Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Good luck!

Good luck to everyone taking strike action tomorrow, 30 June - and to all those who will be showing solidarity with the strikes in any way possible.

The admirable j30 website includes details of local protests. It is very helpful to trade unionists that there should be "unofficial" publicity, clearly independent of the unions, since this can say things which - for fear of the anti-union laws - official trade union publicity cannot repeat.

We must ensure that this is simply the first step in a sustained campaign to defend public service pensions (and through that campaign, the entire public sector). We must not allow ourselves to be divided down the blind alley of "sector specific" negotiations which allow the Government to play one group off against another.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Unity is strength

In breaking news, the Government acknowledge that there is a difference between the (funded) Local Government Pension Scheme and the other (unfunded) schemes…

I believe that Danny Alexander and Francis Maude may also have commented favourably upon Papal Catholicism and the arboreal toilet habits of ursine mammals.

Let’s be clear. The Tories want to destroy occupational defined benefit pension schemes. Career average is a Lib Dem friendly halfway house whilst they use contribution increases and benefit reductions to sabotage our pension schemes. Mark Serwotka seems to have got the measure of the Government in these "negotiations".

Last time it was local government workers who were left to fight alone as the unions chose to do a deal which excluded us. Don’t let us, this time, be broken away from the rest of the public sector again.

Those who emphasise building unity “scheme by scheme” are not serious about unity. And those who are not serious about unity are not serious about victory in the most important fight faced by our trade unions for a generation.

I’m all for our union leaders meeting the Government as early as possible and as late as necessary, but in the mean time we need to get on with preparing for industrial action. Our General Secretary is right to say on our website that;

"We give our full support to our brothers and sisters in PCS, NUT and ATL, taking action on Thursday over pensions – their fight is our fight – and UNISON will be taking part in demonstrations up and down the country to support them. Our advice to school and college staff is clear – do not cover unless it is part of your job. And I send support to our members taking action on the same day in Camden, Doncaster Birmingham and Southampton, over job cuts."

NHS SOS

I’m hoping that UNISON, as the major health service trade union, will join with UNITE in supporting a demonstration in defence of our health service on 5 July.

The Government’s “pause” on the Health and Social Care Bill seems to have been quite dangerous, as they are pressing ahead with a fundamental attack upon our NHS. In UNISON terms, this is a “citizenship issue” and it is absolutely vital that the majority of our members in local government do not think that this is something to be left to health workers to sort out.

Indeed UNISON members in all Service Groups can take immediate action to defend our NHS – even if all you have is five minutes and access to a computer.

I understand that it may be useful to email scrutiny@parliament.uk along the following lines (hat tip Gill George);

Re-committal of certain clauses of the Health and Social Care Bill to the Public Bill Committee
Evidence from [insert your name].
[insert date]
1. I submit this evidence as a concerned citizen, [insert further personal information as appropriate].
2. It is my understanding that the government proposes to change the wording of those parts of the Bill - sections 1, sections 2 and sections 3[1] - that ensure the Secretary of State for Health not only has a duty to promote but also to provide or secure general and listed health services in England.
3. The government asserts that the change in wording will not alter the duty on the State to both promote and provide general and specific health services in England.
4. If the duty to provide health services is not, in essence, being changed in any fundamental way there is no case for altering the wording of the 2006 NHS Act in this respect.
5. There is however a case against changing it. If amendments are made to these sections, the whole Bill needs to be fully re-examined in light of the amended clauses in order to confirm that the Bill does not change the duty on the State to provide health services . However, sufficient time has not been allowed to undertake adequate legal scrutiny of the Bill as a whole.
6. In the absence of adequate legal scrutiny, Parliament and the electorate simply do not know what the proposed amendments – and the new Bill as a whole - will mean in practice.
7. I am therefore writing as a member of the electorate to make clear that I strongly oppose any change to the wording of sections 1, 2 and 3[1] of the 2006 NHS Act.
In summary:
The current legal framework enshrines the founding principles of the NHS, ensuring that it remains publicly provided and accountable, comprehensive, universal, equitable, funded by taxes and free at the point of delivery. The duty on the Secretary of State for Health to provide as well as promote both general and listed services is the lynchpin in this legal framework. The most convincing legal evidence to date has been that this Bill removes the duty to provide health services. The government must allow adequate time for proper scrutiny of the amended Bill, in its entirety, to ensure it no longer abolishes either the general duty on the Secretary of State to provide or secure provision of health services in England or the specific duty to provide listed services. Until that time, no change should be made to sections 1, 2 and 3[1] of the 2006 NHS Act. Only this will ensure the State retains its duty to provide or secure as well as to promote comprehensive health services in the England. Given that the government says there is no intention to remove the duty to provide services, no amendment to the 2006 NHS Act should be necessary.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Palestine debate at UNISON Conference

