Monday, December 15, 2008
The economic crisis will be used to justify and excuse all manner of things if we permit it.
The answer is not to bargain for pay cuts or lay offs, although these will be seen, but to defend all that we can with every means at our disposal.
As we try to defend every job and all of our conditions at a rank and file level we need our leaders to articulate an alternative which challenges the view that this is the best that we can hope for.
2009 is not, I fear, going to be a Happy New Year. Start saving now so that you can stand the strain of the strike action which will be needed.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The odious creature James Purnell has managed to combine Workfare with privatisation to bring us the worst of all possible worlds founded on openly Tory ideology (with open – and necessary – Tory support).
The idea of making the poor work for nothing (or very little) in a recession is not new and certainly not modern. In the 1930s the state built “Instructional Centres” - labour camps to which the long term unemployed could be sent to work.
In the 1830s the New Poor Law was founded on the concept of “less eligibility” - the idea that the lot of the “pauper” should be worse than that of the labouring poor.
The purpose of this approach has nothing to do with welfare – and nothing whatsoever to do with the interests of “hard working families” - on the contrary, the state is stepping in to try to ensure that the “reserve army of labour” is forced out into the labour market in order to do its job of depressing wages and holding down working class living standards in order to restore profitability.
New Labour of course bring a novel little twist to this toxic rehash of right-wing ideology by proposing that the whole thing be done in the private sector. I hope UNISON will be joining those who condemn this outrage.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
At the commencement of the meeting, at the request of the General Secretary, the NEC agreed to send a message of condolences to Birmingham branch secretary Carole Hagans, who lost family members in the recent M6 tragedy, make a donation to the family's charity of choice (“Feed My Lambs”) and circulate a request for donations to branches and regions.
Later during the course of the meeting the President announced a message of support from the NEC for the Barnet branch who were due to be lobbying their Cabinet that evening in opposition to the “Future Shape” privatisation proposals.
The following were the main items of business at the meeting;
UNISON Objectives and Priorities for 2009
The NEC endorsed a report setting out our objectives and priorities for the coming year. These remain the four current objectives (Objective One – recruiting, organising, representing and retaining members; Objective Two – negotiating, bargaining and promoting equality; Objective Three – campaigning and promoting UNISON, and; Objective Four – an efficient and effective Union). Health service NEC members Kate Ahrens and Karen Reissmann successfully proposed an amendment to reaffirm our support for public services and opposition to privatisation.
Financial planning and budgets
The NEC adopted a budget for the coming year. This assumes slower growth in subscription income than in recent years and makes further significant provision for the costs of legal action in relation to equal pay. The coming year will also see UNISON beginning to draw upon the loan to build the new HeadQuarters building. A financial challenge will be presented by the soon to be received valuation of the UNISON staff pension fund. The General Secretary assured the NEC that this challenge can be managed over a number of years.
The Head of Recruitment reported that recruitment figures for 2008 had improved significantly in the autumn. It is predicted that UNISON will grow by 1.4% this year. Greater London Region is reportedly within a narrow margin of meeting our target for 2% growth.
As usual the NEC received a useful and informative, but confidential and legally privileged, report on Equal Pay. Updated negotiating guidance is due out in the coming week and regular updated information is available online at http://www.unison.org.uk/equalpay/branches.asp,
Public sector pay negotiations
The General Secretary introduced a round up of the state of play in all public sector pay negotiations. He reported that the public sector unions had met on the previous day, and would be meeting again in January. January will also see UNISON’s annual pay seminar, at which attempts are made to coordinate pay negotiations across the Union. I asked the General Secretary, as I had previously, if he agreed that the approach of building unity “sector by sector” within the public sector had failed to deliver for our members (almost all of whom have seen a real terms pay cut over the past year). He agreed and emphasised that the Unions were now discussing whether to have direct talks with the Government about public sector pay.
Local Government Pension Scheme
The Deputy General Secretary introduced a report on the continuing discussions over the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). It was noted that the Government have now issued guidance on ill-health retirement under the new scheme in spite of outstanding disagreements with the trade unions. There has been no progress in extending the protection of the “Rule of 85” and, from the report to the NEC, it would appear that there is now little prospect of this happening. Discussions have now moved on to “cost sharing” (which is a euphemism for further increases in employee contribution rates) against a background of attacks on the LGPS, and public sector pensions generally, from the Conservative Party.
UNISON response to the financial crisis
The Chair of the Policy Committee introduced a report updating the position since the statement adopted at the October NEC. She reported that this had been well received by members.
Another London NEC member said that rather than sending Xmas cards this year she would make a donation to UNISON Welfare in view of the likely impact of the financial crisis on our members.
The General Secretary said that he hoped that UNISON would mount a major public campaign in defence of public services, taking our campaign activities out onto the streets, on the basis that if we don’t do it no one else will. This is likely to include a major national demonstration in the spring when the “G20” economic summit is likely to take place in England.
The NEC endorsed a proposal from October’s meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee to have transitional arrangements for the introduction of a Rule agreed at this year’s Conference which precludes NEC members elected to represent a Service Group (and therefore holding ex officio seats upon the Service Group Executive - SGE) from simultaneously holding any other seat on the SGE.
The NEC has agreed, in effect, that this rule will not take effect until the 2011 NEC elections. Some NEC members queried whether the power of the NEC to interpret the Rules could be used in this way.
Collective responsibility of NEC members
The longest debate at the December NEC, with eighteen contributions from NEC members, concerned a proposal to interpret the Rules (in a new and different way) to prohibit NEC members from attending Conference as branch delegates. A flavour of this discussion can be given in the observation from several of those opposed to this proposal that it was “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut” (to which local government NEC member, Glenn Kelly, who attended last year’s Conference as a delegate from the Bromley branch, objected to being characterised as a “nut”).
The Union had received detailed legal advice concerning this proposal from Leading Counsel. Although this legal advice dealt in detail with the rights and responsibilities of all NEC members, the NEC was told that individual members of the NEC were not permitted to see the legal advice, only the summary of it included in a report written by officers. The Presidential Team and the Chair of the D&O Committee had seen the full legal advice, and the NEC was advised that this was perfectly appropriate as this was what they had been elected to do by the NEC. I intend to pursue a request for sight of this legal advice, and will also be interested to know how much money we spent seeking Counsel’s opinion.
Since this report had been tabled at Wednesday’s NEC, having also been tabled at the D&O Committee the previous day several NEC members, myself included, felt that the NEC should not allow itself to be bounced into agreeing a new interpretation of the Rules, overturning a previous NEC decision, without the opportunity for further thought. A proposal to delay the decision was however defeated by 29 votes to 16 and the NEC endorsed the report.
General Secretary’s report
The General Secretary used the opportunity of his report to advise the NEC, as had been reported to the D&O Committee the previous day, that UNISON has taken legal advice in response to the receipt of the leaked membership list of the far-right British National Party and would be taking steps to identify any BNP members in UNISON. He warned the NEC that we could expect attacks from the BNP as we put ourselves in the forefront of opposition to the far-right.
Dave Prentis also congratulated the Westminster City branch on defeating proposals to introduce fingerprint scanning equipment and agreed to investigate similar moves elsewhere in the public services. The NEC also agreed to send a message of support to members in the Northern Ireland community and voluntary sector under threat from 'dissidents' over their work in community projects.
