Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 - a sequel to tragedy?

Here we are on the brink of a year previously known only as a disappointing sequel to a book that was impossible to understand anyway.

Unfortunately we appear to be approaching after thirty years a sequel to a Tory Government that was all too easy to understand.

I was going to attempt a witty comment along the lines of "all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce". That would however be unoriginal and as it is my birthday today I can't be bothered to think of anything else to say.

Enjoy the end of 2009 dear reader because 2010 does not look that encouraging...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The anniversary of an outrage

It is almost a year now since the barbaric attack upon Gaza by Israel. The siege of Gaza by Israel continues.

The Viva Palestina aid convoy is now stuck in Jordan where the Egyptian authorities are refusing to allow the convoy to progress through Egypt to Gaza to deliver aid directly where it is required.

You can add your protest by telephone or email to the Egyptian Embassy in London on 020 7499 3304/2401 and/or eg.emb_london@mfa.gov.eg. (Apparently the embassy email addresses are only meant for information, so you could include a kind note to forward the message to the appropriate diplomatic staff).

2009 was the year that our trade union movement voted to step up solidarity with the Palestinians. In 2010 we need to continue to put this solidarity into effect.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Season's Greetings!

Regular readers of this blog Sid and Doris Festive-Blogger will have noticed a dearth of posts occasioned by my being on leave (and enjoying the wonderful preparations made by a Tory Council for the recent icy weather!)

As a former Emergency Planning Officer my thoughts were with all our UNISON members clearing the ice and snow over recent days.

We should all remember the same people as we tuck into our nut roasts (or Turkey for those of you who like such things). Not everyone can be at home with their family.

Who will be at work over the holiday?

Will it be the bonus-earning bankers who precipitated the financial crisis?

Will it be the expenses-claiming MPs who brought Parliament into disrepute?

Or will it be the public service workers whose reward will be a pay freeze and job losses over the next few years?

Yo Ho Ho

Enjoy the holiday dear reader - and prepare for a combative New Year...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

UNISON Northern Region rebuts criticism

Here is an extract from the summary of discussion at UNISON's Northern Regional Committee which has been passed to me by regular readers Sid and Doris Regional Leadership;

"Blogs

Discussion held around the way in which blogs were being used by some NEC members outside the Region to make unacceptable and factually incorrect comments about the Northern Region, and elected activists. It was felt this was bullying and harassment and there needs to be a protocol to protect individuals from such behaviour. Paul Thompson and Josie Bird agreed to take up at the NEC."

For those who want to share experiences of how UNISON deals with complaints about comments on blogs I am happy to share from my own experience.

Should this blog be one of those NEC members' blogs to which comrades in the North were referring then I should point out that the comment box is open and that I would always publish the comments (and indeed a total right of reply) from any UNISON member who feels that they have been unjustly criticised.

In unrelated news I am considering requests from comrades to post reports of how and by whom UNISON United Left was set up and why (on earth) I agreed to stand in the last General Secretary election.

The price of everything and the value of nothing

There was some good coverage for the work of the New Economics Foundation on the real "value-added" by various professions.

I shall read the report with interest as it seems to be an attempt to find a new definition of "value" which goes beyond the market driven definition which does such damage to public services and the public service ethos.

To quote from the report; "Early theories of value neglected the extent to which the production and trade of goods and services may have a wider impact on society that is not reflected in the cost of producing them. These ‘externalities’ are often remote or hard to see but that does not mean that they are not real or that they do not affect real people – either now or in the future.
Because social and environmental costs are not properly accounted for, the market tends to oversupply products that may have a significantly negative environmental or social impact – such as cheap consumer goods and complex financial products. In the same way we underpay work that has a high social value, creating high vacancy rates in our most important public services such as
nursing and social work. By making social value creation an important societal goal we could set the right incentives to maximise net social benefits, ensure a greater return to labour rather than capital, and a more equal distribution of economic resources between workers".

These arguments could be of great value to the case UNISON has to make for public services - and helpful to our Million Voices campaign.

Mind you - though it is some years since I studied economics I do seem to remember some old German bloke explaining the difference between "use value" (the utility of a product or service) and "exchange value" (which is not quite the same thing as price but not far off) and also saying something or other about the contradiction between the private appropriation of a social product which is produced more and more collectively. I wonder how the New Economics Foundation think we could achieve their sound objectives whilst leaving the commanding heights of the economy in private hands?

I had better go and read the report...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Questions and Answers

A few weeks ago, in a discussion with a national officer of our trade union it was suggested to me that our National Executive Council did not do enough to scrutinise the activities reported to it – I am therefore trying to be more systematic in asking questions and pursuing answers, and will report here as appropriate.

Having reported here on the initial response which I received to my queries in advance of last Wednesday’s meeting I ought not to acknowledge that I have received numerous helpful answers upon which I have reported here, here, here, here and here.

In particular I will report here in future on the answers which UNISON members will need about the whole experience of Care Connect Learning (which I hope has been a learning experience).

Time travel explained

Having queried here in the past the process whereby the November meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee received - as recommendations supported by the UNISON National Community and Voluntary Sector (CVS) Forum - some proposals for the future Community Service Group which were in fact approved by the Forum at a meeting on the same day as the D&O meeting (and which started after the D&O meeting) it is only fair that I should report the answer which I was given when I put the question formally in the run up to last Wednesday's NEC meeting;

Community brought forward proposals to the NEC D&O new structures working group and subsequently D&O Committee as follows:
i) Following the decision of NDC, the Chair of the National CVS Forum asked officers to prepare initial analysis and recommendations for the Forum’s meeting on 9th July.
ii) A detailed paper, presenting options but also making clear recommendations, was put to the Forum meeting on 9th July. It covered member transition, scheme of branch representation, timing of conference, composition of SGE, election of SGE, SGE meetings, and sectors. The Forum had a lengthy debate about the paper, endorsed all of the recommendations, made some additional requests for inclusion, and asked officers to prepare more detailed papers on those decisions.
iii) Following this, two separate papers were prepared, one on SGE and the other on Conference. As a result of facility time and summer holiday issues it was agreed not to hold a physical meeting, but to conduct extensive consultation with the Forum through email and telephone.
iv) Extensive comments were sent back regarding these two papers. None were contradictory and so all were taken on board. Regular conversations took place with the Forum’s Chair, who led this whole process.
v) Final papers were sent to Forum members for comment and/or approval; approval was received.
vi) Some minor changes were subsequently made following this, after consultation with the Chair.
vii) The draft proposals were presented in detail to the NEC D&O new structures on 6 October 2009 working group on prior to the full D&O Committee on 11 November 2009.


This is the official explanation for why the meeting of the Committee on 11 November was advised that the recommendations before them, which were later also endorsed by the Forum at a meeting on 11 November starting after the Committee meeting, had already previously been approved by the Forum.

Supporting Members over Professional Registration

I have blogged before about the excellent work done by UNISON to represent members facing hearings in front of one or other of the bodies which increasingly seek to register and regulate the work of our members. Increasingly UNISON members don't only need to worry about disciplinary action from their employer, but about statutory bodies which have the power to deprive a worker of their livelihood (and whose procedures are in some cases fairly threatening and do little to protect the rights of a worker on the receiving end of allegations).

Knowing that this is an issue of concern to active members in the Greater London Region I asked a question on the Minutes of a meeting of the Service Group Liaison Committee which were before last Wednesday's meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) concerning a new protocol to deal with representation in front of the Registration bodies and was given the following information;

A draft revised protocol has been produced for consultation with regions and convenors.

The effect will be that all representation at hearings, subject to capacity, will be by a case officer from the new Professional Registration Representation Unit.

For this to happen effectively and to ensure the member gets the best possible support and assistance, regions and branches will need to work in partnership with the unit. The revised protocol sets out the respective responsibilities.

It is hoped to have the new protocol agreed and published early in 2010.

I think that it is sensible to centralise this sort of representation in a team of experts and I hope that we ensure adequate resources for this increasingly important work. Branches with particular views should note that consultation is with Regional Offices and Regional Convenors at this stage.

This is the link for the current Professional Services Unit should you need it.