Rather than repeat a better post elsewhere I recommend this report from Labournet of the significant debate on Palestine at UNISON Conference, which saw Conference reject an NEC proposal for "critical engagement" with the Israeli Histradut trade union federation.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The torpor of Friday afternoon

Following the excitement of Thursday afternoon at UNISON's National Delegate Conference, the conduct of Friday afternoon's business demonstrated a lamentable lack of enthusiasm.

With the very honourable exception of a small number of delegates (predominantly from London and predominantly from the Left) who took responsibility for trying to drive Conference business forward, most delegates seemed content to allow Conference to be a platform for those who consider speechifying to be more important than policymaking.

I salute those delegates who braved the wrath of other delegates to move that the question be put. Barry from Camden deserves a medal, as -of course - does MJ of Unionfutures fame (http://www.unionfutures.blogspot.com).

It may seem unimportant how many motions we get to when the NEC (to whom they will be referred if we do not reach them) are in support, but it is dangerous if we allow the machinery of lay democracy to atrophy in our trade union.

For the moment, the spirit of unity against the Coalition Government means that, on substantive issues of policy (rather than questions of Rules and finance) there is unity of purpose between the floor of Conference and the platform. Experience suggests that this will not always be the case.

The unhealthy influence exercised by the national machine over Regional lay structures (exemplified by the crass "churnalism" in Conference bulletins about which I have blogged earlier) dictates that the pre-Conference prioritisation process can marginalise dissent, making the reprioritisation process at Conference a vital opportunity for lay members to assert authority in our own Union.

This was used to best effect a few years ago when a groundswell of opinion led to a motion from Bromley branch critical of Labour Link topping the list of reprioritised motions. (Should individuals hostile to the interests of UNISON members secure the expulsion of the mover of that motion this will, incidentally, demonstrate that some of the words of our General Secretary on Tuesday afternoon were hollow and meaningless - an outcome I very much hope we avoid!)

For reprioritisation to do the job it was designed for, the floor of Conference needs, in future years, to show the same commitment to moving business along, as was shown by too few delegates yesterday. We also need a reduction in speaking times on Friday afternoon, and an approach from SOC which proactively promotes composites of single motions with their own amendments where these will not be controversial.

UNISON members should reserve more policymaking to Conference, and leave less to the NEC.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Not how it's done...

After yesterday's close of UNISON National Delegate Conference, the newly elected NEC met to elect the President and Vice-Presidents.

Eleanor Smith was elected unopposed as President and Chris Tansley as "senior" Vice-President, in line with the convention (which is not a Rule) that members of the Presidential Team serve a three year term culminating in their Presidential year.

In the contested election for "junior" Vice-President, Maureen LeMarinel was successful and April Ashley (for whom I voted) was not.Unfortunately, the President rejected a suggestion from newly elected NEC member, Helen Davies, that each candidate say a few words so that new members could decide who to vote for.

This proposal was rejected on the grounds that " we don't do that" (although I recollect that we did in 2003). Subsequently, East Midlands NEC member, Moz Greenshields, asked the new Presidential team to consider organising hustings in the forthcoming elections for Committee Chairs, and the President confirmed that this would be considered.

I wish the new Presidential Team well. If our NEC is to give effect to the clarion call for unity in action, issued by our General Secretary on Tuesday, and to heed the warning given by the floor of Conference on Thursday, then we need to reconsider some of "how we do things."

A truly collective NEC which saw it as more important to embrace diversity than to seek to impose uniformity would better serve our members in the challenging times ahead.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Friday, June 24, 2011

Churnalism at Conference

Amongst the mistakes made by those supporting NEC policy in yesterday's Rules debates was the publication, in numerous Regional delegates' bulletins of unsigned "articles" which (in identical wording) set out the case for the NEC position.

Regional bulletins should be the voice of Conference floor, and delegates don't find it persuasive to find these bulletins being used to convey an "official line."