NEC Election timetable
The NEC endorsed the timetable for the forthcoming round of NEC elections. Nominations will open on 5 January and close on 13 February. The ballot period will be between 14 April and 15 May and the results will be known just ahead of National Delegate Conference in June.
As always, if any branch would like further information please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Barnet UNISON are showing the way. They achieved some excellent publicity for their campaign of opposition to wholesale privatisation on Wednesday evening. The Tory scheme to outsource anything that isn’t nailed down is clearly a glimpse of the future under a Cameron Government
Another such glimpse is provided by the slaughter of jobs in Tory Hammersmith and Fulham – including the relocation of caller centre jobs out of London. London local government affords us evidence which all those who know that a Tory Government would be even worse than New Labour should want to see widely publicised.
So I wait (and wait) to see support for London UNISON members’ campaigns where it ought to be being expressed. Dave Prentis congratulated the Westminster branch at the NEC for having prevented the employer introducing fingerprint recognition machines – and rightly so! We need official support and solidarity for all the UNISON members in our Region who are facing Tory attacks.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
This is a personal report of today’s meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee. I will deal with only some major items in this report. The meeting commenced with brief reports on recruitment and on learning activity.
Far Right political parties and trade unions
We then received an update on Clause 18 of the Employment Bill (as was) dealing with the ability of trade unions to exclude active members of far right organisations from membership. The unsatisfactory provisions of the Act will come into force on 1 April next and UNISON is working with Searchlight and the TUC to consider a legal challenge.
UNISON has also considered what action to take in relation to the recent publication of a list of alleged members of the British National Party. UNISON has had legal advice that we could lawfully cross reference our membership lists with this list but could not take any action simply by virtue of their being on the list. However any activity by members of far right organisations could lead to disciplinary action by the Union – new guidance will be issued to branches on this point. The Union has had legal advice that we could lawfully strengthen Rule I.3 which deals with this issue.
Service Group Structures
We then moved on to debate a report on future Service Group structures. Sue Highton introduced the paper on behalf of Jane Carolan. This paper had been circulated less than one working day in advance of the meeting. Frank Hont, North West Regional Secretary presented the proposals in detail.
I expressed reservations about being asked to endorse such major proposals with so little opportunity to consider the documentation. I was very critical of the way in which the proposals empowered the Service Group Liaison Committee, which in my view suffers a serious democratic deficit.
Some other members expressed anger at my comments that many parts of our Union are not lay led and that often the lay leadership is led by the nose by officials. I subsequently clarified that I had not intended to offend any individual.
Kate Ahrens, representing the Health Service Group made the point that the current proposals do not provide for the collective accountability of sector committees to any collective body of members such as a Conference. Service Group Conferences would, under the proposals being considered, have no useful role in relation to bargaining.
Glenn Kelly pointed out on behalf of the local government group that the largest service group representing the majority of our members opposed the scale of change being proposed. The Health Service Group also did not support this. He pointed out that Rule Changes will be required and that it would be unlikely that Conference would support changes which went against the views of our largest groups of members.
Paul Glover from Energy opposed the proposals insofar as the affected members in the current Energy Service Group. He felt that the proposals before the Committee did not reflect the outcome of consultation.
Bob Oram from the North West Region spoke in defence of the proposals but only to criticise those who had expressed reservations and concerns. He felt that this had been discussed for five years and we should get on and agree with it.
John Jones, representing Water and Environment echoed the concerns which had been expressed by the representative from Energy.
At the conclusion of this important debate the Committee did not agree to endorse the report as had been recommended but instead, on the recommendation of the Chair (Chris Tansley) that the report would now go out for further consultation.
Subject to discussion at tomorrow’s meeting of the full NEC, the report will be circulated to all branches. If any Greater London branch would like a copy (or indeed a copy of any other report considered at the Committee meeting) please get in touch.
The Committee received a detailed presentation on developments in relation to the RMS, in particular long awaited developments in relation to matching up our membership database with DOCAS information from the employers.
Election processes and timetable
The Committee agreed a report on the procedures for the forthcoming NEC elections. This will now go to tomorrow’s NEC meeting and I will therefore cover it in my report from that meeting.
The Committee was told that the Union had sought legal advice on whether individual NEC members should be permitted to attend Conference as delegates from branches. The Committee resolved to agree a report, which had been tabled that morning, recommending that tomorrow’s NEC rule that NEC members may not attend Conference in any other capacity. I was among a minority who opposed this at the meeting and will oppose it again tomorrow at the NEC as I consider it unnecessary.
Branches under Regional supervision
The Committee received a written report on the cases of branches under Regional supervision. I questioned the accuracy of comments in the report about the Newham local government branch. The Chair ruled that the meeting should move on and not discuss the report in detail. Pete Gaskin from the Eastern Region expressed dissatisfaction that it had not been possible for Committee members to raise issues about matters covered in this report.
I will be in touch with an NEC report later in the week. I hope to see delegates from branches at the Regional Council meeting on 9 December 2008.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Some other Regions could learn a bit from this approach to communications – but also from the approach to industrial relations which is being communicated. Congratulations to the strikers – and to the blogger.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Every union branch should have some sort of web presence and I think a blog has quite a lot of potential given the ease with which it can be updated.
Not all members have web access and we need to be alert to the need to avoid creating two tiers of members or activists by over reliance on any one form of communication.
Also, the internet is not necessarily accessible to all members - and trade union branches have a responsibility to try to communicate equally with all our members.
However, there is plenty of evidence that the web can be used for organising and an increasing number of union branches are out here in cyberspace.
One issue on which I would welcome views is how union branches balance the need to control expression of opinion on what is - unavoidably - an "official" web presence of the Union, with the desire to permit a free flow of debate and ideas.
Which is the best UNISON branch blog or website? Can anyone beat Barnet's?
Monday, November 24, 2008
Given the scale of the economic crisis unfolding around us, I only hope that the leaks from the Government deliberately understate the changes which the Chancellor will announce this afternoon – he needs to shock the Commons in the same way Geoffrey Howe did when he put VAT up to 15% all those years ago.
A massive fiscal stimulus (through tax cuts and increased spending) together with further reductions in interest rates clearly have the potential – if coordinated globally – to moderate the severity of the coming recession. This is worth supporting for itself, because each job that is not lost is one household saved from poverty – and because the slower and gentler the increase in unemployment and the swifter and faster the subsequent reduction the less the damage that is done to our bargaining position as trade unionists.
However, as trade unionists we need our leaders to resist the urge to act as cheerleaders for Labour Ministers. We need to demand, in response to the detail of the Government’s economic announcements, that the contours of the fiscal stimulus in particular support our members’ interests. We also need to raise our eyes beyond tomorrow’s – and next year’s - unemployment figures and develop and articulate policy demands to reshape our economy in the interests of working people. UNISON’s NEC began to rise to this challenge in the statement adopted in October – we need to build on and develop this work now.
The Government’s economic announcements should today respond to some extent to UNISON’s demand that “spending on public services must be increased to meet greater social need and counteract the downturn in the private sector. This will necessitate an increase in public debt, currently low by international and historic standards, and a rebalancing of our system of taxation so that corporations and wealthy individuals are required to pay their fair share.” This is welcome, but we now need to elaborate our demands.
