Friday, April 30, 2010

Son of FRS17 and the LGPS

The title of this blog post has not been approved by regular readers Sid and Doris Plain-English, but bear with me...



The Grauniad reports that an addition to FRS17 - the accountancy rules that helped to accelerate the private sector flight from proper pensions provision - is in the offing (http://m.guardian.co.uk/?id=102202&story=http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/apr/29/pension-rules-force-final-salary-closures).



The requirement to report a snapshot of pension scheme assets and liabilities with annual accounts prompted most private employers to close defined benefit pension schemes to new entrants. A further turn of this screw may see more schemes closed altogether.



This will worsen our position as we try to defend public sector pensions from the Clegg-Cameron attack which looks so likely to start a week from now. We know that a future Government will seek to justify a straightforward cost-cutting attack upon low paid public servants in retirement as a measure bringing "fairness" as between public and private sector workers.



I think this underlines the importance of extending "admitted body" status in the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) so that private sector workers can press their employers to admit them to a decent defined benefit pension scheme (the assets and liabilities of which do not need to be reported to shareholders).



Whatever the depth of the economic crisis our enormously wealthy country can afford decent pensions for working people - attacks on pensions will be political choice not economic necessity.



One contribution to the defence against these attacks is to try to open up access to the LGPS more widely to private sector workers, to offer defined benefit pensions which won't fall foul of FRS17 or its offspring.



I hope that Unison Conference will take up this proposal.

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Your own Question Time

If you have a spare few minutes I strongly recommend you click here.

It takes you to the facility on the UNISON website to ask whatever questions you want of Parliamentary candidates in your locality.

One note of caution - local authority employees should not use their employer's internet connections for this sort of political activity in the pre-election period.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What to make of Labour promises...

Unison members coming to the question of how to cast our votes next week (or sooner for those with postal votes) cannot vote for a major Party which reflects the broadly progressive policies of our trade union.

No one with a chance of putting a foot over the threshold of No. 10 Downing Street is outwith the neoliberal consensus that working class people and our public services must pay the price for an economic crisis engendered by a system inimical to our interests.

That said, it would be foolish to ignore such differences as there are between the major parties and - in particular - to fail to give weight to the limited commitments we have from Labour, whether over public sector pensions in general (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=5989) or over pay and pensions in the NHS in particular (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=6001).

Of course, these commitments - broadly to stick to existing Government policy - meet neither the aspirations of our members nor the requirements of the economic crisis.

Liam Byrne's letter to Dave Prentis on pensions did no more than affirm the 2005 Agreement.

Andy Burnham's letter to NHS staff was even woolier, but it did oppose the Tory plans for a pay freeze.

Therefore whilst we might hope for more from "our" Party, we have to judge Labour's commitments against the threats from the Tories.

We also have to be realistic about whether it is possible to trust commitments made by politicians seeking elected office.

It isn't.

That's not the point.

If we gave our votes to Labour on the basis of such assurances and somehow (against the run of play) there were a Labour Government we would be foolish to sit back and trust their words.

Any Government will face intense pressure from the financial markets to renege upon pledges which sustain public spending - and it will be our job to mobilise countervailing pressure on the streets and outside Parliament (working with the allies we will still have within the Palace of Westminster).

We would be in a stronger position to put pressure on a Government which had offered us commitments rather than one which had won an election offering us only threats.

More importantly perhaps - looking at the polls - we may need to mobilise to demand that Labour politicians refuse to join any Government in which they cannot keep the promises they have now made to public sector workers.

In short, promises from Labour politicians are not achievements but rather tools with which we may try to defend ourselves and whilst a Labour vote on May 6th is the best of our available options, it is in how we use such promises from May 7th onwards that we shall give them any real meaning or value.

