Friday, September 28, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloggers block?

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Normal blogging will be resumed as soon as...

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 21, 2007

Defending Michael Gavan - defending our Union

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

UNISON local government activists take note!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Development and Organisation Committee report

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh dear…

Monday, September 17, 2007

Industrial action committee to meet Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Barwick

Susan Brearley

Louise Couling

Emma Goodall

Moz Greenshields

Diana Leach

Angela Lynes (Chair)

Ann Macmillan Wood

Annette Mansell-Green

Stephen Mead (Vice-Chair)

Kevin Naylor

Jessie Russel

Samantha Selon

Fiona Smith

Irene Stacey

Norma Stephenson

Sian Stockham

Linda Sweet

Sofi Taylor

Jean Thorpe

Roger Bannister

Jim Burnett

Mike Hayes

Colm Magee

Bob Oram

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lessons to learn from the RMT

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fremantle strikes on 20 September

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

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

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

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

She replied the following day;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Strike for fair pay in local government

I see I am not the first with the news that the UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive has voted to endorse the call for a strike ballot from the National Joint Council Committee.

This is a sensible decision and we now need a vigorous campaign to win the confidence of our members to take the strike action that will be required to win fair pay. If we act jointly with our brothers and sisters in the civil service (and elsewhere!) then we can defeat the Government pay policy.

Congratulations to all those – including fellow UNISON bloggers – who were part of the majority at today’s meeting. Now the really hard work of campaigning to win the strike ballot can begin (subject to the approval of the Industrial Action Committee next week of course!)

Update on 14 September – a full report of the meeting is online here.

Auld Lang Syne...

My best intentions to blog regularly at the TUC have been frustrated. I can report exclusively that Congress sang Auld Lang Syne...

In part this blogging failure is because I spent some time supporting the Fremantle workers - and working fruitlessly on the Emergency Motion which was not in the end admitted to the agenda (although the strong support for the dispute by the UNISON delegation at the TUC and from many other General Secretaries and delegates was very positive).

I was very pleased to be able to support an Emergency Motion from the Prison Officers Association today moved by POA President Colin Moses, and expressing support for the POA who face legal threats from the Government - the Union could see fines of half a million quid because their members rightly walked out on strike, and the entire Executive could face dismissal.

All the anodyne rubbish that I heard about a "change of tone" from the new Prime Minister this week is thoroughly exposed by this vicious attack by the Government on a public service trade union. UNISON branches need to be moving resolutions in support of our fellow public servants!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Blogging interrupted

No time to blog really today I am afraid – I was pleased to spend much of my time with colleagues from the Barnet branch of UNISON who were promoting the Fremantle dispute and getting support from a wide range of fellow trade unionists.

UNISON has now agreed the wording for an Emergency Motion on the dispute which is being submitted to the General Purposes Committee and should be taken this week.

Following last night’s excellent PCS Fringe meeting the crucial debate on public sector pay saw a General Council statement committing us to coordinate industrial action.

UNISON's contribution to the public sector pay campaign will be decided over the next few days - the Local Government Service Group Executive is meeting on Thursday afternoon and the Health Service Group Executive on Friday (following the result of the consultative ballot which will be known by then). The Industrial Action Committee of the NEC is meeting on Wednesday of next week I believe.

Normal blogging will be resumed as soon as possible…

Monday, September 10, 2007

Perils of live blogging at the TUC

Between the laptop battery and the number of other things which there are to do I can’t keep up a running commentary – but other UNISON comrades are also blogging here and here.
I will however make mention of the debate on slavery, squeezed in at the end of the morning session this morning, and to Colin Moses of the POA in particular who pointed out that the legacy of slavery is with us to this day.

Gordon Brown at the TUC

Here is the report I wrote as I listened to Gordon Brown this morning but couldn’t blog at the time as my battery died… I am not the first UNISON NEC member to blog about the speech!

Gordon Brown has started his address to the TUC by thanking retiring members of the General Council. As someone else whose already blogged this put it this is a transparent attempt to appear to be part of ourhttp://unionfutures.blogspot.com/2007/09/brown-at-tuc.html "family”, our movement.

Brown talks about Burma and Darfur as well as Iraq and Afghanistan.

He has now just used the phrase “a British job for every British worker”. This is meant to be the bit of the speech in which he is telling us good things about job creation, but it has some pretty scary echoes.

Then we are told about “stability” this is why public sector workers have to put up with real terms pay cuts.

Overall this sums up the difference between Brown and Blair.

The same basic medicine, but delivered to us with warm – not to say soporific – words rather than overt hostility.

In response most delegates applauded, though many of us did not. A few small unions moved to give a standing ovation but only a handful stood – PCS had the distinction of making a protest, but (in line with our delegation meeting discussion yesterday) UNISON did not.

