Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Palestine - think globally act locally

I missed out on yesterday's lunchtime street stall run jointly by my local UNISON branch and the local branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign(PSC) but understand that it went well.

Campaign materials jointly produced between the PSC and the TUC are now available online at www.palestinecampaign.org/ban-settlement-goods and will shortly be circulated to UNISON branches.

It is time to step up campaigning for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the aggression of the Zionist regime and the unjust occupation of Palestine. Our trade union movement has a clear pro-Palestinian policy and, having won the vote at the TUC, we need to implement the policy on the ground.

Bringing it all together

It's a shame that prior commitments prevented me attending yesterday's lobby of the Local Government Association in opposition to the politically motivated Tory pay freeze for local Council workers.

At last week's meeting of the Regional Local Government Committee there was a useful discussion with Heather Wakefield about how to mobilise members against the many attacks we face whilst acknowledging that we are not sitting on a powder keg of militancy right at the moment.

My twopence worth is that I think we need to learn from the approach taken by PCS and see ourselves as having a national dispute (and related local disputes) about pay, jobs and - soon I fear - pensions. The various attacks upon our living standards, conditions and job security have a single source and need a coordinated response.

Most of all we have to persistently deny the reactionary consensus that says that public spending cuts are inevitable. Just as the pay freeze is a deliberate political choice, so will be the cuts imposed in June's Emergency Budget. There is an alternative.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ave atque vale

My job share partner as UNISON Branch Secretary in Lambeth, Nick Venedi, is leaving Lambeth and is off to face new challenges. It's been fun to work with Nick over the best part of twenty years and he will be sorely missed.

It is however to his credit that several members of the team who will continue to lead the branch were encouraged into activity by Nick over the years. I suppose that I ought to count myself in that company since twice over the years, when I had stood down as Branch Secretary, it was Nick who prevailed upon me to return to office.

Nick is justly proud of his key role in bringing our Housing Benefit service back in house in 2001 after the disaster of privatisation to Capita - at the same time he also worked hard to shift the Labour Group in Lambeth away from the excesses of New Labour.

Whereas in 1998 the Labour manifesto in Lambeth attacked Council staff, by 2010, for the second successive local election there will be a workforce manifesto agreed between the Labour Group and affiliated trade unions.

We will I am sure continue to build on the work we have done in the past, and when we do we will remember Nick's contribution.

Good luck comrade!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Islington Labour - who say's there's no such thing as a free lunch?

I have just had the honour of speaking at the launch of Islington's workforce manifesto - the agreement between the Council trade unions and the Labour Group who should - all being well - be running the Council after May 6th.



For the attention of regular reader - and commentator - S Blogger, I hasten to add that I spoke, and am blogging, in my own time following a busy day sorting out casework in my Unison Branch Office (in anticipation of assuming sole responsibility for the first time in four years later this week).



Islington's Labour-Union agreement follows their experience of having been one of two London boroughs to have such agreements four years ago. It includes support for direct provision of public services and for comprehensive education, to both of which I drew attention in my brief contribution.



Support for the comprehensive ideal matters very much to me, both as a product of an excellent comprehensive education myself and as a child of a Grammar School girl who saw her siblings sent to Secondary Moderns.



Islington Labour also deserve full credit for driving through - even from opposition - free school meals for primary schoolchildren.



As Paul Kenny said in his contribution to the excellent meeting, such a commitment in Labour's national manifesto would attract much support in its appeal to the interests of our class.



Regular readers will know that I hold no brief for this Government, nor for their claque of supporters, dependents and hangers on in the wider labour and trade union movement.



Nevertheless we need a Labour, rather than a Tory, Government and Islington - like Lambeth - needs a Labour rather than a Lib Dem Council.



Good luck to the Islington comrades (and special apologies to Gary Heather, whose contribution I had to miss to get to Lambeth Trades Council (late...)

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Total Place or safe place?

I have missed blogging properly this morning working on a presentation on Total Place for my local Trades Council.



