Monday, March 28, 2011

Consequences of Saturday

I don't think it's true that it was Mao who, when asked what were the consequences of the French Revolution, said that it was too early to say (perhaps regular readers Sid and Doris Hoxha can advise if I am right?)

However it may be a little soon to assess all the consequences of Saturday's completely brilliant TUC demonstration.

On the negative side of the balance sheet, today's Evening Standard exemplifies the authoritarian narrative that "something must be done" about disorder (which will constrain the right to protest).

Keith Vaz - with all the political sense of a flattended hedgehog with a high opinion of itself - is using his position as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee to fan flames intended to incinerate our civil rights.

The truth is that even the laudable and sensible actions of UK Uncut were marginal on Saturday, when what really happened was that the trade union movement - and UNISON in particular - saw our potential strength.

The trivial political intervention of an even more marginal fringe whose politics matter less than their personality disorders was an irrelevance of service only to those on the other side of politics who share their contempt for organised labour.

Whilst we must both contest any attempt to infringe upon our rights, and defend those arrested (particularly those pursuing the sensible nonviolent politics of UK Uncut - but also those dragged along by adrenalin and inexperience behind people whose political programme can only be expressed in a flash and a loud bang) it is much more important that we focus on - and encourage - the positive consequences of Saturday's incredible turnout.

In our UNISON branches we must engage with the hundreds who will have demonstrated in order to draw them into greater organisation and activity.

I can't be the only Branch Secretary who returned to work today to more work than it is possible to do to deal with cuts, redundancies and privatisation. We need to draw those who marched on Saturday further into activity in the workplace. In this way we can enable ourselves to organise in the face of these challenges and raise the morale and combativity of our members, which will be essential if we are to build effective action against cuts.

At a national level the consequences of Saturday are at least equally important. Our leaders must draw confidence from the strong response to the call to demonstrate and must take the risk of calling for, and supporting, further action.

The fact that Dave Prentis (together with Christine Blower and Mark Serwotka) will address Wednesday lunchtime's rally in support of the strike against cuts by UNISON and NUT in Tower Hamlets (http://falseeconomy.org.uk/campaigns/event/tower-hamlets-demo-march-nut-and-unison-on-strike-against-the-cuts) is an important straw in the wind now beginning to blow against the Coalition Government and their cuts.

The consequences of Saturday are for us to determine.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nearly there! And then?

In the midst of the busiest time I can remember in our branch office, with a constant stream of redundancy consultation, enlivened by the odd (and in one case very odd) privatisation, we seem to have distributed thousands upon thousands of postcards for Saturday's demonstration. From what I see and hear it seems that this is a story that could be repeated hundreds of times by UNISON Branch Secretaries up and down the country.



Today's eight page UNISON pullout in the Daily Mirror was an excellent piece of work which shows what can be done (let's hope the Mirror can be persuaded to be as helpful when we are explaining and justifying strike action to defend our pensions.)



We need hundreds of thousands on Saturday - and then we need to give our members and supporters things to do next. Action to support the NHS on 1 April is the next target date - but strike action to defend pensions is the next big challenge.



26 March needs to be a great achievement - but it has to be the start, not the culmination of our campaign.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Students support strikers!

Good news via the LRC that students at Goldsmiths have occupied in support of today's UCU strike action (http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/solidarity-with-ucu-strike/).



UCU are taking action in defence of jobs and pensions with today's English action following action in Wales, Scotland and Ireland - and leading to UK wide action on Thursday.



I have no doubt that trade unionists are most likely to find the confidence to support - and take - industrial action when this is organised nationally on a scale to match the scale of the attacks against us.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

A wise minority

So only 13 Members of Parliament (plus two tellers) opposed the war on Libya. Sometimes those who see through lies and jingoism find ourselves in a small minority – I remember marching against the Falklands war.

A hat tip to the Grauniad for giving us the roll of honour of those able to hold the line against a tide of jingo - Tory John Baron (Basildon & Billericay); Labour MPs Graham Allen (Nottingham North), Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), Barry Gardiner (Brent North), Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Hall Green), John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington), Linda Riordan (Halifax), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover), Mike Wood (Batley & Spen); Green Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) and SDLP MPs Mark Durkan (Foyle) and Margaret Ritchie (Down South). Labour's Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) and Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) acted as tellers for the noes.

Well done in particular to the Socialist Campaign Group and Labour Representation Committee MPs who have stood firm.

