Saturday, July 31, 2010

ConDems hate our kids

Were I given to wearing hats I would tip mine to the Touchstone blog for summarising a range of recent cuts to Children's Services (http://www.touchstoneblog.org.uk/2010/07/cuts-watch-164-more-cuts-to-children%e2%80%99s-services/).



I don't lightly hat tip and do so on this occasion not so much because they mention work we are doing in Lambeth - but precisely because I am on holiday at a Caravan Park.



Here - for one week in the year - my children still have the free use of a swimming pool which, from tomorrow, will be denied to our children generally by a Coalition Cabinet of millionaires and public schoolboys.



This is a Government that hates our children. Cameron is Baron Bombast and Gove the childcatcher (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_Catcher?wasRedirected=true).

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How can we make an alliance with our employers against Tory cuts?

It’s good to be on leave. A change is as good as a rest and the different sort of busy is a restful change. I am pleased to have time to step back and look at what is going on at work.

I see that someone claiming to speak on behalf of Lambeth Council is in denial about clear evidence of a racial disparity of the incidence of redundancy in one Department, where job cuts are being proposed which go well beyond what is required to achieve budget reductions.

Labour Councillors wanting to mobilise opposition to Tory cuts need to reflect upon how senior officers who are accountable to them go about implementing their decisions. In Lambeth we have at least the outline of how to answer this question, but it is a question that will arise everywhere where Labour is in office.

We cannot expect an early return to Poplarism (more’s the pity) but – equally – Councillors and Party members cannot realistically expect that the local government trade unions will swallow “Labour” cuts quietly in the interests of unity against Tory cuts.

Labour groups are caught on the horns of this dilemma (or contradiction, as we Marxists like to say). It is easier to see what isn’t the answer than what is – and clearer what won’t happen than what will.

Clearly the answer is not for Labour politicians to celebrate their contribution to public spending cuts whilst denigrating opponents of the cuts (a la a certain South East London Mayor). Whilst we aren’t of course heading back to 1985 in Lambeth any time soon we do need to articulate a strategy which enables the labour and trade union movement to mobilise the opposition to public spending cuts which does exist and will grow.

Those who call for Labour Councillors to adopt tactics which would place them outside the law are destined to be disappointed in the immediate future – but those upon whom such calls are placed need to listen and think carefully about how to respond.

I don’t have an answer just now – but I do have one suggestion.

One positive contribution would be for Labour Councillors to assert political control over senior local government officers – some of whom believe that the election of a Tory Government is an opportunity for them to run reactionary riot.

I, however, won’t be party to the necessary discussions for the next couple of weeks, as I shall be in other places.

US unions resolve dispute :)

Having blogged here in the past about correspondence from US Union UNITE HERE concerning their problems with UNISON’s sister union, the SEIU, I am pleased to be able to link to the announcement that the inter-union hostilities in the US are at an end.

It does seem that the recent change in the leadership of the SEIU may have brought that important trade union back on track. Trade unions need to be democratic and to be controlled by their members if we are to have effective collective organisation to defend our interests as workers.

Since UNISON is rightly working with the SEIU on the Three Companies Project, it is good to see that this dispute is at an end.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cutting away at equality

I blogged earlier elsewhere about cuts locally, which the trade unions are resisting.

After some struggling to get an Equality Impact Assessment from the employer we have found that their proposals - as they stand - would disproportionately threaten black workers with redundancy. Though the managers are in denial about this, the duty of the local authority under section 71 of the Race Relations Act does mean that we can at least try to make them face up to this before they proceed.

We all need to be alive to how public spending cuts hit hardest at those already disadvantaged. The generally disproportionate impact upon women is well-established, and the attack on DLA has an obvious discriminatory effect.

I'm grateful to the colleague who told me to read UNISON's advice to branches on enforcing equality duties and recommend that to readers. Fighting for equality is always important - but when this Government of the rich by the rich for the rich is taking away as much as it can from those who have least, it is more important than ever.

Partnership? No Thanks!

Here's an interesting report I tripped over on t'intraweb the other day. It is an audit report from September last year which runs through some of the failures of a "partnership" involving Capita and Swindon Council and should be required reading for any gullible local Councillors (or lazy senior officers) who are promoting such "partnerships" elsewhere in local government.

