Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Support the Leeds strikers!

This is the text of a message I have sent to UNISON branches in Greater London for whom I have email addresses this evening. If you are a UNISON member in Greater London please do all you can to ensure that your branch responds to the call from our General Secretary for solidarity and support.

All UNISON branches will be receiving an appeal from our General Secretary to support members in Leeds local government branch whose strike action against the threat of massive pay cuts has now entered its eighth week (as reported on our website). If you have not yet received the letter a copy can be downloaded at http://www.unison.org.uk/Acrobat/C5723.pdf.


Through a fellow member of our National Executive Council I have been put in touch with a striker from the Leeds branch who will be available to address meetings in London on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evening next week. I am therefore writing to ask if any branches who have meetings on those evenings at which they would welcome a speaker (or could – for example – solicit an invitation to a Trades Council meeting on one of those evenings) please to let me know by email so that I can arrange an itinerary of meetings for our guest from Leeds.

The most important thing that we can do is to raise money to sustain our members in taking a stand against a hostile and aggressive employer. Therefore invitations to meetings at which collections can be taken or donations agreed will be particularly welcome. Donations to the hardship fund can be marked for the attention of Loraine Senior and sent to UNISON, Yorkshire and Humberside Region, Commerce House, Wade Lane, Leeds LS2 8NJ. Cheques should be made payable to UNISON Yorkshire and Humberside Region.

I hope that branches will want to take up this opportunity to hear directly from one of our members taking official strike action in Leeds. Please contact me at this email address or at jonrogers1963@googlemail.com if you can offer an invitation to a meeting on Monday 2, Tuesday 3 or Thursday 5 November.

Monday, October 26, 2009

UniteHere write to UNISON about the SEIU

My half-term activities have been briefly interrupted by an interesting letter from John Wilhelm, President of US trade union Unite Here to our General Secretary Dave Prentis concerning our cooperation with the Service Employees International Union (the SEIU) on the Three Companies Project.

Mr Wilhelm warns of "the SEIU’s unprecedented attack on our union, which has isolated SEIU within the US labor movement and alienated many of its community allies".

He goes on as follows;

"Beginning last fall, if not earlier, Andy Stern and other top SEIU officers helped coordinate a plan to split UNITE HERE members, remove assets and later announced their intention to organize “competitively” in UNITE HERE’s core hotel, gaming and food service sectors. SEIU officers, including Tom Woodruff and Mike Fishman, have been involved in various stages of this effort, including advocating secession at UNITE HERE membership meetings earlier this year.

Their tactics, the likes of which we would expect only from anti-union employers, include sending
mailers to our members throughout North America suggesting that we are neglecting our membership while we defend our union from SEIU’s attacks, directing robo-calls and live calls to our members’ homes, and attacking our union and its leadership through front groups and attack websites. Worse, SEIU has attempted to raid our current membership through attempts to raid existing UNITE HERE units as they are currently doing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where we have long represented 2,300 school cafeteria workers. This summer, SEIU even stooped to disrupting new hotel organizing campaigns in Arizona and Texas".

Whilst I have made clear previously that I can see no principled objection to UNISON working with SEIU in order to learn from their organising tactics, this significant approach from another trade union poses important new questions which need to be answered.

For example Mr Wihelm suggests that SEIU currently organise relatively few workers in the three companies who are the subject of the joint organising project with UNISON - and makes concrete and alarming allegations about how the SEIU have gone about organising in those companies in what he describes as a failed partnership with Unite Here (Service Workers United - SWU);

"The Big 3 companies were allowed to determine sites the unions could organize – making it impossible to build significant union density in any particular city or region or position workers to fight for better standards.
Boilerplate contracts locked workers into substandard agreements – and created situations where workers organized under the SWU agreement, earning low wages with minimal benefits, are working side-by-side with other union members who had won significantly higher contractual standards from the same employer.
Woodruff designed SWU in part to bypass our existing strong food service locals (similar to your regional offices), which had the effect of limiting worker involvement in their union. Instead, SWU members are directed to a New York-based call center for help with grievances and problems on the job. This is hardly a way to build strong local leadership or high standards.
SWU abandoned the system of “lined-up” or coordinated collective bargaining agreement expirations, which had been a major source of leverage for workers in this industry in cities with significant union density. (In North America, collective agreements re-open every few years and must be renegotiated with employers. For years prior to the partnership with SEIU, workers had
fought to line-up their contract expirations in New York City, New England and other areas, as a means of maximizing their bargaining leverage.)"

These criticisms have been widely voiced.

As an aside this system of organising in conjunction with private employers and of a top down union bypassing its own democratic structures is the sort of thing we have to beware of in our Union, where I can see its easy appeal to those whose priority is the union as an institution rather than an organisation to pursue workers' interests.

I have written to the Project Sponsor for the Three Companies project to ask about UNISON's response. I do not think we should walk away from joint work with the SEIU just because they may have done some dodgy things (allegedly). However I do think that UNISON could follow the lead of twenty six leaders of US trade unions who have signed a statement in support of Unite Here following the raids on that union by the SEIU.

This statement commits signatories as follows;
"We pledge to support Unite Here, both materially and morally, against a raid by any union against Unite Here members, or workers in Unite Here’s industry jurisdictions.
We further pledge our support for Unite Here if any employer seeks to take advantage of the current situation, especially if an employer forces a strike or lockout.
We urge an amicable, quick settlement of the current conflict".

Signatories include the President of another sister union of UNISON - AFSCME who was one of the first fifteen signatories.

Some similar statement (from UNISON) of support for Unite Here in the face of the conduct of the SEIU as described by Mr Wilhelm would now seem to be appropriate.

Details of the allegations against the SEIU are available online at a site hosted by Unite Here.

Update Tuesday morning - an alternative (pro SEIU and anti Unite Here) view is also online here.

