Thursday, October 30, 2008

One law for the rich?

Regular readers (Sid and Doris blogger) will not have been wondering if the lack of posts here reflects my profound concern at the suspension of Jonathan Ross – and will have been right not to do so.

My recent silence is attributable to pressure of work in the branch, where the daily grind of redundancy threats, disciplinary hearings and random general nonsense is as normal and a bit moreso.

Much as I am always inclined to defend workers facing disciplinary action for a daft mistake it is hard to work up sympathy for celebrities who earn telephone number salaries when local government workers can lose their jobs for misdemeanours which have nothing whatsoever to do with our work.

The latest purge from employment of those who have misused “Blue Badges” (disabled parking permits) seems to me very objectionable. Using such a permit when you ought not is a serious matter and if you are caught doing so you can be prosecuted and get a criminal record and a fine of up to £1,000 for each offence. Fair enough if you’re guilty.

But if you are a local government worker you can find that as well as that you will face disciplinary action at work and could well lose your job (and then try getting another job in local government in a hurry when you have been sacked for gross misconduct!) Other public service workers may be prosecuted but won’t necessarily face the sack as well.

Increasingly local government workers are subject to “Codes of Conduct” which seek to police every area of our lives, way beyond the legitimate interest of the employer in matters which might be thought to have a bearing on our contract of employment.

A million miles from the limelight in which Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross will remain (earning millions) in spite of misbehaviour which would have got them sacked where I work, people are being thrown out of employment for wrongdoing which has nothing to do with their work.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Whats going wrong in UNISON?




Whats going wrong in UNISON?

Failed and misled pay campaigns.

Being Left to fight Single Status alone

Unelected full time officials, delaying and frustrating calls

for ballots for action to defend member's jobs.

£millions wasted as members interests are sacrificed in order

to prop up the new labour government

Restrictions on the right to campaign

The right for conference to debate key issues being denied.

Disciplinary action and expulsions from the union used to silence critical voices.


As winter approaches UNISON members, alongside millions of public sector workers, face the prospect of cuts in real pay, the threat of privatisation, and the worry that the financial crisis caused by reckless bankers chasing quick profits will lead to cuts in our jobs and services. Yet increasingly, rather than standing up to the Government and the employers who are attacking us, UNISON's leadership appear more intent on curtailing union democracy. They are trying to silence the voice of the rank and file.

We need a democratic union so that we can fight to defend

our pay, jobs, and services. We need to get together now to

discuss ways of making our union work for us, the members.

Have your say.

Its time to reclaim our union - come to the open forum for all UNISON members

22 November 12- 4pm

Birmingham and Midlands Institute,

Margaret Street

Central Birmingham

£5 registration fee payable on door

This is not an "official" UNISON event and no branch resources should be spent on it.






Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Regional Policy Day

I missed much of the Regional Policy Day as I had to attend my Branch Committee (about which you will soon be able to read on the soon-to-be-relaunched Branch blog).

However I was present for the contribution of Richard Ascough, Secretary of the GMB Southern Region.

Clearly there is some thought being given to a UNISON-GMB merger, although perhaps GMB are just on the rebound and are only doing it to make UNITE jealous...

There is no overwhelming industrial logic to a merger outside local government, but within local government the logic is so compelling that it seems mad not to pursue this possibility.

I do wonder though - if we are going to go for massive "super unions" whether we might not be better merging UNISON, GMB and UNITE and getting it all done at once?

We could call the new union VERDI?

Or maybe not...

Paul Kenny, a man of many parts as Londoners who do not know soon will, has a fine track record of dancing with UNISON NEC members. What sort of dance is he inviting us all to now? And is he offering to cook us breakfast?

Watch this space.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A bit of politics...

I am so old that I remember when Ben Elton was funny doing stand-up.

As the BBC link above says; “the alternative comedy movement of the 1980s provided the perfect home for his anti-Thatcher material, (Oooh! Little bit of politics there)” and, since the economy seems to be heading back to the 80s I’ll add a little bit of politics to the blog in honour of those memories, and in the context of the continuing debate about UNISON’s political funds.

Trade unions – about which I am normally droning on here – are pretty much a consistent feature of every developed capitalist economy. As workers in a society where everyone is supposed to be pursuing their own interests we generally manage to work out that we are stronger together in the workplace.

It’s a small leap from there to realise that we need political influence for our interests as workers beyond the workplace also – not least since the law isn’t on our side.

In this country, a little over a hundred years ago, the original Labour Representation Committee became the Labour Party, the peculiar British manifestation of social democracy, with a federal structure and a very particular organisational link to trade unionism.

Ever since, socialists in the trade unions have faced the dilemma of how to relate to a political party which has generally commanded the support of working people whilst, when in office, frequently betraying or attacking us in return for that support.

Some socialists who were in at the start left pretty much straight away, whilst others left in the 30s. Some tried to affiliate and weren’t allowed in, and others were witch hunted out. In the mean time socialists within the Labour Party have organised in one way or another over the years – and continue to do so.

Anyone active in trade unions will have experienced the debate between those within and without the Labour Party from time to time. This debate has become more acute under New Labour, whose leaders generally revel in their hostility to trade unionism.

Certainly, now more than ever, we need trade unions to speak up for the interests of our members – as I think the UNISON NEC did over the financial crisis. This will require trade unions to be prepared to be assertive in promoting independently the interests of our members. This won’t be achieved by an approach which celebrates the illusion of influence over Government Ministers.

I have a very great deal of sympathy for some of those, particularly in unions not affiliated to the Labour Party, who want to see the development of a political party which would represent the interests of working people in the way in which our Party in Government hardly has.