For now, vote Labour - but socialism is for life, not just for an election, and the really hard campaign comes next, whatever the result next week.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Don't believe everything you read in the papers

This is the text of a letter sent from Unison to the Grauniad following a news report that our General Secretary was an "Assistant Treasurer" of the Labour Party;



"Your article about Sir Gulam Noon raising funds for the Labour Party (17 April) referred to a role played by UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis. Dave Prentis is not an assistant treasurer of the Labour Party, nor does he sit on Labour's board of assistant treasurers and, to his knowledge, he has never met Sir Gulam Noon or Nigel Doughty, two of the people mentioned by name in the report. I would be grateful if you would publish this correction at the earliest opportunity."



I share this with you as I made the mistake of believing the Grauniad at first and know that others did too.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

NEC report

This is the text of my personal report of NEC member to London branches concerning the Development and Organisation Committee on 13 April and the National Executive Council on 14 April.



Development and Organisation Committee



Last Tuesday’s Committee meeting was to deal with Conference business only. Therefore questions which I had wanted to ask about Regional Supervision of Branches, and about recent decisions of the Certification Officer, will await the meeting on 12 May.



First we considered Rule Amendments. We were told that the NEC had fallen foul of a glitch in the new online system for submission of Rule Amendments - and hence one NEC Rule Amendment had not found its way onto the Preliminary Agenda.



The NEC was recommended to oppose a series of Rule Amendments from North Yorkshire Police Branch which sought to relate UNISON subscriptions to basic pay only, rather than to superannuable earnings as at present. I supported the Committee on this point.

I was alone at the Committee in supporting the proposals from the Kirklees and Bolton branches to impose a 24 month time limit on bans from holding office under our disciplinary rules. Other colleagues felt that such a restriction would only make it more likely that panels would expel members facing disciplinary sanction, although there was some support for considering a (longer) maximum period next year. The NEC will oppose these proposals at Conference.

The Committee did not take a view on Lambeth's proposal to introduce disciplinary warnings into Schedule D pending legal advice. Of course the SOC have already admitted that Amendment on to the agenda.


There were only a few motions relevant to D&O, but we had an interesting debate in relation to one - Motion 8 from Worcestershire County instructing the NEC to publish a directory of branch contact details. The officers were clearly unhappy with this and - although we were not being recommended to oppose yesterday - the arguments against were being rehearsed.

However a wide range of Committee members with divergent views were united in our support for the publication of an accurate and up to date Branch Directory which is a useful tool for research in support of bargaining and to refer members to the right place for advice. I hope the Branch Directory will be published before Conference so that the purpose of the motion can be achieved without the need to take up Conference time - however, it might still be wise to prioritise Motion 8 (about which the NEC has still to take a policy position).



NEC meeting



The NEC meeting on Wednesday 14 April was chaired by Angela Lynes, Vice-President, as the President was absent on UNISON business. Angela opened the meeting by announcing the forthcoming retirement (in July) of Bill Gilby, Head of the Executive Office. Bill is a diligent and effective official who handles the administration of the NEC with patience and good humour and will be greatly missed.



The first item of formal business was a report on the absence from the Preliminary Agenda of an NEC Amendment to Rule I.3. (dealing with disciplinary action against members of the British National Party). The Head of the Executive Office was asked to give this report and took personal responsibility for failing to have clicked “submit” in the online Conference system. It was reported that the NEC would appeal to the SOC to include the Rule Amendment on the Final Agenda on the basis that the Amendment had been set up on the online system and that the Minutes of the NEC confirmed that it should have been submitted.



The General Secretary intervened to suggest that NEC members might wish to encourage Regional Convenors to lobby members of the SOC to admit this item on to the Final Agenda for Conference. This is clearly a matter for the SOC.



The NEC went on to consider policy on Motions and proposed Amendments. As ever most motions are supported and I shall note here only those motions from branches in our Region which are not being supported, so that branches are aware of where there may be controversy at Conference (and can take this into account in the prioritisation process).



Motion 10 from Greenwich is opposed on the basis that it requires unnecessary work which can be subsumed within the joint Region/Branch Assessment process.



Motion 22 from Tower Hamlets is opposed unless amended by an NEC amendment which deletes an instruction to put this item on the TUC agenda. The NEC generally opposes Conference motions which seek to instruct the TUC delegation in this way.