Regional bulletins should only editorialise anonymously in line with agreed Regional policy. Delegates don't like to be taken for fools.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rule P.2.3.3 and its discontents

Assiduous defenders of lay democracy bore the scorn of senior officials as this afternoon's Conference session drew to a close, as they objected to the unilateral action of the President in altering the order of business for the Rules debate.

The Rule Book is clear that the order of business is a matter for the Standing Orders Committee to determine and for Conference to approve.

The price of lay democracy is eternal vigilance, and SOC are now having to consider what to do about this. If Card Vote One passes Rule Amendment 11 then the NEC should withdraw 13 and 14 should be put to Conference. (IMHO)
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Mutual animosity

I'm now playing catch up with reports from UNISON Conference, avoiding some of the main issues, which are more than adequately covered elsewhere as UNISON's online presence continues to improve.

(Although there remain some amusing contradictions. On Monday, Local Government Conference Delegates were exhorted to use Twitter. On Tuesday delegates at National Delegate Conference were instructed not to tweet from the Conference Hall!)

Official coverage of Conference rightly focuses on key debates, and is necessarily positive in tone. Since Conference is our Parliament, not a rally, there are always also other tales to tell.

Yesterday morning a new delegate from Lambeth unsuccesfully moved an amendment to strengthen a worthy motion on mutuals from the West Midlands Region, by clarifying a preference for public delivery of public services.

The opposition to the amendment, which carried Conference with it, was founded on the misconception that the amendment would have "tied the hands" of branches who faced no option but to negotiate around the creation of mutuals.

This wilful, yet effective, misreading of the amendment really reflected the feeling in some quarters, expressed by a delegate from the Newham branch at Local Government Conference, that mutuals may be a "lesser evil" which we should embrace.

This is exactly where we began the debate about ALMOs, with some national officials, believing Council housing to be doomed, tried to "sell" them to UNISON members.

ALMOs were and are a half-way house to privatisation, and this is the threat posed by mutuals. We need to resist all attempts to remove services from the public sector - whilst of course engaging with changes where they cannot be prevented to protect the interests of our members and organise workers whoever employs them.

And, just as with ALMOs, in a year or two the position Lambeth lost this year will be the policy of our Conference and our NEC.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

The meaning of Thursday afternoon

Continuing with irregular and idiosyncratic blogging from UNISON Conference, I'll pass comment on the Thursday afternoon of Conference, traditionally given over to debating Amendments to our Rule Book.

In the late 90s, debates over Rules became the occasion for "shadow boxing" in a controversy occasioned by widespread belief that there had been political misuse of the Union's disciplinary rules.

Controversy around the Union's Rule Book subsided once a (then newly elected) General Secretary (one D Prentis) took office and signalled a more tolerant approach.

However, since 2006 there have been a number of high profile cases in which many activists have perceived once more the political misuse of our disciplinary procedures against socialist activists critical of our leadership.

These cases - debate about which cannot take place at our National Executive Council or any of its Committees, never mind at our National Delegate Conference - have created a poisonous atmosphere in some quarters, where activists fear misuse of the disciplinary procedures (or inappropriate Regional supervision of branches). Rejection of the use of administrative means to resolve political differences goes way beyond the ranks of "the left" and has now reached a point at which there is a breakdown of trust between the platform and the floor at Conference.

It is for this reason, amongst others, that Conference rejected Rule Amendment 20, which would have introduced a new Schedule (F) governing branch finances. A majority of Conference delegates clearly did not trust the assurances given by the Chair of the Finance Committee that this rule change would not undermine branch autonomy. This was not a personal judgement about the Chair of Finance, but a political judgement about the likely future conduct of UNISON nationally, reasonably informed by evidence of past behaviour.

Similarly, the refusal of Conference to support an amendment to Rule I intended to ease the expulsion of fascists, on the basis of concerns that the Rule could be misused to attack socialists, was not so much a criticism of the precise Rule Amendment, as an expression of mistrust. It is easy to see why such mistrust exists on the basis of accurate understanding of the conduct of certain recent cases.

As I write we do not have the result of Card Vote 1, on Rule Amendment 11 from Bolton branch, which seeks to impose a two year limit on the sanction of being debarred from holding UNISON office. However, we do know that the NEC's "compromise" suggestion of a five year ban could not carry even a simple majority (let alone the two thirds required to amend a rule).

