Monday, September 28, 2009

Labour Party Democracy?

In what regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will immediately recognise as a triumph of hope over experience I am hopeful that the trade union vote at Labour Party Conference will support the direct election of members of the National Policy Forum (NPF).

This would be useful since the left is able to get candidates elected to the directly-elected constituency section of the National Executive Council but is frozen out of the indirect election to the National Policy Forum which - since New Labour began - has largely usurped the policy making role of Conference.

Those few of us in UNISON who still believe that something good might possibly be done with our relationship with the Labour Party (and who are therefore prepared to be honest about our political affiliations) must hope for a better composition of the NPF if we are to stand a chance of winning the Party to our policies.

Whether any of this now matters, and whether the Party now meeting in Brighton can make any meaningful difference for UNISON members is of course itself now very much open to debate.

Update on Friday - on this occasion hope did in fact triumph over experience.

Rage Against New Labour?

I myself found the weather today just too nice to manage "rage" against New Labour - given the heat I preferred icy contempt for the disgraceful creatures who are in charge of this reactionary Government.

For a good report (with pictures of the demo) visit HarpyMarx.

The tragedy of our politics (and of the total failure to date of the trade unions to address the crisis of representation of our class) is that - as was pointed out at the Labour Against the War fringe - it was precisely the ancestors of the progressive protesters outside this year's Labour Party Conference who constituted the social forces that created the Party in the first place.

For their betrayal of the aspirations of our founders, perhaps New Labour do deserve our rage - but maybe we should be tough not only on New Labour but also on the causes of New Labour?

Update (later) on Monday morning - there is a good report of the demonstration in today's Morning Star.

Labour Against the War

The annual Labour Party Conference fringe meeting of Labour Against the War was as good as ever in terms of the contributions from the platform (if not in the attendance this year).

Christine Shawcroft exposed very effectively the stitching up of contributions at Conference, Milan Rai argued persuasively that New Labour foreign policy has been lawless and subordinate to the USA and Jeremy Corbyn (rightly introduced by the Chair, Alan Simpson, as the best Foreign Secretary we have never had) reminded us that Labour Governments generally have had a very poor record on international issues.

There can be little doubt that amongst the many terrible and stupid things that have been done by the shower who have been running the Labour Party into the ground in recent years, the support for bloody imperialist wars stands out as the most damaging of betrayals.

I got involved in politics not just because I am Labour but also because I am against war and for peace. New Labour warmongering has certainly been the worst element of the past decade and has lost us so many members (and if it won us any they have not been worth having).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Congratulations to UNISON Labour Link

As I head out in the sunshine to join the happy crowd of trade unionists here to welcome our Party in Government to the Conference at which it makes plans to win the next General Election I remember the wisdom of the UNISON Labour Link Committee in 2007. I recall the Chair saying that; “We need an election-winning team to face down the Conservatives.” And that “Despite policy differences, Gordon can win an election for Labour.”

How wise we were as trade unions not to lift a finger to encourage MPs to have a contest for Labour Leader in 2007 - ensuring that the Parliamentary Labour Party stayed on message and gave its overwhelming endorsement to our own Dear Leader. How prescient were our leaders in realising that solid support for Gordon would be repaid by his adoption of so much of our policy agenda.

Imagine if our leaders had been so foolish as to show even the slightest support for the candidate of the Left at that time!

Had that happened a debate around policy issues might have pushed the Labour Party in Government back towards a broadly social democratic and left of centre political agenda - instead of the wonderfully popular mix of projected spending cuts, social authoritarianism and militarism which now seems certain to deliver a historic fourth term.

Congratulations are due not only to the Labour Link Committee but to all those General Secretaries of the big unions who have held to the "steady as she goes" political project which has delivered - and will deliver - such significant results for trade union members.

No wonder the supporters of Gordon Brown in our trade union are proud to reveal their Labour Party membership when seeking election to our National Executive Council. They have done so well.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

There is no need for public spending cuts

I looked in on the Convention of the Left today. The Convention is a well-intentioned forum for debate between socialists which is no bad thing.

