Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Solidarity forever - support the postal workers!

The public sector pay fight will step up this week with postal workers in the CWU commencing industrial action as the employer fails to make an improved offer in spite of the best efforts of Union negotiators – good luck comrades!

If you’ve ever been on strike and picketing you will have had a boost when a postal worker refused to cross your picket line – now it’s our turn to show some support and return the favour. Let’s all try to support CWU picket lines on Friday.

And if you’ve never been on strike before now would be a very good time to start! This year we need to work towards unity and the largest possible strike action by public sector workers in particular if we are to reverse the pay cut policies of Gordon Brown.

This Government has in mind an onslaught on our movement in alliance with our enemies and the time for misplaced faith in our new Prime Minister is very long past. Now is the time to organise for action. We can start by supporting the postal workers this Friday.

The trade union movement is approaching a crossroads, we can choose to continue the strategy of quiet influence of decision makers which has delivered so much (not) or we can take a turn to building rank and file strength to fight for the interests of our members with neither fear nor favour.

I bet you can guess what I think…

Less than a fortnight to go...

All UNISON branches and activists should try to get along to the lobby of Parliament to call for adequate funding for pay reviews in local government, which starts at noon on Tuesday 10 July at Central Hall Westminster.

I’ve just posted a summary of the details with links to the relevant documents on the UNISON website on the Lambeth branch blog.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Loneliness of the long distance Branch Secretary...

I know I shouldn’t be blogging as I said I should be doing something else, but I have had one of those days which lay union activists will be all to familiar with and I need to say something about it.

I seem to have spent all day doing ultimately pointless things to remedy other people’s errors and all I have achieved in the end is to stop things getting any worse for a few individuals.

Why is it that employers so often find it impossible to abide by the procedures we agree with them? Why can’t one part of a large public service organisation let another part know what it is doing to an employee?

These are questions which my UNISON branch will be taking up with our main employers.

Another problem which I think we need to face up to concerns the UNISON Representation Guide. This is a well-intentioned document but it embodies an earlier NEC decision to prevent lay activists (and paid officials) from representing our members at employment tribunals in the name of the Union.

We now have to fill in a CASE Form to request legal representation and these are filtered through Regional officials before reaching our lawyers who then decide if a case has sufficient merit to be supported, in which case the member gets a solicitor and a barrister (just like the employer).

One problem with this approach is that we don’t take marginal cases and will never, this way, set new precedents of value to workers in general. However, I do appreciate that the Union needed to limit the premia on our professional indemnity insurance (since members don’t pay their subs in order to enrich the insurance industry or pay out in compensation) and that this approach has delivered on that objective.

However – and this is a second problem – delays in processing CASE Forms can mean that members have to be advised to submit their own tribunal applications pending a decision from the lawyers and in the mean time branch officials have to advise the member on correspondence in connection with a case which UNISON has not yet agreed to take.

This and other problems with the current approach make me think that we need to consider a motion to our autumn Regional Council to kick off a debate about this question. Just as we accredit new representatives in order that they shall qualify as reps for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1999 why can’t we accredit lay and full time officers, through appropriate training, to take tribunal cases once more?

We cannot go back to the approach of lodging tribunals first and asking questions afterwards, as the chances of having costs awarded against claimants are unfortunately much higher than they were in the 1990s. However at present it seems to me that it is just too difficult to use the tool of a tribunal application to advance the interests of our members.

Right, I’ve got that off my chest. Thankyou for your time and I’ll stop blogging now!

How can the Unions respond to Brown?

Apologies dear readers if this blog isn’t updated as regularly as I would like over the next week, but not only is the first week back after Conference always hectic, but I have to cram frantically for an exam.

I can’t say I am shocked that Gordon Brown wants to dilute the influence of the trade unions within the Labour Party machinery – after all he flirted with the idea of Liberal Democrats in the Cabinet. The Blair project was always about securing the extinction of Labour as a left-of-centre social democratic party rooted in the working class movement. Union leaders can continue to ignore this but that won't make it go away.

The implications of this direction of travel were analysed quite well I thought in a “Unity in UNISON” bulletin handed out by supporters of the Communist Party of Britain at UNISON Conference, which called on the big unions to affiliate to the Labour Representation Committee, and for the unions to stop supporting MPs who consistently vote against key union policies.

I know that there are many in our Union with a respect for the Communist Party based upon its long tradition in our movement. They need to be prepared to engage in a dialogue with others on the left if we are to find a way out of the present political impasse and respond creatively to the crisis of political representation of the working class.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

First personal report to London UNISON branches from the new NEC

What follows is my first personal report from the 2007/09 NEC which I have just circulated to London UNISON branches.

First of all I would like to thank all those UNISON branches who nominated me to continue to serve on our National Executive Council and all those UNISON members who voted for me. I shall continue to report back from meetings of the NEC and if anyone wants to keep up to date with my reports they can do so by visiting my blog at any time. (A blog is just a personal website that is easy to update for anyone who doesn’t know).

Like many other UNISON activists I have spent the last week at UNISON Conference. I don’t intend to circulate a full report of the Conference because that is the job of your branch delegates – but I will draw attention to one or two really important issues which branches need to be thinking about.

The main issue of the week was, without doubt, public sector pay – in relation to which we have agreed to seek a united front with other public service unions in order to take on the Government.

In relation to local government pay there is now a formal consultation over pay in which members are recommended to reject the employers offer of 2% (or possibly 2.5%) since both are crap (that’s a technical term used by union negotiators to describe pay offers falling a long way short of the rate of inflation so I’m not being rude…) Further details of the pay consultation process are available online here and the order form for the leaflet is available here. It is always worth browsing the online catalogue to see what else is available.

In the health service we are also gearing up for a ballot over pay. We have to hope for united action between health and local government and it was made pretty clear to me at Conference that members in health don’t want 2.5% (which is a pay cut in real terms) even if it is paid all at once. (Because 2.5% is less than this…)

While persuading our members to be prepared to take strike action for fair pay, we also need to be mobilising now for two important events backed by UNISON.

The first is the lobby of parliament on local government funding on 10 July, to which the new NEC of our Union have agreed to go. Links to all the guidance documents for this lobby are on the local government section of the UNISON website. Although called primarily around the need for funding for equal pay and single status this is a lobby about local government funding and is therefore deeply relevant to our pay campaign in local government – it is also relevant to members across all service groups that local government should be adequately funded and I hope that branches in other service groups will consider supporting the lobby, just as we tried to get attendance from other service groups for the NHS lobby last year.