Update – I have just read this comment from our General Secretary on the Guardian website;
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said that Mr Brown had delivered a "conciliatory" speech.
"He delivered lots of good news in an attempt to sweeten the bitter pill that was the message about pay discipline," said Mr Prentis.
"Perhaps he hasn't yet gauged the real feeling of public service workers having to bear the brunt of government cost-cutting."
The General Council statement on pay is probably a bit too vague and wordy to help the Prime Minister with gauging our feelings – I hope that we hear from as many unions as possible at this evening’s fringe meeting so that we do get the message across…

Gordon Brown praises union activists - but does he mean it?

It’s very touching that the first task that the Prime Minister has at the TUC is to give out the awards to union activists. Irene Stacey from Newham UNSION is being honoured for recruiting over 200 members in a year.

Irene’s exemplary work depends also – as she would be the first to acknowledge – on the excellent work of Newham UNISON Branch Chair, Michael Gavan. Michael is suspended at the moment and faces dismissal on trumped up charges.

Now that Gordon has rightly presented Irene with her award, perhaps he could have a word with Newham’s rogue Labour mayor, Robin Wales about ending the attack upon Newham UNISON?

Of is the approach of giving us awards whilst permitting our victimisation a rather fine example of the Government’s attitude to lay trade union activists?

Brendan Barber opens TUC

Congress opens with the annual address of the TUC General Secretary.

Brendan Barber reports “another year of solid progress for our movement”.

He rightly talks up the unions role in fighting the Far Right, and Congress has applauded ASLEF for winning a crucial legal victory allowing trade unions to exclude fascists.

The applause welcoming the creation of UNITE is perhaps a little more muted, but the applause for the CWU, the POA and the Unions fighting job losses in Remploy is more enthusiastic.

This isn’t just an emotional appeal – unions in dispute are unions doing something for their members.

However it doesn’t take long for us to get on to empty self-congratulation. Apparently in the past year we have put private equity on the map, we have changed Government policy on health service reform and we have made social housing into a political issue. (One out of these three claims is well founded I would have thought?)

There are real political gains (the increase in statutory annual leave, the prohibition on discrimination against lesbians and gay men in the provision of goods and services). However our leaders do have a tendency to talk up our successes in a way which tends to float away from reality…

Moving on, Brendan welcomes Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, warns us about the Tories and is pleased with increasing public spending. However he is expressing firm opposition to the 2% pay policy for the public sector (to good applause). The TUC General Secretary has just said that this centralised attempt to hold down public sector pay “must never be repeated” – he wants the Prime Minister to listen to us about this. Later this morning we will hear if he will do…

Brendan moves on to point out that we can have social justice with economic growth, citing the postwar settlement in Western Europe as an example. This leads, by way of praise for Government policies to tackle poverty to a call for a “new national consensus” in favour of equality, and a Commission to look at the distribution of wealth and income. (How cynical would it be to see the TUC still casting around for a role as brokers of consensus rather than organisers of a combative union movement?)

On the one hand, our TUC General Secretary believes we have a historic opportunity to found a new progressive consensus, on the other hand he is telling us about the examples of super-exploitation of migrant workers which he has encountered over the last while. A fine example of the difference between the experience of dialogue and “listening” to the trade union leadership at the top, and the experience of exploitation of ordinary workers through an economic system thoroughly endorsed and supported by the Government.

It is impossible to disagree with Brendan’s final call for us to “make this country better” but I don’t feel any better informed about how to resolve the contradictions between how our members (and potential members) are being treated by Government and employers on the one hand and the faith which we are being asked to put in working with our adversaries on the other.

TUC 2007 kick off in half an hour...

Well I have made it into the Brighton Centre, through security as tight as we had last year for Tony Blair. I see that I am not the first with the news that UNISON may be submitting an Emergency Motion here about the Fremantle dispute, but will blog further about that as I hear more.

Although the media interest will be in hearing what the Prime Minister has to say tomorrow I can see little point in even listening to him, since he certainly isn’t going to be listening to us. However yesterday’s delegation meeting did not agree to mount any protest while the PM speaks (although most people speaking ruled out a standing ovation…)

Tomorrow afternoon’s debate on public sector pay will be of more relevance to our members and I look forward to hearing Jean Geldart for UNISON supporting the Composite Motion from PCS, the NUT and the POA. I am pleased to report that UNISON have been invited to join the General Secretaries of those three Unions at a fringe meeting on public sector pay this afternoon. Joint meetings are a small step towards joint strike action…

Patchy reception rules out too much live blogging from the Conference hall itself but I will try to keep the blog up to date. I have just had a first wander around the exhibition stalls and acquired a travelcard wallet from the RMT! :)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Support Fremantle workers online

Check out the news from Barnet UNISON!