I also understand why some of those elected to senior positions in the Labour Party, or even in the Parliamentary Labour Party itself cease to stomach what Liz Davies called the “cult like atmosphere” of New Labour. It must be much easier to remain in the same political party as most of the present Government if you never have to meet them!

However, there is no immediate prospect of a serious political alternative to the left of the Labour Party, nor is there any evidence that those socialists who have left the Labour Party in the past twenty five years (whether voluntarily or otherwise) have made the emergence of such an alternative any more likely by their departure.

I know that to many of my friends and comrades in the unions the idea that I believe in working for socialism as a Labour Party member is almost laughable. I certainly agree it’s a long shot – but no longer than the alternative dream of a “new workers Party” (in any of its variants).

The truth is – sadly – that the only honest answer to the question of how we achieve lasting political progress towards socialism (in the long term interests of trade union members) is “I don’t know.” What I do know is that socialists should be active trade unionists and need to work together. In this way we can all maximise our usefulness in the struggles out of which we may find an answer to that question.

The contribution which those of us who are in the Labour Party can make to such joint working depends upon our being serious about our own politics. To secure a political voice for working people we need to reconstitute a Labour Party – we cannot do this by working exclusively with those inside the Party, but we cannot do it from outside either.

I would like to think that the forthcoming review of UNISON’s political fund will be an occasion for some serious thought about these questions. After all, every socialist who holds a Labour Party card has to be an optimist…

Friday, October 17, 2008

Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick?

With today’s news about the interim payment of the 2008 pay offer to local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland coming hot on the heels of the request that UNISON branches consult our members about the 2009 pay claim, I begin to feel that local government pay rises could become like buses. You wait ages for one to come along and then two arrive at once.

After all, the reason why we are welcoming the interim payment of a pay offer against which we took strike action, more than six months after it was due, is that we don’t know how long it will be before we get the outcome of the award from the arbitrators to whom we decided to refer the claim. By the time we have settled the 2008 pay claim it will be time to be considering how to fight for fair pay in 2009.

So, as well as considering what the pay claim for 2009 ought to be, the time is right now to start thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of what we have done in 2008 – and how we might do better in future. And I’ll blog about that just as soon as I have worked out what to spend my 2.45% on…

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not quite live blogging...

I am sat in Committee Room 6 with the best of intentions of blogging about the meeting organised by the Left Economic Alternative Panel, concerning the global financial crisis.

However, the meeting cannot start yet as access to the Palace of Westminster is restricted owing to a climate change protest outside the main St Stephen's entrance.

Some helpful officials have led a few of us round from Derby Gate (that's the entrance round by the Red Lion pub for those with detailed knowledge of the environs).

Others are still trying to get here. The trip through Parliament is a timely reminder that we are governed from a building which is a cross between a Victorian folly and a public school. (Which is apt as it is largely inhabited by Victorian fools and public schoolboys).

I am distinctly unimpressed that I cannot plug my laptop into the power sockets in the Committee Room, so may restrict myself to blogging a report after the meeting.

It has obviously been a failing of red-green unity that the climate change protest outside has inhibited the start of the socialist meeting within...

John McDonnell has just opened the meeting, commenting that we support the protesters outside the Commons and that the Government is truly under seige, as the Home Secretary is about to make a statement following the defeat of the Government in the Lords over 42 days.

Prem Sikka (the socialist Professor of accountancy)(!) is introducing the meeting. He describes what is going on as socialism in reverse. The financial sector has been out of step with decent people for some time - remember Johnson Matthey bankers and the Bank of Commerce and Credit International.

Trading in "futures" has separated money from real goods and industries. A few years ago there was no trade in "credit default swaps" - now there is a market worth forty four trillion dollars. These issues have not emerged overnight. There was a Swedish banking crisis in the 1990s and since then a Japanese banking crisis.

Auditors who have cleared the accounts of the banks have acted as consultants to the same banks and have failed to identify the problems. The biggest rot starts in this building (the Palace of Westminster) where we have politicians "for hire" to push corporate interests.

The class of financial capitalists dominate politics.

We need to be demanding that the Government reflates the economy with a programme of public works. The Government should open the books of the banks it is bailing out to expose their tax avoidance. Tax should be reduced by increasing personal allowances by 10% and the state pension should be increased by 25%. This could be funded by lifting the ceiling on national insurance contributions.

The multiplier effect of increasing the spending power of the low paid is high - which means that that the impact in terms of reflating the economy would be significant.

Regulation of the financial services sector needs to go beyond individual nations - in particular we need to regulate accounts held in offshore financial havens, some of which (like the Cayman Islands) should be controlled by the UK.

The bonus culture could be controlled by limiting maximum earnings in any company to ten times the average wage in that company - and asking employees to vote on the bonuses for their bosses!

Kelvin Hopkins, MP is now speaking - he has today sent Gordon Brown a copy of an article which he wrote for Campaign Group News a year ago predicting the problems we now face.

The real economic problems will begin now as the financial crisis feeds through into the real economy as expenditure is cuts back by firms and households. Jobs will be at risk and people will reduce their spending.

We could see deflation as happened in Japan in the 1990s with falling prices leading consumers to defer expenditure as they await further price reductions. We need savage cuts in interest rates and a massive programme of public works.

The rich need to be made to pay if we put money into the pockets of the poor, who have a higher propensity to spend the increase in the income. Local authorities need to be given the power and resources now to purchase empty properties and build Council homes.

Rich people don't spend their money they keep it we need to put money in where its needed and where it will be put back into the economy.

Without this we face a massive slump.