However it was slightly frustrating that the grassroots approach of not having platform speakers meant that the excellent contribution of Prem Sikka - the professor of Accountancy who is on our side - was squeezed in at the end of the opening plenary.

Prem explained that there is no need for public spending cuts - but rather for tax increases and a clampdown on tax avoidance. The LRC will be campaigning around this point this week.

Whilst many of those at today's Convention are focused upon the next election a more immediate focus is the need to mobilise trade unionists in particular to oppose spending cuts and their consequences. To do this we must educate our members in economics so that it is understood that there is an alternative.

UNISON branches can now use the Million Voices campaign alongside the Peoples Charter to good effect to prepare ourselves for these coming battles.

Outside the Westminster bubble (specially exported to Brighton for the next few days and now comprising the Conference Centre and the two main seafront hotels) we need to mobilise resistance to cuts and attacks on working people.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How are we to defend our members?

I am sat in a deeply frustrating discussion at the Regional Local Government Committee where numerous branches are expressing discontent about the obstacles which are placed in the way of members wishing to take industrial action.

There is no doubt that the anti-trade union laws pose real difficulties for us. Even the most combative trade unions are often forced by legal action to reballot or delay action.

In UNISON however we are so cautious that we place all the obstacles in our own way first of all. Where there are perceptions that some officials are reluctant to support strike action by members there is then endless scope for fruitless argument - and while we delay our bargaining position weakens and our members are left worse off.

Eventually we have arrived at some sensible suggestions to look at briefings for branches on how to organise industrial action and also to review and comment upon the forms which branches have to complete when requesting ballots.

However the problem is political not procedural. What is wrong in our Region is the mistaken believe that all procedures should always be exhausted before industrial action is contemplated. There is no legal or procedural requirement for this overly cautious approach which is not the best use of the tactic of industrial action.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

SEIU -v- UNITE HERE and comments in the UK

I have no wish to become involved in disputes within the US Labour movement - when we get a decent movement in this country that fights for its members I'll begin to feel able to preach in that way!

However, in response to a comment on this blog arising from a report in Tribune I have been to have a look at what is going on.

Some people are critical of the Service Employees International Union for their organising tactics - which are seen as too close to the employers.

Others defend the SEIU.

I do not know the rights and wrongs of this - but if the SEIU are in the right then they are ill served by the support of anonymous bloggers who act as cheerleaders for the UNISON leadership who have comprehensively failed to mobilise the strength of our 1.3 million members.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The POA and the anti-union laws

As a good delegate who can observe collective responsibility when it is appopriate (as opposed to other occasions - of which more later) I voted in line with UNISON policy at the TUC - which meant my hand was one of the forest of hands that voted down Motion 7 from the Prison Officers Association.

The POA may be unlikely poster boys (and girls) for the left but the combined effect of prison privatisation (a Tory policy pursued with relish by the Tories of New Labour); a de facto ban on effective industrial action and a principled leadership committed to trade unionism and equality have combined to produce - in the POA - a strong and leftwing trade union.

Motion 7 - which called for (unlawful) strike action to break the anti-union laws - had sound intentions but invited tactical criticism, expressed by a PCS delegate who argued that members would not be mobilised to oppose the anti-union laws themselves, but would come to see the necessity for unlawful action if the laws were used unjustly to block action on issues of pressing concern to the membership (such as attacks on jobs or pensions).

I understand that the POA were inspired to put Motion 7 before Congress by what they heard from the Justice Secretary when he spoke to them. (Certainly the Government's treatment of the POA has very little to do with justice!)

One of the most lamentable failures of the New Labour period which is now coming to its miserable end has been the failure of the trade unions to reverse the anti-union laws introduced under Thatcher and Major. Under a future Tory Government we can now expect further restrictions on our rights - at the same time as a major onslaught upon jobs, pensions and public services.

In a couple of years time many UNISON members may be confronting major challenges with restrictions on our right to take action similar to those which now face the POA.

If we won't then confront the anti-union laws, even at the risk of every asset of our Union, what will we do to fight for our rights?