Six months ago our Local Strategic Partnership, without waiting for the reports from the Total Place pilots, brainstormed how to save 20% from public spending in the borough.



The conclusions that they arrived at were consistent, they later concluded, with the Total Place initiative, for which such grand claims have been made on such slender foundations.



Since our LSP also saw the need for a "safe place" to develop cuts proposals (safe perhaps at this stage from our prying eyes) I hope Trades Council delegates will agree that we need to organise to scrutinise, engage with, respond to and - when necessary - oppose cuts proposals as they emerge, whether from a safe place or Total Place.



The lack of helpful guidance on the TUC website is not acceptable!

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Milne Voices for public services

Seumas Milne in today's Grauniad makes the compelling case for reflationary public investment which ought to be (but isn't) being made from the Labour front bench (http://m.guardian.co.uk/ms/p/gmg/op/seot75NRN92v5iLRAfqL-dQ/view.m?id=361993&tid=120787&cat=Search).



He is right to foresee a period of social and political conflict as the custodians of our capitalist economy (of whichever political colour) take the axe to public services. Unison's "Million Voices" campaign (http://www.unison.org.uk/million/) has the potential to mobilise mass opposition to spending cuts - indeed Unison will be at the epicentre of the coming turmoil.



Our employers are already anticipating the real budget - the one which will come after the election. In the absence of a party of the centre-left articulating even a social democratic (let alone socialist) alternative to the devastation of our services, Unison must continue to point out that there is another way.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Solidarity with PCS

Today's budget day strike action by PCS members seeking to defend their redundancy rights shows skillful timing (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/cscs/cscs-updates-and-briefings/blank-page-1.cfm).



The deliberate assault upon public servants by a (notionally) Labour Government weeks from a General Election is less well timed.



As civil servants gather on the streets of London there are politicians at Westminster supporting them (http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/solidarity-with-pcs-no-job-cuts-on-the-cheap/). In particular, former Unison official Katy Clark has tabled the motion in support of PCS.



Good luck comrades!

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hardly a vote of confidence

I had to miss the fun and games at today's meeting of the Unison Greater London Regional Committee.



In those parts of the blogosphere written by or on behalf of paid officials of our trade union I understand that there is much joy at the inconsequential decision of that body to nominate a Mr Prentis as General Secretary.



It is the form of this decision (rather than its substance) that tells you all you need to know about the difference between the Regional lay leadership now and that five years ago.



Never before has the Regional Committee arrogated to itself the right to nominate a candidate for General Secretary. When we had a socialist majority we would never have shown such disrespect for our members. We thought the Regional Council should take that decision (and it is noteworthy that those seeking to build their reputation on having "tamed" the Region did not dare to put this question before the Regional Council).



Now though things are desperate. Though the Prentis camp can stack up nominations from Regions and Service Groups the crucial branch nominations are melting away.



Last time our General Secretary had 512 branch nominations. This time Prentis supporters argued for the tight timetable which we are working with precisely on the basis that it would facilitate branches to make nominations at our AGMs.



Anything less than 400 nominations from branches will - therefore, in the light of this justification for the timetable - be a shocking indictment of the unsatisfactory record of our Union leadership over the past five years.



If our General Secretary, as an incumbent, can command the active support - by way of nomination - of less than one third of Unison's branches then he is plainly hobbled.



If it quacks like a duck



And it limps like a duck...

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Prioritise Rule Amendment 33

Some people use their annual leave to spend time on the beach, others indulge (or so I understand) in sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.

Still others of us appear as witnesses in internal Unison disciplinary hearings.

As a result of this peculiar predilection on my part I have an unusual - some say unhealthy - interest in debates on Rule Amendments at Unison National Delegate Conference.

In this context (and as regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will recollect my having promised to do) I have been looking at the Rule Amendments submitted to this year's Conference (and admitted to the agenda by the Standing Orders Committee).

