Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Debating the pay offer in the health service

An interesting and informative debate is going on at the healthactivists email discussion group as active trade unionists in health service unions consider the current three year pay offer.

I was disappointed to hear that there is some concern within UNISON about the informed intervention in the debate by UNITE NEC member Gill George.

The interests of our members are now in the widest possible debate so that members can make an informed decision in the consultative ballot, a timetable for which is awaited...

Update on 1 May - thanks to the ever informative healthactivists group I understand that
the ballot will run from 16 May to 6 June, with anyone in membership by 3 June entitled to vote.

Deadline for Conference priorities

Tomorrow – 30 April – is the deadline for UNISON branches in Greater London to return your forms to express preferences for the Region’s priorities for debate at National Delegate Conference. Forms can be faxed to the Region on 020 7535 2105.

I have explained the prioritisation process before (at interminable length) and have suggested some personal favourites – whatever your views make sure your branch doesn’t miss out on the opportunity to influence what will (and will not) be debated at Conference in June.

UNISON NEC report to UNISON branches

Here is a copy of a report circulated to UNISON branches in the Greater London Region over the weekend. I was overjoyed (no seriously I was) to receive a new copy of the UNISON Branch Directory (containing up to date contact information for UNISON branches) on Saturday and will check if there are any branches who may have missed out when I get a chance – in the mean time here is the report;

(apologies to regular readers for the extent to which this repeats earlier posts on this blog!)

Personal report of NEC member to Greater London Region UNISON Branches April 2008

First of all, please let me offer my apologies for the delay in circulating my report from the April meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC), which took place before the Easter holidays. In this message I am sending you a report from the April meeting of the NEC as well as the earlier meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee.

Please feel free to circulate this report to your Branch Committee or to any UNISON members. If you would prefer not to receive personal NEC reports please let me know.

Report of Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee 8 April 08

The D&O Committee met primarily to discuss business for National Delegate Conference. We discussed the small number of Rule Amendments which have made it on to the agenda following the extreme diligence of our Standing Orders Committee. If anyone wants to know the policies adopted on any particular Rule Amendment please get in touch.

Of particular interest may be Rule Amendment 4, which the NEC is supporting, and which seeks to apply to Service Group Executives the principle that those who are elected to a Committee in one capacity ought not to be eligible to seek election to the same Committee in another capacity at the same time. This principle – if consistently applied – would help to maximise opportunities for participation in our Union for new activists.

There was some confusion about Rule Amendment 5 – from the National Disabled Members Committee – which, if passed by Conference, would create a position of Branch Disabled Members’ Officer ideally to be filled by a disabled member, as the officers seemed to think that the Amendment stated that the role would have to be filled by a disabled member or not be filled at all. This is not in fact what the Rule Amendment says and, after some debate at the Committee the eventual position is that the NEC is, happily in my view, supporting this Rule Amendment.

The NEC will also be supporting Rule Amendment 6 submitted by two branches in our own Region, which is the third consecutive attempt to persuade Conference to reduce the qualifying period of membership for access to legal assistance from thirteen weeks to four weeks. With union density below 50% in many of our lead employers there is a desperate need to recruit new members and reducing the qualifying period will help with this, strengthening the Union to the benefit of all our members. If any branches would like a speaker from the NEC to explain our policy of support for this very important Rule Amendment please contact any of your NEC members.

I am personally disappointed not only that the NEC will simply be opposing Rule Amendment 8, which seeks to regulate the discretion of the Chair of Conference in relation to the calling of card votes, but also that there appears to be no imaginative thought being given at present to how to avoid the problems which have arisen in recent years over contested calls for card votes.

The Committee also recommended policy to the NEC on those policy motions within its remit and suggested some amendments to motions on the Preliminary Agenda to go forward in the name of the NEC.

The other major item for discussion which arose at the Committee meeting related to a report which was not on the agenda for the Committee and, as it turned out, should not have been on any other agendas either. The Committee received a brief and not particularly informative report of the work currently underway following the decision of last year’s Conference in relation to the review of branch and service group structures.

This review is not being carried out by the NEC or by its relevant Committee but by a “Board” established by the D&O Committee last September. The lay members of the Board are Norma Stephenson, Jane Carolan, Tony Greive, Gerry Gallagher, Mike Hayes, Mike Kirby, Chris Tansley, Jean Geldart and Clare Williams, and the Board itself has established three project groups.

The first project group on branch structures includes the following lay members – Sue Highton, Gerry Gallagher and Clare Williams. It is working on a framework for joint branch/region assessments of the performance of branches, about which the D&O Committee received a further progress report, and also on a revised and simplified process for the creation, closure and merger of branches.

The second project group on branch finance and resources includes Mike Hayes (Chair of the NEC Finance and Resource Management (FRM) Committee) and is looking at a new format for annual financial returns, a revised audit process and guidelines to branches on honoraria payments and on the Regional pool.

The third group, identified as “potentially the most sensitive” is the project group on Service Group structures. The lay members involved in this group are Mike Kirby, Jean Geldart, Jane Carolan and Tony Grieve. The report received by the D&O Committee informed us that “fundamental questions remain around Service Group structures” but that the Board had agreed on 19 February that it was not enough to be asking questions at this stage and that “a variety of options are under consideration” and that “the Service Group Liaison Committee, Senior Management Group and Regional Convenors will be canvassed for their views.”

It appears that the report’s author was hiding the light of our Union under something of a bushel, since members of the Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE) meeting later that same week, had received a full report setting out three options for the future.

When it became clear that this report had been circulated SGE members were told to destroy it, so I can only speculate that the three options were;
A minimal change option;
A moderate change option reconfiguring Service Group structures by merging small Service groups and moving schools members out of Local Government into an “Education” Service Group and probation service members into a Service Group alongside Police Staff;
A maximum change option doing away with Service Group structures altogether and relying on “sectors” to do the bread and butter “terms and conditions” work of the Union.

With luck the unfortunate accident which led to the circulation of the full report to the Local Government SGE will mean that there is now an inclusive and transparent process of debate about the future structure of our Union which seeks to build a consensus through openness and respect for our activists. I will certainly expect to see an updated version of the full report at the next NEC meeting as will any other NEC members who are serious about the role and responsibility of our elected lay NEC.

National Executive Council Meeting 9 April 2008

The main item of business for this meeting was UNISON National Delegate Conference. The NEC therefore agreed its policy on most of the motions (and rule amendments) on the Preliminary Agenda, and agreed on the submission of Amendments. If any London UNISON branch (or member) wants details on the NEC policies on any particular Conference motion please get in touch – I will just touch on one or two items here.