In the immediate term, we need to point out that low paid workers have a high “marginal propensity to consume” and that a relaxation of the Government’s unjust public sector pay policy, particularly if it coincided with really significant cuts in VAT and continuing low interest rates would have a very positive reflationary impact.
There is no reason – apart from dogma and inertia – why, for example, the Local Government Employers, with Government support, should not now approach the arbitrators seeking to resolve the 2008 pay round in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and tell them that the employers want to give an immediate boost to the earnings of the lowest paid through, for example, an additional flat rate increase backdated to 1 April. The Government could fund this directly through the revenue account and meet the cost by borrowing, or it could allow local authorities to capitalise the expenditure. Similarly, the Government could tell the NHS employers that they should forget about arguing that they don’t have a recruitment problem and should agree that the pay review body considers an increase in the second and third years of the current pay deal – the terms of reference for pay review bodies may need to be addressed to enable them to take account of the macroeconomic impact of their recommendations.
However, even more important than what happens in the short term is that the trade union movement should express some opinions about the long term which reflect the interests of our members.
The UNISON NEC statement in October was clear that we need fundamental change in the finance sector stating that “intervention to secure the banking system should not merely “bail-out” those who have caused this crisis by socialising the losses and taking on unprofitable parts of the sector. Instead any public financial support for the sector should entitle the public to share in the benefits of any future recovery, and must be accompanied by an extension of regulatory controls to ensure that the excesses of the recent
period are not repeated or rewarded.”
I don’t think that now is the time for timidity in developing this policy further. Just as UNISON supports public ownership of our utilities or our transport infrastructure, so we should respond to the credit crisis and the consequent recession by demanding democratic public control of the banks, as a central element of our financial and economic infrastructure – and I agree with fellow UNISON member John McDonnell, MP that public control can best be ensured by public ownership. Nationalisation of the major banks is not now an unrealistic demand.
One counter argument to this demand, as expressed at last week’s UNISON Greater London Regional Committee by the Regional Finance Convenor is that “we don’t want civil servants running banks.” Leaving to one side the questions of whether disdain for public servants is welcome in officials of a public service union – and of whether bankers have shown themselves particularly adept at running banks in the recent past! – this is simply an argument against public ownership per se. We need a more mature debate about the contours of public and private ownership, and it is fairly obvious that recent events at least pose the question of whether exclusively private sector ownership and control of the banks is in the interests of our members.
Another counter-argument, echoing the words of the Tories before 1945, is that we should not want to nationalise “our savings and our pensions.” Now of course, nationalising an institution does not nationalise the deposits it holds (or no one would have any money left in Northern Rock). It may be a shame that for all the work that is done on capital stewardship, pension funds have yet to redirect the economy for the benefit of those on whose behalf they invest. However, such is the nature of a capitalist economy driven by profit. If we want a banking industry that works for the public good we need to place it under democratic public control.
We should not be afraid to argue for democracy in relation to our economy just as we argue for democracy in other areas of public life. A similar argument can be applied to further develop UNISON’s current demand that “interest rates must be cut as a matter of urgency, and the monetary policy pursued by the Bank of England needs to move on from an exclusive focus upon controlling inflation to one that also seeks to ensure high levels of investment and employment.”
What follows from this is that monetary policy should be restored to democratic control and the technocratic experiment in the “independence” of central banks should come to an end. This was only ever “independence” from popular pressure and democracy, never “independence” from the perceived interests of those with wealth and power.
Underpinning the belief in private ownership of the major banks and financial institutions, and in the “independence” of central banks, is a belief that ordinary people are not to be trusted to run our own economy. We are told that we need experts to do this for us.
On the contrary, now – when the “experts” who have been trying to sell us privatisation for a generation stand exposed as failures – it is up to ordinary trade unionists to have the audacity and the ambition to spell out an alternative.
This is why I hope that UNISON’s Greater London Regional Council will – in December - have the opportunity to debate the motion from the Lambeth local government branch which sets out to build upon and develop the policy agreed by the UNISON NEC in October.
This depends upon whether or not a quorum of delegates attend the meeting – so if you are reading this and are a UNISON member in Greater London, it is in your hands whether we have this debate, or leave it up to the “experts”…
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I will blog a full report later, but am enthused and encouraged that activists are mobilising now.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I was pleased to hear from the Regional Secretary that guidance to branches on industrial action will be updated. UNISON takes almost no official industrial action in Greater London at the moment – and I wish I thought that was because all our members were so happy in our working lives that harmony has broken out in every workplace! No one is eager to strike – but we need to be prepared to take action when the occasion demands it. As a trade union we have to organise ourselves so that, when members take the difficult decision to withdraw our labour and lose pay, our bureaucratic machinery (which we must have to comply with hostile laws) is fit for purpose to help our members achieve their objective – as opposed to erecting hurdles in their way!
The report from the Regional Secretary and Convenor placed into the public domain the news that the Newham local government branch is now under “Regional supervision” (the UNISON equivalent of “special measures”). The Regional Organiser is acting as Branch Secretary.
We were told that the branch had been operating outside national rules “for some time.” Now, we were told, was the time for the Region to step in. Questions about the reasons for the timing of this action went – in effect – unanswered. Deputy Regional Convenor, Conroy Lawrence gallantly stepped in to tell the Committee that we did not want to go into detail but that everything would come out in time. As I said at the meeting, I do hope that this is true. Indeed I shall aim to ensure that it is.
Those who have taken this action can be confident that their actions will be scrutinised.
Hammersmith and Barnet branches
I asked the Regional Secretary and Convenor to consider giving some publicity
to the conduct of loony Tory Councils like job-cutting Hammersmith and “if it moves, privatise it” Barnet. We seem to be missing a trick when it comes to pointing out that Tory Councils in London are showing us all what a Tory Government would be like.
It is a failing of the Regional Labour Link Committee that UNISON is not doing more to expose this nonsense (incidentally I did ask what motions UNISON were putting to the Regional Labour Party Conference on Saturday and was told that there was one on capital stewardship and another one – but no one present could remember what it was...)
With luck UNISON will publicise the campaigns being waged by our members in Barnet and Hammersmith on our website.
The Regional Committee decided (by 9 votes to 8) to oppose a motion from the Lambeth branch on the global financial crisis. I should declare an interest in the Lambeth motion (of course) for which I advocated that the Regional Committee should support the motion.
Opposition was led by the Regional Finance Convenor who worried that nationalising the banks would mean nationalising our pensions and savings. I'll blog further about the arguments for and against this motion.
For now it is up to activists in UNISON branches in London whether or not there is a quorum at the Regional Council on 9 December...
See you there?
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
However, UNISON members in Scottish local government have voted – narrowly – to accept their employers’ two year offer. This may reflect some of the reservations about striking for pay in the current economic climate which appeared to influence the closeness of the recent strike ballot in the NUT.
Against this mixed backdrop I have read criticisms of the decision of the PCS Executive to suspend strike action in response to an offer of negotiations over pay from the Head of the Civil Service. I would have liked to have seen effective united strike action by the public service unions (in line with the policy of the TUC). In the absence of that unity everyone has to make tactical judgements based upon the position in which they find themselves.
As the threat of increasing job cuts compounds the reality of real terms pay cuts for public service workers what we now need more than ever is unity.