This result too reflected an anger, directed at the platform, over the perceived abuse of our disciplinary procedures to settle political scores.

For as long as the floor of Conference believes that the NEC cannot be relied upon to ensure fairness and impartiality in the application of UNISON's disciplinary rules, then our NEC will struggle to secure support even for Rule Amendments which may very well be in the best interests of our members.

On Tuesday, our General Secretary said that there were "no enemies in the hall" - it will be for the incoming NEC to consider how to give effect to this statement in practice. Can we redirect resources being wasted on avoidable litigation? Can we steer officials away from recommending disciplinary charges which are politically motivated? Can we call a halt to processes which have yet to reach their final conclusion in order to reconsider whether they are in the best interests of our members? Can we look into past cases in order to consider whether UNISON is responsible for injustices and - if so - how to remedy them?

In a world in which members of the Manchester branch, at the Peoples' History Museum, can host an exhibition full of praise for the Lambeth branch, surely anything is possible...
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Looking forward to the pensions debate

Following on from yesterday's keynote speech from our General Secretary - and a positive and well attended fringe meeting organised by the Kirklees branch and addressed by Alex Kenny of the NUT and Sue Bond of PCS - this morning sees UNISON Conference debate Composite B on Pensions.

The Composite motion, which runs to four pages and stands in the names of seven branches, the National Women's Committee, Scotland and the NEC. It will be augmented by an NEC policy statement which brings the content of the Composite up to date.

I hope that the debate gets beyond anger to begin to deal with some practical questions.

First, if we are to mobilise our members to achieve the impressive result achieved by the NUT in their national postal ballot, we need an online pensions calculator as they have (in fact we need two, one for the NHS Pension and one for the LGPS).

Secondly, once we have educated - and agitated - members we need to organise for action. This means we need to improve our structures to direct this dispute, not least by enhancing Regional representation on the LGPS Campaign group which reports to the Service Group Liaison Committee.

Thirdly, we need to begin an inclusive discussion of tactics for industrial action. This cannot be conducted in private. Whilst there is a risk that the Government and employers may be able to witness our discussing tactics, there is a bigger risk if we don't involve members and activists in this debate.

I hope today's debate sets us off on the right course to fight and win the battle for the survival of public service pensions.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A call to arms - in the battle with the real enemies

Dave Prentis issued his "call to arms" today to a Conference which had been waiting to hear this.

His well received, and militant, speech dealt not only with the issue of the moment - the increasing inevitability of sustained and coordinated joint union action to defend our pensions.

As well as attacking the Coalition Government, our General Secretary was sharply critical of the Labour leadership, rejecting Ed Ball's unsolicted advice to refrain from strike action. Dave said that, in future, we will only support Labour politicians who support us.

A couple of remarks were particularly noteworthy to insiders. Dave singled out a few key activists for praise by name, the first two of whom, Mike Tucker (Southampton) and John Burgess (Barnet) are leftwing Branch Secretaries often associated with the United Left. (Mike missed this as he is not at Conference for the first time in many years as he is organising co-ordinated and sustained joint union strike action!)

Dave also said there were "no enemies inside this hall" a remark which optimists in Manchester are reading alongside a statement published today by the (not uninfluential) Communist Party of Britain calling for an end to the use of administrative (and disproportionate) means to resolve political differences.

If this presages an end to avoidable internal strife that will be most welcome.

We need to focus our fire on the Government. Not each other.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Monday, June 20, 2011

The not-quite-debate

You can read elsewhere online more comprehensive coverage of yesterday's first day of UNISON's Local Government Conference both official (www.unison.org.uk) and unofficial (www.unionfutures.blogspot.com).

I was out of the hall for the key debate on pensions awaiting an appointment with my old friends, the Standing Orders Committee (SOC). SOC had ruled out of order a motion from Lambeth which called upon the Service Group Executive (SGE) to provide advice to Regions on how to campaign for "needs" budgets, on the grounds that such radical action could place the union in legal jeopardy.

Although the SOC were not persuaded to change their mind, the Chair did explain to me in outline their reasons. It seems that some helpful soul had flagged our motion up as one on which SOC would need legal advice, and that they had then been fortunate enough to get such advice from a most imaginative source.

First, SOC told me that, on their reading of our Rule Book, UNISON has a general duty to act within the law and that this extends to not encouraging others to take unlawful action.

