Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Coup in Ecuador

This is from the Venezuala Solidarity Campaign;

Initial reports today inform that sections of the Ecuadorean Police are staging street demonstrations, ostensibly for economic demands but in reality trying to subvert the legal order, including through trying to occupy the National Parliament. Additionally, in open revolt against the government, some police officers have taken illegal control over their police stations.

There are also reports that members of the Quito army barracks in the capital city occupied these barracks in open mutiny against the government. In response, President Rafael Correa went to the barracks to talk to the rebels and was attacked by CS gas which exploded near his face. The President is now in the hospital of the Quito Regiment, with minor concussions but well. The armed forces have him under their control in the Quito barracks.

In a clearly orchestrated action of open rebellion, members of the armed forces also took control and closed the Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre airport.

In response to these developments, on live TV through TELESUR at about 18 hrs (GMT) President Rafael Correa said: "It's a coup d'etat, a conspiracy organised by the opposition." President Correa hinted that UNASUR was likely to hold an emergency meeting to defend the democratic order that is under threat in Ecuador and also said that police officers supportive of the revolt were trying to get to his hospital room to attack him. He added that he was standing firm in the defence of the democratic order in Ecuador and there was no way he would capitulate, and that he could only lose his life.

The Foreign Affairs minister has called upon people to march to the hospital to protect the life of the President. Mass demonstrations are now taking place in the whole of Ecuador in support of the legitimate and democratically-elected government of President Correa. People are currently congregating around the Quito barracks hospital to protect the President.

President Correa and his government have won every single democratic election since his election in 2006. The government has expanded democracy and implemented policies to redistribute income to the poor, benefiting millions of people hitherto socially excluded. The country has also had a new constitution overwhelmingly approved at a national referendum, which is deemed to be one of the greenest and most progressive constitutions in the world.


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The ALMO's Alamo?

The Alamo was the site, of course, of a defiant and doomed last stand against overwhelming odds (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Alamo?wasRedirected=true).



Somehow I thought of this yesterday evening at the AGM of our local ALMO, Lambeth Living.



There had been a larger number of people outside Stockwell YMCA in the pouring rain at the UNISON lobby than were at the subsequent AGM - even though half a dozen UNISON members also attended the meeting.



The lobby - our local contribution to the ETUC Day of Action yesterday - was a lively, if damp, affair helped on by a kind donation of inflatable UNISON "thundersticks" from Regional Office.



The complete absence of local support for the existence of the ALMO was obvious to all those not in possession of rose-tinted spectacles, to which ALMO Chair and former local MP, Keith Hill, referred more than once as he laboured the point that Lambeth's Housing stock had not been well-managed before the advent of Lambeth Living.



Like Jim Bowie at the Alamo, ALMO management may have drawn a line in the sand and pledged to defend the top heavy management structure from which they do so nicely. Lambeth's Labour Councillors should act now to stop this self-interested waste of public money.



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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Now is the Michaelmas of our discontent?

In Spain today's ETUC Day of Action sees a General Strike - we're not quite there yet in this country...



Today will be the first opportunity to judge whether we are heading for an autumn of discontent or a winter of despair (possibly by way of a Michaelmas of missed opportunities).



The optimism of my will says that this will be the beginning of a fight back against the Government of Millionaires by the millions whose jobs and services are at risk, led by our trade unions.



Details of activities being undertaken by UNISON are available online at http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/pages_view.asp?did=11797.

 

In Lambeth our contribution to this Day of Action will be a lobby of the Annual General Meeting of Lambeth Living, the Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) which is proposing large scale redundancies of front line staff whilst creating more higher paid jobs. UNISON is opposing these proposals.

 

The lobby is taking place from 4.30pm at the Stockwell YMCA, Stockwell Road. (This is a little late in the day for a lunchtime protest I know, but it's for those who prefer a late lunch!)



Lambeth's Labour group could take a pragmatic and progressive step to protect public services by closing the ALMO and bringing the housing service back in-house.



Labour politicians in positions of authority will increasingly have to choose sides between the ConDem coalition and the resistance which will be spearheaded by the labour movement.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The 7.5% springboard?

I see Diane Abbott - who had my first preferences in the Labour leadership election is now seeking election to the shadow cabinet (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/politics/article-23882845-diane-abbott-makes-pitch-for-shadow-cabinet-as-a-voice-for-london.do).

I know from personal experience that when a left-wing candidate comes last in an important election with 7.5% of the vote it can be quite a while before they're rehabilitated in the eyes of the establishment ;)

But who would want to be popular with such an establishment? The majority of the PLP backed the candidate of New Labour against the social democratic candidate in the final round of voting.

D'oh!

The new Leader may (be said by some to) "get it" (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1993) but the majority of his Parliamentary colleagues (like his brother) clearly still don't.

Over recent years we have permitted the upper echelons of our Party to be stuffed with neoliberals and careerists - just as Executive/Cabinet governance has given Council Leaders powers of patronage to rival a Prime Minister so the PLP has evolved into the tame creature that is today so disappointing.

I can hardly begin to imagine how hard it must be to be a socialist in today's PLP, where most MPs backed the Party machine against even the most timid reassertion of the Party's historic purpose.

It's as if the National Executive of a trade union could be populated by a majority prepared to do as they were told by their paid officials. (As if!)

The labour and trade union movement faces challenges unprecedented in a generation. We need to renew and rejuvenate the movement at every level to face these. Those not prepared to fight won't be welcome on our coming "journey".

In trade union elections we need to elect consistent socialists against those who seek continuity with our past inadequacy (a topic to which I shall soon return).

As for the Labour Party - it is to the selection of candidates, rather more than the election of the Shadow Cabinet, that we need now to turn our attention.