Motions 45 (from LFEPA), 46 (from Ealing) and 48 (from our Region) will also all be opposed unless broadly similar NEC amendments are agreed. These seek to modify the approach to working with other trade unions in campaigns to defend the public sector.



Motion 53 from Havering (on joint working the PCS) will be opposed unless an NEC amendment is agreed. The NEC amendment makes some additions of points of detail (which can be used by the mover of the amendment to present it in a positive light) whilst removing reference to work with the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group.



The NEC has not yet taken a policy position on Motion 89 from Tower Hamlets which deals with the victimisation of union activists.



Motions 107 from the Voluntary Organisations Branch and 108 from Hammersmith and Fulham (concerning anti-BNP campaigns) will both be opposed unless NEC amendments are agreed. In both cases the amendments insert reference to “Searchlight” in motions and – in the case of Motion 107 also requires prior consultation with Regions about support for events.



The NEC has not yet taken a policy position on Motion 119 from SOAS Branch on the Equality Act, nor on Motion 121 from Hammersmith and Fulham on “Labour and the Black Community.”



The NEC also considered its position on Rule Amendments, which was largely in line with the report above from the Development and Organisation Committee. A draft of the NEC report to Conference was also considered, and the NEC agreed to prioritise its own motions to Conference as it normally does.



Conference Prioritisation



Branches have an opportunity to express support for motions in the prioritisation process. One consideration which branches may wish to take into account is that motions which are supported by the NEC will, if not taken for debate at Conference be referred to the NEC who can be expected to support them. Where motions have been opposed by the NEC and are not taken at Conference they will be referred to the NEC who will oppose them and they will fall.



Bearing in mind that our Conference is the supreme government of our Union (in accordance with Rule D.1.1) branches may feel that it is particularly important for Conference to take a decision (for or against) motions which the NEC opposes (or may be expected to oppose).



Branches may wish to consider therefore prioritising for debate some of the following (bearing in mind that the Region will prioritise Motion 48);



Motion 53 (Joint Working with the Public and Commercial Services Union);

Motion 89 (Victimisation of Union Activists);

Motion 121 (Labour and the Black Community);

Motion 8 (Publication of National Directory of Branch Details)



I hasten to add that these are personal views only – the important thing is that as many branches as possible respond to the circular from Regional Office about prioritisation, so that the order of business at Conference reflects the priorities of our members (which may not be the same as the priorities of the NEC - or indeed the opinions of any NEC member!)



If any London Branch would like further information about NEC policy on any motions, or the text of any NEC amendments, please let me know.

Conference Amendment deadline Tuesday!

I commented a little while ago when I was pleased to be able to make the new Online Conference System work to the extent of submitting motions and Rule Amendments for the consideration of the Standing Orders Committee (SOC).

Today I succeeded in submitting Amendments agreed by the Branch Committee on Thursday - with thanks to the officer who explained to me that the motion number has to be entered in the format M001 for Motion 1, M112 for Motion 112 and so on (or "R" for Rule Amendments).

In line with a decision of the Branch Committee, one of the Rule Amendments which I have set up on the system I have not yet submitted, as I am canvassing the views of another Branch (as instructed by the Branch Committee). If I don't click the "submit" button by noon on Tuesday the amendment won't be on the Final Agenda (any more than an Amendment which arrived late would have been under the old system).

Obviously the responsibility for ensuring that the decisions of the Branch Committee are implemented lies with the Branch Secretary (just as the implementation of decisions of the Regional Council or Committee would be the responsibility of the Regional Secretary, and the implementation of decisions of the NEC would be the responsibility of the General Secretary). So I make this post as a kindness to regular readers Sid and Doris Joint-Branch-Secretaries.

Don't forget the deadline for Conference Amendments is noon on Tuesday - and you need to allow sufficient time to log on at "myunison" - we cannot expect that SOC will cut corners or bend rules to let items on to the agenda.

