Thursday, May 26, 2011

Save Our Services

I was sorry that I could not attend the Assembly called last Saturday by Lambeth Save Our Services, but am pleased to be able to link to this report of this important event (http://lambethsaveourservices.org/2011/05/23/lambeth-save-our-services-launches-people%E2%80%99s-assembly/).



Our welfare state faces an existential threat from a reactionary Government with greater confidence than any since the franchise was extended equally. As trade unionists we face an unprecedented challenge and desperately need the support of local communities to fight attacks on our jobs - and on the services we work to provide.



I am full of admiration for the work of comrades in my UNISON Branch who have worked to build Lambeth Save Our Services - and commend their example to comrades in other branches.



We need an industrial strategy to complement opposition to cuts in services - and that has to mean that we don't collude with the implementation of reductions in services.

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Make the wealthy pay

Full marks to UNISON's sister union, PCS for promoting and supporting this Saturday's actions by UK Uncut (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/328CB306-CC6F-49FB-AD50E7A095A95664).



UK Uncut activists - shamefully singled out for political punishment by the Metropolitan Police on 26 March - will be occupying banks to highlight the cost of the bank bailout and the need for tax justice.



This nonviolent direct action is an effective answer to the question "what is your alternative?" - and one which is entirely consistent with UNISON policy. With the Labour leadership still imprisoned in a fiscal straitjacket of their own design, the trade unions should be lending our full weight to campaigns which illustrate the alternative to spending cuts and attacks upon pay, conditions and pensions.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The dog that didn't bark

Today, at ULU in Malet Street, dogs did not bark and caravans failed to move on as the UNISON Greater London Regional Council failed to attract a quorum.

I see that this has attracted some online comment – some balanced and some not.

It is, of course, absurd that we had an inquorate meeting at what is the busiest time for our trade union in twenty years (at least!) We had hardly more than half the 87 delegates we needed.

I’m sorry to have to say that, whereas the lack of a quorum at every meeting of our Regional Council (apart from the AGM) since 2005 could have been attributable to apathy and an inability to inspire members, the lack of a quorum today was the obvious result of a deliberate decision for which our Regional Council officers are accountable (if not responsible).

At the recent – excellent and useful – briefing for representatives from London branches, it was announced that the next briefing would be on the afternoon of Wednesday 25 May. Had that announcement been carried through, given that there were 150 odd branch representatives at the last briefing, we would likely have had a quorate meeting of our Regional Council. I assumed that this is what the Regional leadership wanted, because we can all see that the challenges facing our trade union are unprecedented.

However, by the time we got to the Regional Committee we were informed that the briefing had been moved to Wednesday 1 June (during half term week). The justification for this change (availability of speakers) was risible. We do not need outside speakers for any briefing or meeting at the present time. A Union of 1.3 Million members has, within our own ranks, every skill we need to respond to the challenges we face. It might be nice to invite Ken Livingstone to speak to us, but it adds little to the work we have to do (and all sensible UNISON members need no persuasion or encouragement to work for Ken's election!)

Amongst the Rules breached by those accountable for the decision to reverse the coordination of the branch briefing and the Regional Council are Rules B.2.1, B.2.2, and B.2.5. Regular readers of this blog, Sid and Doris Left-Oppositionist, will recall previous criticism of our Regional Office which is entirely supported and reinforced by this regrettable episode.

When our problem was a reactionary New Labour Government which let our movement down it was merely an irritation that decisions about the most important trade union in the most important city in the country were in the hands of those with a bizarre obsession rooted in some of the nastier history of the former Soviet Union (and its satellites).

Now that our problem is that the Tories are set on destroying the Welfare State, we really cannot tolerate the deliberate undermining of our democratic structures. UNISON members need us to take our union seriously and treat it with the respect that our Regional Council officers failed to show when they agreed to move the branch briefing away from the date on which it would have ensured a quorum at the Regional Council.