The vote for Christine Shawcroft in the Labour Party NEC elections shows a support for socialist politics far greater than the combined membership of all the socialist (and Communist) parties ostensibly to "the left" of Labour. The challenge facing the Labour left is to galvanise this support and use it to repopulate the PLP - and Council Chambers - with socialists prepared to fight for our class.

In this work - the great difficulty of which I do not underestimate - I fear that Diane's bid for shadow cabinet stardom is - at best - an irrelevance.

The fight against the ConDems will be waged in the streets and the movement will be built in the workplaces.

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A meeting of minds?

My daughter offered me a further reason to dislike the ConDem cuts agenda - she says it means I have more meetings to go to.



Last night I was one of five members of my branch amongst 25 in the audience to hear a total of seven speakers at an open meeting convened by Lambeth Trades Council.



This may not have been the largest anti-cuts meeting I have attended recently but - at least in terms of platform contributions - it was one of the longest. In staying through the meeting those present demonstrated the tenacity which will be required to mount a defence of our Welfare State over the coming months (and years).



Although the Lambeth United Against the Cuts meeting in Brixton three weeks ago was several times larger - and indeed we have had larger turnouts at planning and organising meetings for Lambeth Save Our Services - the Trades Council pulled together a heavyweight list of speakers including Barry Camfield from the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions and Lee Jasper speaking from the newly emerging organisation "Black Activists Rising Against Cuts". GMB Branch Secretary Bill Modlock spoke on behalf of the Council trade unions.



Lambeth has a large number of union activists living and/or working in the borough - and a vibrant diversity of community organisations alongside whom we need to campaign.



There remains an important role for the Trades Council as part of this campaigning activity, which requires an open and non-sectarian approach on all sides.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reds - Ed, Ted and Poplar

Yesterday I heard the news of the Labour leadership whilst preparing to speak alongside Janine Booth, author of "Guilty and Proud of It" (http://www.merlinpress.co.uk/acatalog/GUILTY_AND_PROUD_OF_IT_.html) at Houseman's bookshop.



Janine's book covers the legendary struggle of the Poplar Councillors, imprisoned for doing right by working class voters in the 1920s, a struggle which in turn inspired the stand taken by Lambeth Councillors in the 1980s when Ted Knight's administration were surcharged for having delayed setting a rate in opposition to ratecapping.



If the new Leader of the Opposition really was the "Red Ed" of Daily Mail mythology then it would have been all the more apt to have been considering the contemporary relevance of the tradition of struggle by Labour in local government as news of his triumph came through.



As it is, the most that can be said about Miliband Minor is that he is not his brother and that - in stopping his elder sibling - he has blocked the Blairite succession plan. This opens up a political space in which we can try to regrow the sort of socialist politics of which you can read in Janine's book.



At the moment Labour Councillors may generally see little relevance in stories of Poplar 90 years ago or Lambeth in the mid 80s. There are few if any Labour representatives in our Council chambers currently identifying with those traditions.



However, the intensification of attacks on public services by the ConDems will change everything and will force us both to revisit our history and to consider how to apply it in changed and different circumstances.



The solid technocratic certainties of New Labour with its faith in private provision and the wisdom of senior managers and expensive consultants are about to melt into air.



Socialists need to be ready to offer an alternative.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

EasyCouncil not at all easy

I was sorry that the need to attend an anti-cuts meeting in Lambeth last night kept me from the important rally in Barnet.



I am pleased however to see Barnet's bonkers "EasyCouncil" nonsense trashed by the auditors (http://m.guardian.co.uk/?id=102202&story=http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/sep/23/barnet-easycouncil-costcutting-plan-criticised).



I think that all high profile attempts to "re-invent" local service delivery are more or less driven by a desire for profile on the part of their proponents rather than any realistic prospect of positive change.



What we need now isn't innovation - it's a circling of the wagons to protect as much as we can of the Welfare State bequeathed us by previous generations.



Politicians and senior managers love to have a "vision" but I think "visions" are generally the product of hallucinogenics.



I want to spend the next few years limiting the damage being done to our society by a Government of millionaire public schoolboys. That's not a "vision" but it's cold hard pragmatism.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Saturday 30 October in Brixton - Lambeth will unite against cuts to save our services

Having spent yesterday evening at a meeting against cuts in Chelmsford, today found me at a planning meeting in Brixton with similar intent.



This evening's Save Our Services meeting, joined constructively by some of the organisers of this month's "Lambeth United against the cuts" meeting settled, after a thorough discussion upon 30 October as the date for a major local demonstration in defence of public services and in opposition to cuts.



I thought we were right to avoid a clash with the Regional trade union events on 23 October - and it was to the credit of those who had preferred the earlier date that they committed themselves to building the 30 October demonstration once the date had been agreed.



It must be right to take an early opportunity to bring people out onto the streets of Brixton in response to the Comprehensive Spending Review - and I hope that this call for a demonstration which does not clash with the SERTUC rally can now also win the support of the Trades Council.



There were several Labour Party members at tonight's meeting - and I hope that Labour Councillors too will want to join a protest at the assault upon our class by the ConDems.



We need a united front in opposition to cuts in public spending. The call for a demonstration in Brixton on 30 October now provides a practical task around which we can unite in order to forge the unity that will be required in the months and years ahead.





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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chelmsford United Against Cuts

I was pleased to speak this evening to a well attended public meeting called by Chelmsford Trades Council (http://www.chelmsford-tuc.org.uk/) in opposition to the cuts proposed by the ConDem Coalition.

I had been asked to speak by "Public Services Not Private Profit" but it was also an excellent opportunity to promote UNISON's work to defend public services.

I was pleased also to share the platform with speakers from the GMB and Defend Council Housing (and disappointed that Manuel from TSSA was detained at ACAS and couldn't make it).