The NEC has agreed to submit an amendment to Motion 11 on the Two Tier Workforce from Somerset County (which I think we should be aiming to debate at Conference) – I objected to various parts of the NEC amendment which appeared to me to water down the motion but the NEC agreed to press ahead. Should the motion be prioritised it will be up to Conference to decide whether to ask the NEC to do some work or to call upon the Government to do it instead…

I also objected (equally fruitlessly I fear) to the detail of an NEC amendment to Motion 16 on Campaigning on Pay from the Islington branch which seeks to delete reference to a national demonstration in favour of support for action called by the TUC and also deletes reference to inviting speakers from other unions (on the grounds – I was told – that we need to be meeting with our own members first of all).

For those who want to know why we should counterpose organising meetings of our own members and inviting speakers from other trade unions you’ll have to ask someone else, as I received no coherent explanation for the policy position then adopted by the NEC.I also took issue unsuccessfully with the decision of the Policy Committee to oppose Motion 37 from York City on Housing – which I fear that the NEC will indeed oppose at Conference because the motion opposes Local Housing Companies which, our Policy Committee felt “should not be ruled out at this early stage” – I was disappointed with this decision which I think reflects a lack of confidence in our position of support for public ownership and public sector housing provision.

In line with the precedent set last year, the NEC are proposing an amendment which radically redirects Motion 63 from the Bromley branch, the entertainingly (if somewhat misleadingly) titled “New Labour: What Do We Get for Our Money?” The amendment (put before us by the less entertainingly titled “Objective Three Scrutiny Group”) brings in reference to the Hayden Phillips Review of Party funding which is missing from the motion, but also suggests that all that might be wrong with the operation of our political funds are their “operations and functional processes” – whereas I think our problem is the political timidity which led to our nominating Gordon Brown for Labour Party Leader.

York City branch are also the movers of Motion 81 on Migrant workers which has attracted an NEC amendment which is largely sensible but which, to my regret, deletes reaffirmation of UNISON Conference policy in favour of an amnesty for illegal migrants. I would accept that it is better to use the preferred phrase “regularisation” rather than the word “amnesty” which we agreed at our Conference if someone could show me that this was getting us anywhere in terms of influencing the Government...

Debate on the NEC’s position on Motion 115 on the Branch Directory was somewhat curtailed by the announcement that a new Branch Directory will be with branches shortly. This has now come true (which just shows that wishes can come true...)

NEC Annual Report – Branch Funding and Equal Pay

There was some discussion about the NEC Annual Report (not least a query over the working title “Taking the Lead”) however the most important area of discussion concerned what the report has to say (and what we are doing) in relation to meeting the costs of the equal pay challenge, and the implications this may have for branch funding.

As you will be aware from previous reports, the Union faces very significant costs from mass litigation over equal pay following the implementation of job evaluation based pay structures intended to deliver equal pay for work of equal value in our largest service groups.Most of this cost arises where, for example, employers will not offer any, or enough, compensation for past loss to those members who are gaining from the implementation of new pay structures and who can in some cases, depending upon the gender profile of the relevant parts of the workforce, bring equal pay claims to seek back pay for up to six years.

Some of the cost also arises from cases being brought against UNISON (as against other trade unions) by “no win no fee” solicitors (who are also touting for business bringing some equal pay cases against employers in return for a good share of the compensation due to often low paid workers for past injustice). UNISON is solvent, with reasonable levels of financial reserves and is not running up large deficits (which is good news – but probably also encourages litigation against the Union). However, a need for adequate funding for litigation relating to equal pay has been identified repeatedly in recent years.

The NEC controls the Union’s finances but has to do so within the Union’s Rules. One such is Rule H.4.1 which states that National Delegate Conference (consisting as it does of delegates from branches) is the body to decide how branches are funded from our subscription income. A formula was agreed in 2001 which gives all branches a basic 20% of the income from their members’ subscriptions plus various additions, with a guarantee that, overall, no less than 23.5% of national subscription income will go to branch funding (including contributions to the Regional Pool funds to which branches can apply for additional funding for specific projects).

There has been a strong feeling within the Union that “all parts of the Union” should contribute to “meeting the financial costs of the equal pay challenge.” Therefore the Finance and Resource Management Committee of the NEC, at its meeting on 31 January, agreed the text of a motion to be submitted to National Delegate Conference from the NEC explaining the need for these resources and seeking the approval of Conference to “top slice” all budgets, including branch funding to take about 2.5% of subscription income for this purpose (a proposal which is being described as a “freeze” because it is based upon leaving cash payments to branches in 2008 at the 2007 level).

Unfortunately – because of the ease with which the no win no fee solicitors can access details of discussion and decisions from within official trade union meetings and Conferences (with a view to using them in litigation against the trade union) the Standing Orders Committees for all UNISON Conferences have been given legal advice not to permit on the agenda any discussion of equal pay, for fear that this will place the union in legal jeopardy. I have commented here before that I think that this overly cautious approach will create more and more problems for us as the years go by.

Advance notice of the likelihood of such an approach led the Finance Committee members, at the February meeting of the NEC, to agree not to proceed with the motion which they had been intending to recommend. Instead it was agreed to explain the proposal in the NEC Annual Report, about which delegates to Conference can ask questions (providing that they submit an initial written question before a published deadline and a further written supplementary question before a further deadline) but which is not generally subject to debate.

Meetings have been arranged around the Regions for Branch Treasurers in particular to be briefed on the proposals in relation to what is generally now described as the freeze on branch funding and this has become somewhat controversial. There is a meeting in the Greater London Region on Thursday 22 May at 2pm in Central London and branches should register their attendance with Helen Reynolds at Regional Office by 6 May. I strongly urge all branches to attend.

As you may have seen, the Worcester County branch have issued a couple of email circulars objecting to the proposal on several grounds.

As an aside – one of the arguments put forward by Worcester branch does not convince me (as I have explained to them in correspondence). I don’t think that the cost of building a new Headquarters building for the Union is an issue to raise in this context. It is certainly a valid and legitimate issue about which branches may wish to hold the NEC to account at Conference, but in the context of the current branch funding proposals it is a bit of a red herring (I will happily explain the reasons why I voted to support the proposal when the decision was taken in 2004 to any London UNISON branch – I covered this in a report to branches at the time).

Much more to the point, in my opinion, is the fact that our Rule Book simply does not allow the NEC to alter the basis of branch funding without an explicit Conference decision.
I raised concerns on this point in the discussion of the Annual Report at the NEC meeting, having given notice that I would. I argued that there was no other Rule of the Union which would allow the NEC to disregard Rule H.4.1 (having heard it suggested that Rule D.2.9.15 might do so) – on this point I was told that this had not been suggested.I went on to say that trying to use the Annual Report as a device for Conference to take a decision as would satisfy the requirements of Rule H.4.1 in relation to branch funding was not satisfactory since the Annual Report is not submitted in accordance with Rule P.17.2 (which covers NEC reports requiring decisions) but with Rule P.17.1 (which doesn’t).