Kelvin hopes that working class people will not accept massive attacks on our living standards. The left are always right about economic policy and the right are always wrong. The Alternative Economic Strategy in the late 70s would have worked as an alternative to neoliberalism.

It wasn't the 1983 manifesto which cost us the General Election in that year - it was the Falklands war.

In the early 90s we were right to oppose the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Now Kelvin says he was almost right a year ago - except that he expected a maelstrom and instead we have a tsunami!

Mark Serwotka is speaking now - but owing to the poor facilities in this building and a dying laptop battery I shall have to contine the report later.

UPDATE
Hello all - I'm here aswell on the opposite side of the room and will update n live blog from my bb. Also the meeting was videod and will be up on the LRC blog soon, Marshajane


Mark Serwotka feels that there is a danger of politicians - and some trade union leaders - arguing that "there is no alternative" and that workers should moderate our demands. Now is the time to rock the boat hard.
He argues that the current crisis exposes the political consensus and the fact that no mainstream party speaks for the working class.
He sees no evidence that the Government is learning from its experience.
There is not a better time than now to make alternative arguments.

Mark Serwotka argues that we must insist that if the Government can act as a guarantor for the banks then it must act as a guarantor for our pensions.
We have an opportunity to argue for a halt to privatisation. We have been told that only the private sector has the solution. This is not so!
We need to prepare to resist forthcoming spending cuts.
We must challenge neoliberal ideology with immediate practical demands but also by holding out a long term alternative.

Brian Caton starts his contribution with the observation that Mark Serwotka hasn't left him too much to say - but he kicks off with a justified attack on a Labour Government which has supported a culture of boardroom greed.

Brian also agrees with Mark that we must resist the argument that workers should not "rock the boat" - he says, from 20 year experience in a maximum security prison, he has learned that if you are restraining someone who wants to hurt you then you don't let them go!

Brian finishes with the point that he doesn't want to increase the prison population but would welcome the people who have been running the banks... :)

Graham Turner says Alistair Darling doesn't seem to have learnt anything from the 1930's.
He predicts that the Government bail out hasn't gone far enough.
In the 30s the economy only turned round when reflationary policies were adopted. We need low interest rates linked to strict regulation. Commodity prices are falling and we can anticipate a squeeze on wages.

Rise in corporate bonds costs is now off the scale.

We need a housing boom to meet the current housing crisis and this can be achieved.

We are now heading into a deflation crisis and we need to be arguing our alternative policy.

If we carry on with the same monetary policy the banks will be asking us for more money. We need change.

You can spend a lot of money in banks but you will get nothing for it if you don't keep people in their homes.

We need public investment in housing, infastructure and industry and end this obsession with financial services.

Graham argues for nationalisation of the banks alongside a fundamental change in economic policy. We need balanced trade rather than uncontrolled globalisation. We need to assess the. Policy changes which turned the tide in the 30s

John McDonnell then opened it up for contributions from the floor.

A CWU speaker called for unison to affiliate to public services not private profit and to work with all the unions signed up to that to initiate joint campaigning against privatisation and private greed.

Jon Rogers then spoke to mention Unisons financial statement and why it is important to have these meetings to discuss what the government should be doing, so that people have confidence that there is an alternative.

We need to articulate and campaign around an alternative. We need to demonstrate that there is a strategic alternative so that workers have confidence to believe in the potential effectiveness of our resistance to job cuts and spending cuts.
The question of the relationship between trade unions and the Labour Party now takes second place to organising a labour movement response to the financial crisis.
We need a coherent campaign to drive the trade union leaders further and faster than they are yet going.

The point was made that privatisation is continuing a pace and last wednesday in parliament they voted through the privatisation of social services and unison sent out a briefing to its MPs on the same day.

Gary Heather then said there is an opportunity here to challenge neo liberalism, the genie is now out of the bottle. We need to be saying public investment not private profit.

We need to argue that we need money invested in public services - we need to make alliances elsewhere not just on the left but the soft left and the liberal press who agree with public investment.

Mark Serwotka then responded by saying that already in a meeting with trade unions leaders some of them have already started saying that the fight over pay has moved on its greedy now to talk about 5% we need to be worrying about job losses.

We need to be frank they are more worried about the return of a labour gov than they are about their own members.

Ted Knight from unite then spoke and said that it is important that we have the correct analysis he also says that project Blair Brown is back on track. They are facilitators to save neo liberalism. Our demands are right but who are we delivering our demands to? Workers in struggle at the moment their enemy is the labour government. We should well understand that they intend to use all the resources of the state to ensure capitalism survives. This is a government of big business desperate to save itself.

Rosamund Stock says people want to believe the system works and our challenge to that system has to involve grassroots examples.

We need a communication strategy that hits the idea of 'the market'

John McDonnell closed the meeting by saying we need to unite the struggles as well as formulating policy demands that people can campaign around.

What we will do is get information out about all the meetings but there's a duty for all of us to inform one another about what struggles are going on.

We will have attacks on jobs and welfare benefits and we need to share our information to support each other as much as possible.

(And finally, with the dying embers of my laptop battery, a final comment from Jon;)

thanks MJ for updating the meeting as it went - it was a valuable meeting and we all need to think a bit harder about economics and the explanations which we, as socialists, have for the crisis enveloping the world economy.

I was particularly struck by what Mark Serwotka had to say about trade union leaders taking the opportunity of the financial crisis to talk down struggles over pay. This is something which we must be vigilant to oppose.

The day when it will be right to restrain our pay demands will be the day when all our members earn more than a million pounds a year!

Well done to LEAP for organising this meeting, which demonstrates the value of a rank and file organisation of the Labour Left willing to campaign for a real alternative to New Labour.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Council workers pay hit by bank collapses?