Web to Print Service coming from UNISON to our branches

It was reported to October's meeting of our National Executive Council (NEC) that one of the ways in which branches would be assisted to participate in the Million Voices campaign would be through the implementation of a "web to print" system, whereby branches could design their own leaflets using resources on the UNISON website and then send the finished product to be printed by the national Union (with the branch being recharged of course!).

I asked about the timetable for this development and was given the following information;

The web to print system will be piloted with regions beginning early in January 2010. The rollout date for branches will depend on the successful working of the pilot with regions and agreement with the Finance department on the financial recording necessary with branch payments as part of this service. It is hoped that this will be well within the first quarter of 2010.

I'll keep an eye on this, as it will be helpful to branches stepping up our campaigning activity as we will need to over the next year!

UNISON NEC report to London branches

This is the report which I have sent to UNISON Branches in Greater London, now that I feel better after a few days ill health. I will amplify on one or two of the points covered (or not covered) below over the next couple of days;

This is a personal report of the meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council(NEC) meeting which took place on Wednesday 9 December 2009. An official report is available online at http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/pages_view.asp?did=10240 – in addition to the matters discussed at the meeting I took the opportunity to ask a number of questions about reports and Committee Minutes on the agenda and will report on these questions and their answers on my personal blog (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.com) except where they are relevant to aspect of this report.

UNISON Objectives and Priorities for 2010

The NEC agreed revised objectives and priorities for UNISON in 2010. These commit the Union to a target of 1.5 Million members by 2013, emphasise our objective of avoiding redundancies, and write into our overall objectives the Million Voices campaign.

The NEC also received a summary report on financial planning for 2010. We have a break even budget for 2010 with a commitment to find £1.5 Million of as yet unidentified savings in order to add to our reserves. I asked about £300,000 of capital expenditure in the Manchester Branch in 2009 and was promised sight of the reports which go to our Finance Committee on such financial support for UNISON Branches.

Recruiting, Organising, Representing and Retaining Members

The regular report on organising, which was debated briefly, confirmed that we are now on target to exceed the original target of 1.5% net membership growth for 2009 and that online recruitment is contributing significantly to this. I had asked about the commitment given at the previous meeting to map where online joiners are employed, in the light of comments and observations from branches within the Greater London Region.

I was advised that a detailed analysis will be carried out in the new year but that preliminary analysis suggests that some 40% of online recruits are in schools and hospitals.

There was some discussion of whether, in the light of the NEC’s objective of devolving bargaining responsibilities from Service Groups to Sectors we should now analyse recruitment performance by Sector rather than Service Group, and I understand that this might mean the production of 53 tables of data for each meeting.

Negotiating and Bargaining

The NEC received a table setting out the current state of play in relation to pay negotiations across UNISON, with comparative data on other pay settlements, claims and offers. A seminar for UNISON pay negotiators will take place on 13 January, and national representatives of Service Groups and Sectors can expect to have been invited.

The Head of Education also gave a report on the School Support Staff Negotiating Body (SSSNB) which will be set up under the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act, which received Royal Assent (and therefore became law) on 12 November. The SSSNB will be a statutory negotiating body (imagine a cross between a Pay Review Body and a voluntary negotiating body like the Local Government National Joint Council) and will cover non-teaching staff in maintained schools (excluding Academies). UNISON will have a majority over all other trade unions on the trade union side (8 seats, to 4 for the GMB and 3 for UNITE).

I had asked a couple of questions about this which were helpfully answered at the meeting. First, I had asked about the provisions of the Act which permit the Secretary of State to refuse to implement an Agreement reached by the SSSNB. This power, which is not expected to be used, was described to me as the “price” of ensuring that in general Agreements reached in the SSSNB will become Orders of the Secretary of State (meaning that – unlike Further Education Colleges for example – Schools will have no choice but to implement such Agreements.

I also asked about what would happen if UNISON members were to vote against the proposed body in the ballot which Local Government Conference has agreed must take place. I was advised that were this to happen UNISON, having a majority of the trade union side, would simply refuse to come to any agreement of the SSSNB. The timing of any ballot will be a matter for the Local Government Service Group.

The NEC also received a verbal update on Equal Pay. Although many of the claims being brought against UNISON have been withdrawn “no win no fee” solicitors remain active, and the Union is also engaged in considerable litigation on behalf of our members as claimants.

Campaigning and Promoting Unison

The NEC received a verbal report on planning for next year’s National Delegate Conference. There is concern at the small number of branches submitting motions to Conference, and the NEC intends to promote the idea that next year’s Conference should have a “theme” around the Million Voices campaign, with branches encouraged to submit motions around the campaign. Branch in the Greater London Region may wish to take note of this encouragement to submit motions to what will be our first Conference after the next General Election.

The NEC also received an update on the Million Voices campaign which led to a somewhat unproductive debate about the wisdom of seeking the endorsement of Cabinet Ministers for our campaign. The official line on this is that, by putting their name to our campaign, politicians are expressing opposition to cuts and privatisation and that we shall aim in future to hold politicians to the commitment which they have made in signing up. I understand the reservations expressed by a minority of NEC colleagues. The proof of this particular pudding will clearly be in the eating.

Developing an Effective and Efficient Organisation

The NEC received the Union’s accounts for the first 9 months of 2009. I asked about the unbudgeted expenditure on the “Three Companies Project” and was advised that this had not been in the budget as it had not been thought of when the budget was put together, but had been funded this year from savings elsewhere.

I also asked about the writing off of large sums of money in respect of debts owed to UNISON by Care Connect Learning (CCL) and was advised that a report will be made to the Finance and Resource Management Committee in the New Year to learn the lessons from the CCL experience (in which UNISON set up a company which seems to have been a fairly expensive mistake).

General Secretary’s Report

The General Secretary commenced his regular report to the NEC by inviting NEC member for Local Government, Paul Holmes, to give a detailed report on the successful conclusion of the strike in Leeds by refuse collectors and street cleaners. Paul’s Kirklees branch is collecting funds to buy toys as Xmas presents for the children of members who lost pay over thirteen weeks.

The report then ranged around a number of issues. I had asked about UNISON’s work in response to the Government’s “Total Place” initiative (in which pilot projects in 13 local authority areas have sought to identify service improvements – and cost efficiencies – from bringing together the management of different public services).

The Head of Local Government confirmed that following initial briefings to the Service Group Liaison and Policy, Development and Campaign Committees a group of officers from various Service Groups have been meeting to monitor developments, and that in addition to briefings sent to Regions and Branches, the Union is following up a request to meet relevant civil servants. A cross-service group branch seminar is planned for the end of February.

Other Key Issues

The NEC received the regular report upon “Rule I” disciplinary matters. I asked a couple of questions and received confidential replies. I intend to ask some questions openly so that I can report to branches in the Region about matters of concern which have recently come to light affecting our Region.

For the first time the NEC received a written report from the Staffing Committee, a welcome innovation which I had requested at the previous meeting, and which provided the opportunity to report to the NEC that members of the Staff Pension Scheme have voted overwhelmingly for a recovery plan which will permit the Union to retain a high quality final salary pension scheme for existing and future staff whilst addressing the current deficit. It was agreed to publicise this positive outcome given adverse publicity which arose at the time of the ballot of members of the scheme,

Matters arising from Committee Minutes

Unusually there was considerable debate around an item from Committee Minutes. This was raised by both Roger Bannister (North West Region) and Alison Shepherd (Higher Education Service Group). Both challenged the decision of the November meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee to impose upon Service Group Conferences the Scheme of Representation agreed by the NEC for National Delegate Conference.

It was reported to the NEC that both the Higher Education and Local Government Service Group Executives (SGEs) were opposed to this, believing that the Rule Book gives the responsibility for agreeing the representation at Service Group Conferences to SGEs. Paul Holmes (Local Government) stated that this was the first occasion he could remember the Local Government SGE being unanimous.

Following a debate in which the Vice President, implementing policy agreed at the previous meeting, refused to allow Glenn Kelly (representing Local Government on the NEC) to speak in support of the position of the Local Government SGE because he is a member of the D&O Committee which had agreed a contrary view, the NEC voted to support the position of the D&O Committee. I did not and do not support this decision which I believe to be in breach of UNISON Rule D 3.4.5. (The position of the Presidential Team, supported by the NEC is that the decision of the D&O Committee is permitted by Rule D 2.12.1).

