Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Remembering Malcolm

I'll be back blogging soon - in the mean time for those who want to remember Malcolm Campbell and share our memories you can do that online here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Malcolm, I miss you mate

One of the ways in which a lifetime of commitment to our movement repays us is that we get to meet friends and comrades who are amongst the finest humans to grace the surface of our little planet.

One such was Malcolm Campbell, Secretary of Croydon UNISON until his untimely death yesterday.

It is too soon, and I am too sad, to articulate the depth of my feelings about this tragic loss. Nor shall I be in the mood to blog immediately about the many topics which require comment just now.

Soon however I shall return to the everyday struggle of trade unionism - and I shall do so knowing always that everything I am or can ever be has been enhanced by having been a friend of a great trade unionist.

Malcolm. I miss you mate.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Unions must fight to defend public services

The scale of public spending restrictions which we now face over coming years means that whichever Party is in Government after the next General Election, the trade unions have to fight for a change in policy.

This seems to be moment at which the Trade Union Coordinating Group could come into its own - since the TUC does not appear to see the coming crisis. Public service unions need to issue clear warnings to our members about the struggle ahead.

UNISON needs to work together with our allies in the movement to prepare to defend ourselves against attacks upon our jobs and pensions - these allies do not include the present Government.

If you still haven't voted in the UNISON NEC elections don't forget to vote for the candidates who are committed to doing this joint trade union work.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Health workers pay not up for grabs (this year)

UNISON has sought - and received - assurances that there will be no attempt by the Government to reopen the NHS pay deal to impose a pay freeze.

Good.

However, what is clear is that yesterday's budget plans threaten public spending across the board - and therefore threaten the jobs and pay of all public service workers.

We need a fighting union to defend our members in the face of the attacks to which this will lead.

I'll leave regular readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) to guess what I think that means about how you should cast your vote in the UNISON NEC elections...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Prepare for the coming attacks on jobs

In UNISON's official response to today's budget our General Secretary says that we "will look for assurances that public service workers, who have gone through 18 re-organisations in as many years to improve those services, will not be made to pay the price for the failures of others."

With massive public spending cuts buried in the small print we may look in vain.

A hat tip to MJ over at Union Futures here for blogging the links that demonstrate how these cuts will bite in the coming months and years. The Government will try to force through further outsourcing, based upon shared services, in local government.

UNISON Scotland did the right thing today in supporting the Peoples Charter at the STUC, putting UNISON firmly on the progressive side of policy debates within the movement - we need to much more to assert our political independence from this reactionary Government and the supine Labour Party.

Which, of course, means that if you have not already voted in the elections for UNISON's National Executive Council you should vote for the candidates of the left.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fighting racism at work

Following on from the last post, the print edition of the South London Press (with which the website will no doubt catch up) today reports UNISON's having uncovered the 15% race pay gap in Lambeth Council.

It is a shame that Council officers gave a defensive response to press enquiries on this issue and I can't believe that the political administration will support an ostrich-like attitude to the evidence that (on average) white workers earn more than £5,000 a year more than black workers in the same organisation.

This sort of evidence of the impact of racism in the real world of work is precisely what the Race Relations Amendment Act and the Statutory Duties Order were intended to expose. Only by being honest about the reality of racism at work can we hope to confront and change it. Employers need to learn that, whilst UNISON wants to work constructively with them, we will not hesitate to tell the truth if they show any reluctance to do so.

I am very pleased that Lambeth UNISON will be putting this important issue on the agenda of the UNISON Greater London Regional Council, where I hope for unanimous support for sensible proposals to tackle this racist injustice across the whole city.

Fighting racism in our communities

Illness kept me from last Friday's vigil to mark the tenth anniversary of the Brixton nail bombing.

I was pleased that other local UNISON members were present (and will blog a link to the local media coverage once the South London Press website catches up with the print edition!)

Ten years ago the people of Brixton learned what the racist BNP thinks of our wonderful local community and only the courage of local people prevented carnage. Within just over a fortnight local UNISON activists took the lead in organising a 300 strong march from Brixton to Trafalgar Square to join 1999's May Day rally. Acting as Chief Steward on that demonstration was one of the most important things I have done as a trade unionist.