The Independent today report that hundreds of thousands of council workers may not be paid this month because their earnings are frozen by the Icelandic bank collapse!

If the Government can step into bail out bankers to the tune of billions then they can ensure that council workers get paid!

The Indie article mentions that Haringey has possibly frozen its payroll though the UNISON branch locally have been assured that is not the case and they will be having further meetings with the employers locally on Monday. The article also has a quote from UNISON's Mary McGuire: "We have asked the LGA ... how much councils have deposited, and exactly what the impact is going to be in the short term."

When UNISON's NEC passed the financial statement that Jon mentions in the post below, Dave Prentis said " Working people need protection from the fall out,and called for “more regulation, more control and more accountability” to make sure irresponsible behaviour is not repeated or rewarded."

In regards to the icelanic banks DP said
"The government cannot stand by and allow local authorities to lose millions of pounds of council taxpayers' cash."They have stepped in to secure the banking system, and we need the same bold and principled action to protect local councils."And Mr Prentis continued: "Local authorities have a crucial role to play in protecting individuals, families and communities from the effects of an economic downturn."They are also crucial to rebuilding stability and confidence in our communities.

Nottingham council also have a lot of money tied up in Icelandic banks reportedly £42m and Notts TUC are having a protest locally tomorrow.

I'll be attending the LEAP meeting at the House of Commons - hope to see some of you there!

Marshajane

LEAP is hosting an emergency summit 'Who Pays for the Credit Crunch?' on Monday 13th October at 7:30pm in Cm Rm 10 of the House of Commons. Everyone is welcome, come along.


Speakers include Brian Caton (POA), Jeremy Dear (NUJ), Kelvin Hopkins MP, John McDonnell MP (Chair), Mark Serwotka (PCS), Prem Sikka (Professor of Accountancy, University of Essex), Graham Turner (author of 'The Credit Crunch').

Download the flyer for the LEAP summit. Read and debate A People's Programme for the Crisis.

What others said about the People's Programme:

"It is excellent and very clear"
- Tony Benn

"I support this programme because it is now becoming patently clear that the deregulatory agenda put in place by Thatcher and Reagan has left the world's financial system in tatters and bereft of solutions. This is an historic opportunity for the Left and for clear thinking people to promote policies based on equity, democracy and sustainability. These policies need to come from the Labour Party to both reshape the political direction of the UK and protect those people severely threatened by a downturn that is not of their making."
- Peter Cressey, Reader in Sociology, University of Bath

"The characterisation of the government's actions as 'socialism for the rich' just about sums up why we need the A People's Programme for the Crisis: ordinary people did not create this crisis and should not pay for it and its consequences. Capitalists did and should."
- Prof. Gregor Gall, Professor of Industrial Relations, University of Hertfordshire

"Few politicians seem able to grasp the significance of what is happening at present. John McDonnell does. He is ahead of the pack in understanding the public mood at present: this programme is not just what people want, it's what they know they need."
- Richard Murphy, Tax Research LLP

"The crisis can't be solved by a cosy discussion between the people responsible for creating it - financiers, regulators and the political elite. There has to be informed debate at every level of society. This People's Programme brings real economy issues like jobs and housing into the equation. It's just what's needed to map a democratic way forward"
- Cllr Gordon Nardell

UNISON NEC report to UNISON branches

This is a personal report, sent to London UNISON branches, from the meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) which took place on Wednesday 8 October. An official report will also be circulated and is available online at http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/nec.asp.

The meeting commenced with a lengthy and thorough report on Equal Pay with reference to the recent decisions of the Court of Appeal in the Allen and Bainbridge cases. Given the scale of litigation around this subject I will not report further here – at the request of NEC members, further official guidance will be issued shortly (and for those local government branches involved in Single Status negotiations there will be another Regional briefing session soon). Up to date guidance is available online via the main Equal Pay page at http://www.unison.org.uk/equalpay/index.asp.

The meeting received an update on public sector pay negotiations from the Deputy General Secretary which provided a factual update on the current state of play. In response to a question which had been raised with me by a branch I asked about whether branches involved in the NJC pay dispute could approach their employer for payment now “on account” of the 2.45% offer pending the outcome of the arbitration (as this may not be known before Christmas). It was confirmed by the Chair of the Service Group, Chris Tansley, that it was acceptable for branches to do this and that a similar request had been made nationally but no publicity had been issued about that request so as to avoid raising expectations. Local Government branches may wish to discuss coordinating such requests to employers.

Keith Sonnet also introduced a report on the Local Government Pension Scheme – including the news that on the 25 September there was a dramatic development
with the Association of Local Authority Advisors (ALAMA) issuing advice to its members
saying that, in their view, the certification test for medical retirement under the new scheme falls outside their competence. They are
advising members that any decision could be open to challenge. Effectively ALAMA
has now withdrawn its work as medical advisor to the LGPS!

The NEC received a report on the review of the effectiveness of our Political Funds, agreed by Conference when it passed Motion 63 as amended. This is being led by the (wonderfully titled) “Objective 3 Scrutiny Group” which was established to lead the last review of the Political Funds. The final report of this review will go to Conference in 2010 and initially research is to be undertaken on the political engagement of trade unions and survey of UNISON members and activists.

A report was also received on the new Head Office for UNISON, costs for which have risen recently. By December (when the NEC next meets) there should be greater certainty about the costs of this project.

The General Secretary, under his report, asked the NEC to endorse a statement on the financial crisis which had been agreed by the Policy Committee the previous day. The full statement, which was endorsed unanimously, can be read online here http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=4884. It was agreed that members would expect UNISON to make demands of a Government which was able to set aside hundreds of billions of pounds to bail out the banking industry but which could not find the funds for public services.

