Thursday, December 27, 2007

Another death...

Today’s news is terrible – and not just for the victim of assassination.

All the world leaders condemn the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but this looks to me like the sort of event which will mark the “New World Order” of the twenty first century. One more death among many others.

There is some sensible comment on this event. I can’t help but step back and look at where we are and how we got here.

Imperialist adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, eagerly supported by daft cheerleaders in this country, have contributed massively to destabilising an entire region.

The United States sponsored political Islam as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and now wages a nonsensical “war on terror” whilst the “terror” against which “we” are at war appears to be armed materially by elements within the Pakistani security services (“our” allies) and ideologically by the those close to the Saudi regime (also “our” allies – though not ours!)

The “war” on terror provides the perfect enemy for the single global superpower, and its (latest) demented poodle. An intangible adversary gives every opportunity for unnecessary attacks upon liberty at home , asymmetrical warfare overseas and a context for domestic austerity.

We are reaping the whirlwind that was unleashed by the fall of the wall. I was no fan of the Soviet Union (and am in no doubt that it’s collapse was a long term consequence of the betrayal of the revolution by the Stalinists) (sorry comrades). However, since the global alternative to capitalism was squashed under the wheels of a convoy of westbound Trabants (and its own failings) we have seen what this unipolar world is going to be like. It's not looking good.

For us in the UK we have a declining trade union movement and a party of “the left” which is no longer of the left. Attempts to build socialist alternatives to the Labour Party are either tragic or farcical. It is easy to fall prey to despair.

There is hope in the world of course (and our movement globally is not in decline). We have to make our own hope too though. As we think globally we have to act locally – against attacks on our class and our fellow activists.

We have to build (and rebuild) a democratic movement of working class people not only because that is how we strive for dignity and justice in the workplace right now but because our movement is the last and only hope for the future of humanity.

Might take a while though…

Monday, December 24, 2007

Season's Greetings

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year reader to all readers of this blog (that's obviously both of you - Sid and Doris Blogger of Neasden...)

We have loads to do in 2008 so if you don't mind I shall try to relax and unwind until the end of 2007... :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Here we go, here we go, here we go?

As we were told last week, yesterday saw the launch of the TUC’s coordination of a campaign to break the Government’s 2% pay policy – full details of which are online here.

I am of course a bit of a cynic but it does worry me to read that the TUC has “called on ministers to accept in full the next round of recommendations from the various pay review bodies, if they wanted to avoid a repetition of the anger that provoked a wave of strike ballots across the public sector in 2007.”

Personally I object to pay being set by “review bodies” which pretend to neutrality rather than by the process of collective bargaining – but I recognise that there are divided views on this in the movement. However, given that the whole point of our pay campaign for the coming year is to break the 2% norm I doubt the wisdom of simply tying ourselves to whatever is recommended by the pay review bodies.

Furthermore, I don’t think we will get very far by threatening a repeat of 2007, which saw a comprehensive failure to build a united fight on pay across the public sector.

It is much more helpful to read that “the TUC campaign will also call for pay increases to reflect the true cost of living in the UK. The government insists on using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which currently stands at 2.1% as its target for pay awards. Yet working people are currently facing real inflation levels of 4.1% according to the Retail Price Index (RPI). This measure, which includes housing costs, is a more accurate and realistic reflection of the rising cost of living than the CPI.”

Whilst there is strategic political importance in breaking the 2% norm, our members will only experience any pay settlement as a victory if it at least begins to reverse the decline in living standards over recent years – this certainly means a settlement above the increase in the RPI. The TUC have also issued a report rebutting the suggestion that public sector pay increases are driving inflation.

UNISON local government branches need to remember to return the consultation pro formas to their Regional office so that the local government pay claim can be formulated. We also need to get back on track with work at local and Regional level to build direct links with rank and file members of other Unions.

For those who don’t wish to navigate the obstacle courses which can be set in the way of such sensible initiatives by over rigid interpretation of relevant UNISON guidelines, it would be a good idea to get the local Trades Council to organise a meeting early in the New Year – and to set up a Trades Council if one doesn’t exist so that it is available to enable local rank and file coordination in future.

Officially the Union is set to focus, very sensibly, upon building alliances with the key unions in each sector on a sector by sector basis – this is crucial since it would weaken us if unions with significant membership in health or local government were not part of a united fight. Locally and at a rank and file level it is important that we make links with brothers and sisters in all public sector unions – this is a political fight against a political enemy and we need to maximise our forces to secure the best outcome.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

2008 pay fight starts here?

As reported by Dave Prentis to the last UNISON NEC meeting, it is reported in today’s Observer that the TUC will this week launch a campaign on public sector pay. Although not yet on the TUC website it appears that this campaign is going to borrow the badge of “Speak Up for Public Services” which was established around the official lobby of Parliament last January.

Of course that lobby was dwarfed by the 2,000 plus strong lobby organised by the Public Services Not Private Profit Campaign in July 2006. We do need the TUC to coordinate joint action on public sector pay – but history suggests we should be cautious about the leadership of the TUC, which will itself be ultra-cautious!

However, we do have the opportunity to confront the Government over its pay policy in 2008 in the interests of our members – and in a way which we have failed in 2007. We need to put our feet up, relax and party for a couple of weeks now because next year is going to be tough...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Strike action can get results

According to the UNISON Scottish Region website, striking daycare workers in Glasgow have narrowly voted to accept a settlement and bring to an end their eight week old strike. Critics of the deal put before the strikers believe that the strikers should have held out for more. It seems that a settlement which removes the need for pay protection depends upon agreement to changes in service delivery.

From hundreds of miles away I am not in a position to say if this is a good deal or not (although clearly the strikers themselves were in two minds about settling as the vote was very close). However, this development does show that the employers can be shifted by industrial action. I hope that this is good news for UNISON members in Newham gearing up for strike action on 13 December in opposition to the disgraceful victimisation of UNISON Branch Chair, Michael Gavan.

Good luck to Newham UNISON for tomorrow’s strike!

Report to Greater London UNISON Branches - support Newham strike on 13 December - defend Karen Reissman

This is the text of a report I have made today to branches in the Greater London Region of UNISON;

I attended last night a meeting at the House of Commons at which I gained some useful information about official UNISON disputes from speakers directly involved in those disputes. I am writing to pass this information on urgently to branches in the Greater London Region.

Newham branch strike action 13 December

UNISON members in Newham local government branch are on strike tomorrow – as you may have seen on the Regional UNISON website. This strike is part of UNISON’s official dispute with Newham Council over the disgraceful sacking of Newham Branch Chair, Michael Gavan, for having undertaken trade union activities.

A rally will take place from 11.30am at the Hartley Centre in East Ham. The address is 267 Barking Road, East Ham, E6. It’s five minutes walk from East Ham Town Hall and ten minutes walk from East Ham tube, which is on the District Line.

This strike comes a day before UNISON’s claim for “interim relief” for Michael and I hope that anyone who can possibly be in Newham to support Michael and the Newham branch will do so. There can be no more important priority than support for a fellow trade unionist who has been victimised. If you can possibly cancel commitments in order to be there tomorrow please do.

Karen Reissman dispute

As you may have seen on the national UNISON website, the appeal against the dismissal of Manchester UNISON health service activist Karen Reissman was dismissed yesterday. I heard yesterday from two of the striking members of the Manchester Community and Mental Health Branch whose members are determined to secure justice for Karen and who have the full official support of UNISON.

I attach a motion adopted by a meeting of striking members of the Manchester Community and Mental Health Branch yesterday which I know that the strikers wish to draw to the attention of UNISON branches, and which sets out their views as to how the dispute should now be carried forward. (If any UNISON member would like to see a copy of the motion contact me at j.rogers@unison.co.uk).

You can keep up to date with the campaign at the campaign website as well as in the regular bulletins which are being sent out officially.

Finally, if you would like to read a report from yesterday’s meeting (which was not an official UNISON meeting) a report is available online.

Both Karen and Michael have been sacked for being dedicated and effective trade union activists and for pursuing UNISON’s policy of opposition to privatisation, I hope that all branches in Greater London will be considering how we can help and support our victimised activists.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Local Government Pay 2008 - what to ask for and how to get it?

