ourselves – and that members themselves take democratic control over the conduct and outcome of negotiations.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Blairites back Brown (to carry on Blair's policies)

So now we know – the Blairites are going to back Brown for Labour Leader. That gives us a united front of all those who backed the Iraq war, foundation hospitals, top up fees and privatisation.

As trade unionists we need a clear alternative to these failed policies. We also need to be able to offer our levy paying members an opportunity to vote for a candidate who backs our trade union policies.

Good job there is one!

MPs linked to trade unions must reflect upon the absolute importance of allowing our members a choice in the election for Leader. Policy-lite Deputy leadership candidates, however interesting their ideas, just won’t do the job. Neither will retreads from the 80s but I think I made that point earlier.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

John McDonnell - candidate of the left - speaks in Brighton

I’m just back from listening to John McDonnell speaking about his leadership bid at a meeting in Brighton. We also heard from the Save Omar campaign (campaigning for freedom for a Brighton man locked up in Guantanamo Bay), the World Court project (campaigning to outlaw nuclear weapons), Friends of the Earth and Hands Off Venezuela.

50 people seemed to me a good turnout for a midweek evening meeting in November, and the range of speakers and breadth of intelligent contributions from the floor (predominantly but not exclusively Labour Party members) underlined to me what is impressive about John’s campaign. This is a new type of Labour Party politics which reaches out to engage with those campaigning for change and justice whether or not they agree with us.

If the left is going to force the necessary debate on policies - not personalities - and take the opportunity offered by the forthcoming leadership election then we need this new approach. We don't need to recycle a 1980s candidate. We need a twenty first century socialism with a leadership candidate who has consistently supported socialist policies.

So it is disappointing to hear that Michael Meacher may still be being led into a doomed leadership bid. I hope Harry Perkins is wrong about this and that Michael will still throw his weight into a united left wing challenge around John’s campaign. If not he can’t possible expect significant support from the left for someone who backed the Iraq war, Foundation hospitals and ID cards!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

John McDonnell to speak in Brighton

John McDonnell speaks tomorrow in Brighton. Alongside speakers from a range of campaigning organisations, John will speak about his bid for the Labour leadership from 7.30pm at the Brighthelm Centre.

Speakers from;

Save Omar Campaign
Sussex Action for Peace – George Fairbrother
Friends of the Earth - Martyn Williams
Hands Off Venezuela - Jorge Martin

Chair – Councillor Joyce Edmond-Smith

Keynote speaker – John McDonnell, MP, socialist candidate for Leader of the Labour Party

Come and hear speakers from local campaigns and discuss with John McDonnell the policies we need from a real Labour Government.

Electing John4Leader is the last chance we have to get a Prime Minister who represents the Working class for a number of years to come. John has proved over the years that he keeps to his principles from his days as Deputy Leader of the GLC to his record in Parliament. It is literally a choice between him and Brown/Cameron policies during this and the next parliament.

www.John4Leader.org.uk
Local contacts
Ian Lidbetter 407838381998
Gordon Lean 07921706257
Rachael Webb –1273 673399

The Brighthelm Centre is 3 minutes walk from Brighton Station, there is limited free parking and a pay car park next door and lots of buses to the Station, Churchill Square and the Steine.

UNISON elections coming up

It is coming round to election time in UNISON and the NEC will no doubt – and rightly – be discussing how to improve member participation in our democratic process. Should I post any items about people seeking nominations (or about any contested elections) I will, as I am now, post from a computer which is not UNISON property. Regional Council elections will take place early in the New Year in all Regions and, slightly later, our NEC is up for re-election.

UNISON property and resources should not be used in connection with internal Union elections except as expressly permitted by the Rules and the electoral procedures agreed for the particular election. This also means that UNISON employees should not encourage or recommend support for any candidate whilst acting in their official capacity.

I have a mixed record in UNISON elections (to put it politely). On the one hand I have twice been elected to the National Executive Council. On the other I think I may have scored the worst ever result in a UNISON General Secretary election and – earlier this year – I narrowly lost out in an election to be Regional Convenor in our Greater London Region. As I always say when told I have a self-deprecating sense of humour, there is quite a lot to deprecate!

Obviously it is always disappointing to lose an election – but that’s democracy in action. What was more disappointing about the 2006 Regional elections was that someone took it upon themselves to circulate, anonymously, a scurrilous Email message making a series of wild allegations against myself and other leftwing candidates.

At first I found it quite funny to be accused of megalomania (when quite honestly my plans for world domination are much more of a long term thing…) However the spiteful tone of the anonymous Email was, as it was meant to be, hurtful.