UNISON branches in London must ensure that they send delegates to the October Regional Council - and submit motions by the deadline of Thursday 8 September. Branch briefings are all very well (indeed they are very useful). However, we also need meetings at Regional level at which lay representatives, elected by ordinary members, set policy and determine actions on behalf of our members. Briefings at which we are told what to do are no substitute for meetings at which we decide what to do.

An important amendment was made to Rule B.2.2 at National Delegate Conference 1994 and we need continually to assert that ours is a member-led union. I hope that those who take decisions in the UNISON Greater London Region have a change of heart before that is imposed upon them by the circumstances we now face.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What were they thinking?

A hat tip to Tony Greenstein for picking up on a report commissioned by a trade union which recommends privatisation.

The report includes recommendations that, "The Government should recognise that best practice is for contractors to have a presence in job centres," and that "The Government should robustly monitor the sub-contracting market to ensure that competition and innovation are maximised."

No wonder I cannot find a link to the report from the home page of the union concerned.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Compromising situations

When I was trained to prepare and run tribunal cases by what we in UNISON call my "former partner union" it was the case that a worker could not contract out of their statutory rights.

An employer could only guarantee that they would not face litigation if they negotiated a settlement with the assistance of an ACAS Conciliation Officer. Employers making redundancies needed to be sure that they followed a fair procedure, as even workers who had taken relatively generous severance packages could bring claims for unfair dismissal, requiring the employer to show that they had behaved reasonably.

I have no sympathy for those who complain about the cost of tribunal proceedings - it's a small price to pay for employers to have to justify in public removing someone's means of earning a living.

However, as the decline in collective industrial action saw a corresponding rise in tribunal litigation, successive Governments have taken various steps to reduce the caseload of tribunals - all of them to the detriment of workers' interests.

One of the earliest such steps was the introduction - almost twenty years ago - of Compromise Agreements. These Agreements breach the principle that you can't contract out of your statutory rights and enable employers to bind and gag workers as they are dismissed, provided that certain requirements are met.

Provided that a worker has been advised by a solicitor before signing the Agreement, they can lawfully surrender all possible legal claims in return for whatever it is the employer is offering them.

I am deeply uncomfortable when public bodies routinely require Compromise Agreements as a quid pro quo for the most paltry enhancements to the miserable statutory minimum redundancy payments. It suggests that the employer has no confidence in the fairness of their own redundancy procedure. It also adds a cost of £350 plus VAT to each dismissal.

Where the Union - to help members gain access to what little severance they may be receiving - puts members in touch with our solicitors, we end up assisting in the administration of job losses which we ought to be resisting.

Given that an employer which believed itself to be acting fairly ought not to need to protect itself with Compromise Agreements with redundant employees, perhaps our Union ought not to be assisting in the administration of a process which is entirely about workers giving up their rights.

Perhaps we should campaign for the abolition of Compromise Agreements. If we believe that statutory entitlements should set a floor on which we seek to build better terms and conditions by collective bargaining then we should want to see a return of the principle that a worker cannot contract out of those statutory rights.

As uncomfortable as I am about what it says about dodgy employment practices when an employer seeks Compromise Agreements on an industrial scale, I am at least equally uncomfortable about our role as trade unionists in this Compromise Agreement industry.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Parallel roads to socialism?

Never afraid to hold unfashionable views, I believe that Labour Councils should refuse to implement Tory cuts.

I believe in UNISON's alternative budget - and therefore believe that there is no economic need for public spending cuts which do devastating social harm.

Since the deficit does not need to be reduced at the expense of those who rely upon public services (nor those who provide them) I think that UNISON should resist every cut.

It must follow from this that we call upon elected representatives not to make cuts. Except that we can't - or at least, that seems to be the national "line" (though I am not aware of any Conference policy which would support the views of our national officials).

It was today reported to the London Region Local Government Executive that the Head of Local Government had reported to the National Joint Council (NJC) Committee that we should encourage local authorities to draw up the budgets they would like to be implementing.

Rather than calling these "needs" budgets, these are now to be known as parallel budgets and - whilst we should press for them to be drawn up - we should certainly not campaign for their implementation, or so the Committee was reportedly told.