Update Thursday evening. Dave Prentis replied to the letter yesterday to make the following points;

First he is concerned that the letter was sent directly to members of the NEC (who are, after all, only the governing body of the Union...)

Secondly, the "three companies" project is just an organising project under the auspices of the IUF catering group with which the SEIU are helping UNISON with expertise rather than resources.

Thirdly, the dispute between the SEIU and UNITE HERE is not a matter for UNISON and if our assistance is wanted an approach should be made by the AFL-CIO to the TUC.

Given the global aspirations of the SEIU - and that the principles of trade unionism are international - I think this may lead to further questions at our next NEC.

Half-term :)

Blogging may be intermittent over the coming week as I intend to spend more time here than there - always depending on this.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On a war footing

We need to be clear that the Government (whoever wins the next election the Government always gets in) will be attacking our members.

There is no hope for peace.

There is no scope for "partnership".

We have no option.

We must prepare our members for a fight.

The posties are in the first line.

We all stand behind them.

Transformational Leadership?

If people start blogging about "transformational leadership" they must expect people to wonder whether they want to be the next Deputy General Secretary!

Others joining in may have lesser ambitions but we could still be left wondering why bloggers anonymous are so keen on promoting the sensible analysis of good socialist Gregor Gall who praises "transformational leadership" which "creates trust, admiration, loyalty and respect so that followers are prepared to do more than they expected at the outset".

Am I alone in finding it scary that my trade union is organising training for people already elected to our leading bodies so that they can live up to this aspiration? Surely we should be transformational leaders before we aspire to be elected to the National Executive or the Service Group Executive?

Of course if anyone really wants to create trust, admiration, loyalty and respect then they could sensibly start by taking a stand against the politically motivated misuse of UNISON's disciplinary procedures (as I may have mentioned now and again and again and again).

For the avoidance of doubt this comment is addressed to all those seeking to replace our General Secretary whenever we finally do have an election.

Rule M?

For anyone who thought I was working my way through the UNISON Rule Book in alphabetical order - I do not want to disappoint you...

Rule M6.4 states that "A member seeking to enforce her/his rights under the Data Protection Act must apply to the General Secretary"

This is a Rule Book provision to which I had regard when I was myself subject to unreasonable disciplinary action as a result of the deliberate rewriting of a report written by a decent official (by another official to whom that adjective could not be applied).

In fact I recall that the Union's representative was almost disappointed when I said that I no longer intended to pursue my request for data (at some cost to the Union) once the disciplinary action (promoted by the official to whom the adjective did not apply) had been dropped.

Not to worry mate. I think you'll have a few more such requests soon if you cannot control the outrageous and unreasonable behaviour of subordinates.

What was that about Rule K?

Diligent readers (Sid and Doris Fourth-International) will have noticed an earlier post about UNISON Rule K also interrupted for food and may have wondered why I posted that.

It may of course be an error to see any method in the posting of information on this blog, but on the optimistic assumption that that is not always the case I offer the following observations.

What has always struck me about the particular case linked to in the earlier post is the sensible generosity of spirit obviously demonstrated by the Union when a lay activist made an understandable error arising from his lack of balance in assessing a difficult situation. Let's face it we can all make mistakes!

I have made more than one mistake myself (hard as you may find that to believe dear reader) and on only one occasion have foolish reactionaries in the Union been given (temporarily) authority to try to expel me for my error. You may remember my going on about this here before.

The reason why I am taking up your computer screen (or BlackBerry or mobile screen!) to mention this now is that it is coming to my attention that a far less sympathetic and reasonable approach may now being taken in another case, about which I shall blog further as details become clear.

And when I do I will ask the question you would ask.

Why?

What was that about Rule J?

Apologies to regular readers (Sid and Doris diner) for interrupting an earlier post for food.

I was mentioning inconsistencies in how we - as a Union - have dealt with breaches of Rule J.

Six weeks or so ago I wrote to the Chairs of UNISON's NEC Finance and Labour Link Committees as follows;

"I am writing to you as Chairs of Finance and Labour Link with a copy to the President and relevant officers.

I have been passed a copy of UNISON's submission to the Certification Officer in the case of Bakhsh -v- Unison CO/736T/7/2009.

This discloses at paragraph 25 that, in respect of some particular payments made by the former Glasgow Community Health Branch, our Union has arranged for a sum of £2,184.41 to be transferred from the Affiliated Political Fund into the general funds.

I note also that the document's author has felt it necessary to state at paragraph 26 that "nothing was withheld" from the NEC.

I have been a member of our NEC at the material time and do not immediately recollect the reporting of this transfer of funds to the NEC.

Please may I request that you remind me when this matter was reported to our NEC and arrange for me to be supplied with a copy of the relevant report and/or minute?"

Having not received a written response as at the October meeting of the NEC I repeated my request.

Had I received an answer I could have reported on that (if appropriate).

As it is all I can do is observe that, as an elected member of our NEC, I have not yet had a written answer.

Anyone would think we were concealing evidence of wrongdoing for fear of embarrassing friendly MPs whilst at the same time villifying (or is that castigating) those who make similar errors in favour of a party other than the Labour Party...

The uses and abuses of UNISON Rule K

Continuing the alphabetical theme I think it is reassuring to many UNISON activists to know that should it happen that we breach Rule K (and perhaps Rule I) we need not be villified (or castigated) - or even disciplined - by our Union.

After all - we have seen the treatment of a London UNISON Branch Secretary found to have breached our Rules.

As to whether this treatment would be handed out consistently to all activists in London regardless of their political views, I would comment on that now but am just about to eat pudding so I shall have to come back to this point.

The uses and abuses of UNISON Rule J

Some years ago UNISON solicited a complaint against ourselves to the Certification Officer because a branch had paid out money to the Socialist Workers Party in breach of Rule J.

More recently it has come to light that members paid money to an internal Labour Party campaign out of branch funds in breach of the same Rule.

But no one from within UNISON HQ has solicited a similar complaint to the Certification Officer.