The online campaign to support Fremantle workers has moved here.

It is very important to back the workers in this dispute against attacks on pay and conditions – particularly because the employer has tried to stop online campaigning by Labourstart. Fremantle didn't enjoy receiving over 8,000 emails.

I received a reply from the Chief Executive seeking to rebut UNISON's criticisms of her organisation. I replied pointing out why she was wrong and inviting her to reconsider. I'll give her a couple of days to reply and then publish the correspondence here.

Following the disgraceful sacking of UNISON Activist Andrew Rogers I hope that we can give a high profile to this important dispute at the TUC this week.

Listening for a change of tone...?

I read that we are due to give Gordon Brown a hard time at the TUC

Well, I hope so.

According to the BBC “most union leaders are quietly hopeful there will be a marked change of tone in the noises emanating from No 10.”

I am not sure that is much to hope for in the face of a public sector pay freeze. The treatment of the prison officers is particularly poor – but the pay offers which we have rejected in local government and on which we are consulting members in health are both below the rate of inflation – meaning that they are a pay cut in real terms.

Brown says this is necessary to control inflation, but has nothing to say about inflation busting increases for the fat cats.

At the same time as holding down our pay Brown is set upon changing Labour Party Conference to limit union influence.

We would have to be incredibly stupid to sit silently by (or worse still, to sit by and applaud) as this is done.

But perhaps we will. Perhaps we will watch as our pay is held down below inflation and our ability to make Labour Party policy is eliminated and shall console ourselves with the hope that there may be “a marked change of tone in the noises emanating from No 10”…

I think that at the TUC we should be very quiet when the great man speaks so we can listen carefully for this change of tone…

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Unhappy about a strike ballot?

Oh dear!

The local government employers are upset.

Poor dears.

Perhaps if they don’t want us to strike they should think about offering us pay rises which at least keep pace with inflation?

Say No to Victimisation

I understand that the season for hunting Grouse (pronounced “Grice” by those who shoot the poor creatures) begins on 12 August.

Unfortunately it seems that it is always open season for reactionary employers to try to victimise trade union representatives.

I was shocked to hear yesterday that cost-cutting and pay-cutting wreckers of North London care homes, Fremantle, have sacked UNISON activist Andrew Rogers (no relation)(except that he is my brother trade unionist!)

Follow that link and you’ll find some immediate action you can take to express solidarity.

Of course it is not just our privatised members who face the risk of victimisation if they stand up for union members – Michael Gavan is under attack by Newham Council, and Karen Reissman by her health trust in Manchester.

If you have a branch or branch Committee meeting coming up, remember to send messages of support to these victimised activists – and donations if you can afford them!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Local Government strike action on the way

Well now it’s official – UNISON has rejected the local government pay offer.

Mind you the official version is not yet a stirring call to arms…

“The NJC committee – UNISON members of the sector’s negotiating body, the national joint council – decided to ask the union’s local government service group executive and industrial action committee to authorise an industrial action ballot.”

Let’s be clear – the Service Group Executive is bound by the policy of the Local Government Conference to reject an offer worth 2.5% - and the Industrial Action Committee, as a SubCommittee of the NEC, must follow the relevant policy of National Delegate Conference.

The decision has been taken and there is no room for doubt or equivocation. Now is the time to mobilise our members for the strike action which cannot now be avoided.

The decision of the National Joint Council Committee was overwhelming and must and will be supported by our Union. Members of the Service Group Executive are being consulted right now on their support for the decision – UNISON activists can always contact their SGE members to check that they are following our agreed policy!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Strike action in local government over pay!

I hear that UNISON's National Joint Council Committee has agreed to proceed with a strike ballot rather than recommend acceptance of the employers' (slightly) improved offer of 2.475% (with 3.4% for those on the lowest point of the pay spine).

If this decision gets the support of the Industrial Action Committee - which it should as it is in line with the policies of Local Government and National Delegate Conference - we could see national strike action in the autumn.

The GMB are holding a delegate meeting on Thursday to consult on the pay offer and have suspended preparations for industrial action in the mean time.

I'll post more information when it is to hand.

Update - the Industrial Action Committee will be meeting soon (I hope it will be next week in Brighton) and a strike ballot in the autumn could see strike action in mid November.

UNISON branches and activists need to prepare our members for the likelihood of strike action.

Membership lists need to be as up to date as possible - particularly the addresses!

We need to recruit all the non-members we can so they don't cross our picket lines (agency workers can join the union too - and any one who is a human being can respect a picket line!)

We need to put a bit of money aside from our inadequate salaries in September and October so we can stand the deductions for strike action when they begin to hit us later in the year.

This will not be an easy fight but it is a very important one.