This somewhat confusing approach is consistent with the decisions of the Standing Orders Committees (SOCs) for both Local Government and National Delegate Conference to rule out of order motions - reflecting the policy of UNISON's Scottish Council - which called for UNISON to support elected representatives refusing to set "cuts" budgets.

The esteemed members of the SOCs have concluded that UNISON could be at risk of litigation from some unknown third party were we to call upon local Councillors to take action which would not even expose them to any risk of legal action!

If Councillors refused to set a balanced budget (because they found the requisite savaging of public services at the behest of the Tory Government unacceptable) they would find that their Chief Finance Officer would put a block on all discretionary spending until a Council meeting had taken place to consider her (or his) report on the matter. Were they to refuse to follow officers' advice such restrictions - and further meetings - could be repeated ad nauseam.

Ultimately, Councillors might find that the Government dug out legal powers to circumvent their opposition and implement cuts but - unlike in the 1980s when Councillors in Lambeth and Liverpool preferred to take risks themselves rather than impose those risks on the working people who had elected them - there would be no threat of surcharge.

Nevertheless, UNISON's SOCs have concluded that were our trade union to offer support to politicians refusing to make cuts we could be at risk of legal action. Some might think this an obviously implausible justification for a blatantly political decision not to permit our Conferences to have debates, the outcomes of which might embarrass the Labour leadership. I however know that UNISON SOCs just don't work that way and would never make such a suggestion. (Although I do question whether such decisions are truly consistent with Rule P).

What may be more troubling for our Union is the decision of the SOC for National Delegate Conference to rule out of order an amendment intending to promote precisely the policy of parallel budgets being advocated by our national officials. The SOC appear to have concluded that such an approach is either an attempt to pursue the "needs budget" approach by the back door, or that it is hopelessly confusing and therefore not competent.

Of course the only point of a parallel budget is to provide a campaigning tool for activists to frame demands upon politicians nationally and locally. A needs budget (or a "parallel" budget) is a basis to lobby Whitehall or Westminster for more resources - but it is also a tool to use to persuade decent Councillors to vote for the needs of their constituents rather than subordinating those needs to the financial restrictions imposed by central government.

It may be that we do need to decide whether we are against the cuts or not. If we are then we should oppose cuts and call upon politicians not to implement them. If we're not then we should pack up and go home.

At the very least, we must be able, at our policy-making Conferences, to debate the full range of options for UNISON policy in relation to public spending cuts, including the eminently reasonable and responsible position of our Scottish Council - that we should support politicians who refuse to make cuts.

Anyone who thinks that they are helping the Labour Party by preventing such a debate within the largest trade union should have a quick look at the recent Scottish election results. The trade unions need to rescue the Party from itself - from the dregs of Blairism polluting its upper reaches. We cannot do that if we won't permit ourselves even to debate the full range of policy and campaiging options.

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Career averages and accrual rates

It's good to see PCS Conference joining the Conferences of ATL and the NUT in agreeing to ballot for action over pensions on 30 June, joining UCU who, of course, already have a mandate for action.

In the midst of redundancies, UNISON activists need continually to renew our focus upon the attack on pensions so that our members grasp the enormity of the theft which the Government is perpetrating.

I was fortunate on Monday to be invited to a meeting of the Lambeth Teachers' Association, where I saw the NUT's online pension calculator spelling out to teachers what they would lose.

Such calculations will vary, in their detail, from scheme to scheme, but it is essential that the strategy of the trade unions proceeds in the direction of greater unity rather than allowing the advent of "scheme-specific" discussions to fracture us into a myriad of separate disputes and negotiations.

Because, if you were designing a pension scheme from scratch in a fair society, a "career average" scheme might seem preferable to a final salary scheme, there is a danger that some in the trade union movement might be tempted to look for a deal which accepts significant and detrimental changes if they can be dressed up as delivering some greater "fairness".

