Monday, September 29, 2008

Remembering Greg Tucker

Yesterday I was honoured to attend a memorial service for comrade Greg Tucker at Kennington Park. Greg was a leading RMT activist who was - until his unjustified expulsion - a leading member of the Labour Party in Lambeth.

More than one speaker commented that Greg would have wished to have seen this crisis of capitalism unfolding around us – and it is fitting that the bench, tree and flowers which commemorate him do so where they do.

Greg never gave up, whether as part of the experiment of 1980s municipal socialism or in his commitment to industrial struggle and building the working class movement – and on a busy day in a trade union branch office that’s an inspiration.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Regional Committee meeting

I don’t have a lot of time today, but having found an incisive analysis of current trends in public service management I had to blog a link to it. So have a look!

Today’s meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Committee was described by its Chair as a good meeting.

In a diverse and democratic trade union there may of course be room for other views.

I am afraid I missed the debate on pay but understand that delegates from the health service and local government service groups both expressed concern about our below inflation pay offers.

The Committee was advised that there will be a briefing in November for London branches on the new branch assessment process being introduced from January. Malcolm Campbell, representing the local government Committee, spoke up for branches who are concerned about this process, which could all too easily be seen as some sort of “appraisal” of branches by Regional Organisers.

That is not the intention nationally and we must ensure that it does not become the practice regionally.

I asked about arrangements in the Region for consultation on the more significant question of our future service group structures and was advised that this would be taking place soon.

The Committee had a lengthy debate in response to consultation on the proposal to increase the limit for the definition of “low pay” for reserved seats for low paid women workers. It was agreed to support the principle of increasing the limit in view of the difficulty which is being experienced in getting candidates for seats at the current rate.

We were told that the Regional Council officers, on behalf of the Region, had expressed support for the current scheme of representation for branches at National Delegate Conference. Malcolm Campbell once again took the lead in questioning why this had been done without any consultation with the branches who had been expressing concern.

Branches with a membership below 2,000 are not affected in any way by the restrictions upon branch representation (other than the requirement for proportionality as between men and women which is a very clear Rule Book requirement). It would be very interesting to know how many delegates from those branches were either low paid or young members. So I shall ask.

In discussion about the forthcoming Regional Council we were advised of the proposals for speakers at the meeting which had come from the Regional Council officers. Since one of these proposals was for a speaker on the http://www.wateratwork.org/ campaign I suggested we invite the UNISON NEC member elected by our members in the relevant service group.

Committee members noticed that the Regional Council officers had omitted to invite a speaker about public sector pay and when this addition was suggested the Regional Secretary felt that we should really await guidance from the NEC about how UNISON would be responding to the TUC decision (to support a Composite motion moved by UNISON).

In order to avoid any difficulty I suggested that we invite the mover of the Composite at the TUC, UNISON Deputy General Secretary, Keith Sonnet and this was agreed by the Committee.

NEC members could not give a full NEC report since there had been no NEC meeting, but I was able to remind the meeting about forthcoming consultation on the political funds and on UNISON democracy.

And that was about it really...

Although I did ask Labour Link Chair, Louise Couling how we could win the next General Election to which she said "vote Labour" (which I intend to, but I fear my vote alone may not be enough). Though Louise's witty comment was greeted with much hilarity I am not sure that telling people to vote Labour to avoid a Tory Government will work well next time.

I look forward to those who take this view stating it openly in internal UNISON elections and being honest about their politics in front our our members.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

London follows Scotland

The London Regional Local Government Committee of UNISON voted on Monday to follow the example of our Scottish sisters and brothers in dispute over pay and call for further dates to be named for strike action in the pay dispute south of the border.

This decision mandates our delegates to the National Joint Council Committee – Chair David Eggmore and newly elected member Sonya Howard, who saw off a challenge from my fellow NEC member Irene Stacey and was elected by a margin of three to one by the delegates at the Committee meeting.

Whilst regular readers of posts on this topic (Sid and Doris striker) will appreciate that the decision to call for further strike action is a result which I welcome (and spoke and voted in favour of) readers will also appreciate that I am not "gung ho" for further strike action in the difficult circumstances which confront us. I accept that London was not one of the Regions in which support for the action which we have already taken was at its highest and therefore accept that we should listen to the views of colleagues from Regions in which the action was better supported with some humility.