I was therefore really happy today that - ten years after we took the lead in organising that important demonstration - our local UNISON branch endorsed a decision of the joint trade unions to produce a local leaflet urging all Council employees to register to vote. Because whilst the far right came to Brixton with a nail bomb ten years ago, this year they want a Euro MP to represent the very communities they tried to decimate.

Just as we opposed the nail bomber in 1999 so we must oppose his co-thinkers in 2009. UNISON is calling on all our members to vote against the far right, but to do so you have to be on the electoral register in the first place.

It is equally clear to me that if we are to neutralise the appeal of the far right to marginalised groups and individuals then the trade unions have to use our political clout to put progressive policies which benefit working class people back on to the mainstream political agenda.

Which of course has implications for how you cast your vote in the UNISON NEC elections...

POLICE SHUT DOWN TOMORROWS BUDGET PROTEST... DEMONSTRATE 5-7PM!


 
 
The their crisis not ours demonstration scheduled for 11.30 tomorrow morning has been cancelled because the police have decided at the last minute to refuse our permission to demonstrate.
 
This is a disgraceful attack on our right to protest - however the events later in the day will be still going ahead - so lets make them huge.
 
 

www.theircrisisnotours.org.uk            

 

POLICE SHUT DOWN 11.30AM PROTEST… DEMONSTRATE OUTSIDE TREASURY 5PM-7PM!

 

The police have refused to authorise our planned demonstration on Whitehall at 11.30am and have made clear that, if it takes place, the organiser will be liable to arrest and imprisonment for up to a year.

 

To avoid any police action against protesters turning up, we have been forced to cancel this demonstration.

 

Our protest from 5pm-7pm outside the Treasury (1 Horse Guards Road , London SW1A 2HQ – click link for map) will still take place. Please spread the word and attend the protest to demand a People's Bailout – and defy police moves against demonstrations.

 

We will also be going ahead with our 7.30pm Question Time event with John McDonnell MP, economist Graham Turner and others in Committee Room 10, House of Commons.

 

Make sure you come along and exercise your right to protest.


Best wishes,


Owen Jones

Campaign Convenor

 

 


Monday, April 20, 2009

The Tories Easter threat to our pensions

I am so glad that I was supervising a belated Easter Egg hunt rather than watching George Osborne on the Andrew Marr show yesterday!

The would-be Chancellor of the Exchequer said; "When it comes to pensions, I'm not bound by any deal that the Labour Party has done with the public sector unions," and that "public sector pensions are actually a long-term burden on the state."

This fits neatly alongside what his leader said in November. He said that "my vision over time is to move increasingly towards defined contribution rather than final salary schemes". Whereas a final salary, or any other defined benefit, scheme delivers some certainty about income in retirement (surely one of the main points of a pension) defined contribution (or "money purchase") schemes amount to an invitation to gamble your retirement income on the stock market.

No thanks.

I'm no cheerleader for this terrible New Labour Government, but it is pretty clear that the Tories in power would be worse for UNISON members - these threats to the pensions of public sector workers being an obvious case in point.

I draw two conclusions about how UNISON should respond. First we need to put pressure on this Government to adopt progressive and popular policies that could fight the recession and save us from the prospect of a Tory Government (I know it's a long shot but I'm an optimist).

Secondly though we need also to prepare for the possibility of confronting the Tories in power (as many of our local government branches already are of course!) This does mean that we need a leadership who are both willing and able to lead a fight to defend the interests of our members.

Regular readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) will by now have worked out who I mean - and that I am going to urge you to vote for the candidates of the left in the UNISON NEC elections.

UNISON NEC elections - week two

We are now into the second week of the elections to UNISON's NEC. Whilst the result of any particular election is unknowable all the indications are that the candidates of the left will improve our position, enabling us to build upon UNISON's progressive policies and develop a better Union to face the challenges ahead.

The calibre of the opponents of the candidates of UNISON's left is revealed in the poor quality of the (barely) political attacks which they have managed to muster in their election addresses and in their stuttering online presence.

Rather than argue about policies and how they should be implemented our opponents focus on smearing our candidates and scaremongering about our politics. Unable to argue on the issues they try to find something to dislike about the identity of candidates. It would be so easy to respond in kind (I have spent years being polite and restrained about NEC colleagues).

It is however vitally important that no one rises to this juvenile bait. UNISON members deserve so much better than we have been getting and UNISON can achieve so much more than it has if we can significantly improve the politics and the quality of our NEC. Our objective has to be getting the vote out now and not to engage in pointless disputes.

