Sunday, July 31, 2011

You stupid Tory

Oxbridge educated multi-millionaires clearly (think they) know how to run the world.

Not content with pursuing macroeconomic policies designed to stifle economic recovery, our odious Chancellor has made clear that public sector "reform" is all about instilling "fear" in public sector workers at the microeconomic level (http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jul/30/public-sector-jobs-oliver-letwin?cat=politics&type=article).

This idea - that we need the "stick" of fear to improve productivity in the public sector reveals both the ideology and class bias and prejudice behind Government policy.

First, it is clear that little Oliver really believes that there is something called the "discipline" of the market and that by creating fake "market" structures and imposing them upon public services, we shall have the benefit of this discipline.

(What is it about public schoolboys and "discipline" and why do the rest of us have to be part of it? At least Max Moseley tried to keep it all behind closed doors!)

It is possible to show, theoretically, that in certain precise circumstances (which could not exist in reality) perfectly competitive markets could produce "optimal resource allocation" where all "the factors of production" are applied most efficiently to meeting the demand from consumers. That insight provides no basis however, either in theory or practice, to conclude that an increase in managed competition in the delivery of public services will improve productivity (the measurement of which is in any case deeply problematic).

Little Oliver has a faith in the "discipline" of the market, but that's all it is - it has no basis beyond his warped belief system.

After all, Letwin's chums in banking were all part of a competitive "market" - and look how well that turned out in 2008!

The comparison with the bankers (and also with benefit claimants) shows the class prejudice underpinning Letwin's kindegarten economics.

On planet Letwin, public sector workers share with benefit claimants, a need for the "stick" of discipline, whether to shake us from our unproductive torpor in the workplace or to goad us into jobseeking. Those of us doing least well from this "market economy" must be threatened with worse in order to improve our performance. It's clearly the only language we "oiks" understand.

In the Board Rooms and on the trading floors however, better performance has to be incentivised with handsome bonuses and share options. To motivate gentlemen (and a few ladies) who share little Oliver's background, it is the "carrot" of reward which the market deploys, in its impersonal wisdom, to drive improvement.

After all, Oliver knows that he - and decent people like him - are motivated by being rewarded, whereas "oiks" obviously need a different approach.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Government's "contribution" to pension negotiations - we should strike back

I really am trying to do nothing whilst on leave, particularly as the prospect of an adequately remunerated retirement seems to be in some jeopardy! But things keep happening...

The Government's decision to announce proposed "contribution increases" for public sector pension scheme members does seem to pre-empt the "scheme-specific" negotiations into which the trade unions allowed ourselves to be pushed (particularly since "consultation" on these proposals will take place over the summer recess). Today's announcement shows plans to take one billion pounds next year out of the pockets of teachers, health workers and civil servants to help meet the cost of a financial crisis not caused by these groups of workers.

It is certainly a reasonable response to these tactics to get angry but a credible threat of industrial action is an even better response and the best response is to highlight the spreading threat of ever wider action.

When negotiating with an employer under a threat (whether that is of pension contribution increases, job losses or a pay freeze) then any union negotiator knows that they are in a stronger position if clearly preparing - and balloting - for credible, achievable and potentially effective action. The response to a playground bully should not be name-calling, but firm action.

What we need - in line with UNISON Conference policy - is "industrial action to be aimed at achieving maximum unity at the earliest appropriate time, across the public sector."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

After Norway - think globally and act locally

I’m not sure if I mentioned sufficiently, whilst blogging a few weeks ago about UNISON Conference, what a pleasure it was to see the exhibition of banners made by my old friend (and former Lambeth UNISON Branch Secretary) Ed Hall, at the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

In pride of place stands the banner, pictured above, which Ed made, almost overnight for us in 1999 when we mobilised local people to protest against the bombings in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho, which we now know were perpetrated by a criminal influenced by the hate politics of the far right.