However, I believe that the criticisms that were voiced of the "consultation exercise" at the meeting (echoing earlier comments here) were valid. A visitor to the Committee who should probably have been a delegate commented that, as a trained researcher, she knew that the results you got from consultation depended very much on the questions you asked. Full marks to the Islington branch who added a question about whether joint trade union action would be better than going it alone – a proposition which was accepted by over 80% of respondents!

In general however the consultation gave the impression of having been designed to discourage further action – this is a view which will quite reasonably be held by those activists who lack confidence in our national Union to prosecute this dispute to a satisfactory conclusion. However our active members who voted for and supported strike action need to receive accurate and timely information and to be invited to all relevant meetings – if you have details please share them!

I also believe that, in the new circumstances since the TUC, we have a real prospect of major united public service strike action within the next couple of months. Unless influential leaders of a large public service trade union actively seek to prevent this, members of PCS and the NUT will be striking together (in each case as part of continuing campaigns) in November. They may be joined by UCU members in Further Education and even possibly by UNITE members in health. Since the TUC Congress has called for Days of Action over public sector pay it would take a genius in avoiding implementing agreed decisions for anything to be done which did not involve declaring this strike day to be a TUC Day of Action.

These strikes should certainly also be joined, as best we can, by local government members of UNISON on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall.


There is no guarantee that we can achieve united action.

There is no guarantee that if we do so it will put sufficient pressure on the Government and/or employers to up the offer.

There is no guarantee of anything except that – if we do nothing we shall achieve nothing (as has been demonstrated on more past occasions than anyone would wish to remember). In which case the decline in the living standards of our members has been appreciated yet!

In an earlier post I floated the idea of TUC Top Trump Cards (which has attracted some favourable comments) – I would now like to suggest that we seek out a trade union Thesaurus.

If we had such a tome we would know that in most circumstances the phrase “unilateral reference to arbitration” means more or less the same as “surrender.” (And please note that I make this observation as someone who has recommended such a course of action in the past!)

There were major other items at the Regional Local Government Committee including – first – a series of criticisms of the approach of the Regional office to requests from branches for strike ballots. Activists feel that rather than feeling supported by paid officials at a criticial time they feel that the paid officials want them to give up, leave and be replaced.

This will not be happening - and the office needs to provide more effective support to branches forced to consider action.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

If it's right to strike in Blackburn, West Lothian what about Blackburn, Lancashire?

Congratulations to our Scottish brothers and sisters for deciding upon further strike action in their local government pay dispute. This is in the context of the employers offering further talks but failing to make an improved offer – a course of action which the UNISON negotiator describes as “disingenuous”.

This is also of course precisely what the employers have done south of the border, following the resumption of talks after our strike action in July. Whilst negotiations have led to not just one but two joint statements, they have not produced any movement on the pay offer for 2008/09.

In assessing whether this means that UNISON’s local government membership in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should respond in the same way as our Scottish comrades to this impasse we have to continue to weigh up a number of factors.

On the one hand it is true that the Scottish strike action was based upon a better ballot result, and was more solidly supported than our July strike action. We cannot therefore just assume that because a particular course of action is right for Scotland we can assume it is right in England, Wales and Northern Ireland without thinking through the implications.

On the other hand, we may now have the opportunity to develop our strategy to win a better pay offer in the light of decisions taken and announced at the TUC.

The TUC is committed to coordinating public sector pay disputes. PCS are balloting for discontinuous strike action on the basis of plans for action over a three month period and the NUT are also balloting for discontinuous action. UCU members in Further Education will shortly be deciding whether to join this campaign which could possibly also see action by UNITE members in health.

In order to secure a better pay offer for our local government members we have to put pressure both on the Government (to provide resources to local government and to encourage the employers to settle) and on the employers themselves. I believe that unified public sector strike action on the widest possible basis could put pressure on both the Government and employers, and that our members could be persuaded to support action on this basis more solidly than they supported the action in July.

