Monday, October 31, 2011

Now it gets interesting

Before I say anything else let me say "Vote YES!!"

The UNISON ballot is almost over - but there is still time for members to post ballot papers which have been overlooked.

The GMB and UNITE ballots are just beginning - and deserve our attention also.

However, anticipating a "YES" vote and the inevitability of action, we do now need to reflect upon the tactics needed to win this vital dispute.

Since I don't always get the Morning Star on days when I am not at work I owe a hat tip to the "almost-official" UNISON Anonymous Blog (http://unisonactive.blogspot.com/2011/10/striking-while-iron-is-hot.html) for reporting on the latest contribution to this debate by the ever-interesting Gregor Gall (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/111265).

Gregor hones in on a vital difference between public sector and private sector industrial relations (which escapes some of our officials to this day!) He observes that "strikes against private employers are essentially economic where the point is to cause loss of revenue and profit to the employer - terms that do not equally apply to a public or state employer."

In the private sector an employer is driven by the "bottom line" - in the public sector the approach of our employer is determined by "political contingency."

This means that we need to maximise the political impact of industrial action - and that this is more important than (for example) sustaining picket lines on every workplace.

We do need to call, clearly and unequivocally, for strike action on 30 November (once we have the ballot result) and we need to stiffen the resolve of those who may have been deluded by all the talk of "partnership" that has streamed out of our Regional office in recent years. Those who fail to strike on 30 November (unless properly exempted to provide "life and limb" cover) will be scabs and those who make excuses for them will be lower than vermin.

However, having got strike action from our members we must repay their sacrifice with an intelligent strategy to maximise the impact of their action. This must mean an early Central London march and rally on 30 November. Those who stand in the way of this necessary objective are traitors to our cause and must be shown no quarter.

If SERTUC fails to organise an effective platform in Central London for our General Secretaries to articulate our demands then it will become an irrelevance. No UNISON official has any mandate or authority to oppose an early Central London demonstration on 30 November and I hope no one is abusing their position to weaken our campaign in such a way.

UNISON members are putting their faith in our leadership. Now more than ever we need our leadership to rise to this challenge and to ensure that all our Union's resources (including all our employees) stand together in unity to advance our cause in the dispute that will write our history.
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Friday, October 28, 2011

Why is there a weekend? And what should we do this weekend?

In deciding what to do this weekend, perhaps you are driven to wonder why there is a weekend?

In the period immediately after the industrial revolution employers sought to maximise profit by pursuing the strategy which Marx called "absolute surplus value" - without changing the process of production they sought to extend the working day and week in order to increase the surplus which they extracted from their workers (who created all the value in the first place).

This strategy was defeated by the nascent workers movement, which fought for the "Ten Hours Bill" - to limit the working hours of children in order to limit the hours of the whole workforce. Out of these struggles to limit working time - so that working people should have leisure time and not exist merely as "hands" to do the bidding of their masters - came a requirement upon the employers to change tack. Henceforth, to make more profit, the capitalist employers had to turn to the strategy which Marx called "relative surplus value" - revolutionising the production process in order to make more profit out of the same quantity of working time.

It was because working people resisted exploitation that capitalism found the dynamism which has propelled it forward into the twenty first century. By forcing capitalists to change production processes in ways that drove up labour productivity - because the approach of simply increasing working time had been defeated - it was workers' struggle which initiated the trend for labour productivity to rise over time, which has enabled increases in living standards over the past two centuries.

This struggle for leisure time also gave us the weekend.

So (and regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will have seen this coming) if we owe both the weekend and increasing labour productivity - and hence living standards - to the organisation of the working class, what should we do about this?

Well, this weekend we should do all we can to remind UNISON members to vote "YES" in the pensions ballot.

Going to the library? Say "vote YES"!

Going for a swim? Say "vote YES"!

Registering a birth, death or marriage! Say "vote YES"!

Visiting a hospital? Say "vote YES"!

Got it?

This is the decisive struggle of our generation.

Don't think that, if we fail in this struggle, the FTSE 100 Directors, descended from the early Victorian mill owners, who have taken massive pay rises in the past year, won't take back the weekend that was won for us. Already precarious workers do not have this.

Don't think that any of our employment rights or trade union rights are secure if we can't win this fight to defend our pensions. Already vulnerable workers do not have these.

Don't think that any of the democratic and social gains of the twentieth century are secure in the twenty first if we lose the strength of the labour movement which won all these things in the first place.

This weekend - remind a UNISON member to vote "YES"!
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Further correction - tomorrow is the day to remind UNISON members to vote

It’s good to see UNISON pulling out the stops to get the vote out in the pensions ballot. In the Eastern Region an imaginative ballot-paper-posting photo opportunity demonstrates that this dispute is an excellent opportunity for joint service group working. There have been 300 briefings in the North West and 240 in the South East. The West Midlands Region has set up a “walk-in centre” for branch activists – and this imaginative approach to building a constructive partnership between regional staff and lay activists has paid dividends (with, I understand, almost 500 workplace events organised by the Region during the ballot period, additional to events being organised by branches themselves).

It’s not just at Regional level that an unprecedented effort is being made. I know that some colleagues in the Greater London Region have welcomed colleagues from national office to assist in organising and campaigning for a “YES” vote. Regions can clearly learn from other Regions, and our Region in London can learn the importance of cross service group working and of a positive relationship with lay activists. This will be key to effective strike action on 30 November and beyond, and therefore to defending our pensions and our trade union.