Hat’s off to my fellow NEC blogger John McDermott – who was in ahead of me with his NEC report and has blogged since about the local government pay claim.

UNISON branches are being consulted on the claim – though we have very little time in which to give our views I am very sympathetic to the need for early agreement on a claim so that it can be submitted quickly. The NJC Committee agreed there should not be a repeat of the long and drawn out negotiations over pay that occurred this year, and that the claim should be for a headline figure of 6%. They also agreed the claim should seek to substantially increase pay at the bottom end, with a view to making progress towards a minimum hourly rate of £6.75.

The GMB has already arrived at a settled view which is to call for;

* 7% or 75p/hour increase, whichever is the greater, for a one-year deal.

* A 35 hour week with no detriment.

* 2 days additional annual leave with no detriment.

* Improvements to car mileage payments.

* An increase to the night shift allowance to achieve double time over three years.

* An increase to the sleep-in allowance to £60 per shift.

The UNISON NJC Committee are recommending that the service conditions issues should be part of a separate claim as part of the joint review of the Green Book (the national agreement). The London Regional Local Government Executive discussed this earlier in the week as I reported earlier.

My friend and comrade Malcolm Campbell expressed support for a flat rate claim – which is what I shall argue for in my branch. I’d be interested to know what other branches are thinking of.

We also need to discuss tactics for strike action over the national pay dispute which we will inevitably be having next year. Is our objective to break the 2% norm or to achieve an above inflation increase? How do we motivate those who will be or are already on pay protection as a result of Single Status to campaign for a pay rise they may not see immediately (depending upon the status of their protection)?

There’s a lot to think about.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Equal Pay - where do we go now?

I really will get my report of Wednesday’s NEC meeting written up shortly!

When I do I won’t cover in full detail the longest discussion at the meeting, as I have been able to do now for the last couple of years. That’s because the lengthy discussions on Equal Pay (including the implementation of Agenda for Change in the Health Service and Single Status in local government) concern an area in which the trade unions (not just UNISON) are embroiled in so much litigation. We are running thousands of legal cases and are also responding to a smaller – but still large – number of cases in which Union members are taking action against their Union (assisted and encouraged by a growing band of “No Win No Fee” solicitors).

The legal advice is that anything said officially by or on behalf of UNISON could end up being used – unpredictably – in evidence against the Union. It is all unpredictable because the case law in this area is continually evolving and so what it is reasonable to do one day may turn out later to have been unreasonable and wrong as the courts decide that the law always meant something different.

One consequence of all of this is that the Union isn’t really able to communicate effectively about the vast amount of work which is being done in relation to equal pay – and is also very reticent about publicising the various local disputes which have been springing up. We are also not really pursuing our campaigning agenda with the vigour that is called for, both I think because of the sheer scale of Head Office resources tied up by the litigation but also because I am not sure anyone in the union movement, or in Government, has a ready solution to the problem.

Of course we do know part of the solution – Government funding on a sufficient scale to fill the gender pay gap, providing recompense to those who have lost out and levelling up rather than down. This is the policy of UNISON and of the TUC and our Local Government Service Group lobbied Parliament along these lines in the summer. All we got was a little extra “capitalisation” (authority for local Councils to go further into debt to fund the costs of implementing Single Status).

Another bizarre consequence of the current wave of litigation is that, on legal advice, we cannot now formally debate Equal Pay at our decision making Conferences (for fear that a resolution drafted in clear and unambiguous terms could come to be evidence against the Union in a case in which, of necessity, we have had to settle for less than our initial demands). As we wait for cases to make their way to Europe this self-imposed silence is set to last for several years.

Now even our ability to communicate with our members at branch level is being inhibited. Such is the all pervading influence of the culture of litigation upon the Union that it is quite possible now that branches negotiating the best deal that they can get with an employer can be told that the Union will recommend members reject that deal, even though we have no viable strategy to improve it, because a cautious reading of developing case law suggests potential legal liability for the Union were it to recommend the deal.

I am generally among the first to criticise the recommendation to members of unsatisfactory settlements – but the place to resolve differences of this nature is within the Union movement through our democratic structures.

We have now reached a point at which, in relation to a central issue for our Union affecting many thousands of our members in a very direct way, we can do almost none of the things that a Union should do without first asking a lawyer and waiting (and waiting) for their advice.

We need to find a way out of this impasse that does not involve waiting for the end of all the litigation, otherwise we are simply failing to act as a trade union should in relation to one of our own key priorities.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Regional Local Government Executive Report

Today’s meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Local Government Executive witnessed a particularly lengthy debate around the Secretary’s report on industrial action in London local government.

Two visitors from the Barnet branch kicked off a positive discussion about support for the long running Fremantle dispute. The Committee agreed to congratulate the branch and the strikers on sustaining their dispute and to call for support for the rally at the House of Commons on 11 December and for Early Day Motion 276.

The Committee also discussed the disgraceful victimisation of Michael Gavan, Chair of Newham UNISON local government branch. It was reported that Michael’s claim for interim relief at the employment tribunal will be heard on Friday 14 November and that the Newham Branch Committee will this evening be considering whether to call for further strike action in advance of that hearing. The Committee gave its full support to UNISON’s campaign for Michael’s reinstatement and gave in principle support to any further requests for strike action which the branch may make.

The Committee also agreed to encourage a positive approach to identifying ways in which financial support can be given to victimised activists.

The Committee went on to debate the process whereby requests from branches for industrial action ballots are considered. This is clearly unsatisfactory and gives rise to avoidable delays and the Executive agreed to refer the question to the UNISON Greater London Regional Committee. Time will tell whether this will lead to any positive progress. Branches may need to consider how to put motions to National Delegate Conference to expedite industrial action requests.

The other main item of business which I should report in the time available concerns our pay claim for 2008. Branches should shortly receive a draft claim agreed by the UNISON National Joint Council (NJC) Committee on 28 November, this is for 6% and substantial progress to achieve UNISON’s (national) objective of a minimum hourly rate of £6.75 (obviously this would be higher in London). A separate claim for improvements in various service conditions would be submitted as part of the review of the Green Book which has been jointly agreed.

Branches will have a short period to consult upon the offer and may wish to consider whether a flat rate claim would not be better than a percentage. A flat rate increase of £1,400 would pretty much achieve the uprating of the minimum hourly rate whilst distributing the benefits to all lower paid workers not just the lowest paid.

Whatever claim we settle upon the good news is that the intention is to lodge the claim in January with a view to taking a decision on the employers’ offer after 31 March. So we need to be preparing for strike action now.

Finally, congratulations to Croydon UNISON and their Branch Secretary Malcolm Cambell for securing an agreement on the pay and grading review (and to David Eggmore, Chair of the Executive for getting us through most of our Agenda this morning!)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fighting for UNISON members at the UNISON NEC

Being a member of the National Executive Council (NEC) of UNISON is a sometimes strange and surreal experience. Members would – I suppose – imagine that the body charged with running the Union between our Annual National Delegate Conferences would meet frequently and pay attention to the detail of what our Union does.

In fact the NEC does neither of these things.

We meet infrequently and as much detailed work as there is to be done is delegated to Committees. The most important such bodies consist of meetings of those already elected to Chair – or selected by - other Committees, hence generally (but not always) they consist entirely of those already predisposed to agree with what has been decided by those in charge.

Those in charge are the key officials and not the leading members of the NEC (although sufficient interpersonal skills are deployed that I imagine that some leading members of the NEC do in fact believe that they are leading the Union). There are leading lay activists who keep straight left and who are genuinely influential but I am not always sure they remember where they came from or where they belong

I shall look forward to reporting back from next Wednesday’s meeting of the UNISON NEC at which I will be seeking official support for the rally which will be taking place at the House of Commons on Tuesday 11 December in support of UNISON activists who are fighting privatisation and its consequences. I hope we will seize this opportunity to unite the trade union movement with our real allies in Parliament in order to promote the interests of our members.

Our Union could be even better than it is if we could galvanise real unity in action between our very experienced and capable national officials and our equally experienced and dedicated lay activists. To do this we need to unite against a common enemy and forget about squabbling.