I would blog more on this now but my food is cooked so you'll just have to wait...

A Briefing on the post strike - and the role of the TUC...

After an absence of several years I today attended a meeting of the Editorial Board (EB) of the entirely admirable Labour Briefing at which I heard a first hand report of the post dispute from a London postal worker.

The CWU members are solid in their support for the position of the union in the dispute – and in London where members have already lost a lot of money through extensive intermittent action the mood is one of relief that this is now a national dispute.

It seems likely that the employer's scheme to recruit temps to scab will work as long as the temps are not used on strike days themselves but only to clear the backlog on other days (although this will be for the courts to decide).

Activists believe that members could be persuaded to move to indefinite strike action in order to bring the employers to heel, but that this would depend upon clear leadership. The approach of Billy Hayes and Dave Ward to date does not suggest that they share this confidence or perspective.

It was widely agreed that it is bizarre that the TUC are offering to broker talks (and that the employers are willing to attend talks at the TUC but not at ACAS). This tells us that the TUC does not wish to be a real trade union centre (co-ordinating solidarity when workers are in dispute) but prefer to be a bargain basement alternative to ACAS.

Presumably Royal Mail will attend talks at the TUC (whilst refusing ACAS) because they think they can count on Brendan Barber to lean on Billy Hayes to offer further concessions in a way that the professional conciliators at ACAS would not do.

Maybe the civil service unions who organise the ACAS workforce should be complaining to the TUC about this blatant theft of their work?

All present at the Briefing EB agreed that our task is to support workers in struggle and to try to do what we can to help them achieve their objectives, not to “resolve their dispute”. It is a shame that the TUC appears not to recognise this!

The uses and abuses of UNISON Rule I

It is easy to make fun of those who overdo disciplinary action in order to root out heresy.

There is, however, no longer anything very amusing about the way in which my trade union, UNISON, is abusing internal disciplinary procedures (as set out in UNISON Rule I) to stifle dissenting voices.

At yesterday's Stop the War demonstration I was struck by spontaneous comments from more than one member of the Communist Party (with whom I have much in common) deploring the excesses of UNISON's internal regime.

Regular readers (Sid and Doris Union-Democrat) will be familiar with some of the specific examples about which I have blogged before.

The expulsion of Tony Staunton was such a grotesque over reaction to the allegations against him that it is impossible not to see the case as a deliberate intervention to prevent his standing against - and perhaps defeating - a leading member of our National Executive Council.

The disgraceful treatment of Yunus Bakhsh in the face of compelling evidence of far right influence over the case against him can also only be interpreted as a deliberate move to rid the Union of a persistent internal critic.

The widely publicised case against four UNISON activists over the production of a contested leaflet at UNISON Conference has now brought into the open - through evidence given in public by a paid official - the fact that senior paid officials have tried to organise action against people whom they perceive as "Trotskyists" in our union. Once again this is a case in which it appears that - quite contrary to UNISON's Rules - administrative means are being employed to seek to resolve political differences.

I have been reassured in person by senior officials of our Union that there is no politically motivated witch hunt. I have to say quite clearly that I do not believe these assurances. Further cases are emerging at present in which the instigation of action against certain activists is plainly politically motivated, and in which grotesquely disproportionate sanctions are being imposed.

It is not possible to express these concerns in a meaningful way within UNISON's democratic structures since - as a member of our National Executive - I am not permitted to ask verbal questions or to debate the reports which are received by the NEC about disciplinary action. All that I may do is to ask written questions and to receive written responses which are private and confidential.

This means that if I wish to draw to the attention of the UNISON members who have elected me to our NEC I have to publicise matters that come to my attention. I shall report here on some of the bizarre and unjustified cases now emerging into the public domain, and also upon evidence that those who are politically in favour can be treated far more leniently where found guilty of outright breaches of Rule.

These politically motivated disciplinary cases and their excessive and unjust outcomes variously breach the following Rules of our Union - A3, B1.2, B1.4, B1.7, B2.1, B2.2, B2.4, B2.5, B4.6 and D2.1. The Union is breaking our own Rules, as agreed by our Members in the merger ballot and subsequently amended by our Conference. This is unacceptable.

We have to stop UNISON's internal disciplinary procedures being used to breach the Union's Rules and bring the Union into disrepute in this way - we must stop aiming to be a parody of ourselves.

(All joking aside - we face serious challenges right now and need unity to pursue the progressive policies of our trade union against present and future attacks upon our jobs, our pensions and our conditions - as well as an unprecedented onslaught upon the services we work to provide. This unity is impossible whilst UNISON's General Secretary permits the abuse of our internal disciplinary regime against his critics).

Dave, you have stopped this in the past. Stop it now.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Torygraph questions

If you had to make up a name for a journalist on the Torygraph you could not do better than "Jasper Copping" author of a Freedom of Information act request to local authorities asking them about how much time off they give trade union officials in their employment.

The paid release of lay trade union representatives is a consequence of the statutory right to paid time off work to carry out trade union duties - which is essential to the functioning of a trade union in the workplace.

The Tories - and their media allies - are preparing now to weaken workplace trade unionism in order to weaken the defence we can mount as they attack our public services.

As I was saying we need to raise our membership density through a clear focus on the issues of concern to our members in order to defend ourselves against these attacks.

I am sure that a serious journalist would welcome further information and context and so publish his email address;

jasper.copping@telegraph.co.uk

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Getting ready for the fight of our lives

Whatever shade of reactionary opinion dominates the next Government we can anticipate that the attack upon the trade union movement which has already commenced will intensify before, during and after the General Election campaign.

As the CWU are forced towards national strike action by the calculated intransigence of a deliberately offensive management, UNISON members in London local government are already witness to attempts by Tory Councils to marginalise and hobble our trade unions.

As well as attacks upon jobs, services and conditions, the coming onslaught will see an intensification of attacks upon trade union activists. This is no coincidence.