A key factor will be the attitude of UNISON’s leadership at every level. It is entirely within the hands of our Union that the TUC should decide to declare that the day on which PCS and the NUT take national strike action together should be a TUC Day of Action as mandated by Congress. On this basis an argument could more readily be won with other public service workers in dispute over pay to join such action.

We know that this is a weakened Government susceptible to political pressure – and that (from a far less weak position) the Government did make considerable concessions on public service pensions when confronted by a united movement. It is reasonable to conclude that similar pressure could produce concessions on public service pay and therefore to expect that a positive leadership for union members would consist of arguing for the need for such action.

Is there an alternative to further strike action if we want an improved pay offer? Negotiators on both sides of the dispute are obviously aware of the possibility of arbitration.

The employers’ side, in their submission to the Local Government Pay Commission back in 2003 argued that there is "no need for national strikes in local government because both parties have unilateral access to binding arbitration".

When, however, shortly after that submission was made, the trade union side tried to use this clause to settle the outstanding London Weighting dispute we found how easy it was for the employers’ side to sabotage it by refusing to cooperate with an arbitrator if one were appointed.

Since an arbitrator would give weight to the budgetary pressures on local authorities and to Government pay policy as much as to the standard of living of our members, even if the employers agreed to arbitration there is no reason to suppose that this would produce a significant improvement on 2.45%.

To propose a reference to arbitration at this stage of the dispute would be to give up on our claim and to write off the effort thus far expended in the dispute.

I think that this would be an error and that, for all the difficulties which confront us, our best course of action is without doubt to make a renewed effort to secure support for solid strike action in conjunction with as many other public servants as possible.

It is unfortunate that the basis for recent consultation with members excluded any serious attempt to engage members in a debate about the strategy which we are adopting over pay – this means that the results of such consultation are worthless as evidence to guide decisionmakers.

I hope that next week’s meeting of the UNISON National Joint Council Committee will give our activists the chance to develop and implement a strategy to secure an improved pay offer through unity with other public service workers.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

UNISON GMB merger?

Last night UNISON and the GMB held a joint reception.

Our members in local government might think that joint industrial action against real terms pay cuts would be of more value - GMB members in the health service might possibly think likewise. For now though we can coordinate free food and drink.

There was much jollity about the prospect at some stage of a UNISON-GMB merger. For the moment I think that this has as much to do with the GMB's previous flirtation with UNITE as it does with the potential industrial logic of such a merger in the public services.

Activists in both unions need to consider how we improve joint working at a rank and file level. Should merger seriously appear on our agenda we need to be vigilant in defence of lay member democracy. While we are at it we need the same joint working with brothers and sisters in UNITE.

If we are going down the road of "super unions" then a merger between UNITE, UNISON and the GMB makes just as much sense as a UNISON-GMB merger.

There is a future for small and specialist unions which organise particular industries, but is there a future for what we have now in terms of three large general unions, competing for members in some areas and generally failing to coordinate effectively. I don't know.

Activists need to think about this.

Right to work - not workfare

TUC Congress is nearing the end of our business, debating Motion 23 from the Educational Institute of Scotland, which calls for asylum seekers to have the right to work whilst their application for asylum is considered.

This restoration of rights to asylum seekers has to be right and Congress will clearly pass the motion overwhelmingly. It is ironic that asylum seekers are refused the right to work whilst benefit claimants are set to be required to work in order to receive their benefits!

Taken together the motions passed during the week amount to a pretty long wish list of the things the trade union movement wants from the Government.

The question of how we obtain greater political influence for these progressive policies is increasingly acute.

Last year's Congress was dominated by misplaced hope and faith in the then new Prime Minister. This year's Congress is dominated by a miserable poverty of ideas up on the top table about how to make political progress.

Mark Serwotka is now moving Emergency Motion One sounding alarm bells about the Government's appalling welfare reform plans.

I don't know how many of the trade union group of MPs will have the courage and principle to oppose these plans for workfare, but I do know that those MPs associated with the Labour Representation Committee will do so.

The leadership of the big unions kept their distance from the LRC when it was established for fear of losing influence by associating themselves with the hard left.

These unions have consistently failed to demonstrate that they thereby have such influence in respect of anything that matters to our members.