If any UNISON Branches in the Greater London Region would like sight of any of the non-confidential papers considered at the meeting, or details of any of the other questions which I asked (and of the answers to those questions) please get in touch at j.rogers@unison.co.uk.

Best wishes for the coming holidays, and good luck for 2010 (we will all need it!)

Jon Rogers
UNISON NEC member for Greater London

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Good Occupational Pensions for all?

The intermittently worthwhile "UNISON Active blog" (hampered only by its contributors frequent inability to identify themselves) reports on the decision of the Irish Government to bring together its public sector pension schemes.

The consolidation of pension funds could achieve economies of scale of course - but those economies would to some extent be at the expense of UNISON members employed in pension sections so it's not necessarily good news. As I said in a letter to yesterday's Guardian I think that we should also be considering how to bridge the gap between public and private sectors.

Private companies can already, in certain circumstances, become and "admitted body" to the Local Government Pension Scheme. If the limits on which bodies could be admitted to the fund (set out in the 2008 Admin Regulations) were relaxed to permit private employers to be admitted then, over time, it would be possible to develop the LGPS as a "Peoples Pension".

There would be significant costs for the private employers who wanted to join the fund - but decent pension provision does not come cheap.

Is this not a better campaign objective than just retreating and retrenching with a view to limiting the damage which will be done in the next attack upon public sector pensions?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

UNISON General Secretary Election...?

What follows is one of the questions which I asked ahead of the meeting of our National Executive Council. I have edited this post on Wednesday evening to include the response received.

I wrote to the President on 2 December to request that at our next meeting the National Executive Council gives consideration to exercising our power under Rule A2.2 to interpret our Rules in respect of a question which you will know has arisen (and has been discussed between national officials for some time).

The question which arises is how we should interpret the first sentence of Rule E3.2 which states that; “The General Secretary shall be elected and shall hold office for the maximum period of time prescribed by law.”

At least two interpretations of this Rule have been discussed for some time. There appear to be at least three possible interpretations as follows;

(1) The General Secretary shall hold office for no more than five years, taking into account s46(1)(b) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 and there shall therefore be an election at least every five years;

(2) The General Secretary shall hold office for no more and no less than five years, taking into account s46(1)(b) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (and the uses of the words “shall” and “maximum” in the Rule) and there shall therefore be an election every five years;

(3) The General Secretary may (where nearing retirement) hold office for longer than five years, taking into account the provisions of s58 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (which would depend very much upon our having interpreted the Rules to this effect having regard to s58(2)(d)).

It is arguable that there could be a fourth interpretation that, where the General Secretary is approaching retirement, she or he must hold office until retirement (taking into account s58 and the uses of the words “shall” and “maximum” in the Rule).

Bearing in mind the recent difficulties experienced by UNITE I am sure that it will be in the best interests of UNISON if the NEC now uses its powers under Rule A2.2 (if advised that we may properly do so) in order to arrive at a definitive interpretation of this ambiguous Rule and I therefore request that we consider this matter.

Whilst we have the power to interpret the Rules I can see nothing in the Rule Book that would prohibit us from consulting widely before exercising that power, and would argue that this would be a wise course of action.

If the Presidential Team do not agree that Rule E3.2 is worded in an ambiguous way then I would be very grateful to be told what that Rule means in the circumstances, in which we find ourselves, with an incumbent General Secretary approaching retirement.

(For the avoidance of doubt - as they say! - I will not be standing again to be General Secretary of our Union (in spite of the impressive 7.5% I got last time!) - the point is that UNISON members should know what is going on about this, and that if members of our lay National Executive wish to be treated with respect we need to pursue precisely such questions).

The response from the Presidential Team, which I got just before today's meeting, was that in their view the Rules are not ambiguous but that in any event since Dave's term of office is up at the end of next year they will consider this question in the New Year and report to the NEC in "due course". So now you know...

UNISON Democracy in action

As a member of our National Executive Council I hold the unfashionable view that I am part of a group of elected lay members who are supposed to govern our trade union between meetings of the National Delegate Conference.

I therefore asked some questions about issues arising at Wednesday's meeting of the UNISON NEC and received the following response;

"The Presidential Team yesterday considered the 26 items you flagged up (issues on the minutes and other questions) and considered how best to respond given other work which needs to be carried out prior to the NEC.

In line with the arrangements which applied to the questions you raised in October, those issues which are judged to be most relevant to the core business of the NEC meeting have been prioritised for responses prior to the meeting.

The remainder will hopefully be addressed later in the week."

As I write I have received no responses. The night is of course, yet young...

Defending UNISON from its detractors

I was disappointed to miss the pre-NEC Xmas bash this evening (having to go back to the branch early evening) but was pleased to be at the House of Commons to hear one of UNISON's best friends in Parliament giving both a voice and a platform to UNISON members facing serious difficulties.

John McDonnell MP hosted a meeting addressed by Glen Kelly (speaking about the outrageous attack upon himself and three colleagues) and Caroline Bedale (explaining the scandalous assault upon her rights). In so doing John was defending and supporting some of the very best of UNISON.

He reported that he has received correspondence accusing him of aligning himself with the Union's "detractors" but clearly those who make such accusations are politically illiterate and hostile to UNISON's basic principles. UNISON Rule B.2.2 states that we are a "member-led" Union (that means that lay members determine our policies and our organisation) and Rule A.3 commits the Union to avoid discrimination on a number of grounds including "creed".

UNISON's detractors are those who attack good UNISON members such as Glenn and Caroline. Those behind these attacks are the ones who bring our Union into disrepute. It is indeed a paradox that, from our subscriptions, we pay their wages.

Glenn explained - to a public meeting in Parliament - that a Regional Organiser had given evidence in a tribunal that a training course for UNISON staff in the London Region had been told that officials needed to deal with the problem of "Trotskyists" in the Union (who should be "castigated"). This evidence, given truthfully by a respected official of our Union who has given decades of service (and is certainly no "Trot"!) is truly shocking.

As a member of our National Executive Council, elected for a fourth term on the basis of a clear commitment to democracy, I believe that there is now a compelling case for an independent labour movement investigation into the allegations which have been made about this training course.

If the allegations are not true then no one need fear such an investigation.

If the allegations are true then no on should resist such an investigation.

UNISON's most significant detractors are those of our paid officials who see their primary role as eliminating good activists because they do not like their politics.

I do not share the politics of the Socialist Party or the Socialist Workers Party (or any other such group).

I am a Labour Party member and (unlike certain other noted UNISON bloggers who make much of their Party membership) I always have been.

Unlike the Chair of our National Labour Link Committee I am honest about my Labour Party membership when seeking election in our Union (though I know that does me no favours).

I am also honest about my opposition to political witch hunting in our trade union, and that this is what is now going on.

Those responsible for this political witch hunt are - objectively - allies of David Cameron and the Tories since they are softening up our trade union so that we shall be less able to resist the attacks we shall face after the next General Election.

As regular readers Sid and Doris Trade-Union-Democracy will realise, I am a bit cross about this.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

That's how to do it Darling! UNISON budget saves money and public services.

UNISON's alternative budget demonstrates why we do not need cuts in vital public services;

• £4.7bn could be raised every year by introducing a 50 per cent tax rate on incomes over £100,000
• £10bn could be raised every year by reforming tax havens and residence rules to reduce tax avoidance by corporations and 'non-domiciled' residents
• £14.9bn could be raised every year by using minimum tax rates to stop reliefs being used to disproportionately subsidise incomes over £100,000
• £30bn could be raised every year by introducing a Major Financial Transactions Tax on financial institutions
• £76bn could be saved over 40 years by cancelling Trident, amounting to £1.8bn annually
• £500m could be saved every year by eradicating healthcare-acquired infections from the NHS - extra cleaners would cost half this
• £495m could be saved every year by adopting measures to improve the health and well-being of NHS staff, thereby reducing sickness absence
• £1bn could be saved every year by halving the local government agency bill, a sum achieved by high performing councils
• £5bn could be raised every year with an Empty Property Tax on vacant dwellings, which only exaggerate housing shortages and harm neighbourhoods
• £2.8bn could be saved every year by reducing the central government use of private consultants
• £3bn could be saved in user fees and interest charges every year if PFI schemes were replaced with conventional public procurement

Total: £74.195 billion

This is precisely what we need from our trade union - a coherent alternative to the consensus between the three main parties that our members have to pay the price for the bankers'crisis.