For a good summary of the arguments against this latest act of imperialist aggression I recommend the blog of my friend and comrade Owen Jones.

Looking on the bright side, since we have millions of pounds to spend on an unanticipated war then obviously we won’t be needing all these public spending cuts.

Mind you I think I’ll still go on the demonstration next Saturday

"Baroness backs rich" shock

Somebody who is a Baroness (whatever that is) has contributed some ramblings to a tatty freesheet this evening making the case for tax cuts for the better off (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/markets/article-23933876-cutting-50-percent-tax-would-throw-a-lifeline-to-london.do).



Apparently the 50% tax rate is a disincentive to "footloose" international companies to create wealth here in London.



It may be that I am an antediluvian, unreconstructed Bennite from another era, but I would just as soon not share the city with the greedy shysters who think only of themselves and resent paying a fair whack for public services which could save their life.



Apart from anything else a lot of these "footlose" money makers actually make money out of moving money in a financial services sector whose dominance over the UK economy has helped to ensure two generations of decline of the really productive economy.



They presumably include the "merchant banker" recently sacked for waving a tenner at demonstrators protesting at cuts.



The suggestion that tax cuts for the rich will encourage growth and job creation is a risible contribution to debate on a serious topic. Private sector growth would be far more likely to be encouraged by public spending on goods and services in the UK, both directly and through "multiplier" effects.



Indeed, the "balanced budget multiplier" suggests that an increase in public spending, balanced by an equivalent tax increase, would provide a modest boost to growth, since public spending will predominantly be in the domestic economy whereas the impact of a tax increase will be a smaller reduction in domestic demand as this will be accompanied by reductions in savings and in expenditure on imports.



So on the whole I think we should be fighting not just to keep the 50% tax band but to increase it - and perhaps with a surcharge for those with titles? A "Baroness" (and "Baron") surchage of 10%, with higher surcharges for more elevated titles up to 30% for an Earl or Countess?

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Nuclear Power - still no thanks!

As an old 80s leftist I still have in my loft somewhere the old "Nuclear Power? No Thanks!" Badge which I mistakenly put away after Chernobyl when I thought that no one would be daft enough to press ahead with such an obviously dangerous means of generating electricity.



25 years on, CND are organising a meeting in Parliament to make the case against new nuclear power stations (http://www.cnduk.org/index.php/201103141010/press-releases/nuclear-power/suspend-nuclear-new-build-calls-cnd.html).



Opponents of nuclear power shouldn't scaremonger - but then we don't need to. The nuclear industry has a very strong safety culture and, as a result, a good track record - however, as Fukushima shows, the actual and potential consequences of events which (whilst unlikely) can happen means that the risk is too great.



There is no safe level of exposure to radiation and low level exposure to large populations, whilst posing a small additional risk to each individual, can produce thousands of avoidable early deaths.



The nuclear industry arose from a programme to create weapons of mass destruction but is kept alive by powerful vested interests. Alternatives such as energy conservation don't create countervailing centres of power and wealth - and the influence of the nuclear lobby extends well into the trade union movement.



UNISON does have an anti-nuclear position (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2006/07/is-unison-anti-nuclear-union.html). The challenge facing those of us who would like to press this policy forward will now be to draft appropriate amendments to motions on the Preliminary Agenda for National Delegate Conference.





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Caveat emptor

It's striking that the energy regulator, Ofgem, is set to introduce simpler tariffs for fuel prices because competition in the supply of fuel fails to deliver value for consumers (whilst the firms rake in excess profits)(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/business-12802591).



This should give pause for thought to the residue of Blairite detritus clogging up the Labour Party - never mind the Thatcherites now running the country.



Those who believe that competition in the delivery of public services can raise quality need to consider how it is that the market for energy fails to deliver for consumers.



After all, a unit of energy is - in principle - interchangeable with any other, its one of the simplest of commodities for a consumer to understand.



Yet, given an oligopolistic market structure, the profit motive dictates product differentiation to enable non-price competition.



If you look at markets which already exist, for private education or private healthcare for example, you see a similar market structure which will tend to produce similar outcomes.



The theoretical efficacy of the market as a mechanism for resource allocation (the idea underpinning belief in competition from Thatcher, via Blair, to Cameron and Lansley) depends upon informed consumers maximising value for money in a competitive marketplace.