Let's leave the personal attacks and essentially apolitical vitriol to those desperate to cling on to position in the face of their own failures. Members are enthusiastic to support radical candidates who are positively promoting policies which provide answers to the challenges we face.

UNISON Health Conference opposing privatisation

As delegates from health branches gather in Harrogate for the Health Service Group Conference, UNISON is making the news with an important new report making the connections between the privatisation of cleaning in our hospitals and the spread of infection, which makes the compelling case that “a properly resourced, integrated, inhouse cleaning service can make a real contribution to infection control because good quality cleaning is effective, achievable and is exceptionally good value for money”.

That’s just one of the reasons why our General Secretary told delegates today that UNISON would never give up our opposition to privatisation saying; "UNISON will never, ever back down on the market. Patients are not consumers. The market cannot do a better job”. UNISON has been dealing with the consequences of privatisation for health workers for many years (the strike of the Hillingdon hospital cleaners from 1996 springs to mind).

Now – as Dave Prentis told Health Conference today – when we have seen the biggest financial bubble in history burst it is precisely the time for us to redouble our opposition to privatisation. That’s why I am proud to be standing alongside candidates like Kate Ahrens, Karen Reissmann, Roger Davey and Stephen Lintott in elections to UNISON’s National Executive Council. We need a leadership for UNISON who will make the sea change that is necessary to step up our campaign in defence of public services.

Support the candidates of the left.

UNISON members losing confidence in the Government - official

Dave Prentis was missed at last week's NEC - but everyone's entitled to a holiday! Opening today's Guardian I am very glad he's back.

Dave has returned to offer some home truths to this beleaguered government.

Responding to the so-called "smeargate" scandal (in which the Labour Party General Secretary is now implicated), it is reported that Dave will say; "Our time and patience is running out. The country is in a mess and we look to the government to come up with serious solutions, not to waste time in childish venom. The government is losing us. It is losing the support and trust of health and public service workers in their droves."

I think this is a timely and important intervention. What we need from this Government is a serious response to economic crisis along the lines of UNISON policy.

What we don't need is scurrilous anonymous blogs set up to libel opponents. (As an aside, I think that trade unionists who want to be taken seriously need ourselves to avoid anonymous blog posts. Those who blog anonymously are clearly not supporting the views of our General Secretary but are closer to the discredited approach of Damien MacBride.)

What UNISON members now need are more NEC members prepared to take the more robustly independent political line which is increasingly required as this failing Government persists in ignoring the warnings of our leaders.

If you are a UNISON member who has not already voted in the NEC elections - vote for the candidates of the left now!

Full marks to Dave Prentis for speaking the truth to the Government today - given the reported role of Charlie Whelan in relation to the "Red Rag" website (and the links between that Union and Derek Draper's public online presence) it will be good to hear from the leaders of another large trade union too...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fight Job Losses at London Met

I thought I had blogged enough today but was reminded in email correspondence of the very serious situation at London Metropolitan University, where hundreds of jobs are at risk. 37 MPs have signed EDM 575 calling on management to negotiate meaningfully with the trade unions but this plea seems to have been ignored.

UNISON and UCU have set up a joint campaign in opposition to these proposed job losses. UCU members are already being balloted for industrial action. UNISON members have also agreed to request a strike ballot.

I'll report further soon on how UNISON is supporting our local branch and our members to resist this attack.

Links to the latest reports on local government pay

Other UNISON activists have already reported on the latest on local government pay - here for example (as mentioned here earlier!) and also here. The latest "official" position is not as up to date as these comments.

I agree (as I have said) we need more than 0.5% and will return to this topic soon.

UNISON NEC Report

As with the last blog post, I've been delayed in circulating - and then blogging - my report to Greater London Region branches from last Wednesday's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC).


The start of the meeting was unavoidably delayed by discussion about the eligibility of a member from the Yorkshire and Humberside Region to attend the meeting. I proposed as a compromise that the NEC member be invited to attend as an observer since he had had no prior notice of the questioning of his eligibility. Unfortunately this was not agreed. As it turns out he found something else of value to do with his time.