We need now to be lobbying politicians to support this alternative - and to take careful note of their responses (and remember them come the Election).

If UNISON Labour Link want to make effective use of our resources then our support should be going only to those politicians who will endorse the principles of UNISON's alternative budget.

Full marks to the Morning Star for giving this the coverage it deserves.

Season's Greetings and Service Group Autonomy

I sent the following message to my many friends on UNISON's NEC yesterday;

"Dear Comrades and Colleagues,

Many NEC members traditionally use the opportunity of our December meeting to exchange greetings cards.

I thought that this year I would instead send an email urging you to think of Service Group autonomy this festive season.

Whilst looking for decorations in the loft I came upon a copy of our Instrument of Amalgamation.

The Instrument of Amalgamation between COHSE, NALGO and NUPE is a legal document which is rightly defined in Rule Q as having “brought the Union into being.”

The Instrument summarised the “principal effects” of the new UNISON Rule Book which was appended to it.

One of the things that the Instrument of Amalgamation picked out from our Rule Book was that “each Service Group shall hold a Conference as set out in the Rules.”

The relevant Rules are now those set out in Rule D.3.4 on pages 15 and 16 of the current Rule Book. In particular Rule D.3.4.5 states that delegates to the Annual Conference of a Service Group “shall be elected annually in accordance with a scheme to be drawn up by the Group’s Executive and approved by the Group Conference.”

This year – for the first time – our Development and Organisation Committee has decided to impose upon Service Groups a scheme of representation for branch delegates at their Conferences, citing Rule D.2.12.1 which gives the NEC the power to implement the principles of proportionality and fair representation throughout the Union.

The reason why this is being done now, in December 2009, when it has not been done in any of the preceding sixteen years, is for the administrative convenience of online registration of Conference delegates, and not because any particular concerns have been raised with the NEC about any Service Group Conference.

The extent of prior consultation by the office before this recommendation was put to the D&O Committee was with National Secretaries (i.e. officers consulted other officers before making a recommendation about the scheme of representation at lay Conferences which are the Rule Book responsibility of lay Service Group Executives).

The D&O Committee has agreed that this is permitted by Rule D.2.12.1. I urge you to read that Rule and Rule D.3.4.5 and make up your own mind.

Even if you think that the Rules would permit us, for the first time in sixteen years, to take away the authority of Service Groups to structure their Conferences, I would urge you to ask yourself whether this is either truly necessary or wise.

The NEC did not lose any votes at last year’s National Delegate Conference because lay activists believe that the Union is insufficiently centralised or “top-down”.

If we want to build trust and confidence throughout our Union we should seek to achieve change first of all by persuasion rather than imposition.

The approach of the D&O Committee on this particular question is deeply flawed and I would urge you not to support it.

I would also like to wish you all the best for the forthcoming holiday season.‬" ‪

Friday, December 04, 2009

Labour MPs let us down on Equal Pay

Here is a link to the bad news that the Commons did not vote for mandatory equal pay audits.

To say that this is more than a little shameful would be litotes. (I think)

UNISON policy is clearly for mandatory pay audits - without this the largely non-unionised areas of the private sector where confidentiality of pay is often the rule will pose almost insurmountable obstacles to any attempt to establish equal pay.

In the run up to next week's NEC meeting I have asked some questions about the work UNISON did in Parliament to promote our policy - we need also to consider how to continue to pursue this objective.

Perhaps it is the sort of thing that needs to be in Labour's manifesto. Unfortunately whilst 14 Labour MPs voted with the Liberal Democrats and Welsh and Scottish Nationalists in support of UNISON policy, 273 Labour MPs supported the Government's capitulation to business interests (ignoring public opinion).

At least there are some Labour MPs prepared to support trade union policies.

Maintaining the tone of understatement I think this could be characterised as more than a little disappointing.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

If you do one thing today...

...lobby your MP to support positive amendments to the Equality Bill.

Today is the day MPs will debate the following amendments;

•New Clause 24: Time off for Workplace Equality Representatives (John McDonnell MP) puts union equality representatives on the same statutory footing as other union representatives, which would make a significant contribution in strengthening workers’ trade union rights

•New Clause 33: Mandatory Pay Audits (Katy Clark MP) introduces a requirement on employers, with 21 or more employees, to publish meaningful pay audits to reveal any gender pay gap.

Go and get details of your MP now and ask them to support these amendments.

Monday, November 30, 2009

UNISON's response to Total Place

Regular readers, Sid and Doris Blogger, will have noticed a developing obsession here with Total Place, the Government backed initiative developed by the Institute for Governance and Public Management at Warwick University which seeks massive savings from bringing together the delivery of public services in a given locality.

An earlier post may have given the impression that UNISON was not already responding to this initiative. Having now trawled through my papers for next week's NEC meeting I know that is not the case - it is just that we are hiding our light under a bushel at the moment.

I now know that at the NEC Policy Development and Campaigns Committee (PDCC) meeting on 6 October questions and comments were raised on: the scale of spending cuts whoever wins the general election and what the union’s strategy will be; the need for a more structured approach to recruitment work; procurement; the operational efficiency programme and Total Place. The Chair stated that a report on the Total Place pilots will come to a future PDCC meeting and that a report on health partnerships will be prepared.

Also at the meeting of the Service Group Liaison Committee on 22 October it was noted that a national officer from the Local Government Group had given an update on ‘Total Place’ at a previouagreed that a cross service group working group should be set up in order to work together on taking this forward.

I will be asking for an update on this cross service group working group at next week's meeting of the National Executive Council. Total Place poses a challenge for UNISON precisely because, more than any other issue we have confronted, it cuts across our Service Group organisation - indeed that is it's whole point.

Although readers with a long memory will remember that I share the disdainful view of the Local Government Conference about the efficacy of the current Service Group Liaison Committee to manage a major dispute, as a clearing house for information and the exchange of experience it is what we have to work with.

However, in the localities where Total Place is being piloted we need to pilot joint working between branches across Service Group boundaries - and we need to loosen the restrictions imposed by the unhelpful "Democracy in UNISON" guidelines to enable branches to work together freely.

Therefore Total Place is not just an issue for the PDCC Committee or Service Group Liaison, it is an issue with which the whole Union needs to engage. We have to recognise this as an attack on jobs and services which we must resist, and a challenge to our organisation to which we must respond.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Statement from Alan Docherty

I am reproducing here a personal statement which is being circulated by respected UNISON activist Alan Docherty to fellow UNISON Branch Secretaries in UNISON's Northern Region.

I shall not comment further this evening but will let Alan's words speak for themselves

"First they came ..." is a popular poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group. Niemoller stated he prefers the version as:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

This is true of Unison today; The Unison Bureaucracy has now come for me. I face unspecified Rule I disciplinary charges at a hearing convened by the NEC starting on January 7th 2010.

Other victims of the witch hunt.

You will all be aware, in this region, of the Yunus Bakhsh case which resulted in him being sacked by his employer and expelled from the union. (Unfortunately because no discussion was allowed on the merits or otherwise of Yunus’ case, many of you supported the attack on him.)

You may not know that at the same time another SWP member Tony Staunton, Branch Secretary of Plymouth LG, who was to stand in an NEC election against Steve Warwick (Labour Link Chairperson) and stood a good chance of winning, was also witch hunted from the union and expelled.

This was followed by Socialist Party member, Pat Lawlor, convenor Royal Victoria Hospitals, Belfast, being expelled for sending a message of support to a ‘rival’ union on strike.

In the last few months, three branch secretaries and a branch chair, Glenn Kelly, Susan Muna, Onay Kasab and Brian Debus, in the Greater London Region, all members of the Socialist Party, were disqualified from office ranging from 3 to 5 years for criticising the Standing Orders Committee of National Conference, in a leaflet, for ruling out a third of motions from being admitted on to the conference agenda.