Support Jeremy Corbyn

I know some people maybe busy campaigning elsewhere but I think its important during the election to provide support for those who have supported us not just in target seats. I am therefore asking UNISON members from across London and locally to spend a small amount of time campaigning for Jeremy Crobyn. I am sure I don't need to remind people he has always supported UNISON members and been seen on many picket lines and at many a local rallies or campaign throughout London. I am therefore asking people to meet at 11.30 am Saturday 24th April outside Tufnell Park Tube on the Northern Line, Once there we will meet up with Jeremy and then go out campaigning in the local area. Please do your best to attend it is at this time Jeremy needs our support and I hope as UNISON member we can give that support. I am sure after a couple of hours on the street we will meet up in a local drinking establishment to quench our thirst!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Suspended in a Rubber Room?

You haven't inadvertently found the wrong bit of t'intraweb!



The New York Teachers' Union have done a deal to limit the amount of time that teachers can be suspended when facing allegations of misconduct (http://www.uft.org/news/issues/press/city_and_uft_reach_agreement_on_rubber_rooms/).



Whilst I confess that the Grauniad headline on this (http://m.guardian.co.uk/?id=102202&story=http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/16/new-york-teacher-rubber-rooms) caught my eye largely for its suggestion of some of the weirder aspects of 24 hour Brixton ("rubber rooms" sound like some aspect of nocturnal clubbing of which I am too old/boring to be aware!), the story itself is nevertheless very relevant to everyday life in the local authority for which I work - and also to many other public service employers.



If we want to eliminate real "waste" from our public services - rather than simply cutting jobs - then a similar clampdown on lengthy suspensions would be a minor step in the right direction. I shall be interested to learn whether the approach taken in New York bears fruit.



And to hear from any readers who have achieved similar things in this country...

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Vote Lesser Evil?

Gregor Gall today makes cogent criticisms of the limited political ambition (and effectiveness) of the (leaderships of) the large trade unions in the context of the current General Election (http://m.guardian.co.uk/?id=102202&story=http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/15/unions-election-labour-neoliberalism).

He rightly points out that the big three in particular are essentially pursuing support of Labour as a "lesser evil." Unison's attack on the Tories is a good example (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1831). We appear to rely on unconvincing claims that we have secured implausible commitments from Labour politicians who have spent thirteen years disappointing us - together with more convincing claims about what the Tories will do.

The essence of Gregor's thesis is together, the unions "could have said: "We reject 'the market knows best' where profits come before people", mobilised their members around this, and done so before now. If they had done this, the idea that markets can be regulated to protect the common good would already be part of the popular common sense. And, all the parties would have had to accommodate this."

Gregor points to the PCS "Make Your Vote Count" campaign and RMT support for No2EU and TUSC as exceptions - which they certainly are. I have often heard Mark Serwotka explain that if you only ever support a lesser evil then you always end up with evil. That argument cannot be faulted.

However in a choice right now between a Labour or Tory Government it does make sense to choose the lesser evil - and I think we need to chart a course between the "lesser evil" path and the "plague on all your houses" approach (which is what tacit support for minor left parties amounts to).

Unison's "Million Voices" campaign could potentially have mobilised the sort of effective political pressure for which Gregor Gall calls - and the TUC supported Peoples Charter (having the potential to mobilise across the whole movement) would have been an even better bet. Both have been hamstrung by the fear that through such campaigning we will deliver sticks to beat Labour to those on the left promoting an alternative. This fear compels us to campaigns so vacuous that they cannot be a vehicle for effective mobilisation or influence.

Instead of making the most of the full range of Unison's progressive policies at election time we make the least of them.

We don't have to translate our affiliation to the Labour Party into the subordination of the trade unions to the Labour Party in this way.

We could see our affiliation as a tool to gain influence - but only if we are prepared to be critical even when this may do the Party electoral damage.

If we could have had the spirit and commitment of the campaigns of PCS from a major union affiliated to the Labour Party we might have shifted the Party in Government leftwards in a way which would have defended our members' interests and made the Party more electable.