The official report of the NEC meeting advises on the priorities adopted by the NEC for debate at Conference. Branches in the Greater London Region have also been asked to consider priorities and to submit prioritisation forms to the Regional Secretary by 5pm on Tuesday 28 April. In considering priorities branches it is worth remembering first that only items which attract support in the prioritisation process stand any chance of being debated at Conference and secondly that motions which are not taken at the Conference are referred to the NEC. Therefore if the NEC supports such motions the Union will do so after Conference, whereas if the NEC opposes a motion which is not taken at Conference the Union will not do so.



I will therefore report on NEC policy so that branches can, if you wish, take this into account when submitting prioritisation forms to Regional Office. The NEC supports the great majority of motions to National Delegate Conference. The following are the exceptions, motions which the NEC is not supporting (where these come from Greater London branches I’ll identify them);



Motion 6 – Equality Monitoring and Motion 7 – Fair Representation in National Delegate Conference Delegations (Croydon)



The NEC has deferred a decision on these motions pending consultation with the National Self-Organised Groups.



Motion 8 – Reserved Seats in UNISON



The NEC is opposing this motion and submitting an amendment.



Motion 10 – New Structures, New Partnerships, New Ways of Working (Southwark)



The NEC is opposing this motion which is expected to be counterposed to Motion 9 (“Improving UNISON Structures” from the NEC).



Motion 41 – The Future Directions of the Union, How We Respond and How We Organise (Greenwich)



The NEC is opposing this motion. I objected to this decision.



Motion 57 – World Economic Crisis (Hackney) and Motion 58 – Economy (Islington)



The NEC is opposing these motions.



Motion 61 – Making the Case for Public Ownership



The NEC is opposing this motion and submitting an amendment.



Motion 62 – Democratic Socialism



The NEC is opposing this motion. I objected to the flawed rationale for this position (that the motion “moves away from collective bargaining”).



Motion 70 – The Labour Government (Greenwich)



Although the officer report recommended opposition to this motion, it was reported that the relevant body (the august “Objective Three Scrutiny Group”) had yet to meet to consider this recommendation so no decision was made.



Motion 74 – Palestine/Gaza



The NEC is opposing this motion on the grounds that it goes further than existing UNISON policy.



Motion 80 – Palestine



The NEC is opposing this motion on the same grounds as Motion 74.



Motion 84 – Bolivia



The NEC is opposing this motion and submitting an amendment, arguing that Bolivia is not a “priority country” for UNISON.



Motion 85 – Hands off the People of Iran



The NEC is opposing this motion.



Motion 88 – European Minimum Wage



The NEC is seeking the withdrawal of this motion, which it will otherwise oppose.



Motion 101 – The Price of Equality



The NEC is seeking withdrawal of this motion.



Motion 118 – Green Taxes



The NEC is seeking the withdrawal of this motion, which it will otherwise oppose.



Motion 124 – Free Public Transport



The NEC is opposing this motion.



Motion 130 – Conference Venues



The NEC is seeking withdrawal of this motion on the grounds that there are no plans to return Conference to Brighton again after this year.



Motions 131 РAppeal Process Where There is a Failure to Register Conference Delegates and Motion 132 РRevised Equitable Arrangements for Funding the Cr̬ches provided at Conferences



The NEC is opposing these motions.



If any branch would like more information about what was said in the policy debates on these or any other Conference motions at the NEC please contact me (j.rogers@unison.co.uk or 07957 505 571) or any other NEC member.



Rule Amendments



The main item of contention in relation to Rule Amendments to be debated at National Delegate Conference concerned the review of structures. A special briefing for all NEC members will take place the day before the June NEC meeting with a view to considering feedback from consultation on various of the proposed Rule Amendments.



The Higher Education Service Group representative proposed that the NEC should defer formally agreeing to support its own Rule Amendment merging the Higher Education Service Group with the Further Education Sector. This was agreed after some debate, indicating that the rule amendments revising UNISON structures are far from being a "done deal."



Equal Pay



The only item of non-Conference business which was considered was a confidential report on recent important developments in relation to Equal Pay. NEC members have previously been asked not report in writing on such matters. Branches are referred to the latest “E-focus” which is online.

UNISON Development and Organisation Committee Report

I've been variously busy and ill since last Tuesday's meeting of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation Committee so have only now been able to circulate a report to UNISON branches in Greater London.

This is what I have said;

In addition to dealing with recommendations on Conference items to the NEC the following day, the Committee received reports on branches under Regional Supervision and on recent decisions of the Certification Officer and the Employment Appeals Tribunal.