I did point out that we have existing policy in support of civil disobedience in the fight for civil rights for disabled people and that this novel and restrictive interpretation would not have permitted us even to have discussed this established policy, but to no avail.

Secondly, SOC were concerned that, were UNISON to encourage a local authority to set a "needs" budget and were this to lead (in some unspecified way) to a breakdown in some particular service, then service users might take legal action against UNISON as much as against the authority itself.

Finding this argument unconvincing I asked if this logic did not suggest that branches who failed to fight in defence of a threatened service (contrary to our aims and objectives as set out in Rule B) might not face similar threats of litigation.

Thirdly, SOC were worried that local authorities defending litigation brought against them as a result of their having followed our suggestion to set a "needs" budget might seek to "join" UNISON as co-respndents as has been tried (without success) in some equal pay litigation.

All in all, the reasoning of SOC seemed threadbare at best. However, SOC did agree to circulate the legal advice to Regions - and to report this fact to Conference, and - later in the afternoon, Conference agreed Motion 3 as amended, which commits us to campaign for "parallel" budgets.

(Parallel budgets are "needs" budgets minus the intention to implement them).

Therefore we did, in the end, have the debate we wanted, albeit we weren't permitted to get anywhere near it's logical conclusion.

This debate will continue...
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Industrial Action and accountability

Today's call to arms from our General Secretary raises once more the question of how to give direction to, and take decisions about, large scale industrial action, a subject which I touched upon after the last NEC meeting (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2011/06/pensions-how-too-few-cooks-could-spoil.html).

Where an industrial dispute involves a group of workers who can reasonably be gathered together in one meeting hall (or footbal stadium) then decisions on both the tactics for action and the outcome of any negotiations can - and should - be put to the workers collectively.

This is the ideal of labour movement democracy to which we should aspire - and to which we ought to do our best to approximate when a dispute involves workers who, by virtue of the numbers and geographical distribution of those involved, cannot possibly be brought together for a single discussion and decision.

I hope that this week in Manchester delegates elected by, and accountable to, the million plus UNISON members who will soon be called upon to strike to defend our pensions, will be enabled to debate not only how we mobilise our members to act, but also the nature of the action for which we shall mobilise, and the means that we shall use to ensure that the conduct of the dispute, and any negotiations, is meaningfully and democratically controlled by the membership.

I'll update the blog as the week goes by and let you know how we're getting on.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

How ready are we?

MJ has beaten me to online comment on today's fighting talk from our General Secretary (http://unionfutures.blogspot.com/2011/06/unison-on-strike-over-pensions.html). I concur with the assessment, at Union Futures, that there will be a job of work to do to get the turnout up in the coming national ballot.

The comrades at UNISON Active, traditional home of many who have made pessimism of the intellect their life's work, describe Dave Prentis as "commenting optimistically" in his remarks to the Guardian (http://unisonactive.blogspot.com/2011/06/we-are-going-to-win-prentis.html).

Conference week is of course a time for optimisim of the will, but as much as we must show confidence we must also confront the scale of the task before us.

If my own branch is anything to go by then a great deal of valuable and necessary work has been done over recent weeks to bring our membership database up to a standard where we minimise the risk of legal challenge to any ballot. More importantly in some ways, an accurate membership database is a vital organising tool.

Our membership records may be ready for a national strike ballot, but we now face the harder task of preparing our membership!

This week in Manchester, UNISON activists need to prepare ourselves to educate, agitate and organise our members to deliver on the pledge from our General Secretary that we shall win the fight to save our pensions.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Never too early to defend pensions

This morning, as well as the welcome news from the NUT and ATL ballots (which MJ has covered at unionfutures.blogspot.com) I had a look at the Composites booklet for UNISON Local Government Conference.

This includes evidence of a small but positive shift in the attitude of our leadership in the Service Group over recent months.

When Lambeth branch submitted a motion earlier this year on pensions (Motion 35) the Service Group Executive (SGE) put up an amendment to delete the word "early" which prefaced a call for strike action.

The London Region kindly responded by proposing an amendment to insert the same word into the motion from the SGE themselves (Motion 32).

Now that Motion 32 is subsumed within Composite E, the SGE will be putting to Conference a position which, incorporating the London amendment, calls for "early" industrial action. This shift in a positive direction by the SGE is most welcome.