Of course the key level for activity is the branch – and branch activists have the chance to make one final push for members to vote. I am therefore correcting both of the last two posts on this blog and now consider that tomorrow, Friday 27 October, is the very best day to remind a UNISON member to vote! (And if you’re not at work, why not remind your Facebook Friends who are UNISON members, and remind them to remind theirs?)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Correction - tomorrow is the day to remind UNISON members to vote "YES"!

I know that yesterday evening I blogged that today was the day to remind UNISON members to vote "YES" in the pensions ballot.

Reminding members to vote is crucial. The Tories introduced postal ballots for industrial action in order to ensure lower turnouts, giving them the opportunity to claim - falsely - that Unions call action unsupported by our members.

Since the Tories introduced these rules our lives have not got less busy, we don't have less junk mail, and we aren't more familiar with using the post (one member today wanted to know where to click to cast their vote!)

We have to do all we can to drive up turnout in the ballot.

This evening though I got the reminder email from our General Secretary.

I therefore now think that tomorrow may be the crucial day to remind UNISON members to vote "YES".

Friday may also be a good day for that...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's "Remind a UNISON member to vote Day!"

UNISON members have until Thursday next to return their ballots in the vital industrial action ballots over pensions - but only until next Monday (Halloween!) to request a replacement ballot by phoning 0845 355 0845.

The UNISON ballot in the run up to 30 November is the largest in trade union history. Many thousands will already have voted - many thousands still can. It's in all our interests that the unions win the pensions dispute.

Whether you are a UNISON member or not you come across us in your daily lives, in hospitals, libraries, parks - you are never far from a UNISON member! Why not make tomorrow, in fact every day until Monday at least, the day you remind a UNISON member to vote?

From Choose Youth to Dinosaur Planet

Myself and my children attended today's "Choose Youth" (http://chooseyouth.org/) rally and lobby of Parliament (http://chooseyouth.org/events/).

I initially turned down a "Choose Youth" sticker since I thought it would make me look like I was on a quest for the fountain of youth, or perhaps cosmetic surgery.

I needn't've worried, as we joined the well attended (and overwhelmingly youthful) rally at Central Hall at the point at which the young new General Secretary of UNITE, Len McClusky, was giving a stirring oration, shortly followed by our own, evergreen, Keith Sonnet who was cheered to the rafters for calling for tax justice, the cancellation of Trident and bringing troops home from Afghanistan as alternatives to cutbacks in youth services.

There were numerous moving contributions at the rally from young people and youth workers. It's plain that restricting the life chances of working class young people isn't some unfortunate byproduct of Coalition policy - it is a central and deliberate goal of that policy.

We left rather than listen to Stephen Twigg (I won't let my son watch the Horror Channel) in order for the youth contingent of our lobby to talk to our constituency MP, Caroline Lucas (http://www.carolinelucas.com/cl.html), who proved herself a diligent and attentive constituency MP - who had also already signed the relevant Early Day Motion (http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/1013).

We then spent a while in the gallery of the House of Lords, which is a bit like watching Dinosaur Planet inside a Faberge egg.

My only advice to other parents, contemplating active citizenship as a half-term treat, would be to bear in mind that you can't get out of the Palace of Westminster without passing the gift shop, where the prices ensure that you will have an opportunity to do your bit to help the Chancellor deal with the deficit within one Parliamentary term.
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Get the vote out - one last push!!

I am on leave this week but, since I only have this leave to enjoy because previous generations built a trade union movement to fight for it, I retain an interest in the absolute priority for our Union today - maximising turnout in the pensions ballot.

Members of my branch can expect to hear from me this week - and it won't be a postcard.

UNISON Branches should send out reminder messages by bulk email, using the official template online at http://www.unison.org.uk/efocus/news_view.asp?did=7310.

Stewards should ensure they have spoken to every member, and branches should aim to speak to as many members as possible, whether by walking through workplaces or sitting at a telephone making calls.

We need everyone on this now.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pensions - step up the campaign!

Now and again, blogging has to give way to doing. This is the toughest but also the very best time to have been a union activist in the twenty five years since I stood on my first picket line at the back of a windswept Catford Town Hall.

In the last couple of days there has been some excellent work at national and local level to arm our members with information (in the form of pension calculators) to persuade them to vote “YES” for strike action – and to help them persuade their colleagues to do likewise.

This is on top of a truly unprecedented mobilisation by activists and officials of our Union the length and breadth of the UK. This is, also, no time for single union chauvinism. The best activists and officials are working collectively with colleagues across all unions, with joint meetings, and helping each other out with leafleting.

Of course there are wobbles and disappointments. Dave Prentis predicted at our NEC that the FBU would not be balloting for action on 30 November for example, and he also had to intervene earlier in the dispute to give positive encouragement to some Scottish UNISON officials who were wavering.

Amongst the many positive reports which reach your blogger, there are of course a few that are less pleasing. Some branches lack confidence that they can make their members take strike action, and some officials struggle to live up to the requirements of the new circumstances in which we are organising a mass strike against the Government.

What is striking (if regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will apologise for the worst pun on this blog in its five years life…) is that the positive reports so outnumber the bad news. The union is recruiting pension contacts and pension champions in part to circumvent any blockages to this campaign from lay or full-time officials too set in their ways to move into this new period of struggle.

UNISON members should expect every branch and Regional official to do their duty at this time of our greatest need – and they will find, in almost every case, that they are not disappointed. It’s not too late for anyone who feels that they have not yet done enough for the “YES” vote to energise themselves and mobilise our members (and for those who feel that they have done enough so far – we just have to keep at it until the very last minute!)

For now, every error or mistake can be forgiven, because there is time to make good. We have one more week to do all we can to maximise the turnout, before we turn our efforts to getting every single member out on strike.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ready in Romford for N30!