In the awful shadow of the far worse events which took place in Norway, it is important that labour movement activists recognise that the politics of hate, the antithesis of the politics of labour, require our constant opposition.

Whatever the true nature of any relationship between the Norwegian killer and the thugs of the EDL, it is important that – as we send our condolences to Norway - we prevent the EDL spreading their hate-politics in Tower Hamlets on 3 September.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pensions "silver bullet"? A lycanthrope's views...

UNISON Active deserves a hat tip for blogging the widely anticipated news that the Local Government Pension Scheme is to be exempted from the contribution increases proposed for other public sector pension schemes (http://unisonactive.blogspot.com/2011/07/fund-mergers-silver-bullet-in-lgps.html). (Although I really don't understand, comrades, why you blog anonymously! Whether lay activist or full time official, you are surely free to express your views?)(Remember there are now no enemies in the hall...)

I'd like to believe that this positive development (http://m.professionalpensions.com/professional-pensions/news/2095677/lgps-freed-contribution-increase-rule) is primarily attributable to the "the sustained pressure of evidence produced by UNISON during the negotiations" as UNISON Active say, but it occurs to me that lobbying by the (Tory controlled) Local Government Employers (http://www.lge.gov.uk/lge/core/page.do?pageId=119455) may have played a significant role.

I'd also like to believe, as the anonymous blogger does, that "fund mergers will deliver (the Government's target) saving without imposing costs on scheme members or further reductions in pensions for retired members" (even though I still want us to fight the 15% reduction in the value of my pension due to the imposition of CPI for uprating!) UNISON Active say that fund merger is the "silver bullet" in negotiations around the LGPS.

Merger of the separate pension funds has been the Holy Grail at UNISON HQ for a number of years, but if it were to reduce the ability of individual local authorities to determine their employers' contributions (taking account of actuarial advice) this could turn out to be something of a poisoned chalice for local government workers. I'm not saying it's a bad idea - just that it needs careful thought and that it is incautious to start suggesting now that there is some sort of "silver bullet" in negotiations over the LGPS.

In particular, if we emerge from the premature "scheme-specific" negotiations into which we have allowed ourselves to be frogmarched without protecting both the right of private sector workers to be part of our pension schemes, and the requirement upon transferees to match public sector pension provision then we will be offering up hundreds of thousands of our jobs to the profit-hungry multinationals which leech off the taxpayer.

I'm all for negotiating deals without the need for strike action, but you never get the best deal you can without at least mobilising for action - and you don't do that with idle talk of "silver bullets."

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A tale of two sections

Today was another busy day for activists in my own branch, with the different experiences of two different sections of our workforce illustrating a clear lesson about the value of union organisation.

We called off strike action in our libraries - because we secured a deal which met our objective of averting compulsory redundancies, whilst protecting the service better than the previous proposals from management (http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/local/streathamnews/9153624.Library_strike_called_off/).

Later that same day we lost a key vote at Lambeth's Finance Scrutiny Committee, although we had won the argument, with the result that the Council will press ahead with privatising its own caller centre - to Capita who intend to move the work to Southampton. We will continue to resist - and to do all we can to protect our members - but there is no disguising that this was a setback.

Why such different results in the same branch?

The crucial difference between the two sections is the density of union membership and the demonstrated willingness of those members to take action. In Libraries - where we saved every job - we have 90% density and had a 90% "YES" vote in an official ballot. In the Caller Centre we represent a minority of the workforce - and had not yet been able to get to the point of balloting.

The lesson of this contrast is twofold. First, recruitment matters to members and non-members alike, because "Kirklees" levels of membership give us the potential power to protect the workforce as a whole.

Secondly, to realise that potential, local leaders need to use the confidence which strong membership gives them to find the courage to organise industrial action.

On most working days for a year or more now I have been in at least one meeting to discuss redundancies. I have never seen the union contribution listened to as attentively as it is when backed up by a mandate for strike action.

