Friday, November 30, 2007

Fighting for UNISON members at the UNISON NEC

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

In fact the NEC does neither of these things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to fight over privatisation and pay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sleazy donations or a trade union base?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of circulation?

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

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

Today I am having my toilet replaced.

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Michael Gavan victimised by Newham Council

I see I am not the first in the blogosphere with this news, but I learned with real anger that Michael Gavan has been sacked by Newham Council.

I won’t repeat what I have already said but I will say that this is a disgrace. It shames a Labour Council to treat a trade union activist in this way and it challenges UNISON to step up our campaign against this victimisation.

What can we do?

Send a message of support to Newham UNISON.

Send a message of protest to Newham’s Mayor, Robin Wales.

Support the rally on 11 December at the House of Commons.

Hat tip Union Futures.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Security of our personal data and ID cards...

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

Facebook - how should we use it?

The admirable journal Labour Research carries – in its November 2007 edition – an interesting little article on trade union use of Facebook.

Just as I think that blogging is a useful way for trade union representatives to keep in touch with members so I think that Facebook has proven value as an organising tool.

The best leftwing Facebook group set up by a UNISON activist is the group to keep the BNP off Facebook. Credit where it’s due.

There are two UNISON groups – one set up by my fellow NEC member, James Anthony and another set up by an activist who felt that the first group was censoring discussion. As you might expect, I am a member of both.

There are also groups to support current UNISON disputes, including the fight against the victimisations of Karen Reissman and Michael Gavan, and the Fremantle dispute. Indeed there are loads of Facebook groups relevant to UNISON members and activists.

UNISON should have an “official” Facebook presence (though the nature of life is that the unofficial sites will always be more vibrant and interesting!) I would welcome comments as to whether or not this is a sufficiently important issue for me to raise at the next UNISON NEC.

Over to you, dear reader…

Oh and by the way most of the links in this article will only work if you are one of the 5 million UK residents on Facebook (this remark is addressed to a regular reader of this blog who refuses to join Facebook...)

D Day in Newham

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

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

This is one of the clearest cases of trade union victimisation in recent years – if you haven’t already done so messages of support can be emailed to the branch at and messages of condemnation sent to Newham mayor Robin Wales at

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fighting privatisation and victimisation - how do we win?

I was pleased to see the recent attempt to draw together three important disputes all of which to some extent and in different ways arise out of the threat or reality of privatisation. By making links between different struggles all can gain strength, encouragement and support – congratulations to the UNISON activist who organised this.

The continuing strike action against the disgraceful dismissal of Karen Reissman shows how a trade union should respond to the victimisation of an activist. Every UNISON branch – indeed every trade union branch – needs to be making donations and sending messages of support to the strikers and condemnation to the employer – details are online here.

Meanwhile, in Newham, my friend and comrade Michael Gavan is back in front of a disciplinary panel on Monday. If he is dismissed it will be a clear cut case of dismissal for having undertaken the activities of an independent trade union at an appropriate time and, as well as supporting further industrial action (following the successful strike on 31 October), I hope that our Union will draw the appropriate conclusions in relation to urgent legal action.

At the same time, the Barnet branch and the Fremantle strikers are addressing the challenge of sustaining a campaign of industrial action and political pressure. This is the cutting edge of the campaign to defend public services.

In all these disputes we need a wide ranging debate amongst rank and file activists about the strategy and tactics required to achieve a victory. The time for us to retreat in the face of the attacks from the employers and the Government is over.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Good news :)

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fremantle dispute march and rally

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Three disputes for November...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 05, 2007

Karen Reissmann Sacked! Urgent Solidarity Needed

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

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Defending the National Health Service

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

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

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

Good luck to everyone there today!