Both the President and the General Secretary, in their different ways, said that this was “not a fait accompli” until Conference (those were the words of our President – Dave just said that if Conference refers back that section of the NEC Annual Report then “we won’t do it” – i.e. the changes in relation to branch funding will not be made).

Although this acceptance of Conference sovereignty is welcome it isn’t, in my opinion, good enough. The problem is not what would happen if Conference moved reference back of the report, since I believe what was said about that.

The problem would arise if Conference did not refer back the report, since it would still be highly arguable that no proper Conference decision had been taken to vary the 2001 formula on branch funding or its implementation and application.

It was suggested to me privately that the office has legal advice to the effect that the requirements of Rule H.4.1 are satisfied if an attempt to refer back a section of the Annual Report is unsuccessful, but I don’t think that this is an adequate approach to the governance of the Union. I am not the only one who is not persuaded.

I have spoken with the Glasgow City branch, who submitted a motion to Conference (which has been ruled out of order) – the Glasgow motion, endorsed by the UNISON Scottish Council, asks Conference to agree the proposals which the NEC Finance Committee want to implement.

Since there is a need to resource litigation on equal pay, and since it is reasonable to ask branches for a proportionate contribution to this, I think that the best outcome now would be if the Standing Orders Committee can change their mind about the Glasgow motion. Branch delegates could then decide whether or not they were persuaded of the NEC’s approach in accordance with our Rules.

If the Glasgow motion is not admitted to the agenda then the only option, not just for those who may disagree with the detail of the NEC approach, but also for those unwilling to set this precedent and allow the branch funding formula to be varied in this way, will be to move reference back of the relevant part of the Annual Report.

We may well know a little more about the decisions likely to be before Conference by 22 May, which provides another reason for branches to ensure that we are represented at the Greater London Region briefing.

Pay offers and pay disputes

As noted in the official report of the NEC meeting, the NEC also received reports on the state of play in relation to pay offers in our Service Groups. Branches will be familiar with the position in respect of your own service group.

In local government we are consulting members with a recommendation to reject an offer worth about 2.5% on the pay bill and offering most members 2.45%. In health we are consulting members without a recommendation on a three year offer which starts with 2.75%.

UNISON’s April bargaining report includes valuable information to share with members being consulted on pay offers;

“Average earnings growth is now forecast to be in the region of 3.8% in the first quarter of the year, but staying within sight of the 4% mark through the remainder of the year.”

“Inflation is forecast to run at 3.8% during the first quarter of 2008. It will fall throughout the remainder of the year, from 3.4% in the second quarter to 2.6% by the fourth quarter. The average for 2008 as a whole is forecast to run at 3.3%.”

Pay offers to our members at less than the rate of price inflation amount to a pay cut in real terms and – following the success of the strike action on 24 April by members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and University and College Union (UCU) – there is every prospect of unified public sector strike action over pay which can force the Government to back down on public sector pay restraint.

As Dave Prentis reminded the April NEC meeting, UNISON is supporting a TUC lobby of Parliament over public sector pay on 9 June. We could (and in my view should) be aiming to use that lobby as a stepping stone towards united public sector strike action.

A bit of politics...

There are those in our movement who think that the electoral chances of the Labour Party are more important than fighting for our members interests.

I don’t agree. I think the first job of trade unionists is to build the trade union movement as a tool we can use, as trade union members, to defend our collective interests. Political campaigning is subordinate to that.

However, for the next couple of days it is worth spending a bit of time persuading trade union members in London to use their votes on Thursday.

On the day that it is reported that Rome has elected a Mayor from the political far right, and with the threat of representation for the politics of hate in the London Assembly, we need to work to maximise the turnout on Thursday. Electoral support for the far right legitimises racism and homophobia and goes hand in hand with violent hate crime.

Although neither of the two candidates who can win the election for Mayor of London supports all of UNISON’s progressive policies – the present incumbent privatised the East London Line (in spite of trade union opposition) for example – there is nevertheless a very clear choice. We may be a long way from seeing every worker in the city earning the Mayor’s living wage – but at least we have a living wage target set by the Mayor to aim for.

With four lists, and two Mayoral candidates, to the left of Labour there’s lots more that could be said but not right now.

It’s time to get the vote out, stop the far right, and re-elect the least worst Mayor of London currently available.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The state of our unions on Workers Memorial Day

Workers Memorial Day is a day to remember those killed just for going to work – but I think it is also a day to reflect on the state of the movement which – through our campaigns – created every single legal protection for the health, safety and welfare of working people.

It’s a good day to be part of a growing global trade union movement which, even in this country, can mobilise mass strike action against Government inspired pay restraint and which still includes strategically placed workers who can wield significant industrial muscle.

Although both the splendid and entirely justified action at Grangemouth and the public sector pay disputes are defensive battles, the fact that they are being waged gives the lie to those in our ranks who think that our members will not fight.

There is only now a little over a week for UNISON members in local government to let our branches know how we feel about the offer of a real terms pay cut. A timetable for the consultation with members in health is now needed…

Friday, April 25, 2008

Yesterday and tomorrow

I haven’t had the chance to blog properly about this yet, having spent large chunks of today stuffing envelopes…

However, I have to say that yesterday’s strike action by members of the NUT, PCS and UCU unions was exhilarating.

Accompanied by my children, whose schools were closed for the day, I started out on a local demonstration of 400 strikers and supporters who marched from the Brixton site of Lambeth College, via the Town Hall, where the NUT were waiting, through the centre of Brixton.

From there we went to Lincoln’s Inn Fields to join the estimated 10,000 demonstrators who marched to Westminster, where less than a third of that number filled Central Hall to capacity.

I wish that everyone who doubts the confidence of our members to take strike action for fair pay could have heard thousands of teachers, lecturers and other public servants cheering the young teachers and lecturers – and the General Secretaries – who pledged to fight on for fair pay.

The case for a Central London rally and demonstration as part (only party) of a plan to focus media attention on strike action was also made quite unarguably – the evidence is here, here, here, here, here

A compelling case can be made against the Government’s public sector pay policy and against accepting below-inflation pay rises. Our members can be persuaded that this attack upon our living standards should be fought.

The debate must now turn to the strategy necessary to win this fight with the Government, starting with the campaign to reject unacceptable pay offers in health and local government.

How would it be if our next step was a two day strike involving, on either or both days, local government workers (north and south of the border), health workers, teachers, lecturers, civil servants? What if the decisions about the dispute were taken by the elected representatives of the strikers, cooperating across and between unions? Suppose we could make it clear to politicians that our continuing support for them was contingent upon their support for us?