Regional Supervision



The Newham local government branch is the only branch in our Region under regional supervision, which has been the case for the last few months. Unfortunately it was reported to the Committee that in spite of the work of the Regional Office only 30 members out of 3,000 attended the 2009 Annual General Meeting.



The Chair reported that due to complaints having been received about the conduct of the recent elections for branch officers (undertaken whilst the branch has been in regional supervision) an independent investigating officer (external to our Region) has been appointed. Unfortunately, in the mean time, the branch officers have returned to work without any lay replacements so the branch is entirely without elected officers.



It is highly unusual for an officer from another Region to be asked to conduct an investigation into how a Regional Office is supervising a branch in these circumstances.



Certification Officer and Employment Appeal Tribunal Decisions



The Committee received reports of two recent complaints by UNISON members to the Certification Officer, one of which had been withdrawn and in one of which the Certification Officer had dismissed all complaints against the Union.



The report also dealt with the Employment Appeals Tribunal decision in the cases of Yunus Bakhsh and Tony Staunton. In the case of Bakhsh the Union had succeeded in its appeal against an earlier ruling, with the implication that UNISON may now suspend someone from holding office whilst they are under investigation without the need to draw up detailed charges at that stage. This decision (which reflects the practice in many employer’s procedures) was on this particular point and – as the Deputy General Secretary informed those of us who signed an open letter on the case – has no bearing on other issues in the case of Mr Bakhsh.



In the case of Staunton, UNISON’s appeal had been unsuccessful and the EAT had upheld the Certification Officer’s ruling that a member who has been suspended from holding office is not thereby disqualified from being a candidate in an election, since suspension is a precautionary measure and does not imply guilt. The Chair of the Committee advised that he had thought the Union’s position in this case mistaken, which may beg the question why we spent time and effort on an Appeal.

Leap Conference


For those who are interested I've blogged about Local Government pay over on union futures
As well as the day of action this Wednesday that i'll be attending and that Jon has blogged about below theres another LRC event coming up.

LEAP conference 2009: Capitalism Isn't Working
LEAP Conference 2009 'Capitalism Isn't Working' takes place on Saturday 25th April, 10:30am-4:30pm at Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London. The conference comes just three days after the 2009 Budget Statement, and is an opportunity to discuss the economic situation, share information and build campaigns.

In between participative plenary sessions, there'll be four sub-plenaries:
Resisting the recession & Defending Jobs: the industrial agenda
Where's our bailout? Benefits, pensions, poverty & housing
What to do with the City and Global Finance: socialising the sector
Neoliberalism Isn't Working: fighting the ideological battle

Speakers and contributors include: John Christensen (Tax Justice Network), Bob Crow (RMT), Paul Feldman, Andrew Fisher, Professor Gregor Gall, Gerry Gold, Colin Hampton (UWC), John Hilary (War on Want), Jerry Jones, John McDonnell MP, Rosamund Stock, Graham Turner, Professor Richard Wilkinson, Matt Wrack (FBU).

Register online for the conference. We've frozen last year's conference prices: it's £10 waged and £5 unwaged, and you can also pay on the door. Debate online at: http://leap-lrc.blogspot.com/



Budget Day - please do something for us, Darling...

The Day of Action planned by Their Crisis Not Ours will take place this Wednesday (April 22nd) - Budget Day. If you can get out of work for a bit - make sure you're there to make your voice heard!

11.30am: ASSEMBLE OUTSIDE DOWNING STREET. Protest with placards listing our demands on Whitehall along the route the Chancellor will take from No. 11 Downing Street to address Parliament.

5pm: Protest outside the Treasury near Whitehall on 1 Horse Guards Road, London SW1A 2HQ.

7.30pm: Budget Question Time event in Committee Room 10, House of Commons with panellists including John McDonnell MP, economist Graham Turner and Clara Osagiede (RMT Cleaner’s Grade Secretary).


The campaign is backing the demands of the People’s Charter. On the day, we will call for a tax on the profits of big business and a crackdown on tax avoidance, an increase in pensions and unemployment benefit, an emergency council housing programme and an end to repossessions, a cap on energy prices, rail fares and rents, and free education for all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Vote early for the UNISON NEC

Regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will notice that I have added a link over there in the left to the list of left candidates in the UNISON NEC elections which start today.

