Sunday, December 23, 2012

How do we regain our strength?



The previous post on this blog finished asking whether our trade union movement is as weak as it might appear, and what we can do about this.

The effectiveness of the trade union movement, at every level, depends upon our objective strength vis-à-vis our opponents and upon our subjective willingness to use that strength. A useful recent overview of our strength is provided by Ralph Darlington in The state of workplace union reps' organization in Britain today, Capital & Class, No. 34, pp. 126-135 (the link is to a freely available online version).

This focuses on the key element of workplace representation, our shop steward structure and picks out factors such as the increase in the ratio of union members to stewards (from 1:25 in 1984 to 1:37) as an indicator of decline. A reduced number of shop stewards are also less autonomous than was previously the case. Darlington argues that shop stewards are now “much more dependent on full-time union officials compared with the relative independence of the 1970s.”

However, Darlington also acknowledges evidence of the continuing strength and health of workplace trade union organisation, point out that; “even though the balance of power remains significantly in favour of the employers, they still feel considerable constraints on the ‘right to manage’ in many workplaces. Shop stewards and other lay union reps are still able to resist, amend or undermine management initiatives on some occasions and win concessions and gains on others.”

This rings true, as does the subsequent conclusion that “the two crucial basic, albeit often ignored, ingredients for the rebuilding of a strong workplace union reps’ movement are struggle and politics.”

The evidence of trade union membership data, whether at the level of the movement as a whole or at the level of individual trade unions, is that struggle is associated with growth. Periods of transformative growth in trade union power have also, historically, been associated with widespread political engagement, or as Darlington puts it; “the strength and militancy of the First World War shop stewards movement, the rebuilding of stewards’ organisation in the 1930s, and the powerful stewards’ movement of the 1960s and 1970s, did not develop in a political vacuum.”

Regular readers of this blog (Sidand Doris Trotwatcher) won’t be surprise by my conclusion that, if we want to rebuild our trade unions, we need to be prepared to adopt an assertive and combative approach, and to be hospitable to radical politics. As to the practical application of this conclusion, I shall blog further…





Plebgate - it's our fault comrades...



“Plebgate” poses a real problem for socialists of a certain age. It’s hard not laugh out loud. Unfortunately the underlying truth is less amusing.

Of course, when a former Tory Police Minister takes to the liberal press to take pot shots at the Police FederationI can think of nothing so much as the saying beloved of an old friend and comrade; “when thieves fall out, honest people smile.”

The shock with which Tories appear to be discovering that sometimes police officers fabricate evidenceis even funnier, to a cynical old 1980s lefty, than the shock with which the previously willing tools of Tory policy are experiencing their betrayal.

However, if trade unionists are the honest people in all of this, then I’m afraid we have few reasons to smile, because the reason this falling out is even possible is our own weakness.

The belated recognition being given officially to the blatantly partisan policing of the Miners’ strike of 1984/5 (reflected in Early Day Motion 775) is a reminder of how closely intertwined were the police with the last Conservative Government.

Thatcher protected the Police from her attacks upon public services because she needed a force prepared to restrain the resistance of a trade union movement thirteen million strong, twice as large as we are today.

Today our membership density is 26% across the economy, compared with a peak of 50% in 1979. The Coalition have concluded that we are not a threat and, as they have no “enemy within” they have no need to cushion the “thin blue line” from cuts to the extent that Thatcher did.

This begs the questions, are we really this weak and what can we do to strengthen ourselves?




Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Your P45 is 45 days nearer courtesy of the Lib Dems

As our trade unions continue to fall back in the face of a determined offensive from the Government of millionaires they continue to advance against us.

Today's announcement of a halving of the statutory minimum consultation period on mass redundancies is a case in point (http://news.bis.gov.uk/Press-Releases/Boost-for-business-as-government-sets-out-plans-to-update-employment-legislation-68512.aspx?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+bis-news+(BIS+News)).

The 90 day consultation period when consulting on more than 100 proposed redundancies is set to be halved - bringing our P45s 45 days nearer in such circumstances.

The cases of workers whose fixed term contracts expire and are not renewed are also to be excluded from the consultation provisions - and we'll need to watch carefully how that is done (and whether there is scope for legal challenge in Europe).

Having spent time most days since the last General Election (as many before) engaged in redundancy consultation at the sharp end, I can say that this measure to limit redundancy consultation will serve simply as a licence for poor employers to drive down standards of good practice.

Meaningful consultation, with proper consideration of the responses to consultation, takes as long as it takes - and if trade unions are to come up with alternatives to throwing our people on the scrap heap - we need to take that time. The case law definition of meaningful consultation is not changed by this announcement of course, and union reps must certainly not become more timid in response to this deeply reactionary step.

Good employers, with collectively agreed redundancy procedures which embody current legal provisions, should stand firm and - in particular - Labour-controlled employers (in local government) should pledge to continue to observe a minimum 90 day consultation period when proposing 100+ redundancies (though of course what we really want from Labour employers is that they stop making redundancies and work with the trade unions to develop a political strategy that will deliver redundancy notices to the Ministers spearheading this further attack upon our rights!)

Incidentally, little known LibDem stooge of the Tories, Jo Swinson, who announced this assault upon workers rights, in order to appease the Institute of Directors and other swivel-eyed elements on the foaming-at-the-mouth right-wing, once founded and chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics.

Perhaps that's why she wants to make it quicker and easier for bosses to liberate some of us from the curse of wage slavery?

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Sectarianism - an award for the worst of 2012

On Tuesday morning I joined a lobby of Congress House called by both the National Shop Stewards Network (http://shopstewards.net/) and "Unite the Resistance" (http://uniteresist.org/).

The purpose of the lobby was to press for more rapid action in response to September's Congress decisions in favour of co-ordinated industrial action and to "consider the practicalities" of a General Strike.

On being asked to say a few words, I said a few gently critical things about the leadership of our movement (which were well received) and - reflecting views I have expressed here previously (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/resist-unity.html?m=1) - I called for unity on the left (which was less well received).

It is, of course, regrettable that the weakness and marginalisation of the anti-cuts movement, and the left generally, within our trade unions has created the environment in which there are rival, competing campaigns aiming to do essentially the same thing.

However, the damage done by sectarianism on the left is as nothing to the damage done to our labour and trade union movement by sectarianism against the left.

Also this week I had the misfortune to read a diatribe circulated electronically by a trade union branch secretary, with the assistance of the employer to all staff (not simply members of the trade union) which concerned a nationally important fight to save a vital public service.

This unfortunate correspondence, in expressing opposition on behalf of the trade union to certain tactical options proposed by activists, expressed the view that "political organizations external to [the trade union] such as the Socialist Workers' Party and/or the Socialist Party (amongst others) are behind them."

The author went on as follows; "It is an unfortunate fact of life that there do exist in other local branches a tiny minority of SWP/SP members who hide behind the facade of being stewards of [the trade union] (as well as other Trade Unions) and use their positions to continually undermine their branches and push their own brand of extreme and minority politics."

This unbalanced and ill-judged contribution to communication from the trade union movement to the wider workforce is a clear winner of this blog's award for "Sectarian nonsense of the year 2012".

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Unregulated observations

Trade unionists can have no love for our current "free" press, which specialised in attacking our movement rhetorically long before Murdoch's move to Wapping in 86 opened a continuing war on their own workers.



I'm pleased, however, to find (in today's Morning Star - http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/127223) that I'm not alone in suspecting that quasi-statutory regulation overseen by Law Lords may not be the right answer to any question.



It's well worth following that link to read Solomon Hughes reviewing the many misdeeds of our monopoly-owned press, and arguing that it's ownership of the media that needs to be properly regulated.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

General Secretary Election?