The meeting concluded by agreeing to launch a local anti-cuts campaign with an initial planning meeting to take place on next Wednesday's European TUC Day of Action.

I was encouraged to hear from a UNISON friend and comrade that this was just one of a series of such meetings organised by Trades Councils across the Eastern Region. All being well these will lead to a positive and effective Regional demonstration in Cambridge on Saturday 23 October, arrangements for which were (the meeting was told) being finalised.

It seems that in towns and cities (and London Boroughs) across the country local anti-cuts campaigns are springing up. Our movement is stirring.

Chelmsford Trades Council was founded in 1899 at a time when a labour movement smaller, weaker and poorer than we are today faced imperialism without a political party - and with only half of workers (men) having the vote. Yet from that low base our movement built the Welfare State.

When you consider the achievements of those who came before us you realise that we must live up to them and must accept the challenge set to our generation to defend the social gains of the last century. Meetings like this evening reinforce my belief that we can do this.

I think the TUC are right to be in discussions with the Royal Parks about the venue for the rally at the end of the demonstration likely to take place on Saturday 26 March - Trafalgar Square won't be big enough.

What impressed me most of all this evening was the non-sectarian attitude of the many contributors from the floor. The Trades Council officers were relaxed and enthusiastic about participation from diverse political perspectives and those who had already kicked off some local organising (members of the Socialist Workers Party) were eager to put the work they had done into the hands of the trades unions.

(Readers in Lambeth should take note of that last paragraph!)

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The retreat from class politics?

UNISON's Greater London Regional Committee today debated our response to the Con Dem Government.

We need to get activists mobilised for all the following events;

* 29 September, local protests followed by a rally at Congress Hall;
* 19 October, TUC lobby of Parliament (I would add that there will also be protests on 20 October - the day of the spending review);
* 23 October - London Regional demonstration organised by the RMT and FBU leading to a rally at Congress House;
* Saturday 26 March - TUC demonstration in Central London.

Our Regional Council officers have prepared a statement to guide campaigning activities - one phrase in that statement provoked a bit of debate today.

The statement characterised ConDem policy as an attack "on the British people as a whole."

When socialist members of the Regional Committee tried to argue that, on the contrary, those of the "British people" who are millionaires are not under attack, and that there important sections of our class in this country who may not identify with the nationalist conception of the "British people" we were told that perhaps the statement could be redrafted.

That would be good.

The statement as it was bore all the hallmarks of a particularly weird political sect (http://www.workers.org.uk/) whose slightly off-the-wall nationalism and xenophobia is at odds with the progressive policies of our trade union.

Our members may in many cases be part of the "British people" but in all cases they are part of the "working class". As a Marxist I recognise that our class identity is more important than our national identity - and that if we want to educate our members and activists then we need to start from class interest and identity.

The statement also echoes the opinions of the CPB(M-L) (a reference there for regular readers Sid and Doris Trotskyist-Trainspotter) in its support for "guerrilla action locally."

This may be an approach which finds favour with our members since Che and Castro used it to free Cuba - and Enver kept it in mind to protect Albania. Or it may not...

I wondered at the conclusion of today's meeting whether this meant I should tell branch activists to "take to the hills" (that's Brixton, Streatham and Gipsy Hills - as opposed to, say, Keith Hill) but decided, on balance that UNISON's Regional Management team in London did not mean to advocate armed struggle (even in Tirana).

I don't think we should launch witch hunts against those who belong to or support groups with whom we disagree however.

We need instead to argue our case and win arguments in favour of the militant and radical response to this Government that is now so plainly required.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

The case for a decent pay claim

London local government Service Group Executive member John Mcloughlin has sent a circular to UNISON branches in London.

Here's what John has to say;
 
"A vital consultation is underway about the pay claim for Local Government for 2011. It is on a very tight time frame with responses due by this Friday 24 September.
 
We have lost over 5% in pay in real terms over the last two years and inflation is rising.
 
Last week there was a welcome call from the TUC for co-ordinated strike action to resist the Con Dems Austerity measures, a central plank of which is a freeze on public sector pay.
 
Yet the proposed pay claim being put forward for consultation by UNISON, GMB and Unite is for at least £250 flat rate.
 
This claim tacitly accepts Osborne's pay freeze, using the figure of £250 that he says workers earning less than £21,000 should receive.
 
Why should we accept further cuts in real pay when the bankers who created the financial crisis continue to pay themselves massive bonuses?
 
Some people say we have to concentrate on defending jobs. That's a dangerous argument – once you start to trade pay and conditions against jobs where do you end? Being weak on pay doesn't make you strong on jobs. And importantly whilst cuts often impact at different rates within different sections and branches pay has the possibility of uniting workers across the public sector to resist the pay freeze. All the public sector unions should now be looking at coordinating claims and possible action. You can't do that on a claim as low as £250.
 
In my branch (Tower Hamlets) we have sent a consultative ballot paper to every member, asking if they agree to the £250 claim – or for one of at least £1,000 flat rate or 5%.
 
Even though time is short I would urge other branches to do something similar. I fully appreciate the pressure of work that many activists are under and the ridiculously short time we have been given to consult. Returns based just on Branch Committees will be counted as representing no more than the number of people at a meeting.
 
To activists I say  – if your branch haven't organised a full consultation do your own ballot on your section or take a petition round and send it your branch asking them to include it in the return on the consultation."

I tend to agree with John, although personally I prefer straight flat rate pay claims to claims with any percentage element as - could these be achieved - they would do the most to squeeze differentials and close the gender and race pay gaps.

However the critical point is that a claim so low as to be virtually worthless is a claim for which it will be hard it build a fight. The figure of £1,000 is no more than the real terms loss experienced since last April by workers earning the far-from-princely sum of twenty grand.