Those who fling mud anonymously do so because some of it sticks whatever the truth is. I was therefore even more disappointed recently to stumble across an anonymous blog (to which I won’t link) which makes a series of childish personal attacks upon leftwing UNISON activists. The anonymous blog is clearly written by one or more sad individuals with access to a reasonable amount of inside information on the Union (particularly but not exclusively the London Region and the Health Service group).

I am writing this post to explain why I very much hope that comrades on the left in the Union don’t stoop to the same level. We should have our political discussions and debates about union policy out in the open and we should have the confidence to stand by our views in public. Personal attacks on any union activist do damage to the Union whatever their impact upon any election. You only have to visit the bulletin board at which members of another Union are free to make anonymous personal attacks to see how much damage this could do.

I suspect that those who attack the left from behind a cloak of anonymity do so both because they cannot express their views in public because of their role within the Union and because they do not really have the interests of the Union and its members at heart. It is interesting to note who else relies upon anonymity, and to wonder whose interests such people are really there to serve. (lol as we say on t’intraweb…)(but then again…)

Anonymous attacks are also an essential ingredient in political witch hunts – those unappealing episodes in which elements within our movement decide to devote their time and energy to using administrative means to resolve their political differences with critics. I hope we are not on the brink of another such episode just when we need unity to face up to the attacks on our members in health, education and local government.

So I offer my respect and solidarity to all those who are subject to anonymous personal attacks, whether or not I agree with them or intend to vote for them and offer best wishes to all those candidates in forthcoming Regional and National elections who denounce such personal attacks.

Monday, November 06, 2006

More answers to Tony Blair on public service "reform"

I am pleased to see others joining the online debate over the Prime Minister’s shallow justification for public sector “reform”, including academic Bill Cooke who makes a good case against grandiose reform schemes and points out negative features of the private sector with which the Prime Minister may not be familiar. Peter Ryley points out that “choice” with which Tony Blair is so obsessed, is a very limited form of power compared to ownership, control and democratic governance. It is a little scary that, there being no coherent case for Government policy on public services, they are still able to get away with so much nonsense…I think we need to back an all-embracing joint union campaign against privatisation.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Solidarity with the GMB!

Trade union unity is an important idea – and one that we try to live up to locally where I work. At a national level though UNISON and GMB don’t always play nice together – so I thought it was important to come online and blog some solidarity with GMB members at DHL who are in dispute over pay and job losses.

This is particularly important for UNISON because – of course – our members from NHS Logistics have been privatised to the same profit-hungry private corporation. I can’t wait for Tony Blair’s next attempt to explain why this is all good in the cause of public service reform.

I think we need a joint union campaign against all privatisations. Actually, now I think of it, I think there is one! Perhaps we should be setting up local groups to take the campaign forward?

Debating the reform of public services

Whilst waiting for Tony to reply in the online debate about public service reform, I haven’t forgotten accepting a challenge from a more serious Labour blogger to post a more considered piece on the case for public services to be provided in the public sector – although I haven’t got round to it yet.

Whilst reading though I did find this interesting piece of research. Since it is over a megabyte and 85 pages I am going to have to take some time to look at it, but what is interesting in this European research is that it deals precisely with the question of innovation in the delivery of services which is what public service “reform” ought to be about. Obviously slightly weird and much weirder Europhobes won’t want to be reading it…

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Where next for NHS campaign?

I was pleased to be alongside more than a thousand health workers at the NHS Together lobby of Parliament yesterday. Opinion poll evidence confirms that voters share the scepticism of health workers about the pace and direction of the Government’s “reforms” of the NHS.

This followed a larger lobby attended by over two thousand trade unionists in the summer and organised by the Public Services Not Private Profit campaign. There is no doubting the scale of popular opposition to privatisation (even though Tony Blair continues to believe in it…)

The question which faces the trade unions now is how we mobilise that opposition. If we don’t there are others who will. (A health warning should be attached to that last link because it goes to the Tory campaign to defend the NHS – for which there really should be a special award for hypocrisy).

The TUC has already agreed to organise a national demonstration to defend the NHS. We have to make that a success. To do this some sections of our leadership need to overcome their reluctance to work with grassroots campaigns. Trade unionists should be establishing joint union bodies to fight privatisation across the board – utilising trades councils where these exist or establishing local Public Service Not Private Profit groups to work together across union boundaries and with community campaigns against all forms of privatisation.

We also need to break with the politics of quietly influencing our enemies – even if we think they are listening to us. We need to back an alternative approach.