Unison has no enemies to our left politically. Sometimes some of our key people forget this. The enemies of our members are those who push forward privatisation and who want to hold down our pay.

I hope to be able to give a positive report in five days time and that we will unite with our friends and allies to promote the interests of our members.

Time to fight over privatisation and pay

Having now recovered from the excitement of the Greater London Employers’ Forum I am looking forward to Monday’s meeting of the Regional Local Government Executive (you knew I was a sad anorak but you didn’t know how sad!)

I hope that the Executive will have an opportunity to discuss the disputes with Fremantle and the London Borough of Newham. In both cases UNISON needs to step up our campaigning against the consequences of privatisation. We should obviously be supporting and encouraging our members to take industrial action, but equally we need to discuss how to step up our political campaigning.

We should make better use of the influence we believe we have with Government – and we should support initiatives which are taken to focus support for these important campaigns. In particular we need more MPs signing up to EDM 276!

At the Regional Local Government Executive we will also be discussing Single Status and the pay and grading reviews which are taking place across London (and the country). Full marks to the Croydon branch for reaching an agreement – as there is a meeting of the National Executive Council next Wednesday I shall have the opportunity to raise any issues which London local government branches may have (so please get in touch if you need to).

Also on Monday’s agenda is the 2008 pay claim. We need early agreement on a claim around which we can mobilise our members for the inevitability of national strike action (unless we want to live within Gordon Brown’s 2% pay norm and see our living standards decline further!) We ought to be lodging our claim early in the New Year and giving the employers a deadline in March to respond (we know that they have been consulting their constituents for some time so there is no reason why they should not).

If we don’t have a satisfactory offer by mid March (and realistically we know we won’t) then we should be planning for strike action around the settlement date in April – not months later.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sleazy donations or a trade union base?

I realise this is not an incredibly original observation but we wouldn’t have all this trouble if we had a political party founded on the labour and trade union movement which relied more than anything else upon the voluntary effort of working people to get our message across.

We (the trade unions) did have one of those.

We do have the machinery to assert trade union influence over a political party.

But when we could have used that machinery to reinforce our potential influence – we didn’t.

Can someone please advise me of the brilliant strategy endorsed by the leaders of the big unions and which led to our supporting Brown’s constitutional proposals at Party Conference, further reducing union influence over Party and Government policy?

I know that some people who support the leadership read this blog. Don’t be shy – let us all in on the secret…

Out of circulation?

I am indebted to the commentator on the last post who pointed out that I haven't blogged for a few days.

I will remedy this defect over the next few days until you're sick of me. My excuse for yesterday is that I was at a meeting of the Greater London Employers' Forum (GLEF).

Today I am having my toilet replaced.

Guess which of those two activities is more useful and worthwhile...

The GLEF meeting was attended by representatives of a small minority of the London Boroughs on the employers' side - which doesn't suggest that our employers in the Capital give a high priority to collective bargaining I'm afraid.

(I don't normally say nice things about my own employer but Lambeth were represented by our Deputy Leader, Jackie Meldrum - which, given the recent problems with employee relations in the borough - is a positive sign) (I hope!)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Security of our personal data and ID cards...

Just a quick thought. If the Government cannot keep our personal data safe – then how dare they continue to propose ID Cards (which UNISON opposes)?

If anyone thinks the Government should be trusted with our personal data then I have to say that you have not been paying attention to history.

No good can come of entrusting the Government with our personal information – particularly not when they simply cannot keep it safe!

Monday, November 19, 2007

D Day in Newham

Today the disciplinary hearing against Michael Gavan, Branch Chair of Newham local government UNISON branch continues.

The disciplinary charges against Michael accuse him of acting in the interests of trade union members and not of the employer.

This is one of the clearest cases of trade union victimisation in recent years – if you haven’t already done so messages of support can be emailed to the branch at newham-unison@btconnect.com and messages of condemnation sent to Newham mayor Robin Wales at Robin.wales@newham.gov.uk.

Newham’s rogue elected mayor and extreme anti-union management have to be stopped. The message has to go out that trade union representatives must not be threatened and dismissed simply for carrying out their role – least of all by a Labour Council.

Update on Monday evening - the protest at lunchtime was good with a significant turn out and support from other boroughs. The hearing concluded and a result may be known on Wednesday.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Good news :)

I don’t really do personal stuff on this blog – but I think I’ll take time to congratulate my friend and fellow NEC member Emma on the birth today of her daughter. Well done! It is easy sometimes to forget why we do all this trade union work. As I mentioned on Saturday at the Fremantle demonstration it’s because we care about the future – and the future belongs to all our children, including today’s new arrival.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fremantle dispute march and rally

It was great yesterday to be able to attend the march and rally in support of the Fremantle dispute.

The shop stewards who have been leading the dispute, together with their dedicated Branch Secretary John Burgess and hard working Regional Official, Eddy Coulson (now unfortunately unwell) more than deserved the wide ranging support that was expressed.

I was pleased to see my good friend and fellow NEC member, Kate Ahrens, addressing the rally, as well as my old friend and comrade Geoff Martin – not to mention the excellent range of speakers from across London who were there to show our support.

The dedication, commitment and sound strategy shown by the strikers and their UNISON branch are a firm basis on which an important victory could now be won.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Three disputes for November...

It’s a good job you don’t rely on this blog for all the news eh? Having been a bit poorly for a few days I’ve not been keeping up to date. So first off – following the disgraceful news that Karen Reissman, UNISON activist in the health service in Manchester has been sacked basically for being a good union rep – good news that UNISON is giving official backing to the continuing fight for her reinstatement!

With 150 members on continuous strike action to secure Karen’s job back this is shaping up to be a vital and serious fight for our Union.

Another activist under threat is Michael Gavan, from Newham local government, whose disciplinary hearing (at which he is facing charges which also essentially amount to being accused of being an effective representative!) is underway. Members in Newham took a solid day of strike action on 31 October ahead of the opening session of Michael’s disciplinary hearing on 1 November.

The disciplinary hearing reconvenes on 19 November – the Newham branch need the same support in London that is being shown for Karen in the North West!

I am looking forward to seeing Michael at the demonstration on Saturday in support of the Fremantle strikers. The Fremantle dispute is a vital dispute for UNISON and also need effective support from the Region (which means UNISON must deploy our resources where they are needed to support the dispute and pay close attention to the wishes and experience of our members on the front line).

None of these disputes will be easy to win. All of them can be won and the key will be the commitment of both the rank and file members and the official Union machine – since each of the disputes is about core UNISON values and basic trade union principles they each in their different ways pose a test for UNISON as much as a threat to the interests of our members.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Karen Reissmann Sacked! Urgent Solidarity Needed

After several months of suspension, fourteen days of strike action and a six day 'disciplinary' Karen Reissmann, chair of the Manchester Mental Health Unison branch has been sacked for the 'crime' of opposing mental health cuts.
The 700 strong branch has voted to go on indefinite strike. Urgent financial and other solidarity is needed.
Unison's national industrial action committee has sanctioned the community mental health team comprising some 160 workers to go on indefinite official strike action from this Thursday. This is a strike Unison must win. Donations need to flood in, with messages of support, invitations for speakers, national publicity and demands of Unison officials that they respect the demand of the branch and that the official strike is spread to cover the whole branch.
Rush donations and messages of support to the Manchester Community and Mental Health Unison branch, 70 Manchester Road, Manchester, M21 9UN. Phone 07972 120 451 or email unison@ zen.co.uk Cheques can be made out to "Unison Manchester Community and Mental Health"

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Defending the National Health Service

I am very disappointed not to be attending today’s demonstration in defence of the National Health Service – although I am pleased that there will be a delegation from my UNISON Branch.

I hope that today goes well and that it marks a step forward in the campaign that we need to defend our National Health Service. We need a vigorous campaign against the threats to our NHS – working with campaigning organisations as well as fellow trade unionists.

There does seem to me to be a danger of falling into the trap of thinking that a change of tone (or is it an absence of Tone) at Number 10 means that we are off the hook of privatisation. I doubt that those marching today will be taking such a mistaken view.