Perhaps you did not speak out for these people because they are members of left wing political parties.

However last month, this witch hunt took a new turn. Caroline Beadle, Joint Branch Secretary of Manchester Community Health Branch, was disqualified from office for eight years - yes eight years. Her crime was organising, in her own time, legal defence for one of her victimised members, Karen Reissmann. Apparently such an action has brought Unison into disrepute. I consider from what I know of Caroline’s case, the sanctions imposed against her constitute a direct attack on branch autonomy, Unison lay democracy, and individual civil rights. Caroline is not a member of a left wing political party.

My Case

Now it is my turn. What is my crime? Despite being given a hearing date commencing on the 7th January, I do not yet know the charges which will be sent to me within 21 days of the hearing date. I suspect these 21 days will include the Christmas holiday period.

I suspect the charges are to do with an incident precipitated by another branch secretary who complained about my conduct. At the time I was a declared candidate in the NEC elections. I spoke to this branch secretary about a motion that his branch was discussing concerning the North East Shop Stewards Network because this motion directly attacked me and another branch secretary. When was it a crime to talk to other branch secretaries in private? Is it not reasonable that I would want to investigate a public criticism against me?

I have no faith in the Union’s disciplinary procedure being fair, as shown by its recent decisions. I know that unless there is genuine objection from lay activists, my days as a Unison activist are numbered.

I believe the real reason they want me out is that I have challenged, through the democratic process, the actions of our ‘leadership’ and also that I express my socialist political opinions which often conflict with the interests of the Labour Party. This is despite the hard work I do to support Darlington LG members at work. During my recent NEC election campaign I was told by several senior Unison officials that the union would move heaven and earth to make sure I was not elected to the NEC.

Our union will prove itself to be unhealthy and undemocratic if it has to use the full might of its disciplinary machinery to silence the criticisms of lay activists.

I am not a member of any political party.

These attacks are continuing.

John McDermott, NEC, has been removed from the NEC on spurious technical grounds, despite winning his election. He now faces disciplinary action for challenging this decision.

Vicky Perrin, NEC and Assistant Branch Secretary, Calderdale L G, has spent two years under investigation for alleged bullying, and it is continuing.

There are probably several more on-going cases that I do not know about, and more to come if we don’t say ‘stop this now!’

Speak out for me; write to Dave Prentis to get this farce stopped.

Who will speak out for you when your turn comes?

In a personal capacity, Alan Docherty, Branch Secretary, Darlington LG.

30th November 2009.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More from a totally bad place

Since Total Place is going to be so significant for our members I have been looking to see who has what to say about it.

Searching the UNISON website throws up a link to the latest National Joint Council pay claim – which sensibly points out that joint working under the auspices of total place will throw into sharp relief the relatively lower pay of local government workers.

This is a sensible use of the total place agenda to advance the interests of our members, but not a response to the threat which the total place agenda poses to our members across service groups.

Searching the TUC website for the phrase “Total Place” currently returns no documents, and whilst the less sensitive search engines on the GMB and UNITE sites throw up long lists, none of them are about Total Place.

I can’t find much more in the small pond that is the union-related blogosphere. UNISON blogger John Gray mentioned Total Place briefly after the September Regional Committee and this was picked up by the anonymous semi-official UNISON Active blog, even more briefly.

Whilst the trade union movement is not yet paying sufficient attention to this threat, diligent individuals can pursue Freedom of Information requests to flush out the costs being incurred (and are).

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government an outfit called “Tribal” stand to get £278,000 to write some reports about the current Total Place pilots. What they have to say (over on the admirable “What Do They Know?” site) is worth repeating;

“Tribal have been commissioned to support the local work of the pilots in the counting public expenditure, deep dive into specific service themes, and customer insight work. Two separate contracts, 'Spend Counting and Deep Dive' and 'Customer Insight', were established through open competition.The remit of the 'Spend Counting and Deep Dive' project is to build on the work of the pilots by identifying common issues and what bearing central government budgeting has on these, to illustrate the complexity of spending arrangements through spend pathway maps and to produce an evaluative report on Total Place. It will cost £218k (excluding VAT). This contract does not include development of the deep dives. This is a local responsibility of the pilots who select the service themes, consider the exiting situation and then develop the initial proposals. These initial proposals will be refined in collaboration with relevant central government departments. The Local Government Association Leadership Centre provides support to this process. The remit of the 'Customer Insight' project is to assess the use of customer insight information by Total Place pilots; what insight information is available, how it is used and does it influence service delivery. It will cost £60k (excluding VAT)”.

The various Total Place pilots seem to provide rich pickings for consultants, and clearly there is also considerable scope for the Plain English Campaign to offer their assistance so that we know what on earth the civil servants are on about (Deep Dive could be this but might as well be this).

Although the originator of Total Place says it is not primarily about saving money it so obviously is. The Managing Director of the Leadership Centre for Local Government says that Total Place is about delivering fundamentally better services yet the pilot areas are now developing proposals for next year’s budget, and the Total Place website itself says that one of the aims of Total Place is to deliver early savings to validate the work. This is about cuts, but not everyone will suffer.

When public authorities have to make big changes to achieve big savings that also means large earnings for consultants. The author of an article in Local Government Chronicle welcoming Total Place is also a Director of a company offering consultancy services to local authorities.

UNISON has done pathbreaking work to expose the Public Service Industry – we need now to turn our attention to what is going on with Total Place, who is doing it and how much they are earning from it. We need to analyse the origins of this threat from the work of the Institute of Governance and Public Management (about which I blogged yesterday) and see where and how it will threaten our members and our public services.

(And, of course, the formal pilots for Total Place are just part of the picture. Barnet’s Tory Council is racing ahead on its own path towards serious cuts in jobs and services).

Friday, November 27, 2009

In a Totally Bad Place

Ever since the September Regional Committee meeting I have been meaning to blog about "Total Place" and never quite getting round to it

In a world of academic discourse and (I should imagine) agreeable lunches after thoughtful seminars, plans are being laid which will consign thousands of UNISON members to the dole queue.

"Total Place" - the Government's plan to slash spending on public services by bringing together various functions (on the model of South West One) was given its coherent expression in a report from something called the Sunningdale Institute.

According to the National School of Government; "The paper, commissioned by the National School of Government and the Public Service Leaders Alliance, is authored by Professors John Benington and Jean Hartley from Warwick Business School. It addresses the question ‘What would it take to create more effective leadership of the whole governmental and public service system?’

Benington and Hartley argue that the current economic crisis provides a significant catalyst for developing more effective approaches to public leadership and organisation development by working in an integrated way across the whole public service system".

This is academic speak for bringing together services to save money by "economies of scale" (i.e. cutting the jobs of public servants).

This work has its origins in, and is being continued by the Institute of Governance and Public Management (IGPM) at Warwick University. The IGPM were claiming the credit for Total Place in their Spring Newsletter report on training they are organising for senior managers in Leicestershire;

"Leicestershire and Rutland are pioneering a highly innovative and integrated approach to “leadership of place”. They have formed a working partnership across the whole public service system (including the county councils, the district councils, the NHS, police, probation service, fire service, and the voluntary sector), and have jointly commissioned Warwick to develop and deliver a tailored Diploma in Public Leadership and Management for 25 of their top managers.

This programme, which starts in June, provides a unique opportunity for this inter-agency team to work together with Warwick over the next 18 months, thinking, discussing, learning, planning and acting together, as a joint leadership team for the whole of Leicestershire and Rutland. The 6 x 3 day
residential modules of the Warwick Diploma will offer this joint team a chance to apply leading edge theory and evidence to the complex problems facing their area, and to develop and test a number of joined up initiatives across the whole county.


Leicestershire is also one of the Government’s 12 pilot areas for the Total Place programme announced with the Budget. This follows one of the recommendations in IGPM’s report on Leadership Across the Whole Public Service System (commissioned by the Sunningdale Institute and National School of Government). It will allow Leicestershire and the other pilots to analyse the flow of all public funding streams into the area, and to harness them to achieve some joint programmes and common outcomes for the area".


The report itself ("Whole Systems Go") is written at the awful interface between academic language and management jargon (with a title that suggests a youthful affection for International Rescue). A lot of what it says makes sense - bringing together the administration of public services to improve those services might be a good idea in some circumstances (though it might not - bigger is not always better and specialisms are sometimes best left alone!).