According to Jerry Hicks, defeated candidate for UNITE General Secretary in the last election, today's meeting of the Executive of our sister/competitor Union may be about to agree to hold a further election for that post (http://grassrootsleftunite.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/unite-make-plans-to-call-snap-election.html?m=1).



What UNITE does is a matter for the members, activists and elected representatives of that Union, including the majority of the Executive organised around the United Left (http://unitedleft.org.uk/) - an impressive electoral machine which, as a UNISON member, I can only regard with envy.



Crying "foul" because you think an incumbent candidate may use their influence to timetable an election to their benefit is fairly futile (as we in UNISON know from experience).



UNISON activists will of course recollect that we have ourselves experience of timetabling issues around such elections (including the only previously unscheduled special meeting of our National Executive Council in 2010).



Speaking with all the authority of one of the most miserable failures in the history of left wing challengers for the position of General Secretary, and as someone who has yet to vote for the winning candidate in such an election, I have wise words for those watching the UNISON Centre;



"Watch this space."



(Particularly the sixth and seventh floors).

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Monday, December 03, 2012

Can we win by force of argument?

With Osborne set to admit that collapsing the UK economy has not brought down the deficit, UNISON's announcement of ways in which billions could easily be found to restore jobs and services is timely (http://union-news.co.uk/2012/12/stop-corporate-theft-unisons-45bn-plan-to-save-economy/).

In truth, even if we couldn't identify the billions readily available, it would make sense for the Government to increase spending in order to boost the economy (and to reduce the proportion of Gross Domestic Product accounted for by debt by increasing the size of the denominator).

However, because of the stranglehold of sub-Thatcherite economic quackery on popular consciousness it is certainly valuable to have a quick answer to the question "where will the money come from?" (even if it would be a better answer to explain that that isn't the right question).

It's similar to the importance of showing local authorities where they can make real efficiencies, or legitimately draw on reserves, in order to protect jobs and services. UNISON are doing the same job nationally that many branches seek to do locally.

As opinion polls increasingly show majority opposition to further cuts it's clear that our movement is winning the argument, and the battle for public opinion, with the advocates of austerity.

However, it would be a mistake to think that there is much prospect of winning anything on this score by force of argument.

This Government are not savaging welfare, attacking the most vulnerable and undermining workers' rights because they believe these things to be economically necessary but because they believe them to be socially desirable.

The deficit (caused by bailing out the banks) is not the reason for any of this, simply a convenient excuse.

The strategic objective of our trade union movement ought to be resistance (which may help us to survive), not survival (in order to achieve which we may need to be seen to resist).

As part of this approach we need to promote the coherent and radical alternative to austerity which is reflected in the policies of UNISON and the TUC but not in the policy or practice of the Labour Opposition - and we need to fight for it in the hear and now, as well as vote for it when we can.

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Disability - think globally act locally

Today, according to the United Nations is International Day for People with Disabilities (http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=1597).



Here in the UK every day is a day for the Tory led Coalition to attack disabled people, whether by forcing people off benefits, or out of work, or both.



The emergence of Disabled People Against the Cuts (http://www.dpac.uk.net/) is perhaps the most positive indication in this country of work being done towards achieving this year's international theme for today, which is "removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all."



The double irony, for a rank and file workplace trade union representative, of our Government's approach to disabled people is not only the hypocritical push to take jobs which aren't there (thanks to Tory economic policy), but also the way disabled workers are so often treated by employers.



Even in organisations with sound and progressive paper policies, too many managers (under increasing pressure to hit targets and cut costs) can be prone to see disabled colleagues as a problem rather than an asset.



As trade unionists we need to be clear that the problem is the discrimination against disabled people, of which such attitudes are one manifestation.



Solidarity to disabled brothers and sisters in UNISON and all trade unions, and to all those grassroots union representatives tackling disability discrimination today and every day.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Fifteen minutes of Maude on N30?

A year ago today I spent the morning, alongside my son and many colleagues, on picket lines as part of the largest strike of my adult life (www​.unison.org.uk/acrobat/20452.pdf).

In the run up to that strike, as regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Picket) will remember, Francis Maude, on behalf of the Government, had suggested that - instead of striking for the day - we could organise "token" fifteen minute protest action with no loss of pay (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-15704451).

It's taken our movement a year to give Maude his wish, but today he gets what he wanted as an early Xmas present from civil servants.

The occasion for this is, appropriately enough, some characteristically Scrooge-like behaviour from the Coalition government.

In an attempt to encourage the worst employers to behave as they wish to, and to cajole better employers into following suit, the Government have launched an assault upon the terms and conditions of all civil servants (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/C37B0DEA-2772-4471-9EB028EF3544B85A).

This is why our brothers and sisters in PCS are organising a series of protests on today's anniversary of last year's N30 in order to focus and highlight opposition to this attack, and to mobilise their membership once more for the seemingly endless struggle to resist the Government's attacks (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/terms-and-conditions/index.cfm).

This limited action points the civil service union in the right direction of mobilising opposition to the dilution of conditions of service, as opposed to the foolish approach of seeking jointly to manage detrimental change, which, as I pointed out a few days ago (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-fallacy-of-retreat-and-perils-of.html?m=1), is very regrettably being adopted in the health service.

The package of conditions of service which have been negotiated over decades and passed on to us by those who came before represent the product of past struggle and past organisation.

We won't reverse declining union membership in the public sector (http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/employment-matters/docs/t/12-p77-trade-union-membership-2011.pdf) with concession bargaining because if we want to inspire future leaders of future struggles we need to honour our past achievements.

Negotiators who approach an attack on conditions from employers from the perspective of looking to see what can be conceded, rather than how to mobilise members to get the best out of any particular situation, are lazy as well as timid. Rank and file organisation, with imaginative and skillful leadership, will invariably produce a better outcome than those who are experts only in knowing what cannot be done.

Today, PCS are showing a campaigning approach to the defence of conditions of service. Good luck comrades!

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Monday, November 26, 2012

The fallacy of retreat and the perils of defeatism

Regular readers of the blog not discouraged by infrequent posting (Sid and Doris Diehard-Blogger) will know that I am a happy-go-lucky hedonist rarely driven to anger.

I am, however, a tad annoyed when I see union officials (whether lay or paid) recommending or agreeing reductions in pay and conditions of service in the folorn hope of protecting jobs (or preserving bargaining arrangements).

This is particularly futile in public services, and all the evidence is that all that such "concession bargaining" achieves in these circumstances is that it invites employers to make further attacks.

At the start of the current wave of devastation of services (in the immediate aftermath of the last General Election) some of the better paid, but less economically literate, of the workforce wondered about giving up a day's pay (and work) to balance the books.

Great.

And next year? And the year after?

We face, in our Government, the specific UK manifestation of a global attempt to eliminate the last vestiges of the "postwar settlement" and to replace this with what may be considered the "postColdWar settlement" (based upon the absence of any global alternative to capitalism).

There can be no "deals" with this agenda, though we may achieve temporary truces where we are strong enough to slow it, or canny enough to divert it. Ultimately we need to reverse this offensive upon us - and that requires us to create political possibilities beyond the scope of this blog post (or - I fear - of current reality)(which, of course, we also need to change).

A recent example of the totally wrongheaded approach has been set by our national negotiators in the health service, who are (quite clearly) promoting a dilution of "Agenda for Change" national conditions of service in the hope of preserving national bargaining and fending off its disintegration (http://www.unison.org.uk/healthcare/pages_view.asp?did=14979).

This will work no better than the recent approach of a large City (but not always United?) local government branch in the North West, whose reward for conceding conditions of service to avert redundancies was (guess what?) redundancies.