The second event coming up is the National Demonstration in defence of the National Health Service, called for by this year’s UNISON Health Conference. This is now due to take place on 13 October. Again, although a circular has gone out first of all to health branches this is not just an issue for health workers, and all UNISON branches should be making arrangements to attend.

I therefore hope to see you (at least) on 10 July and 13 October. If in the mean time you would like a report from an NEC member to a Branch or Branch Committee meeting that contact me at j.rogers@unison.co.uk or on 07957505571 (and give me a bit of notice please!)

Finally, the NEC met for the first time on 22 July and elected Norma Stephenson as President and Sue Highton and Gerry Gallagher as Vice Presidents. I voted for Jessie Russel and Roger Bannister for Vice President and would be happy to explain my reasons to any London UNISON branch or member.

Union influence and the Deputy leadership campaign (not)

What are we to make of the fact that the winner of the contest for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party was the one candidate with no trade union nominations? I commented a while ago about the way in which the dispersal of union nominations between different candidates seemed to undermine union influence.

Whilst some comfort can probably be taken from the detailed results which show that Jon Cruddas, who emerged as a left candidate, was the last to be eliminated and that he topped the poll for first preferences (whereas Hazel Blears deservedly won the wooden spoon and was first to be eliminated), it is difficult to get too worked up about this contest, it is not the contest we should have had with the candidate we should have had.

We now need to take on this “new” New Labour Government over public sector pay – I very much doubt that the Deputy Leadership election has been particularly relevant to this question which is of central importance to our members.

Update – I have just read this excellent analysis of the results from a friend and comrade.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

UNISON NEC agrees to lobby Parliament

At the first meeting of the 2007/09 UNISON NEC, Norma Stephenson was elected President with Sue Highton and Gerry Gallagher as her Vice Presidents. The only other decision taken by the NEC was to agree, with the support of the newly elected President, with a suggestion that I made that the NEC should collectively attend the lobby of Parliament on 10 July.

All UNISON members – indeed everyone who cares about the future of our public services – should support the lobby of Parliament. On the UNISON website you can access a briefing note together with guidance on how to lobby your MP and details of the practical arrangements for the day.

As we move towards strike action over pay the question of funding for local government is vitally important and we need to take our arguments directly to the Government, who stand behind our employers holding the purse strings.

Friday afternoon at UNISON Conference

I wrote this yesterday afternoon but couldn’t get online to post it…

It’s the Friday afternoon of Conference, and a hall full (well quite full) of tired delegates have less than an hour and a half in total to debate reprioritised motions. The top of the reprioritisation ballot was Motion 21 from Kensington and Chelsea dealing with the employers’ management of sickness absence.

This shows our Conference delegates demonstrating how the priorities of the rank and file are informed by our everyday experience in the branches – dealing with sickness cases is a massive part of the workload of our shop stewards and – thanks to Kensington and Chelsea branch, Conference has now agreed to instruct the National Executive Council to support branches and provide a national lead to campaign against reactionary sickness management policies.

The second priority is Motion 19 on violence against public service workers, moved by the Yorkshire and Humberside Region. It is essential that UNISON does all we can to protect all our members from violent and abusive behaviour. As I write, Roger Bannister, whom I intend later this afternoon to support to be Vice President of our Union, is speaking on behalf of the NEC. I shall also support Jessie Russel for Vice President. The only candidate for President is Norma Stephenson, and the other candidates for Vice President, who can expect to receive a majority of the votes, are Sue Highton and Gerry Gallagher.

With an hour left to go I should think that we are unlikely to get as far as the debate on Trident, which is a great shame (although of course UNISON has clear policy of opposition to Trident replacement anyway). I’ll blog tomorrow about the final debates of Conference and about the first meeting of the new National Executive Council.

For now I shall sign off…

(Update after the close of Conference – I was unduly pessimistic and we did reach the debate on Trident. As on so many questions we have adopted excellent progressive policy – if only we would fight for it in the Labour Party…
I wonder which member of the Labour Party NEC could help us with that?)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Rules debate at UNISON Conference

Out of sequence I know, but I thought I would blog a little about the Rules debate yesterday afternoon (Thursday).

Two particular debates stand out.

First, the NEC were proposing a rule amendment to change the name of the Additional Members Seats on the NEC to Black Members Seats, with effect from the next elections.

This faced some bizarre objections on the basis of arguments against having any reserved seats on the NEC – and had it not been for a spontaneous response from the floor of Conference to put the arguments in favour of the NEC position the Rule Amendment might well not have got the required two thirds majority.

An honourable mention should go to comrades from the London Regional Black Members Committee in particular who rushed to the front to defend the principles of self-organisation, alongside comrades both black and white who persuaded Conference to agree the change.

Another worthy Rule Amendment which narrowly failed to get the two thirds was a proposal from Croydon Branch to reduce from thirteen weeks to four weeks the period of time before which new members can gain legal assistance. When the NEC proposed this last year it was smashed, but some good work has been done and, on a card vote, the Rule Amendment did not fall far short of the two thirds majority.

Better luck next year Malcolm!

UNISON United at start of pay fight

I’ve returned to my sporadic attempts to blog from UNISON National Delegate Conference in order to report the news that Conference has just agreed unanimously a Composite Emergency Motion on Pay. The Composite was in the name of the National Executive Council and the Manchester Community and Mental Health branch and therefore reflected unanimity between the Union leadership and the rank and file left on the need for united action on public sector pay.

The motion calls for a campaign for fair pay, up to and including strike action; co-ordination of pay campaigns within UNISON; joint work with other public service unions to co-ordinate strikes, and work with user organisations and pressure groups.

Gordon Brown won’t do much for trade unionists – but he has helped to create the potential for the most impressive unity we have seen for many years. UNISON activists need to take the campaign back into our workplaces in order to win our members support for strike action. We also need to make links, organising local and Regional rallies in conjunction with our brothers and sisters in PCS, the NUT, CWU, GMB, UNITE and all other trade unions.

The first step is to support the postal workers on their picket lines – and organising speaking tours by the CWU in our workplaces.

There is a running official report from Conference on the website.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

UNISON supports boycott call in debate on Palestine

As I begin to get up to date with where the Conference agenda has got to I shall note in passing that the Wednesday morning at Conference witnessed debates on organising and on the environment. This included the report from the National Executive Council on our union structures.