The report concludes that effective governance arrangements are not in place and that mechanisms to deal with non-performance are not working, and that the "partnership" isn't contributing to the "transformation" of the local authority. The report suggests that the Council wasn't adequately managing the "partnership" on the client side (it wasn't checking that it had actually received computers for which it was paying!)

Though written in the cautious and guarded language appropriate to such a document it is a fairly damning assessment - and interestingly it suggests that the failures it identifies are not unique. It reports that there are similar partnerships in Southampton and Blackburn with Darwen Councils and notes that "these Authorities have experienced very similar issues in contract/relationship management and delivery of service."

Such partnerships are a handy device for promoting a flow of public money for the benefit of private companies. Once locked in to a long term contract a local authority is trapped - or (as a more recent report to Swindon's Cabinet put it "The Council has entered into a 15 year partnership with Capita and the governance and reporting arrangements have been designed to ensure that the partnership remains focussed on shared successful outcomes for both parties, and transparent at all times. On this basis no alternative options are proposed.")

UNISON's analysis of the public services industry is all the more worth returning to now that the real Tories are back in charge...



Friday, July 23, 2010

Yunus vindicated

Yunus Bakhsh has won his tribunal complaint against his former employers.



I will blog a more considered comment soon but just want to share now my joy that the scandalous treatment of Yunus by his employers has been exposed.



I won't blog the links to the background on this case (as my battery is about to go) but search on the blog if you want more information.



Some searching questions now need to be asked within Unison!



Our Union would be in a stronger position today to fight the ConDem cuts if it were on the UNISON website that this victory were being celebrated.



Those who have prioritised disciplinary action against the left have materially weakened us and need to be stopped.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fighting the Cuts

Blogging has been sluggish owing to pressure of work - implementing very much what our General Secretary is saying today on the front of our website (http://www.unison.org.uk/);

"Yes, we can and do work with other unions, but we can also bring communities together to build up a groundswell of support and protect vital services that are under threat."

Building opposition, in the workforce and the community, to cuts in public spending requires our union branches to step up a couple of gears because we are inevitably fighting on a number of fronts (Regular readers Sid and Doris Grammar-Pedant should note that busy Branch Secretaries are permitted to mix metaphors when dealing with large scale redundancies).

We need to build those alliances and organise the lobbying, leafletting, protests and publicity which are required; we need to engage diligently in consultation from the employer about redundancies, and; we need to campaign amongst our members for support for the industrial action which will become inevitable.

What are our chances of success? René Lavanchy has drawn attention to the sober assessment of the challenges facing our Union from the ConDem Government by our Deputy General Secretary (http://renelavanchy.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/649/). It is indeed as well to be realistic about the scale of the challenges we face - in order to rise to meet them.

Our managers are telling us that the financial situation is unprecedented - we face job cuts on a massive scale over the next few years and these could lead to the elimination of whole areas of service delivery. Even allowing for a certain amount of "shock and awe" tactics the cuts which will dominate the coming months and years will change the role of UNISON activists. Trade unionism will be more and more about fighting - and whilst we know we may not win every fight, we also know that the victories we can win will be worthwhile.

Every service we save, every reduction we mitigate, every blow we soften all will limit damage to the life chances of the vulnerable or lessen reductions in the quality of life of our communities.

Out of this struggle we can also articulate a political alternative to the Coalition.

In those pockets of local government under Labour control, the Party and the unions need to explore how we work together as part of this struggle.

How we can do that (particularly when Councillors see no alternative to implementing cuts which attack the workforce and community) is a blog post for another day...

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Defend Our Schools!

It's good news that UNISON is calling on members to support the lobby of Parliament called at short notice for Monday (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1925).

The lobby (http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/11783) was called in opposition to the ConDem Coalition plans to break up comprehensive education by encouraging more and more schools to become "Academies" - undermining both the role of democratically accountable local education authorities and the national conditions of service of schools staff. All those who pushed hard for UNISON (and other unions) to back the Anti-Academies Alliance (http://www.antiacademies.org.uk/) have been vindicated for a second time now that the real Tories have picked up the weapon forged for them by New Labour and started to use it to smash up state education.

The cackhanded cancellation of so many "Building Schools for the Future" (BSF) projects has given an added purpose to Monday's lobby (which will now be addressed by Ed Balls - maybe someone could ask him why he thought it such a good idea to create Academy status and so make the Tories' job even easier than it needed to be?)