We have to face the reality that there are only a small number of MPs who are on our side.

It is time for a different approach, working with our few real friends in Parliament.

Health and Safety debate at the TUC

Congress has agreed Composite 21 which calls for a new approach from the Health and Safety Executive, moving away from self-regulation and emphasising inspection and enforcement.

Also, and very sensibly, the composite calls for a duty on employers to provide risk assessments to union representatives. It is implicit in other duties upon employers that they should do this, but the lack of clarity in the law is a major obstacle to promoting health and safety in the workplace.

We are now debating the rather odd Composite 22 which calls for us to mark Workers Memorial Day (in April) by having a public holiday in October. Since this does not seem to make too much sense I think I shall go and get a coffee...

Trade Union Coordinating Group

Rather than blog a full report myself from Tuesday evening's launch of the Trade Union Coordinating Group I shall cheat and blog a link to a report from UNITE blogger Gill George.

The new group is an interesting and important development (and one which Derek Simpson comprehensively misunderstood at the Morning Star fringe meeting on Tuesday lunchtime).

The group is, as far as I can see, a sensible attempt to maximise the political impact of the work of some of the best campaigning unions. It will appeal to those who look for an alternative to the Labour Party as a vehicle for our aspirations, but it will of necessity work primarily if not exclusively with Labour Parliamentarians.

The unions coming together to coordinate their lobbying have different policies and traditions, and their General Secretaries have different personal opinions as they made clear at the fringe.

What they have in common is an honest recognition of the limited effectiveness of the political campaigning of the trade unions (exemplified by the supine trade union group of MPs) and a genuine desire to see our movement fighting for its policies.

To the extent that I have heard anyone from the leadership of the movement trying to outline what their approach is and how to distinguish it from the attempt of the left-led unions to establish a trade union voice in Parliament it was in the barely coherent contribution from Derek Simpson at the Morning Star fringe meeting, at which he expressed the hope that there would be a fight to reclaim the Labour Party. (I was left wondering whether he might be able to persuade one of the joint General Secretaries of our largest union to do something about this).

The Trade Union Coordinating Group, convened by John McDonnell is a far more persuasive attempt at political influence for our class and those of us who are genuinely serious about a fight for socialist politics in the Labour Party should welcome this attempt to politicise trade unionism.

I should imagine that somewhere deep in the bowels of Mabledon Place someone is already trying to work out how to rule out of order any discussion of this development at UNISON's Conference next year...


Hurrah for Bob Crow

Perhaps the only thing that can wake up the TUC Congress on its last morning is a speech from RMT General Secretary Bob Crow, disappointingly not re-elected to the General Council this week.

Congress has just unanimously agreed Composite 3, expressing our opposition to recent judgements of the European Court of Justice which seriously restrict the ability of trade unions to take action to defend our members interests.

Motion 7, which Bob Crow is now moving, did not form part of the Composite and the TUC General Council are supporting it whilst expressing reservations. "Support with reservations" is the TUC equivalent of UNISON's "support with qualifications" and essentially means; "you can vote for this but we won't do anything about it."

I wait with interest to hear Brendan Barber express the reservations, which I assume relate to the fact that whereas Composite 3 called for a mass lobby of Euro MPs, Motion 7 calls for a day of action and demonstration.

Yesterday's international debates were good - particularly the strong support for the Cuban people and Cuban revolution. It is hardly a novel or original observation to note that the TUC is all in favour of radicalism as long as it is thousands of miles away or hundreds of years in the past.

Brendan Barber is now explaining the General Council's reservations. First, they don't want to give unconditional support for the United Campaign against the anti-union laws as not all TUC affiliates support the campaign. Secondly, they don't want to commit themselves to a demonstration and lobby of Parliament. Thirdly the General Council does not wish to commit the TUC to opposition to the Lisbon Treaty on the basis of this motion.

Bob Crow is rising to reply. Congress has passed the motion unanimously but on the basis that we have been told that it won't be implemented. You have to love the TUC...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Normal blogging will be resumed as soon as possible

As my laptop batteries are recharging I will have to report on this afternoon's TUC debates later.
The debates on international issues and transport issues have seen some positive contributions.
More later


Climate Change

Congress has just unanimously agreed Composite 9 on Climate Change.