As I write we are in the international debates. The debate on Cuba was enlivened by one contribution from a delegate who described Cuba as a “dictatorship” and opposed a motion in solidarity with Cuba. The motion went on to be passed all but unanimously.

The debate on Palestine is considerably more controversial with strong views on both sides around the question of a boycott of Israel. Tony Greenstein from Brighton and Hove branch has just won thunderous applause for an impassioned speech in support of the motion from Wolverhampton which the National Executive Council are (rightly in my view) supporting. This is a wide ranging motion about solidarity with the Palestinians – however the focus of the debate is around the question of a boycott of Israel. The motion calls for an immediate arms embargo and expresses principled support for an economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott.

Leftwing opponents of the boycott proposals appear to me to cling to a very abstract view of class politics, leading them to believe that there could be some unity, in current circumstances, between Israeli and Palestinian workers. Helen Jenner, speaking on behalf of the NEC has explained that UNISON policy is absolutely in favour of dialogue, but that we have to respond to the appalling way in which the Palestinian people are being treated. UNISON is not opposed to the Israeli state or the Israeli people but to the policies of the Israeli government. Boycotts are a tactic to be considered and employed as appropriate.

Speakers in support of the motion are generally speaking from experience of the situation in Palestine, whereas opponents are giving generally more abstract presentations of an argument about workers unity, with a subtext of warnings about anti-semitism (and some exaggeration of exactly what the motion is calling for). Caroline Bedale from Manchester Community Health has given a characteristically measured response to the exaggerations from opponents to the motion.

Calls for a boycott of Israeli goods and institutions is not an attack upon the Israeli people – it is a legitimate tactic to seek to influence the practice of the Israeli government in oppressing the Palestinian people. The Conference has just overwhelmingly supported Motion 53 including the tactic of a boycott.

Public Services Debate at UNISON Conference

The first day of UNISON Conference commenced with the usual opening formalities, an address from the President, a report from the Standing Orders Committee (which attracted a variety of challenges) and presentation of the Annual Report and Financial Reports.

As I am playing catch up at the moment (Wednesday afternoon) I shan’t dwell on every detail here. The main debate on Tuesday afternoon was on public services.

This was preceded by the annual speech of the General Secretary, Dave Prentis, who warned that the Labour Government were drinking in the last chance saloon. (Some delegates are of the view that the last chance saloon kicked them out a while ago and they are now in the bar of the Hotel Metropole where, providing you know someone staying there, you can go on drinking until dawn…)

For the first time in a number of years this speech also saw a pointed attack on some leftwingers in the Union – a minor feature of the speech but nevertheless a regrettable diversion from the main theme upon which we need to concentrate, which is how to apply more and better pressure upon the Labour Government.

The subsequent debate saw a high degree of unity around calls for the defence of public services – and also around support in particular for a campaign to defend the National Health Service, including a demonstration which will take place on 13 October.

There was a tactical difference between the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority branch and Deputy General Secretary, Keith Sonnet, about whether or not we should call for a national demonstration in defence of public services. This went to a card vote, and (against my somewhat pessimistic expectations) was carried.

I was very pleased with this result for two reasons.

First, I was very pleased to be at a Public Services Not Private Profit fringe meeting on Tuesday evening, where almost 250 delegates heard John McDonnell MP talk about the successes of this vital joint union campaign, which organised the largest and most vibrant of last year’s trade union lobbies of Parliament.

At that meeting we heard from speakers officially representing other trade unions who encouraged us to take confidence in the willingness of trade union members to fight to defend public services – and when we got the result of the card vote we found that the majority of delegates at UNISON Conference agreed with the perspective of the Public Services Not Private Profit Campaign.

The second reason why I was happy with the result of the card vote, is that it gives hope that UNISON will shift our position at the TUC. When compositing motions for debate at the Annual Congress of the TUC it has been PCS who have been pushing for a national demonstration, and UNISON has been resisting this. Now that UNISON Conference has arrived at the same view as that taken some time ago by PCS, I hope that our TUC delegation, of which I hope to be a member, will stand by our Conference policy and step up our campaign in defence of public services.

I also hope that UNISON will join with the many trade unions already organising under the banner of Public Services Not Private Profit.

an apology!

An apology to the Oxford reader who complained to me earlier today that I had not updated this blog since Sunday.

In spite of my best intentions I have not found the time to blog properly yet this week. However, now that I am safely tucked away on the platform, where my NEC colleagues kindly ensure that I am not overworked, by not asking me to speak, I can try to catch up.

Local Government Conference did in the end vote down in the second card vote the position which it had adopted in the first card vote (presumably because the large North Western city branch got the card vote right second time around…)

This meant that we were left without a position on pay – a predicament from which we were rescued by an Emergency Motion from the Tower Hamlets branch which commits the Union to a campaign to encourage members to reject the pay offer in the consultative ballot and to use the consultation exercise to build up to an official strike ballot.

Therefore, by the end of local government Conference we had arrived in a strong position, with a united and credible strategy to move forward, bringing together the floor of Conference and platform, who were well aware that almost half the Conference were confident already to move ahead with an immediate strike ballot.

The underlying dissatisfaction with the recent leadership of industrial disputes at national level found expression in the outcome of the third card vote, which led to Conference condemning the way in which our negotiating objectives in the LGPS dispute had shifted from full to partial protection of the rights of current scheme members.

Branches now need to campaign amongst the membership to win support for the strike action which we will have to take – and to attend and support the lobby of Parliament called by the Service Group Executive for 10 July!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Conference kicks off with card vote jamboree

The first day of UNISON’s local government Conference was kicked off by Khi Rafe, from the Lambeth branch, but representing National Black Members Committee, moving the first of a raft of Equalities motions. These motions were rightly uncontroversial in the main but committed the Union to challenge the employers who are failing to comply with their statutory duties.

Debates in the afternoon were more controversial and produced three card votes, the results of two of which are awaited. The first card vote narrowly agreed an amendment to commence an immediate strike ballot on local government pay against the opposition of the Service Group Executive (SGE).

The SGE, perhaps having heard the disturbing rumour that a large city branch in the North West who can be relied upon to support the SGE had failed to sign their voting card then called on Conference to vote down the substantive Composite motion – this led to a second card vote, the result of which will be announced tomorrow.

A third card vote arose from an amendment critical of the conduct of the dispute over the Local Government Pension Scheme. I’ll post a more considered report of Local Government Conference whilst I am stuck on the top table at National Delegate Conference.