I am immediately and immodestly struck by Rule Amendment 33 which seeks to introduce the issuing of disciplinary warnings into the Union's disciplinary procedure. Since it is now seven years since the Lambeth Branch last mobilised the simple majority necessary to amend Schedule D to the Rule Book I am hopeful that this sensible proposal will command support. It is obvious to me that such a power could often usefully be employed.

If you are reading this as a Unison activist expecting to be consulted about the prioritisation process then I commend to you Rule Amendment 33, as well as Rule Amendments 12,13 and 14 - which seek to impose a sensible and proportionate limit of 24 months on bans from holding office imposed under Rule I - and Rule Amendment 4 which this year gets right what last year was got wrong by our National Executive Council in seeking to exclude from membership of our Union members of those far right political parties who aspire to our destruction.

All Regions are asked to prioritise Rule Amendments as well as motions - and should consult branches as part of this process. Do not ignore the prioritisation of Rule Amendments - last year we lost some non controversial amendments because they were not prioritised above foolhardy NEC amendments presented in defiance of good advice from those with a sound sense of the will of Conference.

This year those who write NEC Conference submissions (a group by no means coterminous with the NEC!), have not repeated the errors of last year (assiduous readers of Conference agendas will note the absence of attempts - made last year - to remove from elected delegates to Service Group Conferences authority over negotiations on pay and conditions).

Therefore we must aim to prioritise for debate motions which can make a positive difference and - when it comes to Amendments to Rule - an amendment to Schedule (requiring as it does a simple rather than two thirds majority) is clearly attractive.

So - prioritise Rule Amendment 33!

Please

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The End of New Labour?

At last night's meeting of my employer's "Cabinet" (which I am enough of a dinosaur still to think of as the Policy and Resources Committee minus the opposition) Councillors were careful to declare when they had an interest in any matter under discussion. The point of which is that we should be aware of any personal interests which might influence the judgement or conduct of elected Members.



Because I was there (to support a colleague addressing the meeting about Unison's plans to avert privatisation of some of our members' jobs) I wasn't watching telly and missed Dispatches (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/#synopsis) which showed how some former Cabinet Ministers were allegedly less punctilious than our local politicians when it came to seeking personal advantage from public office.



The sordid end of the dregs of the Blair faction in Parliament inevitably raises a smile - but this will only be the "end of New Labour" which Colin Burgon welcomed yesterday if we can replace it with something else.



There's no point in simply slotting trade unionists into seats vacated by those now leaving to spend more time with their money.



Unison's recent experiences (http://news.scotsman.com/breaking-news/Livingston-MP-Jim-Devine-charged.6046759.jp) show that that can be less than successful (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/8582248.stm).



To rescue the Labour Party - and defend our public services and the interests of working people - requires a strategic alliance between the trade unions and the Parliamentary and constituency left to shift the Party in the direction of the working class.



Unison's leadership - which could and should be at the centre of this alliance - will remain instead an obstacle to political progress as long as it gives such energetic priority to attacks upon leftwing activists in our own ranks.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Oi! What about the (social) workers?

It was good to see an ad in today's Metro from UNISON defending social workers engaged in child protection work.

The nearest I ever want to get to child protection is stopping my two (wonderful) children from squabbling!

Just like most of you reading this blog I would not want to be a social worker with responsibilities for child protection and (as the proud son and nephew of social workers) I am lost in admiration for those who will take that responsibility on.

In twenty years and more of trade union activity I have too often seen scapegoating of social workers. I have also seen that our trade union is the only defence a social worker has.

The answer is not - as Madeline Bunting rightly points out in today's Grauniad - more form filling and question answering.

The answer is that we should value people prepared to do an awful job in difficult circumstances - and that we need to rebuild the trade union organisation that once made social workers a force to be reckoned with in the workplace!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Defend the English - cherish dissent

With apologies to regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger for wandering into an uncharacteristically personal post, I have just spent my Christmas book tokens.