I was really pleased to speak to a standing-room-only branch meeting of Havering UNISON in the Council Chamber at Romford Town Hall this lunchtime on the subject of pensions.

The Regional Organiser, Greta, gave an excellent factual presentation so I could do the motivational "rant". The hour allocated for the meeting was then fully utilised by a series of thoughtful and considered questions. The mood of the meeting, reflecting that of others I have attended was serious and determined.

Havering Branch know that their members will want to attend a Central London march and rally on 30 November - they haven't just booked coaches, they're already organising sandwiches for the journey!

Full marks to the Pensions Champion (http://www.unionfutures.blogspot.com/) and the Havering branch as a whole. UNISON members in Romford seem ready for the fight.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Building toward N30

As I was leafletting this morning, a member who assured me she would be voting "YES" asked me what she should the do on the day. Once she had voted as her Union asked, what would her Union then expect her to do on 30 November?

I explained that we would want her to strike on the day, to come in for a stint of picket duty, to join the gathering of pickets from across the borough mid-morning and then to join our contingent on the Central London demonstration.

(Because, of course, there will be a Central London demonstration. It is an inevitability and it would best be organised swiftly by SERTUC rather than have the Regional TUC play catch up with individual affiliates or unofficial groups.)

My point was to say, clearly that members must strike on 30 November. No sob story will justify scabbing - as on every picket line I have stood upon I have heard tales of hardship used to justify the shameful betrayal of the strikebreaker whilst knowing of loyal strikers whose suffering is far worse. Nor can fear of management justify breaking a strike (scabbing is a gift and invitation to a bullying manager). In any event all sane public sector managers will support this strike, which is against the Government (technically a particular Secretary of State in respect of each pension scheme) and not our employer.

Our Branch Committee today began to get to grips with the real problem of hardship and how we might mitigate it. All branches should take advantage of the freedoms given to quorate Branch Committees by the NEC, first to establish hardship funds where these do not exist and, secondly, to move unlimited amounts from general funds to hardship funds. Of course we cannot transfer funds we don't have or which are necessarily earmarked for another vital purpose.

We will do what we can but we cannot prevent strike action worsening the already intolerable hardship in which some of our members are living. Nevertheless our picket lines must aspire to be large enough and assertive enough that those contemplating crossing them conclude that to do so would be an even greater hardship and even less tolerable.

This may seem a bit mean - but a picket line is a means of enforcing collective organisation and is not there to facilitate the journey to work of those who believe themselves above the democratic decision of their colleagues. We only have anything worthwhile in this life because our predecessors put up with far greater hardships than anything imaginable today.

If strikebreakers in local government would give up their pensions (fought for and won by the unions), their enhanced contractual leave and maternity rights (fought for and won by the unions) and would revert, in real terms, to the pay rates of around 1900 (before trade unions were recognised and started negotiating our pay) then I would accept that they were simply fools rather than parasites. This is part of the message we need to convey.

I wish for 100% support on 30 November and that this should entirely be based upon enthusiastic assent to our justified cause. Realistically we must aim to maximise support as close to that level as we can and if, to do so, we must ensure that there are some who strike for fear of the vitriolic contempt of their colleagues if they did not then so be it. That pressure will have helped them to be better and less selfish people!

There is no middle way, no half way house. When the union calls a strike you either strike or scab. No one can call for more limited action (as this has not been balloted for such a call would be unlawful in any case and, were it not corrected subsequently with a call for strike action it would have to be repudiated).

From the point at which the entire TUC rose to give our General Secretary a standing ovation our course has been set. Unless the Government backs down, we strike on 30 November - and will strike again until they do.

Everyone must do all they can to maximise the power and impact of our action, whether that is by giving clear and unequivocal backing to a Central London demonstration on the first strike day (which obviously cannot draw away all pickets but is an essential ingredient in maximising the media and political impact of our action) or by making crystal clear that UNISON expects every member to strike when called upon to do so.

Regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will have got the message I hope.
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OneBarnet? Many Barnets

UNISON members in Barnet, North London, take to the picket lines once more today in a dispute over the identity of their employer sparked by the plans for mass privatisation now known as "OneBarnet."

MJ at Unionfutures has just now made the point about the strikers' imaginative demand that the Council donate their lost wages to charity (http://unionfutures.blogspot.com/2011/10/barnet-strikes-back.html). Barnet branch have the right approach to having an active strike to maximise the political pressure from industrial action.

Clearly our response to OneBarnet must be many Barnets, wherever we face the threat of wholesale privatisation.

The Barnet branch press release is at http://www.barnetunison.me.uk/?q=node/704.
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tories set fire to pensions of some of our most important public servants

Among the many attacks on public service pensions, one of the most alarming is the assault upon the pension rights of the people you expect to rescue you if your house catches fire!

Firefighters need a decent pension - because none of us want to be rescued by someone with a zimmer frame! The same Government which is applying its public sector pay freeze to firefighters now wants to impose a pay cut on firefighters in order to achieve pension contributions increases as in every other public service pension fund (and for the same reason - just to pay off the deficit).

The Government has prepared Draft Regulations to impose these contribution increases.To support the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) in opposing this theft from our firefighters you can contact your MP. The FBU have commissioned independent experts to review the Government proposals.

I can think of something more that could be done on 30 November in order to resist this assault upon some of our most vital public servants.

Not just one day

Let's assume that all the work we are doing for a good "YES" vote in the pensions ballot pays off.

On the 30 November 2011 more workers will be on strike than have been in this country for 85 years.

However, as our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, has repeatedly made clear to UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) - we cannot expect the Government to withdraw their attack upon our pensions after just one day of strike action.