Just as our members deserve better than the choice between Tories and New Labour, so we all deserve a better choice than that between reluctant but uncritical support for Labour as the "lesser evil" on the one hand and de facto support for marginal political groups on the other.

Which is, now I come to think of it, one of the reasons I'll be voting - after the General Election - for Paul Holmes to be Unison General Secretary.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NEC report

Today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) commenced with an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the non-appearance on the Preliminary Agenda for National Delegate Conference of a Rule Amendment agreed for submission by the NEC.

The approach of our General Secretary to the necessary explanation of a matter for which he was accountable to the NEC was noteworthy, as was the foolishness of the suggestion made by one person at the meeting that Regional Convenors should be encouraged to lobby the Standing Orders Committee (SOC). The word "counterproductive" sprang unbidden into my mind.

There were few debates about the NEC policy on Conference motions - I did take arms against a sea of troubles over Motion 53 (on joint work with PCS) in order to oppose the misconcieved hostility expressed to the Trade Union Coordinating Group (TUCG) which was wrongly described as a "political group" support for which would contravene Rule J. This debate was an example of leading NEC members arguing that our SOC had made errors in allowing motions on to the Conference Agenda - another such was over Rule Amendment 33 from Lambeth, so I was pleased today to champion the cause of the SOC, who will face tests of their integrity over coming weeks.

I have to say that I felt sure that someone had recently got into trouble for disrespecting the SOC in just such a way - and turned round to ask my friend Glenn Kelly if I had remembered this correctly - only to find he wasn't there...

I was though particularly pleased to clarify that whilst NEC policy on Motion 51 (from Barnet on "Easy Council") was "support with qualifications" these "qualifications" related only to the fact that much of the action for which the motion calls is already underway - and not to any opposition to point (iv) of the motion (hostility to which had been flagged up by an officer who had written the notes before the meeting).

This means that it is already (as of now) NEC policy (in anticipation of a Conference decision) to "encourage branch representatives to liaise with other branches to share their experiences." To you, dear reader that may sound like common sense, but in our UNISON Region I assure you that this is a very positive and progressive step.

I will contact London branches directly to let them know NEC policy on motions which they have proposed.

Development and Organisation Committee report

In advance of today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) I yesterday attended a meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee.

This was a meeting only to discuss Conference business and so we will have to wait for Wednesday 12 May to consider reports on branches under Regional Supervision and recent Certification Officer rulings (about both of which I had enquired).

The meeting considered recommendations to go to today's NEC for NEC policy on Conference Motions and Rule Amendments relevant to the Committee's remit (so I shall hold off a full report circulated to branches until after today's meeting).

First we considered Rule Amendments. We were told that the NEC had fallen foul of a glitch in the new online system for submission of Rule Amendments - and hence one NEC Rule Amendment had not found its way onto the Preliminary Agenda. The NEC will have to prevail upon the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) to admit the Rule Amendment to the Final Agenda (and to timetable it for debate) if we are to comply with Rule N.3.

I was alone at the Committee in supporting the proposals from the Kirklees and Bolton branches to impose a 24 month time limit on bans from holding office under our disciplinary rules. Other colleagues felt that such a restriction would only make it more likely that panels would expel members facing disciplinary sanction, although there was some support for considering a (longer) maximum period next year.

The Committee did not take a view on Lambeth's proposal to introduce disciplinary warnings into Schedule D pending legal advice. As regular readers Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak will be able to imagine, I was driven to point out that this was a disgraceful slur on the SOC who have admitted the Amendment to the agenda and clearly believe it to be a competent Amendment. It would appear that some readers of this blog at Mabledon Place believe in getting the legal advice you want (and going back and getting it again until it is what you want...)

There were only a few motions relevant to D&O, but we had an interesting debate in relation to one - Motion 8 from Worcestershire County instructing the NEC to publish a directory of branch contact details. The officers were clearly unhappy with this and - although we were not being recommended to oppose yesterday - the arguments against were being rehearsed.