No UNISON resources will be used on this blog from now until the close of the ballot period (just to be on the safe side - although the sensible decision of the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the case of Staunton -v- UNISON provides some reassurance that the decisions about who sits on our NEC will be taken by our members!)

The Development and Organisation Committee of the NEC has just been told by the Chair that he thought the Certification Officer had got it right in the Staunton case - there is no suggestion of any further appeal.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Closing the Race Pay Gap

At work yesterday I was raising the question of the race pay gap with my employer. It’s only where monitoring data is sufficiently comprehensive that it is possible to be certain about this – but the figure of 15% as the mean full time equivalent “race pay gap” in one London local authority is not a million miles away from the 12% gap found for lecturers in 2002 or the 17% gap for solicitors found last year. These are large figures.

A 15% pay gap means that the average black employee has to work for more than two months extra in order to earn the same as the annual average for a white employee.

The Ethnic Minority Employment Taskforce – in 2004 – found an economy wide gap of 7%. Recent Government research demonstrates the diversity of pay inequity between different groups in the wider economy and the interaction of gender and race inequality in earnings. There is therefore a lot more work to do in order to understand how organisations which proclaim equality of opportunity, and set pay rates on the basis of job evaluation can still have such enormous race pay gaps.

I hope that UNISON will now start collating information on the race pay gaps of major employers across London so that we can try to drive these gaps down and eliminate this pernicious inequality. The employers love to set us performance targets. On this issue we need to set some for them.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

O.5% - now what?

I'm glad to see that the trade union side Executive of the National Joint Council have made suitable remarks about the 0.5% pay offer from the national employers - but the question now must be, what are we to do?

First of all we need to be a lot clearer about what we are asking for - our Head of Local Government rightly points out that local authorities have set aside sums between 1.5% and 2.5% already, but that doesn't necessarily mean that is what we are asking for.

Our claim was for an increase of at least the RPI plus something more for the low paid. Since low paid workers have a higher marginal propensity to consume, the mulitiplier effects of the fiscal stimulus of a pay rise for low paid public sector workers is commensurately enhanced.

That provides a further policy justification for responding to the offer with a proposal to put more money into the pockets of the lowest paid - perhaps by deleting some of the lowest spinal column points?
to do?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Flexible working in practice...

Now I know I said earlier today that I would blog further about the extension of the right to request flexible working to all parents of children under 16.

But I am on the way home now, and it's the kids' holidays.

So you'll just have to wait!

Sorry if this upsets any fans...

Supporting Stalin against SOAS

I was pleased that I was able to get along at lunchtime today to SOAS (that's the School of Oriental and African Studies) for the protest ahead of this afternoon's appeal against the dismissal of Jose Stalin Bermudez, victimised UNISON Branch Chair.

There was an impressive turnout given that the appeal was - unfortunately from a trade union point of view - taking place during the academic holidays. The strong showing reflected the strength of feeling about this case.

It is to be hoped that the SOAS appeal panel will see sense and reinstate Stalin. However speakers with knowledge of the organisation did not encourage optimism on this point.

I was therefore very pleased by two things that I heard at the lunchtime rally. First, UNISON Branch Secretary Sandy Nicholl was able to report that UNISON members will be balloting for strike action.

Secondly, the solidarity speaker from the students union said that, whilst they had respected the confidentiality of the process hitherto, if the appeal was not upheld they would provide full details to the student body. Student solidarity could be vital.

It is vitally important in cases such as this (of which I fear there will be more) that our response as workers is not limited to what seems to be legally or procedurally possible. If we want justice we must be prepared to fight for what is right.

SOAS need to understand that if they do not deliver justice for Stalin they will attract a new name as the Shabby Organisation Attacking Staff...

Half measures for local government workers

Certain regular readers (Sid and Doris Local-Government-Employers) will understand if they are not swamped with gratitude for the offer of the princely sum of 0.5% as a pay increase from 1 April.

This is how they justify it;

"Our primary consideration in making an offer has once again been affordability. The recession continues to have a major impact on council finances: demands on council services are increasing; income from items such as fees and charges is decreasing; and the third year of the current three-year CSR settlement is no longer guaranteed. While the latter relates to 2010/11, it is a major factor in assessing what is affordable for 2009/10. In addition councils have had to absorb the cost of the 0.30% arbitration award at a time when budgets for the coming year have already been set.