We may well struggle to persuade public opinion of the "affordability" of a pay increase which restores the decline in our standard of living over the past year - but we have to start trying harder to win the argument with our own members about the absence of an economic case for austerity if we are to defend jobs and pensions.

Giving ground over pay by promoting a pay claim which offers too little invites further attacks.

Those who have held back from trying to mobilise our members against this year's pay freeze made a mistake which we ought not now to compound.


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Employers on the attack?

Friday saw an unusual letter sent to branches of local government unions by the trade union side of the National Joint Council - which negotiates pay and conditions for local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.



The letter warned of the sort of attacks on nationally agreed conditions of service (such as being proposed in Croydon) and reminded local negotiators that they may not agree to sacrifice those national conditions in Part Two of the Green Book. Instead any attempts by local employers to undermine the national agreement should be referred to the bargaining machinery.



We need to prepare for attacks both on conditions of service and on national bargaining (for all its shortcomings a vital institutional expression of unity).



Whilst labour market conditions may be very different from those in 1989 - when attacks on conditions of service (the notorious "strings") helped provoke successful national action over pay - we need to mobilise our members nationally against every local attack upon conditions.



The gathering offensive against local government workers (which is only part of the wider attack upon the working class) encompasses threats to our conditions as well as our jobs, pensions and pay - and we need both a coherent and a coordinated response.



It's a shame no overarching strategy to defend local government and its workforce found its way onto the agenda of last week's TUC...

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Optimism of the will

Sat in a chilly park I have an opportunity to catch up on blogs I didn't read last week at the TUC. I see that Dave Osler had the measure of Congress as early as last Monday (http://www.davidosler.com/2010/09/tuc-conference-unions-may-be-too-weak-to-fight/).



It's as well to be realistic about our diminished membership and density compared with the early eighties. It's as well to be realistic about the preferred approach of our cautious leaders.



However, there are still millions of us organised in unions and we still have the capacity to resist. An anti-cuts movement can be built, and activists on the ground can mobilise that resistance.



Beyond the windy rhetoric of Congress we need to step up our organisation and prepare to fight wherever we can.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

The end of Congress

Delegates are leaving Manchester after the last full annual Congress of the TUC, Congress having voted by 5 to 1 (that's 5 million to 1 million) in favour of the slimmed down Congress in London in 2011 and every other year thereafter.



Now wasn't IMHO the time to do this, but democracy has decreed that it shall be done. UNISON's 1.3 Million votes were cast with the General Council in accordance with the decision of our Policy Committee in July. This decision will not even be reported to the full NEC until October as a majority of my NEC colleagues have been happy that our NEC shall not meet between Conference and October.



The full TUC Congress will now be a biennial event, in spite of spirited opposition led by the NUT with PCS, RMT, FBU and NUJ. (Perhaps the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group (to which all those unions belong) will think of organising a one day Conference for union activists on the Thursday after next year's mini-Congress?)



The loss of a full annual Congress is not a good thing, but in terms of meaningful democracy and lay control at a critical time, the absence this year of the traditional July meeting of our NEC is an error which must not be repeated.



Overall this was a good Congress, with unity in opposition to the Government. Whilst this is a blog you read for carping criticism of the leadership of my own Union and the movement, it is worth recording the positive highlights of the week.



UNISON moved the most important Composite of the week, supported by every union except BALPA (who did of course once number Norman Tebbit in their ranks).



UNISON and PCS agreed an important joint statement about working together against the cuts which we can use locally to build opposition to the ConDems.



UNISON got positive media coverage for our defence of public services.



Whilst we might have wished for more and sooner in terms of the campaign against the Government, our task now as activists is to build the campaign for which Congress has called.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

TUC condemns Birmingham ConDems

Hardline Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council, Stephen Hughes, has issued notice of dismissal to thousands of the employees of the Council, governed by a Liberal-Tory administration.



This is an object lesson in how not to manage change in local government, being offered by England's largest local authority, which has a recent track record of hostility to trade unions.



Congress has just agreed an Emergency Motion calling for the withdrawal of the dismissal notices or the resignation of the Chief Executive from his £220,000 a year job. I think we should probably be asking for both these things.



This is a vitally important test for our movement.

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Connaught workers at the TUC

Congress has just unanimously agreed an Emergency Motion responding to the collapse of Connaught.



Workers, some of them sacked by text message or conference call, have in many cases been left in limbo while clients and contractors try to pick up the pieces.



Congress has instructed the General Council to offer support to Connaught workers, engage with the Government to secure their long-term employment and campaign in opposition to privatisation and to bring services back in house.

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Fringe activities

I am indebted to fellow UNISON delegate Bernie Gallagher who, having been saved the trouble of speaking at the TUC, has compiled a league table of General Secretaries speaking at fringe meetings listed in the Congress guide.



Top of the table is PCS with nine meetings, narrowly beating RMT (who are on 8) to the top spot. UNITE come in third at 6 (but having two General Secretaries they could be considered to be cheating).



The FBU and UCATT are tied on 5, with the CWU, NUJ and NUT tied on 4.



UNISON isn't one of the eighteen unions whose General Secretaries are advertised as speakers at any of the fringe meetings in the Congress guide.



Former General Secretary candidate Paul Holmes was, however, given official sanction to speak at the fringe meeting organised by Manchester Trades Council, sharing the platform with four of the General Secretaries who are in the top half of the fringe meeting table.



Hopeful UNISON delegates, noting that we are certainly not subject to a personality cult, wonder if the permission to Paul to speak indicates a new era of glasnost...

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Pedant's corner - are the rules being changed in breach of the rules?