What we need to watch out for is the proposed "accrual rate" in any proposed scheme. To keep the same overall pension "pot" the percentage of each year's salary which is "earned" as future pension needs to be equivalent to the percentage of final salary currently "earned" for each year of service - indeed, since (on average) final salaries will be higher than career average salaries, even this equivalence would represent a reduction in total pension payments.

Therefore, for those of us in pension schemes which currently pay one sixtieth of final salary per year of service, any accrual rate below 1.67% would represent a very significant further reduction in pension benefits - and even at that accrual rate, rather than redistributing pension payments from higher to lower paid workers, the redistribution would be from the higher paid to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

If the Government are suggesting much lower accrual rates then that would expose their true intention - to collapse our pension schemes completely and to force us out into the private market to enrich their City backers by gambling with our savings in expensive money-purchase pension schemes.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Building a future of equality in difficult times

Three different events of today are linked for me - in reverse chronological order they are as follows.

First, it is wonderful news that there is to be a fresh trial in the case of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. This reawakens the distant hope of justice for the victim of a brutal racist crime.

Secondly, I am on the way home from the opening of UNISON's new centre, an impressive building on the Euston Road which will be a resource for union activists for decades to come.

Thirdly, I was at the new UNISON Centre for a meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC), which considered (amongst other things - concerning which, watch this space) a report on the current review of self-organisation in UNISON.

It is because UNISON has strong and vibrant self-organisation that it is to the fore in promoting equality. Whereas important UNISON principles, such as proportionality and fair representation, are about ensuring that the representative bodies of our union look representative of all our members, self-organisation alone can ensure that our union policies reflect the views and interests of our members in oppressed groups.

Self-organisation is therefore at the heart of the values which, our General Secretary said today, are embodied in our new building. Self-organisation is also vital to the role which UNISON has played, both in supporting the struggle for justice for Stephen Lawrence, and in fighting for the benefits promised by the legislative changes inspired by his brutal killing.

Self-organisation, of black workers, women, LGBT workers and disabled workers is not - and was never meant to be - a temporary phenomenon. I was shocked to find that this appears to be the view of a number of my NEC colleagues.

Self-organisation is not a temporary expedient whilst we improve "fair representation" within our "mainstream" structures. We should certainly have fair representation, but not at the expense of self-organisation.

To take a couple of examples, racism - in its "modern" form - has been embedded in global capitalism since it became necessary for liberals, such as the authors of the American Declaration of Independence, to rationalise treating some humans as subhuman on the basis of pigmentation. Sexism has been vital to the stable reproduction of capitalist social relations since women were first succesfully equated with children in the 1842 Mines Act.

The struggle against these forms of oppression in the modern world is not some adjunct or "optional extra" for socialists and trade unionists. Since there truly are "none so fit to break the chains as those who bear them" it must therefore be the case that self-organisation is permanently at the (non-negotiable) heart of what it is to be in UNISON.

Unless and until working people conquer society - and for perhaps a century thereafter - it will be essential that those victimised by particular forms of oppression can organise together to confront these. It follows that trade unions should support self-organised groups of oppressed members with resources and encouragement.

It is because UNISON has done this that we, as a trade union, have consistently supported the Lawrence family - and this is a massive part of the reason why I was proud to be there for the opening of our new Centre.

The review of self-organisation in UNISON could see the use of recognised shortcomings to undermine and neutralise structures which cannot be understood or supported by those who fail to comprehend the particular significance and importance of particular forms of special oppression.

On the other hand, this review could just be the shot in the arm which self-organisation needs to become the forthright and radical advocate of the views of members which we need.

Let every good activist attempt to achieve the latter rather than the former. UNISON members need a review of self-organisation which focuses on support for members fighting job losses, rather than upon internal issues.

A proper review of self-organisation should unleash the enormous power of our members who want our Union to be better at fighting job losses - and encouraging resistance to attempts to water down the fight for equality in the workers' movement.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

I'm a nurse, that's what I am - Yunus

Marvellous to hear Yunus Bakhsh speaking today to UNISON United Left about his reinstatement by the employer following his success at the employment tribunal.