I have bought John Keane's biography of Tom Paine - which I very much hope I shall enjoy. In the foreword he wrote for last year's reissue of the book Keane rightly observes that "condescension of the dead is dangerous."

This echoes to me what EP Thompson had to say in introducing "The Making of the English Working Class" (a book which has influenced my life as much as any other). Thompson set himself a mission (in which he succeeded) to rescue his subjects from "the enormous condescension of posterity."

It was from Thompson that I learnt of the London Corresponding Society and that our labour movement has its origins in the courage and determination of those with neither wealth or power who were prepared to speak up.

All that we have of value in our lives we owe to the struggles of those before us, some of whom (Tom Paine, William Morris, Sylvia Pankhurst) are remembered but most of whom are as anonymous as we shall be a century hence.

This is the England which needs to be defended. These are the English heroes whom we should venerate. Wat Tyler, the Diggers, the Chartists and the Match Girls, the Grunwick strikers and the Hillingdon hospital strikers represent the England in which I live.

We English can also be proud that we beheaded a King more than three centuries ago (even if we've been daft enough to put up with monarchy since the restoration!)

And yet islamophobic racist vermin can wave the flag of St George and claim to speak for my country with their incoherent intolerance. The "English Defence League" are as English as the Freikorps and those who would drive them back into the sewer deserve our full support.

I am also angry at those who want to cleanse our labour movement of dissent. All that is best in our movement is born of the courage of those who will speak truth to power. Those who prioritise maintenance of a facade of unity above tolerance and debate weaken us.

It is a sad truth that some of the dissenting voices whom we must defend subject themselves freely to the disciplines of "democratic centralism" (and an irony that those in our official structures who lead the charge against them stand in the same - bankrupt - Leninist tradition).

Nevertheless it is the duty of trade unionists to defend dangerous radicals, to speak up for those who speak out and to put ourselves between those who are victimised and castigated and those who attack them.

I have seen the Crown Jewels and they are very pretty, but the precious jewels of the English are the traditions of radicalism, tolerance and dissent with which we can build a better stronger labour movement and a better, fairer England.

Rant over.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Solidarity with BA strikers

The media are laying into fellow trade unionists and its important to be clear that we should be on the side of the workers.



Unite members working at BA have started a three-day strike against the employer, after BA failed to table acceptable proposals on the issues of job cuts and crews' fears that management is driving down standards at the airline.





There will also be a demo at Heathrow this morning (Saturday 20th March) at 10:30am in solidarity with the strikers.



Good luck and best wishes to all who can make it.



This is from a statement from the Labour Representation Committee;

(http://l-r-c.org.uk/ge2010candidates/john-mcdonnell/)

John McDonnell MP , LRC Chair, said:





"This dispute is a prime example of the current industrial relations climate, with the employer not only seeking to win but to break the union too.





"This is an indication of the coming disputes, and requires maximum solidarity. We need to learn the lessons and co-ordinate industrial action across the economy if we are to ensure ordinary people do not pay for this crisis."



Hear hear!

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Unison Manchester Local Government Branch "the forces of right wing ideology and reaction are resurgent"

I am just reading the Preliminary Agenda for Unison National Delegate Conference.



I will blog in more detail later - particularly to comment (with all due deference and civility) on some of the decisions of our Standing Orders Committee.



For now though I am moved to comment by Motion 102 from the Manchester branch on Europe.



Manchester advise us that "the forces of right wing ideology and reaction are resurgent."



So now we know.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Union-bashing blues

Today's Morning Star reports on some vintage union bashing from the refurbished Thatcherites running the Tory party (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/88058).



Eric Pickles says a Tory Government would restrict party funding from trade unions. (In Eric those who would break the link between trade unions and Labour have a steadfast, if presumably unwelcome, ally).



The Tories want to restrict trade union funding of political parties not merely for narrow party advantage.



For them the collective expression of the political will of the working class through our trade unions is an affront.



Workers should know our (work)place and leave governing and ruling to those who were born to it.