As trade unionists we are negotiators and pragmatists. Compromise is an integral part of what we do. However, no one ever got the best deal they could by signalling an over eagerness for compromise at the outset. Yet this seems to be the default setting for some of our negotiators.

This approach fails. It shows weakness, it invites attack and it demoralises members.

If the employers' side national negotiators have even the hint of a thought that our members in local government might be recommended to concede conditions of service in order to enable their constituent authorities to "afford" a miserly increase in pay they had best think again.

And if there are lay elected members of UNISON bodies who think we should recommend the worsening of conditions of service that were fought for by people who came before us?

They should resign.

And those who believe that trade unions should fight to improve (rather than worsen) the lives of their members and potential members need to get involved, get active and get nominated.

Now, more than ever, is a time for (real) trade unionism.

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Local Government pay - what is "substantial"?

The pay settlement for local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (of whom I am one) is that for the largest bargaining group in the economy. If fine words about confronting the Tory pay freeze are to find meaning it has to be in relation to this claim.

This year's local government pay claim (for 2013-14) is, in part, for a "substantial flat rate increase" - but what does that mean?

Officers asked to explain, as at the recent UNISON Regional Local Government Committee in Greater London cannot answer - and that's not ducking and diving on their part, but properly observing the democratic legitimacy of the lay Committee which determined this form of words.

That doesn't mean that those of us in line to receive whatever pay award is eventually negotiated ought not to consider what we think these words mean - if we don't then how are we to judge whatever offer we are made?

I would like to suggest a test we should put to whatever offer the employers side eventually make (having thus far done no more than dangle the possibility of (a very small) carrot, which has even less substance than our claim.

A "substantial" flat rate pay award needs to be sufficient to halt the decline in living standards for a large majority of our members (bearing in mind that the real terms pay of a worker on the same pay point since 2009 has fallen by a sixth).

With Retail Price Index inflation at 3.2% (http://www.ons.gov.uk:80/ons/rel/cpi/consumer-price-indices/october-2012/index.html) that's the percentage increase required by workers to halt (not reverse or make up for) the decline in our standard of living.

Since we are asking for a flat rate increase (in a legitimate attempt to redistribute in favour of the lowest paid) we need to set (even if only in our own heads) a benchmark grade to which this 3.2% applies, so that we can judge an offer from the employers.

If we don't think now about what we think "substantial" ought to mean - in our own pay claim - we have no basis upon which reasonably to judge any offer which may be made - and that would be dangerous.

If we have this discussion only in private we shall fail to mobilise our members, rendering the discussion pointless.

If we want to ensure that workers up to SCP28 (outside London) don't suffer a further fall in living standards we need £760 a year - but that would mean all those above that point (and at lower points on the London pay spines) would continue to lose in real terms.

If we pitch this at the level at which we were happy to see members pay more for their pensions (SCP49) we need an increase of £1,332 a year.

Looking at these figures it's fairly clear that any pay offer below £1,000 a year flat rate can't reasonably be described as "substantial". This sum would sustain the living standards of workers up to SCP37 (outside Greater London), although with those above that rate still seeing a continuing fall in real income.

This is, of course, a very low benchmark by which to judge a pay offer - it wouldn't bring even those at the bottom of the pay spine back to the spending power they had in 2009.

This approach to working ought what ought to be meant by "substantial" also fails to address the question (to which I will return) of the "strings" which may be attached to any offer.

Any offer which was linked, for example, to detrimental changes in well-established sick pay arrangements (which set a modest civilised standard for other decent employers) we would be being asked to collude in redistribution away from those who are unwell.

No flat rate payment, however substantial, could justify that (and I would love to see the equality impact assessment which would justify such an assault upon those most vulnerable).

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why health and safety at work matters



The earliest legislative victories of our trade union movement, more than a century and half ago, were around health and safety regulation. The shocking news from Bangladesh, where over 120 workers have died in a factory fire is a reminder of the conditions in manufacturing in this country before those victories.

The workers in the Indian subcontinent are not separate from our economy – they are an integral part of the supply chain leading to many of the purchases which will be made this Xmas. The same companies which employ many workers in the UK are prepared to tolerate appalling working conditions in jurisdictions where they can get away with it.

The approach of the Coalition Government is to seek to water down legislative protection for the health, safety and welfare of employees(and others). Those of us coping daily with the threat of redundancies and privatisation (however it is dressed up) may have little time with which to try to protect the health and safety gains of past generations.

However, with injuries increasing even as economic activity has declined, we need to continue to fight the battles which our predecessors fought in the nineteenth century (and to show our solidarity with our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world who are experiencing the sort of “light touch” regulation of health and safety to which Cameron and Clegg aspire).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Resist the Unity?

I couldn't get along to today's Unite the Resistance (UtR) meeting in London (http://uniteresist.org/) but hope it's going well. I hope it will put the emerging organisation on some sort of democratic footing and provide a useful opportunity for networking.

There are some on the left who decry the somewhat ironic name of the most recent arrival amongst the national bodies seeking to co-ordinate anti-cuts activity, and others who level at UtR the allegation also made about the Right to Work (RtW) (http://righttowork.org.uk/2012/10/new-sanctions-regime-will-punish-the-poorest/campaign) (that it is essentially a front for the Socialist Workers Party).

We do, however, need to try to develop more effective national coordination of anti-cuts activity, and UtR will draw together some of those who should be part of that, including many outside the ranks of the SWP (I have put my name forward, if wanted, for the steering committee).

Others, around the Socialist Party, see the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) (http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/) as the vehicle for the coordination of struggle. I was at the founding Conference of the NSSN and continue to believe it to have been a good idea with considerable potential.

Many of those previously involved in the NSSN have fallen away as the dominance of the Socialist Party has become more pronounced, but the NSSN retains official links with several national unions, and those who look to it are not insignificant, although their determination to prioritise their distinctive "selling point" on the left (visceral hostility to the Labour Party they left twenty years ago) can make "united front" work a challenge.

The Coalition of Resistance (CoR)(http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/)has also aimed at the same target of coordination for some time, without the participation of the largest far left parties, but with high profile support and strong European links. Although on paper a likely candidate to draw people together (and is, of all these initiatives, the one for which I feel most warmth), CoR includes among its leading lights some groups whose relationship with the SWP is like a recent, raw divorce.

Away from the "Trotskyist" left, the People's Charter (http://www.thepeoplescharter.org/) (which I support) is a project (though not exclusively) of the Communist Party of Britain which has, characteristically, by far the stongest "official" labour movement backing and - equally characteristically - a low activist profile.

Looking just at the picture I have sketched out above, there are many on the left who will bemoan the "sectarianism" of the left groups which appears to be the cause of the divisions, at a national level, in an anti-cuts movement which is at its best (at a local level) when it is united.

This complaint mistakes the symptom for the cause and makes the mistake of blaming those who are present in the struggle against cuts, rather than those who bear responsibility for these problems - those who are absent.

The anti-cuts movement is not weak at a national level because it is divided. It is divided because it is weak.

The responsibility lies with the leadership of the Labour Party and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the trade unions.

The Balls/Miliband line on cuts - which could be summed up in the chant; "What Do We Want? Fewer Cuts! When Do We Want Them? Later!" Is testament to the continuing influence of vile Blairite forces around the Sainsbury-funded Progress faction. It seeks to place the Labour Party outside the anti-cuts movement and encourages Labour Councils to see anti-cuts activists as enemies as much as the Tories (a grave misjudgement which is then just as foolishly reciprocated).

In these circumstances, the responsibility to lead and unify a struggle against assaults upon working class living standards and public services unprecedented in a lifetime falls upon the trade union leadership.

The TUC have called a couple of major national demonstrations and the unions (led by UNISON) have organised one major national strike.