However a wide range of Committee members with divergent views were united in our support for the publication of an accurate and up to date Branch Directory which is a useful tool for research in support of bargaining and to refer members to the right place for advice. I hope the Branch Directory will be published before Conference so that the purpose of the motion can be achieved without the need to take up Conference time - however, it might still be wise to prioritise Motion 8 (as today's NEC will not be taking a position for or against the motion yet and I wouldn't rule out further attempts to avoid publication of a document which is not popular at Head Office).

Monday, April 12, 2010

For Mim

This Tuesday would have been my sister's forty fifth birthday - had she not died as a result of a road accident in her twenty first year.



Those of us who knew and loved Mim know what we have lost - and have been aware of her absence now for quarter of a century. The rest of you can take my word for it that we lost a very great deal.



Mim died just weeks after the end of the Miners' Strike - in the middle of that terrible Tory decade. She had been active, as a student in York, supporting the miners.



Her activism might have gone on to cost her the first class honours degree which she could otherwise easily have obtained the following year.



I am a shadow of the activist she would then have become.



Her coffin travelled through Brighton draped in the banner of the Constituency Labour Party.



At her death Mim left unfinished work on the "Battle of the Lewes Road" - one of the most violent incidents of the 1926 General Strike, when the police attacked peaceful pickets blockading the tram depot in Brighton.



She lived to see similar treatment given to the miners nearly sixty years later.



We can expect more of the same in the next few years as our enemies step up their class war against us.



We will all need to draw courage from the beliefs and memories which inspire us.



I shall draw mine from memories of Mim.





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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pensions and Conference Again...

Having spent yesterday on a demonstration organised by the National Pensioners' Convention, obviously I am thinking about pensions at the moment.

I was complaining recently about the hypocrisy and self-interest of the CBI's attack on public sector pensions - today's Observer underlines the point that the majority of private sector workers now don't have pensions and that the important distinction is not between private and public but between rich and poor.

UNISON National Delegate Conference can take a positive step towards fair pensions in the private sector by supporting Motion 23 at this year's Conference - but first the motion needs to be supported in the prioritisation process.

Anyone who is in a position to put the central idea of Motion 23 as an Amendment to Motion 18 would be providing a belt to go along with prioritisation braces...

We need opposition to cuts on the streets - and in Westminster

Yesterday's well attended demonstration in defence of our public services, called by the National Pensioner's Convention and addressed by a variety of trade union General Secretaries was a timely reminder of the vital questions barely being addressed in the General Election campaign(http://web.orange.co.uk/article/news/thousands_to_protest_against_spending_cuts?sid=f8acfb249abf). The popular majority in favour of the defence of public services and the welfare state have no one to advocate for our views amongst the leaderships of the three main parties.

Whether our pleasant stroll in the sunshine yesterday really warrants Nick Clegg's warnings today of "Greek style unrest" in the event of draconian cuts implemented by a Tory Government with a small minority may be questionable(http://m.guardian.co.uk/?id=102202&story=http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/11/tight-election-win-social-chaos-nick-clegg).

Time will tell whether the General Council of the TUC has more in common with the leadership of the Greek or of the Irish labour movements!

Nick Clegg's desire for a hung Parliament in which the parties co-operate is more than self-interested wishful thinking however. A Parliament with an effective opposition would keep open the political space in which popular, extra-Parliamentary opposition could most effectively be mobilised (even if not with Hellenic militancy).

Clegg wants - in effect - a Government of National Unity not just to get his feet under the cabinet table but also in an attempt to head off such opposition.

I was marching yesterday with left candidate for Unison General Secretary Paul Holmes (http://www.paulholmeskirklees.blogspot.com/) and reminded him of his having raised the possibility of a National Government some months ago.

This is not some interesting constitutional question of interest only to the "chattering classes." We had a local example in Lambeth which was - in the early 1990s - widely (if not justifiably) seen as the worst English local authority.