BSF was a deeply flawed programme using private money (and offering private profit) to rebuild our crumbling schools - but the Tories are taking it away and offering no hope of improvement (unless Academies can strike their own deals with private firms who can find new ways to turn a profit at the expense of our children).

Whatever we may think of former New Labour Ministers, we need all the allies we can get in the fight to defend state education (which is a vital part of the fight to defend our Welfare State).

Branch work will keep me from Monday's lobby - but this is only the start of what can and must become a tidal wave of opposition to the Government's attacks on our schools.

This is a Government of public schoolboys (and they are mostly boys!) As they butcher our state education they underline - for this beneficiary of comprehensive education - the difference between (even "New") Labour and the Tories.

I was angry with New Labour for betraying us. I am angry with Cameron and Clegg simply for existing. They aren't our "class enemy" because of some outdated Marxist dogma but because of what they will happily do to undermine the life chances of our children.

I had a brilliant state education and so did millions of my generation - now we need to fight to defend this for the future.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Now is the time to defend the NHS

John Lister sets out with admirable clarity the scale and nature of Tory plans for the NHS in today's Morning Star (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/92807).

The ConDem Coalition plan tens of thousands of redundancies with hundreds of thousands more transferred out of the NHS which would "remain in name only as a 'brand' transformed from a major public service into little more than a central fund drawn from general taxation."

As Lister concludes, the attitude of trade unions and our members could be of critical importance.

Doctors' union, the British Medical Association (BMA) could play a key role - but since GPs are already self-employed contractors rather than health service employees - the views of their GP members may be mixed.

This probably explains why the BMA are facing in two directions at once - applauding GPs who are "raring to go" to take on healthcare commissioning (http://web2.bma.org.uk/nrezine.nsf/wp/ESML-87ALSK?OpenDocument&C=17+July+2010) whilst at the same time campaigning against the "commercialisation" of our NHS (http://www.lookafterournhs.org.uk/).

Unless the BMA improbably seek inspiration from the Yugoslav model of self-managed socialism it's difficult to see how the changes to commissioning which they applaud can do anything other than increase the commercialisation which they deplore.

The position of the TUC affiliated unions ought to be more straightforward. Lister says; "The other big question is how strongly the TUC health unions will resist this root and branch attack on the jobs, pay and conditions of their members and the dismemberment of the NHS as a public service, which builds on all the worst aspects of Labour's 'reforms'."

UNISON has slammed the White Paper proposals (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1922) but - whilst we surely should, as we promise, respond to the White Paper in a "thorough and thoughtful" way - this needs to go a bit further than challenging "its most damaging aspects."

We need to be thorough in the way in which we alert all citizens to this grave threat to our NHS and thoughtful about the legal, political and industrial action which may be required.

A good start would be if the NHS Together Website (http://www.tuc.org.uk/theme/index.cfm?theme=nhstogether) were to be updated. A second step would be an Emergency Motion to the TUC calling for a national demonstration and lobby of Parliament in the autumn - although the vital work must and will be done by building local campaigns.

We need to change gear and accelerate work to strengthen the coalition which can be mobilised to stop Lansley's plans in their tracks. As Jeremy Corbyn also says in today's Morning Star, "now is the time to defend the NHS."

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Unite the rank and file!

I spent the afternoon at a meeting of Unison United Left (http://unisonunitedleft.blogspot.com/2010/06/what-we-stand-for.html).

Now more than ever we need rank and file organisation.

Regular readers Sid and Doris Syndicalist will be familiar with my explanation of why we need to supplement the official structures of our movement with unofficial organisation on the model of the Clyde Workers Committee (http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/redclyde/redclygrobyecwc.htm) - as well as organising to challenge for rank and file leadership of the official structures themselves as advocated in "The Miners Next Step" (http://libcom.org/history/syndicalism-south-wales-origins-miners%E2%80%99-next-step).

As one experienced comrade rightly said at today's meeting, no one believes that Unison United Left - as presently constituted - is the final word on how to organise rank and file Unison members. At least, however, we are trying.

There is no alternative organisation of the rank and file within UNISON - and activists from political parties which abstain from the United Left (such as the Socialist Party of England and Wales and the Communist Party of Britain) currently offer no such alternative.

(And of course the SP and CP are both engaged actively in the United Left in UNITE (http://www.unitedleft.org/) - so could surely manage to encourage their members to do likewise within UNISON?)