If it hasn't worked for gas and electricity it certainly won't work for schools and hospitals! See you in London on Saturday to defend the public services we still have.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bloody Hypocrites bomb Libya

Our Prime Minister walks out of his front door to tell us that military attacks on Libya are necessary, legal and right. He's a bloody hypocrite. President Obama says "we can't stand idly by" but idle standing is the order of the day elsewhere.

In Bahrain the regime, backed by troops from the democratic bastion of Saudi Arabia, butchers civilians on the streets - and is condemned by the international trade union movement - but all I hear from Downing Street is silence. (Although the FCO have travel advice...)

In Yemen security forces slaughter civilian protestors and again the international trade union movement protests - while William Hague has found enough mojo to condemn this - the "international community" is not driven to take action.

Libya under its current leadership is no haven of workers' rights - there are no genuine independent trade unions. This is why the international trade union movement had to step up and put pressure on the multinational oil companies who have had profitable dealings with the current regime.

However, the cruise missiles paid for from our taxes (for those of us who pay our taxes - unlike many large companies) are not tools to open up freedom in Libya. They are killing Libyan people this evening and they are doing so on our behalf. Working people in Libya killed by our weapons will no more be available to build a democratic Libya than will those killed by the Libyan regime.

Lobby your MP to sign Early Day Motion 1565 and support, if you can, tomorrow's protest, 3pm at Downing Street.

No to military intervention

It's all too easy to get carried away with the compelling narrative about the need to protect civilians from a bloodthirsty dictator and his goons.



However, as the Stop the War Coalition point out (http://stopwar.org.uk/content/view/2299/27/) that's not what a western military intervention is all about. As Jeremy Corbyn asked - and David Cameron didn't answer, where's the protection for civilians in Bahrain or Yemen (http://world.caledonianmercury.com/2011/03/18/cameron-upbeat-on-libya-despite-the-doubts-and-the-ghosts-of-iraq/001365)?



Where is the international concern about strife in the Ivory Coast? Where, for that matter, was the UN Security Council when Israel bombarded Gaza?



The point of these questions is not to say that there should, necessarily, be western intervention anywhere else - nor to say that because the world powers often ignore suffering and injustice they should do so consistently.



The point is that the "international community" in the persons of the leaders of the Western nations in particular acts to protect the interests of an economic system, and of the multinational corporations which are central to that system. Those interests aren't the interests of the people of Libya, any more than they are the interests of working class people in the UK.



David Cameron may be able to rely upon the jingoism of the liberal interventionists on the Opposition front bench, but socialists in the workers' movement need to express opposition to western military involvement in Libya - or elsewhere.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lecturers fire the starting pistol in pensions fight

UCU members will be striking in opposition to attacks on pensions (http://lhu.web.ucu.org.uk/2011/03/15/uk-wide-strikes-in-colleges-and-universities-over-pensions-pay-and-jobs-on-24-march/).

They deserve an A* at least for getting things moving in relation to the dispute we can win against the Tory Government.

As an activist dealing daily with the forced diet of cuts and redundancies imposed upon us by the Coalition Government it is - at least initially - counter-intuitive that I should be thinking so much about an attack which will hit many of us hardest in decades to come.

The immediate issue in our faces is certainly the impact of the devastating cuts and job losses imposed by the Tories - and sadly implemented by Labour Councillors who wrongly believe their role as administrators of a sliver of the state is more important than their role as leaders of the local working class.

As I write this, workers up and down the country are returning home to tell families and dependents that they don't know how they'll pay their bills when the redundancy pay runs out. Branch by branch, department by department, shop by shop our best trade union activists are engaged in a fighting retreat as the Coalition's "guerilla war" against public services takes its toll.

We are losing. Jobs are going. Services are being hit and hit hard.

It is precisely because these savage cuts are quite the most important question to confront us that we must focus instead upon public service pensions as the key issue around which a national fight can take place.

There is no possibility - in local government where the cuts fall hardest - of a national dispute against cuts and job losses.

There is, however, every prospect of a series of national trade disputes over pensions leading to co-ordinated action by more workers than have ever taken action together in this country.

A defeat for the Tories on this issue would weaken them - and strengthen us - in every other battle. The defence of jobs and services depends now on the defence of pensions.

UCU have raised a torch which now illuminates the way forward for every trade union.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Her Majesty's Equivocation?

I foolishly thought the job of "Her Majesty's Opposition" was to oppose.



