Friday, December 24, 2010

I saw three reorganisations come sailing in...

Merry Xmas one and all.

My Christmas Eve was made by an email with details of three reorganisations with job losses about which consultation will commence on Tuesday 4 January.

At the same time I am sending support and best wishes to one of our Convenors who is fighting today to prevent a wrongful and unfair compulsory redundancy for one of our members.

Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall all be dealing with correspondence in accordance with Section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. (Well not tomorrow itself I hope!)

As I won't be blogging too much for a few days I have added this year's best Christmas Carol for you to watch above - once I have taken it down after the holiday it will still be available on Youtube.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Kirklees take the lead

A hat tip to Solidarity magazine for being online with this news, but a bigger hat tip to Kirklees UNISON and their Branch Secretary Paul Holmes for taking the decision to strike against threatened job losses. A ballot of the Council workforce has produced a majority for action.

A five day strike by a well unionised local authority would not only pile pressure on the particular employer, it would also signal what is possible. It would be a warning to the Government and an example to workers up and down the country. If the credible threat of such action produced significant concessions that too would be a lesson to the rest of us.

Given the uneven organisation of our movement within and between industries, sectors and even branches, we are all looking to the stronger branches, departments and even individual sections for leadership. The Kirklees vote ought to be headline news on UNISON's website. We need some audacity at the top of the Union.

As another UNISON blogger observed the other day - it would be great if we heard from Mabledon Place something similar to what Len McCluskey said this week.

I'm hoping for a New Year message which will be a beacon to illuminate the struggles underway and to give hope to our activists and members throughout the country.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December UNISON NEC report

Personal report from the December 2010 meeting of the UNISON NEC

This is a personal report from the meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council which took place on Wednesday 8 December. An official report is available online at http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=6468.

Defending Public Services

The “headline news” from the meeting was that we set aside a “fighting fund” of twenty million pounds to support opposition to public spending cuts. The press release explaining this is online at http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2082.

In practice what this means is that the NEC endorsed a proposal from the General Secretary to ring fence from our reserves some ten million pounds to be available for campaigning activity, having been reminded by Northern Ireland NEC member Colm Magee that we already have more than ten million pounds in the Industrial Action Fund.

This was part of the debate on the first substantial item on our agenda, on defending public services, during which we were also told that the General Political Fund Committee (which, under Rule, is autonomous from the NEC) had “recently committed to reviewing its operational procedures to secure faster and speedier financial support for campaigning work at a local level.”

I attach to this report the written report which was received by the NEC on this item, debate about which rightly took up considerable time. A key focus will be the TUC mass national demonstration against the cuts as Saturday March 26th 2011 in London. It will start at 11am on the Victoria Embankment and finish in Hyde Park with a rally, closing at 4pm. The NEC agreed to seek a pledge from every shop steward to attend the demonstration, further details of which are available online at http://www.tuc.org.uk/theme/index.cfm?theme=alltogetherlanding.

Of particular significance was the report on joint work with UNITE and GMB, with Dave Prentis telling the NEC that he had recently hosted the General Secretaries of both the other “Big Three” unions at Mabledon Place. (More recently I understand that the TUC General Council has agreed to convene a meeting in early January to discuss developing anti-cuts campaigning, and the newly elected General Secretary of UNITE has gained considerable publicity with a call for co-ordination of strike action).

A closer working relationship with PCS is also being developed. This is in line with the joint statement agreed between UNISON and PCS agreed this year at the TUC (which is publicised online at http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1967. The full text of the agreement is also available online at http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/campaign-resources/pcs-and-unison-joint-statement.cfm). The joint statement committed us, at local level, to “to develop and support links between members and activists. This will include joint workplace meetings, joint public leafleting, locally organised town meetings and joint community activities.” If any branches want local contact information for PCS branches to discuss joint campaigning ask your Regional Organiser (I also have a list of PCS branches in the Region if that is of any use to any UNISON branches).

Public Sector Pay Negotiations

The NEC received a regular update on public sector pay negotiations. There was some confusion about the position of the Union in circumstances where local authorities offer payments which are more generous than the (non) offer from the national employers. UNISON does not support breaking up national pay negotiations, which need not be compromised by local offers which build upon the “floor” set by nationally agreed pay and conditions. The NEC did not receive any information about authorities which are making more generous offers.

Public Sector Pensions Commission

The NEC received a report on UNISON’s submissions to the Public Sector Pensions Commission, which I will circulate with this report. The National Union of Teachers are proposing to ballot for strike action in defence of pensions in the Spring Team. I regret that UNISON is not yet at that point, but it was made clear that strike action remains a possibility once the final report of the Commission is known and, in the mean time, UNISON is urging members to lobby their MPs to support our position (see http://www.unison.org.uk/pensions/pages_view.asp?did=12156). UNISON’s response to the cross-service group nature of the attack upon our pensions is being coordinate by the Service Group Liaison Committee rather than the NEC.