It is certainly true that we cannot expect movement from the Government ahead of any strike action, and the impact of 30 November will depend entirely upon its success. However, if we are realistic, we must realise the need to prepare for further action after 30 November.

There will be a debate about whether "SMART" industrial action, rather than further all-out national action, will deliver results for us. It won't. It can't. We will reach that conclusion (though we need to continue an open and inclusive debate so that, when we do, everyone owns that decision).

There may be a debate about action short of strike action. That debate won't get far.

There may be a view that we should have "Regional" days of action. We shouldn't. Four or five multi-Regional strike days won't have a greater impact than a single UK-wide strike day.

However, after 30 November, we won't be talking about single days any more.

Once three million workers on strike have changed the conciousness of the entire country, we will (t the least) be planning for a swift escalation of discontinuous all-out national action.

Dave Prentis has made clear that we cannot expect to take just one single day of strike action and then to win. In the conduct of the dispute which will write his history he is absolutely right.

Unite in unison to defend pensions

Our sister union UNITE has produced an excellent leaflet which explains to private sector workers why it is in their interests to support the fight by public sector workers to protect our pensions.

This is a good example of the positive role which can be played by a union with a majority private sector membership in support of its own public sector minority – and the many other public sector trade unionists.

The pensions dispute is all about trade union unity. It needs never to be about attempts to grow one union at the expense of another, and I am sure that comrades in UNITE’s United Left will heed the message from UNISON comrades that we none of us need any “poaching” of members from one union to another. The working class cannot be strengthened by workers moving between trade unions!

The Coalition government is a good example of the willingness of our opponents to unite against us. The trade unions need to demonstrate the same unity if we are to win against them. Workers won’t tolerate any attempt by paid officials to put the interests of one union ahead of another at a time like this!

Strike on N30. March on N30!

Having already played a leading role in the strike action on 30 June, which began to win the pensions argument against the Tory led Government, the National Union of Teachers were quick off the mark to support the call for action on 30 November, made by our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, at the TUC (http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/13857).

I was therefore pleased to learn today that the NUT will support a strike day demonstration through Central London on 30 November. This will make it inevitable that such a demonstration will have TUC backing, which is a good thing since a London demonstration will be a vital ingredient in maximising the impact of the first day of action in the pensions strike campaign of 2011/12.

With all due respect to comrades in other Regions (many of whom are rightly proud of higher union density and stronger union branches than we have in the south east), major demonstrations in Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff and Birmingham will lead regional news bulletins - but an impressive mobilisation in Central London on 30 November (of which we are more than capable) will help to capture national headlines (and magnify the media impact of local and regional mobilisations elsewhere).

We can't send every activist on a march on a strike day - some must keep picket lines going where this will be useful, and others must support lunchtime protests at hospitals by unions (like the Royal College of Nursing) who are not - yet - ready for a strike ballot.

However, if we are balloting 1.1 Million of our members with a view to winning this dispute (as I believe we are) then we have to show that, when it comes to campaigning and industrial action, UNISON can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Our members in London (local government at least) will certainly expect (and attend) a Central London demonstration on 30 November. This need not be counterposed to support for local ralles - particularly where this will draw in unions unable to ballot for action on the day.

However, there can be no doubt that there must be a significant London demonstration on 30 November, as there most certainly shall.
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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Have confidence to take action

One consequence of UNISON organising the largest co-ordinated strike ballots in the history of the country is that tens if not hundreds of thousands of members are receiving ballot papers for the first time in their lives.

And they are therefore reading, for the first time, the statutory form of words which such ballot papers must bear, which warn that strike action is a breach of contract.

This has, of course always been true. There is no legal "right to strike" and - until the introduction of the legal concept of "unfair dismissal" in the 1970s, strikers could (legally) be dismissed on the whim of the employer (as workers generally could, albeit with a right to notice pay if they weren't in breach of contract by striking).

Once unfair dismissal law arrived, employers wishing to sack strikers could only protect themselves from claims of unfair dismissal from the sacked strikers if they dismissed all of them and did not re-engage any for at least 90 days.

As the anti-union laws of the Thatcher - and Major - years tightened their grip, this protection was restricted only to workers taking lawful official action, in respect of which the union had complied with all the new legal requirements in relation to balloting and notification.

New Labour introduced further protection for official strikers, removing the "sack them all" option for employers initially for eight and latterly twelve weeks from the commencement of action. Even after these periods the employer would only be safe from unfair dismissal claims if they could show that, before dismissing every striker, they had taken reasonable steps to resolve the dispute.

The recent introduction of the eight - and now twelve - week "protected period" has created a new dilemma about how to communicate with members in dispute when these periods expire, a subject addressed recently in more than one official UNISON dispute and to which I will return in future posts.

However, the answer to the question "can I be sacked for striking on 30 November is an unequivocal "no".

The anti-union laws require individual postal ballots in order to depress both turnouts and voters, confronted alone and in the privacy of their home with the question "do you want to breach your contract?"

We need to give members a sense of our collective strength to empower them to vote "YES" and to give them the confidence to take action on 30 November and beyond.
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Getting the vote out - and arming the members with the arguments

We are presenting our arguments against the Tory cash grab on our pension funds well (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2488) - the long term consequences of pushing more workers on to means tested benefits in retirement do indeed drive a coach and horses through the Government's case.

The key task of the moment is to ensure that these arguments are in our members' minds as they cast their votes. For those of us in the LGPS, the joint union "myths exposed" leaflet (www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/19834.pdf) is a brilliant tool - and using it alongside the generic "vote YES" materials adds value to the work of getting the vote out, as we begin to arm our members with the arguments they will need to participate in the widespread discussion of the merits of our case which we can anticipate in the run up to 30 November itself.