I’ll make the most of being a delegate at Local Government Conference, since my NEC colleagues have inexplicably neglected to ask me to speak at National Delegate Conference…

I particularly enjoyed being able to explain the limitations of the accountability of the Service Group Liaison Committee in moving Motion 8 and shall spend the evening wondering what to say in a right of reply when someone gets up to defend the Service Group Liaison Committee.

What a shame it would be if absolutely no one does...

Friday, June 15, 2007

UNISON claims pensions compromise as victory

The official position is as follows;

“Today, Phil Woolas has made a statement to the House of Commons announcing a twelve week statutory consultation on proposals to amend the October 2006 LGPS Regulations to provide full rather than tapered protection to 2020. He follows this by stating that the cost of extending the protection will have to be offset by savings in the scheme. UNISON has long maintained that the extended protection is affordable. We will continue our campaign through the statutory consultation to address this point.

This announcement is a major breakthrough and a long held objective of both UNISON’s and the wider LGPS Trade Union Side, the constant lobbying and pressure has paid off.

UNISON’s Consultation Ballot Begins
The Service Group Liaison Committee / Strike Committee meeting held on14 June 2007 agreed to initiate a consultation ballot on the new LGPS immediately. In light of the Woolas statement the consultation will be on the basis of recommending the package to members.

The ballot covers nearly a million UNISON members, and will be sent to individual’s home addresses. Ballot materials are being prepared and will be issued to members in early July direct with a closing date for the ballot being 23 July 2007.

We want to ensure a maximum turn out in the ballot and branches will need to alert members that the ballot is coming. We are preparing posters for branches to use during the ballot period.

Branches must use this opportunity to recruit non members and let them know the success of our union campaign and how we achieved the new LGPS package, remind them to join the union and be part of something that improves their working and retired lives!”

Another view would be that we went on strike against reductions in pension benefits and not simply to ensure that only some of us would experience reductions in our pension benefits.

Other public service pension schemes agreed changes on the basis of protecting the rights of existing scheme members. UNISON didn’t ask the other Unions to hold off on signing up to the offer from Alan Johnson in October 2005 to see if it could be extended to local government so we can’t blame anyone but ourselves for the fact that local government workers got a worse deal.

As I have said on this blog with boring regularity, I get that we don’t always win industrial disputes in the sense of getting everything we want. That’s fair enough. You do your best and you take the best you can get. That is the every day life of a trade union activist.

I hope I have never, at branch level, tried to dress up a compromise as an unalloyed victory, yet I am afraid that that is exactly what UNISON officials now appear to be doing.

We didn’t lose the pensions dispute. We won real concessions through taking strike action. Had we taken more strike action we would have won more concessions.

Neither however did we win. I don’t think it is an acceptable or sensible basis to try to build the Union by pretending that compromises are victories. Our members and potential members are not stupid and will not appreciate a less than honest approach.

I shall vote to reject this proposal because I agree with what our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said in March last year;

"Strike action is the only option left to local government workers to demonstrate the burning resentment and anger they feel over the government and employers taking away their pension rights – when those same rights have been given to every other public-sector pension scheme. Why should they put up with this discrimination?”

How can we claim now as a victory a settlement which falls so far short of what we fought for last year?

Conference time again!

Well, it is that fabulous (nay magical) time of year – UNISON Conference is upon us. With a reactionary New Labour Government attacking our jobs, our public services and our pay at the same time as our Labour Party is changing its leadership in an election in which we could have a massive voice the coming week could be a brilliant opportunity to build and to raise the profile of what could so easily be the best trade union in the country (if not the world…)

Could be…

Unfortunately Conference will not get to debate a choice between different strategies.

There is a coherent strategy in the movement. It is based upon an acceptance that the Government’s attacks upon our members’ jobs and pay are part and parcel of the attack upon public services which is central to New Labour politics. Not only are these attacks united in their origins, our members experience them at the same time, and they all contribute to the anger which does exist, and from which we could mobilise the action necessary to turn the tide.

However, UNISON’s structures and strategies do not encourage us to make these links. We fight on pay, sector by sector. We don’t link the fight on pay to the fight against privatisation, which is hampered by illusions that Gordon Brown will listen to us. The structure of employment itself in our two largest service groups, together with our acquiescence in the anti-union laws, makes it almost impossible for us to even conceive of a national fight against job cuts.

Therefore those of us who want a realistic and effective response to a hostile reactionary Government will have our work cut out in the coming week. Attempts to even debate UNISON support for an effective joint union response to privatisation have been stifled and you could bet the expenses of the entire National Executive Council that valiant efforts by branches to get our main National Delegate Conference to discuss the Government’s public sector pay cut policy will face obstruction.

There is a glaring contradiction between the interests of our members – in fair pay, secure jobs and public services – and support for Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson. However, whilst the CWU were able to overturn the decision of their Executive in relation to the Labour Party elections, UNISON Conference has no such power.

Our Union needs to change direction. Our Conference will demonstrate that need, but we will be lucky if it does more than that. Beyond Conference, activists need to build unity with other public service unions in particular in order to build the coming fight against the Brown Government.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

London Joint Union Pay Rally (in real time)

Here is a new attempt at live blogging from Friends' Meeting House in Euston, where something of the order of 150 union activists have gathered this evening - invited by London branches of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) to hear speakers from the NUT, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and UNISON (among others no doubt) addressing the crisis in public sector pay.

My first observation is that the carbon footprint of the meeting must be massive given the number of leaflets on our chairs. As I write several dozen people have arrived at the meeting, including UNISON Regional Secretary Linda Perks and Convenor Alan Jarman (who will be addressing us later), so I shall revise upwards my estimate of attendance. The Small meeting room at Friends Meeting House (which is certainly not small) is fairly full now and people are beginning to have to sit on the floor.

And we still haven't started... (at 6.40pm)

First update. The Chair (from East London Teachers Association) is welcoming us to the rally - particularly welcoming the presence of members from a number of different unions.

The NUT prioritised pay at their Conference at Easter and want to develop a campaign across all the unions to fight for public sector pay. She is welcoming the support of London Region PCS and UNISON.

Teachers are concerned that the Government increases pressure on us to improve public services without agreeing to pay us for it.

Alan Johnson has insulted teachers by refusing to reopen discussions about teachers' pay in the light of rising inflation. Johnson claims that the Government cannot reopen discussion on below inflation pay increases for teachers because "this would take money away from vulnerable children". Teachers are angry about this (I hope the UNISON speaker doesn't argue for support for UNISON's candidate for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party...!)