Grassroots trade union activism will be the backbone of the resistance to the attacks which are now being made upon the interests of working people. The managers who make themselves (willing or otherwise) tools of these attacks will perceive trade union activists as obstacles to be avoided, isolated or removed.

Therefore we need to step up our support for one another. We need to share information between our branches (across Regions, Service Groups and between different unions) and we need to stand together - without question - in support of fellow activists.

We also need an immediate end to the blatantly political misuses of internal procedures - the luxury of internal squabbling is not something which our members can afford and the playground-icepick politics must cease. If it does not then we must show the same determination to defend activists from victimisation no matter who is doing the victimisation.

There is a gathering storm of acts of individual victimisation coming at activists from the employers and I shall aim to report on these here and encourage solidarity. There are also positive initiatives from the rank and file to strengthen and develop our ability to defend the interests of our members and I will report on those here too.

Class struggle is an old fashioned concept - but since it is now being waged against us we had better rediscover it ourselves.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Well done Croydon

I want to record here my thanks to the members of Croydon UNISON for the wonderful evening last night in memory of a much loved and much missed friend and fellow UNISON Branch Secretary - Malcolm Campbell.

Malcolm was a great role model for other lay activists in our Union and his memory is an inspiration we shall need to draw upon in the months and years ahead.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where will you be on October 24th?

Next Saturday October 24th is one of the most important antiwar demonstrations Stop the War (to which UNISON is affiliated) has ever organised.

It comes at the moment when the war in Afghanistan has lost all credibility but the governments on both sides of the Atlantic are sending more troops.

It comes at a time of widespread revulsion against the war across the country. Amongst others, many soldiers, ex soldiers and military families are contacting us to express their outrage at the terrible waste of life it is causing.

It comes at a time when the reasons given for the war have been exposed as lies. As violence spirals in Afghanistan who can now believe the war is making the world a safer place?
After the sham elections who can believe it is bringing democracy to Afghanistan?

Members of military families, including those of serving soldiers, are travelling from as far afield as Dundee and Exeter. They will be at the head of the demonstration, alongside Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, the soldier who is facing a court martial for refusing to go back to Afghanistan and Peter Brierley, the father who lost his son in Iraq and refused to shake Tony Blair's hand in St Paul's Cathedral a week ago

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Release Brian!

I am looking forward to tomorrow's meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Council.

(Regular readers Sid and Doris Shrink are already offering me therapy for these strange tastes).

At the Regional Council a motion has been ruled out of order.

I want to emphasise that I make no criticism here of that decision, for to question the wisdom of a Standing Orders Committee in our Union has become a matter which can cause all sorts of trouble.

(Even where there is not in fact a proper independent Standing Orders Committee for the body in question!)

So I shall just say this.

Brian Debus, praise of whom has been sufficient to see a motion not just ruled out of order but banned even from being printed or circulated, is a fine trade unionist whom I am proud to know.

I do not share his politics, but I respect his contribution to our movement - and I understand how hard it is, and how hard you have to be, to sustain activism in some of our branches. (You have to look on the bright side of life).

If I respected any of those who have decided to rule the motion praising Brian out of order half as much as I respect Brian I would mention it in the remainder of this blog post.

Keeping other peoples promises for them?

I remember when I heard about the death of John Smith (at the time Leader of the Opposition and likely future Labour Prime Minister).

I was sat with a Union member waiting - and preparing - for her appeal against dismissal on grounds of redundancy and she would not talk to me about the matter in hand, but only about how sad she was to hear the news.

I have no idea whether the party under Smith would have betrayed us as much as it did under Blair, but I remember that moment whenever dealing with the employment rights of workers with less than one year's continuous service (as I was today).

Before 1997 our Labour Party said that we would bring in employment rights from day one - but we never did. When setting out an agenda for Labour in its second term our General Secretary reiterated this demand. Two terms on and we have still failed to honour this commitment.

So as a local union activist I try particularly hard to resist injustices to those workers with less than one year's continuous service, because the Party of which I am still a member has broken our promise to them and left them without the legal rights of other workers.

We have to remember that we are not here as trade unionists just to get people their legal rights.

We are here to get our members what is right for them.

Recruit Recruit Recruit!

There is enormous scope to recruit new members to strengthen our trade union, the better to defend workers' interests in the face of coming struggles.

Reliable figures seen by your blogger indicate for the directly employed local government workforce in Greater London an overall trade union density figure of 45%.

That means that the majority of directly employed local government employees in our capital city - who benefit from the nationally agreed conditions of service (such as the sick pay scheme) and have access to the Local Government Pension Scheme (all of these things won by decades of trade union struggle) are not members of any trade union.

Whilst it may be some consolation that across Inner London a narrow majority are trade union members, in Outer London the proportion is less than two in five.

We know what recruits members - our Union being visible and effective in defending the interests of our members and potential members. Therefore we need to mobilise our branches (using the opportunity of the Million Voices campaign and tool of the Peoples Charter) in high profile campaigns to defend and promote public services.

We need to see more of UNISON members taking action, whether that is a public protest at a Council meeting or a ballot for action to defend jobs - and we need to articulate a coherent alternative to the discourse of cuts and privatisation which is now dominant.

As so often, Barnet show the way - with the sound idea of a local manifesto for public services. UNISON cannot afford to move at the speed of our slowest elements. We need to energise our Union.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Support Dave Osler and freedom of expression on the internet

If you have a moment online go and express your support for ace leftwing blogger Dave Osler who faces legal action for allegedly defaming someone about whom I shall express no opinion other than to tell this story;

Many years ago a local politician now enjoying well-deserved obscurity made some completely unfounded allegations against me in public. I was younger then and these things bothered me so I wrote to the Union Legal Department for advice on "protecting my reputation."

In due course I was referred to a solicitor who explained to me that libel law was all about reputation and that - as a union official working for what was then widely seen as a "Loony Left" local authority I did not have a reputation worth protecting.