The offer also reflects the wider context of redundancies, pay freezes and even pay cuts for workers across the economy and it is important that local authorities are sensitive to public perception of the position of public sector workers. Our offer is therefore limited not only by what we can afford but what we can justify to council tax payers.


With all that in mind, the employers are prepared to make an offer of 0.50% on all points in the national pay spine. In the light of the increasingly uncertain economic climate, and in an effort to secure a relatively quick settlement, the employers have decided that this offer should be time-limited. Accordingly, if a negotiated settlement has not been reached by 1 June 2009, the offer will be withdrawn and there would be no increase this year. The employers would not implement the offer unilaterally in the absence of an agreement."

So - a measley offer and a deadline for acceptance. With a mastery of understatement UNISON's official response describes the offer as "dismaying" - the Executive of the Trade Union Side meet tomorrow to consider a response.

The Government's preferred measure of inflation - the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rose to 3.2% in February and though that may be a blip in a downward trend it puts the offer of 0.5% into perspective. I understand that local Councils have generally budgeted for between 1.5% and 2.5% for a pay award for 2009/10 so there is no excuse for an offer so low to a low paid workforce whose pay has been falling behind prices for several years.

Flexibility?

Flexibility is a much trumpeted virtue, but not always a good thing.

Changes today to the ACAS Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievances (to which tribunals can refer in employment tribunal cases) accompany the removal of the (only recently enacted) Statutory Dispute Resolution Procedures set out in Schedule 2 to the Employment Act 2002. The new Code is online here.

The statutory procedures were unpopular with employers because they were "inflexible" but when it comes to (for example) the threat that a worker may loses their job then I quite like a bit of inflexibilty.

To take just one small example of the way in which the new Code works against our interests, the previous Code - at paragraph 42 - said that before disciplining a union representative the case "should" be discussed with a senior representative or full time official. The new Code - at paragraph 29 - merely says that this advisable. Those of us who have the old (or stronger) language in collectively agreed disciplinary procedures (which are incorporated into the contracts of employment of our members) should hold on to what we have.

Another example of the weakening of employee protection in the new Code is that the recommendation that "so far as reasonably practicable" appeals should be heard by a manager more senior than the manager who imposed a disciplinary sanction - at paragraph 46 of the old Code has been lost from paragraph 26 of the new Code.

This is a clear example of flexibility being offered to employers to the detriment of workers' rights - and the timing, in the midst of a recession, could hardly be worse.

A modest example of an alternative and more worker-friendly type of "flexibility" is provided by the extension of the "right to request" flexible working to all parents of under 16s. I'll blog more on that later.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Job Done or Jobs Done For?

If I was any good with the relevant software I would illustrate this blog post with images of trade union leaders as cheerleaders (although now that I have that image in my head I will regret having thought of it for many years!)

The Unions Together blog declare - of the result of the G20 "Job Done - Now Let's Get to Work" - this seems to me to be taking rose tinted spectacles into a whole new dimension.

Unions Together is a "trading name" of TULO (The Trade Union Labour Organisation - the coordinating body for Labour Party affiliated trade unions).

If what TULO was for was to encourage trade unionists to feel good about the Labour Government then this sort of positive spin would make sense.

If the point of TULO was to campaign for trade union policies within and beyond the Labour Party then it would be difficult to see why we would want to talk up the outcome of the G20.

It offers precisely nothing to the Visteon workers, nor to those losing their jobs at Bombardier.

I am one of those dinosaurs who still thinks we could get some good out of our affiliation to our Party - but not if we are simply cheerleaders for Gordon Brown.

No job was done for us at the G20 and the work to which we must now turn is the campaign for progressive policies in the interests of working people.

Support the Visteon workers

The G20 seems to have failed to provide the fiscal boost that the world economy needs to combat recession.

In a capitalist economy this sort of slump arises when firms cannot find buyers for goods and services - a massive increase in public spending (or reductions in taxation on working people) can provide a stimulus to demand.

What we've had thus far is not enough and now it appears we are not to get any more. We need to redouble our efforts to put pressure on the Government to meet our demands.

More workers can now anticipate being treated like the Visteon workforce - summarily dismissed because of an economic crisis not of their making. I hope that others will follow their sensible example and occupy the workplace rather than meekly accept their fate. Workers in Enfield, Basildon and Belfast are in occupation now.

