Monday, April 30, 2007

United we stand - but are we going anywhere?

I would like to be encouraged by the following news of UNISON and GMB working together on the Labour leadership (and of course this has nothing to do with any coming together between other large unions that might be going on just now…)

The news is thus;

In a joint statement, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis and his GMB counterpart Paul Kenny said: "The role played by ordinary union members in supporting the Labour party, in developing policy and in electing its leaders since its formation, has been crucial to the social and economic progress of our nation."
The forthcoming elections provide a fresh opportunity to millions of trade unionists to have a direct and personal influence in the selection of the party's leader and deputy leader. And it offers them the opportunity to refresh policy and set out a strategic direction for the party."
Union members want a say in how public services are provided and funded, they said."They are the people in the front line delivering public services day in, day out. They know how the use of outside agencies to deliver services leads to waste, duplication and money seeping out to pay for expensive financial engineering schemes and the over-management that it entails."They want to get the best value for the public money that funds them."
The unions' political committees will form their agreement by the middle of May, by which time Labour's national executive committee will have set out its timetable for the elections.
All UNISON and GMB members who pay the Labour party political levy are able to vote.

But if we want to have a choice we need a candidate who backs union policies.

So, surely, comrade General Secretaries, we should be encouraging MPs to nominate a candidate who backs our policies???

Hat tip to GMB lefty on an earlier post btw…

Fighting for our members is the best advertisement there is...

So, we’re going back on the telly to recruit new members!

Just like last time this hasn’t been discussed by the NEC Development and Organisation Committee (the Committee with responsibility for recruitment) – I assume it will once more be funded from our General Political Fund. Of course this is a lay led Union and we don’t just have NEC Committees so that the Chairs can do as the officers request…

Full marks for recruitment effort of course, but the evidence is that surges in recruitment are associated with our Union waging vigorous national struggles to protect and advance the interests of our members. The latest attempt to harness a great “effort of will” to recruit has been associated with relatively disappointing recruitment figures.

In London local government we made gains in membership when we fought over London Weighting – and nationally in local government we put on a lot of members as a result of the 2002 National pay dispute. More recently we have gained members when we have taken a hard line in defence of pensions.

2007 has been a disappointing year for recruitment to the Union thus far. It has also been a disappointing year for those who wanted to fight to defend the pension rights of all our members.

Can you spot the possible connection here?

Does silence on the Labour leadership serve UNISON members?

I was pleased to see John McDonnell in today’s Guardian setting out the case for a contest for Leader of the Labour Party. As readers of this blog will have picked up – I am personally a convinced supporter of his leadership campaign. John McDonnell seems to me to be an effective campaigner for policies which most trade unionists would support (I have nothing to say about the other supposed left-wing contender, Michael Meacher).

John’s campaign has attracted strong support from rank and file trade unionists, including at last year’s TUC. John is also the only candidate already to have been nominated by a trade union affiliate – ASLEF.

It is however, disappointing to report that my own trade union UNISON has consistently sought to stay out of the debate around the leadership. On the one hand, the recent reminder to members of the UNISON group of MPs that the Union has not taken any official position is both true and consistent.

On the other hand, now that we have left it too late to make a difference to the crucial question of whether there is a contest, the impact of our inaction can only be to help the frontrunner, Gordon Brown – who is currently behind pay offers below the rate of inflation to most UNISON members.

Is this really what our members want?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

After Health Conference - we need unity on pay!

I was glad to read that Andy Burnham got a “mixed reception” from UNISON Health Conference, where I have spent much of the last couple of days. This is hardly a shock since the Conference had already backed calls for strike action over pay.

The crucial point about public sector pay is that, as Mike Jackson told the Health Conference, the architects of the pay policy are the Prime Minister and Chancellor. The policy applies across the public sector and we need a united response from the trade unions.

Civil servants are striking on 1 May. The National Union of Teachers are seeking to reopen their pay deal. In the mean time the local government employers are offering 2% in response to our claim for 5% or £1,000 – whilst inflation is now at almost 5%!

What do we need in these circumstances? Unity and coordination.

This is the challenge which will face the General Secretaries on 14 May. How do we build unity at every level from the most local up to coordinated national strike action. This is what we need if we want to defeat Gordon Brown’s pay policy.

In this context I am very pleased to report the decision of last week’s meeting of the UNISON’s Greater London Regional Local Government Executive to call for a joint union rally in early June to bring London public sector trade unionists together in opposition to the Government policy on public sector pay.