I have distributed hundreds of these leaflets in the past couple of days and have never known a better response from our members. Non-members are joining in order to strike.

Regular readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) may have noticed an absence of world-weary cynicism in recent posts. I'm afraid I have been overwhelmed by enthusiasm.

Our most active and committed members are voting "YES" right now, the lesson of the turnout in the NUT ballot (which was continuous throughout the ballot period) is that we must keep up the pressure over the next fortnight.
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Vote YES to defend our pensions

I’m grateful to the good folk at the Guardian letters page for publishing a letter even though I failed to answer my phone at the time because I was speaking to a joint union meeting, aimed at members employed in schools, at the legendary “NALGO” social club in Hornchurch (thankyou MJ for the invitation!)

I made the same point in the meeting I had made in the letter, which was that, since nine out of 10 City bankers expect a bonus this year, this sets an interesting example to us public servants who – unlike the bankers – are obviously deemed responsible for the financial crisis, as we have to make do with a pay freeze and now a raid by the Treasury on the cash in our pension funds.

Unlike a banker's bonus, my pension represents decades of my own saving for retirement as part of a scheme that is secure, affordable and financially viable. Yet, if the government has its way, I shall have to pay more and wait longer to receive less when I retire to help deal with a deficit caused by those still salivating in anticipation of unearned bonuses. Thankfully there is something I can do about this, by voting for industrial action to protect public service pensions.

I was pleased earlier in the day to be part of the first weekly joint union campaign meeting in Lambeth. Like most other activists I will be clearing as much as my diary as possible to get the message out to our members that it’s time to vote “YES” for industrial action.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Selective action and silver bullets

As ever Gregor Gall is thought-provoking in his contribution to the necessary debate on tactics for the defence of public service pensions - in which he argues that the current experience of the dispute over attacks on pay and conditions in Southampton Council demonstrates that "selective action" is no "silver bullet" (http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/10/southampton-smart-strike-union?cat=commentisfree&type=article).

We should welcome this contribution to a vital debate, even while perhaps questioning the use of the "bullet" metaphor in relation to a dispute with a Council Leader not averse to wrestling armed men to the ground (http://m.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/apr/08/submarine-shooting-sentry-murder-hms-astute?cat=uk&type=article).

We need a considered and informed debate about tactics for this dispute - and that means we must be free from the preconceptions of those (such as the now largely apolitical CPBML)(http://www.workers.org.uk/) who believe that mass action has had its day and smart action is the only way. Equally though we mustn't fall into the trap of discounting selective action completely, as some on the left may do.

Gregor makes, in my opinion, a couple of errors - both of them about a strike I was part of 22 years ago. The 1989 NALGO pay strike was won not only with escalating all-out action, but also with targeted selective action by key workers on strike pay at the rate of "full take home pay." This shows that UK trade unions have sometimes been prepared to pay high levels of strike pay - and that selective action can, in principle and in certain circumstances, be an effective tool.

UNISON has paid strike pay at that rate in several disputes since vesting day in 1993, but the experiences of the London Weighting dispute of 2002/3 and the 2002 national local government pay dispute both illustrated the greater limits placed on the utility of the tactic of selective action in an era of lower union density and greater privatisation.

Even before 1993 NALGO had learned, in the London Borough of Newham, how expensive it could be to go down the "full take home pay" road in a local dispute. NALGO branches had more money and autonomy than UNISON branches - and I led strike action on "full take-home pay" twenty years ago. Today barely a handful of our branches have the resources to sustain this approach and fewer would be wise to do so.

I think I broadly agree with Gregor's thesis that selective action won't be what wins the pensions fight, in spite of his misreading of 1989. I think our most experienced officials share that view.

However many activists, particularly in health where there has not been national action for a generation, have not been through the experiences which have persuaded that the tool of selective action is now so blunt. Our leadership must therefore continue to sponsor the debate in which Gregor Gall has made a welcome intervention.
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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Lazy Tory journalists misfire first shot in the war on unions

Obviously readers of the Torygraph have low expectations of their journalists, given that today's "exclusive expose" around trade union facility time in the public sector is based upon the simple expedient of Freedom of Information requests (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8815280/Taxpayers-pick-up-68m-bill-for-thousands-of-union-reps.html).

Another reason why the journalists involved in reading and summarising replies (which cost taxpayers money to provide) will probably not win any awards is that they are simply repeating a piece of work which the Tax Dodgers Alliance rather grandly refer to as "research" on the same subject (http://www.taxpayersalliance.com/campaign/2011/10/victory-campaign-stop-taxpayer-funding-unions.html).

Indeed the Torygraph itself published a similar story a little over a year ago (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/7981717/Taxpayers-spend-millions-paying-for-trade-union-activities.html) so it's hard to see why today's story is "news".

I suppose the issue of attacking trade union time off is now exciting Eric Pickles in a way that perhaps it wasn't a year ago (http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/275380/End-to-taxpayers-footing-union-bill). That's because the unions are sticking up for our members to defend our pensions from the Government of which Pickles is part (and in relation to local government, his department has just published their plans for the theft of £900 Million a year).

The Torygraph jumped the gun last year but have now found their moment. It's nice that, at the same time as they provide ammunition for Ministers to attack our unions, they also get to demonstrate the "green" credentials of today's compassionate Conservatism by recycling a year old story as if it were news. It's just a shame they have so little understanding of employee relations that they make such a hash of it.

If public servants were as lazy as Torygraph journalists, or had such low standards, maybe the latter-day Poujadistes of little England would have some cause for concern.