As the NEC statement rightly says; “thirty years of deregulation, privatisation, financialisation, tax-cutting and tax-evasion have resulted in an unprecedented widening of inequality and concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, and a massive burden of risk transferred to the many. The neo-liberal era has ended in failure. We need now to begin to rebalance our monetary and fiscal framework, our system of taxation, our regulatory regimes and our overall pattern of investment and economic development.”

I pointed out that since no mainstream political party was currently willing to express an alternative to the failing “neoliberal” economic policy consensus, it was up to the trade unions to set out such an alternative. Obviously we also need to campaign around this statement. We were assured that the Union nationally would be sending this statement to Members of Parliament. Branches should also circulate the statement to their members and encourage members to write to their local MP to ask that they support our Union's demands. Members can access details of their MP (and contact them electronically) at http://www.writetothem.com/.

Branches could also organise meetings to discuss the statement and to invite speakers to explain the crisis and the alternative which UNISON supports. Delegates who attended the Regional Council on the following day will have heard UNISON MP Jeremy Corbyn promising to pursue support for this statement in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn reported to the Regional Council that there will be a meeting at the House of Commons organised by the Left Economics Advisory Panel on the evening of Monday 13 October at which UNISON MP Kelvin Hopkins will be speaking – details of that meeting are available online at http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/#econ. The meeting is open to the public and will take place at 7.30pm in Committee Room 10 at the House of Commons (if you are thinking of attending it is worth getting along a bit early to get through the security checks).

The General Secretary went on to report from a meeting of the TUC Public Service Liaison Group on the previous day, which had begun to consider how to better coordinate public sector pay negotiations. This discussion, including the possibility of unified public sector pay negotiations directly with the Government will be pursued further at a meeting of all public sector unions in mid November. It was reported that the national demonstration which had been agreed by the TUC at UNISON's request will take place early in the spring. My personal view – which I expressed – was that we had made a mistake last year in focusing on building unity only sector by sector (an initiative which failed in our largest service groups this year).

Whilst our members are certainly very unhappy at real terms pay cuts we all know how difficult it is to win support for the industrial action which is clearly necessary if we are to stop the attack on our living standards. In my view, united action across the public sector (on the basis of a “coalition of the willing” of unions who are prepared to take action) could shift the Government and could secure the support of our members for action. It is a shame that UNISON has not been willing or able to achieve such unity over the past year. Our members are paying the price for this failure.

The General Secretary invited the Chair of UNISON's Labour Link Committee to give a report from UNISON's intervention at Labour Party Conference. The meeting was entertained with a list of fringe meetings attended and UNISON speakers. Some other NEC members were not persuaded that UNISON had achieved the significant progress which had been reported to the meeting.

If any branches have any questions or would like to have a personal report to your branch or Branch Committee please get in touch to j.rogers@unison.co.uk.

Development and Organisation Committee Report

Here, for those who may be interested in such things, is the report I have circulated to London UNISON branches from last week's meeting of the D&O Committee;

The Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee met on Tuesday 7 October ahead of the meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) the following day.

The Head of Recruitment introduced the latest recruitment statistics. UNISON's projected annual recruitment rate is 1.2% (which compares with the GMB rate of 2.5%) this varies considerably between Regions.

The Committee then considered a report from our Head of Recruitment (Alan Kerr) and academic Jeremy Waddington on a survey of UNISON members to assess the impact of our national organising and recruitment plan on recruitment.

The main reason people join the Union is to have support at work should a problem arise – and so it is encouraging that member satisfaction with representation has increased since the last survey in 2002. Interestingly over a third of members report that they have joined UNISON on their own initiative (without being asked) and another 40% join on the recommendations of friends or colleagues – the proportion of members recruited by shop stewards is far smaller.

The Committee was recommended to agree that each Region works proactively with a small number of branches who are motivated to grow in order to develop new approaches. Further surveys of how recommendations from colleagues lead to members joining the Union are to be undertaken in order to support a “marketing strategy” of advertising which raises the profile of the Union in order to support and encourage recruitment by personal recommendation and individual initiative. At long last – in the next few months – it will be possible to join UNISON online.

After years of being told that the “organising approach” meant an exclusive focus on recruitment and dedicated training to get shop stewards out there to recruit, it is refreshing that we are getting back to a common sense approach which says that doing good trade union work – and making sure that members and potential members are aware of this – is the basis upon which we can build effective recruitment. Kate Ahrens, health service NEC member reported that the positive recruitment experience in East Midlands health was based upon the Region deliberately organising on the basis of large geographical health branches. Moz Greenshields from the East Midlands made the point that the Region also makes good use of its Regional pool money to support this work. Lessons for the Greater London Region are pretty clear.

The Head of the Membership Participation Unit introduced a report to the Committee dealing with UNISON's three projects funded through the Union Modernisation Fund. All of these are sensible attempts to use this limited Government support to achieve long term benefits for the Union. The first is to develop the role of Equality Reps. The second is to develop “virtual branches.” The third is to develop the participation of migrant workers.
I asked about the role of Equality Reps in relation to self-organisation and was assured that the self-organised groups have been and will be fully involved in that project, which is likely to lead to a Rule Amendment to next year's Conference.

The Committee then moved on to consider the survey of delegates to National Delegate Conference and the Scheme of Representation for next year's Conference. Next year registration of delegates for Conference (and submission of motions) will be possible online – and this should highlight any problems in the composition of delegations at an early stage.