The trade union leadership lack confidence in our ability to defeat the Government and are therefore prone to seeing our campaigns (such as UNISON's Million Voices - http://www.unison.org.uk/million/) as being as much aimed at our members and potential members (with a view to recruitment and retention of union members) as at defeating our enemies.

If the Labour Party or - failing that - the TUC (or failing that the big unions) organised an effective anti-cuts campaign then that would be the one national anti-cuts campaign we need.

If they won't do that then we socialists need to do a number of things.

First, we need (if we can) to find an effective substitute to unite our struggles. If this can be done it may be that the General Secretaries of unions in the Trade Union Coordinating Group (TUCG) hold the key.

Secondly, we need to mobilise to hold to account - and force to the left - our union leaderships. This does require organising at a rank and file level, focusing on local activity and building workplace organisation - but those who concentrate only on these things are not doing all that is required.

We must stand candidates of the left wherever and whenever we can in our trade unions and (as much as this may divert our energies) we must campaign for their election (of course we must also build the rank and file organisation and grassroots struggle which will ground, and hold to account, whoever is elected).

Thirdly, we must press our trade unions to take our fight into the Labour Party. Our goal is not so much to ensure the selection of trade unionists as Labour candidates for public office (thought that is a worthy cause) as to fight for policies we can support and then for candidates, and democratic structures of accountability, which give hope that these policies may be delivered in practice.

We need to reclaim the Labour Party not in the sense of capturing official positions but in the sense of making the Party a campaigning organisation fighting for working people in our communities as we fight for our unions to do in our workplaces.

Of course, we must also work with socialist comrades who may not agree with every point above (and I guess the third may not appeal to every reader of this blog). I do, however, think it quite important that socialists grasp that division and sectarianism on the left is much more a consequence than a cause of our problems, and that the struggle to hold to account the leadership of our movement (whilst building and strengthening our movement) is where our energies belong.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

News from the front line in Barnet

Barnet's long war against privatisation get's some well deserved publicity in today's Grauniad (http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/11/local-government-democracy-outsourcing-barnet?cat=commentisfree&type=article).



Following the recent setback for those who see local services primarily as a cash cow for shareholders in Cornwall, Barnet is now very much in the front line of attempts to divert taxpayers' money in the cause of profit.



The Guardian's John Harris rightly credits the legendary Barnet bloggers but omits to mention the absolutely vital, central role of Barnet UNISON branch (www​.barnetunison.me.uk/) in sustaining, over several years, a lengthy struggle (sometimes against unanticipated obstruction and opposition).



Spending cuts are damaging (sometimes horrendously so) but privatisation can do permanent damage that is even harder to reverse (particularly if local authorities lose the assets and physical and managerial/organisational infrastructure which would enable them to deliver a service themselves).



We can all learn from the continuing struggle in Barnet, whether we are up against the "pure" Tory threat of privatisation to the vultures of the public services "industry" or the Tory-lite Progress inspired version peddled by those who misuse the word "cooperative" in this cause (http://www.councils.coop/).



Our trade unions require a process of rejuvenation and decentralisation if we are to engage effectively with the prospect of dozens, if not hundreds, of local authorities taking the "Barnet Road" over the next couple of years. The imagination, persistence and agility of Barnet UNISON has been and is an example to us all.

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Truth, damned truth and statistics

Over the weekend I had the opportunity occasionally to be flummoxed by maths puzzles set to a teenager.



However, enough of my brain cells have survived the rigours of decades of trade union activity that I still have a rough comprehension of statistics.



Those of us who are dealing daily with the disproportionate impact of Coalition spending cuts on disadvantaged groups certainly need such comprehension.



Let me illustrate with a maths puzzle of my own for you;



A section of the workforce of an employer consists of 70% BME (black and minority ethnic) employees and 30% white employees.



Restructuring proposals put 73% of the BME staff and 45% of the white staff at risk of redundancy.



The employer answers concerns about this disproportionate impact (which, given the numbers involved, is found to be "extremely statistically significant" using Fisher's Exact Test) as follows;



"the proportion of BME staff who may be at risk is broadly comparable with the proportion of BME staff in [that part of the organisation]".



Does this answer from the employer demonstrate;



(A) a misleading comparison between the proportion of a sub group in an overall population with the proportion of that sub group having a particular additional characteristic;



(B) a lack of comprehension of the meaning of an "extremely statistically significant" relationship between two characteristics;



(C) an inexpert attempt to downplay evidence of a potentially racially discriminatory outcome if the proposals proceed as planned, or;



(D) all of the above?



The first correct answer in the comments below will win an, as yet unannounced, prize.

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Monday, November 05, 2012

Living Wage: work in progress


The publicity received yesteday is most welcome by those who have campaigned for a living wage, however the Labour Party support does seem to come with some confusion, stating that the National Minimum Wage is the basic minimum and Living Wage is that little bit more. The Living Wage(LW) and the London Living wage (LLW) are based on a calculation of what is the minimum income needed to meet basic needs – it is the basic minimum. The National minimum wage at £6.19 remains well below the Living Wage. The Living wage and the London Living wage both increased yesterday by 25p to £7.45 and £8.55.

However with the Labour party announcement of support for living wage has suddenly seen a number of Labour councils who previously had very little interest in the Living wage suddenly declared themselves a living wage employers and some seem to have rather hastily been accredited by the Living Wage Foundation.

Accreditation is based on employers not only paying its own directly employed staff the Living wage but also contracted staff. No council as far as I am aware has fully complied with this as yet, however credit is due to the likes of Islington Council who have now signed up 80% of their contractors to LLW and brought back in house cleaners so they get more the LLW and are doing the same with waste. Islington accreditation is based on the fact that it had made good progress with it contractors and agreed be fully compliant by 2014 and the local unions were fully involved in the process.

However you do not have to go far to find a different story neighbouring borough Camden who had shown no real interest in LLW despite attempt by the UNISON to get them to do so. However they have now declared themselves a living wage employer been accredited and now flying the Living wage flag this week for living wage week. They have been accreditations on the basis of achieving this in 4 years, my fear is hasty accreditations could not only appear opportunist but will undermine work done elsewhere.

Being living wage employer is not just some badge of honour or a bandwagon to leap on, but rather about ensuring a reasonable standard of living for workers and their families.

Our employers could be accused of giving with one hand while bashing us over the head with the other. Not only has no Labour council as yet stood up and refused to implement the cuts which have led to many UNISON members being made redundant. Some councils of them have even more actively attacked terms and condition from sick pay, annual leave and refusing increments also going down the road of privatisation or increase number of part time jobs. The danger is the living wage may also be seen as the maximum wage as well as the minimum and not as should be as the absolute minimum wage paid by a responsible employer.

Turning to the Labour Leadership who have made it clear they are happy to continue to see a the pay cut to public sector workforce not only continue but deepen in real terms and Ed Milliband even argued a few months ago that an actual cut in pay would in some case be reasonable action of a public sector employer. Of cause not forgetting the Labour front benches support on the attack on our pensions which is after all just deferred pay.

I also note our General Secretary Dave Prentis felt the need to write an article on the living wage with leading progress MP Dave Miliband (maybe he forgot what he said a about progress recently) which seemed to give the agenda unsurprising of the labour party right on privatisation of public services, it ok they privatise just do it a bit more nicely!!.

Back to the Living wage, once again the campaign has been taken forward in huge leaps and bounds from it starting place in east London, but as trade unionists we must not take claims at face value we must monitor scrutinise and if necessary expose them if commitments and promises are not met, or if we find workers suffering as a result of poor terms and conditions instead. In additions campaigns like London Citizens and its sister group the Living Wage Foundation must insist on trade union involvement with any employer before engaging in discussion about becoming a living wage employer

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Europe - the real story?