There are those who believe that you ought not to ballot for action until you have "exhausted" all procedures, some even wrongly believe this to be a requirement of UNISON policy. This is, of course, a foolish view.

I am very pleased that the Greater London Region supported, and the NEC Industrial Action Committee sanctioned, a strike ballot - and a date for action - whilst we were deeply enmeshed in continuing discussions with management.

It is because we were supported to take this correct approach that we have been able to defeat compulsory redundancies in Lambeth Libraries.

We will seek to apply the key lessons of this episode to other local disputes - and I invite other UNISON members reading this post to do likewise.

We need an application form in one hand and a copy of the UNISON Industrial Action Handbook in the other!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Pensions - A view from the foothills

As a mere member of the UNISON NEC I was not invited to Tuesday's "pensions summit" at UNISON HQ.



(And that's as it should be - the NEC doesn't have direct control over service conditions issues).



I understand that those at the summit were largely facing in the same direction, although whether from that lofty perspective they could see the class struggle I do not know.



Down here in the pensions foothills it seems obvious that we need to be gearing up for action and - if "naming a date" is a bit too Spartish for us, we should at least pencil in a week (or month?)



Not for the first time this year I find I agree completely with the Communist Party of Britain about a key question confronting our Union (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/content/view/full/107288) - it is time now to concentrate upon preparing for industrial action against the Government, and to use negotiations as a tool to assist those preparations.



This is not the approach which we can expect from the General Secretary of the TUC, who will invariably see industrial action as a tool to be used to assist negotiations.



Without effective united mass action we will not be able to shift the parameters within which negotiations are taking place in order to arrive at anything resembling a worthwhile outcome.



The Government are losing the "affordability" argument not because of the eloquence of our negotiators but because of the decisive action of hundreds of thousands of public servants on 30 June.



Although Brendan Barber's letter to the Government does appear to face in both directions (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2375) it still panders too much to the illusion that there is - at the moment - anything approaching a deal to be had from the Coalition as things stand.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pensions "summit" and the need for unity

Those attending today's Pensions "summit" at UNISON HQ should be guided by the statement put before UNISON Conference by our NEC four weeks ago;



"In the weeks ahead though every member must be made aware of the severity of the issues that face us, and the union must step up a gear in preparing for industrial action, to ensure that the 1.2 million members who will be balloted will participate, and will vote positively for industrial action. We must ensure that members are involved and fully understand what is at stake, to ensure we deliver a high turnout in any ballot and deliver a resounding yes vote for industrial action."



To win the ballot - and the battle - we'll need unity across the whole public sector, not just across health and local government. If we put sectoral considerations ahead of the need for unity we will all be poorer in the years ahead.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Monday, July 18, 2011

What was the point of that then?

Now we move into "scheme-specific" negotiations on our pensions (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=7060).

So why did we bother to have the talks with Francis Maude and Danny Alexander? What has been achieved?

Nothing.

Nothing appears to have been ruled out. Maybe "voices off" have indeed promised no contribution increases in the LGPS (a tribute to the influence of the employers rather more than to the organisations of the employees perhaps?) but it appears that "world class" negotiators have emerged from the Cabinet Office with a no score draw at the bottom of League Two.

The point of the Cabinet Office talks (if I can explain it for the really dense pupils of struggle like novice B Barber) was to use the power of unity to have some leverage. If you never meant to do that then you really shouldn't've wasted all our time. You may have asked the unions who struck on 30 June what their "exit strategy" was - but have you ever had any sort of strategy at all?

The workers who struck on 30 June - and the many others fighting round the country - are truly lions (and they are led by lions) - but our movement as a whole does appear right now to be led by donkeys (or possibly barbers)(meaning no offence to those engaged in the honest toil of cutting hair!).

If I went to my Branch Committee and said "right, I've spoken to the Director of HR, the Leader and the Chief Executive and agreed that nothing is ruled out, now off you trot [pun intended] and negotiate your redundancies department by department" they would rightly ask what I was for.