With a Tory Government launching unprecedented attacks upon jobs, pay and pensions - not to mention the very foundations of the Welfare State - it's time for all those who want a fighting and democratic UNISON to pull together.

One modest yet positive proposal from today's meeting is that we should make use of the United Left blog to share information about campaigns against the ConDem cuts - you can check the blog at http://www.unisonunitedleft.blogspot.com/ and send your campaign news to unisonunitedleft@gmail.com for inclusion on the blog.

If you are a Unison member who wants to be at the centre of struggle against this reactionary Government - join the United Left (http://sites.google.com/site/unisonactivist/uul-membership-form/UUL_Membership_Form_2010.pdf?attredirects=0&d=1).

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Keep our NHS public!

Although the criminal invasion of Iraq was the totemic New Labour betrayal, the vote on Foundation hospitals was of longer term significance to the working lives of hundreds of thousands of Unison members.



The sheer inadequacy of our Labour Party work at the time was exposed by the fact that it was members of the Unison group of MPs who gave Blair the majority that forced this attack on our NHS through Parliament.



The foundations laid by Tory Blair are now the basis upon which the real Tories are unleashing the destruction of our NHS (http://m.guardian.co.uk/ms/p/gmg/op/sWSQcN1xFDlN0XkxrBkdEvQ/view.m?id=499537&tid=120787&cat=UK_news).



The "independence" of foundation trusts and the handing over of PCT budgets to compulsory consortia of GP fundholders will replace planning with the market and open up opportunities for private profit.



It's fair enough to insist upon consultation - but Unison's response (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1920) needs to go so much further than that.



Keep Our NHS Public (http://www.keepournhspublic.com/index.php) is clearly a campaign whose time has come - and Unison must surely now be front and centre of the fight of our lives to defend the heart of our Welfare State.







Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Friday, July 09, 2010

Know who your friends are

Trade Unions need all the friends we can get - which is why it is important to support our friends when they are helping us.

John McDonnell MP is using his first place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills in a skillful and measured way to propose the aptly titled "Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill" (http://l-r-c.org.uk/press/john-mcdonnell-launches-bill-to-restore-the-right-to-strike/).

This isn't the full Trade Union Freedom Bill which our union leaders kept forgetting to bring back from Warwick over thirteen years of Labour Government (http://www.unitedcampaign.org.uk/sitebody/projects/tufb.html) - but to stand a chance of success a Private Member's Bill has to be a lot less ambitious than that.

The Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill is a specific and targeted piece of legislation which aims to restrain employers' ability to use trivial aspects of non-compliance with the draconian restrictions imposed upon the ability of trade unionists to take industrial action in order to derail action which workers want to take (http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/lawfulindustrialactionminorerrors.html).

We have seen the use of technical breaches of almost impossibly demanding statutory requirements to avert strike action by the RMT, CWU and - of course UNITE(BASSA) in the recent past. As UNISON members move into action against our employers we can expect more of the same.

This Bill would be a positive development for our movement if passed into law. We have until 22 October to lobby MPs to support the Bill at its second reading.

Anyone can lobby their own MP (it's easy and as you are online now why not take five minutes to go to http://www.writetothem.com/).

Unison branches could consider (and improve upon!) the following model motion;

LAWFUL INDUSTRIAL ACTION BILL

This Branch congratulates John McDonnell, MP for having put the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill before Parliament.

We note that this Bill would limit the ability of employers to use minor, technical breaches of the anti-union laws to derail industrial action supported in a ballot by trade union members.

We believe that the scale of public spending cuts proposed by the ConDem Coalition Government will force UNISON members to take industrial action and that it will be in our interests if the scope for employers to exploit legal loopholes to prevent us taking such action is restricted.

We therefore resolve;
1. To lobby local MPs to support the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill at its second reading on 22 October and to write to all members of the branch encouraging them to do likewise;
2. To send appropriate representatives to the lobby of Parliament in support of the Bill on 13 October;
3. To request that the Regional and National Labour Link Committees consider approaching all MPs with whom UNISON is associated to request they support the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill;
4. To request that the NEC and General Political Fund Committee as appropriate consider funding advertisements encouraging trade unionists - and all working people - to lobby MPs to support the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill;
5. To submit this motion, appropriately reworded, to the Regional Council.