This is certain to be passed at the start of a week which will see our Union unequivocally join the battle to save the pension schemes won for us by the struggles of previous generations.

Which just goes to show that it's never too early to fight to defend our pensions, and that UNISON at every level is waking up to the urgency of the issue.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pay freeze hits the low paid hardest - official

Later today, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications) will publish research which demonstrates how inflation is hitting the poor hardest (http://m.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/jun/14/poor-hit-higher-rate-inflation-than-rich?cat=business&type=article).

Although price inflation is measured on the basis of composite price indices which reflect an "average" pattern of household expenditure, the spending patterns of real people vary with household income.

Broadly speaking, the lower the income of a household the greater the proportion of that income spent on food and fuel, two categories of goods which have seen prices rising way above average "inflation" in recent years.

For those of us now well into a pay freeze this means that - whilst all of us are worse off in "real terms" (as our frozen salary can purchase fewer goods and services with each passing year) this hit to living standards is felt hardest by the lowest paid.

The difference is significant. According to the IFS, someone whose frozen salary placed them in the top fifth of households by income (a Chief Executive say) has seen their standard of living fall by 2.7% annually over the period 2008-2010, whereas someone whose frozen pay leaves them in the lowest fifth has seen their standard of living fall by 4.3% annually over the same period (so that their, already much lower, standard of living has been more than half again as fast).

Right now we need to prepare to fight for our pensions - not least because the figures above underline the likelihood of a crippling exodus of the lower paid from pension schemes if the Government achieves its twin aims of reducing their value and increasing their cost.

However - the pent up pressure of a pay freeze will also grow, and the time is coming when we shall mobilise our members against this. The IFS research helps to make the case, I would suggest, for a flat rate claim that does the most to help the lowest paid, who are being hardest hit by the freeze.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Monday, June 13, 2011

And another thing...

Shortly after blogging the post immediately below, TIGMOO alerted me to this informative post on the ToUChstone blog - http://www.touchstoneblog.org.uk/2011/06/what-can-we-learn-from-european-public-service-mutuals/.

This useful summary of recent work on examples of mutualised delivery of public services elsewhere in Europe seems to underline the point that such "new models of service delivery" are best seen as possibly complementing public delivery of public services.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

The Un-cooperative Council...

David Cameron's "Big Society" is being repackaged in appealingly "mutual" boxes and offered to local people in Lambeth, and elsewhere, as a supposed alternative to cuts in public services.

Mutualism has a proud record and - I hope - a strong future in financial services and retail. Worker Co-operatives have shown that they can compete and survive in manufacturing (not least because they aren't burdened by the need to support rentier shareholders who contribute nothing to wealth creation).

However the case for mutuals as a replacement for the state in the delivery of core public services has not been made and - in Lambeth - its most enthusiastic adherents are finding the case hard to make.

Word reaches your humble blogger of an attempt by a Councillor to consult local people on whether volunteers can be recruited to keep an Adventure Playground open.

When the one parent who turned up expressed their opposition the eager Councillor reportedly asked staff if, after they had all been made redundant, they might come back as volunteers to keep the service running.

I understand that there was little enthusiasm for this particular "alternative to cuts".

Perhaps the answer to the question asked by staff invited to go on working for nothing after they had been sacked ("How shall we eat?") is that their food could be prepared by whichever genius wove the fabulous clothing (visible only to those who truly understand the journey to a Co-operative Council) worn by our Council Leader when he visits other boroughs to share Lambeth's vision?

The attempted imposition of a mutual or co-operative model of service delivery in an area subject to savage cuts disrespects the memory of the Rochdale Pioneers and contradicts the values for which our Council is supposed to stand.

If we wish to defend and improve public services (encouraging diverse models of service delivery where this is appropriate and beneficial) then we need to take on the Government - not do their bidding.

This requires a different kind of co-operation, between unions, communities and local Labour Parties in a campaign against all cuts in public services.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The sound of one hand clapping?

The increasingly prompt and comprehensive official reporting from UNISON NEC meetings continues today, with an entirely appropriate emphasis upon the key debate on the defence of public service pensions.

I will post my personal report here when I get it done but, in the mean time, will share another of those little episodes that makes the experience of life on the UNISON NEC occasionally surreal.

It’s all about “collective responsibility” and how it can be interpreted.