Friday, November 07, 2008
This is a positive sign and is a tribute to the approach of the PCS leadership, who are making it clear that this is only a suspension and that strike action is still on the cards.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
I am sure that PCS will welcome other trade unionists - and am equally sure that UNISON will express our full official support for our civil service comrades.
These are the details I have been given;
PICKETS IN Central London -
on Whitehall SW1A- the HQ's of MoD, DEFRA, Cabinet Office, HMRC, Treasury, Department of Health, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, British Council, Department of Culture, Media & Sport
on Victoria Street SW1 - the HQ's of BERR (ex-DTI), MoJ, Metropolitan Police (New Scotland Yd)
Victoria station area - Identitiy & Passport Service, Department for International Development, Department for Communities & Local Gov
Great Peters St/Marsham St SW1 - HQ's of Department of Children, Schools & Families, Home Office, Prison Service, Department for Transport
OTHER LARGE WORKPLACES -
Health & Safety Executive (2 Southwark Bridge, SE1), HMRC/ACAS Euston Tower (Warren St tube), Office of Fair Trading (2-6 Salisbury Square, EC4Y 8JX), Royal Courts of Justice (The Strand), Food Standard Agency (125 Kingsway WC2B 6NH)
Museums and Galleries - National Gallery (Trafalgar Square), British Museum (Bloomsbury), V&A/Science Museum, Natural History Museum (South Kensington), British Library (St Pancras), Tate Modern (Southwark)
Croydon - Home Office (Whitgift Centre, Apollo & Lunar House - all Wellesley Road CR9)
Hastings - Child Support Agency
Around outer London areas and South-East England towns -
all local Tax Offices,
London Met Police stations
Job Centres & Benefit Processing Centres,
Magistrate, County & Crown Courts,
Driving Test Centres,
Army, RAF and Navy bases/barracks,
ports and airports - Coastguard stations in Solent, Dover, etc, Customs (HMRC) and Immigration (Home Office) in Heathow, Gatwick, Dover, Portsmouth, Southampton, etc,
The decision of the Executive of the NUT not to call further strike action in the light of the narrowness of the majority for action in their national ballot leaves civil service union PCS almost alone as they embark upon national strike action over pay this coming Monday.
The ballot result of health service members in UNITE will not be known for a few days yet - but the large majority of health service workers are now focused on next year's pay claim (as we are in local government).
Reports from NUT meetings show that appeals to "belt-tightening" as recession bites will have some purchase amongst trade union members, and need to be countered with positive arguments about the macroeconomic impact of raising public sector pay, as well as appeals to justice and collective self-interest.
However, I remain convinced that the decisive reason for the real terms pay cuts experienced by local government workers (including teachers), health workers, civil servants and others over the last while has been the deliberate refusal of the trade unions to take disciplined and united action.
We need to find a way build this unity at a rank and file level if we are to achieve our potential and protect the interests of our members.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
John McDonnell tried to introduce some additional protections for workers taking industrial action – but had to withdraw in the face of Government opposition and a guillotine motion on the Bill.
He did push to a vote on a reasonable proposal to require employers to assist unions in balloting for action.
I thought yesterday that votes on this Bill would test the support for trade unions in Parliament.
We lost by 53 votes to 408. You can see how MPs voted online.
In further debates, the Government also refused to support the placing of trade union environmental representatives on a statutory footing – meaning that we don’t have legal back up to develop this role in the workplace. More worryingly the Government also refused to change the unworkable provisions of the Bill intended to permit trade unions to expel fascists.
US Unions are busily welcoming the election of a President who makes no pretence to be part of the workers movement. In this country we notionally have a “Labour” Party – but our unions cannot get that Party in Government to take even modest steps to assist us.
This is a serious problem and it is getting worse rather than better.
UNISON has condemned Ed Balls, Children’s Minister for his attack on the London Living Wage.
Since Tory Mayor Johnson has been forced to continue to support the London Living Wage – introduced by Ken Livingstone under pressure from London Citizens – it is ironic at the least that a Labour Minister is attacking this progressive policy.
It’s good to see UNISON speaking out on an issue of importance to Londoners, and particularly noteworthy that this is being led by our General Secretary at national level.
UNISON activists in the Region will be waiting to hear what is being done about this at Regional level and how our Regional office will work to build a constructive relationship with London Citizens in the interests of our members and all Londoners.
We are going to agree not to take further action and we expect the employers to agree to implement the arbitrators decision.
Since this is precisely what binding arbitration means it is difficult to view this development as progress in any meaningful sense.
At least we are getting the 2.45% before Christmas.
Try not to spend the back pay all at once folks!
I can’t decide whether I am watching this because a competition between two fairly right-wing parties neither linked to the organised working class is a vision of our future (or perhaps our present), or because the probable election of a charismatic liberal candidate from an ethnic minority background reminds me of one of my favourite TV programmes.
Thus far the viewing is not yet gripping...
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
However, as others are pointing out, there are other amendments being debated, all of which would in one way or another weaken the constraints on the taking of lawful industrial action. These are all pretty modest.
Preventing employers seeking injunctions for technical breaches of industrial action balloting requirements if they have failed to cooperate with related information requests would level the playing field just a bit.
Tightening restrictions on the use of agency workers to strike break would even things up very slightly (since of course we cannot lawfully call out our colleagues who are already agency workers, we just have to rely on the best of them to respect picket lines).
Making it harder for employers to sack strikers – and giving workers the right to reinstatement if sacked in these circumstances would also moderate just slightly the imbalance in power between employer and employee – and help to address the breaches of international human rights treaties in current UK law.
The United Campaign have issued very straightforward briefings. MPs who support trade unionism will back these amendments to the Employment Bill.
Those who vote against will not deserve the support of trade unionists in any future election.
Barnet call it "future shape" but what it seems to be is an abandonment of direct public service provision (an essentially nineteenth century model).
The trade union rally takes place on Tuesday 11 November 2008 in Conference Room 1, Building 2, North London Business Park at 7pm.
This is a meeting which will be worth a journey into the wilds of North London!
Speakers will include Dexter Whitfield of the European Services Strategy Unit, Nigel Behan from Somerset UNISON and Barnet UNISON Branch Secretary John Burgess.
Whilst the ideology underpinning privatisation has been completely discredited that doesn’t mean that our politicians will easily abandon an approach to public services which opens up new opportunities to make profits from public funds.
Barnet’s meeting is a fine example of the sort of joint union campaigning which is needed. Any UNISON – indeed any union – activist (or official) who can get to Barnet next Tuesday evening should do so. (Unless you are already going to be somewhere else...)
The odious Alan Duncan has pleased the management stooges at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) with an attack on the employment tribunal system.
Duncan thinks it is too easy for workers to get into the employment tribunals. He also seems to think that the tribunals never award costs against an unsuccesful claimant, proving I suppose that Cameron hasn’t stopped the Tories being “the stupid party.” Since 2001 tribunals have had powers to award costs if a party - or his/her representative - has acted "vexatiously, abusively, disruptively or otherwise unreasonably, or the bringing or conducting of the proceedings by a party has been misconceived”.
The CIPD jokers reckon that employers should behave well because it is good for business and not because they are required to do so by regulations. This only goes to show that pretend academic disciplines such as “Human Resource Management” aren’t good for developing intellectual rigour. There are different approaches to management out there in the world and plenty of employers are maximising profits by attacking the interests of their workforce without reference to CIPD notions of “good practice.”