As John McDonnell rightly points out, the Tories are set to pose an almost existential threat to our movement.



We need a fighting leadership and an organised membership to face this challenge.



Complacent praise of the status quo in our union borders on the criminal.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Support striking UNISON members at Notting Hill Housing Trust

UNISON members of our Housing Associations Branch have been forced to take action against an increasingly hostile employer at Notting Hill Housing Trust.

UNISON members are taking strike action today in opposition to imposed cuts to terms and conditions, including an end to paid carers’ leave and flexitime. These changes will, by the employers’ own admission, have greatest impact on female staff with caring responsibilities.

Relocation allowances and salary protection have also been cut in advance of likely changes to job roles and office relocation (echoes of the Government's attack on civil servants redundancy terms ahead of making redundancies!) Further information - and details of how you can protest to the employer in support of the striking workers - is
Solidarity and best wishes to the Notting Hill strikers!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Branch Secretary

As regular readers, Sid and Doris Blogger, will know this is a niche blog!



This then is a niche post on a niche blog.



Only other Unison Branch Secretaries will appreciate the enormous relief I feel having submitted the annual branch financial returns on time.



I hope that those of you in that category are feeling similar relief - the deadline is Monday!





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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

No explanation for attack on union democracy

As one of the Unison NEC members who (on the specific advice of a senior national official) takes seriously my responsibility to scrutinise the actions of union officials, I have been asking questions about the actions last Friday of Unison staff in Bromley and Greenwich.

Although the pesky questions of an NEC member are not worthy of response, our Regional Secretary has now written to all branches in London to explain that the Bromley, Greenwich and Tenant Services Authority branches have been taken under Regional supervision.

We are informed that the decision was taken under rule D2.1 and Rule G8.3.3. The first of these is just the general power of the NEC to take any action (subject to the Rules and Conference policy) and - since actions such as the cancellation of a branch Annual General Meeting breach the Rules - it is the latter Rule which really matters.

Rule G8.3.3 authorises a visit to a branch by an officer where (in the opinion of the General or Regional Secretary) it appears that a branch is not functioning effectively. It is in fact this Rule under which "Regional supervision" takes place.

I will blog in more detail about the uses and abuses of this Rule, but wish now to draw attention to a serious dilemma for Unison.

Up until last week, these three branches were not under Regional supervision. Therefore, up until last week, neither the General nor Regional Secretary had formed the view that any of these branches were "not functioning effectively" - but now they have formed that view.

What can have changed?

Well, up until last week each of the three branches had a Branch Secretary, elected according to rule, who faced discipline by the Union. Last week all three Branch Secretaries were banned from holding office.

So, whilst these branches were the responsibility of elected officers facing disciplinary action there was no problem and no need for Regional supervision, but - as soon as disciplinary action took effect and the officers who had been found to have breached our Rules were out of the way - then, and only then the branches were suddenly deemed not to be functioning effectively and to require Regional supervision.

If these branches did not require supervision two weeks ago they most certainly do not now.

This is all quite as nonsensical as it seems.

I think a certain arrogance from those who exercise power is to be expected (if never welcomed) but that the mixture of such arrogance with such foolishness leaves our Union looking really really daft (for further information on "really really daft" in relation to this and other issues see http://www.workers.org.uk/).

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Dave Ja Vu?

Yesterday I received an email from the campaign to elect Dave Prentis, considered by some to be front runner in the current Unison General Secretary election.



Happily, as a Rule Book anorak, I did not follow the advice in that email to encourage members (using Unison resources) to visit that candidate's campaign website or join his Facebook group. To have done so would have breached the election regulations and therefore Unison Rules.



I was however struck by the argument that was put forward in support of Dave;



" In the difficult times ahead – whatever Government is elected - UNISON's General Secretary will have to continue to be an effective and respected voice for our 1.4 million members. Our unity in choosing our General Secretary sends an important message to politicians and employers who will try to paint us as weak and divided. The more we unite to support Dave, the better every member can be supported."