As it is, whilst the shoddy journalism of one Tory rag may count for little, we can expect a gathering crescendo of anti-union vitriol (bankrolled by people with pensions far more generous than ours) as we gear up for action on 30 November.

Dave Prentis has - as Nick reports online at http://lawatwork.blogspot.com/2011/10/question-on-tu-facilities-statement-by.html - rebutted the attack on trade union time-off. We mustn't let lazy right wing journalists distract us from mobilising to get the vote for action.
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Saturday, October 08, 2011

The cost of Option Two to members of the LGPS

Further to the last post these are the Government’s proposed contribution increases under Option Two (before tax) to save £300 Million annually by 2014/15;

These are the changes to the accrual rate under Option Two;

It is proposed that the balance of £600m would be achieved by a change in the Scheme’s accrual rate from the current 1/60th to 1/67th with effect from 1 April 2014.

For future service from 2014 onwards each year of service would be worth 1.49% of final salary on retirement as opposed to 1.67% as at present.

This reduces the value of future service for pensions purposes by 10.8% (that means that for a given amount of service and a given final salary, your pension – in respect of future service – will be 10.8% lower than it would otherwise have been.)

An employee at the top of Scale 6 in Inner London would, by 2014, be paying 15.4% more to earn 10.8% less pension than at present in respect of future service (representing about one quarter (25%) less “value for money”).

Obviously the best way to present all of this information in an accessible way would be for there to be an online LGPS pension calculator on the UNISON website, ideally before the ballot papers go out on Tuesday...

The cost of Option One to members of the LGPS

Whilst the pensions dispute is indeed about a lot more than "contribution increases" (which are in reality a tax on public servants saving for retirement), yesterday's publication of the Government's two options for the immediate future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) does enable us to see the scale of that aspect of the attack upon our pensions.

These are the contribution increases under Option One (before tax) to save £450 Million annually by 2014/15;





These are the changes to the accrual rate under Option One;

The balance of £450m in this case would be achieved a by a stepped change in the scheme’s accrual rate from the current rate of 1/60ths to 1/64ths with effect from April 2013 and to 1/65ths with effect from April 2014.


This means that for future service from 2014 onwards each year of service would be worth 1.54% of final salary on retirement as opposed to 1.67% as at present.


This reduces the value of future service for pensions purposes by 7.8% (that means that for a given amount of service and a given final salary, your pension – in respect of future service – will be 7.8% lower than it would otherwise have been.)


An employee at the top of Scale 6 in Inner London would, by 2014, be paying 27.7% more to earn 7.8% less pension than at present in respect of future service (representing about one third (33%) less “value for money”).

In the next post, I will look at Option Two in the same way.

The pensions dispute is about more than "contribution increases" and that's why we need a pension calculator

I hope that, now that the Government have published their proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) UNISON will now publish a pension calculator to show the impact of the proposals on our members. This impact goes beyond the increase in contributions, which is dealt with in our NHS pension reckoner.

If we focus only on "contribution increases" (more properly described as an extra tax on public sector workers who choose to save for their retirement!) then we will give lower paid members the wrong message - that the Government's changes won't hit them.

The lowest paid fifth (19.28%) of LGPS members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland don't face a contribution increase from the current proposals and the next quarter (25.2%) who earn up to £19,400 (full-time equivalent) will see an increase from 5.9% to 6% in April 2013.

As our leaflet to our Scottish local government members (none of whom face a contribution increase straight away) makes clear - this dispute is about much more than the immediate reduction in pay caused by the Government's cash grab on our pension schemes.

Those who aren't going to be asked for more money from their pay packets immediately, whether because they work for a Scottish Council or because their full-time equivalent pay is below £15,000, still face a significant reduction in their pension because of Government policy which UNISON opposes.

  • The CPI Cash Grab

The first element of the reduction in pensions, which applies regardless of current or future income (and to the whole UK) is the switch from uprating by the Retail Price Index (RPI) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). On average, you might expect CPI inflation to be roughly 0.5% to 0.75% a year below RPI inflation (Source: BBC), so the difference is small in the first year, but large over a period of time.

Take, as an example, a scheme member retiring in the summer of 2001, ten years ago, on a small (but higher than average at that time) pension of £4,000 pa and look at what happens to their pension depending upon whether it is uprated on 1 April by RPI or CPI (in the previous October) over the next decade (source: Hampshire CC);


Date (April)

RPI (Oct) %

Pension £

CPI (Oct) %

Pension £

Difference £

Cumulative £

2002

1.6

4064

1.2

4048

-16

-16

2003

2.1

4149.34

1.4

4104.67

-44.67

-60.67

2004

2.6

4257.23

1.4

4162.14

-95.09

-155.76

2005

3.3

4397.72

1.2

4212.08

-185.64

-341.4

2006

2.5

4507.66

2.3

4308.96

-198.7

-540.1

2007

3.7

4674.44

2.4

4412.38

-262.06

-802.16

2008

4.2

4870.77

2.1

4505.04

-365.73

-1167.89

2009

4.2

5075.34

4.5

4707.76

-367.58

-1535.47

2010

-0.8

5075.34

1.5

4778.38

-296.96

-1832.43

2011

4.5

5303.73

3.2

4931.29

-372.44

-2204.87


The difference in the uprating on 1 April 2002 would only have been £16 a year, or 0.4% of the pension. However, by 1 April 2011 our notional pensioner would be £372.44 a year (or 7%) poorer, and over the decade s/he would have lost a total of £2,200 (or 4.75% of the pension they would otherwise have received over the period).