There are good employers and good managers out there who want to do right by their workforce in spite of operating within a system that works in the opposite direction– but there are plenty of the other sort of employers, managers (and HR professionals!) out there. I encounter them regularly – and if you are a Union activist or officer doing your job then you do too.
The problem with employment tribunals is not that it is too easy to get access to them but that it is too difficult for workers to get access to the advice and representation that they need to enforce their rights against hostile employers.
Workplace organisation, backed up where necessary by industrial action, is a better guarantee of our rights than litigation, but workers need the capacity to enforce our legal rights. In UNISON we need to reconsider the overly cautious approach to bringing tribunal applications about which I have blogged before.
Under any Government we need unions which will use every tool to defend our members.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
My recent silence is attributable to pressure of work in the branch, where the daily grind of redundancy threats, disciplinary hearings and random general nonsense is as normal and a bit moreso.
Much as I am always inclined to defend workers facing disciplinary action for a daft mistake it is hard to work up sympathy for celebrities who earn telephone number salaries when local government workers can lose their jobs for misdemeanours which have nothing whatsoever to do with our work.
The latest purge from employment of those who have misused “Blue Badges” (disabled parking permits) seems to me very objectionable. Using such a permit when you ought not is a serious matter and if you are caught doing so you can be prosecuted and get a criminal record and a fine of up to £1,000 for each offence. Fair enough if you’re guilty.
But if you are a local government worker you can find that as well as that you will face disciplinary action at work and could well lose your job (and then try getting another job in local government in a hurry when you have been sacked for gross misconduct!) Other public service workers may be prosecuted but won’t necessarily face the sack as well.
Increasingly local government workers are subject to “Codes of Conduct” which seek to police every area of our lives, way beyond the legitimate interest of the employer in matters which might be thought to have a bearing on our contract of employment.
A million miles from the limelight in which Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross will remain (earning millions) in spite of misbehaviour which would have got them sacked where I work, people are being thrown out of employment for wrongdoing which has nothing to do with their work.
Friday, October 24, 2008
The Government's rigid imposition of its 2% pay limit on its own direct employees contrasts with the slightly less enthusiastic observance of the limit elsewhere in the public sector.
However, all public sector workers would doubtless be better off if our leaders had shown the same consistent enthusiasm for joint strike action which has been shown by PCS. With the exception of Higher Education workers we have all seen our pay cut in real terms in 2008.
Investing in higher pay for public servants would reflate the economy and help combat the recession, but somehow I doubt that is going to be top of the Government's “to do” list unless we do much more to put it there.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
However I was present for the contribution of Richard Ascough, Secretary of the GMB Southern Region.
Clearly there is some thought being given to a UNISON-GMB merger, although perhaps GMB are just on the rebound and are only doing it to make UNITE jealous...
There is no overwhelming industrial logic to a merger outside local government, but within local government the logic is so compelling that it seems mad not to pursue this possibility.
I do wonder though - if we are going to go for massive "super unions" whether we might not be better merging UNISON, GMB and UNITE and getting it all done at once?
We could call the new union VERDI?
Or maybe not...
Paul Kenny, a man of many parts as Londoners who do not know soon will, has a fine track record of dancing with UNISON NEC members. What sort of dance is he inviting us all to now? And is he offering to cook us breakfast?
Watch this space.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
As the BBC link above says; “the alternative comedy movement of the 1980s provided the perfect home for his anti-Thatcher material, (Oooh! Little bit of politics there)” and, since the economy seems to be heading back to the 80s I’ll add a little bit of politics to the blog in honour of those memories, and in the context of the continuing debate about UNISON’s political funds.
Trade unions – about which I am normally droning on here – are pretty much a consistent feature of every developed capitalist economy. As workers in a society where everyone is supposed to be pursuing their own interests we generally manage to work out that we are stronger together in the workplace.
It’s a small leap from there to realise that we need political influence for our interests as workers beyond the workplace also – not least since the law isn’t on our side.
In this country, a little over a hundred years ago, the original Labour Representation Committee became the Labour Party, the peculiar British manifestation of social democracy, with a federal structure and a very particular organisational link to trade unionism.
Ever since, socialists in the trade unions have faced the dilemma of how to relate to a political party which has generally commanded the support of working people whilst, when in office, frequently betraying or attacking us in return for that support.
Some socialists who were in at the start left pretty much straight away, whilst others left in the 30s. Some tried to affiliate and weren’t allowed in, and others were witch hunted out. In the mean time socialists within the Labour Party have organised in one way or another over the years – and continue to do so.
Anyone active in trade unions will have experienced the debate between those within and without the Labour Party from time to time. This debate has become more acute under New Labour, whose leaders generally revel in their hostility to trade unionism.
Certainly, now more than ever, we need trade unions to speak up for the interests of our members – as I think the UNISON NEC did over the financial crisis. This will require trade unions to be prepared to be assertive in promoting independently the interests of our members. This won’t be achieved by an approach which celebrates the illusion of influence over Government Ministers.
I have a very great deal of sympathy for some of those, particularly in unions not affiliated to the Labour Party, who want to see the development of a political party which would represent the interests of working people in the way in which our Party in Government hardly has.
I also understand why some of those elected to senior positions in the Labour Party, or even in the Parliamentary Labour Party itself cease to stomach what Liz Davies called the “cult like atmosphere” of New Labour. It must be much easier to remain in the same political party as most of the present Government if you never have to meet them!
However, there is no immediate prospect of a serious political alternative to the left of the Labour Party, nor is there any evidence that those socialists who have left the Labour Party in the past twenty five years (whether voluntarily or otherwise) have made the emergence of such an alternative any more likely by their departure.
I know that to many of my friends and comrades in the unions the idea that I believe in working for socialism as a Labour Party member is almost laughable. I certainly agree it’s a long shot – but no longer than the alternative dream of a “new workers Party” (in any of its variants).
The truth is – sadly – that the only honest answer to the question of how we achieve lasting political progress towards socialism (in the long term interests of trade union members) is “I don’t know.” What I do know is that socialists should be active trade unionists and need to work together. In this way we can all maximise our usefulness in the struggles out of which we may find an answer to that question.
The contribution which those of us who are in the Labour Party can make to such joint working depends upon our being serious about our own politics. To secure a political voice for working people we need to reconstitute a Labour Party – we cannot do this by working exclusively with those inside the Party, but we cannot do it from outside either.
I would like to think that the forthcoming review of UNISON’s political fund will be an occasion for some serious thought about these questions. After all, every socialist who holds a Labour Party card has to be an optimist…
Friday, October 17, 2008
After all, the reason why we are welcoming the interim payment of a pay offer against which we took strike action, more than six months after it was due, is that we don’t know how long it will be before we get the outcome of the award from the arbitrators to whom we decided to refer the claim. By the time we have settled the 2008 pay claim it will be time to be considering how to fight for fair pay in 2009.