Where cuts and job losses are hitting a whole Council workforce (for example) it must be right at least to try to mobilise a response across the whole workforce, rather than deciding at the outset to leave each section to fight alone. The least you do in these circumstances is ensure that you have a corporate trade dispute so that the door is open to workforce-wide action.

Where an attack on pensions hits the whole public sector (and provides the only lawful opportunity for a generalised response to any of a whole series of attacks) then the least that should be done is that disputes should be organised and co-ordinated around unifying demands.

That means that the Cabinet Office talks should have been used to make some general demands (around, say, contribution increases, retirement ages, uprating and private sector membership). These demands, if unmet, should have led to trade disputes with the relevant Secretaries of State, and to co-ordinated action in the early autumn.

A leadership of our movement which lived daily with the attacks of the Tory Government would have pursued such an approach. It remains the right approach, reflecting UNISON policy and the interests of our members, and we should pursue it still.

Those who support the move to "scheme specific" negotiations on the basis that no concessions have been won (or perhaps even been asked for) support neither UNISON policy nor UNISON members.

The Service Group Liaison Committee (SLGC) meets tomorrow. It has no place in UNISON's Rule Book - and was only ever mentioned in UNISON Conference Policy when our largest Service Group declared it unfit for purpose after the fiasco of the last pensions dispute.

If the SLGC wants to support the move to scheme-specific negotiations in order to break the unity of the trade unions with no assurances whatsoever then I hope each member of that august body will be prepared to undertake a speaking tour of branches to explain why the "protect our pensions" campaign was no more than hot air.

As a local government worker, I know who sold me short last time there was a pensions dispute. As a public servant I can see what is happening now.

I have no enemies within the Union, but if my friends make mistakes I shall let them know. If tomorrow's SLGC lives up to its potential it will call for trade disputes in all sectors now and unified action at an early date.

No socialist or trade unionist would settle for less. This is not a time for soundbites, but the hand of history is on their shoulders...

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Focus!

It's wonderful to speculate that Cameron may be destroyed by his relationship with Murdoch. In the mean time my pension may be destroyed by the relationship between my union leadership and "Mr Ed" - since it appears we aren't (yet?) up for the united fight which the occasion clearly demands.



Rather than celebrate the humiliation of the Murdochs please can we all try to focus on what matters?



Anyone who thought Monday 18 Juky 2011 was a day on which one would be wise to do a deal with a powerful reactionary Government should be prepared to think again.



But how do we communicate that? UNISON members should get on to their Service Group Executive member now!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Panem et circenses

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the discomfiture of a rich bastard as much as the next trade unionist.

Watching the odious Murdoch and his entourage playing the camel trying - and (most importantly) failing to get through the eye of the needle has been a great deal of fun.

I am, however, a tiny bit worried that whilst we celebrate the downfall of News International (and the emergence of Ed Miliband as a leader of the stature of Neil Kinnock) the TUC may be about to throw away our strength in the fight to defend our pensions (and therefore give up any hope of a national fight against the Government.)

It may be that we are being distracted (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_circuses) whilst what we should be doing is focusing on our own interests.

Of course we don't want our media dominated by one plutocrat (or two, or three) - whether or not he (or improbably she) is British. Of course we want a greater democratisation of our mass media.

However, the key issue which confronts us is the Tory assault upon our Welfare State - and our only chance of effective, nationally co-ordinated action to confront this is if the TUC can find both the courage and the intelligence to organise the widest, earliest and most effective action against the assault on public sector pensions.

(For those whose scripted response to such a suggestion is to observe that the TUC could not do this, I invite you to consider whether your script was prepared at 10 Downing Street, by Ed M, or at Congress House, and to reflect upon what it says about you to be in agreement with such a parcel of rogues.)