Since the gap grows with time, and since we hope to live for more than ten years after retirement, the eventual loss, which depends upon exactly what happens with the two indices as well as how long a pensioner lives is estimated to amount to a lifetime effect of 15-20% of the value of the pension.

Since we are opposed to the shift from RPI to CPI and are challenging it in court, we can sensibly include this aspect of the Government's assault on our pensions in a pension calculator and should do so, just as PCS have.

  • The accrual rate rip-off

The second issue which will reduce the pensions of all, regardless of earnings, will be changes to accrual rates.

We can also now illustrate the impact upon future pensions of the two different proposed changes to accrual rates announced yesterday by the Government. Those who are shielded from an immediate "contribution increase" (pension tax) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland because they are low paid are in fact only being protected from one half (option one) or one third (option two) of the Tory cash grab on the LGPS, because the detrimental change to accrual rates, which aims to cost local government workers £450 Million (option one) or £600 Million (option two) will impact upon all scheme members regardless of earnings.


The impact of the change to accrual rates will be greater the younger you are, assuming that pensions earned by past service are protected. The impact is certainly not negligible! Take, for example, a 53 year old who will retire at the age of 66 in 2024 ten years after a change from the current 1/60th accrual to the much less favourable 1/67th accrual, on a final salary of £25,000.

Those ten years of service would have contributed £4,166.67 towards their annual pension based upon 1/60ths but will contribute only £3,731.34 based upon 1/67ths, leaving our future pensioner worse off by £435.33 a year (or £36.38 a month). Assuming that our pensioner lives for eighteen years after retirement, and that pensions increase by an average of about 2.5% a year over that period, the lifetime loss would be a little under £10,000.

This change in accrual rate in option two would reduce the amount of pension earned by every year of service by more than 10%, and therefore reduce the value of any given pension by 10% in respect of future service, on top of the reduction in the value of pensions already caused by the change in the uprating dealt with above.

Those at the bottom of the income distribution in local government may not be asked to pay more out of their monthly pay to stay in the pension scheme, but they face a reduction in the value of their entire pension of between 15% and 20% because of the change in uprating and - in option two - a reduction of more than a further 10% in respect of future service. This reduction can realistically be calculated on the basis of reasonable assumptions and presented to members in a pension calculator.

  • The pension age theft
The third and final aspect of proposed changes which can be anticipated and calculated, and which will hit all scheme members regardless of income, are the proposed changes to the pension age. A realistic assessment of the likely future actuarial reduction for, what will become, "early" retirement at 65 can be taken into account in a pension calculator.

For all these reasons, I hope that we will soon see comprehensive pension calculators on the UNISON website. The maths is a bit time consuming - but it's not rocket science (or you wouldn't be reading about it here!)

The pensions dispute is not just about the impact on individuals - our pension schemes are powerful expressions of our belief in collectivism and in caring for each other, and perhaps the most important of all the threats to the LGPS is the collective, possibly existential, threat to the pensions fair deal.

However, when individual members face up to the individual decision to vote in an individual postal ballot (and deal with the prior decision to find and return the ballot paper) it will do no harm if we can direct those members to an online calculator which shows them what the Government wants to steal from them.

How would you like to be mugged?

The mantra of choice in public service provision has now gone so far that the Coalition Government are offering local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland a choice of two different ways in which we can be ripped off to the tune of £900 Million!

The statutory consultation document which was published yesterday includes Options One and Two.

On this menu of robbery we can either have £450 Million taken off us now in increased contributions, with reductions in the accrual rate which will reduce the value of the pensions we will be paying more for by a similar amount, or we can get away with the theft of a mere £300 Million from our pay packets to fund pensions from which, by a greater change in accrual rates, £600 Million would be stolen.

UNISON were rightly quick off the mark to condemn these proposals - now we need to produce the pensions calculator which will enable members to see what each of Options One and Two would mean for them.

With ballot papers due to hit doormats in the coming week, the timing could not be better. Rather than choose between Option One and Option Two - I shall vote "YES" for action on 30 November and beyond.

Resisting an attack on the rights of nurses

Hat tips to both MJ at Union Futures and UNISON Anonymous for highlighting UNISON's robust response to the statement from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) plainly intended to discourage professional nursing staff from supporting industrial action.

As one of our senior officials observed at this week's UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, we can expect a lot of attacks in the coming weeks as we are taking on the establishment in this country by refusing to allow low paid public servants to pay with their pensions for the bail-out of the banks and a financial crisis not of our making. We can expect those attacks from politicians and the press - and now it would appear from other quarters.

It is disappointing to see a body such as the NMC taking such a blatantly political step. The politics are obvious - the NMC think to remind nursing staff that they are "personally accountable for actions and omissions in their practice" in the run up to a strike ballot. But there are much bigger threats to the standard of health care in England than strike action over pensions!

Where is the warning to staff who may omit to oppose the Government's plans to demolish the National Health Service? Since the NMC tell us that "nurses and midwives must ensure that their actions do not jeopardise good standards of care" perhaps they should also be pointing out that anyone quietly tolerating the assault on our NHS could be in breach of their Code?

Those who seriously care about patients should be supporting the campaign to stop the break up of the NHS, whether by "adopting a peer" to lobby or by taking more direct action tomorrow.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Islington Council supports “Local Government workers defending their pension scheme”

Well done to Islington Labour Councillors for moving and supporting the following motion, which has just now been passed by a full council meeting.


I hope other Councils will follow suit. I also look forward to seeing other UNISON branches along regional and national Labour Link committees using this as a model motion to ask other Local Councils and Labour Groups to pass.


Support for the Local Government Pension Scheme


Council notes that the LGPS is a sustainable, good quality pension scheme that benefits from being funded and locally managed. It is valuable to employers and employees alike.