Good luck to everyone there today!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Support the strike against victimisation!

This story is nicked entirely from the London Region UNISON website. If we can’t have a strike over pay this year, let’s mobilise all our resources to defend our own!

“Members in Newham have voted for strike action following the suspension of activist and Branch Chair, Michael Gavan.
A day of strike action has been agreed for 31st October, which is the day before Michael’s disciplinary hearing. This allows members the opportunity to show their strength of feeling in order to change the Councils mind about pursuing their unwarranted disciplinary process.
There will be a lunch time rally from: 11:30am At St Johns Church, Stratford (in the middle of the Broadway) Nearest tube – Stratford on the central line.
All welcome to come along in support of Michael and the branch.
Link to map
Michael has been accused by the council of "not acting in the best interests of the council" and organising an "unauthorised" meeting against possible privatisation of services. UNISON has denied the allegations amount to gross misconduct, rather it says they are a direct attack on the union, aimed at gagging an effective negotiator.
"It is no coincidence that the Michael has been suspended shortly after the union started a campaign against the privatisation of the refuse and cleaning service," said branch secretary Irene Stacey.Messages of support can be emailed to the branch at newham-unison@btconnect.com and messages of condemnation sent to Newham mayor Robin Wales at Robin.wales@newham.gov.uk

I cannot be there on Wednesday as I will not be in London, but I hope as many UNISON activists as possible will show their support. If an employer can establish the principle that a union representative can be dismissed for (allegedly!) failing to breach the duty of confidentiality owed to a union member that would be the death knell of independent trade unionism in the workplace.

Good luck to all the sisters and brothers in Newham UNISON!

Local Government Pay - no fight this year...

Although my initial reaction to the news that we had a 51% “YES” vote on a 24% turnout in the national local government strike ballot was that we should press ahead with strike action because we had won the ballot, I can also, on reflection, understand why the National Joint Council (NJC) Committee voted by 24 votes to 3 not to proceed with strike action but instead to accept the employers’ offer.

Given the close result it might well have been difficult to sustain the strike action which would have been necessary to win and – although I suspect that had I been voting at the meeting this afternoon I would have been with the minority in believing that this could still have been done, the real problem is not with the vote at the NJC Committee but with the reasons underlying the close vote in the ballot.

There will be some who will see in the divided views of the membership some justification for their own initial pessimism – however, I think that what has been tested and found wanting in this year’s pay round thus far is an approach to leadership in the trade union movement which believes that the purpose of leadership is to hold a mirror to the members and reflect back their views and feelings, in this case indecision and a lack of confidence.

Leadership ought however to consist in developing, on the basis of the interests and opinions of the membership a strategy to advance those interests which the leadership should then take to the membership in order to campaign for their support. This proactive approach to raising public sector pay was implicit in the policies endorsed at UNISON Conference and at the Trades Union Congress.

This approach has not been put into practice this year. The alternative approach has been exemplified by the decisions of, for example, UNISON’s Health Service Group Executive and of the other local government unions – GMB and UNITE(TGWU) not to recommend rejection of below inflation pay increases, leading to acceptance of these offers by the members. These decisions in themselves can be – and have been – justified on the basis of a belief that the members are not up for the fight that would have been necessary to win.

If that is so, and the UNISON local government ballot result suggests that it may be at least partly true, then the roots of this problem can be traced to the collective failure of the trade union leadership to develop and campaign for an effective strategy to reverse the decline in the living standards of public service workers. I do not exclude myself from this criticism – and I do think we now face a serious challenge to try to construct in reality and from below the unity of purpose which was expressed rhetorically and from above at the TUC.

The alternative is a continuing squeeze on the living standards of public sector trade unionists – and a continuation of the flaccid failure to offer effective leadership. The 2008 pay campaign starts now, and it does not start from a very good place I am afraid.

Update on Monday evening – here is the official version; “Local government workers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have slammed this year’s below-inflation annual pay award, but stopped short of outright industrial action at this stage, putting employers and the government in the ‘last chance saloon’ over pay.”

If they don’t come up with a better offer next year we will mobilise some really really scary clich├ęs – never mind the “last chance saloon”!

Seriously I am pleased that we are committing ourselves in public to start a campaign for 2008 based on securing fair pay and conditions improvements and defeating plans to attack national conditions and negotiating machinery. The question is, what are we actually going to do though?

To strike or not to strike?

A joint meeting of UNISON's Local Government Service Group Executive and National Joint Council Committee is taking place this afternoon to decide what to do in the light of the result of our strike ballot.

As I understand it the turn out was, in the light of the postal dispute, respectable, and the result is a "YES" but a fairly narrow "YES". A difficult decision confronts the meeting this afternoon, but my view - and the view of the activists I have been talking to in our branch office - is that a "YES" vote should lead to strike action.

Our arguments for action are good - and could now be presented far more effectively than they were during the ballot campaign.

Update at 4.15pm. The National Joint Council Committee have voted decisively not to proceed with strike action and to accept the employers' offer. A disappointing outcome about which I will post more considered comment later.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hands off Iran!

I am no fan of the Iranian regime. Their treatment of trade unionists is appalling – witness the case of Mansour Osanloo, or the assassination attempt on Majid Hamidi.

However, the cause of Iranian trade unionists will not be assisted by U.S. imperialist warmongering – the enormous flaw in the liberal/progressive case for intervention is that the US (and this goes just as much for the UK) never intervene in the interests of progressive politics or humans rights but only in the interests (as their rulers perceive them) of the US (or the UK).

The hypocritical attacks upon the Iranians from the US and UK Governments, who are happy to do business with the appallingly reactionary and repressive Saudi regime, have nothing whatsoever to do with supporting the Iranian people. If there is a progressive case for sanctions against Iran there is a better case for sanctions against Saudi Arabia, but it isn’t being made by our Governments.

So, as well as showing solidarity with Iranian workers under attack by their reactionary Government, trade unionists in the UK need to prepare to campaign against an attack upon Iran. It is a vital role of our movement to stand against war, and we have the opportunity to stop the UK Government supporting a US attack on Iran.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Postal workers show how to deliver higher pay?

The Postal Executive and full Executive of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are recommending a deal to their members in their dispute with Royal Mail.

I know that respected activists have expressed various reservations about the proposed deal. Postal workers will have to decide what to do about the recommendation.

As a local government worker what stands out to me however is that the workers stand to get 5.4% on their pay from this month.

We, on the other hand, have been offered 2.475% (with 3.4% to the very lowest paid).

GMB members in local government have voted to accept this poor deal, and members of most health unions, including UNISON, voted to accept even less.

What is the difference between the sectors which have had below inflation pay rises and the postal workers?

Two words.

Strike action.

It works.

If you are a UNISON member in local government reading this then make sure you return your strike ballot by Friday and remember to vote “YES”.

Update on 23 October - with thanks to a better informed comrade who suggests that the tone of this post thus far is unreasonably upbeat. I note from one comment on this post already that it is the "ultra left" who may characterise the deal as a "sell out".

Well I have often been accused of being "ultra left" - but I prefer to consider whether a deal has sold the members short rather than sold them out. In this case what I have failed to take adequately into account above is that the deal is over two years, making 5.4% much less impressive. Although there is an additional - conditional - 1.5% due on 1 April, I understand that there is an argument that that is money that was due anyway.

If any readers can point me in the direction of a blog or website where postal workers are debating the pros and cons of the deal I shall post a link.

I still believe that strike action works, but obviously the extent to which it delivers for our members is dependent in part upon the strategy and tactics adopted by the leadership of each dispute.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Carry on blogging!

I’ve been called a blogger.

Mind you, I’ve been called worse (usually anonymously…!)

But these days I am not the only blogger on the UNISON NEC (although there are those who say that I never was but that other bloggers were just in the closet – and no, I am not posting a link to the anonymous blog to which I refer, because it was just never funny or intelligent enough to warrant that respect…)

Now though you don’t have to listen only to my ramblings if you want more than just the official version of what is going on on the UNISON NEC, you can hear from John, Emma and Kate – not to mention James and Angela.

That’s almost 10% of the UNISON NEC blogging now.