Fifteen years ago NEC members attending UNISON Conference (as we are individually entitled to by Rule) had the right to speak at the Conference (which is also in accordance with Rule). On rare occasions, NEC members would exercise their individual right to speak against the line of the majority of the NEC, as Roger Bannister did in 1997 in support of the Hillingdon Hospital strikers.

Since then, over the years, an ever more stringent interpretation of what is misdescribed as “collective responsibility” of the NEC has been adopted. First, NEC members were prohibited from speaking unless chosen to do so by the NEC and speaking in support of NEC policy (this is not supported by our Rule Book, but as the President formally decides who to call to speak at Conference, it has effectively been imposed).

Then, NEC members were prohibited from attending Conference as delegates from branches (so that they could not speak, in line with a branch mandate, in a way which might not support NEC policy). Because “collective responsibility” is for life, not just for Conference, NEC members are also now subject to a requirement, at meetings of the NEC, not to speak or vote against decisions taken by NEC Committees of which they are members.

Today however we were advised of a further development in UNISON democracy for National Delegate Conference 2011, as NEC members were advised by our President that loud applause from NEC members on the platform for speakers opposing the line of the NEC was a breach of “collective responsibility” and could lead to NEC members being stripped of their Conference credentials and sent home.

In the run up to a Conference at which the NEC is supporting virtually every motion and amendment on the agenda you might think this a bizarre and unjustifiable decision. I (as an NEC member allegedly bound by this strange concept of “collective responsibility”) could not possibly comment.

Perhaps for next year we could replace the NEC with a trained studio audience who can be relied upon to applaud in all the right places?

UNISON NEC results - Keep Calm and Carry On

Continuing with advance posting of various items from today's meeting of the UNISON NEC, I regret to report an investigation (which I consider to be a waste of UNISON resources in breach of Rule B) into how, it is alleged, the results of the recent NEC elections were "leaked."

Since it is obvious that what happened is that an interested UNISON member posted a link to the UNISON website (together with the content of that link), I was shocked that this announcement was made to the full NEC rather than the Staffing Committee.

As I have already observed, once you have put something on a website - even if you take it down - it's still out there. (You may note that I was able to blog a link to the NEC results on 3 June. This was because they had been published online on or before that date).

On the assumption that it is our staff who have the ability to post items up onto our website then if there is any criticism to be made it must be of whoever posted the NEC results (received by our General Secretary in a letter dated 1 June and sent out to candidates under cover of a letter dated 3 June) on to the website on 3 June rather than 7 June (the date stated in the election procedures). Therefore this is a matter for the General Secretary to raise with his staff, and at most for the NEC Staffing Committee.

For what it is worth, I suggest that those who are agitated about this matters would be well advised to get a life. It may be that in future we should not set a timetable which enables the General Secretary (or whoever receives the results on his behalf) to sit on NEC election results for the best part of a week (that must be really difficult for those in possession of the results who are not able to share those results with NEC members or candidates even if they are close personal friends).

I also think that we should not be witch hunting any member of staff who may have posted the results up a little in advance so that they were available to interested UNISON members before they should have been. No harm has been done. Nothing has been hacked. Nothing has been leaked. Storms in tea cups soon blow out.

We have some really important work in front of us, and it would be an inexcusable waste of UNISON resources to spend any more time on this matter.

Pensions - how too few cooks could spoil the broth

I will report fully on today's UNISON NEC meeting shortly, but will mention a couple of things which need specific thought in advance.

The great bulk of today's vital discussion on the coming strike in defence of our pensions was positive and unifying.

Dave Prentis described the forthcoming action on 30 June as the "first wave", whilst resisting being drawn on a date by which we hope to move into action ourselves.

I was with the minority of NEC members who felt we should be setting ourselves a target date - but I accept that the majority are equally determined to see action. I welcome the positive encouragement to UNISON branches to attend, with our banners at demonstrations called by the striking unions on 30 June.

We must now intensify efforts to inform and enrage our members about the Tory Coalition Government's plans to force us to pay 50% more for pensions which will be worth 50% less (which is how our General Secretary summarised the plans).

However, regular readers of this blog, Sid and Doris Hoxha, do not come here to read unalloyed praise of the UNISON leadership (UNISON Active has cornered that market anyway). I shall therefore explain why I supported the (flawed) proposal of my friend and comrade, Roger Bannister that we needed a new "strike committee" to oversee the pensions dispute, against the spirited, yet even more flawed, defence of the status quo from the Chair of our Policy Committee.