Tomorrow the TUC Congress will be recommended to make Rule Changes to move - in effect - to a biennial Congress, with a smaller, slimmed down Congress in the alternate years, starting in 2011.

This decision will arise when Congress considers Paragraph 9.4 of the Annual Report of the General Council tomorrow morning.

I have previously expressed my point of view that this is a feeble move by the TUC which is hardly consistent with stepping up our opposition to Government cuts. There has been, to the best of my recollection, no vote at UNISON Conference, our NEC or at the TUC Delegation to support this move (which isn't technically a move to a biennial Congress but to vary the composition of Congress in the alternate years).

As a pedant relieved (as ever) of the stress of having to speak at the TUC by the wisdom of our leaders I have been looking at the Rules of the TUC to see if this change is being proposed correctly.

The Rules and Standing Orders of the TUC are available online (http://www.tuc.org.uk/the_tuc/tuc-16855-f0.cfm) and Rule 15 which deals with how to amend TUC Rules provides as follows;

"(a) The General Council may between each annual Congress make any amendment to the Rules and Standing Orders that they deem necessary subject to any such amendment being confirmed by the next annual Congress, providing that any such amendment shall in any event be binding upon all affiliated organisations and their members until overruled by Congress.
(b) Affiliated organisations may (subject to the provisions of Rule 23) put forward motions for the amendment of the Rules and Standing Orders for the consideration of such annual Congress."

The General Council Report is submitted in accordance with Rule 26(c) which provides as follows;
"GENERAL COUNCIL'S REPORT: After the opening of each annual Congress, the General Council shall present their report for the past year, which shall be laid on the table for discussion. The items of the report shall be discussed seriatim and not as a whole: each speaker to be limited to three minutes. Such report shall be given precedence over all other business provided that where a motion on the agenda bears directly upon any part of the report, such motion may at the discretion of the President be taken in conjunction with such part of the report."

There is therefore no provision of the Rules and Standing Orders of the TUC which permit the General Council to use their Report to place a recommendation before Congress as is proposed tomorrow.

The General Council could have used their power to amend the Rules under Rule 15(a) and then reported on that in their Report. Affiliates wishing to overturn that decision could then have done so in accordance with that Rule. It is clear from paragraph 9.4 that the General Council have not made a decision to amend our Rules but rather have made a decision to recommend such an amendment to Congress.

Alternatively the General Council could have used their ability to put motions on the Congress agenda in accordance with Rule 23(c) to have put such a recommendation before Congress.

What is quite clear is that the General Council may not circumvent the provisions of Rule 23 by smuggling a recommendation which requires a decision of Congress into the Report which they make in compliance with Rule 26.

Whether Congress will mind that the General Council is giving up more than a century of the annual parliament of our movement in breach of our democratically agreed Rules remains to be seen.

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Housing - and the invisibility of local government at Congress

Congress has just voted unanimously to campaign to oppose coalition housing policy, for security of tenure and for the building of more social and Council housing.

This is an area in which the previous New Labour Government let us down very badly both by failing to build new homes and by launching a series of attacks upon Council Housing. New Labour was a disaster for tenants and housing workers.

However, in keeping with the observation that the worst day under a Labour Government is generally better than the best day under a Tory Government, things now do look even worse.

Attacks on housing benefit (and mortgage payments) will increase homelessness whilst attacks on security of tenure are a direct assault upon low income households from a Cabinet of millionaires.

Today's Congress decision is positive, but I think that the structure of the debate shows some aspects of how Congress works which may be of interest to regular readers, Sid and Doris Union-Blogger.

First, although there are experienced and articulate housing workers in our delegation, it was a health worker (NEC member James Anthony) who was asked to move the Composite.

Obviously this has nothing to do with the political views of delegates like Mandy Berger, Vice-Chair of UNISON's National Housing Forum, or NEC member Bernie Gallagher. It must just be that we want to celebrate the breadth and diversity of our union and break away from the stale tradition of Congress that we are here to share the expertise and experience of workers across all sectors of the economy.

However, UNISON's internal intolerance of dissent only augments a problem arising from the structure of our movement about which I have whinged on this blog in previous years.

Local Government workers - the largest bargaining group in the entire economy - get far too little attention from the structure of the Congress agenda because we are - by and large - in membership of the three largest unions.

Health workers in contrast are in membership of a large number of unions, as are education workers. Therefore both health and education have their own sections of the Congress agenda.

If an international visitor were to rely upon Congress documents for their knowledge of our movement they could easily remain ignorant that a million local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland haven't had a pay rise since April last year or that our employers are encouraging their constituent bodies to attack and undermine elements of the largest (by coverage) national agreement in the entire economy.

At least there are now Emergency Motions coming up about the collapse of Connaught and the redundancies announced in Birmingham Council, and though these are moved by UCATT and the GMB respectively they are supported by UNISON.

However, the TUC really should pay more attention to local government workers - and the local government unions need to sort this out.

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A Million Green Jobs

Unfortunately your blogger missed the last ever speech of European TUC General Secretary, John Monks to Congress.



Since this recycled excessive praise for the "European Social Model" and generated hot air it was appropriate that it was then followed by Composite 7 on Climate Change.



The TUC passed this Composite unanimously and committed to support a campaign for a million green jobs that would create employment with a positive environmental impact.



It's important that rather than letting the onslaught on jobs and services divert us from our support for green policies - we to see sustainabiity as a central part of our programme for economic recovery.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Trades Council fringe meeting

160 or so people is a fine turnout for a fringe meeting at the TUC, at which there are a total of 700 delegates and a lot of meetings to go to.



So hat's off to Manchester Trades Council for drawing such a crowd to the Friends' Meeting House to listen to an impressive array of speakers address the need to fight the cuts.



Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary kicked off the meeting, exposing the malevolent designs of our ConDem Coalition on our schools.



Billy Hayes of the CWU pledged opposition to Royal Mail privatisation (as you might expect) and predicted increasing opposition to cuts.



Mark Serwotka of PCS characteristically took a perspective across the movement as a whole, encouraging delegates to put pressure on union leaders to ensure that we coordinate action.



Matt Wrack of the FBU earned applause for referring to the Government's agenda as a "class agenda". He rightly posed the question of needing to build towards a General Strike.



UNISON was represented on the platform by Paul Holmes, NEC member for local government, who made a stirring appeal for working class leadership of the working class movement.



There is clearly a mood for action amongst a sizeable proportion of delegates at Congress. We now need to translate that into local activity and mobilisation around whatever we can get our leaders to organise.

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As the Crow flies...

Bob Crow has been re-elected to the TUC General Council in the contested election for seats to represent unions with fewer than 100,000 members.



Bob got 341,000 votes, 12,000 more than the next placed candidate.



It's three years since Bob was knocked off the General Council. Being a vocal and effective militant isn't always the key to easy popularity in the trade union movement.



Given the fights we face over the coming year it has to be a good thing that a strong and loud left wing voice will once more be heard at the General Council.

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Congress steps up solidarity with Palestinians

This afternoon's session at Congress has kicked off with debates on international issues, including a motion of solidarity with Haiti from the TUC Black Workers Conference. We are also debating Vietnam, and trade union support for international development.



As ever in recent years the main debate has been on Palestine, where UNISON is supporting a Composite which builds upon policy agreed last year to develop a boycott of goods originated in unlawful settlements and to promote divestment from companies profiting from the occupation or participating in building the separation wall.



GMB General Secretary, Paul Kenny has said that the TUC will expect suppliers and retailers to provide documentary evidence that goods are not sourced in the occupied territories - otherwise they will be subject to boycott.



Brendan Barber says that we will review our boycott policy at the next TUC and acknowledges that many trade unionists would like to go further than this limited boycott.



For now we need to build the boycott we have agreed - and get the message across to six million trade unionists and their families about the products we don't want them to buy (http://www.palestinecampaign.org/Index5b.asp?m_id=1&l1_id=3&l2_id=107).



We must step up pressure on the criminal Israeli state and build solidarity with the Palestinians.

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United we stand

Dave Prentis and Mark Serwotka, General Secretaries of UNISON and PCS, accompanied by Presidents, Angela Lynes and Janice Godrich, have, in the past few minutes, signed a joint statement on united campaigning between the two unions, nationally, regionally and locally.



A step in the right direction.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Defending our right to take action - but what next?

Congress has this afternoon been unanimous in support of Composite 1 on Employment Rights.

This motion reiterates the outrageous restrictions placed upon our right to take collective industrial action - restrictions described as "unprecedented in Europe."

There are two practical points in the motion, which builds upon existing Congress policy in support of the Trade Union Freedom Bill (which New Labour in Government refused to support).

First, the TUC is urged to support (particularly smaller) affiliated unions facing or taking legal challenges. This is a sensible proposal both because we don't want to see smaller unions bankrupted by legal costs and because legal precedents set in one case will impact upon the whole movement. We need solidarity in the courts as well as on the picket lines.

Secondly, the TUC has agreed to back John McDonnell's "Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill, supporting the lobby of Parliament on 13 October and calling upon MPs to attend the second reading of the bill on 22 October. To find out more about the Bill and to support TUC policy to campaign for it visit http://www.unitedcampaign.org.uk/sitebody/projects/LIAME/bill.html.

Whilst we certainly need to fight for our legal rights several speakers from the rostrum raised the point that we may need to defy unjust legal restrictions if we are to protect our members and our class.

Brian Caton, former General Secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, moved a separate motion from the Annual Conference of Trades Councils which offered solidarity to "all workers in struggle, including those whose action is deemed 'unlawful.'"

This was supported by the General Council but "with an explanation" which was offered by Brendan Barber. (The explanation was that we wouldn't really be too keen on supporting unlawful action).

Support "with an explanation" at Congress is similar to NEC policy of "support with qualifications" at UNISON National Delegate Conference, which will be familiar to regular readers Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak.

Indeed UNISON policy on the Trades Council motion here was to "support with qualification" (delegates put our hands up for it but not too high...)

What struck me was that the UNISON delegation at the TUC has just voted for the (successful) Trades Council motion (albeit with qualifications) although I suspect that a similarly worded motion would have been ruled out of order for debate at our own Conference.

In recent years motions advocating defiance of the anti-union laws have been ruled out of order, so that it hasn't even been possible for Conference to have the difficult discussion about the costs and dangers of such an approach, and of the limited and extreme circumstances in which it might be warranted.

By June of next year thousands of UNISON members will (if we meant what we said this morning - and we did) be engaged in industrial disputes to protect public services. In some cases hostile employers will be tripping us up with frivolous legal challenges.

Our members won't understand if we fail to permit ourselves seriously to discuss, at our Conference, all our options to respond to such challenges.

Somehow we have to find a way of interpreting our Rules that does not prevent our Conference from even considering whether or not to support a policy which has now been adopted by the TUC.

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Workers in Croydon resist attack

I was pleased - whilst secluded in the slightly unreal world of the TUC - to receive the following press release from Croydon UNISON;

"Members of Croydon UNISON representing the majority of union members employed by Croydon Council held a Branch meeting on Wednesday 8th September 2010 and unanimously backed a motion opposing proposed changes to their terms and conditions of employment.

The motion called upon the Branch to use all available means to oppose their implementation, including possible industrial action.