Come on the rest of you – what do you think those laptops and Blackberries are for???

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Who're SUE?

I blogged a little while ago about the dispute between UNISON and its main staff trade union (UNITE) over some proposed staffing changes.

The UNITE members protesting outside UNISON Regional Office were joined briefly by one or two members of another trade union – SUE (the Society of Union Employees).

But who’re SUE?

A cursory glance at the internet reveals – according to the Certification Officer website – that they have 288 members employed by UNISON, but are not affiliated to the TUC (and have no political fund).

Google only reveals that SUE once spoke up for a senior official facing allegations of bullying.

Now I would be the first to accept that employees of a trade union are hardly in an identical position to all other workers, and that there are difficulties and contradictions in unionising the employees of a trade union.

But can someone explain to me how union officials in a TUC affiliated trade union can come to the conclusion that their interests will be best served by membership of a union which is apolitical and outside the TUC?

And why doesn’t the organisation have a presence on the internet?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The anonymous opponents of migration in our movement...

There are those in our trade union movement who worry about the influence of far left organisations in our trade unions. I often get stick for being prepared to work alongside comrades who are members of outfits such as the Socialist Workers Party or the Socialist Party.

I am not troubled by this.

I prefer to work with good trade unionists regardless of political affiliation, whether they are in the Labour Party, the Communist Party, or no party at all. I also believe it is important to be open about political affiliations.

But there are other political parties in our movement which operate much less openly – one such is the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) which produce a journal called “Workers” in which all the contributions are anonymous (!) presumably because they are written by a small number of people holding well paid jobs as officials on our movement.

Workers is, oddly enough, anti-immigration. Their argument is pretty simple, migration increases the supply of labour and that depresses the price of labour. GCSE level economics is more advanced than much of what passes for discussion in our movement, but this a pretty limited argument which, characteristically for “Workers”, leads nowhere in terms of any practical guide to action for trade unionists. Do the comrades think we should be lining up with the anti-immigration brigade? What good would that do?

Mass migration is not going to stop. Capital flows ever more freely around the world (and that is a flow which we ought to be arguing for controls over). We can’t get back to a politics based upon the interests of “our” working class in “our” country, as distinct from the interests of our class the world over. We need to recognise that employers will try to depress wages and that their state will help them to do so – we need to fight as trade unionists to organise workers into trade unions, to push up wages – and to campaign for policies (such as an increase in the minimum wage and an amnesty for so-called “illegal” migrants) which will support workers’ interests.

Migrant workers are here now and the job of the trade unions is to organise workers regardless of nationality. That’s why UNISON is right to set out to organise migrant workers and to support Strangers into Citizens – perhaps the authors of Workers, including those in our own Union, would like to emerge from their anonymity and have a real debate?

There certainly is a danger in the movement adopting progressive policies on migration without winning support for them at a rank and file level. We need to take on and defeat the shallow and unimpressive arguments of the anti-immigrant brigade, to the left as much as to the right.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Local disputes show the need for national action

Bad news in Birmingham where the local authority – England’s largest – is seeking to impose a pay and grading deal which could see pay cuts of up to £10,000 a year for 12% of the workforce. The challenge of introducing equal pay in local government without the funding required to do so in a fair and reasonable way is only going to provoke more disputes.

Ironically this happens a year to the day since the Local Government Employers called upon their members to reach agreements on equal pay with the unions. And of course, it is ten years since we agreed the Single Status deal…

This approach of imposition heralds the future of employee relations in local government if the employers get their way and reduce national bargaining to a completely hollow shell. We are at our strongest when we can use the unity that comes from being part of a national union – that’s why the most important task for UNISON activists in local government is to mobilise for a yes vote in the national strike ballot.

If we can strengthen our national organisation we can get better settlements of our local disputes.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Not the Regional Committee report...

I haven’t yet had a chance to blog here a full report from Tuesday’s meeting of the Greater London UNISON Regional Committee (negotiations about the film rights are still underway…)

I only have few moments to blog right now but before I move next business for the time being…

I will take this opportunity to mention that the Regional Committee gave its wholehearted support to the Fremantle dispute and to the demonstration being organised for Saturday 10 November.

The Committee also heard that Regional officials had helpfully provided some guidance on the administration of hardship payments to the Barnet branch. This guidance took the form of a report received by the National Executive Council (NEC) Finance and Resource Management (FRM) Committee in 2004.

I have been in touch with the Chair of that Committee to suggest that it would be a good idea to look at updating and reissuing this guidance as national industrial action over pay is in prospect. If any UNISON branches want an electronic copy of the 2004 report please get in touch.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Normal trade unionism can be resumed?

Now that we don’t have to have one of these – can we concentrate on this and this instead please?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Newham Council attacks UNISON

I was shocked to hear last night that Newham’s off-the-wall Labour Council (which clearly demonstrates all the reasons why we were right as a UNISON to oppose elected Mayors) is pressing ahead with a disciplinary hearing in the case of Michael Gavan, about which I have blogged before. The hearing could be as little as a fortnight away.

Michael is the widely respected Branch Chair of Newham UNISON and his work over a number of years has been central to sustaining trade union organisation with a difficult and temperamental employer. UNISON members in Newham are rightly pressing ahead with a ballot for strike action.

Michael is quite clearly being victimised for his trade union work and while UNISON is balloting members for strike action we also need to maximise political pressure on Newham at the same time.

Those of us who are Labour Party members have a particular obligation to express our disgust to our Party colleagues in Newham. (I would normally say comrades, but no comrade of mine victimises a trade unionist for his union work!)

Those of you on Facebook please join the Defend Michael Gavan group which has just been set up – and get all your Facebook friends to do the same. Meanwhile in the world beyond cyberspace send messages of support to Newham UNISON and copy them to UNISON Regional Office at Congress House, Great Russell Street. (I have removed a hypertext link to the email address of the Regional Secretary at UNISON's request).

Whether or not there is a General Election in the next few weeks there will be one in the next few months. The Labour Party will expect finance and material support from UNISON – and (in my opinion, given that a Tory Government would be even worse) we ought probably to provide some. However, if a flagship Labour Council led by a high profile elected Mayor is set on destroying the career and livelihood of a hard working activist then, at least in Newham, no UNISON support should go to the Party.

Michael has strong support in the Region – it is up to the Regional Labour Link Committee to rise to the challenge of putting our Union first. I shall be asking, as an NEC member, that our Union pulls out all the stops to defend Michael.

Update on Monday - It’s good to see UNISON reporting on the fight against the victimisation of Michael Gavan of the Newham branch on our website. Don’t forget to join the Facebook group in Michael’s support!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Any Other Business at the UNISON NEC

Towards the end of yesterday's NEC meeting a number of other matters were dealt with including the following;

The NEC has rearranged its meeting dates in order to reduce expenditure and also to reduce the amount of travelling done by NEC members (as part of our “Green” policy to reduce our carbon footprint) – I did not support this because I felt that proposals to reduce by one the number of NEC meetings in the year further reduced lay oversight of our Union;

The NEC received an update on the project to build a new Head Office building opposite Mabledon Place;

The Chair of the Staffing Committee reported on plans to reorganise our staff to promote the organising agenda, this has led to a dispute with one of the staff trade unions over the question of consultation and an indicative ballot is currently taking place but negotiations are continuing;

The NEC members for the South East Region pointed out that none of them had ever been asked to serve on an internal disciplinary panel and were advised that they ought to have expressed an interest (upon hearing this I promptly expressed an interest myself).

Finally, on a lighter note, we were all given UNISON NEC badges - and over lunch myself and some comrades began to turn our minds to the vexed question of when one might wear such a badge and if it is possible to wear the badge in a "personal capacity".

An informal working group is to be established to work on some guidelines on the wearing of badges and comments from UNISON members will be very welcome...

Keep the NHS working - demonstrate on 3 November

The NEC received a report of campaigning work in relation to the National Health Service, including preparations for the demonstration on 3 November. In this regard I was interested to be forwarded a report by an NEC colleague who sits on the Health Service Group Executive. In this report the Health SGE had been told that there was little support for the demonstration in Greater London (which is contrary to the policy agreed almost unanimously at the last Regional Council Annual General Meeting).