As Labour renegade Lord Hutton published his report which put the icing on the cake which public service pensioners will, in future, neither have nor eat (http://cdn.hm-treasury.gov.uk/hutton_final_100311.pdf), the "Opposition" responded in less than forthright terms;



"We will need to examine the proposals carefully alongside the government's detailed response."



(http://www.labour.org.uk/a-second-squeeze-for-public-sector-workers---eagle,2011-03-10).



Thanks for that Angela Eagle! Admiring the prudence of that statement will help take my mind off my pension falling in value by 20% in three weeks time.



Luckily, as Compass give up on the fight for a Labour Party worthy of the name (http://www.labourlist.org/compass-hit-by-spate-of-resignations), the Labour Representation Committee is on hand with a model motion for your Labour Party branch meeting (http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/lrc-calls-on-labour-leadership-to-oppose-hutton-proposals/).



The major battle ground in the fight to defend our pensions will be the picket lines and the streets - however we will need advocates in Parliament - and the least we must demand of the Parliamentary Labour Party is unequivocal opposition to the attack on public service pensions.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pensions - know your enemy

As widely trailed Hutton wants us to pay more for less pension and work longer (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/business-12687489).

Dave Prentis is spot on in criticising this attack upon the retirement income of public servants whilst bankers enjoy their bonuses. I for one wouldn't worry so much about my defined benefit pension if I had an annual bonus of several million pounds!

This is the issue on which we must now prepare to fight. As Dave said to the last NEC, this may well require a sustained battle (with sustainable tactics). One day won't necessarily bring the Government round (let alone down!)

In this battle we will come face to face with our real enemies - not just Cameron and Osborne (and their little Liberal helpers) but the class they serve. John Cridland of the CBI let's several cats out of bags in today's Grauniad (http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/09/public-sector-pensions-pensions?cat=commentisfree&type=article) when he says;

"Pension reforms will also help the prime minister's "big society" programme to really get off the ground. Public sector pensions remain the biggest barrier to the private and third sectors providing public services. Pension costs and liabilities are far higher for providers outside the public sector. When third sector and private sector organisations currently bid for work they have to be able to cover the full cost of public sector pension liabilities, and many simply do not have the money to do so. Conversely, public sector employers make an artificially low contribution to pensions, which are subsidised by the taxpayer. This puts a brake on competition and makes it harder for those in the private sector to bid for public service contracts."

Our pensions - the promise we were made when we chose public service - are an obstacle to Mr Cridland and his members taking over our jobs so they can reap "shareholder value" from public funds.

The attack upon public service pensions is part and parcel of the Tory offensive against the Welfare State. It is driven by the desire of big business to make profits out of the delivery of public services - profits which will be made at the expense of our pay and conditions and to the detriment of the services we work to provide.

We face attacks across a wide front - benefits, the NHS, spending cuts, the pay freeze. It is in relation to pensions that we can mount a counter offensive to defeat the likes of Cridland and the politicians who carry out the will of his members in the CBI.

The leaders of our unions now face the challenge of their lifetimes - to coordinate widespread industrial action to defeat a determined Government.

Union activists need to make sure our members appreciate what the Government is doing to our pensions, why we will be right to fight them and how we can win.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Pensions - we are all in this together?

The National Association of Pension Funds say that we are in the end game for final salary pensions in the private sector (http://m.guardian.co.uk/money/2011/mar/09/private-sector-final-salary-pensions-closing?cat=money&type=article) the day before Lord Hutton is expected to declare "game over" in the public sector.

Half a century ago Titmuss (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Titmuss) described the threefold "social division of welfare" as having the following elements;

"1. social welfare (the social services);
2. fiscal welfare (welfare distributed through the tax system); and
3. occupational welfare (welfare distributed by industry as part of employment)"

The purpose of this classification at the time was to broaden the field of enquiry of students of social policy and administration so that they saw beyond the Welfare State, simply conceived as state welfare, and studied the interaction between these different redistributive mechanisms.

Now that we face a Government which is determined to roll back the gains which Titmuss studied it is worth remembering this model in order to understand the interaction between these elements of the social division of welfare as redistribution goes into reverse.

Pensions from the employer - whether in the private or public sector - are elements of what Titmuss called "occupational welfare" and as these are rolled back (or abandoned in despair as workers opt out) what remains are the state pensions ("social welfare").

In the immediate term the important question about pensions is how quickly we can deliver widespread national strike action to defeat the Tory Government.