Council is concerned by proposals announced by the Chancellor in the last CSR to impose an extra 3.2% contribution tax on scheme members, increasing scheme average member contributions from 6.6% to 9.8% and notes that none of the additional revenue will go towards improving the financial security of the scheme and that in addition, research indicates that 40-50 per cent of affected members may opt out of the scheme as a result of this policy, thereby undermining the viability of the largest pension scheme in the UK. Current Government proposals are not a genuine attempt to make the schemes more sustainable, they are a cash grab by the Treasury, imposing an additional tax on workers.


Council notes that public service workers have suffered an ongoing pay freeze, widespread redundancies and cuts and closures of many vital services on which our communities rely.

Council further notes that the LGA wrote to the Chancellor on 16 February 2011 to express concerns that mass opt-outs would be both undesirable and damaging to the scheme – Council shares these concerns.


Council is disappointed that the Government has failed to negotiate fully and openly with the Trade Unions and regrets that the Government’s intransigence has increased the possibility of industrial action. Council notes that the trade unions and community groups have agreed to organise local and national protests in support of public services, jobs and pensions. Council agrees to support the work of the Trade Unions in raising awareness of this issue and local government employees in defending their pension scheme.


Council resolves to ask the Leader to write to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury within the next month to express Council’s concerns and urge the Government to rethink their proposals.


Osborne at the Barbers?

I have yet to write up my report of yesterday's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) - although as ever these days an official note from the meeting is already online (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=7264).

In a thorough and comprehensive report on pensions one thing we weren't told, perhaps because it wasn't known, was that TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, had been in Manchester having talks with Government Ministers (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/union-bosss-private-talks-with-ministers-to-avert-mass-strikes-2366148.html).

It is, of course, in the job description for the role of General Secretary of the TUC to seek out unnecessarily shabby compromises, just as it is integral to the function of the post to seek to demobilise unions heading for action and to derail unity when that unity is around a fight with the Government.

The problem isn't how the Government announced their proposals (without consultation) but what their proposals are. The solution isn't a different way of "slicing" the £2.8bn Treasury raid on our pensions - it is it's elimination. It doesn't resolve a vicious attack to have it "phased in."

Thankfully, the TUC General Secretary is not in charge. Our General Secretary said yesterday that if we see any flaking away of support we just have to be strong.

Regions are being asked to feed in views about future tactics - beyond 30 November - and our bargaining position(s) and therefore, whilst the number one priority is getting a massive YES vote, branches should also feed views via Regional Service Group Committees.
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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A report of something that didn't happen at the UNISON NEC meeting today

I will be doing a proper report of today's UNISON NEC meeting, and in particular in relation to the pensions dispute. Briefly, however, I will note something that was absent from today's meeting.

There were no new questionable disciplinary investigations.

Indeed the (confidential) disciplinary report was the shortest it has ever been.

Whilst past injustices remain (and should not be forgotten) it would appear that there are now, "no enemies in this hall".

For the coming months our enemy is the Government and we are united in confronting them.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Far far lower than vermin

Among the regulations up for graps in the Tory "red tape challenge" are the regulations which limit the working hours of children (http://www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/employment-law/compliance-and-enforcement/).

The reactionary audacity of this Government knows no bounds - it's not just the Welfare State they want to eliminate - now they want shot of the nineteenth century Factory Acts (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factory_Acts)!


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Camden branch kick off their campaign for a "YES" vote

I was pleased to have been invited yesterday to speak at Camden UNISON's Branch Meeting (where their new website - http://camdenunison.org.uk/ - was on show).

The well-attended meeting voted unanimously to work for a "YES" vote in the pensions ballot - and to call for clear objectives for, and accountability from, our leaders.

Branch meetings are, in many cases, the best way to reach and enthuse the most committed and engaged of our members - which will be vital to securing the high turnout which we want in the ballot.

Good luck to all those organising meetings over the coming days and weeks.
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Monday, October 03, 2011

Much lower than vermin

As well as bringing forward proposals to double the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims and to introduce fees for employment tribunal claims, the Tories (with the eager support of their "Coalition Liberal" stooges) have renewed a focus on employment law as part of their "red tape challenge". (http://www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/themehome/employment-related-law/).

Bizarrely, among the Regulations singled out for consultation are the Unfair Dismissal and Statement of Reasons for Dismissal (Variation of Qualifying Period) Order 1999, Since these regulations reduced the qualifying period of continuous employment to bring a claim of unfair dismissal from 24 to 12 months (a step that the Government have already announced that they intend to reverse) it is difficult to believe in the genuiness of this "consultation."

Nevertheless I think that union activists need to engage in this "challenge" in order to rebut the arguments of those who believe that bad management practice, with minimal rights for working people, is the way forward.

Always remember that the word "Tory" was originally an insult.

And that it still is.
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Middlesex striking to save jobs - and defend the future

Preparation for the pensions ballot doesn't mean that the rest of our working lives can be put on hold.

In particular, our daily diet of redundancy proposals in public services is as bitter as ever, with cutbacks falling hardest upon communities least able to bear them.

Practical experience teaches that the best way to limit the damage done by cuts, whilst simultaneously rebuilding union organisation, is to resist them - as UNISON members at Middlesex University (http://mdxbranchlines.blogspot.com/) will by taking strike action tomorrow, jointly with UCU and supported by the Students Union.

The Government seems keen to push some higher education institutions to the wall and reverse decades of increasing access to education. Workers in Higher Education have little option but to resist.

Good luck comrades!

Hat tip MJ (http://unionfutures.blogspot.com/2011/09/middlesex-university-unison-branch.html).
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