There was some debate about what might happen to the demonstration in the event of a General Election being called. The Chair of the Policy Committee made clear that at present it was “full steam ahead” for the demonstration and that all branches should be organising to attend on Saturday 3 November. This is a citizenship issue and it is important that it is not left to our members in health to defend the health service (after all, all of us need the NHS from time to time!)

Because of legal limits on “third party” expenditure during an election period, there would be problems for UNISON if an election was called to take place shortly after 3 November. The President, Norma Stephenson, made clear that she expected that, should this arise, the Union would look to find ways in which the demonstration could continue to go ahead – since many branches had already booked transport and would be likely to turn up anyway!

Since funding for the demonstration is coming from the General Political Fund Committee, which under Rule is autonomous from the NEC as a whole, any branches who may wish to express a view about the importance of this demonstration going ahead may wish to know the membership of that Committee, which is as follows;

James Anthony

Sarah Bradfield

Jane Carolan

Graeme Horn

Maureen Le Marinel

Annette Mansell-Green – Co-Chair

Helen Rose

Alison Shepherd

Sian Stockham

Linda Sweet

Chris Tansley – Co-Chair

Steve Warwick.

I supported the view that the demonstration should go ahead. If the expenditure on the demonstration had to count against money UNISON could spend during the General Election well, we would just have to cut back on support elsewhere!

The clear message from our President was to step up preparations for a really massive demonstration on 3 November.

Review of UNISON Conference 2007

Yesterday's meeting of the UNISON NEC considered the arrangements for next year's Annual Conference.

The NEC agreed to recommend to the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) the following points for consideration in their review of Conference;
Organising the agenda around “themed” debates was welcome and should continue;
The facility to organise briefings in Conference time, as had been done on equal pay this year, should continue;
Conference should close at 4pm on Friday.

I objected to the last two recommendations as I believe they tend to reduce the amount of time taken up by policy discussion and decision making at the sovereign body of our trade union. I was therefore part of the minority who opposed these recommendations.

Branches can contact their Region to ensure their views are fed into the SOC review of Conference - the price of democracy is of course eternal vigilance...

General Secretary's report to UNISON NEC

As always, the General Secretary gave a wide ranging report to yesterday's meeting of the UNISON NEC in order to cover items not already on the agenda. These included the following;
UNISON will be supporting Saturday’s demonstration in solidarity with the people of Burma, meeting at Millbank at 11am on Saturday 6 October;
Dave Prentis congratulated the Greater London Region on organising the “Slavery, Yesterday, Today but not Tomorrow” event on 17 September, which he had attended;
UNISON have established a telephone hotline to combat racism in the National Health Service;
The Police Community Support Officers in the North West unjustly criticised in the media over the tragic drowning of a child were UNISON members and UNISON was making complaints to the BBC and the Press Complaints Commission about the way they had been treated;
Keith Sonnet, Deputy General Secretary, had not won the election to be General Secretary of the Public Services International (PSI) and there were significant concerns about the way the election had been run, which UNISON would be considering;
In reporting from the TUC, the General Secretary mentioned the Fremantle dispute and urged support for the demonstration on Saturday 10 November – at which he said he would try to be in attendance;
It was reported that UNISON had supported the constitutional changes at Labour Party Conference on the basis that these could be reversed in two years time. This had been the position of all the trade unions organised through TULO (the Trade Union Labour Organisation). There was some unexplained amusement when I asked how UNISON actually voted on this at the Conference (perhaps one of our Conference delegates in the Region will be able to explain that!)

Latest on the LGPS

At yesterday’s meeting of the UNISON NEC we received a report of developments in relation to the Local Government Pension Scheme.

The NEC was advised that consultation on extending transitional protection of the “Rule of 85” to remove the “tapering” for those current scheme members who will be 60 by 2020 had now closed and the outcome was awaited. A number of branches and employer had supported UNISON’s position whilst a large number of employers had not.

In spite of an agreement between the trade unions and the employers not to have formal “cost sharing” arrangements, the Government have written this into the new LGPS Regulations and discussions have therefore begun. The Government want a cap upon employers’ contributions so that if life expectancy increases there would have to be further increases in employees’ pension contributions in future. We were told that the unions are resisting this.

Discussions are also continuing about the “third tier” of ill health retirement in the new scheme.

NEC debates public sector pay

The major discussion on public sector pay at yesterday's meeting of the UNISON NEC was of course about the local government pay dispute. We considered the unfortunate news that both GMB and TGWU-UNITE members had voted to accept the below-inflation pay increase. However, the point was made that PCS members in the civil service would be likely to take action alongside UNISON local government members.

One piece of good news relates to an administrative difficulty with the strike ballot which largely affects Greater London. A significant number of employers were not notified of the national strike ballot and our members with those employers are not included in the main ballot. However, it has now been agreed to run a secondary ballot for all the omitted employers with the same end date as the main ballot so that, subject to a “YES” vote in both ballots, all members can take action together.

I welcomed this news and was also one of those stressing the possibilities of joint action with PCS. I also expressed disappointment about the A5 strike leaflet, which could have been far better worded. We were assured that the letter from the General Secretary which will accompany the ballot paper is better. Other materials, including presentations and speakers notes are to be issued and branches need to organise meetings and bulletins to members now in order to maximise the turnout and the “YES” vote.

Some colleagues, including fellow London NEC members said that members were not enthusiastic about strike action. However, Dave Prentis, General Secretary said that UNISON had never had a national ballot go against a national recommendation since he had been General Secretary and that, whilst it would be difficult to win the ballot and the dispute, this was what we had to be committed to doing. He said that during the ballot period all officers and lay activists should be cancelling other meetings and getting out there to get the vote out. His encouragement is now online.

John Jones, NEC member representing Water and Environment, made a particular point of expressing the concerns of members in the Environment Agency that more had not been done to criticise the very poor pay offer made to them (at the same time as their Chief Executive was being rewarded with a fat bonus).

Equal Pay debate at the UNISON NEC

As has been the case for some time the longest debate of the day at yesterday’s meeting of the UNISON NEC was on Equal Pay. The NEC received a confidential and legally privileged report covering a wide range of issues. In the light of continuing litigation against UNISON I cannot provide a fuller report here – but branches can expect to receive continuing guidance on this issue (and in the local government group branches in Greater London were of course invited to a briefing on Monday 1 October). Check the website regularly!

On the separate but related issue of finding resources to fund litigation around Equal Pay we were advised that there has been consultation with Regional Convenors and that a working group was to be established, following which it was likely that there would be presentations to Regional Committees (avid readers of this blog may recollect that this has been on the cards now for the best part of a year but that it has not yet happened).

UNISON NEC debates recruitment

As always the NEC meeting yesterday began with a report on recruitment.

It was reported to the meeting that poor recruitment earlier in the year means that we face losing members for the first time. The problem is, as always, particularly acute in Greater London as we have the highest turnover of members. There are three elements to how the Union will try to turn this around;
An emergency package of measures has been put in place for each Region to focus on a small number of large branches with low membership density (and therefore the greatest potential for recruitment);
There is to be a continuing focus on encouraging branches to adopt an organising approach, based upon Branch Development Plans;
There will be a focus upon recruitment around the local government pay dispute.

The evidence of the past is that significant boosts to recruitment occur primarily around major disputes – although the NEC was told that it was estimated that “Challenge X” had led to the recruitment of several thousand members who would not otherwise have been recruited and that such efforts were therefore worthwhile. (It is incredibly difficult to assess the accuracy of such claims, as understanding trends in trade union membership is more an art than a science).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Loneliness of the long distance NEC meeting...

Today's meeting of the UNISON NEC lasted about twice as long as meetings have been recently - so that's my excuse for not having written up my notes and posted them here yet ;p

Tomorrow morning seems like a good time right now!

UNISON NEC (no live blogging!)

This morning there's a meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council - I'll blog a report here after the event but won't be live blogging as the President has asked me not to.

No doubt we will be discussing the local government pay dispute (I expect some searching questions about fairly unimpressive strike leaflets - and of course mention will be made of the disappointing results of the TGWU-UNITE and GMB consultative ballots (the GMB result is a fairly massive vote to accept a real terms pay cut).