We're against it (climate change that is - not the composite motion).

Essentially we are asking for trade union involvement in the development of a socially just strategy for transition to a low carbon economy, backed up by a statutory role for trade union environmental representatives.

This is very worthy.

However there is another climate that needs to change and that is the climate of complacency at the top of our movement.

The climate in too many workplaces is hostile to trade unions and workers' rights - the next General Election seems unlikely to make it any better (to say the least!)

Matt Wrack of the FBU is currently moving Motion 35 addressing the challenges for public servants from the flooding we have seen in recent years. Matt was also a speaker last night at the launch of the Trade Union Coordinating Group.

That Group seems to be a valid attempt to break from the complacent consensus and to face up honestly to the political weakness and isolation of our union movement (and then to do something about it).

I'll blog a considered report of last night's fringe meeting at which the Group was launched when I get a chance.

Organising?

Most unfortunately I had to pop out to the toilet just ahead of Harriet Harman's address to Congress and - as I felt it would have been rude to walk back in while she was speaking - I waited until Tony Woodley was introducing a DVD on organising.

We spend far too much time listening to Ministers from a hostile Government and it makes more sense to spend our time considering whether ten years of the organising agenda has really contributed to halting the decline in union membership.

The work that is done as a result of the focus on organising is clearly valuable - and there is some evidence from cross-sectional data within UNISON that those branches who have adopted elements of the "organising approach" are performing better when it comes to recruiting and retaining members.

However, at the level of the membership of the Union as a whole, time series data suggests that major industrial disputes are the factor which influences variations in membership growth - the evidence that it is the "organising approach" which has halted the decline in union membership is equivocal at best.

The CWU are now moving Composite 5 on young members, calling very sensibly for learning about trade unionism in schools - the composite is to be seconded by the Professional Footballers' Association, whose members are probably amongst the most familiar trade unionists to most children. (They also of course have a fair few strikers in their membership).

Perhaps we should have the equivalent of football cards for the TUC, so the young people became familiar with General Council members by collecting and swapping cards with their images on. They could be TUC "Top Trump" cards with points for membership size, ability to express a coherent argument etc.

Or maybe not...

Equality debate at the TUC

The debate on Composite Motion 6 on the Equality Bill is, thus far, non-controversial but certainly not unimportant.

Of particular significance to UNISON is a clause drawing upon UNISON's amendment to the original motion, which calls for the gender pay gap to be addressed through adequate public sector funding and changed legal processes.

This addresses the hidden crisis which threatens the finances, officers and activists of many unions, and of UNISON in particular. In the absence of adequate funding to fill the gender pay gap the application of factor based job evaluation to achieve equal pay is leading to many losers.

The delays which resulted in large part from anticipation of this outcome have produced rising pressure for progress from which No Win No Fee solicitors are now gaining significantly, litigating against both employers and unions.

For understandable reasons, given the scale and nature of the legal action, this vital question is not one which has a high profile at events such as this Congress.

However we have been asking for funding to fill the gender pay gap for several years - and two years ago I heard Gordon Brown (then Chancellor) tell Congress that something would be done.

The question we ought to be asking is what if anything we are getting from the Government to help us with this crisis...

a wet Wednesday at the TUC

This morning has started with Dianne Hayter addressing Congress on behalf of the Labour Party.

I thought for a moment she was going to go into a stand up routine when she praised the effectiveness of the current Labour Party NEC, but it turns out that instead she is hoping to lull Congress back to sleep.

She is reminding us of how bad things were under the Tories. I am sure this speech could have been given at every one of the last ten Congresses. Why not just show it to us as a video?

In common with almost every other delegate in the hall my mind is wandering.

I am remembering what I heard yesterday about the strange omission from the public services debate of a speaker from UNITE, whom it had agreed should have been called, but whom the TUC President did not call.

If I suggest that the speaker in question was a noted trade union blogger perhaps assiduous readers can guess who it was who was not called and speculate as to whether this was just an innocent cock up...

Looking up I see that Dianne Hayter is still speaking. That was ten minutes in which nothing at all was said.