This then is an argument for unity at all costs, the unity of the lowest common denominator, the unity perhaps of a Soviet election?



That sense of deja vu...



The strength of our movement comes from our democracy in practice as well as our unity in action. To suggest that support for another candidate somehow fosters "disunity" and would - by clear implication - weaken our ability to protect our members is an attack on the very democracy to which Dave Prentis pledged his undying commitment at the Special NEC in January.



That was the same meeting at which key Prentis supporters argued for the current election timetable on the basis that branches could hold hustings to determine their nominations at AGMs.



How many of the branches who have chosen to nominate the incumbent did so following a hustings? None?

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Unity in a cold climate

It's freezing in London local government - and I don't mean because the heating's broken.



With just four London boroughs proposing increases in Council Tax, and five proposing reductions, the majority have opted for a straightforward freeze - bringing us cuts in jobs and services even ahead of the much anticipated post-election butchery of public services.



This is not, however, simply an issue for local government workers. London Councils are lobbying for control over health service funding (http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2010/02/01/113685/London-Councils-wants-boroughs-to-control-health-funds.htm). In the current climate they are not doing this simply to grab power and influence.



Following the Government's "Total Place" agenda, our employers have realised that a good way to make cuts in public services will be to bring together the administration of public services from across different parts of the public sector. They want to "eliminate overlap" - which sounds lovely unless you're the person they're sacking to achieve it!



All of this may be based upon calculations of potential savings which have little basis in evidence but the enthusiasm of our employers is clear (http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2010/01/25/113639/london-councils-urges-agency-integration-to-cut-costs.htm).



The challenge to Unison is equally clear - particularly in London. Either we break down the barriers between our service groups now to organise the defence of our members or the employers will do it for us and leave us to pick up the pieces.



It's freezing right across London's public services - and unity is the response our members deserve and to which they are entitled.

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200,000 civil servants can't be wrong

Congratulations to PCS members striking today - and tomorrow - in defence of their redundancy scheme and contractual rights (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/news_centre/index.cfm/id/431B8B52-853B-40BE-8A089020BF1E31B2).



As an avid Clash fan I was unable honestly to sing along to Bankrobber without changing the words to "My Daddy was a civil servant" (which didn't scan quite so well). Because he was.



Whilst that won't have been true for all of us it is certainly true that all public servants are brothers and sisters even if not parents and children.



There are those who would divide us - setting local government against central government, or health workers against Council workers - just as the media seek to set private sector against public sector. These people are our enemies.



A victory for the striking civil servants will be a victory for us all.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Lambeth Branch on good form :)

It is great to link to some good news from my own UNISON branch in Lambeth!

Thanks to support from UNISON's General Political Fund, approved by the Regional Finance Team in Greater London, our branch has been able to employ a consultant (that's a good consultant who believes in public services!) to help us develop credible proposals for a direct labour organisation (to be managed via a tenant led board with worker and Councillor representation) to deliver services to tenants in the borough.

Through united work between activists in the branch, the cooperation of our Regional Organiser, and a productive working relationship with Labour Councillors, we are showing what is possible for those of us in local government branches fortunate enough to have employers who are not hostile. The effective unity of all branch activists is of course also critical to this - as is the assistance of the Region.

I'm proud to come from a UNISON branch which can function so effectively - and whether or not we achieve the objective which we have set ourselves I know that in Lambeth we are giving effect to the intentions of UNISON's Million Voices campaign as well as anyone in the UK.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Report to London Unison branches on democracy in our Union

What follows is the text of a report which I have sent out today as a UNISON NEC member, concerning deeply troubling developments in UNISON's Greater London Region on Friday 5 March.
 
Early yesterday morning UNISON officials turned up at the offices of the Bromley, Greenwich and the Tenant Services Authority branches having given no notice. I understand that attempts have been made to seize control of computer hard drives and other resources, including documents on on-going personal cases.
 