As always there was a fairly lively debate about this scheme and several NEC members proposed ways in which the scheme could be a little more flexible for branches – in particular around the question of whether delegates should be permitted to count in more than one “fair representation” category (for example a young worker who is also low paid be part of a four delegate delegation and by their presence satisfy both the requirement that the branch send a low paid delegate and the requirement to send a young delegate).

I challenged the suggestion that such “doubling up” should not be permitted and also supported those who were arguing that the requirement to send a low paid delegate should be a requirement to send a low paid worker who could be either male or female. The broad thrust of comments from Regions were to call for some greater flexibility.

I felt that the new proposal that the branches of more than 2,000 - who have to send a low paid delegate – would not be permitted to satisfy that requirement by sending a low paid man – was overly restrictive. However my attempt to amend this was unsuccessful and the committee went on to agree a scheme which is essentially similar to the scheme as it applied last year.

Interestingly, it was reported that in most other Regions, branches appealing against decisions to disqualify delegates are generally having their appeals upheld. Branches electing Conference delegates need to consider how to apply the requirements of the Scheme of Representation in the particular circumstances of your branch.

The Committee received a presentation on current work by UNISON's Learning and Organising Services, including a diagram which illustrates training courses available to activists and which bears more than a passing resemblance to the London Underground map (!)

The Committee was updated on the introduction in January of branch and regional joint assessments (about which the committee had received a detailed written report at its July meeting) and also on the review of Service Groups (about which Frank Hont, North West Regional Secretary also gave a presentation to NEC members later in the day). The Project Board had received feedback from service groups on the proposals which had been considered in July.

The Local Government Service group favoured “option one” (the minimal change option), the Health Service group favoured “gradual” change rather than a “big bang” approach. Generally the smaller service groups (and the Community and Voluntary sector forum) were more sympathetic to “option three” (the abolition of Service Groups and the move to a sector based structure). The process of consultation is continuing – I argued that there was no reason to rush towards agreeing fundamental changes at next year's Conference.

Branches should be aware that there will be a process of consultation about our Service Group structures in which branches and Regions will be asked to express opinions in the near future. If any branches would like any assistance in organising meetings to discuss this review I will be happy to give any help that I can.

It was reported to the Committee that the Committee Chair had endorsed the new version of the Code of Good Branch Practice as “Chair's action” without awaiting a meeting of the Committee itself. I felt that this was inappropriate, particularly since not all of the changes had been discussed by the Committee or the NEC. However a majority of the Committee were happy – and voted that in future year's the annual revision of the Code should be carried out by the Committee Chair on our behalf.

The Committee also endorsed recommendations concerning transitional arrangements for the implementation of the new Rule D.3.5.8 which prohibits NEC members elected to represent a Service Group from also occupying any other seats on their Service Group Executive. It has been agreed that from 2011, SGE members who wish to seek election to the Service Group seat on the NEC will need to stand down from the SGE before they are eligible to be nominated to the NEC. I proposed an amendment to this recommendation without success. There is however time to reconsider this before the decision will take effect (and – of course – it won't matter if we abolish Service Groups in the mean time!) If any London branches are particularly concerned about this issue please get in touch.

Following the regular report on branches under Regional Supervision (none of which are in the Greater London Region at present) the Committee received a briefing on the campaign around Clause 18 of the Employment Bill, which has been amended in the House of Lords in such a way as to make it much harder for unions to expel fascists. Details of the postcard campaign which is being supported by UNISON are available online at http://www.unitedcampaign.org.uk/employmentbill.html.

The Chair reported that the Vice-Chair, on his behalf, had agreed an interpretation of the application of Schedule D to the Rule Book in cases covered by Appendix 2 to the Rule Book (involving allegations of harassment of staff by a member). This was the only “Chair's action” (other than that reported separately in relation to the Code of Good Branch Practice) and – in response to requests from members – I sought and received an assurance that no Chair's action had been taken in relation to any branch in Greater London.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Oi! What about the workers?

I should be writing up my report of yesterday's meeting of UNISON's NEC, but I haven't yet finished the report from the previous day's meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee – and am now off to a meeting of the Regional Council.

I will briefly comment that I was pleased that yesterday's meeting adopted a positive and progressive policy statement in response to the current financial crisis.

The “part nationalisation” of some of the largest financial institutions is not intended in any way to subject the “commanding heights of the economy” to any sort of democratic control – on the contrary the Government is just trying to prop up the financial system so that it can carry on as before.

UNISON is right to point out that if so many billions are available to support the financiers then there is a strong case to end the public sector pay freeze, and to “bail out” those who face fuel poverty and repossession. Even if they don't get their exorbitant bonuses, none of the bankers who have grown even richer on the back of dodgy lending will be worrying whether they can afford to put their heating on this winter!

In the absence of a mainstream political party of the left, it is up to the trade unions to express the interests of our members in this crisis – we should be meeting at branch level to discuss the NEC statement and how we take forward a campaign for the sensible demands which it sets out.

New Labour economics is over.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

GMB Scotland, Recomend rejection of new offer

Statement form GMB Scotland

8th October 2008
26,000 GMB SCOTLAND MEMBERS IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT TO BE BALLOTED OVER COSLA’s LATEST 3% PAY OFFER WITH A RECOMMENDATION TO REJECT IT

GMB representatives did not like the reintroduction of a second year and still want to see a single year deal. They also think 3% is too low.


GMB Scotland is recommending that its 26,000 members should reject the Local Government Employers’ latest offer in the current pay dispute. The latest Offer of 3% for 2008 and 2.5% for 2009 was made by the Employers’ at a meeting with the Trade Unions on Thursday, 2nd October 2008.