So, as well as considering what the pay claim for 2009 ought to be, the time is right now to start thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of what we have done in 2008 – and how we might do better in future. And I’ll blog about that just as soon as I have worked out what to spend my 2.45% on…
Sunday, October 12, 2008
The meeting commenced with a lengthy and thorough report on Equal Pay with reference to the recent decisions of the Court of Appeal in the Allen and Bainbridge cases. Given the scale of litigation around this subject I will not report further here – at the request of NEC members, further official guidance will be issued shortly (and for those local government branches involved in Single Status negotiations there will be another Regional briefing session soon). Up to date guidance is available online via the main Equal Pay page at http://www.unison.org.uk/equalpay/index.asp.
The meeting received an update on public sector pay negotiations from the Deputy General Secretary which provided a factual update on the current state of play. In response to a question which had been raised with me by a branch I asked about whether branches involved in the NJC pay dispute could approach their employer for payment now “on account” of the 2.45% offer pending the outcome of the arbitration (as this may not be known before Christmas). It was confirmed by the Chair of the Service Group, Chris Tansley, that it was acceptable for branches to do this and that a similar request had been made nationally but no publicity had been issued about that request so as to avoid raising expectations. Local Government branches may wish to discuss coordinating such requests to employers.
Keith Sonnet also introduced a report on the Local Government Pension Scheme – including the news that on the 25 September there was a dramatic development
with the Association of Local Authority Advisors (ALAMA) issuing advice to its members
saying that, in their view, the certification test for medical retirement under the new scheme falls outside their competence. They are
advising members that any decision could be open to challenge. Effectively ALAMA
has now withdrawn its work as medical advisor to the LGPS!
The NEC received a report on the review of the effectiveness of our Political Funds, agreed by Conference when it passed Motion 63 as amended. This is being led by the (wonderfully titled) “Objective 3 Scrutiny Group” which was established to lead the last review of the Political Funds. The final report of this review will go to Conference in 2010 and initially research is to be undertaken on the political engagement of trade unions and survey of UNISON members and activists.
A report was also received on the new Head Office for UNISON, costs for which have risen recently. By December (when the NEC next meets) there should be greater certainty about the costs of this project.
The General Secretary, under his report, asked the NEC to endorse a statement on the financial crisis which had been agreed by the Policy Committee the previous day. The full statement, which was endorsed unanimously, can be read online here http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=4884. It was agreed that members would expect UNISON to make demands of a Government which was able to set aside hundreds of billions of pounds to bail out the banking industry but which could not find the funds for public services.
As the NEC statement rightly says; “thirty years of deregulation, privatisation, financialisation, tax-cutting and tax-evasion have resulted in an unprecedented widening of inequality and concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, and a massive burden of risk transferred to the many. The neo-liberal era has ended in failure. We need now to begin to rebalance our monetary and fiscal framework, our system of taxation, our regulatory regimes and our overall pattern of investment and economic development.”
I pointed out that since no mainstream political party was currently willing to express an alternative to the failing “neoliberal” economic policy consensus, it was up to the trade unions to set out such an alternative. Obviously we also need to campaign around this statement. We were assured that the Union nationally would be sending this statement to Members of Parliament. Branches should also circulate the statement to their members and encourage members to write to their local MP to ask that they support our Union's demands. Members can access details of their MP (and contact them electronically) at http://www.writetothem.com/.
Branches could also organise meetings to discuss the statement and to invite speakers to explain the crisis and the alternative which UNISON supports. Delegates who attended the Regional Council on the following day will have heard UNISON MP Jeremy Corbyn promising to pursue support for this statement in the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn reported to the Regional Council that there will be a meeting at the House of Commons organised by the Left Economics Advisory Panel on the evening of Monday 13 October at which UNISON MP Kelvin Hopkins will be speaking – details of that meeting are available online at http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/#econ. The meeting is open to the public and will take place at 7.30pm in Committee Room 10 at the House of Commons (if you are thinking of attending it is worth getting along a bit early to get through the security checks).
The General Secretary went on to report from a meeting of the TUC Public Service Liaison Group on the previous day, which had begun to consider how to better coordinate public sector pay negotiations. This discussion, including the possibility of unified public sector pay negotiations directly with the Government will be pursued further at a meeting of all public sector unions in mid November. It was reported that the national demonstration which had been agreed by the TUC at UNISON's request will take place early in the spring. My personal view – which I expressed – was that we had made a mistake last year in focusing on building unity only sector by sector (an initiative which failed in our largest service groups this year).
Whilst our members are certainly very unhappy at real terms pay cuts we all know how difficult it is to win support for the industrial action which is clearly necessary if we are to stop the attack on our living standards. In my view, united action across the public sector (on the basis of a “coalition of the willing” of unions who are prepared to take action) could shift the Government and could secure the support of our members for action. It is a shame that UNISON has not been willing or able to achieve such unity over the past year. Our members are paying the price for this failure.
The General Secretary invited the Chair of UNISON's Labour Link Committee to give a report from UNISON's intervention at Labour Party Conference. The meeting was entertained with a list of fringe meetings attended and UNISON speakers. Some other NEC members were not persuaded that UNISON had achieved the significant progress which had been reported to the meeting.
If any branches have any questions or would like to have a personal report to your branch or Branch Committee please get in touch to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee met on Tuesday 7 October ahead of the meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) the following day.
The Head of Recruitment introduced the latest recruitment statistics. UNISON's projected annual recruitment rate is 1.2% (which compares with the GMB rate of 2.5%) this varies considerably between Regions.
The Committee then considered a report from our Head of Recruitment (Alan Kerr) and academic Jeremy Waddington on a survey of UNISON members to assess the impact of our national organising and recruitment plan on recruitment.
The main reason people join the Union is to have support at work should a problem arise – and so it is encouraging that member satisfaction with representation has increased since the last survey in 2002. Interestingly over a third of members report that they have joined UNISON on their own initiative (without being asked) and another 40% join on the recommendations of friends or colleagues – the proportion of members recruited by shop stewards is far smaller.
The Committee was recommended to agree that each Region works proactively with a small number of branches who are motivated to grow in order to develop new approaches. Further surveys of how recommendations from colleagues lead to members joining the Union are to be undertaken in order to support a “marketing strategy” of advertising which raises the profile of the Union in order to support and encourage recruitment by personal recommendation and individual initiative. At long last – in the next few months – it will be possible to join UNISON online.
After years of being told that the “organising approach” meant an exclusive focus on recruitment and dedicated training to get shop stewards out there to recruit, it is refreshing that we are getting back to a common sense approach which says that doing good trade union work – and making sure that members and potential members are aware of this – is the basis upon which we can build effective recruitment. Kate Ahrens, health service NEC member reported that the positive recruitment experience in East Midlands health was based upon the Region deliberately organising on the basis of large geographical health branches. Moz Greenshields from the East Midlands made the point that the Region also makes good use of its Regional pool money to support this work. Lessons for the Greater London Region are pretty clear.
The Head of the Membership Participation Unit introduced a report to the Committee dealing with UNISON's three projects funded through the Union Modernisation Fund. All of these are sensible attempts to use this limited Government support to achieve long term benefits for the Union. The first is to develop the role of Equality Reps. The second is to develop “virtual branches.” The third is to develop the participation of migrant workers.
I asked about the role of Equality Reps in relation to self-organisation and was assured that the self-organised groups have been and will be fully involved in that project, which is likely to lead to a Rule Amendment to next year's Conference.