The Government's attack on pensions provided - and still provides - the trade union movement with the opportunity to organise widespread national strike action (around a series of separate trade disputes), likely to achieve a large part of our objectives, whilst delivering a shattering political blow to the Coalition.

The Government, having belatedly realised that they were in danger of over-reaching themselves, have been drawing back in order to disrupt the unity of the union movement which (alone) can threaten their hegemony.

Those union leaders who focus now on building strength sector-by-sector in order to do the best we can in "scheme specific negotiations" are abandoning the very cause which brought into existence the largest of UNISON's "former partner union"s, as well as the interests of our class. (The purpose of a trade union is not simply to continue to exist, but to represent and promote the interests of our members, so as to give some purpose to continued existence.)

We need to press home the advantage given us by the present political weakness of the Coalition of the millionaires in order to assert the agenda of the millions. The key battle of the moment is about whether we humiliate the Government over pensions or they humiliate us.

If tomorrow the PSLG support a move to scheme-specific negotiations, without having won a single concession, then we shall enter this battle under a leadership which neither believes in, nor wants, victory.

If that happens - as I hope it will not - rank and file activists need to redouble our efforts to secure both unity and action.

In the mean time dear reader, enjoy the pain of the Murdochs as we once enjoyed the pain of the Maxwells - but don't be distracted by the Murdochs from the Government's plan to "do a Maxwell" with the pensions of all public servants!

Unity is strength. It's not complicated. Don't be distracted.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Friday, July 15, 2011

Trade Union Unity or a pensions farce?

I hope that the tragedy of 15 April 1921 (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Friday_(1921)) isn't set to be repeated as farce at the TUC Public Service Liaison Group on 18 July, ninety years later.

In 1921 the pledges of mutual support between trade unions were found wanting. In 2011 the Government may be set to propose that negotiations on the future of public service pensions move on to "scheme-specific" negotiations on the basis that, as far as the recommendations of Lord Hutton are concerned, "nothing is ruled out."

If the TUC support this move they will be acknowledging a failure to use the potential strength of our unity to secure concessions - and will be opening the door to "divide and rule" tactics from the Government. This wouldn't simply - as in 1921 - be a betrayal of one (or more) union(s) by the leaders of other unions. It would amount to the leaders of those unions who support Brendan Barber in bending the knee to Danny Alexander letting down their own members very seriously indeed.

If I may be parochial for a moment, as a member of the Local Government Pension Scheme - I would clearly be relieved if lobbying from the local authority employers meant that the Government withdrew proposed increases in contributions in the LGPS.

It may be that hints of such a move are amongst the encouragement being given to the largest unions to break ranks with the teachers and civil servants in particular and rush now into "scheme-specific" talks.

However, if talks about the LGPS commence now we will be swallowing the 15% reduction in our pensions imposed on 1 April when the basis of uprating was changed - and (more importantly) we will be squandering the opportunity to use the combined strength of the entire public sector to resist Hutton's catastrophic plan to exclude private sector workers from public sector pensions, which sits alongside the Government's desire to end pension protection on transfer.

If outsourcing companies (such as Capita) know that they can transfer local government employees without having to preserve the value of their pensions then they will be able to offer cheaper bids to Councils desperate to save money.

This will tend to accelerate privatisation - and will ensure that the many thousands of workers whose jobs face privatisation will lose completely whatever we think we have gained for LGPS members in "scheme-specific" negotiations.

If we miss the chance to fight nationally to defend our pensions (and therey resist privatisation) we will be abandoning our members and branches to a contract-by-contract fight against privatisation from employers who will then know that the UK's largest trade union funked the only chance it will get in this Parliament to defeat the most reactionary Government in our history.

I so hope I am worrying needlessly.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Disjuncture

Stepping from a meeting of our National Executive Council back into the maelstrom of job losses and privatisation in the workplace is like moving between dimensions.

Looked at from the perspective of the national trade unions (those employed in, or spending much of their time in, the Centre) the Government's attacks upon our welfare state and those who work in it are happening "out there."