I would welcome feedback on the wording of the model motion!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Why Unison should support Diane Abbott

I am late catching up with the presence online of the Unison hustings for Labour Leader which took place a week ago at the National Labour Link Forum in Leeds (http://www.unison.org.uk/labourlink/video.asp).

Regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will be familiar with my generally disdainful view of Unison Labour Link - and it is certainly a disappointment that we didn't organise a hustings at National Delegate Conference where more of our activists could have participated.

On this occasion though, Labour Link deserve one and a half cheers at least.

Putting the hustings up online at least enables those of us who pay into the affiliated political fund to see what is being done in our name.

(In future perhaps sessions of our Conference - or meetings of our National Executive - could be made available for any of our members to watch?)

This welcome development also raises the question of who to support in the Labour leadership election.

I wanted John McDonnell of course, but failing him it has to be Diane Abbott (http://www.diane4leader.co.uk/). Diane opposed the Iraq war - the criminal folly of which epitomises all that was wrong with "New" Labour. This is the single most important reason to back her - to signal a break with all that was wrong with Labour in Government.

I regret I do not believe that Diane could win (and I regret that no so much as an avid fan, but because a Labour Party in which a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs could win would be so much a better Party than the one we have now!)

Diane's candidacy provides an opportunity for the thousands of socialists in the Party to use our first preferences to declare the need for a left-wing opposition to the ConDem Coalition.

We also need to give organisational form to the socialist presence in the Party and trade unions - and this presents an opportunity for the Labour Representation Committee (http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/) to grow into what it has always had the potential to become - a genuine and vibrant rank and file body - if we can shed the sectarianism and purism which have been among the less attractive features of the "hard" left in our long years of marginalisation.

Within Unison the National Labour Link Committee should back Abbott - failing to do so because we want to back a "winner" will signal another stage in the decomposition of our relationship to the Party (it's bad enough sucking up to politicians in Government - worse still to curry favour with the possible Leader of the Opposition!)

Whoever the eventual victor as Labour Leader - their best hope of office will be if the Coalition is brought down by popular opposition spearheaded by our trade unions and backed up in Westminster. Such an outcome requires a change of approach from the leadership of the trade unions as much as from the Labour Party.

Unison's policies - on the economy, social policy, defence and internationally have more in common with the policies supported by members of the Campaign Group and the Labour Representation Committee (such as Jeremy Corbyn) than with any other current in the Party.

An alliance between the trade unions and the Parliamentary Left would sharpen Labour's opposition to Coalition attacks upon our class - and open up the political space within which to rebuild a Labour Party worthy of our continued affiliation.

Whether or not we can win the leadership of our Union to this perspective, the rank and file in Unison need to organise with this objective as part of our campaign against cuts and in defence of public services.

The next step in that direction is support for Diane Abbott as the candidate of the Left in the election for Labour Leader.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Osborne has cut our pensions - shall we complain or campaign?