The real reason Johnson has refused fair pay to teachers is to try to avoid a united public sector pay campaign.

A sound introduction to the meeting! (at 6.46pm)

Second update

The first speaker is Mark Bouch (sorry if I got the name wrong...) from the the CWU NEC, who is being warmly welcomed as CWU have voted for strike action over pay in Royal Mail.

He says that the struggle is not just over pay it is also about job cuts and the Government's attitude to public services. The Government are seeking to impose a below inflation pay increase on postal workers whilst attacking jobs and conditions of service.

Adam Crozier says that postal workers are 25% overpaid and 40% under worked - he is the boss of Royal Mail on £790,000 a year with the option of £248,000 in bonuses - his total package this year is over a million quid! (How many letters does he deliver for this?)

Posties in Inner London are on just over four hundred quid a week - including London Weighting.

The CWU is also a dispute about the future of the Post Office as a public service. The Government - and the Government appointed regulator POSTCOMM - are pushing for liberalisation of postal services.

Royal Mail faces another 40,000 job losses on top of 40,000 jobs already lost in recent years. There are proposals to lose many post offices and sorting offices and to abandon the Universal Service Obligation (which means that Royal Mail has to deliver our letters every day).

The CWU want us to boycott WH Smiths as they are planning to take over post offices.

The CWU NEC have agree to allow Royal Mail one last chance to come back to the negotiating table. The employers have been in denial about the recent ballot results and so the Union have given them an ultimatum - strike days will be set at the end of next week unless Royal Mail give ground.

It looks like a long dispute and the CWU hope for combined strike action with other unions.

It is now 7pm.

Third update.

Alan Jarman is now speaking as UNISON Greater London Regional Convenor. Unfortunately he won't be able to stay for long.

Alan reports that the Government have staged a below inflation increase awarded by a Pay Review Body for the first time in Health. The PRB awarded 2.5% and the Government are staging even this real terms pay cut! This is a kick in the teeth to low paid workers.

Alan describes the Scottish decision to implement 2.5% in one go as "very fair" (though it is still of course a pay cut in real terms...?) Staging will save the NHS £200 million.

Some NHS Foundation trusts are implementing 2.5% in one go, as in Scotland. (Of course the Health Service Group Conference is opposed to 2.5% even if it is in one go...)

Morale in the NHS is very low. This won't assist the Government's reform agenda as loyal and long serving staff are leaving.

UNISON and the RCN ("the major unions") are working together and planning an industrial action ballot in September.

Alan is now turning to the more complicated position in local government. The headline claim (as regular readers of this blog will now) was for 5% or £1,000 to which the employers responded with a 2% offer and subsequent to the rejection of this indicating that 2.5% of the pay bill might be available. They would prefer to offer 2% across the board and to use the remaining 0.5% to assist the low paid.

This leaves our members "in a state of flux" and are therefore angry. Alan is concered that there is no firm offer from the employers. He doesn't know the latest on an industrial action ballot in local government.

Which is a shame as there is a decision of the Service Group about this and consultation with local government branches is currently underway...

It is now 7.10pm and Alan has had to leave, so he will miss Mark Serwotka, who is about to speak.

Mark Serwotka has congratulated the organisers of the meeting on the attendance (which is growing all the time - over 250 now for sure, maybe towards 300) apparently this includes a majority of the PCS NEC. I can see one other UNISON NEC member (guess who?)

Mark has woken the meeting up from a somewhat silent period to win sustained applause for reasoned and reasonable attacks upon a Government which can find money for Trident submarines but not for public services.

He is calling on the Government to cherish and respect public servants.

The Government is acting in the most disgraceful way and they should be ashamed of the way in which they are acting.

PCS have had to wage a campaign because the Government are making attacks on public services which "would have made Margaret Thatcher blush". Having started by savaging 100,000 jobs in the civil service, Gordon Brown now wants another 12.5% cuts - in some cases this is doubling the job cuts required in departments.

(A good job UNISON is not here this evening to promote our nominee for Labour Leader...)

In addition to these job cuts, the public services face an onslaught of privatisation. Having cut 40,000 jobs from the Department for Work and Pensions there are no longer enough staff to deliver the services, so the Government are bringing in private companies and charities to run core services.

Following on from attacks on pensions, civil servants now face attacks on pay. PCS have 20,000 members earning the National Minimum Wage! In addition the Government are trying to force through Regional pay to cut pay outside the South East. In the Courts Service differentials across the country would have amounted to up to 20% if the employers get away with their proposals.

The Government are also pushing forward individual contracts to break collective bargaining in the civil service.

PCS members are prepared to fight and to take action. There have been three national strikes in the past two years. In the DWP low paid workers have taken fifteen strikes in three years. In the Ministry of Defence there have been three strikes in four months!

Today in Chichester PCS members have walked out on unofficial strike (much applause at that).

PCS is now consulting members on escalating the action against the Government - if other Unions will fight at the same time we will be in a much stronger position.

Mark says that Gordon Brown's appalling attacks on the public sector have given us the opportunity to unite.

Our members are not the cause of inflation - we are the victims of inflation. When the Governor of the Bank of England explained increasing inflation he attributed this to energy prices and firms pushing prices up - he didn't blame public sector workers!

Mark says that Gordon Brown is a hypocrite and that anyone who believes he will make things better are wrong. The policies we have had to strike against have not been the policies of Tony Blair but the policies of Gordon Brown.

Brown did not condemn £8.8 Billion in city bonuses - but he can tell nurses, teachers and civil servants to take low pay to keep inflation down.

It is not enough to agree that Gordon Brown is wrong, we have to agree about what we are going to do - together - about this. PCS have written to other Unions to ask for meetings to discuss organising joint action. Meetings at leadership level are important but we need to match these with meetings around the country like the rally we are at this evening.

We could bring our disputes together in the autumn with a coordinated campaign of industrial action - Mark has already met with Dave Ward and Billy Hayes of the CWU and have agreed in principle to coordinate further action between the Royal Mail and the civil service.

That really earned some applause (it's 7.33pm)

Bill Greenshields of the NUT NEC is now speaking on behalf of Steve Sinnot, their General Secretary. He has pledged that the NUT will meet with any union to organise joint action on public sector pay.

He is reiterating the lesson of the pensions dispute - that united action can win.

Bill is now reading from the letter from Alan Johnson who refused to allow the Review Body to reopen consideration of teachers' pay. I've not heard Bill address a large meeting before and he is wittily demolishing the Government's arguments against reopening the debate on teachers' pay.