The right wing press are trying hard to drive a wedge between public and private sector workers in what seems to be a bizarre attempt to blame public sector workers for the crisis. UNISON members and branches need to rush messages of solidarity to the Visteon workers.

According to Indymedia the contact information is;
stevehart@unitetheunion.com (for Enfield)
dmcmurray@unitetheunion.com (for Belfast)

Update on Monday - it seems that legal action is not being taken against the occupation at this stage and that the company is negotiating. Good.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Vote for Me (please)

It's election time in UNISON - we are voting for our National Executive Council (NEC) with ballot papers due to go out straight after the Easter weekend.

I am seeking re-election to the NEC to represent the Greater London Region and am standing alongside a diverse and excellent slate of candidates under the banner of "Reclaim the Union."

Why are we standing? Well...

For years Governments have claimed that we do not have enough money for public services. Yet trillions are found to bail out bankers whose greed has caused economic chaos and who still claim huge bonuses and pensions.

Public Sector workers must not pay through attacks on our jobs, pay and pensions.

We need a fighting leadership that demands the bankers and bosses pay for their crisis. UNISON's current leadership put their relationship with Labour before the interests of our members.

The candidates of the left come from different backgrounds but we share one aim - to put members first and reclaim our union. The following demands are as set out on our campaign postcard (which includes a very recent and entirely accurate photograph of your humble blogger);
  • No job losses;
  • No pay cuts;
  • Save the NHS;
  • Equal Pay now;
  • Public Services Not Private Profit;
  • Stop the BNP - no to racism;
  • Defend our pensions;
  • Stop the witch hunts;
  • Welfare not Warfare;
  • No UNISON subs for New Labour Cuts.
I'll blog more - including the list of candidates - when I have recovered from carrying a heavy box of campaign postcards! (Honestly it's great fun out here on the rank and file left, I bet candidates supported by the current leadership don't get half that physical exercise...)

UNISON is a good trade union which it is an honour to represent on the NEC. It could, however, be a great trade union if we could liberate it from the unfortunate mix of lethargic timidity and timid lethargy which has us in its thrall.

I sometimes get a bit of stick for associating with the left in the Union (indeed if I had a pound for every time I had been told that if only I had not chosen to be a "standard bearer for the Trots" great things could have come to me in our Union I would have several quid...) I would however much rather stand alongside socialist comrades (with whom I may have all sorts of disagreements but whose commitment is beyond question) than apologists for a Government which attacks us and a leadership which fails to fight back.

This year's NEC elections offer us a chance to change UNISON for the better. I hope we take it.

For the attention of the Mabledon Place blogwatch squad I must point out that no UNISON resources are used for posts relating to internal union elections (though I must also add my disappointment not to receive complaints about this blog - it is almost enough to make me feel hurt and ignored...)

Good News

At the risk of shocking regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger by rambling away from my normal obsessions I can't resist congratulating the campaigners who have won us a National Park for the South Downs.

The most recent bit of leafletting my kids and I did for our excellent Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Brighton Pavilion was in support of the National Park. It's good to see some positive protection for the most beautiful countryside - and is a reminder to take some time off over Easter to enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Ten Years of the Minimum Wage

Now that it is well after noon on April Fool’s Day it makes sense to record (and applaud) the tenth anniversary of the Minimum Wage. This was a victory for one of our “former partner unions” in particular and for a former UNISON General Secretary. I had my differences with Rodney Bickerstaffe but I applaud his commitment to the fight against low pay.

Ten years ago I was part of a local demonstration outside a workplace previously employing workers below the Minimum Wage. We protested outside a workplace owned by the company who had (back then) been attacking the Hillingdon Hospital strikers.

I was pleased that a Labour Government introduced a Minimum Wage because (unlike some) I have been a Labour Party member all my life. I come from a Labour family. I cannot hide my disappointment about the limited gains which we have to show for the last twelve years of Labour Government, but I do think it is important to record what has been achieved.

In addition to the Minimum Wage, I particularly like subsections 4 and 5 of section 10 of the Employment Relations Act 1999 and I bet that most other rank and file union activists find these amongst the most important gains of the years of ostensibly “Labour” government.

What do you think has been the most useful outcome of these years of “Labour” Government?