After fighting for years Yunus will soon be back at work and, as he said today, he will once more be able to answer the question; "what do you do?"



I hope the day will come when Yunus is once more a UNISON member as well as a nurse.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The tragedy of the employment tribunals

It's absolutely right that we should challenge and oppose attempts by the Tory Coalition to extend the qualifying period of employment for unfair dismissal claims (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/100371) and generally to make it harder for workers to seek justice in employment tribunals (http://www.personneltoday.com/articlesbytopic/192/pageid,1/tribunals.htm).

These are disgraceful acts of class war being waged by the Government of the millionaires against the interests of the millions.

However, we also need to recognise just how much less useful employment tribunals have become for workers - as a direct result of the increased role for lawyers, both as representatives and as agents encouraging claims for negligence.

Industrial tribunals were intended to be relatively informal settings in which unions and management could argue their case in front of an "industrial jury" with representatives of management and workers sitting on the tribunal.

They were an expression of tripartism, the 60s/70s model of regulating industrial conflict by incorporating workers into processes and institutions which offered some limited recognition of our rights and interests as an alternative to overt conflict.

As late as the early 1990s when I started more than a decade of regular tribunal representative as a lay union official (or "jumped up shop steward"), it was quite normal for lay and full time union officials to appear as tribunal representatives - sometimes with employee relations specialists from what we used to call personnel sections representing the employers.

We could back a case if it felt like the right thing to do, or if we needed to show our members that we backed a popular or long-serving colleague, or to show the employer that we were serious about enforcing the procedures which we had agreed with them.

As long as we didn't pursue completely hopeless cases we ran no risk that our members would face an order for costs even if we lost - and since the employers knew we would challenge almost any dismissal in an employment tribunal they were always on their toes when it came to following procedures before any dismissal.

It was the employers who first started using their own solicitors, and then barristers in the tribunal. For a capable and experienced union representative this wasn't a problem - it was great to represent a member whose case you had been immersed in for a year against a junior barrister who had never even had a real job and had received the case papers (tied up with a ribbon)(why?) the night before.

However, many members, seeing that the employer had lawyers wanted them on their side too - and, as society has become increasingly litigous so negligence claims against trade unions increased. In the early years of this century such claims were the fastest growing area of law involving unions (reaching their most extreme expression in the rash of equal pay related claims which could have bankrupted UNISON a few years ago).

Although the tide of claims against trade unions may now be receding, it washed away the way we used to deal with tribunal cases. In order to bring UNISON's professional indemnity insurance premiums under control, the union had to ban its officials from representing members in employment tribunals.

Now we refer such cases to solicitors and - if they think that the case has sufficient merit and advise us accordingly - we instruct them to take the case (and the legal liability which goes with it). Members who have a good case get quality representation, but members with a marginal case are left to fend for themselves. In the way of things, sometimes those members win a case we wouldn't take, or get a settlement after we have had to refuse to represent them. Though those cases may be a tiny fraction of the cases we have to refuse, they are of course the ones of which other members become aware. This is bad PR for the union, but that isn't something that can now be taken into account in deciding whether to take a case to tribunal.

Although this change was marketed at the time as freeing up the time of officers and activists for organising, it doesn't do that. There is as much work in preparing a case for the solicitors as ever there was in doing it yourself. The benefit to the union is entirely about the cost of professional indemnity insurance.

We have lost so much more. We cannot bring marginal claims to enhance the Union's reputation (workers don't mind seeing us lose a marginal case if we fought it with intelligence and determination - and we can recruit on the back of the respect gained by having been willing to have a go).

We have lost the ability to back a weak case for a respected and long serving member, leaving us vulnerable to the perception that we abandon our own in times of trouble - and losing the enormous benefit that came from the employer knowing that every dismissal of a UNISON member would be challenged in an employment tribunal (in all the years I represented many members against my own employer in the employment tribunal they never got costs against us - and almost never even tried).