Branch Secretary Laurie Pocock in presenting the motion accused senior Council management of bringing forward a bizarre proposal which would do nothing to alleviate the projected crisis in funding and cause massive damage to the Council's long term recruitment requirements.

The meeting was also attended by Linda Perks (Greater London Regional Secretary) who brought greetings to the members from UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis and a strong message of support from the national union. She told the meeting that at a national level UNISON would oppose any move to remove nationally agreed terms and conditions; In particular, reducing sick pay entitlement represented a threat in real term to the quality of service deliverability to the residents of Croydon.

Sue Plain, as Chair of the Regional Local Government Committee brought greetings to the meeting from other London Branches and expressed solidarity with the staff at Croydon who will feel "betrayed" by their employer.

The proposals include, reductions in annual leave and sick pay entitlement, as well as loss of other benefits including overtime pay, weekend working enhancements and compensation for redundancy.

Following the meeting Laurie Pocock commented "our consultation on this has been wide ranging and we've found no one who supports this package of proposals." We are of course aware that due to the banking crisis the government will be proposing further financial restrictions on local authorities, but we don't know yet exactly what this may mean. Croydon seems to be going it alone in the interests of making a name for itself with the government rather than having regard to the staff it employs, as well as the residents of the borough."

This shows that our members, under attack, will fight back. The call for action is here.

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United in defence of public services

Congress has today united all unions (except the air line pilots) in support of a wide ranging Composite motion (Composite 10) in defence of public services.

The composite rebuts the ConDem case for cuts, emphasising that the Tory motive is ideological and that the Coalition has no mandate for cuts. It also highlights the alternative approach of collecting the £123 Billion in taxes evaded or uncollected each year.

In passing the Composite, Congress has called upon the General Council to "lead a co-ordinated campaign across the labour movement with other working class organisations and local communities for progressive means of ensuring and improving the public finances."

Specifically the Composite calls for;
* opposition to cuts and privatisation;
*fair pay, pensions and equality;
*campaigning, involving Trades Councils, including support for the ETUC action on 29 September;
* co-ordinating industrial action, nationally and locally;
* co-ordinating union recruitment;
* presenting a clear alternative to the cuts.

Dave Prentis moved the Composite, which was seconded by Gail Cartmail of UNITE and supported by speakers including Brian Strutton of the GMB, Mark Serwotka, Bob Crow, Matt Wrack and others. Kevin Courtenay of the NUT provided an eloquent and effective conclusion to the debate, aside from a weird intervention from BALPA.

The most important point about this composite is the unity of our intentions and aspirations. Within that unity however is a debate about tactics and timetables. The composite asks the General Council to "consider" convening a Convention in defence of public services, without setting a timetable. The General Council have committed to a national demonstration in March 2011.

As to when we shall step up our campaign, Brendan Barber said the TUC "stood ready" to co-ordinate action which Dave Prentis said would take place "when the call is there." Brian Strutton said the GMB would begin next month to prepare for national industrial action. Mark Serwotka said we should start now.

Activists at a local level need to use the fact that all our national unions (unless you're an airline pilot) have backed this Composite to step up the drive for unity in local anti-cuts campaigns. We also need to keep up, through our campaigning, the pressure on the General Council to step up national campaign activity.
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Is that a cosh concealed in your trousers - or are you just pleased to see composite 10?

I've just heard the professionally inoffensive General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (Brendan Barber) accused, on the Today programme, of approaching the Government over its spending policy "with a cosh concealed in his trousers."



This was not a reference to Mae West but to Composite 10, to be moved at this morning's session of Congress by our own Dave Prentis. This calls for a wide range of campaign activities in defence of public services, including the co-ordination of industrial action.



The composite, like many at the TUC, is certainly long. As to whether it will lead to a movement which is firm in its opposition to the ConDems we shall have to see.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Moving forward in unity - our leaders will be right behind us!

Dave Prentis has announced to the Unison delegation meeting that we will be providing leadership this week, in keeping with our position as "probably" the largest union in the TUC.



Dave called for unity, which seems a good plan for trade unions facing attacks unprecedented for decades. This unity is reflected in the fact that - with one exception - Unison will be supporting all the motions in the Final Agenda (in some cases with qualifications). The exception is a motion from NAPO which criticises OFSTED (about which no decision has been taken and constructive discussions were reported to be taking place). It seems that UNISON will be voting for everything this week.



Dave reported on forthcoming events, including the ETUC Day of Action on 29 September, the lobby of Parliament on 19 October and the associated Regional activities.



In Scotland - which is a nation not a Region - the STUC are of course organising a national demonstration on 23 October. Unfortunately our UK wide leadership will be concentrating, for the time being on "supporting and encouraging" our Regions to co-ordinate resistance to the ConDems.



With luck, the unity and determination which will be shown, not just at Congress but in the rank and file action which will increasingly be taken against the cuts, will give our leaders the confidence rapidly to shift from "supporting and encouraging" to leading.



We need to be led from the front now, as well as in the spring.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Good news from a fellow blogger

A hat tip to a fellow blogger (http://www.lawatwork.blogspot.com/) whose long term recollection may be doubtful but who was able to share with me the news that Margaret Greer has been re-elected as Chair of UNISON's Regional Black Members' Committee.



As we have demonstrated through detailed work in Lambeth (http://www.voice-online.co.uk/content.php?show=17917), black workers can all too easily be disproportionately targeted at a time of cuts.



Lay-led self-organisation by black workers (as by members of all our self-organised groups) has a vital role to play in ensuring that our commitment to equality is to the fore as we resist the cuts. Black members in UNISON's Greater London Region reaffirmed this today.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Share and share alike?