That's not to say that there isn't a genuine and heartfelt desire to resist at the top of our Union. There is. But to leave the Centre and travel back the few miles to my own branch is to rejoin the world in which these attacks are raining down on us, in a way which you simply don't feel at the Centre.

Here - and I take my branch only as an example - are librarians preparing to strike as their shop stewards negotiate with management to avert that strike by avoiding redundancies; One O'Clock Club workers pleading with a Labour Party branch meeting to make Councillors stop their managers ruining their service; Park Rangers helping their Convenor to try to persuade management to focus on income generation rather than dismissals; Caller Centre workers mobilised by their shop stewards to lobby local businesses against the privatisation of their jobs to a company which wants to take the work sixty miles away; and, shop stewards fighting a rearguard action against management bullying and discrimination under cover of the cuts.

These are just some of the things which are going on (in addition to the everyday grind of casework) and I know that a hundred other Branch Secretaries could tell a similar tale. This is the busiest time I have known in more than two decades of union activism.

But - and here I agree with our General Secretary - this is what we are for. This is why our predecessors built, here in this country, the first trade union movement in the world. Our collective organisation is meant to be for fighting to protect ourselves when we have no other option.

I have heard many people say that our members are not uniformly or universally ready to fight, and of course that is (always) true.

But this is a time that calls for leadership. Not leadership that seeks and then replicates a consensus, but leadership which leads from the front.

Not leadership which reflects back the uncertainty of our members, thereby magnifying it, but leadership which sets before our members the need for decisive action and for a willingness to make the sacrifices which this will entail.

In short, this is a time for leftwing leadership. At local level we can make what little difference it is possible to make. A Branch Secretary cannot make members fight injustice if they lack the confidence or inclination to do so - but she or he can help, rather than hinder, them when they do.

At a national level our leadership have, this year, a chance to shape UNISON's place in the history books of the future.

We could be the clever people who, understanding the complex differences between pension schemes, realised the centrality of sector-by-sector organisation and, in helping to broker scheme by scheme deals in which our members shoulder more of the demographic burden, help to weaken defined benefit pension provision.

Or we could be the stupid people who fail to recognise the inevitability of increased contributions and reduced benefits at a later age. We could foolishly insist upon unity in negotiations and subsequent action, regardless of all the detailed differences between the schemes.

Worst of all, we could be so daft as to stand shoulder to shoulder with teachers and civil servants, as well a other health and local government workers, in order to assert the (tremendously unfashionable and old-fashioned) unity of the working class.

If we were that stupid we might one day be remembered as the people who stopped the most reactionary Government in history from destroying the key gains of past generations.

Now is the time when union leaders are called upon to risk the enormous humiliation of failure in hope of the prize of success.

If we can take that risk nationally then life at HQ will come to reflect the all but intolerable pressure in the branches, and the disjuncture I have felt wil disappear.

I hope.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

No enemies in the room

Newly elected local government NEC member, Kathy Smith, sought to raise - at the close of today's meeting of the UNISON NEC - concerns about the Regional supervision of the Bromley branch.



Whilst procedurally the President may well have been correct that this matter could not be pursued to a conclusion as a "matter arising" from the previous minutes, the majority of my NEC colleagues who voted to move to "next business" will need to consider further how we give effect to the statement of our General Secretary, made at our Conference in Manchester, that he had "no enemies within the hall."



We need not to have enemies in the meeting room either - and the new Development and Organisation Committee needs to oversee the rapid return to democratic control of the branches under supervision. It may be that we need also a clearer process for taking branches into supervision.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

The biennial dance of the Committees and the Magnificent Sevens

As is customary, the first full meeting of the newly elected National Executive Council (NEC) of UNISON split into its various Committees in order to elect the Chairs and Vice-Chairs, who act, between meetings, with the authority of the NEC.