GMB Scotland delegates met yesterday (Tuesday, 7th October) in Glasgow to consider the offer. They decided that they would recommend to GMB’s members that the offer should be rejected by GMB Scotland members.

GMB Scotland will be balloting all members on the COSLA offer over the next four to five weeks.

Alex McLuckie, GMB Scotland’s Senior Organiser for Public Services said, “GMB shop stewards, representing 26,000 GMB members, considered this offer yesterday. They felt it did not go far enough and does not resolve the dispute for them. GMB representatives did not like the reintroduction of a second year and still want to see a single year deal.

They also believe that given the high levels of inflation that the 3% would need to increase to reflect the significant increase they are seeing in the cost of living”.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Confronting Racism at work

All this fuss about the Met reminds me that I spent a fair bit of time in my office the other day dealing – as I so often do – with racism. The pervasive nature of racism in the workplace means that it is present as an element of many of the circumstances with which union reps have to deal – and it is perceived to be present in many circumstances as well (and the two sets of circumstances overlap but are not coterminous).

Our Union rightly devotes great energy to the overt offensive racism of the BNP and I wholeheartedly support all attempts to drive them back into the sewers where they belong.

However, for many of our black members it is the everyday experience of institutional racism in the workplace which is the problem the Union needs to confront.

And it is tricky.

Way back I guess it was easier to see the problem. In Lambeth – where I work – the Council workforce in 1981 was 90% white. In the 1980s when believing in equality marked you out as part of the “loony left” a vigorous approach to equality locally changed the composition of the Council workforce so that it was about 50/50 black and white.

Back in the early 90s, when the gains of the 80s were first under attack, the employer used to get very angry when accused of institutional racism – but for the last ten years or so the employer has adopted a more sophisticated response of hand-wringing. They cannot ignore evidence that white workers do better than black workers in recruitment and promotion and that black workers are more likely than white workers to be on the receiving end of disciplinary action.

When told that they are institutionally racist many large organisations will now say “yes, I know, isn't it awful, what shall we do about it?”

They cannot deny the problem because research which they themselves commissioned back in the 90s comprehensively demonstrated the tenacity of racism in the workplace. A few years later one local authority spent a six figure sum on an inquiry which looked in considerable detail at a particular instance of workplace conflict which included elements of institutional racism.

Since I know a few fellow union activists read this blog I would welcome suggestions about how we try to expose and uproot this institutional racism. Back when UNISON activists could lodge tribunal complaints we tried to use individual litigation to confront this collective problem and I think we ran up against the limits of individual legal action pretty quickly. The Hackney branch once put a lot of energy into getting the former Commission for Racial Equality to investigate their lead employer and I am not sure that that really achieved sustained change either.

What is to be done?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Remember the Code!

UNISON has just reissued the Code of Good Branch Practice (the link is to a pdf version of the revised Code.

The Code is a significant document which, under UNISON’s Rules, the NEC is empowered to issue.

Of course the Code itself does not have the force of the Rules – it is more like guidelines…

It is to be reported to Tuesday’s meeting of the NEC Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee that the revised Code incorporates the following new elements;

4 week rule – decision by 2008 National Delegate Conference;
Exclusion or Expulsion from membership – D&O approved guidance;
Framework for Joint Branch Region Assessments – D&O decision;
Amendments to reflect changes to region’s organising staff structure “Meeting the Organising Challenge”;
Use of IT Equipment – guidance arising from recent investigations;
Funding branch delegates to conferences – D&O approved guidance;
Meeting members’ expenses arising from ”external” disciplinary hearings – clarification of responsibility;
Branch employed staff – clarifying employer obligations and referring to XpertHR scheme.

It is clearly important that the Code is kept up to date. However I am a little concerned that these changes have all been agreed by “Chair’s Action” a provision whereby urgent matters requiring the decision of a Committee may be taken by the Chair between meetings.

I may be overly sceptical and cynical (and only recently I was savaged by a dead sheep for the perceived injustice of some criticisms I had made) but I worry about lay leadership in an organisation where the routine updating of an important document is not put before the relevant lay Committee.

I shall report back on the answers I am given to the questions which this raises.

One Member One Seat?

Regular readers (Sid and Doris Rule-Book-Anorak) will be looking forward to a report from Tuesday’s meeting of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee.

For those lucky few who are as fascinated as I am by trade union Rule Books, I’ll comment in advance on a discussion which is due to come up about the introduction of the new UNISON Rule D.3.5.8. which seeks to apply to UNISON's Service Groups a principle which you might call OMOS (One Member One Seat).

The new rule D 3.5.8 is as follows:
‘No member who holds a seat on the National Executive Council as a service group representative under Rule D.2.3 can hold any other seat on a service group executive at the same time’

The intention of this Rule amendment seems to be to ensure that no one holds two voting seats on a Service Group Executive (SGE) at the same time. Like any measure which restricts the rights of candidates to stand in elections it is open to the objection that it equally restricts the right of members to vote for whomsoever they want in an election.

However, Conference agreed this Rule. I have a deal of sympathy with trying to prevent individuals occupying more than one role at the same meeting. It can create confusion about accountability – but more importantly it limits the number of active members who are involved in the Union.

A few years ago, whilst a serving member of the NEC, I was prevailed upon to run for Regional Convenor. The Regional Council thought better of this idea, and I think it’s always worth learning from experience – I think on reflection that it was wrong to try to occupy both positions as an NEC member and Regional Convenor.

Since reaching this conclusion I have not sought election to the Regional Committee (noting apart from anything else that it is not always those with votes at a meeting who most influence its decisions!) There is a wealth of talent in our Union and plenty of people available to contest seats on the Regional Committee.