The NJC decision took a wise decision (by a wide margin) and now we need to knuckle down and get on with the hard work of winning the ballot and then winning the strike.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Use the internet to support unions

I am a union activist. So I support workers taking action (for example, here and here). As a blogger I think that we need to use these new (well, not so new) communication technologies to organise in support of our struggles.

We need to find ways to use the internet to highlight working class struggle.

I think that message needs to go out to comrades in the RMT and POA whose websites are not keeping up to date with their recent struggles…

Because I know that it is those Unions who will inspire the best activists at next week's
TUC Congress.

Brown reaches out to Tories but not trade unions

So two renegade right wing Tories are now advising our “Labour” Government

I can’t add to the criticisms which have already been expressed.

Or maybe I can.

Someone recently remarked that it was noticeable that Gordon Brown’s big tent politics didn’t seem to include room for any trade unionists.

Will the trade union leadership ever wake up to the need to support an effective opposition to our right-wing Prime Minister??

I’ll spend next week finding out and let you know…

UNISON Conference barely nine months away...

There’s a lot to think about for UNISON members (as always!)

Is our current Representation Guide really serving UNISON organisation? At present full-time officials and lay activists are banned from representing members at employment tribunals, and the decisions which we take about whether to represent members are taken by lawyers on the legal merits of the case, not on the basis of the interests of our Union and its members.

What about our Industrial Action Procedures? Do these help branches and activists who want to take industrial action – or do they provide a subaltern gate-keeping role for our officials as junior partners in the restrictions placed upon the trade unions by the anti-union laws?

Then there are the Democracy in UNISON guidelines – which do not have the force of either Rule or Regulation in our Union, but which have recently been used to attempt to restrict branches expressing dissent from views which have (formal or informal!) official sanction in member ballots. Is this attempt to stifle debate an appropriate (or an Orwellian) way to use a set of guidelines with the word “democracy” in the title?

And that’s not even thinking about our Rule Book. Are the disciplinary rules (in Rule I) really serving the interests of our members – or do they give too much scope for unjustified action? Should we be looking again at those Rules – or at the Rule which precludes Conference even debating the election of officials?

I wonder also if all activists are happy with the current operation of our complaints procedure?

The NEC (and the people who do our thinking for us) are thinking already about motions for next summer’s Conference. I hope that those of you who are UNISON activists in your branches are doing so also…

Solidarity with the tube workers

Good luck and solidarity to Underground workers in the RMT striking today – and until Thursday. Workers do not take strike action lightly and if the tube workers feel they need to protect themselves then they deserve the full support of all trade unionists (and all those who call themselves socialists…)(who shouldn’t be having a go at the Union!)

A 72 hour strike seems to be a good way to start a serious dispute. Who do I know who ought to be about to embark upon a serious dispute?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

UNISON Labour Link elections - why I back Berry!

This is one of those posts which I ought to stress is being produced and published without any use of UNISON resources.

It’s time to chase up UNISON members who pay into the Affiliated Political Fund to check that they have voted in the elections to the National Labour Link Committee.

This is an important election and I am pleased that there are some contests so that members in some Regions are offered a choice. There are those in UNISON who are satisfied with the effectiveness of UNISON Labour Link. I think that after ten years of a Labour Government, we have a Government which is holding down our members’ pay, continuing to privatise and attach our public services and refusing to restore trade unions’ legal rights. I can’t see that UNISON is using its Labour Party link to much good effect to combat these anti-union policies.

I believe we need to see some critical voices on the National Labour Link Committee and – in the London Region – I have voted for Andrew Berry who will provide such a voice. He has been endorsed by a leading UNISON MP, whereas his opponent (who decries the support of “obscure backbenchers” in her election addresswho can she mean?) promises to arrange for more UNISON members to meet Gordon Brown…!

I remember when I was first elected to the UNISON National Executive Council expressing some interest, as a socialist and longstanding Labour Party member, in serving on the Labour Link Committee. An experienced (now former) NEC member suggested that it was most unlikely that my NEC colleagues would elect me – and he has been proven right so far!

The National Labour Link Committee consists of 12 NEC members and 11 directly elected members. For now the NEC members of the Committee exclude those who are critical of the current approach – if the elections deliver another two years of supine support for inadequate lobbying our members will continue to be let down by a weak intervention in the Labour Party. (If you are happy with the status quo then you can get details of the candidates supported by the establishment here!)

Andrew has taken the initiative to alert UNISON branches in London to the dangers inherent in Gordon Brown’s plans for the future of Labour Party Conference. This is what we need from members of the National Labour Link Committee – not more of the same complacency.

If you are a UNISON activist make sure that members are voting in the election to the Committee – and in London vote for Andrew Berry.