Most innovations promoted by politicians turn out to be a mistake - and the same may be true of the (deliberately?) headline grabbing plans of Camden and Islington Council's to share a Chief Executive and senior management team. (http://www.camden.gov.uk/ccm/content/press/2010/september/camden-and-islington-councils-announce-intention-to-share-chief-executive.en;jsessionid=03313EAC7CEC0C20F16E9D4DEF900DE7).

It's tempting to think that local government could get by with a lot fewer of those earning over fifty (never mind a hundred) grand (surely 50k is more than enough for a decent life?)

Given that understandable feeling, and the added temptation of supporting "innovation" by Labour Councils in the teeth of deliberate butchery of public services by the ConDems, there must be a risk that some trade unionists will welcome moves such as those announced by Camden and Islington.

I will wait to hear from colleagues in Camden and Islington UNISON before settling on a point of view - but my instincts are to suspect such an obvious gimmick.

How will such peripatetic senior managers manage and support their staff? To whom will they be accountable? How will they deal with the exercise of delegated powers where there are conflicts of interest between two boroughs? To which organisation's staffing procedures will they be subject? Will they be employed by one borough or the other (or some new entity)?

These questions may amount to (small "c"!) conservative carping but - even if they do - they are still good questions. Those of us who have watched senior local government officers escaping from accountability to elected Members over the past quarter century are bound to worry about such not-yet-even-half-baked proposals.

I will however share the view I expressed today to another Chief Executive. There are numerous local authorities who could merge management teams in a way which would improve services whilst reducing expenditure.

I'll tell you how...

Every Council which has an ALMO could bring the ALMO back in house - saving not just the salary of their ALMO Chief Executive but also the costs of the pointless and ineffective structures of ALMO governance.

The unprincipled bribery by which the previous Government sought to cajole Councils into establishing ALMOs will not be funded by the ConDems. There is no longer any point to the existence of ALMOs (even had there ever been). It is silly to pretend otherwise.

Before any Council with an ALMO threatens another job they should abolish their ALMO in order to achieve the painless cuts of eliminating the purposeless duplication to which this futile - if not harmful - "innovation" gave rise.

No one really wanted ALMOs and no one will mourn their passing.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

To Hell or Connaught

The bankruptcy of one of our major local government contractors demonstrates the folly of relying upon the private sector to deliver public services.

Public sector organisations don't go bankrupt, leaving enormous uncertainty about how the services they provide will be continued.

Experiments in diversifying the provision of public services over the past generation have generally been expensive failures.

It is both timely and appropriate that on the day when the failure of the private sector has been demonstrated so starkly, UNISON and PCS (the main public sector trade unions) are launching a joint campaign to defend our members.

About time too!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Support the tube workers!

Members of RMT and TSSA taking strike action from this evening on the tube deserve all our support.



Job cuts never improve services - and having fewer staff on the underground network obviously compromises safety.



Over the coming months many more of us will face the need to take action against job cuts and it is important that we show solidarity with each other.



Details of picket lines are available online from the RMT at http://www.rmtlondoncalling.org.uk/node/1682.

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Jasper's mad attack upon the workers

At long last the cheap journalism of freedom of information requests made months ago by implausibly named Torygraph hack "Jasper Copping" has seen the light of day (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/7981717/Taxpayers-spend-millions-paying-for-trade-union-activities.html).



The Poujadiste wing of support for the ConDems is trying to open a new front in its war on the working class with tabloid attacks upon the notional costs of trade union facility time.



Trade union time off is both a statutory requirement and a common sense arrangement.



In some ways it is shaming only to be attacked by the Tories' media equivalent of a third eleven.



Still it will be a useful test of Labour leadership contenders how effectively they now defend our unions in response to this attack.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Unblairable!

So Tony Blair says that he knew Brown's premiership would be a disaster (http://m.guardian.co.uk/ms/p/gmg/op/sDtTw6B1McjXe3RtcOrYA_w/view.m?id=553170&tid=120787&cat=News).

I can't help feeling Blair brings all the perspective of an Ouslum bird (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oozlum_bird?wasRedirected=true) to this question, since he clearly feels that the route to a fourth term went via an intensification of the deeply unpopular, reactionary and counterproductive New Labour project.

In fact pretty much the reverse was true - and as long term readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) will recall, this blog supported a real alternative to both Brown and Blair (http://www.john4leader.org.uk/).

For the same reason I shall not be giving my first preference to the political heirs of either of our previous Prime Ministers - although I shall probably use up preferences trying to block Blair's obvious preference.

John Millington, writing in today's Morning Star, gives a fairly good summary of the change of direction required of the Labour Party (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/94704) - and it is not the one for which Tony Blair is calling.

We must, John says, learn to become the party of labour again. To do so Labour Party members must participate in trade union led mobilisations against public spending cuts. I agree.

There are those in the trade unions who will find it hard to work with Labour Party activists, because of justified anger at the conduct of Labour in Government, and distaste for the hypocrisy of those who may oppose, when done by the ConDems, things that they would have sought to justify if done by New Labour.

That is understandable. However, it is not only that John Millington is correct that the Labour Party remains "the only credible electoral alternative to a ruthless ConDem government." It is also important to recognise that many of the votes cast for Labour in May were votes cast against Tory cuts by working people who will expect to see such opposition from those whom their votes elected.

Many good comrades on the left devoted a lot of energy over recent years trying to offer working people a socialist political alternative to the left of Labour. A series of such offers were rejected. Now that we face a wholesale assault upon the working class and the Welfare State we don't have the time to chase that dream.

We have to use the labour movement we have, imperfect as it is, as best we can. We must use our trade unions to fight the Government - and those (including Labour Councils) who do their bidding. We must demand support from Labour politicians - and those of us who are Party members must do all we can to put the legacy of "Ouslum" Blair where it belongs.

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