Yesterday - a mere fortnight after the ConDem Government slashed the future value of all public service pensions (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2010/06/unisons-retired-members-under-attack.html) - the TUC got round to condemning this (http://www.tuc.org.uk/publicsector/tuc-18170-f0.cfm).
Oxfordshire Health Unison deserve credit for promptly realising the seriousness of this issue (http://www.unisonoxonhealth.org.uk/prosecute.htm).
Whilst it would have been good to see this sooner, the TUC did however do us the service of giving some figures for the amount by which public service pensioners will be worse off as a result of Osborne's statistical sleight of hand in shifting from the RPI (Retail Prices Index) to the CPI (Consumer Prices Index) as the basis for future uprating of pensions in payment.
The TUC has calculated that an eighty year old pensioner on the average public sector pension of £5,500 who has been retired for twenty years would now have a pension of £4,845 a year - 12 per cent or £655 less - if CPI uprating had been in force since their retirement. A public service pensioner who has been retired for ten years would now have a pension 8.4 per cent lower.
At UNISON Conference in Bournemouth Dave Prentis pledged support for national strike action against an attack on our pensions. I imagine he was expecting such an attack emerging several months into the life of the Coalition Government , rather than several weeks.
But now it's here. These are real cuts in our pensions - the most blatant attack imaginable and no different to a cut in pay.
We may not be ready for a national strike ballot next week or next month, but we need to be declaring disputes, making preparations and mobilising members.
Yesterday's meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee of the UNISON NEC considered a thoughtful report from our Deputy General Secretary (http://www.unison.org.uk/about/board_view.asp?did=2239).
The report dealt (as you might expect) with organisational matters but - in setting the all-important context for its recommendations - it's author rightly concluded that we shall be forced into industrial action.
We will not always be able freely to choose the terrain upon which we have to fight the ConDem Coalition, but to the extent that we can influence the timing and the immediate issues we need to aim for a dispute most likely to produce the widest practicable united action at the earliest practicable date (the passage of time will not strengthen our hand).
The RPI/CPI issue presents us with a cut in pensions across the public sector as a whole - how should we use this?
One option is illustrated by the timing and content of yesterday's TUC press release (which does not even hint at the possibility of strike action).
The TUC used the fact of the Coalition attack upon the value of public service pensions - treated as a fait accompli - to rebut yesterday's attack upon our pensions by stooges of the Institute of Directors (the provisional wing of the CBI...) UNISON's more robust rebuttal was more effective (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1917).
We shouldn't swallow this first Coalition attack upon our pensions just so we can use its effects to show that our pensions, having become less generous, are more "affordable." What is "affordable" is always a political and never an economic choice.
The alternative approach is that set out by Dave Prentis in his speech as General Secretary to UNISON National Delegate Conference - national strike action to defend public service pensions.
We have a lot of work to do to persuade and mobilise our members.
Will we get on with it?

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange














Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Worst of Times?

I don't buy the Times (both because I remember Wapping in 86 and because I find today that recycled toilet paper can be kinder to my piles).

However - in an episode which clearly breached Murdoch's paywall - I picked up a paper copy discarded by a disappointed customer travelling by tube earlier today.

And so I learned that the Coalition Government want to return to 1927 and to require trade unionists who are political levy payers to "opt in" rather than provide for members who do not wish to pay to "opt out" as is presently the case.

(Regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will expect a link at this point but there is n point linking to a paid site...)

The superficial individual "fairness" of "opting in" may appeal to some (perhaps even some of those who believe it would be "leftwing" to fracture the Labour-Union link).

However, trade unions are not voluntary clubs of individuals who seek "fairness" - ours are collective organisations of workers seeking justice and decent lives for our members.

If we collectively determine the need for action - whether in the industrial or political sphere - we must then act in unity (not as individuals) to achieve our goal.

(I hasten to add that we need - but often do not have - the maximum democracy and tolerance of dissent as we arrive at collective decisions!)

Therefore - particularly given the draconian legal restrictions on political activity by trade unions - we need to be able collectively to decide to support candidates for election (or indeed a political party rooted in our movement).

A private corporation can do this without specific legal restriction - so can any private association. Trade unions alone face unique legal restrictions.

Why?

Because trade unions, alone among voluntary associations and uniquely in civil society, organise working people at the point of production.

Trade unions have a unique capacity - a particular power. Our unions are the collective expression of we who make the world anew each day by our labour.

However weak we may believe ourselves to be we frighten - by our very existence - our often incompetent and frequently venal rulers. Therefore they attack us.

Whether or not you support the Labour Link, now is the time to stand up for political trade unionism - for the right of trade unionists, as we ourselves, collectively and democratically decide, to support parties and candidates whom we believe will advance our interests.

So that we can build a society beyond paywalls and beyond Murdoch...

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

TUC General Council - the Labour Lance-Corporals of Capital?

Since being elected to the UNISON National Executive in 2003 I have had more cause than before to wonder about the purpose of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

September's Congress (http://www.tuc.org.uk/congress/index.cfm?mins=617) won't simply be the last annual Congress, ending a tradition going back to the mid-nineteenth century (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2010/06/incredible-disappearing-congress.html), it will also - I think - be the first to be addressed by a serving Tory Prime Minister in the middle of a massive attack upon the working class, our public services and our unions.

I wholeheartedly endorse the call from the Communist Party for the General Council to withdraw this ill-judged invitation (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/92373). I shall refrain from stating in public what I think about the Communist Party's excellent suggestion that - should the General Council not withdraw the invitation - delegates should protest (as that sort of thing has caused trouble for UNISON delegates at the TUC before...)

However what is most interesting about this invitation is what it tells us about how the leadership of the TUC view its role - not as an agent of organisation of our class but as the institutional expression of partnership with Government and employers.