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Million Voices for Change - a million signatures to show we are serious

The TUC voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Peoples' Charter last Thursday.

This was a result for all those of us who want the union movement to break out of the political impotence and irrelevance which our leaders have all but celebrated for the past decade.

It was also to the credit of the politically astute souls in the RMT who accepted an amendment from UNITE which may have been intended as a wrecking amendment but which in fact strengthened and focused the position of support for the Charter, leaving in the commitment to work for a million signatures on the charter whilst also pressing for action in the Labour Party (about which the RMT had been uncharacteristically reticent).

Once leftwingers in UNITE had corrected a wobble about whether or not to withdraw the amendment (which had helped to ensure - for example - UNISON's support for the motion) the eventual outcome (support from the General Council - albeit with a a reservation - and then Congress) was predetermined.

UNISON activists can now correct any foolish perception upon the part of cynical souls that our "Million Voices for Change" campaign was ever intended as an establishment spoiler for the Charter (perish the thought!) Instead what we can now do is use the campaigning materials for the Million Voices campaign at branch level alongside the Charter itself.

After all, some of us on the political left are used to the criticism that we espouse causes on behalf of our members without their support - UNISON can now protect ourselves from any such criticism by integrating our Million Voices campaign with support for the Charter.

If we have a million voices for change - and I believe we do - then we can get a million signatures on the Charter which calls for that change. Mass support for the Charter will enable us to put pressure on politicians to join us in expressing that support if they want our votes.

From my perspective (as a Labour Party member who is not afraid to own up to that political affiliation when seeking office in our trade union, unlike some) I think that this can only be helpful in firming up the position of the better Labour candidates (of whom there are some) and helping us to campaign to protect as many as possible of the few socialist Parliamentarians we currently have to speak up for our class in the Palace of Westminster.

Catching up after the TUC...

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) may be fearing that I fell into an alcohol induced stupor towards the end of the TUC. In fact my absence from the blogosphere can be attributed to the later-than-usual TUC running straight into some birthday parties (the sort with cakes rather than booze!) and what with branch work I have fallen behind in my blogging.

However you can now keep up to date with the hyperactive (if still sadly - if not at all mysteriously - anonymous) "UNISON Active" site - where the dishonesty of one author in relation to myself is a fine example of one of the perennial obsessions of those in the TUC who fail to understand New Labour and what it is doing to our movement.

In a report from the UNISON delegation meeting the author who can't remember their own name to put on their blog post also misremembers my contribution to debate on the CWU motion (which predictably fell last Thursday) which called for a Conference of trade unions on political representation. It is suggested by the unnamed commentator that I agreed that the purpose of such a Conference was to pave the way for a "new workers' party" or some such.

This is of course neither what I said nor what I think (but sometimes it is easier to attack someone if unburdened by honesty or accuracy!) I generally take the view that as near-impossible it may be to reclaim the Labour Party for the working class, to build something new would be an even harder task!

What interests me about this attack is not so much what it reminds us about how much weight to put on anonymous comment as that it makes the attack of choice of the leadership of our movement upon any new and innovative ideas which seek to address the crisis of representation of our class (which even they now admit to).

The Peoples' Charter got the support of the TUC - but not before many people accused it (wrongly) of simply being a stalking horse for a new political party. The admirable Trade Union Co-ordinating Group has doubled in size in its first year, but at its inception was (wrongly) accused by Derek Simpson of being a stalking horse for a new political party.

And the CWU were accused - on the floor of Congress by the General Secretary himself - of signposting the way to a new political party.

I do not want to see a new political party. If one has to come into being it will signal a great defeat which will have arisen because of the foolishness and weakness of the leadership of the Labour movement (and the ignorance of their anonymous cheerleaders).

The bogeyman of a new political party is conjured up to distract us from trying to hold to account those responsible for our inadequate intervention in the Labour Party.

The important distinction in the movement is not between those who hold Labour Party cards and those who do not - it is between those who want to see a movement that fights for its members and those who have given up.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What's going on here then?

Today the Times Online is reporting that discussions about a UNISON GMB merger are ongoing.