Subsequent debates within the Union lead me to suppose that others have drawn the same conclusion from time to time - but I am happy with the idea that if someone has a go at me I should have a go back and not involve the legal system. I am sure that there is a place for a law about defamation, but it should not be there to be used to stifle political comment and debate.

In supporting Dave Osler against this unjustified attack we have to support others under attack alongside him - whatever we may think of their online contribution.

Consultants belong in hospitals - not local government.

Full marks to UNISON East Midlands Region for exposing the cost of agency workers and consultants to local authorities in their area.

As I was saying the cost of consultants in local government is a real example of waste.

We do not need to pay people £500 a day and more to tell us things which are either self-evident or stupid. Far from limiting this waste though, the cuts agenda which will be pursued by the Tories (or by New Labour should a miracle happen at the next election) will be a boon to the consultants as they are called upon to tell us (at great expense) how to make savings.

Consultants belong in hospitals - not in local government...

Political Fund Review - act now

UNISON branches should have received a consultation document on the review of the effectiveness of our political fund.

The deadline for submissions in response to the document is Friday 13 November 2009 - so for most branches that will mean that there is just one Branch Committee before that deadline.

Put that date in your diary now - and someone tell me why the front cover of the document shows chess pieces...

Update on Monday evening - what was that about the sincerest form of flattery?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A useful niche site?

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Niche-Blogger) will know that I am almost painfully modest, so it goes against the grain to draw attention to kind words in the Morning Star.

In an overview of the political left in the “blogosphere” this weekend leading lefty blogger Jim Jepps identifies this blog as an example of useful “niche sites that connect with fewer people but in a more targeted way” (than blogs which get more hits). As he says “thousands of people coming to your site to be annoyed at you isn't as good as a few dozen people in your local area - or union or campaign - using your blog as a resource.”

I started blogging in order to report on my work as a member of the UNISON National Executive Council and as a UNISON activist generally. Given the role of leftwing members of the Executive at Conference it is as well to have another avenue to express opinions...

I particularly like being referred to as “UNISON’s Jon Rogers” in the Morning Star but I suppose that should serve as a reminder to emphasise once more that this is a personal blog and that UNISON are not responsible for its contents!

Support London Met workers

This is the latest information I have received about the campaign against redundancies at London Metropolitan University;

As you know, London Met UCU and London Met Unison have been conducting a major campaign to oppose our management's insistence on the loss of 550 FTE posts - which may eventually result in up to 700 job losses (1/4 of our entire workforce). Both unions won overwhelming endorsement for industrial action in industrial action ballots, and UCU took an initial day's strike action in May, followed by joint strike action with Unison in July. UCU also initiated ‘greylisting’ against the university on September 1st and this is already having a major impact (please see http://www.lmuucu.devisland.net/lmuucu-greylist-010909.html for further details)

However, despite forcing management to slowdown their redundancy plans and to postpone attempts to outsource vital services such as IT, they still appear hell bent on mass compulsory redundancies. They are also now planning on closing the last remaining on-campus student nursery – this will in itself specifically, and negatively, impact on the lives of very many women returners to education.

Both unions have therefore voted to escalate our industrial action campaign and this will commence with a joint UCU/Unison university-wide two day strike on Thursday and Friday (October 15th/16th) of this week.

JOINT UCU/UNISON STRIKE – THURSDAY/FRIDAY 15TH/16TH OCTOBER

Our picket lines will commence at 8am at each of our main campus buildings in Holloway Road, Moorgate, Aldgate East, and Whitechapel (see http://savelondonmetuni.blogspot.com/2009/10/support-our-strike-join-pickets-thurs.html for details). We are also planning on holding a mass rally during the strike (details to follow – please check our website for the latest information).

Please make every effort to join us in the morning on our picket lines and to send delegations (and banners) from your branches to our rally in the afternoon. Further updates will be posted on our blog: http://savelondonmetuni.blogspot.com and website http://www.lmuucu.devisland.net. You can also email your messages of support to: unisonlondonmet@googlemail.com and lmuucu@devisland.net

Personal Report of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) meeting 7/10/09

This is a personal report of edited highlights of the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting which took place on Wednesday 7 October 2009, which I have circulated to UNISON Branches in Greater London.

An official report is available online at http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/pages_view.asp?did=9503.

The meeting was chaired by Vice President Angela Lynes as our President, Gerry Gallagher was representing UNISON at the Conference of our Canadian sister union.

Organising update

There was generally good news from the Head of Organising and Recruitment, who was able to report that the Union is predicted to grow by 1.4% this year. One in five new members now join online – with 13,000 members having joined online since April. There remain issues about how members who join online are allocated to branches.

The report covered a number of specific organising projects and I asked in particular about the important three companies project. The project aims to work in partnership with our sister union from North America SEIU in order to recruit end organise the staff of three major private companies – Sohdexo, Compass and Aramark – that hold significant contracts in the public sector. We aim to test and employ SEIU organising and recruitment strategies and tactics in the care, cleaning and catering sectors. The Project Sponsor is our Deputy General Secretary, Keith Sonnet, and I will continue to ask about this project.

New Service Group Structures

A written report on the establishment of three new Service Groups did not materialise and the NEC received a verbal update. At July’s meeting we had agreed a process whereby Regions would consult branches about the correct Service Group into which members should be placed with a deadline for data transfer on the membership system by 30 September. We were told that this deadline had been met, but also that the Assistant General Secretary would be writing to Regional Secretaries urging them to contact branches again.

All health and local government branches should check the information which has been provided from Region as to which employers will fall within the new Community Service Group since mistakes have been made in some cases. I was one of the members who queried whether the NEC had taken a decision as to which members should be in which Service Group – the view being taken seems to be that in agreeing an administrative process for data transfer in July we have given NEC approval to the outcome of that process.