In the longer term we need to imagine an alternative model of pension provision (going beyond arguments about how many funds the LGPS is split into or who can vote about where funded schemes invest, as important as these questions are).

Even at its best the social democratic postwar settlement delivered (gendered) inequality and stratification - in part because of the social division of welfare. We need something more to fight for than the status quo even as we fight to defend what we have.

Should we fight for a basic income which would provide a living pension for all - or does that let employers off the hook of providing decent occupational pensions? Should we require a minimum standard of defined benefit provision as a statutory minimum (like the minimum wage) or would that floor become a ceiling too? Should we demand the state provides pensions for all on a "pay as you go" basis and require employers - and employees - to contribute (a bit like SERPS)? Or should we campaign to open up admitted body status in the LGPS to provide a public sector pension option for private sector workers?

We had better not wait for Her Majesty's Opposition to work out a policy or we'll be here forever. Trade unionists need to take a lead.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Important reminders for UNISON Branches

As a chronically disorganised individual, I am amongst those who find the administrative routine of the Union challenging at the best of times. In these times of cuts and redundancies it's even harder.



I am therefore indebted to a UNISON comrade for his help with an important part of the annual routine - the submission of the annual branch financial returns.

(http://lawatwork.blogspot.com/2011/03/deadline-for-branch-returns.html).



As Nick points out, every UNISON Branch must submit financial returns by 15 March.



There are some other things every branch must do. Every branch must hold an Annual General Meeting by 31 March (UNISON Rule G.3.2). Every branch must organise annual elections of branch officers (UNISON Rule G.4.1.2).



These rules apply equally to branches under regional supervision.



It's tough having to keep up with all this routine detail at the same time as organising the defence of hundreds of jobs - but that's the job of those responsible for the running of UNISON branches.



(London local government branches should also remember Thursday's deadline for nominations for the Regional Local Government Committee Annual General Meeting.)

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Women workers and the cuts - an unfinished case study

I was hoping today to hear more from an employer by way of justification about the apparently discriminatory impact of some specific spending cuts proposals to which I referred last week (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2011/03/unequal-cuts.html).



International Women's Day might after all had been a good day for an explanation of the statistically significant over representation of women workers amongst those at risk of redundancy in a particular department (and an explanation which went beyond the observation that more women are at risk because the employer is deleting more of the jobs which are disproportionately done by women). Unfortunately our union branch was still waiting for a response when I left the office.



Where employers have a gender equality duty it can't be right that this can be discharged simply by the preparation of an equality impact assessment if nothing is then done when a disproportionate impact is assessed. Pressing ahead with a restructure which falls more heavily upon women must surely amount to indirect discrimination?



To say that women are hit harder in a restructure because the organisation is choosing to delete more of the jobs mostly done by women begs the question of why management value those jobs less highly.



In the face of the tidal wave of redundancy consultation information engulfing rank and file lay trade union activists at present, today is a particularly good day to remember that fighting for equality and against discrimination must remain central to our defence of public services and our opposition to cuts.



Solidarity on International Women's Day!

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Competition will make us sick

An entire generation of public service managers who learned their craft under Thatcher, Major and Blair have had it drummed into them that competition in the delivery of public services is good. It's been part of teaching public servants to despise our deviant desire to devote working lives to doing good rather than to the more honourable pursuit of shareholder value.

For many of these managers - and of course for those politicians for whom managerialism is a faith - the very word "competition" has now almost achieved the status of "flexible" or "modern" as a self-evident good requiring neither explanation or justification.

That's why the Tory Coalition have been able to get the knife of the Health and Social Care Bill so close to the throat of the National Health Service - and why it is so important that the chairman of the British Medical Association's Consultants' Committee has spoken out (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/mar/06/nhs-reforms-health-bill-compete). He exposes why market competition won't improve health care.

That it takes a medical doctor to try to educate politicians about economics says a lot about the laziness of the advocates of capitalism in the twenty years since they declared the end of history (and the weakness and marginalisation of those of us who think otherwise).

To the extent that there is an economic argument for competition it is that "economically rational" and informed consumers able to make decisions about the purchase of commodities will, by seeking the best value for their money, continually drive producers to improve quality and/or cut costs.

Health care is not a commodity in respect of which many of us can be informed consumers. Judging in advance the likely quality of a hernia operation or a course of chemotherapy isn't like weighing up how ripe the bananas are in Brixton market!