Reading the report it sounds mostly as if a journalist has had a late night conversation with the well refreshed General Secretary of another trade union.

Certainly nothing of consequence has been reported to the UNISON NEC in the past year (since we had a joint social event at last year's TUC).

So, watch this space (but don't be disappointed if it stays empty).

I am certainly not sure that - as the Times reports "officials (of the two unions) also often work together and believe their culture is broadly compatible."

Unity is strength - but how do we get there?

Yesterday I went to the fringe meeting of the Trade Union Coordinating Group, launched at last year's TUC by four unions, and now co-ordinating the political work of eight unions.

The TUCG unions (PCS, the FBU, RMT, the NUJ, POA, BFAWU, NAPO and URTU) are getting beyond the splendid isolation often preferred by the largest unions and supporting one another in an assertive and combative way.

(In fact they are doing what the TUC should do but does not).

Within the biggest unions, which will not yet sign up to such an initiative, we need to build unity at a rank and file level - and the most important use of being at the TUC for a socialist is to renew contact with comrades in other unions, which will be particularly important given the scale of the coming onslaught upon our members.

Just as Gordon Brown's dreary speech offered far too little far too late to working people, so it is hard to believe in the fine content of some of the Composite Motions agreed this week.

Mark Serwotka pointed out yesterday that whereas when the unions stood together over pensions a few years ago we saw a more positive outcome than we would have - last year's Congress decision to take united action over pay was not implemented and we have ended up with lousy pay settlements as a result.

The unity we need is not so much at Congress (though that is good) but on the streets and picket lines.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Sound of Silence

News reaches your blogger on the floor of Congress that the General Council voted by a narrow majority not to make a statement about Palestine (a draft of which had been circulated yesterday).

The draft GC statement represented a moderating of the positive position of the FBU motion 76 which reflects the policy of UNISON Conference (and calls for a boycott of Israeli goods and disinvestment from companies associated with the illegal occupation of Palestine by the Zionist state).

On this occasion the General Council were right to restrain themselves from making a statement (which would - constitutionally - have taken precedence over the motion if agreed). This important debate (scheduled for the end of tomorrow afternoon) will now revolve around a GMB amendment to the FBU motion which seeks to water down our policy of support for the Palestinian people.

UNISON (I am pleased to say) is opposing the GMB and supporting the FBU on this question, as are the General Council.

Update - I have made an important amendment above on receipt of additional information (and also understand that there was a full and frank exchange of views between the General Secretary of the TUC (who may have been disappointed by the General Council decision) and a Mr Simpson from UNITE (putting in a rare appearance at the General Council) who expressed himself with characteristic courtesy and good humour.

Has Politics Failed?

I won't try to blog a blow by blow account of the official business of Congress, because you can see it on the telly (and follow debate elsewhere online) - but I will report from the more interesting debates that take place on the fringe.

Yesterday I went to the packed fringe meeting organised by the Institute of Employment Rights on the theme "Politics has failed - so how should unions respond?"

This debate - around the crisis of political representation of the working class - is now unavoidable (although plenty of people continue to try to avoid it - the no-longer-aptly-named "Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions" organised a fringe meeting calling for support for the Labour Party because of all the good things the Government has done!)

At the IER meeting speakers made generally thoughtful and intelligent contributions. Brian Caton from the Prison Officers Association was angry and moving as ever (and all but announced his recent decision to leave the Labour Party for the Socialist Party). Mark Serwotka spoke convincingly about the likelihood that none of the main political parties will adopt any significant part of the programme adopted by our movement.

Len McCluskey was a rarity on the platform for arguing (as I would) that there is still a fight to be had in the Labour Party. John Hendy referred back to TUC policy in the run up to the 1906 election - when the TUC asked candidates in the election if they backed the policies of the trade unions. Those who say that the TUC could not take such action for some constitutional reason should have been there to here this persuasive contribution - the Peoples Charter (which UNISON will be supporting on Thursday) would provide precisely the basis upon which such questions could be put to candidates in the 2010 election, just as we did 104 years ago.