We have lost the ability to weigh factors other than the specific legal merits of the particular individual case when deciding which cases to support. For an organising union this is a tragic loss, since we cannot decide to pursue a weak (but not hopeless) case in order to advance an organising objective - nor can we weigh the detailed local knowledge of our representatives as to the likelihood of the employer giving ground ahead of a hearing.

Most importantly of all, our lay and full time officials have lost the experience of tribunal representation. Regular appearances in the tribunal meant that you had to keep up with case law - and that paid dividends daily in negotiations with management and in internal hearings. Union officials who knew they would regularly be advocating for members at the tribunal were forced to try to keep abreast of case law.

Now that we don't do this, the pressure of other work means that it is hard to justify the day a year on a course to update employment law - or the odd afternoon in the Guildhall Library (the only public library in London to have the Industrial Relations Law Reports). It must be five years since I took trade union time to read up on the latest cases.

I realised this recently when I found the case of Junk v Kuhnel (http://www.bailii.org/eu/cases/EUECJ/2005/C18803.html), which has materially changed the law on the timing of dismissal in mass redundancy situations since last I had to deal with mass redundancies. When I was routinely in tribunals I would have lived and breathed such case law.

What really frightens me most of all is that we are now recruiting a generation of Regional Organisers who never have represented, and never will represent, a member in an employment tribunal.

Life is a mixed ability lesson, and the worst enemies of the trade union movement wouldn't accuse us of meritocracy, but do we really think that, now and forever, our activists and officials can never be capable of representing members in employment tribunals?

I think we need to pause and reflect on this. The law is far far too important for trade union members for us to leave it to lawyers.

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Labour - fight the cuts

The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) has now published an analysis of Thursday's election results (http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/elections-2011-labour-must-offer-an-alternative/), arguing persuasively that Labour did well where it was perceived as a means of expressing opposition to, and defending communities from, the Tory Coalition Government.



This means that there is all the more need for the debate we tried to start earlier this year about how Labour Councils should respond to a financial settlement which makes it impossible to meet social need (http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/why-councillors-should-fight-the-cuts/).



Labour Group Leaders are due to meet in the next few days. They have an opportunity and a responsibility to articulate and campaign for a clear political alternative to the savage cuts which are being driven through.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Some things are beyond price

Amongst the discussion about Tory plans to dismember the NHS we must not lose sight of the impact of spending restrictions on our health service right now.



In that context I am sorry that in Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark our NHS does not currently fund IVF treatment (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23948124-leading-doctor-wants-the-nhs-to-fund-more-ivf-treatments.do).



I was born in the NHS, but as a prospective parent I needed the help of the NHS at conception as much as at birth. I cannot accept that I should tolerate the removal, now and in the future, of the opportunity I was given by the NHS.



This is a wealthy nation and we do not need to tolerate intolerable reductions in public services.

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Four more years?

After Thursday's local (and national) elections, the labour movement needs to work out where, other than the ballot box, we direct the political momentum of half a million marching through London on 26 March.

With workers being laid off, and services closing, we cannot afford to wait for a (possible) Labour Government to start repairing the damage in 2015. Thursday's votes expressed opposition to cuts which are being made now.

Where Labour was the vehicle to express opposition to savage cuts in public spending - and particularly to the role of Liberal Democrats in facilitating these - the Party did well.

Where voters were offered electorally credible progressive options other than Labour, as by the SNP in Scotland or - on a smaller scale - the Greens in Brighton, they took them with some enthusiasm. The predictably miserable failure of candidates of the socialist left does not therefore signify that Labour can rely upon winning as a result of anger at the Coalition. A strategy of waiting for the next General Election wouldn't only be a betrayal of all those suffering now, it might well fail even in its own narrow electoral terms, whether because the Tories consolidate their own support at the expense of their Lib Dem stooges, or because other options to express disagreement with the Government grow and develop.

For socialists in the labour and trade union movement, our focus must be on placing demands upon Labour, both as local administrations and as a national opposition, alongside developing the campaigning and industrial response of our trade unions.

Ed Milliband's current slogan ("What do we want? Fewer cuts! When do we want them? Later!) is not only terminally unappealing but in any case fails to reflect the actual practice of Labour administrations in local government, balancing budgets at the expense of unbalancing local communities.