The President announced, before we split up, that hustings would not be permitted, but that the Presidential team would review this and hustings might be permitted - in 2013... ("Name the Day" I say!)



Sue Highton was re-elected unopposed as Chair of the Development and Organisation Committee, with Mark Clifford winning the position of Vice-Chair with nine votes against seven (of whom I was one) who voted for Moz Greenshields (who had asked for hustings).



Jane Carolan and Steve Warwick were re-elected as Chair and Vice-Chair of the Policy Committee defeating challengers, Helen Davies and April Ashley.



The Chairs of the other strategic Committees remain as they were. Former President, Angela Lynes, remains Chair of the Industrial Action Committee with Lucia McKeevor as Vice-Chair, defeating a challenge from veteran NEC member (and former Vice-Chair of the Committee) Roger Bannister, who garnered seven votes.



Congratulations to all those elected.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Naming Ceremonies?

Serial UNISON NEC member and sometime blogger, James Anthony, opined today (in response to the suggestion that we should "name the day" to commence unified industrial action to defend public service pensions) that we were talking about a campaign of strike action and not a wedding.

This is of course true, as was the observation from our General Secretary that a single day won't in any case do the job and that a sustained campaign will be required.

However, since we do need both to marry together the efforts of all the public service trade unions and to begin to visualise a timetable for sustained action, the demand to "name the day" does correspond - in a general way - with the interests of our members (and potential members).

By identifying a clear timetable for unified action our trade unions would send an unambiguous message to this Coalition Government that we are not going to allow the complex differences between particular pension schemes to divide and diminish our unity of purpose (which must be to inflict a defeat on them in this battle in order to weaken and diminish all their many attacks upon the interests of our class).

Additionally, by giving a general indication of the timetable to which we are working, we will help to overcome the problem of activists putting other issues ahead of the pensions dispute.

As one such branch activist I know that I can now only deal with crises and that I need the spur (or goad) of a timetable if the pensions issue is to remain at the top of my "to do" list.

Whilst activists will rightly lobby the NEC as the body responsible for the governance of our Union between Conferences, it is also true that the initiation of industrial action is a matter for Sector Committees (under the overall responsibility of Service Groups) and that approval for such attempts will depend upon the NEC's Industrial Action Committee.

As some disputes cross Service Group boundaries their management may fall to the Service Group Liaison Committee (SGLC)(which exists in a shadow realm beyond our Rule Book).

There are those who say that our arrangements for lay control of cross-Sector industrial action are clear, simple and transparent. They are wrong.

If our General Secretary has invited Regional Convenors to an extended SGLC meeting on the 19th (aka the Pensions "summit") then this pushes in a correct - inclusive - direction. Including representatives of each Regional Local Government Committee on the body dealing with negotiations on the Local Government Pension Scheme would be a further positive step.

We have more work yet to do if we are to ensure democratic control by the elected representatives of our members over the dispute which will define our Union. In the mean time, those who ask our NEC to "name the day" make a demand which correctly corresponds to the interests of those we represent.

I look forward to being lobbied in the morning!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Friday, July 08, 2011

Tramp the dirt down

I remember, long ago, Tony Benn objecting to the coining of the phrase "Thatcherism" as it personalised a political philosophy we opposed.



It is pretty much axiomatic that Tony Benn is right, as he certainly was on that point.



However, individuals are not unimportant sometimes, and one individual who did as much as anyone to drive through the Thatcherite agenda in the 80s was Rupert Murdoch.



Therefore, as much as I look forward to celebrating Thatcher's death (remembering the Falklands, the Miners and the millions of wasted years of unemployment), I today also enjoy the fact that Murdoch has had to close a profitable newspaper in a doomed attempt to rescue his reputation.



It's impossible to celebrate the loss of hundreds of jobs by ordinary people employed to produce a newspaper (http://m.newsoftheworld.co.uk/notwmobile/home/). But it is absolutely right to look forward to dancing - soon - on the political grave, not only of the man himself but also, perhaps of those politicians who subordinated themselves to him.