Public Sector Pay Negotiations

There was some debate around the report on public sector pay negotiations, which provided a comprehensive overview of the current state of negotiations over the pay of UNISON members and other public servants. To some extent this debate became a fruitless discussion as to whether there was any worthwhile difference between a pay freeze under the Tories or a 1% increase under (New) Labour (there clearly is a difference – 1%!)

I raised the question of how we should make use of evidence that the effective rate of inflation confronting low paid workers in particular is considerably higher than the “headline rate” of inflation.

The debate ranged wider than just pay, with references to the coming attacks upon public service pension schemes and to the estimated 12,000 redundancies in local government in recent months. The General Secretary reported that the TUC Public Services Liaison Group would be coordinating the trade union response to these threats, and had already agreed to rejuvenate the NHS Together coalition.

Equal Pay issues

As ever the report which the NEC received on Equal Pay cannot be reported on here in detail for legal reasons. However, having checked with the Vice-President I can confirm that I am allowed to tell you that the legal team got a very warm round of applause from the NEC for the report. More information is in the public domain.

A Million Voices for Change campaign

It was reported that UNISON’s interventions at the TUC, Labour Party Conference – and at the Tory Party Conference – had been part of the Million Voices campaign which the General Secretary had launched at National Delegate Conference.

In promoting the campaign to the NEC Dave Prentis pointed out that we should be campaigning for higher taxes on the rich, and for money to be saved by cancelling Trident and ID cards. He also made clear that the first phase of the campaign had been the launch up to the Conference season and that we were now entering the second phase of building the campaign.

Early in the New Year the Union will need to assess how the campaign is going and, with a view to the next General Election, whether any Party has supported enough of our objectives in their manifesto. There will be no resumption of payments to individual Constituency Labour Parties under the Constituency Development Plans which were suspended by the Labour Link Committee in response to the General Secretary’s speech at Conference.

It was emphasised that thousands of UNISON members and others had signed up for this campaign (so that we couldn’t be told how many yet as they were coming in too fast to be counted). However to date only about 5% of UNISON branches had signed up to the campaign.

The Head of Policy, and the Chair of the Policy Committee, both stressed that this campaign was not intended simply to be a publicity campaign run from Head Office. The intention of the Million Voices campaign is that it becomes the vehicle for almost all UNISON activity over the coming months and that it should be used as a recruitment and organising tool.

Branches can sign up online to the campaign (as can individual members) – and all branches should have received a campaign pack. I would encourage all branches in Greater London to sign up to the campaign. I made the point that the campaign was entirely consistent with the People’s Charter which has been supported by the Trades Union Congress and that the two initiatives, which complement each other, can be supported together.

Further information about the Million Voices campaign will be available at the Greater London UNISON Regional Council meeting on Thursday 15 October, 10am at the University of London Union, Malet Street, WC1. Make sure your branch is represented in order to support this vital national campaign.

Collective responsibility

The NEC agreed a change to the way in which the NEC itself works, which I opposed (as part of a minority of 16 members outvoted by 35 of our colleagues). So that with effect from the next cycle of meetings, members of a committee may not challenge, speak against or oppose a decision or recommendation of that committee in full meetings of the NEC (although we will be permitted to abstain if we disagree).

I believed that this proposal ran counter to legal advice received by the NEC as recently as December last year (when we had been advised that NEC members are under a duty “when participating in the proceedings of the elected assembly, to express his or her own judgements, reach his or her own decisions and vote in accordance with her or her own assessment of the matters falling for decision.” However the Presidential Team did not consider that legal advice to be relevant and refused to circulate the report containing that advice to all members of the NEC.

Since from now on voting against the decision of an NEC Committee at the full NEC will lead to “a review of committee membership by the Presidential Team and potential removal of the individual from the relevant committee, subject to endorsement by the NEC”, I will report back to branches in Greater London should it appear that I may find myself in this position.

I found it disappointing that in a full meeting at which we were addressing the vital issues affecting the interests of our members we had to spend ninety minutes on this diversion. A number of my NEC colleagues feel very strongly about this issue however and seemed to think that this decision will mean that we need not consider the question again (whereas I fear that the reverse will be the case).

Staffing issues

The Chair of the NEC Staffing Committee gave a verbal report (but agreed to provide written reports in future). He dealt with the current recovery plan for the UNISON Staff Pension Scheme, which will be going out for a ballot of all scheme members to consider increasing employee contributions and make various changes intended to safeguard the future of the scheme.

It was confirmed that as there are no plans to increase the employer contributions there will be no financial implications for branches whose staff are members of the pension scheme.

Head Office Project

The building work on the site of the new Head Office for UNISON is visibly proceeding but is running four weeks behind schedule. It is hoped to keep the costs within the £72 Million allowed in the budget although it now appears that there is no prospect of bringing this figure back down to £70 Million.

Jon Rogers (NEC Greater London) j.rogers@unison.co.uk

Friday, October 09, 2009

Support the Postal Workers

The postal workers have decided to strike and need our wholehearted solidarity.

Extensive local action is already taking place.

I'll blog here as soon as I have details of where to send donations - UNISON branches should be inviting local CWU postal reps to our Branch Committees.

Update - the London Division of the CWU (where 12,500 members have taken up to 14 days of strike action) have set up a hardship fund;

The details of the fund are as follows:
CWU LONDON DIVISIONAL COMMITTEE – HARDSHIP FUND
Unity Trust Account No. 20232065
Sort Code: 086001

Please send donations to the address below:
Hardship Fund
c/o CWU London Divisional Committee
2nd Floor, 33-41 Dallington Street
London
EC1V 0BB
020 7336 8371 or 020 7336 8373

Thursday, October 08, 2009

To ballot or not to ballot?

A hat tip to Darren (who should get his own blog!) for pointing out to me this story about how the RMT deal with privatised employers.

The RMT have a track record of getting good deals - and gaining members because they don't worry about whether they have exhausted internal procedures before they ballot for action.