These may be good questions. Now we need answers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Good luck to tomorrow's strikers

Good luck to teachers striking tomorrow, also to civil servants and college lecturers. Oh, and thousands of UNISON members in Birmingham too…

As we consult members about national pay offers in health and local government (both well below the Retail Price Index in the current year) UNISON activists could do worse than bear in mind the following information from the PCS website;

Food prices have increased by 7.4%
Petrol by 20.5%
Water by 5.5%
Gas by 12.9%
Electricity by 7.9%

There will be those who say they cannot afford to take strike action. It’s an old cliché, but – can we afford not to?


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Industrial disputes in local government

Although I represent the best and most important Region in UNISON on the National Executive, I do notice what happens elsewhere – in Birmingham for example, where business leaders have their knickers in a twist because UNISON members striking over the implementation of Single Status are coordinating their action with teachers, college lecturers and civil servants on Thursday.

On the same day in Leeds, refuse collectors in the GMB Union will be starting a work to rule following a one day strike over the same basic issue. In the mean time, in Glasgow, the Council is threatening job losses and appears to be blaming the costs of implementing their pay and grading review.

The underlying problem which unifies all these disputes is the problem of inadequate funding of public services. This problem calls for a unified – and unifying – response from the trade union movement, industrially and politically. That is what ought to be the most important topic of conversation at the coming round of Union Conferences.

Hat tip – this unofficial site.

Do they mean us?

A hat tip to the UNISON website for spotting the report from the (sometimes dodgy) New Local Government Network which reveals that a third of local government workers are due to retire in the next ten years and not enough people want to work in local government.

Rather worryingly, graduates apparently believe that the average local government worker is a slightly overweight middle-aged middle class white man in glasses. This is of course inaccurate in a number of respects – and even I don’t meet all of those criteria! (Obviously there will be a small prize for the UNISON Branch Secretary in Greater London who most closely meets this stereotype…)

In fact, low pay is a significant problem in local government, amongst our majority female workforce – part of the reason why equal pay is a central concern for our Union.

Having just published (and responded to) an ill-informed hostile comment on another post having a go at us local government workers, I am particularly keen that we get the truth out there.

While a misleading image of local government workers may worsen recruitment problems it also helps our employers and the Government when it comes to holding down our pay.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Three days until the start of the fight for fair pay for public servants in 2008

Knowing first hand that a number of parents have missed the news that many schools will be closed on Thursday by the NUT strike action, I am pleased to see this getting some coverage.

Striking alongside members of PCS and UCU, NUT members will be opening this year’s public sector pay fight. UNISON members in health and local government now have the opportunity to decide to join in.

We need to mobilise support for Thursday’s action (and do all we can to help) and win the argument for action among our own members. We need to develop plans for effective and achievable industrial action, and articulate a progressive policy alternative to the reactionary approach of holding down the pay of public servants.

We have to get beyond the argument of “don’t we work hard and deserve more money” (although we do and we do) and put a case for an economic policy which is based upon investment in services and the people who provide them. This is what we need from the TUC.

With plenty to do I am now happy to be going back to work this morning.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Back to work :(

Fairly typically, as a week's leave comes to an end, I am reminded that the reason I have 34 days paid leave (in addition to public holidays of course) is largely because of effective trade unionism.

I'm not sure that makes me feel better about going back to work...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Good Health, Conference

Best wishes to everyone gathering for UNISON Health Conference in Manchester. I would love to be there with you but the clash with the school holidays this year makes it particularly difficult.

The most important question for debate has to be the pay offer recently made to health workers. A three year pay deal which starts out below the rate of price inflation and looks set to stay there.

I hope I make it to next year's Health Conference, where I hope delegates will be looking back at how UNISON led a fight to break the Government's pay policy in 2008 and won our members an above inflation pay increase.

Don't you find that being on holiday puts you in a good and optmistic mood? I do.

Update on Sunday evening – here is where I’ll be going to look for updates on discussions about pay at Health Conference.

Update on Monday morning. Nick has posted a report from yesterday evening’s meeting of the Service Group Executive here – and I have commented a little upon it here.

Update on Monday evening.

I’m glad to see UNISON Health Conference is reaffirming our opposition to privatisation. I hope the message is getting through that the “change of tone” some in our Union have noticed from the Government since the change of Tone for Gordon is indeed “not enough.”

I am also following with interest the discussions leading up to tomorrow’s Conference debate upon the three year pay offer from the Government.

Update on Tuesday morning.

It is reported that the Conference may not now get to vote to express an opinion on the pay offer.

Let’s hope that the Conference gets to decide upon a recommendation to UNISON members...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Of pigs and pokes...

I am pleased to see the appalling three year pay offer to Scottish local government workers described as a “pig in a poke” on the UNISON website.

Not only is this an altogether better class of cliché than those normally deployed to describe bad pay offers, it is also a phrase for which I feel particular affection ever since my use of it in local negotiations caused amusement and concern on the part of colleagues in Human Resources none of whom knew what it meant (and who thought I was making some indescribably improper suggestion).

More to the point it is bang on the money. Buying a pig in a poke means purchasing something without looking at it – so you don’t know what you’ve got. To some extent all pay rises are like this because, whilst you know how much money you are awarded (in cash terms) you can only guess at what will happen to price inflation over the coming period (and therefore how much your pay will be worth “in real terms” between now and your next pay rise).

The longer the period covered by a pay settlement the greater the uncertainty about what the purchasing power of your income will actually be by the time you come to ask for another cost of living increase.

Employers, particularly in the public and voluntary sectors, are always going to have an incentive to go for multi-year pay deals. Even if these are not being used to try to limit pay by comparison with single year deals the employers gain some certainty about the largest item of their expenditure which makes it easier for them to budget.

Of course, if you are tied in to a multi-year pay deal as a worker you may also have certainty – but only about your income. In effect the employer has managed to shift some of the “risk” that prices will increase over the period of the pay settlement from their budgets to ours. Instead of having to consider staffing cuts in the third year the cuts that may have to be considered will be in our food, clothing, housing or holiday expenditure.

Unless and until the prices of the goods and services which we have to buy in order to live are fixed three years in advance why on earth should we be accepting pay deals over such a long period? The only basis for such a gamble is if you expect that things will get worse in the near future (the argument hinted at in relation to the offer to health workers in England and Wales.)

Scottish local government workers are being recommended to reject three annual 2.5% increases. This is right on two counts. First because the sum of money is just too small, secondly because multi-year pay deals are (other things being equal) worse than single year deals. The logic of this recommendation should apply generally throughout the Union.

How about united action, North and South of the Border, for decent pay for local government workers?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Service Group Executive elections

(This is one of those posts prepared and posted without using UNISON resources)

The elections to the Service Group Executives are upon us.

These are important elections for UNISON members.

With threats of real terms pay cuts across the board we need to elect people who are serious about a lay member led trade union that fights for its members.

In Greater London there are contested elections in local government and health.

In local government I will be voting for David Eggmore and Sonya Howard.