So whilst it is a good thing that the Government is backing off on the suggestion that competition on price will be part of the post-NHS system (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2201) the problem remains competition on any grounds. It won't improve the quality of the service because the conditions which can enable "the invisible hand" of the market to do that cannot exist in relation to health care.

The real purpose of the Health and Social Care Bill has, of course, nothing to do with improving either health or social care, but with opening up ever more areas of service provision to the opportunity for the making of private profit.

Follow UNISON's campaign online at http://www.unison.org.uk/ournhs/takingAction.asp. Another excellent campaigning resource is at http://www.healthemergency.org.uk/.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Personal report of February 2011 NEC

This is a personal report from the February meeting of UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC) which I have circulated to London UNISON Branches. An official report is available online. (http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/pages_view.asp?did=12545).

Conference Motions and Rule Amendments

The NEC agreed a number of Motions for Conference, these came from the following NEC Committees and dealt with the following topics;

Development and Organisation
· Educate and Organise
· Organising

Finance and Resource Management
· Branch Funding

International
· International campaign against public service cuts
· Palestine

Policy Development and Campaigns
· Abolition of the Two Tier Code
· Attacks on Health and Safety
· Cuts to Benefits and Welfare
· The Economy –Cuts are not the cure
· Education
· Future of Local Government Services
· Our NHS Our Future
· Public Services

The motion on Branch Funding recommends a review of the system of branch funding agreed by Conference in 2001, to involve consultation throughout the Union and it was reported that it is hoped that the Standing Orders Committee will timetable this motion so that it does not need to be the subject of the prioritisation process. If any branch can’t wait for the publication of the Preliminary Agenda to see the text of any of these motions as they were put before the NEC please let me know.

The NEC also agreed Rule Amendments for Conference. These include an amendment to Rule I which was meant to be submitted to Conference last year, facilitating action against members of far right organisations such as the British National Party, and an amendment placing a time limit (of five years) on the disciplinary sanction of a ban on holding office under our Rules.

The NEC will also be proposing a new Schedule F to the Rule Book on Branch Finance which Branch Treasurers will no doubt want to have a good look at.

Defending Public Services – March 26th and the Fighting Fund

The NEC received a detailed report on national campaigning in defence of public services and preparations for the TUC demonstration on 26 March, which I will attach to this report. Keep up to date with UNISON’s campaigning at http://www.unison.org.uk/million/ and about the 26 March demonstration at http://www.unison.org.uk/26march/.

There was a serious discussion about how to encourage members to attend the demonstration and about the practicalities.

The NEC also received a report about the £20 Million “fighting fund” announced in December.

£5.5 Million is in a General Fighting Fund to support organising and industrial work. Somewhat disappointingly the process and criteria for submitting bids had still not been worked out at the time of the NEC meeting.

A further £4.5 Million will be used to fund political campaigns under the auspices of the General Political Fund Committee. Again we were told that “separate guidance will be issued.”

£10 Million will remain in the Industrial Action Fund to support branches taking industrial action (which is where it was and what it was for before we announced it was part of a fighting fund).

General Secretary’s Report – Pensions

Dave Prentis opened his report by referring to the issue of pensions. The introduction to the discussion by General Secretary Dave Prentis was markedly more left wing than the written report circulated before the meeting, in that he referred repeatedly to the prospect of industrial action, a topic which was largely absent from the report.

Dave's focus on the need for national strike action to defend public service pensions found an echo across the NEC.

I was particularly interested in contributions from colleagues in the health service who made the point that, in recent years, the "pay as you go" (unfunded) NHS pension scheme has routinely taken in more in contributions than it has paid out in pensions.

Far from basking in the reflected glow of so-called "gold plated" pensions, low-paid health workers have been subsidising the Treasury by paying in more than is required to pay the (hardly generous) pensions of retired colleagues. Yet the Government want to levy an average 3% "increased pension contribution" or (as West Midlands NEC member James Anthony put it) a 3% tax for working in the public sector.

In the case of the (funded) Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) the Treasury are carrying out this theft from the (largely low paid) members of the scheme by taking £900 Million away from local authorities in England and Wales - increased contributions will be needed to cover this shortfall which has been deliberately created by an act of pension vandalism by the Tories.

Even the Tory-dominated local authority employers are up in arms about this theft - which could see an exodus of scheme members, threatening a massive future bill for future means-tested benefits and worsening pensioner poverty for a generation.

All of this comes on top of an estimated 15% reduction in the value of our pensions as a result of the decision, announced in June, to uprate pensions from April in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than Retail Price Index (RPI).