Half-term has kept me away from work, and therefore the local manifestations of the global crisis, for a week – but the news from Greece, as reported by Kate Belgrave, is genuinely frightening.

In the areas hit hardest by the slump, hunger is on the increase as democracy stutters, which makes next week’s European TUC Day of Action a timely move.

This is a call for “a day of action and solidarity on 14 November 2012, including strikes, demonstrations, rallies and other actions” and there will be general strikes in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Malta. Unfortunately I can’t find details of what is being done in the UK on the relevant page of the TUC website.

While Congress House is probably still considering the practicalities of a General Strike, the Coalition of Resistance have organised a solidarity protest outside the offices of the European Commission.

Whilst the Westminster bubble is taken up with David Cameron losing a vote, and whether the Labour opposition were right to oppose, the real story about Europe is not the squabble within the elite about the European Union, but the resistance on the streets by the people.


Or activists locally could get on with organising events and protests on Wednesday 14 November.




Monday, October 29, 2012

Support strikers against low pay

You can do something today to support low paid UNISON members in dispute with Camden's parking contractor, NSL (http://camdenunison.org.uk/2012/10/19/the-nsl-dispute-raised-in-parliament-by-john-mcdonnell/#more-1453).



Check if your MP has signed the Early Day Motion in support of the strikers (http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2012-13/604). If they haven't then get on to them and ask them to do it (http://www.writetothem.com/).



The Early Day Motion (EDM) calls on NSL "to enter into serious negotiations with UNISON and table an improved pay offer, failing which it calls on Camden Council to review its contract with NSL with a view to cancelling the contract if the company does not improve its offer."



Since the UNISON members who have been taking action against NSL certainly want an improved pay offer, getting your MP to sign the EDM is a small step you can take in solidarity with their struggle.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Do we really oppose investing our pension funds in building homes?

It's a necessary and legitimate role for a trade union to sound a note of caution - indeed it seems I have to do that almost daily to my own employers at the moment (and I really must find time to blog about the "cooperative council" at some point!)

However, UNISON's response to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Future Housing Commission proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) to fund housebuilding, covered in the last post on this blog may err to far on the side of caution (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2857).

We are warning the Government of the risk of legal challenge if LGPS funds are invested in housebuilding as this may be contrary to the interests of scheme members.

So far so good. Our members will be pleased to gain the impression that we are protecting their interests.

But...

The starting point in a defined benefit pension scheme - like the LGPS - is that investment risk is borne by the employer (that's the main attraction of a defined benefit scheme).

Discussions about future "cost-sharing" have been around sharing (between employers/Government and employees) the demographic "risk" of increases in lifespan beyond retirement - not (at least not as far as we have been told thus far) about sharing investment risk.

Therefore, if we know what our contributions are and what our benefits are, and if both continue to be defined in regulations for LGPS 2014, then any investment risk arising from long term investment in housebuilding is a risk to be borne by the Council taxpayers via the employers' contributions following the next triennial valuation, and not by employees through increased contributions or reduced benefits.

(Unless someone is expecting something rather nasty and completely unheralded in the small print of the LGPS 2014 Regulations?)

As a general principle we should surely favour investing the considerable pension funds in the LGPS in ways which prioritise social benefits alongside financial returns. In the 1980s the fund which will one day pay my pension refused to invest in Apartheid South Africa, with the enthusiastic support of the trade unions.

If we can support an investment strategy which rules out certain investments then I cannot see why - in principle - we should oppose a strategy which rules certain investments in?

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Local Government workers to save the world. Official.

Well, perhaps not the world.

And perhaps "authoritative" rather than "official."

The Future Housing Commission established by the Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA) believes that the funds held in the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) could provide resources to enable a massive increase in the building of much needed new homes (http://m.architectsjournal.co.uk/8637758.article).

Obviously part of me wants to express exasperation that, three years into a pay freeze, the collective pension pot of predominantly low paid local government workers is looked to to help rescue our economy and society from a crisis not of our making (particularly when it's some of the "great and the good" who've found this new use for the funds set aside for the retirement income of home helps and teaching assistants).

Local government workers should set aside any such emotional response however - because proactive investment of the considerable sums held in the LGPS could produce significant social benefits for the communities in which we live.

The Local Government Association aren't rejecting the idea (http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/development/council-pension-pots-could-lead-housing-revolution/6524374.article) and they're right not to.

At the moment, the billions held in the various separate pension funds which comprise the LGPS are invested purely in order to get the best return with the least risk. This predominantly passive approach means that the funds have little influence shaping the economy around them.

For my money (and some of it is) I think there is a lot to be said for an active approach to investing our money in ways which will produce social benefits as well as a satisfactory financial return.

This approach might even help to protect the LGPS in future. The reason why local government workers are the only public servants not (in their great majority at least) set to pay increased pension contributions alongside the cheapening of our pensions is because an exodus from the LGPS would devastate local government finance.

If, in future, housing policy also comes to depend upon the health of our pension funds that also may not do us any harm. We'll obviously need more democratic governance of the scheme if it is to be used in this way - and a decent pay offer to those of us whose money could help to end the housing crisis might also ne a nice gesture...

(And just to be clear, a tiny increase with an attack on sick pay would not be such a gesture)(http://www.lge.gov.uk/lge/core/page.do?pageId=19195377)

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What do we do at the end of the world as we know it?

Birmingham Council Leader Albert Bore describes the cuts anticipated in England's largest local authority as "the end of local government as we know it" (http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-news/2012/10/24/1-000-birmingham-city-council-staff-face-axe-in-bid-to-cut-600m-from-budget-65233-32089542/).

It's not good enough of course for leading figures in the labour movement simply to prophecy doom and explain that, much as they don't want to, they will move from "salami-slicing" cuts to "decommissioning" whole areas of service provision. The question to local politicians is "what are you going to do?"

This is a question which is posed particularly starkly to Labour Councils for two reasons. First, because the Tory Coalition are targeting the worst of the cuts at Labour Councils and, secondly, because Labour voters voted for Labour Councils to protect them from Tory cuts - and expect to see a political difference.

With Cornwall's ambitious joint venture privatisation plans kicked into the long grass - and Birmingham's own Chief Executive saying that outsourcing can't deliver the savings (http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/patrick-butler-cuts-blog/2012/oct/23/council-cuts-chief-warns-outsourcing-no-longer-cuts-mustard?cat=society&type=article) it seems that handing us over wholesale to Capita is off the agenda for sensible people (although it ought never to have been on any sensible agenda).

The Blairite "Progress" wing of the Labour Party recently enlisted their failed cheerleader, David Miliband, to whistle to keep their spirits up with implausible tales of doing "better with less" (http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/17/the-treasury-doesnt-know-best?cat=commentisfree&type=article).

Some Councillors seek to make a virtue out of a perceived necessity by dressing up the abandonment of services as the empowerment of citizens. This is, of course, precisely the nonsense it appears to be (as you'll read here one day when the trade union workload generated by a "cooperative Councl" flagship permits.

So what should Councils do? What should trade unions be demanding of them?

First, we must remember it's not all and only about cuts. We shouldn't abandon other positive and progressive demands - such as paying a living wage to all local government employees, including those who have been outsourced (as Lambeth agreed this week - http://t.co/n2xPJQ7G). We also need to keep the pressure on for compliance with the public sector equality duty.

Secondly (and this is not a view universally held I know) we mustn't abandon the political task of trying to shift the Labour Party, locally and nationally, in a positive direction. Miliband Major and his well-funded chums are hard at work trying to ensure that a future Labour Government would be Coalition lite. They need to be fought.

Thirdly, though, the trade unions need to oppose. At a national level we need to continue to show the Parliamentary Labour Party what it should be doing - which is to oppose the Government.