Although there is a difference between the position of Regional NEC members on their Regional Committee and Service Group members on their SGE – in that Regional members of the NEC don’t have a vote at the Regional Committee, it still limits participation in the Region if NEC members hold other positions as well on a Committee they are already entitled to attend.

Perhaps at next year’s Conference we should consider making the Rules on Regional NEC members consistent with those we have now adopted for Service Group members?

The D&O Committee this week will also need to decide how to bring the new Rules into effect – and what the implications should be for sitting members of an SGE who want to seek election to a Service Group seat on the NEC – should they be required to resign their seat on the SGE before seeking election to the NEC?

I don’t think so – but would welcome the views of interested UNISON members (particularly in the Greater London Region of course!)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Scots get half a loaf as pay round stutters to a halt

Half a loaf being – quite clearly – better than none, an offer of half a per cent is clearly better than no offer and scurrying off to arbitration (well more dawdling than scurrying!). So to that extent well done to the Scottish comrades, who have been offered a 3% increase this year (up from 2.5%) but only if they accept 2.5% next year.

Forgetting foolish faith in reopener clauses (which clearly do not work) any multi-year pay deal is a significant risk. Going into a recession I suppose it is likely that inflation will now come down, although whether it will fall fast enough to stop 2.5% in 2009 being a real terms pay cut (just as 3% in 2008 is) remains to be seen.

As far as UNISON members are concerned we do seem to be coming to the end of a pay round in which, whilst we may have defeated the straw man of the 2% pay policy, we have failed to protect the living standards of our members, whose pay rises are falling behind inflation.

I think that the 2% pay policy is pretty irrelevant since I understand that whereas in previous years some efforts were made to induce the local government employers to abide by it, there is no evidence of any such pressure this year. I do therefore hope that we won’t – at next week’s UNISON NEC – be invited to pat ourselves on the back for defeating a pay policy which the Government did nothing to pursue.

If we are honest we need to recognise that the current approach of the Union leadership is not delivering pay increases for our members.

This failure to protect living standards in the most unionised sectors of the economy threatens to reduce the union wage differential. It certainly does nothing to build our Union.

Instead of complacency and silence I hope to hear an honest assessment of the weaknesses of our approach next week, and a serious attempt to consider what and how we need to change.

This is an example on my part of what is known as “optimism of the will” and it is counterposed, I think, to the view of the majority of my NEC colleagues which – when it comes to making judgements about the conduct of our Union in relation to pay (or privatisation, or our work in the Labour Party) is best characterised as Panglossianism.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Obviously unofficial blogging about London Region UNISON

As regular readers at Mabledon Place (Sid and Doris Constitution) will be aware, I am diligent in not using UNISON resources for unofficial purposes, so clearly this evening's posts are being done unofficially.

We are now (at the London UNISON United Left) considering the problem of the lack of democracy in the Greater London Region of UNISON. Now that a majority of the Regional Committee consist of members who are prepared to go along with whatever the office wants, and has conceded control of the agenda for the Regional Council to a small and malleable group, we face the frustration of a Regional UNISON machine which does not deliver for our members.

The decline in support for industrial action from the office over recent years is one manifestation of the consequences of this stifling of lay control. The current Regional Committee majority is not producing any positive outcomes for UNISON members in Greater London.

Those who write the speeches for the supporters of that majority believe that national strike action is pointless, but have consistently failed to come up with any constructive ideas to defend our members' interests. With public spending cuts on the horizon we need a Union with ideas to promote the interests of our members.

UNITE members in the health service are about to consider strike action against a pay deal which was more or less "sold" to UNISON members. When ordinary members in the health service had a say they elected members of the Service Group Executive who stood on a platform of fighting for our members - just as members nationally have recently elected Karen Reissman to the NEC.

Branches sending delegates to our Regional Council need to consider whether it is adequate to elect a leadership which is happy to go along with the failure to fight over pay and whether this will be a leadership that can mobilise our members to combat the job cuts which are now to come.

One contributor to the current debate at the United Left meeting has called for "Democratic" control of the Region (I don't think he meant Obama...) whilst another wit has wondered whether UNISON should move in the direction of the hereditary principle for our senior officials.

UNISON in Greater London has many strengths in our activists and our branches - when you look at the excellent work that is done in many of our branches it is clear that we could achieve a great deal across the city. Whether we do or not will depend upon how branches vote at the Regional Council.

My battery is failing now so this exciting experiment in live blogging from the London Region UNISON United Left will draw to a natural close...

United Left disappointed in leadership shock!

In a new first for the internet I am live blogging from the London United Left meeting (that's the UNISON United Left I should add).

We are disappointed in the approach of the UNISON leadership to the national local government pay dispute.

The wilful inadequacy of UNISON's leadership when it comes to organising strike action is leading dangerously towards a legacy of cynicism amongst our members.

The self-fulfilling prophecy of despair from Mabledon Place has let down the largest group of our membership - and the largest bargaining group in the whole economy.

Many UNISON activists - well beyond the ranks of the "usual suspects" are disappointed and feel betrayed.

The discussion on pay at the London Regional Local Government Committee seems to have been an almost complete waste of time if the decision on going to arbitration was predetermined.

It is no shock that left wingers feel that the decision to go to arbitration is premature. However the important point is that disappointment with the leadership goes much further than us.

It appears that the decision from the Executive of the trade union side of the National Joint Council to recommend arbitration came even before the outcome of the "consultation" exercise.

The majority of the UNISON NEC are willing to support an approach in which national strike action is pretty much ruled out from the outset. This is contributing to a downward spiral in our members' living standards.

Those who favour declining living standards for public sector workers therefore know who to support...