And - of course - we are still awaiting the Hutton report. Dave reported that he had met twice with Hutton to press the case for decent public service pensions, but that there was no knowing what would be recommended or whether the Government would go along with whatever was recommended.

There is no doubt that if we can communicate effectively to our members the scale of the attack upon our pensions we can win overwhelming support for united national industrial action.

There are practical and logistical difficulties - and Dave Prentis said that it is because of these that UNISON is arguing for a later date for the commencement of action than are some other unions. (However, I would add, we overcame these difficulties in 2006 to defend the LGPS and we can do so again.)

I argued at the NEC that the welcome tone of Dave's report was long overdue and that we now need to move as swiftly as possible.

Every cut, every redundancy, shifts the balance of power incrementally away from us and in favour of the Tories - yet at the same time the infant Coalition Government are still finding their feet (as demonstrated most recently by the U turn on the forests).

Equal Pay

The NEC received an update on recent legal cases relating to Equal Pay. Additional funding for equal pay work has ceased and Regions are now covering work on equal pay from their mainstream resources.

Organising Report

UNISON membership rose by 1.5% in 2010. In order to grow by 20,000 the Union had to recruit 163,000, a quarter of whom (41,000) joined online.

UNISON’s Finances

As at the date of the NEC meeting the Union was looking at a surplus of £11.2 Million as against a budgeted surplus of just £1.5 Million. This is due in equal measure to subscription income being higher than expected and to underspending.

Staffing Report

It was reported that UNISON have offered our staff a 1% pay rise which is being considered by the trade union side, and that Karen Jennings had been appointed as the fifth Assistant General Secretary.

Disciplinary Report

As the NEC meeting had been lobbied, at the start of the meeting by members supporting the four London UNISON members banned from holding office in a recent high profile case, I had asked the advice of officers before the meeting about when it would be appropriate to ask about how UNISON would decide whether or not to appeal a recent tribunal decision arising from that case.

I had been advised to raise the issue at this point on the agenda. I anticipated, based upon advice I had been given, that the Deputy General Secretary would then have advised that this was not a matter for the NEC as a whole but that a decision would be taken by the Presidential Team.

In the event another member of the NEC successfully moved “next business” at this point so that the Deputy General Secretary did not get to give that explanation – and the NEC failed to endorse recommendations on current disciplinary action set out in the report before it.

As ever, if any London branch would like to see any of the (non-confidential) papers considered by the NEC, or would like a verbal report back to your branch or Branch Committee please get in touch to j.rogers@unison.co.uk.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Legal victory puts strike action back on track

A good day for workers in court for once today with the news that the RMT and ASLEF have won in the Court of Appeal.

I haven’t seen the full judgement but it is clear that the scope given to employers by recent case law to frustrate democratic decisions to take strike action has now been restricted somewhat.

This doesn’t mean that UNISON branches and activists can relax. We still need to make our membership records as accurate as they can be if we want to be able to ballot for action, sectionally, locally or nationally.

However, since the main argument for delaying coordinated strike action against the attack on our pensions has been that we must make sure our membership records are up to date for the ballot, this case must mean that the balance of argument has shifted in favour of earlier action.

This is a good thing since the sooner we take action the stronger we will be and the better our chance of a satisfactory outcome.

Full marks to our transport union colleagues for pursuing legal action in the interests of the movement as a whole.

I hope that UNISON will show similar courage in following Hogg –v- Dover in supporting cases against employers attacking our members’ conditions of service – particularly in those branches where Regional officials have taken on the running of the branch!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Unequal cuts

Cuts don't fall evenly - and one institutional consequence of social progress over the past generation are the Equality Impact Assessments which now accompany proposals for redundancies and service cuts.



Working with an employer which applies the right test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisher's_exact_test) to data illustrating the differential impact of redundancies it is possible to identify reorganisation proposals which have a (statistically significant) disproportionate impact on, for example, women workers.



The question then though is, as ever, what is to be done when this is found. Yesterday a union colleague and I were confronted with a tautological explanation of gender inequality in a redundancy situation. More women face redundancy, we were told, because we are cutting more of the jobs mostly done by women.



What then do we do with all these public sector equality duties? Can we win an argument that ploughing ahead in such circumstances is unlawful indirect discrimination? Will politicians who have committed to a cuts budget step make from discriminatory outcomes arising from that decision?



We shall see...

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