In 1994 the local electorate returned a "hung" Council which went on to operate on the basis of general cooperation between all three parties. The workforce and community had less influence over this "balanced" (non) administration than we have at any time before or since.

In the four years following 1994 we saw a successful attack upon sick pay in the housing neighbourhoods (which took us five years to reverse); the (then) largest privatisation in the history of English local government (creating a doomed "joint venture company" now widely seen to have been a mistake); the privatisation of leisure management (in a way found by an employment tribunal to have broken the law), and; the disastrous privatisation of housing benefits to Capita (reversed after four years).

(On that last point I really should link to my former fellow Branch Secretary - who may also have some views on predictions of "Greek style unrest" on our streets!)(http://www.lawatwork.blogspot.com/)

In the event of a hung Parliament our trade unions need to maximise opposition in Labour ranks to any suggestion of "national unity" as advocated by Clegg - we will have a lot to oppose outside Parliament and will need allies supporting that opposition within the Palace of Westminster.

Sometimes democracy (in a nation as much as in a trade union) requires the presence of opposition - those who would eliminate opposition are enemies of democracy.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Unite against "national unity"

Paul Holmes, the left candidate in the forthcoming election for Unison General Secretary (http://www.paulholmeskirklees.blogspot.com/) has said of the current General Election that it's one the Labour Party don't think we can win, the Tories don't want to win - and the Liberal Democrats know they can't win.

In this context, Vince Cable's call for a "Treasury of National Unity" should be seen as something far more dangerous than self-promotion by a politician with nowhere further to go beyond the current limelight (http://m.guardian.co.uk/ms/p/gmg/op/sgPvgVljAc12CN7UW24NA7A/view.m?id=377437&tid=120787&cat=Search).

With the leaderships of all three of the main parties - in their different ways - planning devastating cuts in public spending, a hung Parliament or wafer- thin majority could see intense pressure on the opposition (of whatever political hue) to oppose such cuts.

If - and the fact that this is a big "if" is of course the reason Paul is standing for General Secretary - the trade unions can lead and mobilise serious political pressure after the General Election, then this could even bring down a Government which lacked - or lost - a majority in Parliament.

Vince Cable, who as I recall favours "savage cuts," is thinking ahead and trying to wish into existence a consensus of the "political class" to act against the interests of the working class on the model of the National Government of the 1930s.

Such a unity of politicians against the public interest - particularly in the aftermath of the expenses scandal - would be the ideal environment for the further growth of the far right (and would probably sound the death knell for the Labour-union link if our Party were party to it).

What we need - but do not have - is a party of the (centre) left posing a progressive alternative to spending cuts in line with Unison policy. Such a party ought to stand in opposition to attacks on the interests of our class under the banner of "national unity", as the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party - supported by the trade unions - did in the 30s.

We lack this Party in large part because of the weakness of the leadership of our Unions over the past decade - who have failed even to attempt to confront and defeat New Labour in its senescence and have kept at arms length serious initiatives such as the Peoples' Charter.

What we must now do is seek to maximise the number of pro-working class MPs (http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/) and prepare for the mobilisation that will be required when the next Government turns on us.

Unison members should make a note of Saturday 15 May - and come to London for the Annual General Meeting of Unison United Left.

All those who put the interests of our class before those of any party need to organise together across the movement to build resistance to the coming onslaught.

The unity we need is not "national unity" but unity of the working class.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Bosses back Tories shock

I never expected much from the Evening Standard when you had to pay for it - and haven't changed my views since they started scattering copies around tube carriages.



However, today's headline news that the bosses of many major companies are backing the Tories (over opposition to increased national insurance payments) is a truly breathtaking headline.



I expect tomorrow to learn from the Standard of new evidence of papal catholicism and of the arboreal toilet habits of ursine mammals.



There is a criticism to be made of Labour policy on tax and national insurance - but that is that we don't seek to impose sufficiently progressive direct taxation.



For now though, the more the bosses back the Tories the more it makes the point that workers need to back our Party, however dismal it has been in Government.