Although Roger's proposal fell, I think that it would be a mistake to see that as a vote of confidence in our existing arrangements to co-ordinate disputes which cross the sacrosanct boundaries of our autonomous Service Groups.

After the LGPS dispute a few years ago, our largest Service Group, local government, at our Conference, expressed a "lack of confidence" in the Service Group Liaison Committee "as an effective forum to coordinate the defence of the interests of our members." (http://cms.unison.co.uk/MotionText.asp?DocumentID=997508)

A Panglossian defence of existing arrangements is unwise on the brink of the most important dispute for a generation. At a minimum, the "LGPS Campaign Group" which reports in to the Service Group Liaison Committee should be extended so that, as well as representatives of every Sector with members in the LGPS, it incorporates representation from each Regional Local Government Committee.

This would both draw in important voices from the length and breadth of the UK and also address the under representation of members in the NJC sector in local government, without removing the essential voice for members in the smaller sectors.

Those who remember our existing structures as having "worked well last time" are ignoring the dissatisfaction expressed not only by our Local Government Conference in 2007 - but also in the campaign which led to the calling of UNISON's only ever Special Local Government Conference.

If we wish to avoid fractious debates at our Conference this month we need not only to offer a clearer timetable for action but also a better, more representative and more transparent structure to co-ordinate lay leadership of the coming dispute.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Local jobs for local people

The proposed offshoring of jobs by Birmingham Council does seem daft in many ways.

This is - however - the direction in which privatisation leads (and smashing up union organisation by Regional supervision can do lasting damage to the ability of workers to resist it would seem).

My own employer, whilst pleading its commitment to fighting local worklessness, fails to deny that it might tolerate jobs being moved out of the borough on privatisation to save money.

I'm not against "offshoring" jobs for nationalist reasons. I am not one of the sad twits who think that the job of socialists is to "rebuild Britain." (It is rather to organise the working class).

I am, however, a local government worker and I therefore believe in "local jobs for local people" - meaning that local government should aim to create employment within the "travel to work area" of its citizens.

Seriously - we need to defend the idea that local government should create employment for local people. We may have a fight on our hands.

Update on Sunday afternoon - full marks to John of Barnet for this timely warning to our members.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

UNISON Labour What?

UNISON Labour Link should be to the fore of the mind of UNISON activists as the biennial elections for half of the National Committee are now upon us.

Of course that may not be the case. Many UNISON members are not even aware that we are affiliated to the Labour Party, since the fact of this affiliation is as embarrassing to our leadership sometimes as it was to New Labour.

After all, we had thirteen years of a (supposedly) Labour Government which took privatisation to places the Tories had never dreamed of, whilst UNISON's affiliation to the Party in Government seemed to leave us devoid of influence.

UNISON Labour Link has been the most consistently inadequate part of our national trade union, if you judge it by what it has achieved for our members (if you judge it by what it has achieved for the Labour leadership you might arrive at a different conclusion of course).

Socialist UNISON members in the Labour Party certainly need to organise to ensure that we stand candidates in these elections, as we cannot continue to have members of a national UNISON Committee who think that the interests of the Party leadership come first.

UNISON Labour Link needs to be used to press for UNISON policies in the Labour Party (whether in Government or Opposition). I respect those who want to build an alternative to the Labour Party, whilst looking forward to the time when they realise that won't happen.

We need UNISON's voice to the Labour Party to be articulated by those who want to be forceful in the name of our members - not those who want to be Members of Parliament!

One thing that I am sure that the Labour Link is not meant to be for is to enable paid officials to try to develop an alternative leadership in branches under Regional supervision. I am pleased to think that I must have been misled by those who have led me to think that such a possibility exists...

Friday, June 03, 2011

UNISON NEC results

Hat tip MJ for finding online the results of the UNISON NEC elections. I suppose the thing about the internet is that once you put something up on a website then, even if you take it down it's still there somewhere.

Congratulations to those elected - and commiserations to those who were not elected. On first glance, though there are a few changes, the overall balance of the NEC isn't massively changed. The same cannot be said for the challenges which we face. The incoming NEC needs to adopt a different approach if it is to rise to those challenges.

Thanks to those Londoners who re-elected me.