This lunchtime I attended the largest Branch Committee meeting I have been at for a couple of years - called at short notice and attended in our lunch time so that we could endorse a request for a ballot for industrial action against the threat of redundancies.

That ballot request is eminently reasonable and based upon a sound approach to trying to win the best deal for our members. If our Regional Office is on board for UNISON's robust response to the economic crisis then we will be given the ballot we have asked for.

There is no law, and no UNISON policy, which says that you should exhaust procedures before balloting for action. Should occasional readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Congress-House) think that there is such a requirement then the comment box on this blog is open (as it may not be elsewhere).

Update on Friday morning - welcoming Darren to the blogosphere.

More on the three companies project

In earlier posts I have commented upon the "three companies" project in which UNISON will be assisted by our sister union from the USA - the SEIU - to organise and recruit staff employed by three particular multinational companies.

In response to questions which I posed at the NEC I was advised that the Project Sponsor for this project is our Deputy General Secretary Keith Sonnet - who has promised me answers to further questions, about which I shall report back and/or blog in due course.

There are clearly many legitimate questions to ask about the SEIU's internal regime and its relations with other US trade unions - however I cannot see why any of these mean that UNISON should not seek to learn from the recruitment record of a trade union with an impressive record of growth.

UNISON is a lay led trade union in which dissent remains possible (and I will continue to dissent as necessary!)

I can't believe it's not Stalin!

In a fascinating insight into the psychology of those UNISON officials who have recently taken to anonymous blogging their focus in reporting on Wednesday's meeting of our NEC has been on a pointless ninety minute debate about "collective responsibility."

The official report of the NEC meeting is a far more balanced assessment of the important issues which were discussed.

Our NEC rightly spent a lot of time on public sector pay, on the "Million Voices" campaign and on a range of organising work - unfortunately we also had to spend time on a proposal (which I opposed) that members of NEC Committees may no long speak or vote - at the full NEC -against a recommendation from that Committee.

I shall blog a full report soon

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Defend Private Sector Pensions

The ballot of UNITE members at Fujitsu is an important development in the fight to defend pensions in the private sector. (The dispute is also over jobs and pay).

TUC policy agreed this year as Composite 10 commits our movement to campaign to defend pension provision in the private and public sectors. This is also in line with UNISON Conference Policy.

We know that axes are being sharpened for our public service pension schemes - and it is vital that public sector workers rally to support private sector comrades fighting to defend decent pension provision. We all need decent pension provision.

The TUC did well to point out that some people are doing ok when it comes to pensions - but now we need to see the Campaign for which Congress called.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A glimmer of hope?

It is unquestionably good news that the Health Secretary has expressed the view that the NHS should be the "preferred provider" of health services. This has rightly been described on a leading health worker's blog as "a glimmer of hope."

This statement has also been welcomed by the semi-official anonymous blog recently set up by some UNISON officials though without perhaps giving UNISON the credit we appear to deserve for this development.

Of course I think the NHS should be the only (not just the preferred!) provider - and I am cynical in the extreme about any deathbed conversions to public services on the part of New Labour. Nevertheless we should use every tool we are given to defend public services - which includes making the most of statements such as this by Government Ministers (even those who do not have a long shelf-life).

Sometimes the best way to know whether you like something is to check out who hates it!

And if the public sector is the best provider of health services (and we are) then what about education, housing, social care and many other public services?

Cut back on real waste in our public services...

Readers of this blog who still also enjoy the old media (Sid and Doris Grauniad-reader) may just about notice a short letter today making the point that whereas public sector salaries are generally out in the open, this is not always true of the earnings of consultants.

Though amongst the brief and witty letters, the point I am trying to make is so serious as to be almost unfunny. At the moment I'm working with some shop stewards to deal with the threat of redundancies arising from a reorganisation which would save £100k a year - developed by external consultants who appear to have cost the organisation £400k already.

I don't have a problem with bringing in outside expertise where you need it (I think it is something that the trade union should be more willing to do for example). However I have serious concerns about the practice of bringing in consultants (often costing more than £500 a day) and paying them to do the core work of an organisation - or to take responsibility for contentious issues such as redundancies and privatisation.

UNISON has recently exposed this problem in transport and further education as well as local government.

One simple demand we must make is that the hourly rate of each consultant should be as much a matter of public record as the job-evaluated salaries of employees. This will not of itself lead to a reduction in the misuse of consultants by our employers, but it will be a helpful step.

The people who know how to improve public services are the people who deliver them day to day - not those who make a nice living out of cutting jobs and moving on.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

ALMO = Dodo?

Let's start with a well deserved hat tip to John at Barnet for this news.

Hillingdon Council are to look into bringing their housing service back in house and consigning their ALMO to the past (where they all belong).

Hillingdon have spotted that an in-house service will be better able to co-ordinate with the rest of the Council, and that there will be savings from the expense of setting up the (pretend democratic) governance of an Arms Length Management Organisation.

UNISON Conference Policy is that “council housing should be a central component” in addressing housing need. TUC policy - agreed as Composite 13 this year - is that local authorities should be the “primary deliverers of social housing”.

Therefore whilst many UNISON branches have to seek a constructive working relationship with an ALMO whilst it employs many of our members - our objective should be to see ALMOs go the way of the Dodo. However the threat of privatisation will continue (particularly where Council housing stands on prime real estate) and we will need to continue to work with tenants against this ever present menace.

The senior managers in many ALMOs will have a vested interest in resisting a return to local authority control and will be likely to favour a stock transfer into the wonderful world of high pay and bonuses for the Chief Executives of Housing Associations...

Saturday, October 03, 2009

How do we learn from other trade unions?

Squabbles between trade unions are rarely pretty.

I am pleased that the chorus of complaints about the GMB which used to be so frequent in UNISON meetings is now somewhat reduced (even if we're not going to get into bed together any time soon!) When trade unions fall out there is usually wrong on both sides and the beneficiaries are rarely the members of the unions.