We are now at least moving on to a debate - on the Equality Bill.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Foot health...

The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists are calling for a campaign to increase foot health screening in schools.

Discussion of foot health has got some delegates thinking about how Bob Crow was kicked off the General Council last year.

Those election results should be announced shortly.

I'll cross my fingers that the RMT get back on the General Council.

But I won't cross my toes because Mary Turner from the GMB says that foot health is very important...

Alistair Darling's speech

He has started well by congratulating the TUC on the work of the Commission on Vulnerable Workers.

He says the Government want to do more to enforce regulations.

But now it starts.

Times are tough.

We must maintain stability.

Our purpose as a Government is fairness (honestly??)

A stable economy is a means to this end...

The global economy is in trouble - he refers to the nationalisation of Northern Rock and more recently of the US financial institutions.

The credit crunch and the surge in food and fuel prices are affecting the whole world.

This is driven by growing demand from the growth in the economies of China, India and Brazil.

Inflation is up and growth is down across the world.

Times are tough.

He told us times are tough over and over again.

He justified his pay policy - again in answer to questions - on the basis that conceding more generous increases would lead to a wage-price inflationary spiral "as we have seen in the past."

This is nonsense.

The real reason for not offering more money to public sector workers is because the Government don't think that is a priority for the use of resources.

The local government employers aren't offering our members less than half the rate of inflation for any reason other than that the Government is not providing the sort of sustained funding that could provide proper pay.

The settlement of current pay disputes with offers around the current RPI would not drive up prices since the workers concerned are not producing goods which are sold on a market.

The Government would have to fund the increases either by raising taxes (or perhaps just collecting some of the tax which is dodged by corporations and wealthy individuals) - or by borrowing.

Borrowing to put money into the purses and wallets of predominantly low paid workers with a high marginal propensity to consume (i.e. spend the money in the economy) would have a reflationary impact and would be good for the economy.

On the key question confronting UNISON at the moment - our members' pay - this Chancellor has just offered us precisely nothing - and on the basis of a dishonest and misleading argument.

So that was Alistair Darling. I have heard him described as boring - and as a bank manager. His tone and body language answering questions are more like an irritated teacher dealing with toublesome children.

That was a waste of the time of hundreds of union activists.

TUC debates vulnerable workers

The TUC Congress has just formally adopted the report of the Commission on Vulnerable Workers.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling is sat on the platform listening to the debate on Composite 1 on Vulnerable Workers which makes modest demands to address the super-exploitation of workers such as agency and migrant workers.

Well, I hope he is listening...

USDAW moving the motion and Equity are speaking from the experience of workers who face particular exploitation. UNISON's Bev Miller is rising to support the Composite.

There are vulnerable and exploited workers across all sectors.

The public sector makes massive use of agency workers who are denied sick pay and employment rights.

You would think that Alistair Darling could empathise with workers on short term contracts with limited security and few prospects for advancement...

Jack Dromey from UNITE concludes the debate with a stirring speech. He wants to challenge the Government to act in line with the recommendations of the Commission.

Perhaps he could suggest to the Labour Party Treasurer that he points out to the Governing party that they need union money now more than ever?

Higher Education workers to get 5% pay rise

Here is the news from the BBC! Our members in HE stand to get 5% as a result of a three year deal in which the final year was 2.5% or the RPI.

As has just been pointed out to me by one of the lucky recipients of this generosity here at the TUC though a 5% pay rise when prices are rising by 5% is really just standing still.

It only looks generous by comparison with the real terms pay cuts the rest of us are being offered. Tomorrow's meeting of the Executive of the trade union side of the NJC for local government workers could set itself the target of matching the pay offer in HE, but we'll also need a strategy to secure that improvement.

Defending the indefensible?

Prospect are currently moving Motion 39 at the TUC on Defence Expenditure which UNISON will be opposing.

I agree with UNISON's policy on this motion.

We ought not - as a trade union movement - to be campaigning for "adequate resources for defence"."

"Defence" is a misnomer for expenditure on a variety of ways to kill other human beings.

Chris Baugh of PCS is seconding the motion and making valid points about the detrimental impact of privatisation on workers in the defence sector.