Perhaps the UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive should be thinking about whether July’s lobby of Parliament over funding for Single Status and the pay and grading reviews in local government could become a joint union lobby for fair pay for public servants?

Certainly UNISON must try to get to united action between health and local government workers if our Union is ever to live up to its promise.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Delegates walk out at UNISON Health Conference

I am sorry not yet to have written up my full report from last week’s meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC). However I was waylaid this evening by meeting delegates who are in Brighton for UNISON’s Health Conference.

I hear that a decision by the Chair of the Conference prompted an unprecedented walkout by delegates who felt that the Chair had called the outcome of a vote incorrectly. This is – surely – what card votes are for!

The issue in contention was our financial support for the Labour Party and whether we should be placing limits upon it whilst the Party in Government pursues a deliberate policy of attacking our health service. A motion before the Conference sought to limit financial support to the Party beyond our basic affiliation whilst such attacks were underway.

Delegates I met this evening felt that the motion was carried on a show of hands and that the Chair was mistaken in deciding otherwise and then refusing a card vote. I understand that the subsequent walk out included delegates who had voted for and against the motion, all of whom were unhappy with the way the decision had been taken.

The most important issue facing all public sector trade unionists right now is the pay policy of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who appears to want us to face cuts in our living standards in coming years.

I hope that the Composite Emergency motion to UNISON Health Conference on pay will be agreed – we need the maximum unity within UNISON and with all other public service unions if we are to combat Gordon Brown’s policy of public sector pay restraint. I can see why there is an amendment to bring the health pay claim into line with that in local government, since the maximum coordination must be a good thing. However, what really matters is that we should try to coordinate industrial action over public sector pay.

Best wishes to all health delegates in Brighton for the Conference!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Funding the fight for Equal Pay

I am very pleased to see that there is a report of Thursday’s National Executive Council meeting on the UNISON website already.

Read this blog tomorrow for my own report – but in the mean time all UNISON members do need to take on board that we are going to have to find ways to fund equal pay litigation.

I was very pleased that the NEC changed its mind about charging members who were bringing equal pay claims for their representation. The point about trade unionism is that we provide free representation to our members – unlike “No Win No Fee” solicitors who get rich on the back of bringing claims.

All UNISON activists need to recognise that, because we have taken the correct decision to continue to provide free representation to our members, we need therefore to be prepared to find the considerable costs of this representation.

A “road show” will be visiting UNISON Regions in the near future in order to start the debate about how we find the resources to meet these costs. We have to find a way to will the means having already willed the ends…

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Development and Organisation Committee...

I am on my way to today’s meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council, fresh from yesterday’s exciting gathering of the esteemed Development and Organisation Committee.

This was a brief meeting to agree recommendations to the NEC on policy for Conference motions and Rule Amendments and to agree amendments from the NEC itself.

Recommendations from the Chair were agreed. Most were not controversial and those that were were generally controversial with an argumentative minority of one (you're reading his blog…) In particular, proposals to limit the number of Conference motions from the NEC were derided as excessive - although I thought that there was a case for some more stringent limits than exist at present (none).

Today’s NEC has to decide to which one of its thirteen Conference motions it will not give one of its twelve “votes” in the prioritisation process (described here earlier). This wouldn't happen if the NEC faced some discipline in the number of motions it could put forward (which raises an interesting question about whether branches should face similar limits...)

The NEC is opposing both attempts by the Lambeth branch to press the case for the use of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in national UNISON elections. Although there is a strong case in principle for the use of STV in such elections, some quite impressive practical objections can be raised in debate. (Although the objection that STV encourages the development of factions in the Union is a weak argument deployed simply to play to the prejudices of those in the Union who fail to recognise themselves as a faction...)

In particular, I would like to know more about whether STV contributed in any way to the low turn out in the recent elections in the University and Colleges Union (UCU) so that I can report back to the Lambeth branch. It would also be interesting to know from other UNISON activists if they have any strong feelings either way about the issue.

Monday, April 16, 2007

More (much more) on Conference priorities...

As I was saying, it’s time to be considering priorities for discussion at UNISON National Delegate Conference.

The most important point to bear in mind about the prioritisation process is that only motions which attract at least one “vote” stand any chance of being debated at Conference. Each Region, the Self-Organised Groups, the NEC etc. get to “vote” for their top twelve motions and top six Rule Amendments. (The latter really doesn’t matter as we get so few Rule Amendments these days – a great disappointment to we anoraks…!)