Were I a health worker I would put my cross beside the names of and Len Hockey and Janet Maiden.

All of these candidates from the left are also dedicated and committed activists with a proven track record of achievement.

If you are a UNISON member make sure you vote - and if you are a UNISON activist or shop steward make sure you remind your members. Remember not to use UNISON resources to campaign for or against any candidate - but branches are entitled to remind members if they nominated a particular candidate or candidates.

Good luck to all the candidates!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Annual Report, Branch Funding and Equal Pay...

As promised, if slightly later than I had intended, here is the remainder of my report from the NEC meeting yesterday in relation to the Annual Report.

Controversy around this document is unusual – on this occasion the argument is around the section of the Annual Report on Equal Pay, with specific reference to funding the costs of litigation on equal pay, and in particular the implications of this for branch funding.

Apologies in advance if this gets a little complicated.

The Union faces very significant costs from mass litigation over equal pay following the implementation of job evaluation based pay structures intended to deliver equal pay for work of equal value in our largest service groups.

Most of this cost arises where, for example, employers will not offer any, or enough, compensation for past loss to those members who are gaining from the implementation of new pay structures and who can in some cases, depending upon the gender profile of the relevant parts of the workforce, bring equal pay claims to seek back pay for up to six years.

Some of the cost also arises from cases being brought against UNISON (as against other trade unions) by “no win no fee” solicitors (who are also touting for business bringing some equal pay cases against employers in return for a good share of the compensation due to often low paid workers for past injustice). I’m trying here to write a measured post about an important issue so I won’t express my feelings for these characters (some of whom are former union lawyers, employing former union officials to attack our movement).

UNISON is solvent, with reasonable levels of financial reserves and is not running up large deficits (which is good news – but probably also encourages litigation against the Union). However, a need for adequate funding for litigation relating to equal pay has been identified repeatedly in recent years.

The NEC controls the Union’s finances but has to do so within the Union’s Rules. One Rule which is dear to the hearts of lay activists at branch level (the volunteers who keep the Union in existence from one day and one year to the next) is Rule H.4.1 which states that National Delegate Conference (consisting as it does of delegates from branches) is the body to decide how branches are funded from our subscription income. A formula was agreed in 2001 which gives all branches a basic 20% of the income from their members’ subscriptions plus various additions, with a guarantee that, overall, no less than 23.5% of national subscription income will go to branch funding (including contributions to the Regional Pool funds to which branches can apply for additional funding for specific projects).

There has been a strong feeling within the Union that “all parts of the Union” should contribute to “meeting the financial costs of the equal pay challenge.” Therefore the Finance and Resource Management Committee of the NEC, at its meeting on 31 January, agreed the text of a motion to be submitted to National Delegate Conference from the NEC explaining the need for these resources and seeking the approval of Conference to “top slice” all budgets, including branch funding to take about 2.5% of subscription income for this purpose (a proposal which is being described as a “freeze” because it is based upon leaving cash payments to branches in 2008 at the 2007 level).

Unfortunately – because of the ease with which the no win no fee solicitors can access details of discussion and decisions from within official trade union meetings and Conferences (with a view to using them in litigation against the trade union) the Standing Orders Committees for all UNISON Conferences have been given legal advice not to permit on the agenda any discussion of equal pay, for fear that this will place the union in legal jeopardy. I have commented here before that I think that this overly cautious approach will create more and more problems for us as the years go by.

Advance notice of the likelihood of such an approach led the Finance Committee members, at the February meeting of the NEC, to agree not to proceed with the motion which they had been intending to recommend. Instead (and this brings us back at last to yesterday’s meeting) it was agreed to explain the proposal in the NEC Annual Report, about which delegates to Conference can ask questions (providing that they submit an initial written question before a published deadline and a further written supplementary question before a further deadline) but which is not generally subject to debate.

Meetings have been arranged around the Regions for Branch Treasurers in particular to be briefed on the proposals in relation to what is generally now described as the freeze on branch funding and this has become somewhat controversial. The Worcester County branch have issued a couple of email circulars objecting to the proposal on several grounds.

As an aside – one of the arguments put forward by Worcester branch does not convince me (as I have explained to them in correspondence). I don’t think that the cost of building a new Headquarters building for the Union is an issue to raise in this context. It is certainly a valid and legitimate issue about which branches may wish to hold the NEC to account at Conference, but in the context of the current branch funding proposals it is a bit of a red herring (I will happily explain here the reasons why I voted to support the proposal when the decision was taken in 2004 if anyone is interested).

Much more to the point, in my opinion, is the fact that our Rule Book simply does not allow the NEC to alter the basis of branch funding without an explicit Conference decision. Worcester County branch have every right to raise this issue (as they do to query expenditure on the new HQ) and reported threats of disciplinary action for sending bulk emails to UNISON Branch Secretaries would be an absurd and counterproductive overreaction.

I raised concerns on this point in the discussion of the Annual Report at the NEC meeting, having given notice that I would. I argued that there was no other Rule of the Union which would allow the NEC to disregard Rule H.4.1 (having heard it suggested that Rule D.2.9.15 might do so) – on this point I was told that this had not been suggested.

I went on to say that trying to use the Annual Report as a device for Conference to take a decision as would satisfy the requirements of Rule H.4.1 in relation to branch funding was not satisfactory since the Annual Report is not submitted in accordance with Rule P.17.2 (which covers NEC reports requiring decisions) but with Rule P.17.1 (which doesn’t).

Both the President and the General Secretary, in their different ways, said that this was “not a fait accompli” until Conference (those were the words of our President – Dave just said that if Conference refers back that section of the NEC Annual Report then “we won’t do it” – i.e. the changes in relation to branch funding will not be made).

Although this acceptance of Conference sovereignty is welcome it isn’t, in my opinion, good enough. The problem is not what would happen if Conference moved reference back of the report, since I believe what was said about that. The problem would arise if Conference did not refer back the report, since it would still be highly arguable that no proper Conference decision had been taken to vary the 2001 formula on branch funding or its implementation and application.

It was suggested to me privately that the office has legal advice to the effect that the requirements of Rule H.4.1 are satisfied if an attempt to refer back a section of the Annual Report is unsuccessful, but I don’t think that this is an adequate approach to the governance of the Union. I am not the only one who is not persuaded.

I find myself in the company of the Glasgow City branch, who submitted a motion to Conference (which has been ruled out of order) – the Glasgow motion, endorsed by the Scottish Council a few days ago, asks Conference to agree the proposals which the NEC Finance Committee want to implement. Since there is a need to resource litigation on equal pay, and since it is reasonable to ask branches for a proportionate contribution to this, I think that the best outcome now would be if the Standing Orders Committee can change their mind about the Glasgow motion.