However, surely we should be arguing for arms conversion projects.

I don't care that the UK Defence capability is over stretched. I think we should stop sending our troops abroad. I think we should leave NATO and stop pretending to be an imperial power.

Mike Kirby, UNISON's Scottish Regional Convenor is expressing our opposition to the motion with particular emphasis on our opposition to nuclear weapons.

It is disappointing that the trade union movement is adopting such a narrow focus on the immediate interests of workers in the defence sector rather than raising our eyes to look for a better future for those workers carrying out socially useful work.

UNISON was one of only a handful of unions who opposed the motion.

Local Government Pay - now what?

If I were trying to settle this year's NJC pay dispute affecting hundreds of thousands of our members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland I think it is fair to say I wouldn't start from here.

Mixed feelings in the union were reflected in a narrow ballot result and patchy support for action. The subsequent decision to defer further action pending talks which have produced nothing more than some carefully worded joint statements which say nothing but do so elegantly has led to a loss of what little momentum we had.

The employers are not under sufficient pressure to make an improved offer at this point in time. We therefore have to identify steps which we can now take to put some pressure on our employers.

There are two seemingly impossible tasks which we have to grapple with. First we have to force the Government to provide additional funding to local authorities. Secondly we have to secure some of that additional funding for our members as an increased pay offer.

Since we have neither trade union unity nor any useful political influence with this disgraceful Government with which to secure these objectives these are incredibly difficult tasks.

However, with price rises skyrocketing it is equally impossible for our lower paid members to continue to make ends meet without a significantly improved pay offer.

After yesterday's TUC debate it is clear that there will be major public sector strike action, involving PCS, the NUT and possibly UCU members in Further Education and that this will take place from November onwards.

The General Council should set the date for the first of the TUC Days of Action to coincide with the commencement of this strike action - and we should aim for further local government strike action as part of this campaign.

The position adopted by the Lambeth branch about how to take the pay campaign forward offers us some challenging objectives - but unless we simply want to swallow a 2.45% pay rise (less than half the rate of inflation!) it seems to me that we need now to be fighting for further strike action.

A little update - I have been handed (at the TUC) a copy of "Workers" the occasionally entertaining journal of the impressively titled "Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)" and the comrades have this to say;

"Industrial action is not delivered by weasel words put through a blog site or painted on the side of Lambeth Town Hall or any other town hall in the hours of darkness"

Unfortunately the anonymous comrades don't go on to offer any constructive ideas about what we should do to secure better pay for our members - they must be too busy at their day jobs as union full-timers...

Tuesday at the TUC - guest speaker

I am listening to the guest speaker from the AFL-CIO, Arlene Holt Baker, who is talking up Obama in her address to the TUC Congress.

I am afraid I am not at all inspired or even very interested to hear about the work the AFL-CIO will be doing to get the vote out for the Democrats.

One quarter of delegates at the Democratic Convention were from union households.

Which means that the other three quarters were not.

The US trade unions are in an even weaker position politically than we are. We have at least the memory of a trade union based political party.

We however need massively to raise our game as a movement if we want political influence such as we currently do not have.

Later today John McDonnell is chairing a meeting called by the RMT, NUJ, PCS and FBU to launch a Trade Union Co-ordinating Group to provide a voice for trade unions in Parliament.

Since the current trade union group of MPs is worthless, and the Parliamentary work of the trade unions deeply unimpressive, this initiative is timely.

I'l report here later on how it goes.

Monday, September 08, 2008

LRC Fringe at the TUC

I am one of between 40 and 50 people listening to Pete Keenlyside of the CWU opening the Labour Representation Committee fringe meeting at the TUC. Pete argues that we have to start from where we are by persuading the trade unions to fight for union policies within the Labour Party.

We cannot know whether this fight will succeed and if the unions were blocked by the right-wing there would be a case for a new workers party, but right now we have to argue for socialist policies in the unions and take those into the Labour Party.

I agree - and will blog updates about the next speakers...

Janice Godrich is now speaking (in a personal capacity). Janice has different views but welcomes the debate which needs to take place.