The trade union movement has the opportunity, in rebuilding our strength and political independence to assert real influence.

As a safety practitioner I would have to advise readers not to hold their breath however.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Liverpool Trades Council demonstration

After yesterday's delegation meeting a smattering of UNISON delegates joined a modest but positive march and rally organised by Liverpool Trades Council, addressed by a seemingly endless list of speakers promoting a variety of worthy causes. I don't have the time (or laptop battery life) to do justice to the range of contributions in this post.

Bob Crow, welcoming the rally on behalf of the RMT set the tone of his interventions for the coming week, pointing out that if the TUC fails to stand up for our members we will continue to lose power and influence (or as he put it with characteristic understatement - next year we could meet in a telephone box). Although the rally was not large it may well be useful to establish a Trades Council demonstration at the start of Congress for the future?

It was alarming that a handful of fascists had the confidence to stand a little way from the rally (the other side of a few police officers). The chilling arrogance of the Nazis is a reminder of the urgency of our campaigning against the far right - I'll blog a report later from the Unite Against Fascism fringe meeting.

TUC UNISON delegation meeting

Yesterday morning UNISON's delegation spent a couple of happy hours agreeing our policy on the motions coming up at Congress, which starts in a few minutes.

As ever most motions are supported - and the delegation endorsed all the recommendations of Saturday's Policy Committee meeting. I was in a (sometimes small) minority opposing those recommendations on three motions.

These were Motion 7 from the Prison Officers Association which makes an audacious call for strike action against the anti-union laws, Motion 56 from the National Union of Teachers (which we are opposing largely I think because it calls for a national demonstration against unemployment and spending cuts ahead of the General Election) and Motion 84 from the Communication Workers Union on political representation.

That last debate was most interesting for what was not said. I argued that the crisis of representation of working people argued in favour of the CWU proposal for a trade union Conference to discuss political representation and for this to be organised across all trade unions. Although the majority were not swayed by this argument, no one contributed to claim that UNISON Labour Link are doing a grand job (as would have been said even a couple of years ago).

The question of political representation for our movement is posed very starkly now. The leadership of the big unions may duck the debate for one last year ahead of a General Election but we cannot go on avoiding the issue for ever.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

TUC online

For those of you online but not at Congress you can now have your say at the new Congress Voices site which is well worth a visit.

Another recent addition to the blogosphere is UNISON Active which has impressive energy (and a quite witty preview of the TUC) but is a little bit anonymous for my tastes (I always worry when I read that something in UNISON is from a "progressive left" perspective as that is sometimes a coded reference to the sharpening of ice-picks, which is all just so last century!)

Come on UNISON activists - put your names to your blog posts and let's have open debate and discussion around the many important topics you are rightly highlighting :-)

TUC Composites

The Composites booklet for this week's TUC is now available.

I am pleased to see that UNISON is part of Composite 10 on pensions which commits the TUC to support defined benefit pension schemes across the public and private sectors with a “properly resourced and coordinated campaign”. Of course we may agree this and see little happen in reality – but agreeing this at least opens up the possibility of some effective action in line with UNISON Conference policy.

I am also pleased to see that we are now in Composite 13, seconding UCATT and supporting – again in line with our Conference policy – the view that local authorities should be the “primary deliverers of social housing”.

There is one area where a composite has yet to be agreed, around motions 48 to 51 on public services and public spending (including one UNISON motion and one of the motions on which UNISON's NEC policy Committee has not yet made a recommendation.

The timetable for Congress has also been published in the Congress Guide. Monday morning we debate support for the NHS and opposition to the BNP (with a demonstration of that opposition at the lunch break). Monday afternoon we consider pensions, public services, disability discrimination and health and safety.

Tuesday sees debate on learning and skills, organsing and more on public services and health and safety (including the motion on high heels which provoked a silly season Tory story. In the afternoon Congress will debate the financial system, steel, housing and the media.

Wednesday morning we will discuss the economy, transport and the Environment before an address from Ed Miliband, whilst the afternoon kicks off with Kate Allen from Amnesty followed by debates on vulnerable workers and the minimum wage, featuring a video link to the AFL-CIO Congress and the address of President Obama.