The Committee then moved on to consider the survey of delegates to National Delegate Conference and the Scheme of Representation for next year's Conference. Next year registration of delegates for Conference (and submission of motions) will be possible online – and this should highlight any problems in the composition of delegations at an early stage.
As always there was a fairly lively debate about this scheme and several NEC members proposed ways in which the scheme could be a little more flexible for branches – in particular around the question of whether delegates should be permitted to count in more than one “fair representation” category (for example a young worker who is also low paid be part of a four delegate delegation and by their presence satisfy both the requirement that the branch send a low paid delegate and the requirement to send a young delegate).
I challenged the suggestion that such “doubling up” should not be permitted and also supported those who were arguing that the requirement to send a low paid delegate should be a requirement to send a low paid worker who could be either male or female. The broad thrust of comments from Regions were to call for some greater flexibility.
I felt that the new proposal that the branches of more than 2,000 - who have to send a low paid delegate – would not be permitted to satisfy that requirement by sending a low paid man – was overly restrictive. However my attempt to amend this was unsuccessful and the committee went on to agree a scheme which is essentially similar to the scheme as it applied last year.
Interestingly, it was reported that in most other Regions, branches appealing against decisions to disqualify delegates are generally having their appeals upheld. Branches electing Conference delegates need to consider how to apply the requirements of the Scheme of Representation in the particular circumstances of your branch.
The Committee received a presentation on current work by UNISON's Learning and Organising Services, including a diagram which illustrates training courses available to activists and which bears more than a passing resemblance to the London Underground map (!)
The Committee was updated on the introduction in January of branch and regional joint assessments (about which the committee had received a detailed written report at its July meeting) and also on the review of Service Groups (about which Frank Hont, North West Regional Secretary also gave a presentation to NEC members later in the day). The Project Board had received feedback from service groups on the proposals which had been considered in July.
The Local Government Service group favoured “option one” (the minimal change option), the Health Service group favoured “gradual” change rather than a “big bang” approach. Generally the smaller service groups (and the Community and Voluntary sector forum) were more sympathetic to “option three” (the abolition of Service Groups and the move to a sector based structure). The process of consultation is continuing – I argued that there was no reason to rush towards agreeing fundamental changes at next year's Conference.
Branches should be aware that there will be a process of consultation about our Service Group structures in which branches and Regions will be asked to express opinions in the near future. If any branches would like any assistance in organising meetings to discuss this review I will be happy to give any help that I can.
It was reported to the Committee that the Committee Chair had endorsed the new version of the Code of Good Branch Practice as “Chair's action” without awaiting a meeting of the Committee itself. I felt that this was inappropriate, particularly since not all of the changes had been discussed by the Committee or the NEC. However a majority of the Committee were happy – and voted that in future year's the annual revision of the Code should be carried out by the Committee Chair on our behalf.
The Committee also endorsed recommendations concerning transitional arrangements for the implementation of the new Rule D.3.5.8 which prohibits NEC members elected to represent a Service Group from also occupying any other seats on their Service Group Executive. It has been agreed that from 2011, SGE members who wish to seek election to the Service Group seat on the NEC will need to stand down from the SGE before they are eligible to be nominated to the NEC. I proposed an amendment to this recommendation without success. There is however time to reconsider this before the decision will take effect (and – of course – it won't matter if we abolish Service Groups in the mean time!) If any London branches are particularly concerned about this issue please get in touch.
Following the regular report on branches under Regional Supervision (none of which are in the Greater London Region at present) the Committee received a briefing on the campaign around Clause 18 of the Employment Bill, which has been amended in the House of Lords in such a way as to make it much harder for unions to expel fascists. Details of the postcard campaign which is being supported by UNISON are available online at http://www.unitedcampaign.org.uk/employmentbill.html.
The Chair reported that the Vice-Chair, on his behalf, had agreed an interpretation of the application of Schedule D to the Rule Book in cases covered by Appendix 2 to the Rule Book (involving allegations of harassment of staff by a member). This was the only “Chair's action” (other than that reported separately in relation to the Code of Good Branch Practice) and – in response to requests from members – I sought and received an assurance that no Chair's action had been taken in relation to any branch in Greater London.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
I will briefly comment that I was pleased that yesterday's meeting adopted a positive and progressive policy statement in response to the current financial crisis.
The “part nationalisation” of some of the largest financial institutions is not intended in any way to subject the “commanding heights of the economy” to any sort of democratic control – on the contrary the Government is just trying to prop up the financial system so that it can carry on as before.
UNISON is right to point out that if so many billions are available to support the financiers then there is a strong case to end the public sector pay freeze, and to “bail out” those who face fuel poverty and repossession. Even if they don't get their exorbitant bonuses, none of the bankers who have grown even richer on the back of dodgy lending will be worrying whether they can afford to put their heating on this winter!
In the absence of a mainstream political party of the left, it is up to the trade unions to express the interests of our members in this crisis – we should be meeting at branch level to discuss the NEC statement and how we take forward a campaign for the sensible demands which it sets out.
New Labour economics is over.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
8th October 2008
26,000 GMB SCOTLAND MEMBERS IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT TO BE BALLOTED OVER COSLA’s LATEST 3% PAY OFFER WITH A RECOMMENDATION TO REJECT IT
GMB representatives did not like the reintroduction of a second year and still want to see a single year deal. They also think 3% is too low.
GMB Scotland is recommending that its 26,000 members should reject the Local Government Employers’ latest offer in the current pay dispute. The latest Offer of 3% for 2008 and 2.5% for 2009 was made by the Employers’ at a meeting with the Trade Unions on Thursday, 2nd October 2008.
GMB Scotland delegates met yesterday (Tuesday, 7th October) in Glasgow to consider the offer. They decided that they would recommend to GMB’s members that the offer should be rejected by GMB Scotland members.
GMB Scotland will be balloting all members on the COSLA offer over the next four to five weeks.
Alex McLuckie, GMB Scotland’s Senior Organiser for Public Services said, “GMB shop stewards, representing 26,000 GMB members, considered this offer yesterday. They felt it did not go far enough and does not resolve the dispute for them. GMB representatives did not like the reintroduction of a second year and still want to see a single year deal.
They also believe that given the high levels of inflation that the 3% would need to increase to reflect the significant increase they are seeing in the cost of living”.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Our Union rightly devotes great energy to the overt offensive racism of the BNP and I wholeheartedly support all attempts to drive them back into the sewers where they belong.
However, for many of our black members it is the everyday experience of institutional racism in the workplace which is the problem the Union needs to confront.
And it is tricky.
Way back I guess it was easier to see the problem. In Lambeth – where I work – the Council workforce in 1981 was 90% white. In the 1980s when believing in equality marked you out as part of the “loony left” a vigorous approach to equality locally changed the composition of the Council workforce so that it was about 50/50 black and white.
Back in the early 90s, when the gains of the 80s were first under attack, the employer used to get very angry when accused of institutional racism – but for the last ten years or so the employer has adopted a more sophisticated response of hand-wringing. They cannot ignore evidence that white workers do better than black workers in recruitment and promotion and that black workers are more likely than white workers to be on the receiving end of disciplinary action.
When told that they are institutionally racist many large organisations will now say “yes, I know, isn't it awful, what shall we do about it?”