She says that we have to start with the question of whether the Labour Party is a vehicle for our politics. As President of a Union most of whose members are employed by the Labour Government she doesn't think it is - and makes a sound job of itemising the many reactionary policies and practices of this Government.

Unions are funding a Party which is attacking our members.

She says that it is well-intentioned to try to fight for our policies within the Labour Party but she disagrees. Janice points out that PCS can campaign for their policies - the problem in other unions is the leadership, but that is a separate question from the question of political representation.

Is it though?

Janice concludes that there cannot be a fight within the Labour Party and that there needs now to be a new workers party.

Mick Shaw has now introduced John McDonnell to address the meeting.

John says we must not be over emotional in this debate.

We have to consider ourselves as socialists rather than being wedded to a particular organisational form.

We have to ask - is there room for democratic debate within the Labour Party so that we can advance socialist policies? There is now very limited room for this.

It was the General Secretaries of the unions who accepted the closing down of Labour Party Conference - and who have accepted the welfare reforms at Warwick without getting anything back in terms of trade union freedom.

We also have to ask - do working class people still look to the Labour Party? John says we shall see - he expects the next election to be more 1931 than 1979.

Then we have to ask - particularly given the First Past the Post system - is another option viable? John says he doesn't know what the PLP will look like after the next election.

We need to find an organisational form for cooperation. Where we can use the Labour Party as a vehicle we should do so. We may also need to look at single issue campaigns, industrial struggles etc.

We intend the LRC to be such an organisational form, to draw people together. John is now also promoting the Trade Union Coordinating Group. We need organisational forms to facilitate common action to deal with the urgent issues of the moment.

My battery is giving up now so I shall go and recharge somewhere.

Card vote fiasco...

Members of the UK's largest trade union may wonder why UNITE abstained on the POA amendment to the public sector pay composite (which sought unsuccessfully to add the word "strike" into the phrase "days of action").

UNITE's delegation had voted overwhelmingly for the amendment on the show of hands, but their voting card could not be found. The GMB backed the POA amendment as did several other unions - which contradicted what the UNISON delegation had been told yesterday when we were persuaded not to back the amendment on the grounds - in part - that no one else was.

Still, at least UNISON's President didn't mislay the voting card...

Time for Unity

The TUC has just agreed, overwhelmingly, a strongly worded composite on Public Sector pay which clearly calls for united strike action, albeit Brendan Barber's contribution showed characteristic clarity about the obstacles to unity.

For local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this development offers us the opportunity to win an argument with our members for further action to secure an improved pay offer.

I hope to learn more here at the TUC about the plans for action being made by other unions - we need to publicise today's important decision to our members. The Government have declared war on public sector workers and, now that we have agreed to unite and fight back it is up to rank and file activists to give effect to this decision.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

TUC Delegation meeting

We have started the meeting with a discussion about Motion 5 from the POA.

The position of the Policy Committee is to oppose this motion which calls for a series of General Strikes against the anti-union laws.

It is difficult to see that this could readily be achieved. However both myself and Glenn Kelly argued that we should put up a speaker to express support and solidarity for the POA. This was not agreed as the Chair of Policy said that the POA were in no doubt about how UNISON supported them.

The only other argument was about a POA amendment to the good Composite 15 on public sector pay which sought to add the word "strike" to a call for days of action.

I queried the grounds on which we were opposing this amendment, as the Chair of Policy said that it would be "illegal" for the General Council of the TUC to call for strike action. This reason is simply wrong since the General Council clearly could call for a strike, though affiliated unions would be acting unlawfully in responding to that call if they did not do so in line with legal requirements.

The Chair of Policy told the meeting that all the other Unions involved in the composite had already agreed to oppose the POA amendment.

The meeting has taken all of half an hour.

Intriguingly we are having a joint reception between UNISON and the GMB. It'll be joint industrial action next...

Friday, September 05, 2008

TUC time

It’s all here.

The Final Agenda for the TUC Congress 2008.

The Annual Report of the General Council of the TUC.

Details of what most delegates will be doing at the TUC next week.

(One of those links should be viewed in this light.)

But as we already know, one thing will be missing this year.

I look forward to seeing auld acquaintance (and new) at Congress.