Organising Update

Our membership is projected to increase by 2% this year nationally, with Greater London ahead of the average at 2.4%. More than one in four new members join online. Clearly we can anticipate an increased membership turnover in 2011 if the significant job losses planned by the Government and employers take place.

UNISON Objectives

The NEC endorsed a report simplifying the Union’s objectives for the coming year. Our priorities for 2011 will be as to;
Meet the recruitment and organising challenge posed by austerity measures,including public spending cuts and increased outsourcing

Protect and secure decent employment, pay and pensions for UNISON members, promoting equality and challenging discrimination

Develop our Million Voices campaign in support of quality public services, building our political influence and forging alliances with unions and community organisations

Ensure that the union’s information and communications infrastructure and internal management systems are efficient and effective to meet the changing needs of our membership.

After the NEC meeting

Following the NEC meeting, together with several other NEC members, I visited the student occupation at University College London (UCL). I recommend the “ConDem Christmas Carol” recorded by students during the occupation (online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fvZmyQVryQ).

Season’s Greetings

I wish everyone a happy holiday and good luck in facing the challenges which the New Year will bring.

Another ALMO bites the dust

A rare hat tip to a fellow UNISON blogger who has the news from Newham that their ALMO is coming back in-house (http://grayee.blogspot.com/2010/12/newham-homes-almo-returns-to-council.html).

ALMOs (Arms Length Management Organisations) are a half way house to privatisation foisted upon tenants and local authorities by the last Government, the "raison d'etre" for which has now been destroyed by this Government.

Council housing is far and away the most economic and most democratic means for the provision of social housing and the death of any ALMO is to be welcomed. If even the Mayor of Newham can see what needs to be done, other Labour Councils (with - which would not be hard - more progressive leadership) should surely follow suit.

When massive cuts are being forced through at the behest of a Tory Government there is no case whatsoever to continue the needless expense of duplicate and management structures of an ALMO.
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Len in call for action

The General Secretary of UNITE has some things for us to think about over the coming holiday period (http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/19/unions-students-strike-fight-cuts?cat=commentisfree&type=article).

What does Len say?

He says the students have set a challenge to the trade union movement to take action to defend our welfare state.

We must rebuild working class confidence.

We must not let the law paralyse us.

We must reject all cuts ("'What do we want? Fewer cuts later on', is not a slogan to set the blood coursing.")

And - worth quoting at length - an interesting take on how we deal with Labour Councils;

"These are Con-Dem cuts, and this is a capitalist crisis. An attempt to blame Labour local authorities for the problem is a shortcut to splitting our movement and letting the government off the hook. That doesn't mean Labour councils should get off free. There are, alas, Labour councillors embarking on union-bashing under cover of cuts, something we won't tolerate. Labour needs to understand that any social alternative to the present misery needs strong trade unions."

This is a positive and refreshing intervention from the General Secretary of a large trade union, including explicit support for the Coalition of Resistance (which - I suggest - settles the argument as to whether CoR, or Right to Work, or even the National Shop Stewards Network will be the key vehicle for coordinating struggle).

I could (and probably will) quibble that the trade unions may need to trespass further over into the "political wing" of the movement and say more to Labour Councils than that they ought not bash unions. As left as this sounds it is left Labourism and potentially hamstrung as ever by the divide between "political" and "industrial" wings.

However, for now, it's the season of goodwill and this welcome intervention deserves a hearty welcome.

Since UNISON has made the running in making the arguments upon which the General Secretary of UNITE now relies, I wait with interest for a similarly forthright intervention from Mabledon Place.
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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Putting some money where our mouth is

UNISON activists should draw some encouragement from the combative tone of the online announcement of the decision announced at yesterday's NEC to set up a "fighting fund" (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2082).

I'll report properly on the meeting soon - it was, understandably, dominated by discussion around our opposition to public spending cuts. Our campaigns will need funding - and as important as allocating resources was the news that, for example, our General Political Fund Committee is hoping to make it easier for branches to access resources.

Unfortunately we have some way to go before we catch up with the Executive of the National Union of Teachers, whose call for strike action over pensions in the spring did not find an echo from the majority - however there is a recognition that national industrial action over pensions will be required - just a feeling (which I do not share) that the time is not quite upon us.

With UNISON encouraging members to support today's student protests we are now pointing in the right direction. Now we need to find the accelerator.
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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Keep the post public

Having just heard a CWU speaker at an inquorate meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Council I thought I would blog a link to the Keep the Post Public Campaign (http://www.cwu.org/support-the-campaign.html). You can sign an online petition at that link.

The idea that there should be a universal postal service from Westminster to the Shetlands is such an obvious one - and is a fine example of a natural monopoly best provided as a public service.

Nineteenth century Tories and Liberals understood this - but their twenty first century equivalents disagree. The CWU are focusing their lobbying on 71 Coalition MPs. That makes for a less visible campaign nationally.