If this doesn’t happen then the foolish approach of banning ourselves from talking about equal pay for fear of hostile lawyers will have led us to what will almost certainly be the longest, least productive and most bad tempered discussion of the NEC Annual Report in the brief life of our trade union.

Watch this space…

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Other business from the UNISON NEC

I did say I would come back to today’s disagreement about the Annual Report at the meeting of UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC).

I think this warrants a properly considered post rather than something I write at midnight, so I’ll be back to this tomorrow.

The issue of contention was, as UNISON Branch Secretaries and Treasurers will certainly realise, the question of branch funding – and the implications for branch funding of proposals to establish a fighting fund to resource litigation on Equal Pay.

The other issue which has emerged this week concerns the future of UNISON’s Service Groups. A report which ought (we were told) never to have been sent to members of UNISON’s Local Government Service Group Executive was circulated in error. This provoked outrage in some quarters as it had not been sent to other Service Groups, let alone the NEC (some NEC members still harbour the illusion that they are running the trade union on the basis of a pedantic reading of Rule D.2.1).

So now everyone knows that a small working group have been considering three options, one which would see little change, one which would merge small service groups and transfer members in schools into an “education” service group, and one which would abolish our service group structures altogether and replace them with “sectors”.

Obviously no one showed me a copy of this report as all recipients (well all those with emails) were apparently told to destroy it as soon as it became clear that it had been circulated in error. Therefore everything I have to say is based upon informed speculation.

I speculate that any changes which would require two thirds of Conference 2009 to vote for a Rule Amendment probably need to be the subject of a genuinely inclusive and transparent process of consultation and discussion almost exactly unlike the process that led to the writing of the report that no one has seen. I don’t think that the current structures of our Union are sacrosanct, but I do think that any changes which reduce lay democracy are unlikely to be in the interests of our members, and I think that any proposals which have to be kept secret in their formative stages are never very likely to win the assent of the volunteer lay activists whose commitment is the heart and soul of our trade union.

But then what do I know? I had the honour to be a member of one of the teams who came joint last in the fund raising quiz before last night’s NEC meeting…

UNISON NEC agrees policy for Conference

I’ll be circulating a full personal report to London UNISON branches from today’s meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) (and yesterday’s meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee) – in addition to the official report.

The main item of business for this meeting was UNISON National Delegate Conference. The NEC therefore agreed its policy on most of the motions (and rule amendments) which made it past the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) and on to the agenda.

(Incidentally – since there are some sensitive souls in our trade union – I ought to point out that, by expressing considered disagreement with decisions of the SOC I am not attacking the SOC or its members, just as if I express dissent from decisions of the majority of my NEC colleagues this does not amount to an attack upon them).

If any London UNISON branch (or member) wants details on the NEC policies on any particular Conference motion please get in touch – I will just touch on one or two items here.

The NEC has agreed to submit an amendment to Motion 11 on the Two Tier Workforce from Somerset County (which I think we should be aiming to debate at Conference) – I objected to various parts of the NEC amendment which appeared to me to water down the motion but the NEC agreed to press ahead. Should the motion be prioritised it will be up to Conference to decide whether to ask the NEC to do some work or to call upon the Government to do it instead…

I also objected (equally fruitlessly I fear) to the detail of an NEC amendment to Motion 16 on Campaigning on Pay from the Islington branch which seeks to delete reference to a national demonstration in favour of support for action called by the TUC and also deletes reference to inviting speakers from other unions (on the grounds – I was told – that we need to be meeting with our own members first of all). For those who want to know why we should counterpose organising meetings of our own members and inviting speakers from other trade unions you’ll have to ask someone else, as I received no coherent explanation for the policy position then adopted by the NEC.

I also took issue unsuccessfully with the decision of the Policy Committee to oppose Motion 37 from York City on Housing – which I fear that the NEC will indeed oppose at Conference because the motion opposes Local Housing Companies which, our Policy Committee felt “should not be ruled out at this early stage” – I was disappointed with this decision which I think reflects a lack of confidence in our position of support for public ownership and public sector housing provision. Perhaps some branches will think of amendments to strengthen the NEC motion on this topic – number 35 – in order to reaffirm UNISON’s policies.

In line with the precedent set last year, the NEC are proposing an amendment which radically redirects Motion 63 from the Bromley branch, the entertainingly (if somewhat misleadingly) titled “New Labour: What Do We Get for Our Money?” The amendment (put before us by the less entertainingly titled “Objective Three Scrutiny Group”) brings in reference to the Hayden Phillips Review of Party funding which is missing from the motion, but also suggests that all that might be wrong with the operation of our political funds are their “operations and functional processes” – whereas I think our problem is the political timidity which led to our nominating Gordon Brown for Labour Party Leader.

York City branch are also the movers of Motion 81 on Migrant workers which has attracted an NEC amendment which is largely sensible but which, to my regret, deletes reaffirmation of UNISON Conference policy in favour of an amnesty for illegal migrants. I would accept that it is better to use the preferred phrase “regularisation” rather than the word “amnesty” which we agreed at our Conference if someone could show me that this was getting us anywhere in terms of influencing the Government...

Debate on the NEC’s position on Motion 115 on the Branch Directory was somewhat curtailed by the announcement that a new Branch Directory will be with branches shortly. Some NEC members genuinely seem to believe that it is inappropriate for UNISON branches to communicate directly with each other (which is not the main reason for having the Branch Directory but is a good use of it). I can only think that this is because they confuse a lay led trade union with some other organisation which discouraged such internal communication!

The NEC also agreed its position on Rule Amendments all of which are much as you would expect. Those of us who contributed to discussion on the issue at the Development and Organisation Committee helped to avert NEC opposition to Rule Amendment 5 from the National Disabled Members Committee which would create a post of Branch Disabled Members Officer which should be held by a disabled member.

Overall the NEC positions are hardly unexpected on any of the motions or Rule Amendments and, for once, there was more controversy around the Annual Report (about which more shortly)…

The incredible importance of 0.3%...?

I am just preparing for today’s National Executive Council and am struck by the importance of that extra 0.3%.

Because 2.45% is bad.

Yet, we are told, 2.75% is good.

I can’t help noticing that one opinion is expressed by an elected body of lay representatives and the other isn’t.

Guess which is which…

Monday, April 07, 2008

Is 2.75% the key to happiness?

Just as I got round to remarking on the absence of a pay offer in health, what should come along this morning but a pay offer

This is being spun as a good offer “highest in the public sector”.

Well the highest hill in the South Downs is the highest hill in the South Downs but that still doesn’t make it a mountain.

As set out on the UNISON website;

The proposed deal gives 2.75% in the first year.In year 2 it gives 2.54%. It also establishes for all NHS staff a new minimum wage of £6.77 an hour in that year, that is 18% higher than the statutory rate. Those on the lowest point will receive an increase of 5.7%.In the third year the proposed deal gives 2.5%. It includes a flat rate increase of £420 (worth 3.17% at the lowest point) for the bottom three grades.