At a local level we also have to oppose the implementation of Government cuts, whether they are being implemented by members of the Coalition parties or of the Party to which our unions are affiliated.

As part of that opposition we need to find a way to have a debate about what the role of Labour Councils and Councillors (many of whom are trade union members) ought to be in these testing times.

Those who cut their political milk teeth in the battles of the 1980s need to grow beyond antipathy to the historic left and be prepared to consider every option to fight back against austerity.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Merger mania?

My immersion in the minutia of the current horror of local government cuts and privatisation (including privatisation mutton dressed as cooperative lamb) was interrupted briefly yesterday for some head-scratching.

Dandruff? No, rather the news that something semi-formal may be about to happen in relation to a possible merger between PCS and UNITE. Apparently a motion will be put within PCS Left Unity, which - given the political weight of Left Unity within PCS - may well then find its way to next year's PCS Conference.

Socialists should be convinced agnostics on the principle of trade union merger. Everything depends upon whether particular merger proposals create a stronger and more democratic union than the sum of its parts.

This means that you have to consider what might be called the "industrial logic" of a proposed merger as well as the question of trade union democracy.

Trade union democracy must be particularly protected through any merger discussion between any trade unions, because - in the nature of things - a lot of detail will end up with unelected officials who tend not always to give the highest priority to being held to account.

Were I a member of either PCS or UNITE I would approach all talk of merger with a healthy scepticism on this point.

What really provoked me to scratch my head though was the industrial logic of such an arrangement.

Obviously UNITE has members in so many sectors that almost any union, if transferring its engagements (in the quaint archaic terminology which makes relations between unions sound vaguely like dating) could find some similar folk in the ranks of the general union.

However, the merger of a predominantly industrial union into a predominantly general union really does require some compelling justification on which to found a belief that the new entity would be stronger in confronting the employers. In the case of PCS and UNITE I'm not aware that this case is being made anywhere - and certainly not in public.

Since a period of trade union growth would require a resurgence of struggle, we may be in for a series of defensive merger proposals as unions respond to continuing decline with consolidation.

Apparently some GMB activists were so alarmed at the prospect of "GUMBISON" after the joint press conference at the TUC that they are preparing a campaign in opposition to a GMB-UNISON merger.

Such a development might have some benefits in terms of industrial logic, but given its likely chilling effect upon trade union democracy - and therefore effectiveness - activists in both unions need to set some clear preconditions before anything moves further on that front.

Quite clearly, anyone who wanted a logical, effective and democratic structure for our trade union movement would not start from here.

Having spent twenty years dealing with some of the unforeseen adverse consequences of a merger which appeared to have both industrial logic and democratic safeguards, rank and file activists in UNISON have an obligation to sound a note of caution about merger mania in our trade unions.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Another defeat for privatisation

Great news from Cornwall, where the Tory Council Leader trying to drive forward a deeply unpopular mass outsourcing to a "joint venture company" has been deposed. (http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/oct/16/tory-privatisation-plans-blow-cornwall?cat=society&type=article)



I like what Independent Councillor, Bob Egerton, who proposed the motion of "no confidence" had to say about his own lack of any "Plan B";



"If you are heading towards a cliff edge it is not your job to reprogramme the GPS with a new route, but to stop the car."



This is the perfect riposte to those with an addiction to "innovation" who think that privatisation (in whatever form) offers a way to make savings without making cuts.



London local government workers should note that Cornwall have Oracle Release 12 and were clearly building their "joint venture" plans in part on this foundation.



If anyone suggests a joint venture to you then (unless it's between consenting adults) suggest they research what happened to "TeamLambeth" the Joint Venture Company created in 1997 in what was (at the time) the largest single privatisation in the history of English local government...

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Learn from Barnet

The weekend saw renewed coverage of the ongoing scandal of the blinkered rush to privatisation in Tory Barnet (http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/oct/12/friern-barnet-library-cuts-fight?cat=society&type=article).



Barnet Council - the long standing "flagship" for Tory policies in London local government is clearly staggering from crisis to crisis. Less than six months after losing it's unpopular Leader, the Chief Executive who has steered Barnet towards massive outsourcing has jumped ship before the implementation of the approach with which he has been so closely associated.



The departure of the Chief Executive rightly prompted UNISON's Regional Secretary to write to the (new)(ish) Council Leader last week to urge suspension of the "One Barnet" outsourcing programme (http://www.barnetunison.me.uk/?q=node/1026).



However, what's driving this blinkered rush to privatise is more than just the odd individual. Those who are ideologically (or personally and financially) committed to privatisation are trying, up and down the country, to persuade fellow Councillors that privatisation of "back office" services will save money to protect the front-line.



Since local government is not (whatever its faults) a meritocracy, such flawed arguments can and do hold sway (particularly where Labour Councillors have not yet truly recanted "New Labour" distaste for in-house services.



Trade unionists need to raise our game in opposition to this onslaught - and we could not do much better than learn from the exemplary struggle of Barnet's opposition.



You can (and should) keep up to date with developments over at the Barnet UNISON website (http://www.barnetunison.me.uk/).

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Monday, October 08, 2012

Tories decide to scramble employee relations

After a long day unpicking some of the absurdity of (local) state sponsored (non)mutualisation it is - in a strange way - reassuring to reflect that the proposals which spew forth from this most reactionary of Governments are so much worse than even the least sensible of the proposals of their political opponents.

Today our unqualified Chancellor proposes that workers may abandon various legal rights in return for as little as two thousand pounds worth of shares (without capital gains tax - but if Osborne is left in charge of the economy then capital gains are unlikely!) (http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/oct/08/george-osborne-workers-rights-shares?cat=politics&type=article).

Whilst I can almost hear intelligent labour lawyers bemoaning the half-baked Conference-pleasing nonsense suggested in Birmingham today, I don't doubt that their more mercenary colleagues are gleeful at the litigation which will ensue.

We already have distinct legal definitions of "employee" and "worker" - and a wealth of case law defining the boundaries (including the chain of cases about agency workers fron Dacas -v- Brook Street to James -v- London Borough of Greenwich). Now Gideon invites the courts to start beating the bounds of an entirely new quasi-employee status.

For a Government that says it wants to reduce red tape this is foaming-at-the-mouth nonsense. Already firms can give shares to employees in order to try to secure their loyalty - many of the bonuses paid to those whose largesse keeps the Tory party afloat are paid in shares or share options.

No one has ever suggested that the bankers who get shares as part of their bonuses should forego employment rights - but it would appear that this Government feels that cashiers or checkout assistants should be cajoled into selling their (all too limited) right to justice for a handful of shares.

This is not a genuine offer of "ownership" on the model of the Mondragon co-operatives. It is an attempt to grab headlines at the expense of the London Mayor without thought for the employee relations consequences.

In all probability there will be few consequences in the sensible parts of the real world - but the Institute of Directors will have been able to work themselves into their own little frenzy - and the more carnivorous elements on the Tory Conference floor will believe that they have been fed.

It's crystal clear that the Tories want to remove the right to complain of unfair dismissal altogether. It is clearly offensive to our social betters in the Cabinet that mere "plebs" should be able to challenge the decisions of our superiors in such a fashion.

There's a couple of things they haven't considered.

First, if you have no right to complain of unfair dismissal anyway then all of the pressure not to take unofficial industrial action disappears.

Secondly, the self-denying ordinance observed by the courts in developing legal remedies around - for example - damages for the manner of dismissal depended entirely upon the existence of the statutory unfair dismissal regime.

If you create a new category of quasi-employees - and if employers are daft enough to use it (and the continued existence of the Institute of Directors surely shows that many are) then it'll be your fault if you see increases in unofficial industrial action and judicial activism around contractual employment rights.