The Government are showing the same contempt for public sector pay as they have been showing for the public sector. We should have no illusions in Pay Review Bodies - we need to struggle for fair pay. The way to determine pay is not to rely upon review bodies but through strong trade unions organising our members and cooperating.

(I hope that UNISON colleagues will also come to this sensible conclusion!)

We need to replicate this rally around the country because we are about to embark upon a massive fight with the incoming Brown administration - we will face many hostile arguments from the Government who will accuse us of taking money away from public services, of threatening the chances of re-election of a Labour Government etc.

A stirring and well received contribution (it's now 7.44pm).

The first contribution from the floor is from our own Jean Geldart, Chair of UNISON's Local Government Service Group. She can give the report we didn't get earlier - that UNISON Local Government is consulting members with a recommendation to reject the employers offer and to move to industrial action. There will be an industrial action ballot in August leading to strike action in September.

We have a job of work to be done to alert our members and mobilise them for action. Jean expects that we will be on strike in September.

Sean Bellow (if I got the name right?) a speaker from the NEC of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) is the second speaker from the floor. UCU are heading for a special pay Conference in September at which they hope to move to strike action against a 2.5% pay offer in Higher Education. In Further Education many colleges do not even implement national pay awards. UCU want to work together with larger Unions in order to win fair pay for their members.

(7.50pm)

Further update - Linda Taafe from the NUT NEC is speaking. Linda says that we have a cast iron case in our favour. (There are easily 300 plus people here now I would say). The NUT are advising their branches up and down the country to organise meetings such as this evening's meeting - Linda welcomes this but also thinks that now is the time to be taking strike action as PCS and CWU are planning to.

Alan Johnson's insult to teachers amounts to a challenge to take strike action. She is alluding to strategic discussions which need to take place at the NUT NEC next week.

The next speaker is Marion Lloyd from the PCS NEC who is applauding the strong response of PCS members to calls for strike action by civil servants many of whom have very little long term tradition of taking action. PCS activists are very serious about the high stakes in the current struggle and about the opportunities which we have. There is a great difference between the current leadership of PCS and previous leaderships of civil service unions in terms of a willingness to lead members in a fight.

7.56pm now.

Glenn Kelly is now speaking from the floor, as a UNISON NEC member (yes, he is the one other). Glenn is making the obvious point that UNISON shouldn't be backing Brown and Johnson (true) but then draws the conclusion that we should break from the Labour Party (false). Glenn is rightly pointing out that health workers in UNISON are not opposed only to the staging of the 2.5% pay award but also to the 2.5% itself.

Unity is important but must not be an excuse for delay (though no one here seems to be suggesting that).

Kevin Courtenay, NUT NEC and a key organiser of this meeting is speaking. He is reminding us that a similar meeting in January 2005 was key to bringing together unity over public service pensions. Characteristically Kevin is focusing on concrete steps which we can take from here on in. Joint union meetings in schools can take place now.

Phoebe Watkins from the UNISON London Regional Committee is speaking - she reminds the meeting, since it hasn't yet been mentioned, that UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis wrote to PCS Conference expressing solidarity. Phoebe is optimistic that we can win our members to take action and stresses that we need to publicise each others' disputes to our members.

(8.05pm)

A PCS speaker from Hastings now has the floor and is explaining the impact of cuts in public services in his area. He is rightly saying that meetings such as this should take place in every town in the country.

Alex Kenny from the NUT is now speaking. This is the first step in the campaign and he is trying to get people to fill in their details to be kept in touch. Alex is formally moving a statement which has been circulated, drafted building on NUT policy and intended to guide the work of activists across a number of unions.

We are committing ourselves to organise further joint activity and also to organise solidarity wherever any group of workers are taking action about pay. Teachers won't be taking action this term but can support those (postal workers, civil servants) who will - as can health and local government workers.

(8.11pm)

It's hot and tiring in this meeting (even for those not blogging...)

An NUT speaker is pointing out that we should support postal workers because postal workers always respect our picket lines. (too true!)

We are on to the last speaker (good as people are beginning to drift off now...) he is a PCS activist who wants us to share information about union activists between unions so that we can coordinate things at a local level.

The meeting has just voted unanimously to support the statement moved by Alex Kenny :)

This is a large, serious and significant meeting which has taken an important decision.

I hope that the speakers will be brief in summing up. Bill Greenshields concludes that we need to use the weapon of strike action to inflict maximum damage - and that we need to build up members' support for strike action. We have to convince people who are not yet convinced of the need for action. We can win.

Mark Serwotka warns us that the Government will attempt "divide and rule" tactics and will also claim that we risk the election of a Tory Government - Gordon Brown told a recent meeting with the unions that "however bad it is it will be worse under the Tories". Mark says we have to respond by saying that that argument cuts no ice with us. (Quite right too).

PCS are aiming to launch a petition for all public service workers and users to defend public services.

We must support the CWU - Mark repeats to strong applause the point about the CWU respecting picket lines. We must support PCS members taking action.

This has been one of the best meetings Mark has been to for some time - but we have to take the spirit of this meeting back into our workplaces tomorrow, to lift the spirits of our members and their willingness to fight.

We could see a turning of the tide and see our unions resurgent and united.

Mark from CWU is starting with an apology from CWU.

For spawning Alan Johnson!

He is reporting on the very sensible decision of CWU Conference to overturn their NEC's support for Johnson. As an NEC member he was censured over this, but feels that it was worth having been censured for!

It has been an excellent meeting which shows the potential for united action by public service unions.

I hope we see some of the same spirit at UNISON Conference in Brighton next week!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Another world is desirable...

The UNISON website carries a stirring call from our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, for Gordon Brown to take a turn to more progressive policies.

I wholeheartedly support the demands being placed upon our next Prime Minister.

The item goes under the heading “another world”.

Now, where did I hear that recently…?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Official results of the UNISON NEC elections

Now the summary of the UNISON NEC election results are available online at the UNISON website. The full report – with the actual voting figures is available on request. Perhaps some kind soul will scan it so it can be circulated electronically?

Maybe next time we won’t have to wait so long for the results? This inevitably means that different people get the results at different times and that some candidates hear over the phone – not the most important of issues I know – that would be pay in local government and in health I think – but something to think about.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

NEC election results...

I have had the results of the UNISON NEC elections,.

The turnout is unimpressive, in the only all-national constituency (for the “additional members” seats, the turn out is 6.5%, although since nearly one in seven ballot papers was spoilt the effective turnout is just 5.6%). However, elections are decided by those who vote and the results stand on any turnout.