There will also be discussion about the forthcoming demonstration in defence (or is it celebration) of the National Health Service set for 3 November. I understand from an NEC comrade on the Policy Committee that the question "what will we do if there is a General Election on 8 November" is a questions which it is not permissible to ask!

Check back here later in the day and I'll have posted a report.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Public sector pay - some will fight, some will sit this one out

According to an anonymous comment on the last post here UNITE-TGWU members in local government have voted in a consultative ballot to accept the employers' offer.

According to our anymous source; "TGWU members have voted 57% in favour of accepting the local government employers' pay offer. Turnout was 29%."

This would be a disappointment, but hardly a shock. A similar result from the GMB consultative ballot would be no big suprise. UNISON represents the majority of local government workers, the GMB represent a significant minority. UNITE-TGWU have membership in some authorities but are very much the third union in the local government workforce covered by the national negotiations. UNISON activists will be disappointed if we do not have the support of the other unions at the outset of this year's pay fight, but won't in the end allow minorities to dictate to the majority.

If you consult people on the basis that "this is the best we can get by negotiation and you'll have to take a lot of strike action if you want more" without at the same time offering a strategy to win through taking strike action then you won't get trade unionists willing to take action.

I would suggest that the result of the consultative ballot on health service pay in UNISON illustrates this point quite well.

On a day when PCS launched a strike ballot involving more than a quarter of a million civil service members and CWU served notice to Royal Mail for two rounds of 48 hour strike action scheduled to start next week, it is clear that there is scope for united public sector strike action over the Government's pay policy.

It won't be action across the whole of the public sector and it won't involve every union, but there are millions of us who could be mobilised - and if we are we could win and reverse the declining living standards of public sector workers.

Bloggers block?

Apologies for the dearth of posts this week. Local industrial relations problems are taking up a fair bit of time and attention just now.

I am pleased to hear that colleagues in the Barnet branch have been pressing ahead with the continuing campaign against Fremantle (from whose Chief Executive I have heard nothing further...!)

Next week will be a busy week in UNISON so expect to read more frequent reports :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Normal blogging will be resumed as soon as...

I am afraid I haven’t been too well the last few days. Hence the lack of posts.

Mind you words fail me at the performance of the Unions in Bournemouth. Just as we are demonstrating how to use a contemporary resolution at Party Conference to shift the Government we are justifying having allowed Gordon Brown to prevent us ever doing it again.

How much more foolish can we be? (I really shouldn’t ask that question should I, as I won’t like the response…)

Just to be clear – there is no provision of any UNISON rule which would permit delay in the local government strike ballot in the event of a General Election, and there is no need for any further “consultation” or phone calls round to branches about past consultations.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Defending Michael Gavan - defending our Union

I was very pleased this evening to attend the UNISON rally at the Stratford Picture House in support of victimised activist – and UNISON Newham Branch Chair – Michael Gavan.

I am not sure I have been on the same platform as Ken Loach before – he was there to introduce his excellent new film “It’s a Free World” and pledged his wholehearted support for Michael. Last time I saw Ken Loach at a UNISON event it was at the Ritzy in Brixton in aid of the Hillingdon hospital strikers!

This sort of innovative initiative is precisely what UNISON needs and it was good that victimised Manchester mental health nurse, Karen Reissman was at the meeting too. It was also good to see a representative of the UNISON Regional Council officers alongside Ken Loach on the platform!

As we move into a period of relatively greater industrial struggle we can anticipate further employer victimisation of activists, and we shall need to find every way we can to defend our brothers and sisters!

For those of you reading this who are - as I am - a Labour Party member, then you need to press your MP to support us on this and to put pressure on the Governnent

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A tale of two picket lines (one today and one yet to come!)

This afternoon I attended a protest (not quite a picket line I think) of UNISON staff protesting against a lack of consultation by management within the Union with the staff trade union over proposals for change.

Neither the staff trade unions nor progressive forces within the lay structures wish to oppose constructive change in our Union, but we will not move forward by confrontation with the staff trade unions! I am awaiting an explanation from the Chair of the NEC staffing committee as to what is going on!

I was happy to have the opportunity to stand on a picket line with UNISON staff since we shall have further opportunities very soon. I hear that the UNISON industrial action committee has just agreed to ballot all our local government members for strike action over pay.

The UNISON staff pickets outside Congress House had a really good idea - a union account with the local cafe so that pickets can get tea and coffee!

UNISON local government activists take note!

Update on 20 September about the local government pay dispute – the decision on the local government strike ballot is being reported here, as follows;

"UNISON is to ask its 850,000 local government members whether they're prepared to take action over this year's low pay offer" – well, yes, obviously we will need a vigorous campaign for a “YES” vote based upon a strategy to win by taking action alongside PCS and other public sector workers.

Further update on the UNISON staff protest yesterday – the Chair of the Staffing Committee has kindly sent me a copy of a circular sent to all UNISON staff. He has asked me to keep it confidential to UNISON (as it has only been circulated to over a thousand staff…) so won’t blog the details here. He goes on to say;

“I understand you were supporting the 'dispute ' today.

I would have hoped you would be supporting the increase in staff we are seeking to employ in UNISON and the impetus this will give to our organising capabilities.”

Of course there need be no contradiction between supporting positive change in the Union and also supporting appropriate consultation with the staff trade unions – the leaflets being given out by the staff made clear that they have no principled opposition to the staffing changes being proposed.

I understand that a meeting will take place today and hope that a resolution can swiftly be found. We need all our energies for the local government pay dispute now!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Development and Organisation Committee report

Today I attended a meeting of the UNISON Development and Organisation Committee. Here are the edited highlights;



(right, that was the edited highlights, now for the report…)

We began with a report on amendments to UNISON’s objectives. This is clearly a hot topic for those who work in the organisation – although they had better work out as we apparently want to “re-profile” our staff, which sounds to me worryingly like compulsory plastic surgery!

As always the meeting then started properly with a report on recruitment. Recruitment figures this year are disappointing and the report before us concluded (as always) that we must try harder (anyone remember Boxer in Animal Farm?)

More positively we were assured that when (I don’t think it is if) the Industrial Action Committee tomorrow approves the national strike ballot in local government there will be targeted recruitment materials so we can make the most of an excellent opportunity. The Union is also looking to join the twenty first century with a facility to join online, although this will inevitably lead to more members paying direct debit (and therefore ending up in the wrong branches over time unless we can crack getting membership details updated regularly).

We also received a report on Learning and Organising (including the news that we will be bidding for money from the next tranche of the Union Learning Fund) and a report on “leadership development training” for members of the National Executive Council. Since this will cover, amongst other things, the vexed question of “collective responsibility” I doubt I shall be included in the first wave of NEC members to be developed as leaders. I shall try to be brave in the face of such disappointment.

The Committee heard the latest news about the RMS (that is the “Replacement Membership System” although we don’t call it that any more) – apparently in 2009 we will implement a new membership system (will it be called the RRMS???)

Frank Hont, Regional Secretary from the North West Region and former Chair of the Committee in his days as a lay activist, attended to report on the work underway to implement Conference decisions on the review of branch and service group structures. This is now going to be carried forward by named senior officials working to a small working group of NEC members and other leading lay activists. I sought and received assurances that there would actually be discussion at the Development and Organisation Committee as this work was carried forward and will let you know in due course what weight I have attached to those assurances.

We then received a report on the CASE management system, and were told that there is now enough information on the system for it to produce meaningful reports about the casework being undertaken by the Union at Regional level – we were invited to make suggestions about what reports and information we wanted to see and I would welcome suggestions from UNISON members to pass on to the relevant officials.

The Committee also received a report about the integration of the computer systems used by UNISON Welfare and the RMS – I was assured that confidential welfare information would not appear on the RMS.

A hardy perennial appeared in bloom as we received the first report on proportionality and fair representation at Conference – I shall return to this topic in greater length when we debate it (at greater length) in November. A worrying dip in the representation of black members at our Conference suggests to me that our current prescriptive approach is not delivering fair representation.