The top priority is given 12 points, down to the twelfth which gets one point, and then the order of business at Conference is decided by the Standing Orders Committee broadly in line with these preferences. Motions lower down the order of business are available for “reprioritisation” for discussion on Friday afternoon (subject to the Conference not being closed early in error of course!) The reprioritisation process is one of the most democratic features of the Conference (which is why many people in UNISON devoted considerable energy in a doomed attempt to do away with it and are now trying to squeeze it out of existence by timetabling other business on Friday afternoon).

Motions which attract no support from anywhere in the prioritisation process are not available for reprioritisation and so will not be debated (the NEC will determine UNISON policy on any that are not withdrawn after Conference). Just because a motion gets some support in the prioritisation process that is no guarantee that it will be debated (which is why there is a reprioritisation process) – however missing out at this stage ruins the chances that a motion can be debated at all.

Branches get a say in this process if their Region is sufficiently democratic to give them a say – in Greater London the Region will automatically give its first priority to the one of our two motions which has not been ruled out of Order (an old SOC tradition is to rule out one of the London Region’s two motions). This leaves a further eleven motions, and the Region will support those motions which attract the most support from branches in the Region.

Where motions have been proposed by Regions, National Self-Organised Groups or the National Executive Council, it is a pretty fair bet that those bodies will be prioritising those motions, so it is only worth branches giving added support to these motions in the prioritisation process either to make a particularly important point, or to try to nudge the issue up the order of business.

Branches in London have a few more days to decide (my own branch will decide tomorrow, but having contributed so enthusiastically to the Preliminary Agenda we may rather predictably prioritise some of our own motions!)

Taking a slightly wider view for a moment, I offer the following thoughts – and would welcome comments – about what motions it might be worth giving priority to, in numerical order as set out in the Preliminary Agenda – i.e. not in order of priority (I’ll blog again about that in the light of any comments).

Motions 23 (Use of Disciplinary Procedures Against Black Staff) and 25 (Barriers to Progression and Promotion for Black Employees) are both from the National Black Members Conference and should be debated. However both also touch upon key issues confronting many UNISON members, particularly in Greater London. I am inclined to support prioritising these motions rather than the identical motions from Croydon and Lambeth so as to focus expressions of priority most effectively.

One out of Motions 28 and 29 (both titled Save Our Services – Say No to Privatisation) would be good to see debated. As 28 comes from Birmingham and 29 from Camden, it might be good tactical sense for Londoners to rally behind Motion 28 in the hope that it is also attracting support in the West Midlands (and for that matter elsewhere). We need to take our policies in defence of Public Services forward in a much more combative way than we have in the last year.

Motion 37 (Defend Council Housing) or 38 (Support the Fourth Option) ought to make it on to the agenda I hope – but which should be pushed hardest? 37 is from both York and Lambeth so I naturally like it, but it may be that 38 has more that is useful to say?

Another pair of motions between which it would make sense to plump for only one are 43 (Unison’s Agenda) and 44 (Taking Unison Policies Forward). I definitely lean towards Motion 44 (not least because the SOC have rightly admitted to the agenda a motion which the majority of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee must think should not be debated at Conference!)

Motion 46 on the Trade Union Freedom Bill needs to be prioritised so that it can be composited with Motion 45 on a related topic, which would seem likely to attract a high priority, as it comes from Cymru/Wales Region.

Although I have some reservations about the tone of Motion 49 (the marvellously titled “New Labour – What Do We Get for our Money?”) I hope it is prioritised. Those who are content with our wholly inadequate intervention in the Labour Party as a trade union may complain that we had a debate about our political funds a few years ago, but I suspect our only chance of ever improving the functioning of the Labour Link is by continuing to have this important debate.

There are several worthy motions on international topics, but the one that stands out in my view is Motion 54 (Sanctions Against Israel) which seeks to give some practical effect to our policy of solidarity with the Palestinians.

Clearly we want to see a discussion about Trident at our Conference, and we have the choice of motions 73, 74 and 75. I’d welcome comments about tactical decision-making about which of these it would be best to prioritise.

Motion 95 (NO2ID still) offers us the chance to reaffirm our policy of opposition to ID cards which could otherwise all too easily slip down our agenda, and – if prioritised – might be suitable to be composited with Motion 94 from the Eastern Region which is an excellent attempt firmly to commit UNISON to fight against the surveillance state which is one of the worst consequences of New Labour illiberalism.

Last – but by no means least – Motion 129 (Expenses Payments for Unison Members) deals with a topic which I guess many in the Union would prefer not to discuss but which we ought to deal with. It was quite wrong that the NEC itself decided to increase its own expenses payments a couple of years ago and we ought to stop that happening again.