What we need is an independent judicial inquiry into News Interrnational - and a labour movement enquiry into what successive Labour leaders thought they were doing sucking up to a gang of scoundrels.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday, July 07, 2011

UNISON needs to act on pensions - lobby the NEC next Wednesday!

Our General Secretary, Dave Prentis issued a "call to arms" at our National Delegate Conference, and made clear our support for our sister unions' action last week.



Next week our newly elected National Executive Council meets - we need to step up preparations for united strike action across the public sector as a whole.



We need to be alive to the danger of "divide and rule" tactics from the Government. UNISON in particular, and our leadership most of all, have an obligation to inspire confidence across the movement that we will rise to the challenge which we face.



UNISON members can show our leaders that we will support the call to arms by attending a lobby of the NEC on Wednesday 13 July at 8.30am outside 130 Euston Road to show support for the setting of a timetable for action.



Any UNISON member who can get along to support our Union's fight for our pensions - I'll see you there!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Freedom for Palestine

Later today I will attempt to purchase my first single since the days of vinyl at http://freedomoneworld.com/.



This is to get a track supporting the Palestinians up the charts (from #43). You can read more on the PSC website (http://www.palestinecampaign.org/Index7b.asp?m_id=1&l1_id=4&l2_id=106&Content_ID=1985).



If I do manage to purchase a download all I will then need to do is work out where to put the stylus...

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Sunday, July 03, 2011

NHS - 63 and going strong

Tuesday is the "birthday" of our National Health Service which, at 63, may face premature retirement at the hands of a hostile Government.

UNISON nationally has been encouraging members to organise events to mark this occasion - and to underline our determination to defend our NHS. The various events which are taking place are identified on ;the TUC's excellent "false economy" site.

Were I able to do so, I would certainly attend the London demonstration called by UNITE and backed by the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). UNISON in London needs to learn the art of not letting other people take the lead which we should be taking to defend our Health Service - but most importantly we should support every action which mobilises support for our NHS.

Occasionally we win

As a rule I blog here about trade union work, but - like every trade unionist I am not only a worker but a citizen and, in my case, a parent.

In this capacity I have been pleased to play a modest role in the excellent campaign to defeat plans for Academy status of Varndean School, where my daughter is a student and my mother was "school captain" in the 50s (!)

On Friday, this campaign scored a significant victory for democracy and the defence of public services when the Headteacher and Chair of Governors declared that the school "was not for sale". This appeared to be a complete retreat from the decision taken three months by Governors to "express an interest" in Academy status.

Whilst the authors of this statement could not resist a couple of sly digs at the "unpleasantness" of "political campaigning" against their original expression of interest in Academy status, their statement is otherwise a complete vindication of the campaign waged by parents, students, staff and supporters to defend the school as it is, and to protect state education.

In a year of retreats and defeats, of redundancies and - all too often - despair, it's good to know that, just occasionally and maybe just for a while, we can win. No victory is certain or permanent, but each victory should be celebrated and built upon. I hope that the campaigners who have pushed one school away from considering Academy status (at least for a time) will broaden their efforts to protect state education more generally.

If those who use and rely upon public services stand together with those who provide them we can defend our services and catch a glimpse of how the world might be.

If you face the same challenge start with the website of the Anti-Academy Alliance to learn how to resist.

Intergenerational solidarity

With thanks to Harpymarx here you can see your blogger bearing the burden of future generations on Thursday's UCU picket line at the Brixton site of Lambeth College.

The Government are determined to destroy occupational pension provision (at least on a defined benefit basis) whatever they may say.

Their determination is such that they may well delay the destruction in one sector if that means that they can achieve their aims by dividing us sector from sector.

UNISON had to step up to the plate now. We are the biggest trade union and we need to lead and unify the trade union response in order to defeat the Government.