Although the higher turnout in the General Secretary election no doubt gives the General Secretary a sound mandate, members of the NEC have a democratic mandate which no other paid official of the Union has.

As this is a personal blog on which I express my personal opinions as an individual member of the NEC I shall express both my disappointment that some friends and comrades were not elected, but also my pleasure at the election and re-election of some fellow NEC members.

I note that all those members of the NEC previously elected on a “United Left” ticket have been re-elected (for those reading this blog with an eye to the UNISON Rule Book I stress that I make this observation as a point of information and without any intention to influence anyone in any way!!)

Furthermore, candidates of “the left” have won three out of four of the directly elected seats for each of the health and local government service groups. No one could interpret this as a vote of confidence in the strategy adopted by UNISON’s leadership in recent industrial struggles in either health or local government. (Though if anyone thinks otherwise please do say!)

Even in the leadership heartland of the North West Region a new left member of the NEC has been elected. Amongst those displaced from the NEC are a former and putative future President of the Union. The message of these results to those who really run our Union is that we need to take a harder line against the Government and employers.

The message to those who style themselves the “sensible left” on the NEC is that there are now a whole number of real Labour left-wingers on the NEC happy to work with them on an issue by issue basis but not prepared as a matter of principle to be hostile to other socialists in our Union and to be sectarian towards serious labour movement campaigns such as “Public Services Not Private Profit”.

If the UNISON leadership wish to engage seriously with those newly elected to the NEC they have every opportunity – not least by supporting the Public Services Not Private Profit Campaign. If not, well then we shall see…

Friday, June 08, 2007

Draft Order of Business for National Delegate Conference

In response to requests for an electronic copy of the Order of Business for National Delegate Conference here are the highlights (you need to read this alongside your copy of the Final Agenda to make sense of it);

Tuesday morning after the President, SOC, Annual Report and Accounts we have Composite A on the Arms Trade followed by Motion 99 on the Pensions White Paper before returning to the remaining order of business (a.k.a “the snake”).

Tuesday afternoon is introduced by Comp G on the Comprehensive Spending Review followed by they keynote address from the General Secretary, after which we will either have motions 76 and 77 with their amendments or the (still as yet) draft Comp E on the NHS. This will be followed by Motions 31, 32 and Comp B, all dealing with Public Services, before we get to the snake.

Wednesday morning commences with Motion 5 and the NEC report on branch and service group structures, followed by motions 1, 2, and 34. Then Ashok Sinha the Director of Stop Climate Chaos will speak ahead of motions 63 and 61, which will leave little time for the snake.

Wednesday afternoon will kick off with an International speaker – Annie Geron, General Secretary of PSLink from the Philippines. The only timetabled motions are 52, 53, 51 and Comp H on Europe so we may get on to the remaining order of business for a bit.

Thursday morning will commence with a briefing session for delegates on Equal Pay, followed by motions 57, 106, 114 and 108 before Baroness Amos addresses us on the abolition of the slave trade, whether or not we get to the snake will depend upon how long the Equal Pay session takes I suppose.

Thursday afternoon is Rule Amendments, warming us up to an address from our own Alison Shepherd, speaking as this year’s President of the TUC, followed by Motion 111 and then the remaining order of business

Friday will see an address from Baroness Scotland, followed by only one timetabled motion – 112 on violence against women, so we will get some chance to work through the top of the snake before Friday afternoon which will deal with reprioritised motions between 2pm and 3.45pm (with half an hour for closing ceremonies…! Anyone want to query that on the second report of SOC on Tuesday morning, surely we could carry on business until 4pm and take quarter of an hour speechifying?)

As to this mysterious “snake” – the remaining order of business, will this is the order of top of the “remaining order of business”; 35; 45; Comp C (Housing); 79; 81; 87; 101; 86; 23; 88; 94; 107; 126; 130; 116; 21; 33; 90 and – well, I don’t know if we’ll get that far before Friday lunchtime….

Thursday, June 07, 2007

UNISON supports the Palestinians

DM Andy made a very fair point in a comment on an earlier post. UNISON’s position of support for the Palestinian people will be reaffirmed through support from the NEC for Motion 53 – which is timetabled for debate on the Wednesday afternoon of UNISON Conference. This motion demands concerted and sustained pressure upon Israel including an economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott, in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The Enough! Coalition, of which UNISON is a member, is organising a national demonstration and rally in opposition to forty years of Israeli occupation of Palestine on Saturday 9 June in London. Meet at Lincoln's inn Fields at 1.30pm for the march to Trafalgar Square. I hope to be able to get along.

Since both motions 53 and 54 have been prioritised why has the possibility of a composite not been considered?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Benny Bear at the UNISON NEC...!

After my battery died this morning the NEC concluded our discussion about pensions and then moved on to discuss equal pay – this is all top secret stuff so I cannot report it here in detail and you’ll have to wait for the official report, although I am pleased to say that there will be some sort of report to Conference on the Thursday morning. Regional Convenors have been briefed about an arrangement whereby pre notified questions from delegates about Equal Pay issues will be answered during a session in which no motions or decision will be taken.

There are sound reasons for this cautious approach and if any Greater London UNISON members want a further explanation please contact me.

We then had a report on UNISON’s Devolution protocol (it really is a laugh a minute a the NEC!) followed by a series of reports on Financial matters which were enlivened by a contribution by an East Midlands NEC member who queried spending plans for Croyde Bay.

This led to some impassioned defence of Croyde Bay, including from your blogger, who threatened the NEC with a protest led by Benny Bear…The poor soul who had started the debate had to confirm that he was in no way threatening the future of our UNISON Holiday Camp!

Tragically I had to leave at lunchtime to attend to disputes in my own branch so can report no more…

Pensions dispute at the UNISON NEC

The General Secretary has reported to the UNISON NEC about continuing discussions in relation to the Local Government Pension Scheme. It is clear that the limit of our ambition is now to secure protection of the pension rights only of those members who will be aged 60 or over in 2020.

Phil Woolas promised ahead of the Special Local Government Conference that there would be consultation on this modest improvement in the current protection arrangements. However, there is now an “informal” consultation process ahead of any formal statutory consultation.

We are invited to blame the evil “civil servants” for this. We need to keep up the pressure to get the formal statutory consultation – the General Secretary clearly hopes that the Government will commence consultation ahead of our Conference in a couple of weeks.