Now that there are Labour Council Leaders once more in many large cities, as well as many London boroughs, an alternative approach is readily available.

Labour Councils could spend the summer consulting local communities on their needs in order to draw up programmes for service delivery to provide a basis for "needs" budgets to be set in 2012.

In the autumn a nationwide series of marches could set out from Labour local authority areas to focus political pressure on the Government to make a financial settlement for local government which would enable these needs to be met, building towards a massive demonstration in London.

In the context of such a campaign a real discussion could take place about the viability of a significant number of authorities refusing to set budgets which did further social damage to our communities. Labour politicians could have a dialogue with trade union and community activists about the relative priority of their roles as administrators of the local state and leaders of local working people.

All of this may seem a long way from the here and now - but what are the other options? What do we, as trade unions, tell our members facing redundancy that we are doing with their political funds and our political influence?

Unfortunately, at present, it is not clear that UNISON Conference will be able to have a full debate about a political strategy for the largest local government union, since motions reflective of the policy of our Scottish Council (of support for politicians refusing to make cuts) have been ruled out of order.

If our trade unions will not make a clear and unequivocal demand that there must be no more cuts we shall be unlikely to exert the pressure that would open up the possibility that Labour might adopt a policy and campaigning stance closer to the policies of UNISON and the interests of our members.



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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Voting Labour is not enough

Today I will take a day off from picking up the pieces of cuts being made by a Labour Council in order to devote my annual leave to working for the election of Labour candidates.



Why? Tribal party loyalty plays a role - but, more importantly, I can see that the strength of the Labour vote in the local (and national) elections will be seen as the strength of opposition to Coalition cuts. Given the equivocal position adopted by the Party leadership just now - and the consequent compliance by Labour Councils with Tory cuts - a Labour vote may not be, in every situation, a straightforward "anti-cuts" vote (and some anti-cuts activists may support alternative candidates as a result),



However, with its many faults, the Labour Party is the national political alternative to the Tory Coalition. The Labour Party retains, (in spite of the efforts of many opponents of working class political representation - Tony Blair included), an organic link with te trade union movement - the only social force available to resist the Tory assault upon our welfare state.



Therefore I shall not simply vote Labour, but shall work for the election of Labour candidates.



However, that is not nearly enough. Since Labour Councils in 2012 will be no less likely to capitulate to the Tory cuts agenda than they were in 2011, those of us who care for our public services need not simply to vote Labour but - more importantly - to build and develop the anti-cuts movement that can and will put effective pressure on local politicians (and national trade union leaders) to step up opposition to the cuts.





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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Coalition attack on Victorian values

UNISON's response to the Government's attempt to strip local authorities of various statutory duties is timely and appropriate (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2277).



This Government isn't content with pushing back to the 1980s, nor even the 1930s - it seeks to reverse the social reforms of the Victorian era!



The pattern of nineteenth century social reform was of campaigners eventually achieiving a permissive reform, creating a statutory power, and then - when that was not enough - securing a mandatory duty on public authorities to act to remedy a social problem.



The creation of these statutory duties, in areas ranging from public health to primary education, built the foundations of urban civilisation in the first industrial (and urban) nation on Earth. These were the foundations on which the twentieth century Welfare State was built.



But now, the twenty-first century Coalition is threatening to unravel what they describe as "red tape" but which is better seen as sellotape covering the cracks in our society caused by its being driven by greed and wealth. The Government see duties as "burdens" on local authorities and - having allowed several weeks for comments on duties developed over decades of social progress - have now withdrawn to consider how best to neutralise the role of the local state in protecting the interests of the citizen (http://www.communities.gov.uk/localgovernment/decentralisation/tacklingburdens/reviewstatutoryduties/)



UNISON's response to the Government's consultation rightly highlights the potentially devastating social consequences of removing statutory duties from local authorities.



We may now need to prepare for a line by line, duty by duty, defence of local government from a Government committed to its destruction.

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