The Committee then received a bizarre report from officers advising us that even though the National Disabled Members Committee had not made a reference to us about a controversial decision of the National Disabled Members Conference we ought nevertheless to take a decision about the matter in hand. Happily we did not. The issue concerned extending the deaf members’ caucus within the Disabled Members self-organised group to include those who are hearing impaired.

I felt that we needed to be far more respectful of the decisions of a self-organised group than we were being invited to be and was happy that the decision was deferred.

If members of the self-organised group want to know what was said about their Conference decisions by an official please do get in touch!

Following a report about UNISON’s response to consultation on the legal changes required by ASLEF’s important European legal victory over the question of fascists in our unions, the Committee then turned to consider the cases of branches under Regional supervision.

It is positive that we are now receiving reports about this matter, but the fact that the Leeds local government branch remains under supervision attracted considerable adverse comment and with good cause. I remain perplexed at the suggestion that a branch under regional supervision could somehow have behaved in a way of which the Region disapproves and look forward to the full report which we were promised for the next meeting.

A longer debate then ensued on “Chairs action” around the decision of the Chair (and the Presidential team) to endorse contentious advice to health branches and activists that they ought not to campaign against (or I suppose for) the pay offer in the light of a decision by the Service Group Executive to make no recommendation.

Several members of the Committee explained at some length how daft it was to use the “Democracy in UNISON” guidelines against – as we saw it – the spirit and the letter of the relevant Union Rules which safeguard the right to campaign. After a spirited defence of the “official” position from an official (who said that the Union should “speak with one voice”) one of the lay members of the Committee was finally shamed into supporting the position then endorsed by a majority, which is that the Committee noted what the Chair had done.

Any trade union that can only speak with “one voice” is a trade union that will not thrive and does not deserve to survive. Our Rules specifically defend the right to campaign to change policy and that must mean a right to express different views – I am astonished by the idea that our members will somehow be confused by the fact that there are differences of opinion in our Union and I am afraid that I was drawn into making disparaging remarks about the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

I know – that’s no way to win friends and influence people at Mabledon Place…

Oh dear…

Monday, September 17, 2007

Industrial action committee to meet Wednesday

The decision of the UNISON NJC Committee to request an industrial action ballot has now been endorsed by the Service Group Executive for Local Government and will go forward to the Industrial Action Committee of the NEC.

I am afraid that I am not a member of that Committee having not been elected to it by my NEC colleagues – so there is no point lobbying me about this decision!

The Industrial Action Committee will have to choose whether to endorse the views of the elected representatives of our largest Service Group, reflecting the will of the Service Group Conference and offering an excellent opportunity to recruit and organise members around a fight against a below-inflation pay rise.

There may be those who feel that the cost of an industrial action ballot is a million pounds, that really our members ought to have been consulted for a third time on marginal changes to a poor offer, and that the job of union leadership is not to offer a decisive lead but rather a warm welcome to a change of tone at Number 10 Downing Street.

I shouldn’t think that the latter will hold sway, but the great thing about a lay led Union is that ordinary members like you and me get to make the decisions – and other ordinary members can express the views of our branches directly to the decision makers.

So here is the membership of the Industrial Action Committee in case you wish to contact them;

Sarah Barwick

Susan Brearley

Louise Couling

Emma Goodall

Moz Greenshields

Diana Leach

Angela Lynes (Chair)

Ann Macmillan Wood

Annette Mansell-Green

Stephen Mead (Vice-Chair)

Kevin Naylor

Jessie Russel

Samantha Selon

Fiona Smith

Irene Stacey

Norma Stephenson

Sian Stockham

Linda Sweet

Sofi Taylor

Jean Thorpe

Roger Bannister

Jim Burnett

Mike Hayes

Colm Magee

Bob Oram

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lessons to learn from the RMT

Congratulations to my friend and comrade George Binette from the Camden UNISON Branch for his reasoned defence of Bob Crow and the RMT on today’s Observer letter page.

George makes the well-founded point that while commentators such as Will Hutton denounce Bob Crow as a dinosaur, the RMT are growing at a pace which far outshines that of most other trade unions.

For UNISON members the lesson that a combative approach to the defence of members interests is one which helps a trade union to grow is one which our leadership would do well to learn. (Incidentally, the RMT give full benefits from the point at which a member joins, which might give us pause for thought next time we debate Rule K at Conference?)

The major boosts in UNISON membership growth over the last decade have been around major national disputes on pay and pensions. Now that we are moving to strike action over local government pay we have an opportunity for further growth.

Let’s hope the Industrial Action Committee give us that opportunity!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fremantle strikes on 20 September

Congratulations to Barnet UNISON for this excellent pictorial report of the visit of Fremantle activists to the TUC. The Fremantle dispute is very much still on – and back on the Labourstart website, as the Internet Service Provider has found the campaign not to be defamatory.

Good luck to the strikers for their next day of strike action on 20 September.

I thought I would share my correspondence with Fremantle Chief Executive, Carole Sawyer, to whom I wrote on 6 September as follows;

“Your conduct in cutting the pay of your workers, sacking Andrew Rogers and seeking to silence your critics is disgraceful.You are clearly not a fit person to be involved in the provision of vital public services to vulnerable people and I very much hope that you will have the decency to consider your position.”

She replied the following day;

“Thank you for your e-mail. Your concerns relate to misinformation and deliberately misleading information on the Labourstart and Unison web pages.

Specifically
Pay has not been cut – salaries have been frozen for up to 3 years at April 2007 levels
No changes have been made to the pensions – staff continue to be members of the Local Government Pension Scheme and we continue to make employer contributions as set by the actuary (currently over 20%)
The working week for ex LBB staff is unchanged at 36 hours full time equivalent
Occupational sick pay entitlement changed from April 2007 and is now up to 3 months at full pay

The necessary changes are to ensure that the future costs of the services can be met from the resources available. This protects both vulnerable service users and staff by ensuring the continuation of services. The Fremantle Trust is a registered charity (not a private company as alleged by Labourstart).

These are not easy decisions and we spent over a year consulting with staff and unions before any changes were made. Fremantle continues to offer an industry leading pay and benefits package – including enhanced payments for weekend, night and bank holiday working, generous occupational sick pay, protected pensions and pay rates well ahead of the industry norms.

With respect to Mr Rogers he was dismissed for gross misconduct after an extensive investigation and after the panel had spent 5 hours reviewing all the evidence (including that of Mr Rogers and his representative). There is an appeal process which I encourage Mr Rogers to follow – I am not prepared to comment further at this stage as I do not wish to jeopardise this process.”

I sent a further response having checked with Barnet UNISON, as follows;

I am indebted to you for your response but regret that its contents suggest that you have a limited grasp of employee relations issues.

You say that you have not cut the pay of your employees. However a pay freeze is a pay cut in real terms. Also you have reduced enhancements upon which low paid staff working unsocial hours rely for their overall earnings and have reduced annual leave, thereby requiring staff to work more time for no more money (further reducing the hourly rate). Quite how you consider that the allegation of a pay cut is "deliberately misleading" is beyond me.

You say that no changes have been made to pensions. This is at best disingenuous since the changes which you have made will impact upon the pensionable earnings of employees in their last year of service to the future detriment of their pension. If you do not understand this then I strongly recommend that you consider attending some training on the operation of final salary pension schemes.

You say that the working week is unchanged (whereas I believe you originally intended to increase it). However because of the reductions which you have made in enhancements staff are having to work longer hours in order to maintain their earnings, to the detriment of their family and personal lives and to work life balance.

You are pleased to state that occupational sick pay is "now" up to three months at full pay. The standard for local government workers is up to six months at full pay followed by six months at half pay.

It really is neither here nor there that you are a "registered charity" nor that you may be paying above the (appallingly low) "industry norms". You are part of a process whereby services which used to be directly provided by local authorities, and whose staff enjoyed the terms and conditions negotiated for local government workers are now provided by staff whose terms and conditions are less favourable.

You are part of the process of driving down the costs of public service provision at the expense of often low paid workers. I appreciate that you may find this shameful.”

I finished by inviting her to reconsider the statements which she had made, but have heard nothing further for more than a week. If I get a further response I will amend this post to include it.