Perhaps David Cameron should give George Osborne two thousand pounds worth of premium bonds and then tell him his services are no longer required?

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Back to Blogging (with some new Regulations)

I've been a bit slack with blogging recently. This has been entirely due to pressure of work (and not existential despair at the state of a Labour Party which can get so carried away about one speech) - work for rank and file lay trade union activists is a bit hectic just now!



I thought I'd get back in the blogosphere with a reference to The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/2089/made) - which may turn out to be of some value to bloggers.



Among the changes imposed by these regulations are more rigorous requirements for the publication of all "executive" decisions taken by officers - a requirement which has upset no less a body than the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors (http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11706%3Ameeting-of-minds&catid=181%3Aeditors-blog&Itemid=28).



Those of us who need to keep an eye on what local authorities are up to may be less troubled by increased transparency of local government decisionmaking. Local Government trade unionists might like to check out these new Regulations, which have been in force now for a month - and check whether your employer's Constitution and practices are compliant.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

More than just a walk in the park

With protesters fighting running battles with police in the streets of Athens and Madrid, while the attacks on working class living standards provoking such strife are also biting in the UK, it's possible to dismiss the 20 October demonstration (http://www.unison.org.uk/20102012/) as a timid and inadequate response from our movement.



Possible, but wrong.



The UK labour and trade union movement is timid, particularly (with some exceptions) at the top. Our leaders can, however, be roused to call for action - and the stronger the response to their call for the 20 October demonstration the better we will be able to rouse them.



The bigger and better the demonstration the more it will give heart to activists who are taking a brutal battering as the tidal wave of spending cuts washes away thousands upon thousands of jobs. There is a problem of morale at the base of our movement as much as there is at the top. We are not (yet?) witnessing a strike wave in opposition to these savage attacks.



Whilst street fighting makes better television, and there will be those who see a large demonstration as the occasion to expose the repressive nature of the police, the outcome we need from 20 October is not so much headlines as picket lines. That requires that we build the confidence of the rank and file and of the leadership.



The first faltering steps towards political strike action taken at this year's TUC may or may not lead anywhere, but the objective circumstances exist for coordinated strike action over pay as they did over pensions. Our subjective ability to take such action will depend now to some extent upon 20 October.



We therefore need to step up our mobilisation for 20 October - and could now do with publicity materials from UNISON which don't appear designed to appeal primarily to Imelda Marcos...

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Monday, September 24, 2012

What is the point of the labour movement?

With the Government continuing it's social blitzkrieg against the poor, the sick and the disabled (the real targets of which are all workers, and organised workers in particular), what is the point of the labour movement, and in particular of Labour Councillors?
Because the Government have very deliberately focused the worst of the spending reductions afflicting local Government on the areas of greatest social need (which tend - of course - to have Labour Councils), those local Labour politicians who are best placed to exemplify Labour's different approach are in fact amongst those implementing most rapidly and vigorously the worst of the Tory austerity.
Particular Council's manage to implement the occasional progressive social, economic or employment policy (such as free school meals, or the application of the London Living Wage to contracted out staff). However, to the extent that there has been any debate about the strategic approach of Labour to local government under the coalition it has been stuck in the rut of argument between damage limitation and refusal to set a balanced budget.
Owen Jones offers one answer (http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/come-on-you-local-councillors-resist-these-cuts-8166546.html) which is for Councillors to get together to discuss some co-ordination of opposition to Tory policies. This is a modest (if sound) proposal and the fact that it even has to be made speaks volumes about how far we have come since the 1980s (and not in a positive direction).
The number of Labour Councillors who have spoken out against Labour Council cuts since 2010 is fewer than the number of Labour local authorities lined up to fight the Thatcher Government at the start of the ratecapping fight.
At that time the movement debated various options other than refusal to set a budget (including, for example, majority opposition). Now our Labour Council's are one trick ponies who have only Neil Kinnock's rusty old "dented shield" (even if they have painted it and - in some cases - written the word "cooperative" on it).
Being a Labour politician - at any level - ought, at the moment to be primarily about being part of the social and political opposition to the class war policies of the Millionaires' Government. However, the defeat of the ratecapping fight, and its legacy, has so comprehensively tamed and neutered Labour's local government leadership that it's hard to see how they can grow back into their necessary role.
Those of us whose primary area of labour movement activity is in the trade unions are generally in no position to feel superior however. The industrial defeats of the Thatcher era, compounded by the even tighter legal shackles forged by the Major Government (and retained by New Labour) have also worked their magic upon our leaders in the "industrial wing" of the movement.
Our trade unions have also been tamed - it's hard to see us soon achieving a victory on the scale of that won by our Potuguese brothers and sisters (http://strongerunions.org/2012/09/23/portugals-unions-stop-wage-cuts-big-blow-to-austerity/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter).
Nevertheless, this is the labour movement we have and the labour movement which, since it will not be replaced, has to be transformed.
For a start, let's get everyone out on the streets on 20 October - and then let's try to turn our movement into the weapon our people need for defence.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Recruitment crisis?

Over the last two days I have been at the UNISON Greater London Regional Local Government Executive and the Development and Organisation Committee (D&O) of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC).



Since many readers of this blog are anoraks like myself you'll find this information as exciting to receive as I found it to impart and, over the next couple of days, I'll blog about non-confidential business from both meetings.



One recurring theme is the loss of members we are experiencing in consequence of the draconian job cuts being forced through by the Tory Government. In spite of recruiting in excess of 80,000 members so far this year, we have more than 50,000 fewer members than we had on New Years Day.



The normal turnover which always means that we're running at recruitment in order to stand still on membership (even in good years) is augmented this year by the impact of redundancies. Were it not for energetic recruitment, we would now be 10% (rather than 4%) smaller than at the start of the year.



This is a crisis for all trade unions (UNISON is far from suffering the worst) and underlines the vital importance both of mobilising for 20 October and for further fights against Government policy. If, however, we seriously wish to mobilise our activists in this cause we need to be clear that recruitment and retention of union members is incidental to the fight to protect workers' conditions (not the other way round!)

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Spoof Tory and the poor rich

Clearly the Standard has got funnier since it became a freesheet. Today it publishes an article by an obviously invented Tory MP with a silly name whose photo looks a lot like Alan B'Stard (http://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/we-cant-afford-to-drive-our-wealth-creators-abroad-8152311.html).



The clearly imaginary Mr "Raab" argues (with a straight - if unappealing - face) that we mustn't tax the rich too heavily as otherwise these "wealth creators" will flee abroad (to create wealth elsewhere rather than here).



Like crime in multi-storey car parks this argument is wrong on so many different levels. For a start, wealthy people don't create wealth - they consume it. Wealth (value) is created through labour (something pretty much unknown to most millionaires).



The illusion that the rich (or "entrepreneurs") create wealth is created by the fact that they have capital which can be invested in productive activity seemingly enabling this production (though the actual production is done by workers who in fact create such value as is created through their labour).



Furthermore, wherever wealthy capitalists may live, they invest their capital where it will secure them the best return with no regard for nation or geography, and they employ clever accountants to transfer their tax liabilities to whichever jurisdiction will minimise them.



Value (and therefore wealth) is the product of the labour of working people. We can't and won't in general move abroad out of dissatisfaction with this or that policy. We're stuck living here and stuck with PAYE. We need a movement which will speak for us as "Mr Raab" speaks for the rentier parasites who fund the political party he represents.



So, if the apologists for ignorant wealth make you angry, join UNISON (http://www.unison.org.uk/membership/) and join the march on 20 October.

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Oh Brother!

I spent last week's TUC sitting behind fellow blogger Cath Elliot (UNISON's Eastern Regional Convenor) and shall now compound the consequent damage to her reputation in our trade union by blogging a link to her excellent analysis of the gender profile of participants at Congress (http://toomuchtosayformyself.com/2012/09/18/gender-representation-at-tuc-congress-2/).



