Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 - a sequel to tragedy?

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The anniversary of an outrage

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Season's Greetings!

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

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

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

Who will be at work over the holiday?

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

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

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

Yo Ho Ho

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

UNISON Northern Region rebuts criticism

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

"Blogs

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

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

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

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

The price of everything and the value of nothing

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

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

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

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

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

I had better go and read the report...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Questions and Answers

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

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

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

Time travel explained

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

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


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

Supporting Members over Professional Registration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Web to Print Service coming from UNISON to our branches

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

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

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

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

UNISON NEC report to London branches

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

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

UNISON Objectives and Priorities for 2010

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

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

Recruiting, Organising, Representing and Retaining Members

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

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

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

Negotiating and Bargaining

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

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

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

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

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

Campaigning and Promoting Unison

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

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

Developing an Effective and Efficient Organisation

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

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

General Secretary’s Report

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

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

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

Other Key Issues

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

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

Matters arising from Committee Minutes

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Rogers
UNISON NEC member for Greater London

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Good Occupational Pensions for all?

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

UNISON General Secretary Election...?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNISON Democracy in action

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending UNISON from its detractors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

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

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

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

Total: £74.195 billion

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

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

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

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

Season's Greetings and Service Group Autonomy

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

"Dear Comrades and Colleagues,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 04, 2009

Labour MPs let us down on Equal Pay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

If you do one thing today...

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

Today is the day MPs will debate the following amendments;

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

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

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