We do however require union leaders capable of changing Labour - or our members will abandon it and them.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Attacking the public sector - or the working class?

Today attacks are being made which appear to be attacks upon public service workers, their pensions and trade unions, but which are in fact shots fired in a class war.

I am indebted to the comrade who forwarded me the link to the views of the Financial Times that "Britain's public sector is inefficient and needs a dose of market discipline," and that "British employment law is now well-tested and fair." (http://m.ft.com/cms/s/0/64838478-40d6-11df-94c2-00144feabdc0.html?catid=86&SID=ece14050796a2b6446e7c06ec9358f21).

The FT is positively gleeful at the thought a future Government will have to take on the trade unions in order to impose spending cuts, and can rely not only upon the anti-union laws (untouched by New Labour) but also upon privatisation to weaken our unions. We are warned that we cannot expect sympathy from a "de-unionised" public.

The Morning Star also deserves credit for highlighting the dangerous plans from the Confederation of British Industry to undermine public service pension provision (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/88806). Someone called John Cridland who is in charge of this self-interested club of employers says that final-salary pension schemes are "history" and cannot be afforded.

Leaving aside the observation that most public service workers (who actually do something useful with our working lives rather than act as a mouthpiece for wealth and privilege) would happily swap our salary and pension with Mr Cridland, what is ominous is that the CBI are coming out with plans detailing exactly how to undermine and water down public service pensions(http://m.guardian.co.uk/?id=102202&story=http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/apr/06/cbi-public-sector-pensions-reform).

Critically, the CBI want the public sector to follow the private sector down the road from "defined benefit" pensions (where you know what you'll be getting) to "defined contribution" pensions (where you don't)(http://www.cbi.org.uk/ndbs/press.nsf/0363c1f07c6ca12a8025671c00381cc7/d1c3c285facecb5a802576f6002fd3c8?OpenDocument).

Since I want a pension for security in old age I will fight to hold on to the principle and practice of defined benefits.

If we want to stand a chance we need not only to respond vigorously to the lies of those attacking our (far from) "gold-plated" public sector pensions. We need not only to prepare for unity amongst public service unions to defend these pensions.

We need also to see that this is not about public sector -v- private sector. This is about working class -v- ruling class (or, to put it in more everyday language perhaps, people -v- profit).

The CBI want to level down public sector pensions not just to limit future tax liabilities but to shut off any debate about better pension provision in the private sector.

The FT celebrate the weakness even of the public sector unions not just because they want to see spending cuts, but because they never want to see private sector trade unionism restored to strength.

Private sector workers depend upon the "social wage" of public service provision and stand to gain nothing from attacks on the pay or pensions of those who provide such services.

It is in the interests of the working class not just that these attacks upon public services and public service workers should be resisted - but also that we should campaign, as trade unionists, to promote the interests of private sector workers - for example by extending access to viable defined benefit pension schemes such as the (funded) Local Government Pension schemes.

Unison members can do a little bit by prioritising for debate at our Conference Motion 23 on precisely this topic. We need to give much more thought though about how to build unity between public and private sector workers.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Regional supervision of UNISON Branches

In a shocking development today, 1 April, all UNISON Branches in Greater London believed to be led by leftwingers, starting with the Lambeth local government branch, are to be placed under Regional supervision.

Nick Venedi, until recently joint Branch Secretary in Lambeth is to play a key role, alongside newly appointed organiser Avril Poisson.

This development has already been welcomed by the "UNISON Active" blog, and it is understood that Regional Finance Convenor, John Gray will comment further shortly.

All members in affected branches will be contacted before noon on Thursday April 1st.

Update on Monday - morning - I have had text confirmation of this development from John Burgess in Barnet!

It's now past noon so April Fool's Day is over for another year. I am sincerely flattered but also impressed by the local employer's contribution (to consult on "Dress Up Mondays") which simply outclassed my attempt to call strike action relying upon the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act (Exceptions in respect of All Fools’ Day) Regulations to avoid the need for a ballot...