This action follows immediately upon the conclusion of the disciplinary action against the Branch Secretaries of those branches, Glenn Kelly, Onay Kasab and Suzanne Muna, who have now been banned from holding office within UNISON for periods ranging from two years.
 
There are of course exceptional circumstances in which the Union does need to move in and run branches, the Rule Book deals with these thankfully very rare cases and the National Executive Council has a system of reporting where branches are placed under what is known as "Regional supervision." This procedure now appears to be being applied to these branches.
 
I also understand that our members in the Hackney branch, where Branch Chair, Brian Debus, has been banned from holding office, have been told that an election for a new Chair will be organised at Regional level. The basis on which this might be done is unclear to me and I am awaiting further information.
 
Although I and other members of the National Executive Council representing Greater London have been given notice of such action in the past, I had not notice of this action and my requests yesterday for an explanation from the Regional Secretary and the Chair of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee have thus far gone unanswered.
 
I am therefore unable to confirm that there are good grounds for the interventions in these branches. Indeed all the indications are that the action which is being taken breaches our Rule Book, undermines lay democracy and branch autonomy and threatens to waste scarce UNISON resources at a time when our members in local government, health and higher and further education all face the threat of unprecedented cuts in jobs in Greater London.
 
The Branch Secretaries who have been banned from holding office have been through the Union's disciplinary process and now know the outcome of that process. It would not be appropriate for me, as an NEC member, to comment upon the outcome of the disciplinary process in a communication of this nature and I do not do so.
 
However, the action taken yesterday against three branches is a completely different matter, unrelated to the allegations which have now been dealt with, and gives rise to serious concern that officials of our Union are breaking UNISON Rules.
 
It is difficult to conceive of any valid justification for this action being taken now, when those deemed to have breached our Union Rules are no longer holding office.
 
UNISON members in these three branches have the same rights as members in all our branches, including the right to elect their own branch officers and determine the policies of their branch within Union Rules. For UNISON officials to cancel Branch Annual General Meetings (as I understand has happened in Bromley) and to cooperate with the employer to cancel agreed trade union facility time and send lay activists back to work (as I understand has happened in Greenwich) clearly contravenes UNISON Rules.
 
Rule B.2.2 states that UNISON is a "member-led" Union in which decisions taken by members will be carried out. Rule B.2.5 promotes the rights of members to participate in decision-making. Rule G.3.1 confirms the rights of members to attend branch meetings, and Rule G.4.1.2 gives us the right to elect the officers of our branches. Our members in the Bromley, Greenwich and the Tenants Services Authority all have these rights and ought not now to be denied them because of unrelated disciplinary action against individuals which has now concluded.
 
Our Union Rule Book is not a trivial or irrelevant document. It is a contract between members and the Union, endorsed in the ballots which created UNISON in 1992 and amended, in accordance with Rule at successive National Delegate Conferences since 1994. The preservation of the democratic rights of trade union members is a matter of considerable importance to all who care about trade unionism.
 
I shall continue to press for a full explanation of yesterday's events and for the immediate return of these branches to the democratic control of their members in line with the Rule Book. If you have any comments or questions please do not hesitate to get in touch with me as I would welcome feedback from UNISON members in Greater London. Please feel free to pass this report on to UNISON members in the Region.
 