Thursday we traditionally mop up the remaining business but this year will see a couple of interesting debates first thing. The first will be on the PCS amendment to Motion 83 from the FDA which amendment advocates electoral reform. The second will be on the CWU motion (84) calling for a trade union Conference to consider political representation.

I'll blog as and when about what goes on during the week.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hello Liverpool

I arrive today in Liverpool ahead of the TUC Congress. Tomorrow morning is the second (and quite probably final) meeting of this year's UNISON TUC delegation and we will be agreeing our policy positions on the various motions and amendments (and Composites) on the agenda.

As things stand, of the 85 motions on the Congress agenda, aside from the three motions which we are amending and about which I have blogged before, the position being recommended to the delegation by the Policy Committee of the NEC is to support, 71, opposed 1 and defer making a decision about the other 10 (meaning that there is no recommendation from the Policy Committee on those 10 – yet).

The one motion which we are being recommended to oppose at this stage is Motion 7 from the Prison Officers Association (POA) which calls upon the TUC to coordinate strike action which would breach the anti-union laws in order to reclaim the right to take strike action which the Tory Government took away and New Labour has refused to restore.

I can imagine the arguments against this proposition, which is certainly ambitious. However the POA, having been on the receiving end of outrageous legal attacks by this disgrace of a Government, are right to say that the more limited campaigning undertaken to date has failed to achieve any significant reduction in the anti-democratic restrictions on the rights of working people which hobble our movement.

Whilst the big unions will not be persuaded to take the risks which the POA have had no choice but to take, Motion 7 asks a question of the leaders of our movement, about what it is we have got for our support of New Labour, which needs now to be asked (and to which an answer is certainly outstanding).

The motion from the CWU (Number 84) which asks the same question is one of those upon which the NEC Policy Committee did not make a recommendation in August. The CWU rightly point out that trade unionists are not supporting New Labour and calls upon the TUC to organise a Conference at which the trade unions can consider how to achieve political representation for our members. If UNISON's TUC delegation supports the speech given by our General Secretary to our National Delegate Conference in June then we will follow through and vote for this motion.

The other nine motions on which no recommendation has yet been made are as follows;

Motion 10 on Fighting Fascism from PCS (I am at a loss – as I write – to see why we are not simply being recommended to support this. It may be that there are reservations about its call for a national demonstration to be called by the TUC).

Motion 32 on the Peoples' Charter from the RMT. Though if I am well informed in hearing that the RMT will support the UNITE amendment to their motion (which supports “the principles of” the Charter and commits to campaigning for progressive policies in the Labour Party) then I cannot believe we will oppose this motion as amended.

Motion 47 from BALPA opposing a tax on air travel (the Green in me hopes we oppose this!)

Motion 49 from PCS on Defending Public Services (only a cynic would think that we have not come out in support of this in order to strengthen our hand in some argument about a Composite, since I cannot see a word in the motion itself which is not in line with UNISON policy.

Motion 56 from the NUT on Education and the Economic Crisis (which is probably giving the General Council the collywobbles with its call for a national demonstration ahead of the General Election).

Motion 70 on copyright piracy from BECTU (which calls for internet service providers to clamp down on illegal downloading). I can see both sides of this argument and will be interested to hear the views of other delegates.

Motion 73 from Equity on “Workers in Adult Entertainment” (which touches on the ongoing debate about whether workers in “adult” entertainment (and/or the sex industry) need union organisation or exit strategies). Again I can see both sides of this argument, but come down generally on the side or organising workers rather than putting moral judgements about their work ahead of their need for organisation. This motion opposes extending the category of “sex encounter establishments” so that local authorities can limit the number of lap dancing clubs in their area – and on this point I do think that democratically elected local politicians should have some such authority.

Motion 82 from the Trades Councils calling for the defence of TUC Unemployed Workers Centres (about which any concerns must be ones about the detail and volume of work being required of the General Council, who are presumably encouraging the larger affiliates not to commit support until they have been able to come to some understanding with the movers?)