In the 1970s when our movement was much stronger, attempts were made to co-opt the unions through "corporatism" and "tripartism". This period - epitomised institutionally by the National Economic Development Council - was brought to an end by Thatcherism (most obviously when the Government responded to Len Murray's craven "new realism" with the union ban at GCHQ). The TUC though had found in corporatism a purpose of its own, as the organiser of the union involvement in tripartite bodies. It has wanted it back ever since.

Under New Labour, as General Secretaries basked in the warm glow of "access" to Government Ministers - and happily imagined influence they did not have - the TUC tried and tried to get back to the position of power it had previously enjoyed - often by acting as a cut price ACAS to try to broker deals rather than support affiliates.

Now it appears that we still wish to impress even the most reactionary Government in living memory with our desire to listen to them, for dialogue - even perhaps for partnership?

One of Lenin's rhetorical attacks upon social democrat and trade union leaders and officials was to dismiss them sneeringly as "labour lieutenants of capital" (seeking a role as subordinate partners in managing the exploitation of our class). That cannot be said of the General Council's invitation to David Cameron!

This Government isn't looking to co-operate with our movement. It isn't asking for our help. It is simply telling us that it will subject us to years of pay restraint and job cuts whilst undermining pension rights built up over generations.

Never mind "labour lieutenants" there isn't even a vacancy for "Labour Lance Corporals" to be filled from Congress House. Under its current General Secretary the TUC continues its tragic decline into irrelevance.

But what were the members of the General Council thinking of when this invitation to Cameron was issued???

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Sunday, July 04, 2010

UNISON Labour Leadership hustings online...?

I am given to understand that a video of Friday's Leadership hustings at the UNISON National Labour Link Forum in Leeds will find its way on to our website, though it is not there yet.

Watch this space?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark - shared services or shared struggle?

My heart wants to feel good about the news that three Labour Councils are to team up to protect front line services. Local people in Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark voted in Labour Councils to protect public services from Tory Cuts. A unified campaign of three Labour Groups, together with the thousands of trade unionists employed in the three boroughs could be a force to be reckoned with.

We could for example, organise mass lobbies of the local surgeries of local MP, and Lib Dem Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes to demand that he stops backing the Coalition’s Cuts. We could organise a march through the three boroughs, from Downham all the way to Westminster Bridge – and then cross the river to take the demand to Parliament that there should be adequate funding for public services in South London.

However I fear that the most likely prescription to protect front line services may be the technocratic and managerial solution of shared services rather than the political solution of shared struggle. It may be that after thirteen years of believing that we were in Government, leading lights in the Party won’t see beyond the duties of their office to their duties to our class.

Shared services appeal to those who want to make savings that they think will not be “cuts” – and there may be scope for genuine economies of scale through public-public co-operation, which should certainly be explored. For example, combining procurement of goods and services between local authorities could increase value for money at no cost to jobs and services.

However, sharing services where that means job cuts will have deflationary implications for local economies as much as this will attack the workers made redundant as a result. This sort of attack will cut across attempts to build political unity between Labour Councils and the local labour movement to take on the Coalition Government.

Another equally likely route to sharing “back office functions” – which could be just as damaging to the building of political alliances against Coalition cuts - is merger of public service agencies within a locality (a la Total Place) of which today’s news from Blackburn of the merger of senior management of health and local government is a recent example.

We know that Lambeth First have been attracted by this possibility also – but we don’t know what they have been up to in the last six months because the last published minutes of a board meeting date from November.

Whilst an argument could be made for putting all locally delivered public services under the authority of elected local Councillors, I cannot see such an argument for unelected and unaccountable Local Strategic Partnerships.

Local electors chose Labour Councillors to run local services. Councillors deliberate in public and their decisions are available for public scrutiny. The same cannot be said of the Local Strategic Partnership.

(Incidentally, regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will know that I have complained before that if you search the Total Place website for a reference to trade unions it returns no response. Since 24 June this has no longer been true! Now there is one reference to Trade Unions – at day two of the “Total Place summit” some thought was given to a “tool kit for working with trade unions, involve them (workforce issues, single public workforce)” – I think we need to organise as a single public workforce too of course, but not perhaps in quite the same way…)

I have been involved in the politics of Lambeth and its local authority for a quarter of a century. I was living in the borough when the Ted Knight administration took on the Thatcher Government. I supported them then and think today they were right to fight against that appalling reactionary shower. Had Labour local authorities stuck together in 1985 in the struggle against ratecapping there might never have been a third term Tory Government (we shall never know).