Interestingly though if you download the document (available as a pdf here) and try to find the phrase "trade unions" you won't. This is not an agenda about engaging with the workforce - I wonder why?

Probably because the context within which this work is being carried out is one of massive spending cuts. The Total Place website acknowledges that it aims to "deliver early savings to validate the work." Work that has to cut spending to be validated is not work that should be done.

Activists need to acquaint ourselves with the Sunningdale Institute and the IGPM for that is where, over seminars and lunches, the deletion of our jobs is being planned. We must also keep an eye on the Total Place pilots.

Interestingly if you search for the words "trade unions" on the Total Place website you get the following message;

"No posts found. Try a different search?"

Total Place is just dressing up plans for massive job cuts - we need to prepare to resist this attack upon public services.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I cannot believe it!

In what must be a sign of my advancing age I have had a Victor Meldrew moment upon finding today's Society Guardian supplement on the wonders of "interim managers" in our public services.

To describe this as one-sided would be generous. It is full of smug articles from self-satisfied self-employed folk doing very nicely out of the public sector (at great expense as exposed by UNISON East Midlands Region).

“Interim” senior managers, paid many hundreds of pounds a day, often deliver little of value to public sector organisations, whilst generating considerable resentment at their excessive earnings and perceived lack of commitment.

In times of change and crisis (which is all my twenty years in local government) we need to recruit and retain high quality permanent managers. Consultants should be relied upon for specialist help but not to run the organisation.

A newspaper ought to report news - and its features ought to be at least a little balanced. Since thousands of public sector workers read the Guardian and know what the reality of the use of consultants is this supplement really sticks in the throat.

A truthful and balanced supplement would have generated less advertising revenue from the consultancy industry though.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Well said Mike

I was sorry to miss the People's Charter Convention last week - particularly since I missed the contribution of UNISON's Scottish Region Convenor, Mike Kirby.

Mike rightly argued that we can (and indeed should) campaign both for the People's Charter and our own Million Voices campaign. The two are in no way counterposed. I agree - and have done for some time.

Both are about focusing the support of working class people on policies which are in our interests in order to mobilise pressure on politicians in our interests. Mike's comment about the STUC could equally apply to many other UNISON Regions; "The People’s Charter was opposed less because of what it said, but because of who was saying it".

In the choice which we will face between prioritising resistance or accommodation to attacks upon our interests we need to use both the Charter and the Million Voices campaign as ways of helping our members, and working people generally, to chose the former.

Congratulations Leeds

The Morning Star is reporting the successful outcome of the eleven week long strike by UNISON and GMB members in Leeds.

This dispute is a reminder that pay equity is best achieved by collective bargaining backed up as necessary with industrial action, and that unity between the trade unions is vital to defeat a hostile employer.

The strike also shows that our members will show courage and determination in a defensive struggle - a lesson which we have to consider carefully as we face up to attack after attack in the coming years. One possible response will be to accommodate to detrimental change (such as the continued fragmenting of public service provision or attacks upon core conditions) in order to prioritise sustaining membership and organisation. Another possible response is to see our role essentially as one of resisting adverse changes, mobilising our members and potential members with the priority of defending workers' interests (and the secondary benefit of improved organisation and membership).

Regular readers Sid and Doris Crypto-Trot will know which of those two approaches I prefer, which I think the Leeds strikers have just put into practice.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Where should we build in the Local Government Service Group?

Last Thursday's Regional Local Government Executive saw constructive discussion on a number of topics.

The Committee agreed to express concern to the Service Group Executive about the recent decision of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee to recommend that the NEC overrides the powers of Service Group Executives to determine the composition of Service Group Conferences.

The Committee also discussed the growth of online recruitment and I was able to report that an analysis of where the online recruits are working is to be prepared by our Head of Recruitment.

Most importantly the Committee discussed recruitment in general at some length, including a verbal report on recent evidence about trade union density (about which I have blogged before). Whether relying upon UNISON's own data or that from the employers it is clear that a majority of the directly employed workforce of London local authority employees are not members of any trade union.

However, all of these employees are covered by collective bargaining (i.e. their pay and conditions are determined, in whole or part, by bargaining with employers at national, London or local level). All of these workers work in an environment in which trade unions are recognised and can make a difference to their working lives. These are also the LGPS members whose pensions will be attacked in the next two years.

The more than 100,000 potential trade union members in this group provide both more fertile ground for union recruitment than any other in the Service Group - and recruitment of these potential members will directly build the bargaining strength of workers (those who join and those who are already members).

I agreed with fellow NEC member Glenn Kelly that this group should be our number one priority for recruitment in the next few months.

MPs - should they be hung?

I don't generally have the time to post simple comment on what is going on in "the news" out there in the wide world, but yesterday's opinion poll data suggesting that there really is a chance of a hung Parliament got me thinking about what John McDonnell had had to say at last week's Labour Representation Committee Conference.

In a hung Parliament, relatively small groups of MPs could exercise greater influence, which could be good news for what will probably be the tiniest group of socialists in Parliament for many years. This is not simply a product of Parliamentary arithmetic (as otherwise it would be hard to see how a dozen or so MPs standing to the left of more than six hundred others could have leverage).

Aside from wily tactics in Parliament, the left - and the trade unions - could gain from a hung Parliament in another way. Given that all three of the main Parties are committed to a greater or lesser extent, to public spending cuts and (for example) attacks on public sector pensions, a strong Government of any Party is likely to be a bad thing for those of us who want to protect the welfare state and the interests of trade union members.

A hung Parliament and a weak Government will be less able to defeat our movement - if (and this is sometimes a big if) we are prepared to stand up for ourselves. The immediate task we face are therefore to seek to elect the maximum number of socialists MPs and arguing in our trade unions for the combative policies and leadership that will be needed in the next few years. (So if you are in PCS I hope you are voting for Mark Serwotka!)

We also - which is most important since without this nothing else matters - need to build the strength of our movement to be able to face these challenges.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

All the fun of the Regional Committee

As I race to catch up with the fun and games over recent days I find myself having to return to Tuesday morning and a meeting of our UNISON Regional Committee.

This was not perhaps the most exciting meeting I have attended in the recent past. We discussed the reasonable positive recruitment data (concerning which I pointed out that the various figures in the reports before us did not tally) and a range of other matters relating to the day to day work of our Union (as we should).

A dishonest and misleading report of our discussion of the threat from the BNP is already available online so I won't detain you too much on this point.

Suffice to say that my contribution in response to the news that the odious Nick Griffin is to stand for the Barking constituency was to say that it is essential that all anti-Nazis vote for Margaret Hodge (and that we should keep any critical thoughts about dear Margaret very much to ourselves from now until the General Election).

I did and do think that New Labour's betrayal of our core supporters has helped to create the political space in which the BNP now operate. I think that is obviously the case and that UNISON cannot give generally uncritical or unconditional support to Labour candidates for this reason (among others).

However where the BNP pose a serious threat we should (IMHO - as we say in blogland) support the candidate best placed to defeat them.

Even if that means that we have to elect to a Council someone who will thereby lose their employment and eligibility for UNISON office.

Development and Organisation Committee report (or the laziness of the long distance blogger)

Although the recent troubles of First Capital Connect are lengthening my commute recently it still isn't really long enough to keep blogging up to date with work at the moment so I'm cheating now and rather than blogging a full report of last week's Development and Organisation Committee meeting I will simply share the report I have submitted for the next Regional Council - with minor embellishments perhaps.

There has not been a full NEC meeting since the last Regional Council.

The NEC Development and Organisation Committee met on 11 November.

Several of the items discussed at that meeting - including reports on recruitment and the Three Companies Project will no doubt be covered in other reports to the Regional Council. (Although I will add here that we had quite a full report on the project at the Committee - and subsequently- on Tuesday - I was able to advise the Regional Officials that London may be the scene for one of the major organising drives as part of the project)(perhaps not calling it a blitz though...)

There are three particular items to which I would like to draw the attention of Regional Council delegates.

First, the Committee endorsed transitional arrangements for the establishment of the new and revised service group structures as agreed at National Delegate Conference.