Sorry for such a long and rambling post, but out of all this what is needed is a list of eleven motions in some rough order of priority – or have I missed the most important issues?

Comments are more than welcome – either on the blog or by Email to jonrogers1963@btinternet.com.

It's all about priorities!

It’s that time of year again – UNISON branches need to be returning to their Regions their “votes” in the prioritisation process which determines which of the many motions submitted to our National Conference will actually be debated.

Many branches do not participate in this process so, if you are a UNISON member, it is worth checking whether your branch has received a request to submit priorities and whether it will be doing so.

When I get a moment I’ll blog about some of the motions ruled out of order, in anticipation of further discussions with the Standing Orders Committee. I am particularly interested to know which Rule would be breached by a proposal for the National Executive Council to research the practice of other unions and report back on whether there is a way, within our Rules, to extend the democratic principle of the election of officials…

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Trade Unions and the Labour leadership

I see that moves are still afoot to ensure that those of us with a vote in the forthcoming contest for Leader of the Labour Party are given an unpalatable choice between reactionary alternatives. A Brown –v- Miliband contest would offer trade unionists the choice of being privatised with a scowl or a smile, or of being informed of a pay freeze in a Scottish or an English accent. Not much choice there then.

The more likely candidature of Charles Clarke seems most unlikely to “push Brown to the left” as many seem to hope. If we want to put the issues close to the heart of the trade union movement firmly on the agenda we need to be backing a candidate who will back public services, manufacturing and trade union rights. There is such a candidate.

It is not too late for the leaders of the big trade unions to throw some weight behind the campaign to ensure that Party and union members have the opportunity to vote for a candidate who supports policies supported by the trade unions. Were we to miss this opportunity, hoping against hope that Gordon Brown will return to the beliefs he had in 1973 in some rehash of “Life on Mars”, we will soon run out of arguments to defend the vital relationship between the Party and the unions.

We have just lived through ten years of Labour Government in which we have not succeeded in decisively reversing the decline of the trade unions. If we want a trade union movement which is still relevant in 2017 we need a more vigorous and combative political approach. John McDonnell has offered us an opportunity we ought to be seizing. These are just personal opinions - I would very much welcome a thought out justification from those in the trade unions who disagree...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Back to blogging

It’s always good to have a holiday – and I have just got back from Scotland, where the electorate seems almost to be awake in the run up to the forthcoming elections. If any Scottish readers can explain to me why all the posters I saw were on lamp posts rather than in windows I would be interested to know.

It is also good to be back home and to be back to blogging just at the time when sensible folk are trying to bring some order – and manners – to the blogosphere. My antipathy to anonymous blogging and the sort of playground bullying which anonymity encourages is not novel. I hope that those of us who are trying to bring blogging to trade unions (and trade unions to the blogosphere) will sign up to sensible ground rules for free and fair expression.

One possible excuse for anonymous blogging is that the blogger might lose their job if their employer knew that they were telling the truth about their work (a point made to good effect in today’s section on public service bloggers in the Grauniad). However, I also think that workplace trade unionism ought to be a forum and a focus for truthful expression about the reality of the workplace. If anonymity is the only way that workers can tell the truth about their experience at work then the union in the workplace is weaker than it should be.

Sadly that is all to often the case. Let’s change this.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Access to justice is a trade union issue

I was recently reminded, by the sad and untimely death of a good friend, of an industrial dispute in 1991 when a few of us in Lambeth NALGO spent ten weeks occupying two advice centres threatened with closure, eventually saving one of them and keeping it open for five years more than originally planned before spending cuts finally did for it.

Over the years I have seen Council funded advice services pretty much eliminated, and funding for voluntary advice services cut back – with the services far more limited and controlled by the funding body.

Now the Government’s attacks on legal aid services – and the response of some law firms - threaten to leave many people with no affordable access to justice at all. As trade unionists we do have some access to legal assistance – and not just in connection with work related matters.

Those of us who work in public services will see first hand the damage that could be done to those excluded from access to justice – we need to be pressing the Government to return to the principle that we should all have the opportunity to enforce our legal rights – not just those who can afford to. We don't only care for our own members. A decent trade union movement cares for the interests of all workers - and all those who rely on public services.

With a large majority of workers in this country outside the ranks of the trade unions we ought to be concerned to see great holes appearing in this legal safety net. Unless I have missed it, these problems do not appear to be addressed by motions on the Preliminary Agenda for UNISON Conference…