The consultative ballot agreed at the Special Conference is likely to commence at the same time as the formal consultation on extending protection to 2020 on the basis that this is the best we can get from negotiation. However the ballot will go ahead with or without the formal consultation in spite of the fact that the position seems if anything to be slightly worse than it was in March.

This is not at all what we set out for when we took strike action last year.

Local Government NEC member Glenn Kelly is expressing the disappointment which many members feel about the outcome of this dispute.

My battery is dying so this is the end of my experiment in “live blogging”…

Recruitment report to the UNISON NEC

Debates about recruitment at the UNISON NEC are like Groundhog Day but less amusing. UNISON has been gaining members for the past eight years but recruitment this year has been disappointing.

As always the conclusion which we are invited to draw is that, like Boxer in Animal Farm, we must work harder. The evidence is that we recruit best when the Union is fighting hard for our members interests, but evidence-based policy-making is not necessarily a strong point for our NEC…

Order of Business for UNISON Conference

We now have the draft order of business for National Delegate Conference. Tuesday morning will see a debate on a Composite motion on the Arms Trade. Tuesday afternoon will see debate on Public Services (including a new Composite B on which the NEC is deferring its policy having been told that we have been asked for discussions by the National Young Members Forum).

Wednesday morning will see the main debate on organising and recruiting, including the NEC report on our structures and also the debate on the environment, while on that afternoon Conference will debate some of the International motions.

Thursday morning sees the debate on Equalities issues, including our campaign against the racist BNP. Thursday afternoon won’t be entirely taken up with the small number of Rule Amendments so Motion 111 on Child Poverty has also been timetabled.

Only one motion has been timetabled for Friday morning, Motion 112 on Violence Against Women, which will be taken immediately after a speech from Baroness Scotland (who appears to be our only Government speaker).

NEC discusses policy on Conference amendments

The UNISON NEC is now debating its position on Amendments on the Conference agenda. Well not “debating” really. This process involves the Committee Chairs racing through a list of amendments and recommendations – today hampered by the microphones not performing very well.

If any Greater London Region UNISON members want more information about the recommendations please contact me on j.rogers@unison.co.uk

Still no NEC policy on London Region motion

The NEC is also still deferring a decision on the Greater London Region motion in opposition to Islamophobia.

I cannot believe we will in the end do anything other than support this motion.

I hope that all London Region delegates will be supporting our motion at Conference.

NEC policy on sanctions against Israel - not yet

On the intervention of the General Secretary the NEC has backed away from taking a position on Motion 54, which calls for sanctions against Israel.

There are some concerns about the way in which this motion has been covered in the press – it strikes me that we are being unnecessarily timid about our policy of support for the Palestinian people.

The NEC is deferring its position on this motion for the time being.

NEC funks confronting race discrimination at work

The NEC has now moved on to discuss policy on Conference motions and amendments.

We have agreed to support motion 24 with qualifications. I opposed the “qualifications” in our support for this worthwhile motion, which deals with the incidence of disciplinary action against black and ethnic minority staff, but this position was defeated.

I was also very disappointed that the NEC also agreed to seek withdrawal of motion 25 on the grounds that we didn’t think that the data on barriers to promotion and progression of black staff would be available.

I hope that the National Black Members Committee will not lightly agree to withdraw this important topic from our Conference agenda.

Live blogging at the NEC...

It occurs to me that this may be my last regular meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) of UNISON – depending upon the outcome of the elections.

I thought I would therefore try my hand at live blogging.

The NEC has just endorsed a Presidential ruling – which I opposed – instructing all Service Groups that they may not allow members of their Executive to participate in discussions in relation to National Conferences where those members are attending Conference as a branch delegate.

I – and a minority of members – opposed this heavy handed ruling.

We then agreed that members of National Committees need no longer fill in forms and submit them in order to attend Conferences. I asked if that meant that we didn’t have confidence in ourselves to submit forms on time, and the General Secretary confirmed that this was the case…

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Postal workers tell Alan Johnson where to post his deputy leadership bid...

Alan Johnson is no longer the favoured son of the Communications Workers Union. In that Union the Conference – representing the membership – has been able to overturn the decision of a smaller Committee to endorse the Deputy Leadership bid of a candidate who stands four square against trade union policies.

In a heated debate at the union’s annual conference in Bournemouth delegate after delegate attacked the decision of the NEC to support the CWU’s former general secretary for the deputy leader’s job. For further details see the CWU website.

That cannot happen in UNISON I fear. No doubt the UNISON Labour Link Committee will wish to explain to Delegate Conference why they support Mr Johnson, though his own Union does not, but they are not required to account to the Conference. We can at least consider at our Conference what to do with our political funds, since there will be a debate.

There is no doubt a debate to be had!

Friday, June 01, 2007

UNISON Labour Link backs New Labour candidates...

Had I not already read this on elsewhere on the blogosphere I could have claimed that you heard it here first – and second – but the Union is now reporting in full the decision of the Labour Link Committee to nominate Brown for Leader of the Labour Party and Johnson for Deputy.

What follows is from the website.

“We need an election-winning team to face down the Conservatives,” said Labour Link chair Steve Warwick. “Despite policy differences, Gordon can win an election for Labour.”Alan Johnson’s strong trade union links and “good ministerial record” in areas such as public sector pensions and on education support staff won him the committee’s vote. (That would be the good record of this Government in relation to the LGPS would it???)“He’s someone we can do business with,” said Steve, adding:“We will continue to use the hustings to argue our case for a change in policy direction.”

So there you are.

Steve needs to remember that elections are only a useful way to argue about policy when you have a choice of candidate. Or is that a sore point in the South West Region

UNISON's Leadership choices update

Just to correct an earlier post – the news about UNISON deciding to nominate Gordon Brown for Leader is on the website, but only as a brief press release. Whereas the news that Labour has so far failed to fulfill its promise to create a more equal society rightly gets more coverage.

If anyone thinks that there is a contradiction between our criticisms of the New Labour Government and our support for candidates who stand more than anything else for continuity – well I guess you would have a good point. In some debates within UNISON I get the impression that we want to have sound progressive policies ourselves but don’t necessarily expect them to influence Government…

The decision of UNISON’s Labour Link Committee to nominate Alan Johnson for Deputy and to encourage members to give their second preferences to Peter Hain multiplies still further the number of ways in which trade unions are facing on the fairly unimportant question of the Deputy Leadership. (And also raises some interesting questions about how to engage with ballots using STV).