There is, however a national rally at Westminster next Wednesday at 11am (http://www.cwu.org/december-15-rally.html) for those who can get to Central London mid morning.

And if tou can't do that, whoever your MP is you can download a postcard to send them (http://www.cwu.org/assets/_files/documents/aug_10/cwu__1282555800_03014_KTPP_postcard_to_MPs.pdf).

Print it out and put a stamp on it!
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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Great Scots

A hat tip to Andrew for his comment on an earlier post.

UNISON's Scottish Council has proposed co-ordinated national strike action against cuts and has also called upon all local authorities to set "needs" budgets which put meeting social need ahead of complying with local government law.

More than twenty years ago another Tory Government experimented with reactionary policies in Scotland - and the Scottish anti-poll tax movement showed the way to the rest of us (and we brought down Thatcher).

This time it's good to see the Scottish innovation coming proactively from the right (left) side of the class struggle.

General Secretary, Dave Prentis, was at Scottish Council to hear all this. Let's hope that the same radicalism can guide UNISON's NEC this coming Wednesday.
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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Baby steps to national action?

I have been promoting locally UNISON's call to our members to lobby Members of Parliament in opposition to cuts in our pensions which are being introduced at the end of March, and some comrades have (understandably) bemoaned the timidity of our national leadership in making such a limited call upon members to take action.

However, I notice that a similar call has been made by the National Union of Teachers, a union which has shown the way in making an "in principle" commitment to balloting for national strike action on this issue.

PCS are calling an indicative ballot, rather than an industrial action ballot, in defence of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (and have also asked members to lobby MPs).

If we do believe that national trade unions, confronting national attacks, should consider and prepare for national action then we need to lead members forward in steps as large as we can, and as small as we must.

There are still some on the wilder wing of the movement who prefer to promote "guerilla struggle" as if this were an alternative to national action. Of course limited action by strong sections must and will take place, but on its own it will do no more than protect pockets of strength and organisation.

We need national action if we want to do more than simply mitigate the worst of the coming cuts, and we need to recognise that every call for action from the top is an opportunity for agitation on the ground.

Making the rich pay

It’s great to see protest on the streets about tax evasion today.

UNISON’s alternative budget pointed out that “significant sums could be raised without affecting the incomes of the majority if we made sure the financial sector and the super-rich paid a fairer share”. Our sister union PCS has also been backing tax justice campaigning for some time.

With a ConDem Coalition Government entirely in hock to the tax dodging super rich, it is up to the people to try to make sure that those who can afford to do so pay their way. Nonviolent direct action can get a point across – and UK Uncut are showing what needs to be done. (Old lefties like myself may even have to forgive Polly Toynbee for the SDP if she keeps getting carried out of high street stores by security guards…)

Many trade unionists may not be in a position to superglue ourselves to windows – but we can mobilise mass popular support for the cause advocated by those taking the direct action (and fundraise for the legal defence that they will inevitably need). Why should our services be cut whilst the wealthy keep making profits that aren’t fairly taxed?

Save EMA - take action

Good to see UNISON promoting Save EMA day on Monday 13 December.

The campaign to save Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) deserves the support of all trade unionists and working people – EMA is a weekly allowance for low paid teenagers continuing in education. In 2009/10 some 635,000 learners received at least one EMA payment, and around 80 per cent of those the full £30. These are not well-off families: the maximum payment is only paid to those with total household incomes of less than £20,817 in 2009/10. (Source – NUS).

You would think that Parliamentarians would understand the need for a bit of cash help to cope. Even after massive reductions, MPs claimed £3.1m in expenses in the first four months after the general election – and there are one thousand times fewer MPs than there are learners in receipt of EMA.

Last Wednesday week I was struck by the support for EMA at Lambeth College, where we collected 400 signatures at lunch time from existing students, the great majority of whom will not themselves be hit by this. I hope that UNISON branches across our Service Groups will respond to the call for action on 13 December.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Lobby your MP - don't cut our pensions!

I'm always pleased to see fellow UNISON NEC members blogging - particularly when its our Chair of Policy reporting on some positive action to defend our pensions (http://unisonactive.blogspot.com/2010/12/lobby-your-mp-to-fight-cpi-switch.html).

UNISON is asking our members to lobby MPs to support reversing the Government's decision - announced by the Chancellor in June - to uprate pensions (and benefits and tax credits) in line with the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rather than the Retail Prices Index (RPI) from next April.

Here is the link to the UNISON site with a model letter for MPs (http://www.unison.org.uk/pensions/pages_view.asp?did=12156).

And here is the link to the Early Day Motion (EDM 1032) so you can see if your MP has signed up yet (http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=42021&SESSION=905).

I'm pleased to see that we are finally taking this action. As I was saying on Monday (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2010/11/pensions-time-for-leadership.html) the question of the national attack upon all our pensions calls for forthright national leadership.

This is a start.
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