These will enable elections to take place to the Service Group Executives. As the detail of the transitional arrangements varies between Service Groups I will not report on them all in detail here but will be happy to provide details on request.

The Committee also specifically endorsed a proposed scheme of representation for branch delegates to the first Conference of the new Community Service Group which is due to take place in November 2010.

This scheme in relation to which I had raised various questions (about which I will happily provide further information on request) provides for all branches with at least one member in the Service Group to be entitled to one delegate. Those few branches with more than 250 members of the Service Group get a second delegate, with a third for 500 members and an additional delegate per 500 members thereafter.

(Those with an interest in this matter can scroll down over a couple of recent posts to see my doomed attempt to suggest amendments to the scheme of representation to the Conference to make it more representative).

This does mean that many London branches will need to budget for attendance at this Conference in 2010 and make arrangements for members in the new Service Group to elect a delegate or delegates.

The second important matter which I need to raise concerns the scheme of representation for branches at Service Group Conferences. Although the Rule Book gives the responsibility for this matter clearly to Service Group Executives (with the approval of the Service Group Conference) the Committee decided to recommend to the NEC that it use its power to implement proportionality and fair representation to impose upon Service Groups the scheme of branch representation agreed for National Delegate Conference.

The majority of the Committee accepted officer advice that this was within the Rules of the Union and disagreed with my view that this is a misreading of our Rule Book.

It is my judgement as one of your NEC members that - even if this is within our Rules (which I do not accept) it is a serious error for the NEC to infringe the autonomy of Service Groups in this way. This view is underlined by the fact that the motivation for this proposal is the convenience of consistency in the application of online delegate registration and that consultation was with National Secretaries and not Service Group Executives.

Given the decision of the NEC in October on the collective accountability of members of NEC Committees, were I to vote in accordance with my judgement at the NEC (against this proposal) I would be referred to the Presidential Team who could recommend my exclusion from the Development and Organisation Committee.

Since I consider myself to be accountable to those who elected me I would welcome feedback from London branches as to whether I should vote in accordance with my considered judgement or should abstain in spite of this in order to avoid possible exclusion from the Committee. I can be contacted at j.rogers@unison.co.uk and would welcome your views.

(I would also welcome comments on the blog of course.)

The third important matter to report is that the Committee determined a timetable for the next Service Group Executive elections - these will be published following approval by the December NEC. These elections will include, according to the appropriate transitional arrangements, elections to the new and revised Service Groups as agreed at National Delegate Conference.

Those who want to make UNISON a more effective and democratic Union to confront the challenges ahead need to be thinking - and talking - about candidates for these important elections.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A tiny step forward

I was reminded today why I would sooner work for a Labour local authority than for the Tory flagships such as Barnet, Essex and Hammersmith and Fulham who are busily attacking their workforces.

Trade union lobbying (led by UNISON) today persuaded Lambeth Council's Cabinet to agree to consider an in-house option for the future of some services at risk of privatisation.

This was not what the officers had been recommending and it took the combined efforts of the trade unions and the Labour Council leadership to get us this far. It is, as I say, only a tiny step forward with all the hard work now still to be done.

However, in the context of UNISON's Million Voices campaign this is precisely the sort of hard graft to protect public services that we need to be doing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A shocking injustice

My friend and fellow Lambeth UNISON Branch Secretary Nick has been complaining that there are not enough posts on this blog about obscure points in the Union Rule Book - so I shall return to something I was saying about Rule K.

That is the Rule which governs how members of UNISON can access legal advice, which is entirely within the discretion of the National Executive Council (delegated of course, for the most part, to officers).

I blogged before about a case in which the Union was found by the Certification Officer to have breached our Rules - in that case a Branch Secretary was criticised by the Certification Officer. Since that time the individual in question has served on our National Executive Council.

Not everyone who is accused of putting a foot wrong in our Union is treated so sympathetically.

Caroline Bedale from Manchester has been banned from holding UNISON office for 8 years.

All charges relate to the campaign to reinstate Karen Reissmann – who had been sacked by her employer (Manchester Mental Health Trust and Social Care Trust) – and who was supported by UNISON in this campaign, not just for reinstatement to her job but for the right for trade unionists to speak out against cuts and privatisation.

Caroline Bedale has been found guilty by a UNISON Disciplinary Committee of charges relating to things she did after UNISON withdrew legal assistance from Karen Reissmann, just before Karen‟s case was due to be heard by an Employment Tribunal. The disciplinary penalty means she will be barred from holding union office for 8 years (i.e. for the rest of her working life!)

Legal assistance was withdrawn because Karen decided not to take some legal advice. Only the legal assistance was withdrawn – UNISON policy continued to support the campaign for Karen‟s reinstatement and for the right for trade union activists to speak out against cuts and privatisation.

These are two questions being posed by Karen's supporters;

What would you have done if your branch was under attack from a vindictive employer who had
sacked the Chairperson of your branch because of their trade union work and speaking out against cuts and privatisation?

Wouldn't you have been dismayed if, after an unprecedented strike by health workers and a
high profile union campaign for reinstatement, the union's legal assistance had been withdrawn? Given that the union policy of campaigning for Karen‟s reinstatement still continued wouldn't you have done what you could to defend and support her?

I know that I would always do my best to defend an activist in the branch - if we don't stick up for each other in circumstances like that we are done for.

Caroline faced three charges;

A: “Seeking to secure alternative legal advice and representation for Karen Reissmann, whose legal
advice and representation had been terminated by the Union”.

B: “campaigning against UNISON policy” – that policy is defined as “the decision of UNISON to
withdraw legal representation from Karen Reissmann” – and that Caroline has acted in a manner prejudicial to the Union in so doing.

C: “using UNISON resources to campaign against UNISON policy” – Caroline is said to have
campaigned against the Union‟s rules and policy, and acted in a manner prejudicial to the Union in so doing. It is not specified what rules she is meant to have campaigned against, and the „policy‟ is actually a „decision‟ not a policy.

This is because Caroline did the following things as a UNISON Branch Secretary;

1. At Karen‟s request, Caroline sent a letter to Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre (SUCRC) asking if they would “look into taking on” Karen‟s case if UNISON did not agree to continue the legal assistance. No UNISON funds were used for Karen‟s new legal representation.

2. As agreed by the Branch Committee, Caroline sent a letter to all branches in September 2008 to update them on Karen‟s case, and to say that the campaign continued for her reinstatement and for the right for trade unionists to speak out against cuts and privatisation. The letter asked branches to sign an open letter and petition to Ivan Lewis MP. A branch delegation together with the NW Regional Secretary, Frank Hont, was planning to meet him about Karen.

The letter mentioned that the Union had withdrawn legal assistance, and said that the Branch Committee “think this is a shame”. That was the only comment on the withdrawal of legal assistance – but this is said to be „campaigning against UNISON policy‟ and prejudicial to the union. There was NO campaign to get the union to reinstate legal assistance. There WAS a continuing campaign in support of Karen, supported at national, regional and branch levels. Caroline was found not guilty of breaking any rules by sending this letter, but was found to have acted in a manner prejudicial to the union.

I have to say, as a long serving UNISON Branch Secretary who is notoriously cautious about staying within the Rules I might very well have done the same. Caroline acted in good faith to defend a fellow activist and - had she known about the Certification Officer decision in the case of the London UNISON Branch Secretary she might have felt reassured that, even if she had committed some technical breach of Rule, the Union would stand by her.

Unfortunately she would have been wrong to have been reassured. It seems the Union takes a harsher view of someone who is held to have breached a Rule to try to help a member than it does when someone breaches a Rule in a way which could obstruct a member from receiving help (unless of course that it is the politics of the individual which makes the difference).

What takes the case almost into the realms of fantasy though are the allegations made by the Union about things she did in her own time and with her own resources.

3. She allowed her private telephone numbers to be used as the contact point on a press release from the independent „Reinstate Karen Reissmann Campaign‟.