Motion 85 from the RMT (which calls for the TUC Young Members Conference to have the right to submit a motion to Congress). There is no coherent argument against this reasonable proposal, and if incoherent arguments are advance I shall let you know on this blog.

Other than these motions above we are to be recommended to support all the other motions on the agenda. The motions we are supporting are in many cases more important than those discussed above (with the exception perhaps of Motion 84!) but since tomorrow's delegation meeting is likely to focus on the motions where no recommendation has yet been made I thought I would comment on those.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Discrimination on grounds of philosphical belief?

It is interesting to see that the employers are to appeal a recent tribunal ruling that their treatment of a manager who was a committed environmentalist discriminated against him on grounds of his philosophical belief.

The tribunal's crucial decision at a pre-hearing review is itself a few months old so I suppose that what is newsworthy is that by appealing the decision to the Employment Appeals Tribunal the employers will end up setting a precedent one way or another.

Since discrimination on grounds of religious belief is prohibited it seems to me right that other deeply held beliefs should attract similar protection - we need to be on the look out for the next case in which an employer victimises a trade unionist because of their opposition to privatisation for example. If environmentalism is protected then perhaps a socialist belief in public ownership and public services should likewise be protected?

At this stage the tribunal decision allows only for informed speculation about what it might mean in future - an EAT decision will set a precedent.

With a Tory Government on the horizon and the Cameroonian outriders in places like Barnet, Essex and Hammersmith showing us their fangs, we need to grab every weapon with which to defend our activists in the coming battle for public services. I hope that the EAT finds for the claimant in this case.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Support UCU strikers at Tower Hamlets College

I've just received the following via UNISON United Left;

UCU members at Tower Hamlets College have been on all out strike since Thursday 27th August - fighting to defend jobs and education. Below please see all ways you can raise this in your branches.

What you can do to help:

1. Picket lines all day

Visit picket lines

Poplar High Street E14 0AF

Arbour Square E1 0PT

Bethnal Green E2 6AB

2. Take a collection at work:

Strike fund: c/o Keith Priddle UCU THC Treasurer

Tower Hamlets College, Arbour Square Site, E1 0PT.

Sort code 089299

Account number 65252262

3. Send urgent messages of support to:

Richard McEwan (Branch Sec) 07532364638 richmcewan@hotmail.com

Alison Lord (Branch Chair) 07805819605 lallylord@hotmail.com

John Budis (Branch Sec) 07967893664 johnbudis@gmail.com

4. Write to the Principal Michael.farley@tower.ac.uk

6. Sign: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/THCollegefunding/

7. For uptodate info, video and photos join the Facebook group: ‘Tower Hamlets - Stop the Cuts!’

8. Write to your MP: www.theyworkforyou.com

9. Demand Jobs and Educations for All. Join UCU sponsored lobby of the Labour party conference September 27th in Brighton.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

UNISON's amendments to the TUC

The Final Agenda for the TUC Congress next week is online (and has finally arrived in the post!)

I’ll blog later about UNISON’s position on the various motions on the agenda but will now comment on our amendments.

UNISON has an amendment to UNITE’s motion on the Posted Workers Directive (Motion 1) which could be a very high profile debate at Congress in view of the recent ballot results and the prospect of further strike action in the refineries and power stations.

In Section 3 on Economic and Industrial Affairs, is UNISON’s amendment to the GMB motion on “Quality Pensions for All” (Motion 23), which enables our TUC delegation to come close to implementing the clear 2009 Conference decision that we should have put this issue on the agenda as a motion ourselves (about which I have whinged before). If there’s a composite with our name on then we will in the end almost have complied with our own policy.

UNISON also has an amendment in to a motion from UCATT on Housing (Motion 37) which makes a couple of positive additions but then deletes a clause which calls on the General Council to campaign for “to ensure local authorities are the primary deliverers of social housing” with a call for the campaign to be “for an expanded programme of affordable social housing based on a level playing field between local authorities, housing associations and ALMOs.'