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Unison's suburban Sigurimi

In developments which, on the face of it, have no obvious justification other than a pathological fear and hatred of dissent, our officials have sought to take over the administration of Unison branches which have been functioning perfectly well in every respect (except that their members showed a worrying tendency to elect branch officers whose political views did not meet with approval in Congress House or Mabledon Place).
In unannounced visits uninvited officials arrived at Unison branch offices in Bromley and Woolwich claiming the authority of the national Union to usurp the role of elected branch officials who have faced no criticism and done no wrong. As a mere member of our National Executive Council I had no notice of this action and my requests today for an explanation have gone unanswered.
Among the bizarre aspects of this episode (about which I shall blog in a considered way when I am less angry) is the fact that action was not taken in respect of these branches whilst they were being served by lay activists who faced disciplinary action over the production of a contested leaflet at Unison's 2007 Conference.
It is only now that the four activists concerned have been banned from holding office for periods ranging upwards from two years that steps are apparently being taken to put branches under Regional supervision.
This makes no sense unless the purpose of the exercise is simply to change the politics of the leadership of the branches concerned.
The members who have been banned from holding office aren't holding office any more - the other officers of the branches have faced no charges and done nothing wrong (unless it is now wrong in Unison to elect the "wrong" people or show loyalty to fellow trade unionists!)
This breaks so many of the Rules of our Union that I hardly know where to begin. So I'll come back to this when I've calmed down...

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Why I won't be voting for Lord Ashcroft

In all the coverage of the tax affairs of Lord Ashcroft the funniest story is of concerns from MPs about the accountability of the Upper House (http://m.guardian.co.uk/ms/p/gmg/op/sUBclsEIJmU8PSkOd_cicLg/view.m?id=339877&tid=120787&cat=Search).



These would be the same MPs who have collectively failed to introduce any element of democracy into the Lords since 1997 would they?



The whole point of the Lords is that they are not accountable to anyone - and the whole point of elections is that they are our opportunity to hold to account those who have power.



That (and regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will have seen this one coming a mile off) is why it's important our members have a choice in the election for Unison General Secretary! (http://www.paulholmeskirklees.blogspot.com/)



I should note also that it is greatly to the credit of former Unison General Secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe that he established the precedent that Unison General Secretaries do not take up a seat in the Lords upon retirement. The labour movement should do nothing to sustain this relic of feudalism.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Who is prepared to answer questions? And who is afraid to?

Of the candidates for Unison General Secretary this time round, Paul Holmes stands out for his willingness to debate and answer questions (http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/2010/03/01/ten-questions-to-paul-holmes-of-unison/). (Follow that link for an online interview).



I understand that Paul took that willingness to our Higher Education Conference but was asked to leave a public area of the venue as he might have been trying to win votes.



In a fine example of Unison's commitment to fair play and democratic choice no other candidate spoke at the Conference. Or did I get that wrong? (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1754).



I was however saddened and disappointed to hear that a branch in the North East once strongly associated with progressive politics (and intimately involved in creating Unison United Left) has adopted a similar approach of refusing to hold hustings but inviting the current General Secretary as a "guest speaker" - perhaps (and I ask this for the benefit of regular readers Sid and Doris Local-Government-Conference-Delegate) he can be asked to fill in for forty five tedious minutes whilst votes are counted?



I of course have past experience of standing as a candidate in a General Secretary election and remember how struck I was on that occasion by the reluctance of the incumbent to engage in debate. I never understood why anyone so confident of victory was so visibly scared of the sort of direct questioning from members which every shop steward faces every day.



This time it would be an easy matter for hustings to be broadcast online. So why not? Let's have a debate in which all the declared candidates can be seen by the voters.



No one who would be afraid of such a prospect could possibly be fit to lead our Union so it is a racing certainty that all candidates will agree...



I hope...

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Local government workers face decimation - there is an alternative

Today's news confirms what local government branches are being told by our employers about the likely scale of coming cutbacks - that one in ten local government workers face the axe (http://m.guardian.co.uk/ms/p/gmg/op/sdOt9O-JTjCGCN7UW24NA7A/view.m?id=337539&tid=120787&cat=UK_news).



This means that local government jobs do indeed face decimation - albeit the means of removing the "one in ten" will be less brutal than that of those who originated the use of the term (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimation_(Roman_army).



Ever helpful, the Government have issued local authorities with a checklist of "radical efficiency reforms" to "protect frontline services" - it would make more sense if the Government would itself adopt the checklist which Unison offered last year (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1670) and raise and collect sufficient taxes to pay for the public services we need.

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