4. Caroline sent an email from her own computer using her email to a closed discussion email group for members of the United Left in UNISON, to let them know what was happening in Karen‟s case. She said that legal assistance had been withdrawn and that there were attempts to persuade the union to reinstate legal support. This email is said to have been “in furtherance of a campaign against a decision of UNISON to withdraw legal representation from Karen Reissmann”. There was NO such campaign to try to get the legal representation reinstated. A comment in an email does not constitute a campaign. Again, she was found not guilty of breaking any rules by sending this email, but was found guilty of acting in a manner prejudicial to the union.

Caroline had every right to express her personal opinions in personal emails - and to allow her home telephone number to be used for a campaign. I have often used my own resources to book meetings, produce leaflets and organise campaign activities. Like Caroline, I am diligent about not using our Union's resources for purposes other than those specified in our Rule Book - but what I do in my own time with my own money and resources is my own business.

I have been proud to count Caroline as a friend and comrade over a number of years. She is an excellent and dedicated trade unionist and the sort of person upon which the movement depends. She has often been a critic of our leadership when it has been wrong - and has as often been foremost amongst our activists.

If we permit a good comrade to be hounded out of office in our Union then we shall be as guilty as those doing the hounding.

As a member of UNISON's National Executive Council re-elected for a fourth term I believe that there is a great deal of which we can be proud about in relation to our Union. We shall, over the next period, be the first and sometimes only line of defence around vital public services upon which some of the most vulnerable depend. I am proud to be a UNISON member.

But I am not proud of the politically motivated misuse of our disciplinary procedures which becomes more blatant year by year. It's time this stopped.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Time travel in UNISON

I explained here earlier my reservations about proposals for the scheme of representation at the first Conference (in just under a year's time) of UNISON's new Community Service Group.

This is an important event for an important part of our Union. Our 61,000 members in this Sector - even allowing for UNITE's claim to a membership around 60,000 are joined by perhaps half a million workers who need - but do not have - union organisation.

UNISON needs the Community Service Group to get off to a good start. More importantly, hundreds of thousands of working people need our trade union to get its act together and organise them.

So I was - and am - concerned that we are proposing a scheme of representation which gives the best organised half of the membership access to little more than 10% of the delegates places at the Conference.

At Wednesday's meeting of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee I did not - in the end - push my opposition at the meeting to a vote which I could see that I would have lost because I was assured that the scheme before us had the approval of the UNISON National CVS Forum (as was indicated in the report circulated to us before our meeting on 11 November).

What I know now is that the CVS Forum did approve the proposals - at a meeting which began at 11am on Wednesday 11 November.

We were told that the CVS Forum had approved these proposals in a report circulated in advance of the D&O meeting - which began at 10am on Wednesday 11 November.

I can only conclude that a national official was able to travel back in time following the decision of the National CVS Forum on 11 November in order to inform the report circulated in advance of the D&O Committee meeting of the same date!

If UNISON officials have perfected time travel perhaps they will be looking to other events which they wish to influence...?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Just because someone says it does not make it so..

A brief post to alert regular readers Sid and Doris Rule-Book-Anorak to look out for detailed reports from today's meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee - at which I learned an important lesson about the interpretation of the Union's Rules.

It was made clear that just because someone (a blogger perhaps?) says that something is in breach of the Rules that does not mean that it is.

However if someone else says that something is not in breach of the rules then that does mean that it is not.

The key factors in determining which is the authoritative interpretation of the Rules is that the true interpretation should be;

(a) louder;

(b) grumpier, and;

(c) delivered by someone sitting on the top table at the front of a meeting.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Forward to the late 1980s?

I suppose I have to get round eventually to apologising to every other delegate to last year's Local Government Service Group Conference - and now is as good a time as any.

Thanks to my interventions on behalf of my branch we won a card vote for a reference back of the report of the Standing Orders Committee.

(Please note that all those who - like me - enjoyed the last paragraph are plainly in need of medical help, along with regular readers Sid and Doris Pedant...)

Since Conference had been warned before agreeing the reference back that, were it do so, no business could be transacted until we had the vote, that threat had to be made good.

And so we were subject to a forty five minute presentation from delegates from Newcastle City (including Kenny) about their response to public spending cuts.

This amounted to telling us that they had discovered that sometimes you have to engage with the employer as they make spending cuts in order to limit the damage.

I first made myself unpopular with some comrades in Lambeth by advancing - and winning - that argument in 1988.

From my knowledge of employee relations in London local government in particular I know that this is what many of us have been doing for the last two decades. It's just that we don't normally go round in advance boasting about our bottom line in forthcoming negotiations. That is rarely helpful.

So, here comes the apology.

I am desperately sorry to hundreds of delegates that, because you rightly voted for reference back on my recommendation, you were subject to three quarters of an hour explaining why you have to do what you do already.

For those who are gluttons for punishment you can read more online.

In what may be totally unrelated news, UNISON's Northern Region is the worst performing Region when it comes to recruitment....

Sunday, November 08, 2009

An online report from the Three Companies Project

It’s good to read some positive reporting of the work done in Sheffield last week as part of the “Three Companies” project with which the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is assisting UNISON in a drive to organise workers employed by Compass, Sodexho and Aramark.

In a few days the UNISON NEC Development and Organising Committee will receive a presentation on this project as we did not when we met in September (though others were better briefed).

After all the controversy surrounding inter-union disputes and the questionable conduct of the SEIU in the United States (and the dubious practices – such as agreements confidential from the membership - associated with similar organising drives on the other side of the Atlantic) it is refreshing to read something positive from one of the organisers on the ground.

I look forward to hearing how many workers we have recruited to UNISON in Sheffield last week and what our plans are to embed union organising and build the collective strength of employees in our target areas.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Recruitment - modest good news

I will blog in full after Wednesday's meeting of the Development and Organisation about the discussion which I hope we will have around recruitment.

The good news is that UNISON membership is increasing, albeit at a relatively modest rate. However, given the job losses which are occurring in some of the areas in which we organise, the fact that we may exceed our target of 1.5% net growth for the year is very welcome.

There are some interesting questions which arise from the data which will be considered at the Committee meeting, some of which I have asked in advance.

It is interesting to consider the Regional variations in recruitment performance. What is it about the East Midlands that makes it the Region which is recruiting best and growing strongly, whereas our worst performing Region (the Northern Region) which has the same annual turnover of membership as the East Midlands is projected to shrink this year?

I am also interested in the balance to be struck between reaching out to organise the unorganised and seeking to raise our density in our core areas (remember that a majority of the directly employed workforce of the London boroughs are not members of any trade union!). I worry that we sometimes get carried away being "forward looking" and facing up to the increasing fracturing of public service provision and so lose a focus on recruiting in our core employers.

If we want to be in a position to evaluate our organising efforts we cannot measure success purely in numbers. Trade union members do not join a union as an end in itself but as a means to the end of promoting our collective interests. We need to measure our effectiveness against a number of indicators, including density, developments on pay, pensions, conditions and job security and the breadth and depth of coverage of collective bargaining in the areas in which we organise.

The fact that potential trade union members are looking at the union for what collective organisation can deliver for their interests is borne out by the fact that the biggest spikes in recruitment occur around major national disputes.

The Tories are coming for the Local Government Pension Scheme. Last time our pension was attacked we took action - and we recruited many more members to our Union. This is an issue around which we should aim to recruit the many thousands of local government workers who are not in a trade union.

Three companies - more than one opinion

The semi-official and mostly anonymous "UNISON Active" blog has its undergarments entangled over a story in Tribune today and therefore manages to miss all the important points.

The unnamed blogger over at UNISON Active is all angry. Not at the employers who profit out of low paid labour, nor at the Government which keeps in place the labour legislation to permit that. No - the nameless blogger reserves their ire for Tribune who have dared to report on a letter sent to UNISON by US Union UNITE HERE (about which regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger know already).

The author of the anonymous contribution over at UNISON Active really needs to go and have a lie down.

The Three Companies Project appears to be a worthwhile initiative about which I have blogged before - albeit it would have been nice if the project had been reported back in UNISON's lay structures before it appeared ("semi-officially") online.

I am looking forward to a presentation about the project at Wednesday's meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee.

The dispute between UNITE HERE and the SEIU is not however irrelevant to the global trade union movement and we cannot simply ignore the compelling evidence of widespread support for UNITE HERE against the predatory behaviour of the larger union.