Karen Jennings says that “we will be asking our executive to consider recommending this deal to members as a well-balanced package in the forthcoming consultation.”

I would have thought that that was a decision for the Service Group Executive (or indeed – since it meets next week, having regard to Rule D.3.4.2 – the Service Group Conference).

The first year of the deal falls well short of the rate of increase in the cost of living – and so is a pay cut in real terms. As to the subsequent years it is obviously impossible to know what will happen with price inflation, which could well fall if we enter a recession.

I guess we need to spend a little time looking at the details of this offer – and I will listen in particular to the views of my fellow NEC members who represent the Health Service Group when I see them later this week.

My initial view is that a three year deal which starts with a rise below the rate of price inflation is not one that we should be welcoming quite so enthusiastically…

Pay - delay is unhealthy

I’ve been complaining here about local government pay even since before we were offered less than two and a half per cent.

But health workers are, if anything, in an even worse position.

The local government employers may have made an offer too late – but at least it is an “offer” which we can reject – and least they have made it so we can decide how to respond.

Pay in the National Health Service is set following recommendations from the Pay Review Body and, although the settlement date is 1 April, as Service Group Executive member Nick Holden reports, there’s no sign of any recommendation.

Should the review body recommend an increase below inflation (that’s the Retail Price Index – RPI – real price inflation of course) there may well be a debate between those who think it is important to defend the “integrity” of the pay review process and those who think it is important that our members living standards should not be driven down.

That debate can’t easily start while no recommendation has even been made. I think members are more interested in the outcome, rather than the process, of settling pay increases – and that we could have an unprecedented opportunity for unity between health and local government workers.

We could be taking action in unison.

Will we?

A sad weekend

This has been a sad weekend for trade unionists. Saturday saw the untimely death of NUT General Secretary, Steve Sinnott just as his union is preparing for national strike action in opposition to continuing real terms pay cuts which threaten the future of the teaching profession and the education of our children.

Personally, I was also shocked to hear of the premature death of RMT activist and former Lambeth Labour Councillor, Greg Tucker. A heartfelt personal obituary is online here. I first knew Greg as a Councillor during one of the few genuinely leftwing Council administrations for which I have ever worked. I last recollect talking to him a while ago when he was helping initiate the National Shop Stewards Network. He had the sort of enduring commitment on which our movement depends in order to survive.

Trade unionism and socialist politics are lifetime commitments – and we can none of us know how long a lifetime is.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Local Government Pay - now what?

Now that we know that we have a final pay offer from the local government employers which is unacceptable we need to start thinking about what to do with it. Jean Geldart yesterday circulated a report to London branches as follows;

“A final offer was made yesterday.

It is 2.45% on all spinal points with effect from 1 April 2008, plus an additional £100 p.a. on Scp 4, 5 and 6 (this would be Inner London 2, 3 and 4). The same conditions apply as the last offer: that we 'seek to agree' the Green Book review by 31 December 2008 and that we 'seek to agree' the pay deals for 2009 and 2010 by 31 December 2008. Clearly this is a real pay cut and a disguised 3 year deal - without even knowing the figures for the next 2 years.

Unison's national committee (the NJC committee) will meet on 8th April to decide what to recommend to branches and there will then be the usual branch consultation, with branches asked to arrange meetings and a ballot so that votes can be aggregated nationally. The closing date for the consultation is likely to be early-mid May to allow for the school holiday period.

Both GMB and UNITE will be holding national meetings followed by branch consultation, on about the same sort of timetable. At yesterday's meeting the trade union side did not take a position on the offer, as the GMB National Officer said he was not in a position to be able to commit himself.

I would welcome any feedback on your branch's views before 8th (I realise this is only a couple of days). It seems to me that the NJC committee will have to make an assessment of what sort of industrial action is possible and will shift the employers in order to do a realistic consultation. For information, the Tower Hamlets branch committee today agreed to ask the NJC committee to reject the offer and campaign for action.”

I won’t dwell upon the possibility that there are those in our ranks who think that anything above 2% is some sort of victory and who think that we should give up on referring to the RPI – Retail Price Index and go along with the Government’s preference for the (lower) CPI – Consumer Price Index. Apart from the fact that such views are wildly misguided I don’t think they will feature openly and honestly in debates within the Union about strike action (of which as regular readers will be aware I am an advocate from time to time…)

The “anti” argument within the Union will focus instead upon whether the members have the “stomach” for the serious strike action necessary to win, which in turn leads to debate about a strategy for victory (implying we need some idea of what victory would look like) and to the question of how to create confidence in the Union.

Not having all (or even most) of the answers myself I thought I would start by drafting a motion for debate at our UNISON Branch Committee, upon which I would welcome comments. Here it is. What do you think?

"REJECT 2.45% - CAMPAIGN FOR ACTION

This Branch Committee calls upon UNISON’s National Joint Council (NJC) Committee to reject the employers’ final offer of 2.45% and to campaign for action to produce an improved pay offer.

We note that the pay offer is below the rate of inflation as measured by the Retail Price Index and is therefore an offer of a pay cut in real terms. We believe that national strike action will be needed to produce an improved pay offer, as it did in 1989 and 2002.

We also note that other public service trade unions are involved in action over pay. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) are taking strike action on Thursday 24 April. The University and College Union (UCU) are balloting further education lecturers for action on the same date. The National Executive of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) have called upon their Group Executives to take action on the same date where they are in dispute. We also note that the TUC have called for a lobby of Parliament on public service pay but note that this is not due to take place until 9 June.

We believe that strike action which can shift the employers will need to consist of more than a single day of action and call upon the NJC Committee to request that a strike ballot takes place as soon as possible, with a vigorous campaign to maximise both turnout and a “yes” vote. We also believe that the interests of UNISON members will best be served by coordinating our pay campaign with other public service trade unions, and will require both industrial action and political lobbying and campaigning.

We call upon the NJC Committee to consult Regional Local Government Committees on a strategy for strike action taking the following as a starting point;
· Sustained all out strike action commencing with at least two days of strike action;
· A national demonstration on the second day of strike action, which should be timetabled for maximum political effect;
· As much coordination as is possible with other public service trade unions in dispute with their employers and taking action.

We further call for the stepping up of political campaigning for fair pay for local government workers, as part of a general campaign against public sector pay restraint and call upon the NJC Committee and Service Group Executive (SGE) to;
Call for the TUC lobby of Parliament to be brought forward from 9 June to an earlier date;
Work with UNISON Labour Link to maximise Parliamentary support for our pay campaign;
Encourage branches and Regions to organise rallies, lobbies, demonstrations and publicity stunts jointly with other public service unions wherever possible, and to support events organised by the NUT and other striking unions on 24 April.