Since the UNISON TUC delegation no longer has a meeting to agree amendments to TUC motions, this amendment has been submitted on UNISON’s behalf by the Policy Committee of the NEC, but I’m not sure my colleagues on the Policy Committee have got it quite right.

UNISON’s policy on Housing states that “council housing should be a central component” in addressing housing need and “welcomes the government's more positive message on the key role of council housing over the last year but believes it is essential that the issue be given the highest possible priority to ensure that all councils are required to take full advantage of public money available to invest in council housing.” UNISON Conference 2009 also called for “a significantly expanded role for local authorities as providers of decent homes” and reiterated support for the Fourth Option (which is increasingly relevant following today’s launch at the DCH National Meeting of the latest report from the Council Housing group of MPs).

This built on the policy of our Local Government Conference in 2008 which was to “campaign for the widest possible measures that enable local authorities to build new council homes where they would be contributing to meeting housing need in their locality.” Our policy of support for a “level playing field” between different housing providers is not based upon equal support for different providers, but upon UNISON’s opposition to the bias against Council housing built into Government policy.

National Delegate Conference put it well in 2006; “Conference reaffirms its opposition to any of the forms of privatisation of council housing whether through stock transfer, Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) or Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and that council housing has been repeatedly shown to be cheaper to build and has lower maintenance costs than all the other options and would make a major contribution to meeting the housing needs of today as well as improving health and well being in the longer term”.

Since the word limit on TUC amendments applies equally to additional or replacement text I don’t quite see why we couldn’t simply have added our sensible “level playing field” demand to UCATT’s correct proposition that, ideally, local authorities should be the primary providers.

Having to deal on an almost daily basis with the failure of ALMOs as a policy initiative, and having seen how third sector providers of social housing can treat their staff, I think UCATT are right – and that what they say is consistent with UNISON policy – when they express the aspiration that local authorities (democratically accountable to local communities) should be the primary providers of social housing.

UNISON has to be committed to representing all our housing members regardless of their employer – but that doesn’t mean that we should agree, as a matter of policy, that we are neutral as between different forms of social housing provision (after all, we manage to represent workers in private contractors whilst continuing to oppose privatisation).

I hope that compositing enables the addition of UNISON’s “level playing field” demand without the deletion of UCATT’s support for council housing.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The non-pay elements of the local government pay offer

A busy week at work has kept me from the blog (and clearly drained me of all inspiration when it comes to the titles of blog posts...)

Yesterday I was pleased to visit the Islington branch to speak about the consultative ballot on local government pay.

I voted to reject the offer (in line with the recommendation of the Branch Committee) but having spoken to comrades in a number of other branches I think it is reasonable to predict that there will be a majority to accept the employers’ offer (in line with the national recommendation).

This will focus attention on the non-pay elements of the offer. The additional day’s leave is – as I have observed previously - only on offer (as part of the national proposal) to those in receipt of no more than the national minimum amount of annual leave.

However, with all our local authority employers having budgeted for more than the likely cost of the probable pay settlement the time must be right for coordinated claims for additional leave.

This is certainly more constructive than the daft idea (currently being floated locally) that employees should be able to “buy” additional leave (i.e. that we should be able to take unpaid leave as we already are…)

The other element of the offer is the suggestion that the National Joint Council will come up with some guidance on handling redundancies. I have spent large chunks of this week dealing both with negotiations on a redundancy policy and arguments about the application of the existing policy. I was therefore pleased to hear another Branch Secretary express the reservations which I instinctively have about national guidelines on this topic.

I’d be interested in the thinking on the trade union side about this element of the proposals from our employers. With the prospect of significant job losses over the next couple of years (and beyond) we certainly need to be sharing best practice between branches. Will NJC guidelines help us with this?

We also need to see firm and wholehearted support for branches forced to take strike action in defence of jobs, as will our members at London Metropolitan University and Tower Hamlets College (in the latter case alongside UCU members on indefinite strike).

Branches in the front line need support – and I’ll certainly be asking at the next NEC what UNISON at Regional and national level is doing (or not doing) to support branches such as Barnet, who are being given a foretaste of what is in store for many of us after the next General Election (and responding!).