So I am cautious when reading criticisms of a trade union from officials of another union.

However this US website, hosted by American hotel workers union UNITE HERE does seem to indicate that there are real concerns about the conduct of the leadership of the Service Employees International Union (to whom we in UNISON may be about to turn for help and advice).

There is much that we can learn from trade unions in other countries - but probably by cherrypicking the best of their ideas which we can apply to the circumstances in which we find ourselves, rather than borrowing a particular approach wholesale.

And there are fast growing trade unions much closer to our home in London WC1 from whom we could learn a fair bit!

Democracy, Leadership and Debate

Having had to read up a bit on debates in the US Labor Movement which may have some relevance to us in the UK, I was struck by this description of the attitude of the leaders of our sister union the SEIU by one critic;

" (they) would have the whole union leadership, top to bottom, local and international, elective and appointive, acting as one monolithic bloc, speaking to the membership with one united voice in favor of the official line."

This is pretty much the conception of collective responsibility favoured by the majority of my colleagues on UNISON's NEC (although happily not the approach of UNISON's Rule Book).

In the latest "clarification" of "collective responsibility" next week's NEC meeting will be asked to endorse a recommendation that members of a Committee of the NEC may neither speak nor vote against any proposals from that Committee to the full NEC (although in a minor concession we will be permitted to abstain!)

This measure is intended to eliminate "duplication of debate" but threaten to create an absurd position in which a minority could become a majority if the minority happened to have a majority on a particular Committee.

I can see nothing in UNISON's Rules which entitles the NEC to instruct its members how to vote at NEC meetings - and I think that stifling of dissent and debate can only weaken our Union.

I have asked if the Union will ensure that all NEC members are provided with relevant legal advice received by the Development and Organisation Committee at its December 2008 meeting. I will let you know if this request is accepted, and also how the vote goes. (I'll also go on expressing my own views as well as reporting on decisions whether or not I agree with them).

I do think we need to be careful to safeguard our lay democracy (including the right to express dissenting views) - it appears that our friends across the pond are learning this?

Three's company?

The "3 companies project" on which UNISON is or will be working with the Service Employees International Union has given rise to comment - some favourable and some questioning. (All anonymous though!) It's about recruiting and organising members in three large multinationals with a track record of chasing public service contracts - which seems to me to be exactly the sort of initiative which we need to be taking.

Since I prefer things out in the open I have asked the following questions about the project ahead of next week's NEC meeting and will publish the answers;

* When did this project commence?
* Who is the project sponsor?
* Who is the project manager?
* What are the arrangements for governance of this project?
* What are the arrangement for lay oversight of this project? (Has it been reported on in any detail to any NEC Committee for example?)
* What is the budget for this project?
* What financial or other contribution is being made by the SEIU?
* Will we be recruiting members to UNISON or the SEIU?
* How many members do we have in these three companies?
* In which branches are these members?
* How are the lay leadership of these branches engaged in this project?

I have no reason to question the wisdom of teaming up with a Union with an impressive record of growth in order to learn from their experiences - and I cannot see any reason why the way in which we do this should not be transparent to our membership and activists. We certainly need to improve the engagement of lay activists in our private sector work.

The lady vanishes...

When I heard that a lollipop lady had vanished from UNISON's Labour Conference delegation I was of course deeply concerned that a vigorous approach to collective responsibility and internal union discipline might have got out of hand.

It turns out that this is just an amusing gimmick to promote our Million Voices for Change campaign.

The progressive aspirations which inform our campaign are essentially the same as the objectives of the TUC-supported Peoples Charter.

Not every UNISON branch can afford to produce an ice-sculpture to catch the attention of jaded delegates at a political Conference - but we can all buy a pasting table and get out petitioning at a weekend or outside workplaces (or for that matter inside workplaces).

The Charter could be a valuable tool to build UNISON's campaign as well as demonstrating - across the breadth of our movement and beyond - the popular support for socialist politics which fails to find a voice from the leadership of any of the major parties.

I hope that this is the direction in which the campaign can now be taken. After all, Miss Froy was quite capable of acting alone - as UNISON is - but she still sought allies from those travelling in the same direction.

No Justice for Jean?

Our Union rightly expresses the concerns of our members about gun and knife crime in our communities.

We need to be equally concerned when the guns are in the hands of people in uniform - as in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, for whose death no one will now be held to account.

If you have not already done so please sign the online petition in support of the permanent memorial at Stockwell tube station.

The "Independent" Police Complaints Commission may have decided not to take account of the criticisms and conclusions of the Coroner about the failings by the police four years ago - but local people and trade unionists can at the least ensure that this murder is never forgotten.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Why do I do it?

As I have been getting ready for next week's UNISON NEC meeting I have been remembering the words of a senior national official who told me recently that the NEC was failing in its task to scrutinise the conduct of officials.

As a vocal critic of shortcomings in what you might call the governance of our trade union I have taken this very much to heart and am therefore using the procedures available to me as an NEC member to ask questions and seek answers.

You can read more here in due course.

Whilst doing this I have taken inspiration from this very interesting interview with Dan Gallin, of whom I had not heard before but now consider a significant and important thinker about the future of our movement.

Hat tip to the New Unionism Network.

I am reminded why I do spend so much time on trade union activity when someone says;

"The point is to nurture and strengthen the politics of radical democracy, the particular strand of socialist politics which I believe is the authentic Marxism, which insists that power, where it matters, always has to remain in the hands of the workers. Today this means almost all of society, since nearly everybody is part of the working class, whether they know it or not. To get there, you have to start from the bottom, the point of production, and then build democratic institutions, like democratic unions, impose democratic procedures at every level, democratize the decision-making mechanism in public administration. We don't want to abolish bureaucracy if bureaucracy means administration, we all need administration and we want it to be honest, transparent and efficient, in our own organizations to start with, then in society at large. We want an administration built on our key values: justice and freedom. These will be the values of the society of the future - if we make it that far."