We resolve to submit this motion as an Emergency Motion to the Regional Local Government Committee."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

More about Conference priorities

For those thinking about the question of prioritisation of UNISON Conference motions, here are a dozen interesting motions which may not attract the support in the prioritisation process which their importance warrants. This is my personal blog and these are my personal thoughts. There are many other important motions on the Conference agenda!

It may well make sense for branches and others who will have some say in the prioritisation process to await decisions from next week's NEC meeting, as there is always an argument in favour of prioritising motions which the NEC oppose (as non-prioritised motions will eventually be referred to the NEC).

These are not necessarily the most important motions on the agenda and certainly not the motions likely to head up the order of business – but all of them are worth a look…

Motion 11 Moving Beyond the Two Tier Workforce

An attempt to address the shortcomings of the various Codes intended to avoid the nightmare of the two tier (or multi-tier!) workforce born of the recent obsession of Governments with privatisation and staff transfer.

Motion 38 Defend Council Housing

With a mere 30 Labour MPs backing Council Housing in the Commons on Monday it is important that we reaffirm UNISON’s support for council housing. (Yes, that’s council housing, not social housing, not affordable housing, as laudable and lovely as these are – we need a policy to defend council housing).

Motion 47 Teaching Black History

Motions from the Black Members Committee have not attracted high priority on a couple of recent occasions. Although this motion should (I hope!) attract the support of the NEC we also need to make sure that it is debated by Conference.

Motion 61 Victimisation of Union Activists

A motion from Eileen Short’s branch moved at the first Conference since the attacks on Karen Reissman and Michael Gavan. Support for this motion ought not to be controversial, but it is vitally important.

Motion 62 Agency Workers

A straightforward motion about the rights of agency workers which rightly condemns the Government – but more importantly focuses upon a key area for union campaigning if we are to reverse the decline in our strength and bargaining power.

Motion 72 Don’t Attack Iran

A motion which does exactly what it says on the tin, which would put us in the front line of opposition to the next war the neocons in Washington want to fight (without being uncritical in our attitude to a reactionary anti-worker regime).

Motion 73 Human and Trade Union Rights in Saudi Arabia

Obviously I am biased as this is from the Lambeth branch, but I do think that the corrupt relationship between the Saudi dictatorship and our Government is something that ought to be discussed a bit more in our movement. No doubt amendments could improve this motion, but this is an international issue which has been too low on the agenda for too long.

Motion 81 Migrant Workers

Opposition to immigration is not the sole preserve of the far right. There are those within the trade union movement who don’t understand UNISON’s progressive policies, and if the project to recruit and organise migrant workers is to make headway we need to reaffirm and reinforce our policies.

Motion 90 Abortion Rights

Every few years we see a dishonest attack upon abortion rights from the anti-choice lobby. It’s time those who support the right to choose started trying to make the political weather and this motion is a useful starting point.

Motion 96 Gun and Knife Crime

There is no doubt that this issue, which has also attracted the attention of National Black Members Conference, is an issue for the trade union movement, and this motion makes some policy proposals which take the debate forward.

Motion 110 No Trident Replacement

UNISON has clear policy of opposition to nuclear weapons but – as with many issues on which the Labour Party leadership ignore the feelings of the movement – we have to be watchful to reaffirm our policy and keep it in the spotlight if we are to see effective campaigning.

Motion 112 Expenses Payments for Unison Members

Not a motion destined for popularity with my NEC colleagues I fear, but one which is right in principle in that it tries to establish that the expenses we pay for union activity bear some relationship to those we negotiate with employers.

2.45%? No Thanks!

Here is the bad – but hardly unexpected – news from the UNISON website;

“Local government employers returned to the negotiating table today with a pay offer that would leave the lowest paid workers less well off than supermarket staff.The rise being offered is 2.45%, with £100 extra for those on the bottom three points on the pay scale – up on the initial 2.2% rejected by trade unions but still branded “hugely disappointing” by UNISON national secretary Heather Wakefield.”

The key point is surely that this offer falls well below the rate of increase of the Retail Price Index. Therefore if we cannot improve upon it we will face a further reduction in our standard of living.

The evidence of the past is that national strike action by local government workers can improve our pay relative to other sectors of the economy. This year we have an unprecedented opportunity for unity with other public service workers.

Decent pay for public service workers could be key to a progressive economic policy to respond to the threat of recession by boosting purchasing power in the economy.

However, as there is no indication that the Government are thinking along these lines we need a robust political and industrial campaign to defend the interests of our members.

We need a strike ballot to commence very urgently (if we have to have a consultative ballot first to comply with Service Group Conference policy then that should start before the end of next week and conclude before the end of the month – I think the NJC Committee and SGE need to think long and hard about whether, in the light of last year’s result, we really need a consultative ballot at all).

We also need to move faster than the TUC to take our case to Parliament, acting in concert with as many other public service workers as we can – as part of a continuing public relations campaign to win the hearts and minds of the millions of working people whose support we can win for a struggle for fair pay for public servants.

We should start with a campaign to get the trade union linked MPs to support our pay claim – and oppose the Government’s 2% pay limit – and with as much organised support as we can deliver for the public sector strike action already planned for April 24th.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Support the Teachers on 24 April

Good news received this evening from my friend and comrade Alex Kenny of the NUT Executive...

The NUT has decided today to call members out for a one day strike on 24th April.This follows a ballot result of 75% in favour on a 32% turnout.The decision of the NUT Executive was unanimous and everyone was very positive about the ballot result.Regional rallies and demonstrations are being planned. Support for these will be welcome from other unions.

UNISON activists need to discuss how we can help the NUT to maximise the impact of their action in the opening battle of this year's pay round - and an appropriate riposte to those in the movement who were saying that the teachers were not part of a pay fight this year.

Both the turnout and the "yes" vote are positive and impressive, and compare favourably with results which have produced effective action in the past.

Labour Link - an apology

I was really pleased to hear about plans for the UNISON National Labour Link Committee to issue an apology to UNISON National Delegate Conference for having nominated Gordon Brown to be leader of the Labour Party, in the light of the reactionary policies which he has since pursued.

UNISON insider, Avril Poisson, spilled the beans to me earlier and I understand that an explanatory circular will be issued to all branches this morning – so check your email before noon!

April Fools in Government

It’s always fun to look out for April Fool’s jokes.

The one’s I’ve seen today just aren’t very convincing though.

It’s not plausible that, facing electoral meltdown a sane Labour Prime Minister would speed up public service “reform” (a.k.a. privatisation).

Nor that a Labour Government would continue to ignore the settled position of Party Conference on public housing by refusing additional resources to build council housing.

The story about how the Government is ignoring a consensus in opposition to extending detention without charge is better though, because it is so close to the truth…

Still, these days, to hold both a union card and a Labour Party card certainly requires a sense of humour.