However, I think a valid criticism can be made of Lambeth’s Labour administration of the mid 80s that its focus on confrontation with the Government may have taken the attention of Council Members away from improving the delivery of public services in the borough, including the financial management of the local authority. This damaging legacy haunted the borough for at least another ten years – at least until 1997 when the Council launched the largest privatisation in the history of English local government (destined to fail) and tried (and failed) to reduce the conditions of service of its workforce.

The current Lambeth Labour administration may well know more about a clear focus on improving public services (though they could do with applying that focus to Housing…) However, there is a danger that Lambeth’s current Labour Group, in common with their counterparts in Lewisham and Southwark, may be so worried about being identified with the 1980s that they will now ignore the importance of a shared struggle against Tory cuts.

Let’s look at what our leaders say;

Cllr Steve Reed said: “Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark councils all provide many services that are identical, but do we really need to pay twice for separate sets of senior management and back-office support? We need to proactively look at making savings at a time when the Tory/Lib Dem government is making cuts to council funding in order to protect frontline services”

Cllr Peter John said: “Local councils are facing unprecedented cuts from the Tory/Lib Dem Government. We know that we’re going to have to change the way we work to rise to the challenge those cuts present and carry on making the improvements to local services that our residents need. Pulling together with our neighbouring boroughs, which face many of the same challenges we do, promises to deliver some of that change.”

Mayor Sir Steve Bullock said: “We have to seek dramatic improvements in efficiency by working in partnership with our neighbouring Councils, other public services and the private sector. Every pound we can save through efficiency is a pound we can spend on frontline services. I hope this innovative approach can be used as a model across Local Government, rather than a return to slash and burn cuts”

Sorry comrades but none of you get it. If you want to protect public services from the ConDems, you will not do it by saving money, nor by “changing the way we work”. To protect public services we need to bring down this Government – and in inner South London we have an opportunity to apply political pressure to the Coalition’s weakest point.

There’s nothing wrong with improving efficiency – but what working class people in South London need from our Labour Leaders is not just competent management – we need inspirational leadership in a fight against reactionary attacks upon our Welfare State.

Shared services may or may not be a good idea. Shared struggle is what we need – and is what working class voters in South London were asking for on 6 May.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Defending jobs and services - Defending our Unions

A hat tip to the Stronger Unions Blog for the news that the madcap Thatcherites of the "Taxpayers Alliance" are trying to provoke an attack upon trade union facility agreements which formalise time off work for senior lay officials (http://www.strongerunions.org/2010/07/01/facility-time-here-we-go-again/).

As someone who is happy to pay fair taxes I resent my role as a taxpayer being appropriated by self-appointed spokespeople who read the Mail and the Torygraph (or - at least - look at the pictures).

The wild eyed characters around the far right who populate the "Taxpayers Alliance" gathered information on trade union time off agreements through Freedom of Information Requests before the General Election.

It is a shame that Cameron did not follow their chosen course in the spring, as had he exposed himself as a co-thinker of the drooling reactionaries who make up the " Taxpayers Alliance" he might have done far less well at the polls!

However, though even the Government are not keen to be associated with the embarrassing fools who constitute the "Taxpayers Alliance" there must be a risk that they will follow the lead to attack trade unions.

In which case of course - as the Stronger Unions blog does - we must explain why rational employers understand the value of trade union organisation of the workforce (as their unwanted Poujadist cheerleaders of the "Taxpayers Alliance" do not).

However the crucial reason why my employer - in common with many public service employers - grants me paid time off to do my trade union work is because they know they have to.

Whether or not it is of value to our employers that lay union officials have paid time off, it is of value to our members.

What we have, we hold!

That is what matters and why we must defend the gains we have won.

The "Taxpayers Alliance" is nothing more than the otherwise unemployable dregs of the ruling class. We do not need them any more than the Tories did (and indeed a lot less!)

Ignoring these embarrassing nonentities I think we need to win the argument not that trade unions benefit employers but that we benefit employees - all of whom should be members!

The best way to do this is to step up the fight to defend jobs and services!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange