Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Continuing to resist the cuts

Numerous London Borough Councils meet tonight to set budgets for 2012/13 which will give effect to Government policy to remove millions of pounds of annual public spending from the city. Across just the inner South London boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark, this year's cuts total some £66 Million.

These cuts come on top of the devastating cuts made in the current financial year, and are the second year of a four year programme. However, given that austerity policies are predictably failing to deal with the public sector deficit (in fact making it worse) there must be every possibility that Central Government will look for even more savings from local Councils.

When they do, it is virtually certain that they will once again take the most from those geographical areas which can least afford to lose their social infrastructure - deprived (and predominantly Labour voting) areas, primarily in the North and Inner London. The audacity - and political spite - with which this Government smashes up public services is remarkable.

The impact of spending cuts on people's lives is cumulative and will be felt increasingly with the passage of time. For each individual, the loss of a service which is eliminated (or has its opening hours reduced) is noticed at a different point. Some cuts - like the total loss of independent careers advice to this year's school leavers - are large and dramatic. Others - such as the near total closure of a particular Adventure Playground - have a smaller, more localised and more gradual impact.

What we are witnessing, courtesy of the Coalition Government, is a general withdrawal of services from those who need them most, particularly our young people. It will certainly be the height of hypocrisy if Liberal and Conservative opposition Councillors in Labour Councils pose as opponents of spending cuts dictated by their own Government.

However, neither the political nor the industrial wings of our labour movement emerge from the last year of cuts with much credit, and there are, at present, too few signs of hope for the coming year.

Labour Councils are doing too little to distinguish themselves from "an executive arm of the Government", as they were tellingly described in a contribution from the Tenants' Council at Lambeth's last Cabinet meeting. That this shortcoming exists under a Party leadership seemingly more concerned with not appearing to be "deficit-deniers" than with the social consequences of the cuts is, perhaps, not surprising. It does however signify the weakness of the left within the Party that the debate about what else might be done has hardly started.

Equally disappointing though, it has to be said, has been the response of the trade unions. With some creditable local exceptions, the union movement, mired in the defeatism that says "damage limitation" is the peak of our aspirations, has more often than not been as much about implementing, as about resisting cuts. Again, a large part of the explanation must lie with a national leadership apparently unwilling to go beyond a one-off demonstration and a one-day strike.

The outlook is bleak - but that's no excuse for giving in to the comfortable option of despair. Local trade union activists who will, I hope, be lobbying tonight's Council meetings to express opposition to the savage spending cuts of the Tory Coalition (whoever implements them) must - tomorrow and each day thereafter - get on with building and renewing the organisation and determination of our trade union branches, and the links with local anti-cuts campaigns.

We have a fight on our hands.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Striking back against bullying

Solidarity to more than 100 GMB members at Swindon's South Western Hospital, today taking their fifth day of strike action against racism and bullying (http://union-news.co.uk/2012/02/gmb-calls-for-corporate-tax-dodging-probe-as-members-strike-again/).



Bullying at work can be amongst the most dispiriting casework with which union activists have to deal, often leading to unjust and unsatisfactory outcomes for victims. It's good to see a case where there is hope for justice.



Not in every case is it possible to mobilise a collective response, but - where it is - then strike action is the best and most empowering response to workplace injustice. (In this case it also appears to effective - http://union-news.co.uk/2012/02/bullying-manager-resigns-but-strike-set-to-continue/).



Hat tip Union News.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

People, Charters and Voices

Tonight's Annual Meeting of Lambeth Trades Council heard a speaker on the Peoples' Charter, which is now supported, in line with TUC policy, by an impressive array of trade unions (http://www.thepeoplescharter.org/index.php/supporters-unions). The constructive joint working now taking place between the Charter and the Coalition of Resistance mirrors at a national level the mutual support shown locally between the Trades Council and Lambeth Save Our Services.



One name sadly still absent from the list of unions supporting the Charter is that of UNISON. Our "Million Voices" campaign (now supported by more than 50,000 people - http://www.unison.org.uk/million/) need not be counterposed to the Charter, which has a useful role in bringing together the alternative to the policies of the Coalition Government.



The Charter provides an answer (in the same way UNISON's Alternative Budget does) to the question "what's your alternative then?" which is inevitably posed when we tell politicians to stop making cuts. Because the Charter is not simply the property of any one Union, it is a more viable tool for joint union campaigning than "Million Voices" - and it is clear that joint union campaigning is what is required.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Pensions debate in Parliament

I am blogging the following comment made earlier this afternoon on a previous post;



"Hi - don't know if you're aware or not but my e-petition on the RPI-CPI switch to our pensions is to finally be debated in Parliament on Thursday 1 March 2012. John McDonnell MP presented my petition to the Backbench Business Committee last Tuesday and the following day they announced that the debate would go ahead. If nothing else, hopefully the debate will help raise the awareness of this unfair change which is already affecting thousands of people.



Jim Singer"



Well done Jim!

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Broadening the Battle Lines

I've been reading "Broadening the Battle Lines", a pamphlet in which Party President Bill Greenshields gives the perspective of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) on the state of the fight to defend public service pensions (http://www.communist-party.org.uk/index.php?page=shop.product_details&product_id=231&flypage=flypage-ask.tpl&pop=0&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=183&vmcchk=1&Itemid=183).

At the risk of failing to do justice to an important contribution to a necessary debate, I would summarise its central thesis as being that the trade unions have failed to grasp the fact that the assault on public sector pensions has been an integral part of a wider political attack on our class - and have therefore given too little priority to unity as we have treated this struggle as if it were a "normal" industrial dispute.

I agree wholeheartedly with Greenshields when he points out that; "The unions have successfully mobilised members in great strikes and demonstrations, with millions taking part in industrial action – many for the first time – and millions more encouraged by their struggle. Towns and cities all over Britain have witnessed well-supported and high-spirited marches and rallies, with widespread support from the general public.
A number of the unions have produced alternative economic and political programmes opposing the government's austerity measures. Many trades union councils have linked up with anti-cuts groups and other organisations such as the People's Charter to run successful local campaigns.
Yet, despite all this and the first-class analysis and inspiration provided by some trade union leaders, the movement as a whole has not developed a real strategy for winning."

That last point is, of course, crucial because - in order to have a strategy for winning - we need leaders who believe we are capable of winning. I therefore also agree that; "Such a political and industrial strategy would require a higher level of political understanding of the government's strategy on the part of trade union leaders and members, and as far as possible among the general public. Trade union education, communications, publicity and campaigning have not generally been aimed at developing that understanding. Unsurprisingly, the TUC has done nothing to develop such a consciousness, while the Labour Party leadership has done all it can to prevent it developing.The public sector unions should all now be working together to develop that political understanding among their members and within wider communities."

It is of particular interest that Greenshields points to the argument that European Human Rights law might have a role in protecting industrial action (otherwise unlawful in the UK) needed to respond to an attack on pensions driven in part through the European Union. This is a point which must be taken up in the debate on pensions at UNISON Conference this summer - but also rather more urgently. (If it might not be unlawful to break the anti-union laws then our Standing Orders Committee will need to reconsider the basis on which motions threatening to do such get ruled out of order.)

In the mean time, if the trade unions contrive to engineer an acceptance, in any sector, of wholly unsatisfactory Government proposals for public sector pensions, the white flag which they will thereby raise will also be a green light for a further wave of attacks. This must be avoided.

We should instead pay close attention to the proposals for action set out by Greenshields, which are, in essence (and again at the risk of summarising too far) for a united political campaign by the trade unions to defend public service pensions - and for this campaign to be located as part of a conscious political fight against the Government - regardless of our current differences over industrial strategy.

If I have a criticism of what is, by any standard, a thorough and persuasive contribution to debate, it is that it fails adequately to consider whether, and if so how, the distinct interests of the "trade union bureaucracy", a social group distinct from the working class, may lead elements from this vital layer to play a less than helpful role at such crucial points in the struggle.

You don't have to be a "trot" to think that Michels' "Iron Law of Oligarchy" (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law_of_oligarchy) still has something to tell us about our movement. The paid officials who can (honestly) say that our pensions dispute "was always about damage limitation" may not simply be failing to understand the interests of our class - they may perhaps reflect the distinct interests of those who do not sell their labour power to employers in either the public or private sector, but whose material interests depend above all upon the institutional continuity (and financial health) of our movement.

This, though, is a relatively small point to set against the sound analysis and sensible recommendations of Greenshields' pamphlet, which I commend.

Those of us who know that we must continue the pensions fight must steer well clear of denunciation of those whose renewed commitment is a prerequisite of success (even if they themselves refuse to believe in the possibility of success).

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Electricians defeat employers

It is marvellous to read, on the website of the very group of employers who sought to break the national agreement, the announcement of the total surrender of the employers who were trying to undermine the pay rates of electricians in the construction industry. The contractors who were trying to impose a new national “agreement” which would have cost electricians up to a third of their pay have given up completely in the face of rank and file struggle.

I’m sure that this humiliating climbdown has nothing to do with the fact that the employers’ organisation concerned is changing its name next week.

This tremendous victory has been welcomed in places where you might expect it to be welcomed – and other places too. This is a victory of the rank and file, but UNITE’s victory in court against attempts by the employers to challenge an official industrial action ballot has also been an important ingredient in the electrician's eventual success.

The electricians’ victory is the product both of independent grassroots rank and file mobilisation (including a willingness to take the sort of action which trade unions cannot, under the current legal regime, easily countenance officially) whilst maintaining the support of the official structures of the movement. UNITE, under its present political leadership, have shown a creditable determination to support their members.

Perhaps we can all learn from this dispute the importance of building unity between the rank and file and the leadership. There is certainly a lesson here for anyone who thinks that the best way to respond to an attack on conditions of service is to concede - and this dispute offers hope to all those, such as our members in Southampton, who are fighting on.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Defend Equality

Belated solidarity to PCS members taking strike action today to defend jobs and services at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHCR) (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/88E5B3C3-C240-4060-BF8FDAFC90CEDA96).



Having approached predecessor bodies of the EHCR on various occasions over the years I know that the Equalities Commissions were never adequately resourced in the first place. Since the creation of the EHCR in 2007 we have witnessed the axing of 63% from the organisation's budget and 72% from staffing.



There really could be no clearer indication of the contemptuous attitude of the Tory Government to those on the receiving end of oppression than further reductions in the already paltry resources devoted to addressing such systematic disadvantage.



Now be amongst the first to say "enough!" and sign the e-petition to save the EHRC (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/29879 ).

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Solidarity against the cuts

I was pleased today to address the London Transport Regional Council of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers' Union (RMT) (http://rmtlondoncalling.org.uk/node/2816) on behalf of Lambeth Save Our Services (http://lambethsaveourservices.org/).



It was great to be invited to address trade unionists from another industry who had already adopted clear policy to support us in our fight against cuts and who pledged their continuing support.



It was also good to see a friend and comrade, Janine Booth, the first woman to represent London Transport on the RMT's ruling Council of Executives (http://rmtlondoncalling.org.uk/taxonomy/term/146) - and someone who knows a bit about how past generations of Labour Councillors resisted austerity from a Tory Government (http://libcom.org/forums/announcements/resisting-cuts-%E2%80%93-past-present-housmans-170910-17092010).



The RMT on London Transport are a strong and effective trade union, who are also prepared to offer support and solidarity to those who may not have their industrial muscle. Their support for the struggle against public service cuts is most welcome - and we should repay that support by speaking up in their defence when, as is so often the case, they and their General Secretary are traduced in the media.

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Open Shuhada Street

I would encourage you to read the letter in today's Morning Star highlighting the continuing harassment of Palestinian citizens of al-Khalil/Hebron (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/115733).



Details of how to support tomorrow's protest against this unjust oppression are available online at http://www.youthagainstsettlements.org/.



I am pleased to report that yesterday's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) agreed a motion for our National Delegate Conference in June which robustly reaffirms our support for the rights of the Palestinian people.

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Kill the Bill to Save the NHS

As part of his General Secretary's report to yesterday's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) General Secretary Dave Prentis reported that it remains UNISON's objective to defeat Lansley's Health and Social Care Bill, which will restructure our NHS ready for wholesale privatisation.

In welcoming latecomers to this campaign, including the Royal Colleges and the British Medical Association (BMA), our General Secretary noted that, had we had the unified opposition we now have during last year's "pause" the Bill might well be no longer with us. The further a Bill progresses through the Parliamentary process the harder and harder it becomes to stop, as the loss of face for politicians executing a pragmatic "U-turn" increases the closer a Bill comes to Royal Assent.

Nevertheless, with a gathering crecendo of opposition, and an imminent Liberal Democrat Spring Conference likely to debate a motion in opposition to the Bill, there is everything to play for.

Although the NEC was told that all UNISON Regions have been asked to turn out a deputation for the rally on 7 March (http://www.goingtowork.org.uk/rally-to-save-our-nhs/) there is a particular responsibility on London branches to send people along to Central Hall Westminster at 6pm on Wednesday 7 March. This is a citizenship issue which involves all UNISON members, branches and Service Groups - and every branch in London should aim to be well represented.

Whether or not you can be there on 7 March, set aside a little time online to see how you can support UNISON's campaign in defence of the NHS (http://www.unison.org.uk/ournhs/).

Finally, although it was pointed out at yesterday's meeting that this year sees the 64th birthday of the NHS, I can categorically refute any suggestion that I would be part of any collective musical rendition, by the UNISON NEC, of "When I'm 64" (http://www.links2love.com/love_lyrics_125.htm) (not least because, in order to ensure that pensions policy remains congruent with the need for scheme sustainability, this should now be sung as "When I'm 68"...)

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Unappealing?

I saw my old friend Glenn Kelly today, with a copy of an important legal judgement (http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2012/0188_11_2202.html).

Glenn, and three other Socialist Party comrades caught up in the long-running "Defend the Four"/three monkeys case defeated UNISON's appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) against the decision of an employment tribunal that they had been subject to "unjustifiable discipline" by our trade union.

The EAT rejected all UNISON's grounds of appeal and upheld the tribunal decision that "the four" had been subject "unjustifiable discipline" because they had alleged - in good faith - that UNISON (through our Standing Orders Committee)(SOC) had been breaching our Rules at National Delegate Conference 2007.

I think that this outcome is just - but am most pleased that the decision to appeal, which I had criticised as unwise at the time has not, in the end, set any precedent which really damages the interests of our movement (as it might have).

The key part of the judgement, in this regard is "The restrictions on trade union discipline imposed by s.65(2)(c) do not amount to an unlawful contravention of Article 11 ECHR.  Members of unions have a right to hold their unions to account for breaching union rules where the members act in good faith."

The EAT have carefully distinguished the specific legal provision which prohibits a trade union from disciplining members for asserting, in good faith, that the union's rules have been breached (which they consider to be in the public interest) from the more general restrictions on disciplinary action (for example against strike breakers) which (they imply) breach our freedom of association as trade unionists (under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights - ECHR).

Since the appeal outcome might have been far more damaging for our trade unions than it was, I hope that this development will now signal an end to dispute and argument in this case.

Further appeals (to courts perhaps less knowledgeable about trade unions than the EAT) would renew the risk of a precedent-setting judgement which would place obstacles in the way of unions trying to defend our Article 11 rights. To run such a risk in these circumstances would not be responsible.

As trade unionists, we should fight like tigers for our right to discipline strikebreakers (as we should fight for our right to exclude fascists from our ranks). We would be making a profound mistake were we to go to war to defend our "right" to discipline members of our union who complain (in good faith) of breaches of our Rules.

Today's NEC meeting reflected repeatedly on the fact that we face a very tough year. In anticipation of these times, our General Secretary told last year's National Delegate Conference that there were "no enemies in the hall." We need unity in these times and can well afford to welcome some comrades back into the hall.

I hope that the parties to this legal case will, with moderation and goodwill on both sides, now negotiate a settlement. The prospect of further litigation in this case is surely, from any point of view, unappealing.

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Unity on an important question

Today's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) agreed an amendment to rule which will, if agreed by Conference, mark the satisfactory conclusion of a tortuous process of making it more straightforward to take action against members of far right organisations within our ranks.



There is a wide understanding within our union - and the wider movement - that, whilst the headline hatred of the far right may shift over decades (from Jewish people, to black people, to muslims) their politics are founded most of all on vitriolic hatred of organised labour. We don't want fascists in our ranks and - thanks to ASLEF - we understand how to give effect to this aspect of our freedom of association within the law.



It is important that, in excluding neo-Nazis and their helpmates from our union, we act lawfully as otherwise we will end up paying compensation to odious people with which they will subsidise the politics of hate.



It has therefore been disappointing that, as a result of unrelated avoidable internal strife (about which more later), our NEC had so lost the trust of sufficient Conference delegates that, when Rule Amendments were put before Conference in 2009 and 2011, they failed to command sufficient support - because many delegates understandably feared that the widely drafted Rule Amendment might as easily facilitate action against members of small socialist political parties as against the far right.



Thanks to the Chair of our Development and Organisation Committee who - in January - insisted that amendments to the proposed Rule Amendment suggested by Committee members should be accepted subject to legal advice, today's NEC was able to agree a tightly worded amendment to Rule I which deserves to command the assent of our Conference.



This will make it easier for UNISON to expel the far right, without causing concern to the left. I would be more than happy to speak to any UNISON branch who may still have reservations about this necessary and important Rule Amendment.

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Solidarity with Swindon

One of the topics discussed at today's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) was the disgraceful threat from Swindon Council to dismiss the UNISON Branch officials and remove all facility time from UNISON - http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=7603.

UNISON is asking members and supporters to write to the council chief executive Gavin Jones at Swindon Borough Council, Civic Offices, Euclid Street, Swindon SN1 2JH (email gjones@swindon.gov.uk) or council leader Roderick Bluh at the same address or (email rbluh@swindon.gov.uk) expressing your opposition to these proposals and your support for UNISON in Swindon and to send a message of support to the UNISON branch (email unisonswindon@swindon.gov.uk).

For those who can get to Swindon tomorrow evening (23 February) there will be a lobby of the Council meeting 6pm, Civic Offices, Euclid Street, Swindon SN1 2JH.

What emerged from discussion at the NEC was that the attack in Swindon is far from being an isolated aberration. Other NEC members reported similar problems.

This gathering offensive against those of us elected by our fellow trade unionists to carry out such a volume of trade union duties that it is reasonable for us to be given full or part-time release from other work is an integral part of the Coalition Government's assault upon public services and employment rights. This requires a legal, political and industrial response.

Legally, of course, trade union facility time is the child of the statutory reuirement placed on employers to grant reasonable paid time off for union officials to carry out trade union duties - though, historically, these legal rights simply reflected "facts on the ground" established through prior collective bargaining.

Whilst there may be no legal right to any particular amount of time off, the right to reasonable time off does mean that, for many full-time reps, were we to be "sent back to work" we would simply spend an hour each Monday morning requesting paid time off for the duties which we would be carrying out for the rest of the week. Each and any unreasonable refusal of those requests would provide good grounds for a tribunal application. Saner employers recognise the folly of such an approach.

Another legal angle exists in the case of local authorities however, since all their decisions are subject to the "Wednesbury" test of reasonableness (which is unlikely to be satisfied, for example, in a case in which a gung ho Tory Leader makes policy on the hoof - http://roystonsmith.co.uk/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=476&Itemid=). Additionally, all public sector employers must have regard to their general equality duty in drawing up plans to reduce trade union facility time, providing another avenue for legal challenge against such attacks.

The law alone is never enough of course. That's why we also need a political response. Part of our response must be to ensure we get the message across, to our members, employers and MPs, that those released from other work to carry out trade union duties are doing valuable work. We can expect more positive stories such as this one in last Friday's Guardian - http://m.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/feb/17/working-life-union-official-unison?cat=money&type=article. This positive message has to be disseminated far and wide. This won't be easy as the other side has most of the print media sewn up - but (unlike the last time we faced such a concerted offensive from the Tories) we do have t'intaweb to use in our defence.

We also need to lobby politicians of all parties to spread understanding of the need for, and social value of, the trade union presence in the workplace. Since many Labour authorities also seek to attack trade union time off from time to time, there's a job here for UNISON Labour Link (and all other affiliated unions).

Ultimately though, when we are under attack, we need to be prepared to take industrial action to defend our interests (as part of a wider campaign which also includes legal and political action). To do this we need to remember, and to remind our members that - just as trade union facility time is only a means to an end, not an end in itself - so the attack on trade union facility time is also a means to another end (in this case our opponents seek to weaken our union in order to weaken our ability to resist assaults upon public services, pay, pensions, conditions and workers' rights). A valid point made at today's NEC meeting was that sometimes such attacks are also attempts at vengeance where the union has successfully resisted some attack from the employer (with the obvious intention of weakening the union now in order to settle accounts with the workforce as a wholein the near future).

Therefore, in mobilising our members on this issue we need clearly to link the attack on our trade union in each particular case with whichever other dispute accompanies it (or has preceded it)(or is likely to follow it).

This will be a critical issue for UNISON for the duration of this Parliament (and - unless the Opposition Front Bench rediscover left wing politics - perhaps far longer).

Today's battle in this long war is being fought in Swindon.

Good luck comrades!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Support grows in UNISON for solidarity with the people of Greece

One interesting(*) feature of the Statement of Solidarity with the people of Greece (which you can sign online - http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/2012/02/sign-the-appeal-for-solidarity-with-the-people-of-greece/?gf_search=unison) is that you can search the online list of signatories to determine which trade union they have declared their membership of.



This shows that (as I write) 77 UNISON members have signed up. This is more than any other union, including those whose General Secretaries are among the initial signatories. (UCU come in second at 67, with UNITE on 43 and the NUT on 35. No other union currently has more than a dozen declared members among the 2,126 signatories who have signed up online in the few days since the statement was launched.)



International solidarity with those resisting austerity must be one of our priorities in the coming year, so as well as signing up to the statement, UNISON members need to consider how to get this subject prioritised for debate at our Conference in June.



(*) regular readers, Sid and Doris Blogger, will appreciate that this use of the word "interesting" means "interesting to a slightly obsessive blogger who has a long daily commute".



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Monday, February 20, 2012

Work your proper hours every day!

The intention of Friday's "work your proper hours day" (http://www.worksmart.org.uk/workyourproperhoursday/) is laudable.

It is to highlight just how much of the working year is worked as unpaid overtime by the millions of workers routinely working beyond their additional hours for no extra pay.

Unfortunately, the very title of the day suggests that the aspiration of our movement is that there should only be one day a year when our members don't put in unpaid overtime! (I realise that isn't the intention of course).

In the mid nineteenth century the nascent trade union movement fought a lengthy struggle to limit working time. It was the success of this struggle which drove employers to seek increased profits not from simply lengthening working time, but by revolutionising production processes to increase the productivity of each working hour.

The struggle to work less was therefore the foundation for the massive increases in labour productivity which have underpinned rising living standards over recent generations.

It's no accident that in the past generation, in which the increase in the living standards of working people has been first stalled and then reversed, we have seen a tendency for working hours to increase, often without pay.

When I started work in local government in the 1980s, to have worked more than your contracted hours would have singled you out as, at best, an oddball and, at worst, someone seeking to curry favour with management.

As we approach once more three million on the dole, we need to recreate the consciousness that those who work overtime are stealing work from our unemployed brothers and sisters (those who work it without pay are doing so for nothing).

If you want to do more than your 35 (or 36 or 37) hours - volunteer to do some recruitment work for the union. Our message to our members should be "work your proper hours every day" - and perhaps we should demand that employers refuse to permit unpaid overtime and (if they won't) ballot trade unionists in every industry for an indefinite overtime ban?

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Equality is not a spectator sport

In the generation since we were denounced as the "loony left" for opposing discrimination at work there has been some genuine progress.



The public sector equality duty (which even this Government won't touch) seeks to enshrine in statute a proactive approach to challenging the consequences of oppression.



The duty will, increasingly, generate data with which we can illustrate, in order to understand and then to change, the discriminatory outcomes which are produced by racism, sexism and other oppressions.



It is important that trade unionists - and Labour politicians - go beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of belief in equality. Otherwise equality impact assessments will simply illustrate discrimination for our edification.



Trade unions also need to support self-organisation by those of our members with direct experience of oppression - and we clearly need to win this argument anew with each generation of activists.



UNISON's current review of self-organisation (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2011/05/building-future-of-equality-in.html?m=1) about which June's National Delegate Conference will receive an interim report must become the occasion to provide answers to those such as the white activist who asked recently why she should be excluded from black members meetings.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A charter for bullies

The Government have published the Draft Statutory Instrument which will, for those employed on or after 6 April, increase the qualifying period of continuous employment required to bring a complaint of unfair dismissal from one to two years (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2012/9780111519974).

This means that, providing they are not discriminating against a worker on the grounds of one of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act, or dismissing for one of the special reasons to which the qualifying period does not apply, employers will have carte blanche to dismiss us at any point in our first two years of employment.

Employers' organisations say that this change will make them more likely to employ new staff - but the evidence for this isn't there. The reduction in the qualifying period in 1999 didn't increase unemployment and this change won't reduce it.

This change is about power in the workplace - and shifting the balance of power away from workers and towards bosses. Back in the mid 90s UNISON took a tribunal case which exposed, in one Department of one London Borough, a deliberate practice of employing temps for 23 months only to avoid their obtaining the statutory right to complain of unfair dismissal.

In that case we were able to show, on the facts, that the practice was unlawful indirect race discrimination - but in general such disgraceful employment practices were perfectly lawful under the last Tory Government and soon shall be again under this one.

If only Labour had abolished the qualifying period all together (in line with TUC policy) the Government might now be facing some greater resistance to the reintroduction of the principle that new starters deserve fewer rights.

As it is, the thousands of workers who face joining the millions on the dole over the coming months will - when and if they find work again - face working twice as long before they obtain even the feeble right to minimal compensation offered by an employment tribunal.

Taking this retrograde step together with the introduction of fees for bringing tribunal claims (welcomed by the British Chambers of Commerce - spokespeople for the provisional wing of the petit bourgeoise - http://www.britishchambers.org.uk/zones/policy/press-releases_1/fees-for-accessing-employment-tribunal-service-will-boost-business-confidence-says-bcc.html) Government policy is clearly to establish a charter for employers to act like bullies in the workplace.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Kill the bill!

If you haven't yet signed the e-petition calling on the Government to drop the Health and Social Care Bill (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22670) do so now and you might be that magic 100,000th signature!



What better object for our love on Valentine's Day than our National Health Service?

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Solidarity with the people of Greece

As savage as the spending cuts we face may be, Greece shows just how bleak austerity can get (and that democracy itself is not indispensable to those who worship the new pantheon of credit rating agencies).



It is therefore timely to declare solidarity with our Greek brothers and sisters (http://m.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/13/solidarity-campaign-people-greece?cat=world&type=article) - you can add your name to the statement of solidarity courtesy of the Coalition of Resistance (http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/2012/02/sign-the-appeal-for-solidarity-with-the-people-of-greece/).



It is good to see a number of leading trade unionists putting their names to this statement. If we are to defend the interests of trade union members, in Europe and across the world, we need - as a movement - to break free from the mindset that says that deficits must be reduced and budgets balanced.



The price of playing by the rules of our existing system includes the enforced idleness and impoverishment of millions, the squandering of productive potential that could be used for the good of society, and the dismantling of the social gains of generations. The Greek people are currently paying the highest price (denominated in Euros) - but working people throughout Europe and beyond are paying heavily also.



We need a movement capable of repeating both 26 March and 30 November 2011, of broadening and deepening both protest and industrial action, and of thinking (and acting) both globally and locally.



We are a long way from having what we need - but the signatories of the appeal for solidarity with the people of Greece are, at least, facing in the right direction.



As regular readers of this blog, Sid and Doris Internationalist, will be aware, the deadline for motions to UNISON Conference is now just days away.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

What is happening to the fight against cuts?

I spoke this evening to a Council Cabinet meeting which, when I had addressed it last year, had sat in the presence of a large, loud and angry lobby of workers and community activists as it agreed to make deep and painful cuts. This year, similarly horrendous decisions were made in the all but silent presence of very few observers.

This difference has arisen not for want of effort of local trade union and community activists. Our local anti-cuts campaigners (where I work in Lambeth _ http://lambethsaveourservices.org/) are a model to be emulated elsewhere.

There is obviously a danger of fatalism in each year after a first year in which a vicious right-wing Government has imposed its cuts, but we have to think also about what we - as socialists - need to do to avert this.

One important problem has been the failure of attempts to coordinate anti-cuts campaigns nationally.

So we have the Coalition of Resistance (http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/) - a good idea which has yet to realise it's potential, anti-cuts activity from the National Shop Stewards Network (http://www.shopstewards.net/) - a good idea which lost its way, and Unite the Resistance (http://uniteresist.org/) - an idea which may yet turn out to have been good. All the while, the Peoples' Charter (http://www.thepeoplescharter.org/) continues to be available as an organising tool to anyone who cares to pick it up.

The left is left offering this range of options to activists as a result of our marginalisation after decades of decline. The (somewhat sorry) lesson of the pensions dispute thus far is that, in the continuing absence of a vibrant and effective rank and file movement, trade unionists can be won to support strike action when - and only when - they are called upon to do so officially.

This means that the struggle to assert democratic authority over the leadership of the trade union movement is of vital importance. The same principle, it seems to me, applies to the Labour Party, whose local leaders are not irrelevant to the level of popular support for ant--cuts mobilisations.

Trade unionists need to demand of Labour politicians that, rather than prioritise the administration of expenditure reductions required by the Tory Government, they lead local opposition to those reductions.

Our most important task in relation to Labour Councils is not so much to condemn the universal capitulation to the Government which (given its universality) is hard for any individual Labour Group to reverse - what we need to demand of all Labour politicians, in office or opposition, is that they join our fight against the Tory cuts.

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Not safe in their hands

UNISON's opinion poll, showing deep public mistrust of the Tory Government's stewardship of the NHS (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2603) secured some good coverage, increasing pressure on the Government.



That pressure needs to increase - which is why all UNISON members should find the time to email your MP (http://action.unison.org.uk/page/speakout/nhsriskregister) and - those who can get to London midweek - should be mobilising for the rally in defence of the NHS on 7 March (6pm at Central Hall, Westminster - http://www.tuc.org.uk/industrial/tuc-20597-f0.cfm).



The NHS isn't safe in their hands - but we can save it from them if we fight hard enough.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

M28 - what should UNISON do?

The breadth of potential pensions strike action on 28 March, whilst as yet unlikely to approach that we saw on 30 November last year, is growing, with the possible inclusion of UNITE’s health sector and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

UNISON’s leadership have – rightly – made clear that our ballot results are still “live” and that we could call further action if we fail to make adequate progress in negotiations. Now would be a good time for reports back from negotiators to assess whether we should be joining the rising tide of support for further action on 28 March.

No one would be wise to underestimate just how difficult it would be to get our members out for further action - yet, if we cannot, through negotiations, secure a settlement which is genuinely a victory that must surely be what we should consider.

Friday, February 10, 2012

After N30? F20 and M28!

The pensions dispute is a long way from over. UNITE have called for a demonstration outside the High Court in the Strand on 20 February, when the trade union appeal against the change to indexing of pensions in payment will be heard.

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) have agreed to join possible strike action on 28 March, upon which the largest civil service union PCS and the largest teachers union, the NUT are consulting their members.

UNISON branches should support the demonstration on 20 February – not least because, given the policy accepted by our Service Group Executives (SGEs) our only hope of reversing the change to uprating of our pensions is through this legal action.

We also need to consider how best we can support the action on 28 March, given the constraints of the anti-union laws. Branches in dispute with employers should consider organising action on that date. Others should seek agreements from employers that UNISON members who respect picket lines on 28 March will face no action other than loss of pay.

Make your MP think about the risk of destroying our NHS

This message has been sent round from UNISON's Million Voices Campaign;

On 22 February there is an important debate in the House of Commons on the future of the NHS.

The government has so far refused to release the so-called "risk register" behind its controversial Health Bill, despite the independent Information Commissioner telling them to do so.

Speculation suggests that the register contains damning information about the risks of the government's NHS overhaul, particularly around the cost of its plans and the ability of GPs to take on massive new responsibilities.

It takes just two minutes to make a difference

The debate on 22 February is a chance for MPs to vote for the government to release the risk register now, so that the public will have a better idea of what is in store for the NHS and our politicians will be better informed when considering the Health Bill in Parliament.

Ask your MP to support the motion that the risk register should be published.

UNISON CALLS ON ERIC PICKLES TO INVESTIGATE BARNET COUNCIL

Hot off the press from UNISON in London...

UNISON, the UK’s largest union, is calling on the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, to launch an immediate inquiry into the use of consultants at Barnet Council after public sector tax avoidance hit the headlines in the case of Ed Lester the Head of the Student Loans Company.


The union believes that the proper employment and procurement practices have not been followed exposing the Council to significant reputational and financial risks.


Eric Pickles has already had to step in and reprimand the council, after local residents and Barnet bloggers exposed the METPRO Audit scandal when METPRO a private security firm were awarded a contract at a cost of over a million pounds - without a tendering exercise, written contact or any proper invoicing - to ‘keep an eye’ on local bloggers.

Laura Butterfield, Regional Organiser at UNISON, said:

“We are really concerned that proper procedures have not been followed at Barnet Council. Over the last two years Barnet Council has employed a long list of consultants including the Deputy Chief Executive and Assistant Director of HR. Only an immediate inquiry can clarify the correct processes were followed. Given Danny Alexander’s intervention in the Ed Lester case last week how can we ensure that future cases are avoided unless all public sector employees are employed through the correct processes?”

UNISON’s key concerns

· The Council has failed to comply with its Contract Procurement Regulations (CPR) and Financial Regulations by employing consultants without any procurement/selection process being followed.– which exposes it to significant reputational and financial risks .

· The Council does not have accurate and complete centrally held contracts register and effective monitoring arrangements so are unable to confirm if this is an isolated incident.

· The Council does not have a complete, centrally held register of contractors showing who is employed, on what basis and at what cost.

We recommend that all spend over the stated threshold in the CPR be reviewed and matched to a central contracts register (in development) in a timely basis. This register needs to be drawn up in full and maintained.

Back in February 2011 the local UNISON branch submitted a report to all 63 Barnet Councillors on 10 February where they made the following recommendation

Recommendation

The Council undertakes as a matter of urgency a review of all payments to staff not employed directly by the Council.


Furthermore we recommend that the Council refer to the HMRC Guidelines in particular the advice to be found here that explains that “It's your responsibility to correctly determine the employment status of your workers - that is, whether they're employed by you or self-employed. This depends on the terms and conditions of your working relationship with each worker.


It's important to get your workers' employment status right because it affects the way tax and National Insurance contributions (NICs) are calculated for them. And it determines whether or not you have to operate PAYE (Pay As You Earn) on their earnings.”


Read full details here
http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/paye/employees/start-leave/status.htm <http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/paye/employees/start-leave/status.htm>

For comment or more information please contact Laura Butterfield – 07718 520 850 / l.butterfield@unison.co.uk

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Congratulations to those facing the challenge

Those wishing to see a picture of the incumbent Regional Council Officers, successfully re-elected at yesterday's Regional Council AGM can do so courtesy of an unnamed contributor to the UNISON Anonymous blog - http://unisonactive.blogspot.com/2012/02/london-unison-regional-council-agm.html.



Congratulations are due to Gloria, Conroy and their team, who will need all our support in facing UNISON's most challenging year yet. For my part I shall do all I can to disprove my prediction that the re-election of the incumbents would mean we had no further quorate meetings of the Regional Council in 2012.



The majority of delegates who supported Lambeth's attempt to reduce the quorum - and the minority who (comprising more than a blocking third) successfully opposed us - need to work together to ensure a quorum at our next meeting. Our 18 year old trade union came of age on 30 November last year when we glimpsed, for a fleeting moment, the Union we hoped to create in 1993.



I hope we can be that Union again - and one small contribution to that goal will be a functioning Regional Council in London.

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Fighting privatisation - in Barnet and beyond

Our Coalition Government is on a mission not simply to make savage cuts but also to privatise as much of the provision of public services as will remain.



In this way, an economic crisis originating in the financial heart of the private sector is becoming an opportunity for the triumph of the very values that caused the crisis.



If we cannot halt this then we shall see more and more schools and hospitals being run to make a profit rather than to provide a service. In local government the Tory dream of a commissioning Council will be the nightmare from which our communities will be unable to wake.



This is why today's strike action in Barnet (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-16959560) is so important - because it shows that trade union members can, and will, fight to protect our public services. We need many more branches to follow suit if we are to mobilise the strength of our movement to resist the destruction of our public services.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Barnet strikers show the way

Thursday sees the fourth day of strike action against the OneBarnet privatisation plans by members of Barnet UNISON (http://www.barnetunison.me.uk/?q=node/768).



Just as Barnet's Thatcherite politicians have been outriders and pathbreakers for the Tory Right, so Barnet UNISON have pioneered campaign tactics to oppose the break up and destruction of public services.



The tactic of strikers doing unpaid work for a local charity - whilst demanding that the employer makes a charitable donation equivalent to the money they save by not paying the salaries of those on strike - is an important gesture in the direction of building social movement trade unionism.



For more information, visit the branch website: www.barnetunison.me.uk or email a message of support to contactus@barnetunison.org.uk.

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Monday, February 06, 2012

After N30 - the debate with the "rejectionists"

Red Pepper hosts an interesting exchange of views between Gregor Gall, a prominent and thoughtful union oriented academic, and Heather Wakefield, our equally prominent and thoughtful Head of Local Government, concerning the outcome of "N30" (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/n30-and-after-was-that-it/). It's well worth reading in full.

There is a debate to be had and it has to get beyond discordant cries of betrayal on the one hand and disloyalty on the other.

Gregor summarises, perhaps approvingly, what he sees as the views of the PCS General Secretary;

"Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, has lambasted what he sees as 'fatalism' on the part of many other unions in this fight. By this, he means leaders of the GMB and Unison in particular do not seem to think they can win because they have become so psychologically inured to years of defeat since the 1980s."

However, Gregor also points to the lack of clear evidence of an appetite for sustained industrial action - and to the difficulties of sustaining important public support for such action given the weakness of "social movement" organising by UK trade unions (an interesting observation to which I hope to return).

The essential purpose of his citing the trenchant views of Mark Serwotka is to highlight precisely the division of opinion which they express, as evidence of a further collective weakness of our trade unions.

Therefore, it may be as much to Mark Serwotka as to Gregor Gall that Heather Wakefield addresses this part of her riposte;

"Those who argue that unions wanting to negotiate – the majority – have 'sold out' and undermined trade union solidarity need to get to grips with the complexities of public sector pensions, serious areas of weakness in membership density and organisation, sectoral bargaining arrangements in the public sector. Only when they have done that should they decide whether there is a route to getting everything we want through industrial action."

I will come to each of the three things with which Heather says we need to "get to grips" but first it is worth commenting on that last sentence. Which experienced trade unionist, at the start (or the middle, or the endgame) of any industrial dispute seriously asks the question "is there a route to getting everything we want through industrial action?"

This question, implied by Heather's critique of the "rejectionist" position in the current pensions dispute has two flaws. The first is the implication that the "rejectionists" believe that our trade unions are "one trick ponies" and are considering industrial action as a stand-alone tactic. This turns reality on its head. It is those who have followed UNISON's line of suspending industrial action for negotiations on a basis available before we went on strike who are deliberately restricting our tactical options - not those who are continuing to negotiate without having signed up to anything.

The second flaw is more important. Heather implies that, in order to consider - at this point - a strategy which included further industrial action, we would need to know that it could provide " a route to getting everything we want." This is an entirely false basis for comparing the different strategies of the "rejectionist" unions and those following UNISON's line.

It wasn't the author of the riposte to Gregor Gall who said that this dispute had always been about "damage limitation" - but that is not the view of only one individual at UNISON HQ. Those who are currently negotiating around the health and local government pension schemes are, I am sure, doing a good job. However, neither they nor the lay Service Group Executives (SGEs) with whose authority they act can believe for a moment that they are on a "route to getting everything we want."

The correct question is not "if we take further industrial action will we get everything?" It is "if we take further industrial action will we do better than if we do not?"

This is a question of tactics, to which the three factors with which Heather says we should get to grips are relevant. The "complexities of public sector pensions" certainly do mean that the eventual settlement of disputes would lead to specific scheme by scheme settlements from scheme negotiations. However, this "complexity" cannot be invoked to justify the decision to abandon a unified approach to action at any particular point in time.

Similarly our "areas of weakness" existed before, as well as after, N30 and cannot therefore, of themselves, provide a basis upon which to take a particular tactical decision - such as whether or not it has been right to abandon further unified action after just one day. Indeed, the relationship between our weaknesses and industrial action is more complex than at first appears. Given the impact of the pensions campaign on recruitment, it is at least arguable that a more forthright approach to continuing the campaign would help us to address some of these weaknesses.

Thirdly "sectoral bargaining arrangements" must most certainly be taken into account - and are an all but inevitable feature of any final settlement. Again, however, these arrangements were around before as well as after N30. Indeed, prior to our General Secretary's TUC speech (in which he did all but "name the day") it was a common refrain within UNISON that unity could only be built "sector by sector". However, one lesson of the N30 strike, and of the campaign leading up to it, is that cross-sectoral industrial action can improve the bargaining position of trade unions across sectors.

Therefore, I conclude that it is perfectly possible, having got to grips with the complexities of public sector pensions, the reality of areas of weakness, and the necessity for sectoral bargaining, still to conclude that it has been a grave tactical blunder to draw back prematurely from unified industrial action.

This is not because such action, taken alone, promises outright victory, but because the proven efficacy of the tactic of unified action warrants consideration of its further application as part of our overall strategy.

It is in any event good to see considered debate - and I hope that UNISON branches in local government will requisition the Special Service Group Conference where this debate should properly take place.

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

The persistence of institutional racism at work

At Wednesday’s Annual General Meeting of the Greater London UNISON Regional Council, the meeting will be presented with a worthy statement from the Regional Committee responding to the recent convictions of two of the killers of Stephen Lawrence. This poses the question to trade union activists of what we should be doing, in our everyday activity, to challenge racism.

Whilst we should of course continue to be concerned about, and campaign around, gross manifestations of institutional racism in our society, such as the disproportionate impact on young black men of police stop and search powers – and about deaths in custody – as a trade union we have a particular responsibility, to our black and minority ethnic (BME) members, to the workforce and to the wider society, to understand and uproot institutional racism in the work environment.

More than ten years after the MacPherson report, and after a generation of equal opportunity in employment policies initiated in response to the equalities legislation of the 1970s, institutional racism is alive and well in the organisations which employ UNISON members.

This has many different manifestations. In many organisations BME workers are under represented in the workforce in comparison to the community (and in some cases, particular ethnic groups are under represented). BME people are more likely to be unemployed – a problem which is likely to worsen in current economic circumstances.

In almost every organisation, a “race pay gap” between the median earnings of white employees and the (lower) median earnings of BME employees is an expression of the vertical segregation of the workforce, with BME employees disproportionately present in lower paid groups of workers.

UNISON has produced handy guidance to all our branches on how to identify and take up these and other issues. The issue which I particularly want to consider in this post is that of the persistent over representation of BME workers amongst those being dealt with formally in line with employers’ disciplinary procedures.

Most UNISON members work in organisations where the disciplinary procedure is either a collective agreement to which we have signed up or is, at least, a document upon which we have been consulted. Therefore, where there is evidence that the application of these procedures is disproportionately impacting BME employees this has to be a very serious concern for our trade union, given our commitment to equality.

Such evidence was widely identified in the 1990s. Initially employers denied the evidence but when convinced, to their credit they tried first of all to analyse disciplinary cases to look for evidence of discrimination. This was, by and large, a fruitless search. Although there was clear evidence that the disciplinary procedure was being applied disproportionately against BME employees, each particular disciplinary case, when analysed, appeared (at least from the perspective of the employer) to be justified and appropriate.

The problem wasn’t within the procedure, it was with how and why some employees came to be part of the procedure (and others did not).

A number of branches of UNISON in London Borough Councils jointly applied pressure on our employers who, through the provincial employers’ organisation, commissioned research which led to the publication, in 1999, of a report from the Institute for Employment Studies(IES) entitled “The Organisational and Managerial Implications of Devolved Personnel Assessment Procedures”. (I can’t blog a link to that report as it is not available online, but a very similar report commissioned from the same research organisation by Nottingham City Council shortly afterwards is available – and arrives at startlingly similar conclusions).

In a nutshell (and I would recommend ploughing through the report itself), alongside a number of other findings this research found that managers acknowledged that the ethnicity of an employee was an important factor in deciding whether to take formal proceedings against them, and also that white managers tended systematically to rate the performance of white subordinates more favourably than those of BME subordinates.

Since disciplinary action was frequently used, as managers admitted in interviews, as a surrogate means of managing perceived performance problems, BME staff are at greater risk of such action, as they were more likely to be viewed as poor performers. This analysis is intuitively plausible from years of working alongside managers, the majority of whom are clearly not consciously or overtly racist, yet whose collective decisions reproduce racially discriminatory outcomes over decades.

This is most certainly not a problem for UNISON in members in local government alone. Minal Mistry and Javed Latoo, writing in 2009 in the British Journal of Medical Practitioners about the experience in the health service offer the following analysis which reinforces the conclusions from the IES research in local government;

“In recent times the experience of overt racial bigotry and prejudice is seldom seen. Nevertheless discrimination against members of a social group may persist because it is so deeply entrenched within society, by the personal and collective unconscious, that it becomes the automatic response even when no conscious intent is present. “Everyday discrimination” is the discreet, pervasive discriminatory acts experienced by stigmatised groups on a daily basis, and highlights the modern perspective that racism is subtle.”

The report on The Experience of Black and Minority Ethnic staff in Higher Education in England points in a similar direction, as does the latest Equalities Annual Report from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) which demonstrates an over representation of BME staff amongst those facing formal disciplinary action, and that a higher proportion of BME staff against whom action was taken faced the ultimate sanction of dismissal.

The evidence is therefore that, across all UNISON Service Groups, the disciplinary procedures which we negotiate with (or are consulted upon by) the employers, and with which we are operating every day, are consistently disadvantaging BME workers, primarily because of the unconscious prejudices of predominantly white managers.

Because this disadvantage appears to be rooted in a systematic tendency on the part of (white) managers to view white subordinates as better performing than BME subordinates, the long term solution must be to overcome the vertical segregation that sees the hierarchies of our employers get whiter as you go up.

Long term solutions to injustice are never good enough however. This week and next week our employers’ disciplinary procedures will be disadvantaging BME workers and trade union members. The very least that we can do is to continue to assert this awkward truth, so as to maximise pressure upon employers to work with us to confront, and ultimately overcome it.

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

In October 1969, the American radical group, the Weathermen deliberately caused chaos in Chicago. In this country we generally prefer different conduct from our forecasters, although we do enjoy (particularly in London and the South) complaining about both the weather and the presumed inability of our authorities to respond adequately to it.

In the past, however, weather related difficulties have caused the postponement of the Greater London Regional Council Annual General Meeting.

This can happen because the role of those individuals elected as delegates to Regional Council is so critical, at the margins, to the delivery of London’s public services in snowy weather, that we cannot reasonably expect the employers to release them for a three hour meeting.

Happily, there are currently no severe weather warnings for London & South East England from Monday 6 to Wednesday 8 February, although those leafleting outside the venue for Regional Council are expecting severe frost, with a possible area of high pressure developing later around some delegates as they complete ballot papers.

Since Transport for London say that the city is “open for business”, I’ll prepare the huskies for the sled ride in to Central London on Wednesday morning.

UNISON Region publishes UNISON manifesto

Yesterday, 4 February, UNISON Scotland launched a manifesto ahead of forthcoming local government elections. It’s an impressive document which speaks of a trade union willing to assert itself and set out an agenda which reflects the interests of members.

This is a confidence and assertiveness which UNISON in Greater London once had, when Ken Livingstone was forced to stand as an independent candidate in the first election for London Mayor because of gerrymandering by the Labour Party establishment. UNISON Greater London Region – which had run one of the best campaigns for a “YES” vote in the 1998 referendum that had established the Mayoralty – adopted an independent approach, publishing our own manifesto and campaigning for our policies.

If, today, you search the list of documents on the Greater London Region section of the UNISON website for the word “manifesto” you get the message; “Sorry but there are no documents currently available.” Unfortunately this could almost be the slogan of the increasingly dysfunctional Region in recent years. Delegates to the Annual General Meeting of the Greater London Regional Council on Wednesday will have an opportunity to change things for the better, but – as we were advised a couple of years ago by a good comrade - a lot of effort will doubtless be put into trying to persuade them not to.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A letter from some comrades

The timely open letter from the Communist Party of Britain concerning the crisis of political representation of our movement (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/114897) echoes views quite widely expressed on the Labour Left - indeed it expresses the reasons why we launched the Labour Representation Committee (http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/about).

It is now vital that the trade unions try to shift the Labour leadership into a position of opposition to the deficit reduction plans of the Coalition Government, which are plans to dismantle the Welfare State and achieve a once in a generation shift in the balance of wealth and power (even further) away from working people.

The absence of opposition from "Her Majesty's Opposition" reduces the political space within which we can mobilise to defend the NHS, state education or council housing. The stifling neoliberal consensus ensures that voices raised in defence of the interests of the majority of the population are marginalised.

For trade unionists trying to fight pay freezes, job losses, pension cuts and attacks on terms and conditions, the absence of a clear alternative in public debate makes it harder to mobilise our members and therefore harder to defend our interests.

The Communist Party are therefore right to propose that the affiliated trade unions should act together to shift the Labour Party leftwards.

However, comrades, you need to consider therefore how we achieve change within our trade unions also. The record of recent years does not suggest that such effective action will easily be achieved.

When (New) Labour was in Government we needed - and tried - to mobilise labour movement opposition to its policies of privatisation and war. The affiliated trade unions - and indeed the TUC - generally adopted sound policies and, on occasion fought and won policy positions on the floor of Labour Party Conference. Modest constitutional gains were achieved - increasing the number of contemporary resolutions for example.

However, when real power has been at stake, those who direct the activities of the affiliated trade unions within the Labour Party have failed to assert the interests of our members. Crucially, the trade union leaders made the foolish error of acquiescing in the coronation of Gordon Brown as Leader, with predictably catastrophic results.

Brown's office leant heavily on MPs to nominate him, ensuring that socialist challenger, John McDonnell, was unable to secure sufficient nominations to force a ballot. The only people within the Party who could possibly have applied sufficient countervailing pressure to have ensured a contest were the General Secretaries of the affiliated unions, acting in concert.

Not only did the trade unions fail collectively to support McDonnell, they split five ways in the sideshow election for Deputy Leader, with the consequence that the candidate elected was the only one who secured no union nominations whatsoever.

When, after the General Election, another leadership election came along, the unions did manage to coalesce around a candidate they thought better than the perceived front runner - but the political composition of the Parliamentary Labour Party was such that there was no serious socialist challenger, the candidate of the left having made it on to the ballot paper only with borrowed support.

The trade unions are of course culpable for the political composition of the Parliamentary Labour Party - we could have run a series of campaigns to select socialist trade unionists across a number of constituencies but no such effort was made (indeed the trade unionist's route to Parliament is more commonly a career move and reward for loyalty in a union context than any part of a political struggle to reshape the Party in the interests of the movement).

We are now reaping the bitter fruits of the lamentable inadequacy of the intervention in the Labour Party by the trade unions over the past twenty years. The approach of "quietly influencing" the Labour leadership, of which Dave Prentis gave a spirited and successful defence to UNISON Conference in 2004 when defeating a call from the Lambeth Branch for the resignation of Tony Blair, has until now precluded the involvement of the trade unions in mobilising rank and file opposition to the Party leadership.

Through TULO and at Warwick, the union leaders got the best policies they could when we were in Government- but on the basis that they did not mount an organised challenge to the leadership.

An earlier Miliband would have recognised this feature of Labourism - the division of labour between the industrial and political wings of the movement - and its chilling effect on the prospects of the Party, in Government or Opposition, ever adopting socialist policies.

I hope that those who engineered the coordinated media response of the "Big Three" to the recent pronouncements of the "Two Eds" will pay heed to the call made today by the Communist Party - but that will require a break from the trade union approach to the Labour Party (and leadership) which has generally been taken over the past twenty years.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Danny Alexander was born yesterday!

Newsnight's expose of the tax affairs of the boss of the Student Loans Company is fun (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-16709780).



Most enjoyable is Danny Alexander not having realised the "tax benefits to the individual" of paying someone through their own private company.



Danny boy! Don't you know how widespread this dodgy practice is?



Every public sector trade union activist should tomorrow ask their employer how many senior "consultants" are being paid in a way which facilitates their dodging the taxes which pay for our public services.



If this issue has public attention for a few moments, let's use this to root out as many consultants as possible.

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7 March - an appointment to keep for the sake of your health

Put the evening of 7 March in your diary - and come to the rally in defence of the NHS (http://www.unison.org.uk/healthcare/pages_view.asp?did=13974).



The privatisation and break up of our National Health Service is in front of us, and we need to step up our opposition in the interests of patients, carers, health workers and every one of us.



While you've got your diary out, remember that 21 February is the launch date (http://www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk/dch/resources/HELeaflet-21stFeb_A4_2pp_print.pdf) for the open statement from Defend Council Housing and Housing Emergency (http://www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk/dch/resources/HEStatement_TimeforAlternative290112.pdf). Tenants, the homeless and construction workers all need investment in Council housing - and we need to fight for this.



These are just two of the fronts opened up in the Coalition Government's assault upon our Welfare state. Whilst valuable campaigns are being fought, sector by sector and issue by issue, we also need to recapture the power of a unified response to the overarching attacks.



The TUC put half a million of us on the streets last spring. We need a larger national demonstration - but even a smaller one would be better than leaving each struggle to be waged alone.

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