Congress provides a very obvious contrast to UNISON Conference (which is - like our union - majority female) but, as Cath points out the over representation of men amongst Congress delegates and speakers considerably exceeds the proportion of men in membership.



Of course it's true that what is said is more important than who says it (just as it is true that self-organisation is more important to the struggle against oppression than the worthy objectives of proportionality or fair representation) but the two are not unrelated and a trade union movement which struggles to let women speak will struggle to speak for women.



The first female General Secretary of the TUC will surely soon be followed by the first female General Secretary of the trade union with the largest female membership. Whether women workers notice these changes will no doubt depend primarily on what our unions do in the workplace and society - but, in the mean time, we should keep an eye on the statistics about which Cath has blogged.



Brothers need to make room for sisters.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Slack Blogger

I realise I've not blogged much since the TUC.



This is not so much because I have been cogitating on the practicalities of a General Strike (as agreed at Congress) as that I have been forced to deal with employers embarking upon a range of barmy schemes to sack public servants.



In the mean time the Government want to reduce the maximum amount of compensation that any of these workers could obtain in the unlikely event that they could convince an employment tribunal that they had been unfairly dismissed.



Given that the median award of compensation across all employment tribunals is a paltry £5,000 there's more than an element of headline-grabbing in the Government proposals. However, the constant drip drip drip of anti-worker propaganda from the Tory Government (including arch-Tory Vince Cable) has its desired effect of undermining morale and spreading despair.



We have to do all we can to make 20 October a large and encouraging demonstration which gives hope to our people.



Whilst writing, I should comment on today's news that Brendan Barber will eke out his TUC pension with a part time job at Transport for London.



But I won't.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

TUC get off your knees and consider the practicalities of a General Strike

There's no doubt what was the most important and significant moment of this year's Trades Union Congress.

It was when Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA) showed himself a worthy successor to the likes of Brian Caton and Colin Moses in moving Motion 5 yesterday.

This was the motion which, by putting the words "General Strike" on to the Congress Agenda, also transposed them from the headlines of the left press to the national media (http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/sep/11/tuc-to-consider-general-strike?cat=politics&type=article)(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9536880/TUC-Congress-roaring-lion-trade-unionists-call-for-general-strike.html).

Although Congress House will do all it can to bury this decision it won't be able to. Far from being a "distraction" from Monday's unanimously supported Composite 1 (supporting the 20 October demonstration and co-ordinated industrial action thereafter), the timely and forthright POA motion is it's essential complement.

In moving Composite 1 our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said that we are never stronger than when we coordinate action (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=8066). The POA, with the enthusiastic backing of many other unions, offer our movement an opportunity to apply the wisdom of our General Secretary in practice.

Thanks to John Hendy and Keith Ewing of the Institute of Employment Rights (http://www.ier.org.uk/blog/days-action) we know that there is a sound legal argument that we do have the right to organise a General Strike. Those who oppose this course can no longer simply cite the anti-union laws as an excuse for inaction.

There are, of course, many other practicalities to be considered. The opponents of Motion 5 were not wrong to emphasise the great challenge of persuading workers to take such action (although action taken simultaneously by many, if not all, unions will be easier to argue for in the workplace than isolated sectoral or union-by-union action).

However, at its best (in the run up to the 30 November strike) our leadership acknowledged that the mass strike is never ever really only about the particular trade dispute. 30 November was about pensions, but it was also about every other attack on working people from the Tory Coalition Government.

Motion 5, informed and supported by the analysis of the legal position by Ewing and Hendy, suggests that we can afford to be more honest next time. We know the Tories are attacking our people. We know it's our job to lead a fight. We need to do so.

UNISON's delegation voted for Motion 5, but not all UNISON delegates were necessarily its most committed or enthusiastic supporters. UNISON activists should read up on the work of Ewing and Hendy (http://www.ier.org.uk/blog/days-action) and press our leaders to push for swift consideration by the TUC of all the "practicalities" which we must now consider.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bob Crow and the Queen's Arse

In moving Motion 77 at the TUC in an unsuccessful attempt to commit our movement to demand a referendum on UK membership of the EU, RMT General Secretary Bob Crow memorably rebutted charges of nationalism, of wanting to "keep the Queen's Head on a ten pound note".



He said, "I don't care if it's the Queen's Head or the Queen's Arse on a ten pound note."



It certainly caricatures the anti-EU position of the RMT (which is in line with that of, for example, the Communist Party of Britain) as nationalist, as a UNITE speaker almost did.



Nor is it a satisfactory counter argument to say that opposition to the EU would line us up with the Tory right (and worse). Billy Hayes acknowledged as much in expressing the General Council's opposition to the motion.



I'm not personally persuaded that now is the moment to press for withdrawal from the European Union, but the TUC's long standing position of being starry eyed about "Social Europe" looks increasingly unjustified as the years go by.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

At last! The EIA on the LGPS

In comedy, timing is everything.



I was therefore amused to receive, during the Trades Union Congress, a copy of the, long-awaited Equality Impact Assessment on the proposals for the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS 2014) (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/LGPS2014EIAReport.pdf).



I'll read this properly later this week, but note that an assessment of the impact of the change from uprating pensions in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than the Retail Price Index (RPI) was not within the scope of this Assessment (!)



Nevertheless, the authors observe that "Given the inextricable link between ageing and disability it is likely that a significant and growing number of members in receipt of their pensions are in fact disabled. Although all retirees will be adversely affected by changing indexation to the CPI, which will yield lower annual increases than the RPI, the impact of this on disabled people may well be disproportionate."



More on this later, as I'm trying to pay attention at the TUC!

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Why is there a General Council statement on banking?

Brendan Barber has introduced a four page TUC General Council statement on Banking Reform ahead of the 250 words of Motion 27 "Public Ownership of the Banks" from the Fire Brigades' Union (FBU).



Why do we get a statement on this issue from our General Council? Well, it could be because the banks caused the financial crisis and that this is a vitally important issue.



Or it might be because there's a convention (based perhaps on Rule 26c) that General Council statements take precedence over Congress Motions. So we can agree Motion 27 on public ownership of the banks, moved well just now by Matt Wrack, but - because we will also have endorsed the statement moved by Brendan Barber (which supports "a more diverse banking system") the General Council won't feel they have to do anything to fight for the nationalisation of the banks.



If a camel is a horse designed by a committee is the TUC a Cart Horse designed by the General Council?

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

UNISON backs the POA

I'll blog more about the formal proceedings - and the fringe - at the TUC over the next few days.



I thought I'd start, with reference to yesterday's post (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2012/09/why-unison-should-back-poa-at-tuc.html?m=1) by acknowledging that UNISON has agreed, on the recommendation of our General Secretary, to support Motion 5 from the POA, which asks that, in "leading from the front" against this Government our movement should consider "the practicalities of a General Strike."



That doesn't mean UNISON is calling for a General Strike, any more than it will mean that the TUC are calling for one when Motion 5 is passed. It does mean that Congress will be seen to be united in its opposition to the Government.



It may be that the General Purposes Committee (the Standing Orders Committee for the TUC) will move Motion 5 on the Congress timetable, but unless they move it to Thursday morning it is certain to pass.



GMB General Secretary (and TUC President) Paul Kenny announced GMB support for Motion 5 ahead of the UNISON delegation meeting, suggesting a degree of coordination in moving to support Motion 5.



Whoever kept Motion 5 out of Composite 1 did a useful job, because it keeps the question of how to test and challenge the anti-union laws (rather than timidly acquiesce in them) on our agenda.



Some UNISON delegates were very happy about this support for the POA!

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