They cannot deny the problem because research which they themselves commissioned back in the 90s comprehensively demonstrated the tenacity of racism in the workplace. A few years later one local authority spent a six figure sum on an inquiry which looked in considerable detail at a particular instance of workplace conflict which included elements of institutional racism.
Since I know a few fellow union activists read this blog I would welcome suggestions about how we try to expose and uproot this institutional racism. Back when UNISON activists could lodge tribunal complaints we tried to use individual litigation to confront this collective problem and I think we ran up against the limits of individual legal action pretty quickly. The Hackney branch once put a lot of energy into getting the former Commission for Racial Equality to investigate their lead employer and I am not sure that that really achieved sustained change either.
What is to be done?
Sunday, October 05, 2008
UNISON has just reissued the Code of Good Branch Practice (the link is to a pdf version of the revised Code.
The Code is a significant document which, under UNISON’s Rules, the NEC is empowered to issue.
Of course the Code itself does not have the force of the Rules – it is more like guidelines…
It is to be reported to Tuesday’s meeting of the NEC Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee that the revised Code incorporates the following new elements;
4 week rule – decision by 2008 National Delegate Conference;
Exclusion or Expulsion from membership – D&O approved guidance;
Framework for Joint Branch Region Assessments – D&O decision;
Amendments to reflect changes to region’s organising staff structure “Meeting the Organising Challenge”;
Use of IT Equipment – guidance arising from recent investigations;
Funding branch delegates to conferences – D&O approved guidance;
Meeting members’ expenses arising from ”external” disciplinary hearings – clarification of responsibility;
Branch employed staff – clarifying employer obligations and referring to XpertHR scheme.
It is clearly important that the Code is kept up to date. However I am a little concerned that these changes have all been agreed by “Chair’s Action” a provision whereby urgent matters requiring the decision of a Committee may be taken by the Chair between meetings.
I may be overly sceptical and cynical (and only recently I was savaged by a dead sheep for the perceived injustice of some criticisms I had made) but I worry about lay leadership in an organisation where the routine updating of an important document is not put before the relevant lay Committee.
I shall report back on the answers I am given to the questions which this raises.
For those lucky few who are as fascinated as I am by trade union Rule Books, I’ll comment in advance on a discussion which is due to come up about the introduction of the new UNISON Rule D.3.5.8. which seeks to apply to UNISON's Service Groups a principle which you might call OMOS (One Member One Seat).
The new rule D 3.5.8 is as follows:
‘No member who holds a seat on the National Executive Council as a service group representative under Rule D.2.3 can hold any other seat on a service group executive at the same time’
The intention of this Rule amendment seems to be to ensure that no one holds two voting seats on a Service Group Executive (SGE) at the same time. Like any measure which restricts the rights of candidates to stand in elections it is open to the objection that it equally restricts the right of members to vote for whomsoever they want in an election.
However, Conference agreed this Rule. I have a deal of sympathy with trying to prevent individuals occupying more than one role at the same meeting. It can create confusion about accountability – but more importantly it limits the number of active members who are involved in the Union.
A few years ago, whilst a serving member of the NEC, I was prevailed upon to run for Regional Convenor. The Regional Council thought better of this idea, and I think it’s always worth learning from experience – I think on reflection that it was wrong to try to occupy both positions as an NEC member and Regional Convenor.
Since reaching this conclusion I have not sought election to the Regional Committee (noting apart from anything else that it is not always those with votes at a meeting who most influence its decisions!) There is a wealth of talent in our Union and plenty of people available to contest seats on the Regional Committee.
Although there is a difference between the position of Regional NEC members on their Regional Committee and Service Group members on their SGE – in that Regional members of the NEC don’t have a vote at the Regional Committee, it still limits participation in the Region if NEC members hold other positions as well on a Committee they are already entitled to attend.
Perhaps at next year’s Conference we should consider making the Rules on Regional NEC members consistent with those we have now adopted for Service Group members?
The D&O Committee this week will also need to decide how to bring the new Rules into effect – and what the implications should be for sitting members of an SGE who want to seek election to a Service Group seat on the NEC – should they be required to resign their seat on the SGE before seeking election to the NEC?
I don’t think so – but would welcome the views of interested UNISON members (particularly in the Greater London Region of course!)
Friday, October 03, 2008
Forgetting foolish faith in reopener clauses (which clearly do not work) any multi-year pay deal is a significant risk. Going into a recession I suppose it is likely that inflation will now come down, although whether it will fall fast enough to stop 2.5% in 2009 being a real terms pay cut (just as 3% in 2008 is) remains to be seen.
As far as UNISON members are concerned we do seem to be coming to the end of a pay round in which, whilst we may have defeated the straw man of the 2% pay policy, we have failed to protect the living standards of our members, whose pay rises are falling behind inflation.
I think that the 2% pay policy is pretty irrelevant since I understand that whereas in previous years some efforts were made to induce the local government employers to abide by it, there is no evidence of any such pressure this year. I do therefore hope that we won’t – at next week’s UNISON NEC – be invited to pat ourselves on the back for defeating a pay policy which the Government did nothing to pursue.
If we are honest we need to recognise that the current approach of the Union leadership is not delivering pay increases for our members.
This failure to protect living standards in the most unionised sectors of the economy threatens to reduce the union wage differential. It certainly does nothing to build our Union.
Instead of complacency and silence I hope to hear an honest assessment of the weaknesses of our approach next week, and a serious attempt to consider what and how we need to change.
This is an example on my part of what is known as “optimism of the will” and it is counterposed, I think, to the view of the majority of my NEC colleagues which – when it comes to making judgements about the conduct of our Union in relation to pay (or privatisation, or our work in the Labour Party) is best characterised as Panglossianism.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
We are now (at the London UNISON United Left) considering the problem of the lack of democracy in the Greater London Region of UNISON. Now that a majority of the Regional Committee consist of members who are prepared to go along with whatever the office wants, and has conceded control of the agenda for the Regional Council to a small and malleable group, we face the frustration of a Regional UNISON machine which does not deliver for our members.
The decline in support for industrial action from the office over recent years is one manifestation of the consequences of this stifling of lay control. The current Regional Committee majority is not producing any positive outcomes for UNISON members in Greater London.
Those who write the speeches for the supporters of that majority believe that national strike action is pointless, but have consistently failed to come up with any constructive ideas to defend our members' interests. With public spending cuts on the horizon we need a Union with ideas to promote the interests of our members.
UNITE members in the health service are about to consider strike action against a pay deal which was more or less "sold" to UNISON members. When ordinary members in the health service had a say they elected members of the Service Group Executive who stood on a platform of fighting for our members - just as members nationally have recently elected Karen Reissman to the NEC.
Branches sending delegates to our Regional Council need to consider whether it is adequate to elect a leadership which is happy to go along with the failure to fight over pay and whether this will be a leadership that can mobilise our members to combat the job cuts which are now to come.
One contributor to the current debate at the United Left meeting has called for "Democratic" control of the Region (I don't think he meant Obama...) whilst another wit has wondered whether UNISON should move in the direction of the hereditary principle for our senior officials.
UNISON in Greater London has many strengths in our activists and our branches - when you look at the excellent work that is done in many of our branches it is clear that we could achieve a great deal across the city. Whether we do or not will depend upon how branches vote at the Regional Council.
My battery is failing now so this exciting experiment in live blogging from the London Region UNISON United Left will draw to a natural close...