Friday, March 30, 2012

By George!

George Galloway was probably entitled to his charateristic hyperbole last night (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2122523/George-Galloway-Secures-shock-victory-Bradford-West-election.html). But whilst this may not have been "the most sensational result in British by-election history" (and may not have involved "the grace of God"), the victor said something serious when he said that "The people of Bradford have spoken this evening for people in inner cities everywhere in the United Kingdom."



For those who are more worried about worklessness than fiscal credibility, those on the sharp end of economic stagnation and social disintegration, for whom falling real wages are causing real hardship rather than inconvenience, the Labour Party leadership have too little to say.



It was a depressing night for Labour Party activists on the ground (http://labourlist.org/2012/03/bradford-west-by-election-liveblog/) - but what's really depressing is how the Party appears both unable and unwilling to engage with important sections of the electorate who ought to be natural supporters.



If the trade unions are to fulfill the important role of anchoring our Party to our class, then our leaders need to do more to demand that the Party leadership speaks for and to the marginalised, disenfranchised and excluded.



In this context, tomorrow's Morning Star Conference; "For a People's Britain not a Bankers' Britain" (http://shop.morningstaronline.co.uk/content/morning-star-conference-march-31-2012-peoples-britain-not-bankers-britain) is a timely opportunity for those General Secretaries who are attending to do just that.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

LGPS - Silence is not golden

Some five weeks ago the trade union and employers side negotiators discussing the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) struck a possible deal - but we still don't know what it was.

Because the LGPS is a statutory scheme - and in spite of the fact that it is funded by contributions from employers and employees which are invested quite independently of Central Government - this possible deal needs approval from Ministers (in Communities and Local Government and the Treasury).

Whilst that is unavoidable, the complete silence from our negotiators is not. A brief period of silence at certain stages of negotiation can sometimes be justified, but our negotiators appear to have sworn an open-ended vow of silence for as long as it takes the Government to consider their secret deal with the employers.

Therefore neither the scheme members, whose security in retirement is at issue, nor for that matter the local authorities, for whose squeezed budgets this has significant implications, can know what it is that our negotiators think we should accept until Government Ministers (who neither contribute to nor manage or administer our pension funds) have had their say.

Whilst UNISON negotiators refuse to brief even the cross Service Group Scrutiny Group about any details, it may be that not everyone has been so scrupulous. Certainly Lord Hutton appears to know enough to express some views (http://m.professionalpensions.com/professional-pensions/news/2163984/public-sector-schemes-change).

Speaking at an Eversheds legal Conference last week he reportedly said there was a "high degree of certainty" there would need to be further changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme – due to be launched in 2014 – in the years to come.

He said the fundamental design of the scheme such as the "cap and collar" to limit employer contributions would remain in place but other tweaks to benefit design would occur.

"It's very, very unlikely that there won't be some movement around scheme benefits over the next 25 years", he said. "There is going to be a high degree of certainty of scheme changes over the next 25 years – I don't envisage that every dot and comma of the LGPS deal is going to remain unchanged."

I'd like to express an opinion about this, but having seen neither a dot nor a comma of the proposals on which Lord Hutton is able to comment, I can't.

Of course, since the very officials whose task, should they secure the lay mandate for which they will certainly be looking should the Government rubber stamp their deal, will be to produce publicity materials intended to "sell" the deal to members, are also the only people in the Union who know the details, they could be at something of an advantage in trying to win the argument.

The challenge which confronts our lay Service Group Executives (SGEs) is whether they will assert their authority by insisting upon sufficient time for they themselves, and for activists at Regional and Branch level to consider any proposed deal before any consideration is given to the recommendation to be put to members in a ballot.

We should certainly have at least as long to discuss and debate recommendations to our members in a ballot as the Government have spent considering the proposed deal! This would mean that each Branch would have the opportunity of (at least) one monthly Branch Committee to consider opinions which they could report to Regional Service Groups ahead of national SGE meetings.

This reasonable approach is the very minimum we should expect if we want any ballot truly to reflect the informed and considered opinions of our members.

Since at present I hear more from a renegade Blairite peer than I do from within my own trade union concerning the future of my pension, I hope I can be excused a modicum of pessimism of the intellect about the arrangements for such a ballot.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

London strike success

Full marks to the teachers (http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/15423) and lecturers (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=419492&c=1) who closed (or partially closed) 1,400 London schools, 47 colleges and 16 universities today.



Today's important strike demonstrated that the dispute over public service pensions is far from over and that - whilst those who only ever believed in "damage limitation" take the coward's route of refusing to make a recommendation in the hope that members, receiving the demoralising message from their leaders, will seem to let those same leaders off the hook of their own responsibility for an impending, and entirely voluntary, defeat - it is perfectly possible to continue a fight for a fair settlement.



UNISON members should reflect on this positive example from sister unions of members in London taking a positive lead in a fight with the Tory Government. Imagine the profile that the largest public service union might have in our capital city if it were radical and progressive.

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Solidarity with pension strikers

I'm on my way to offer my services making teas and coffees for striking members of the NUT and UCU (I've checked the advice from UNISON Regional Office and it seems that I can safely and lawfully do this!)



Given the deafening silence from Eric Pickles concerning the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) we can't rule out further strike action by LGPS members. Since, in almost every workplace where there are members of the Teachers' Pension Scheme those members work alongside LGPS members, there is a compelling case for coordination between our respective trade unions.



It's a shame that today's co-ordination goes no further than assistance with refreshments.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

LGPS - no news is no news

Contrary to earlier speculation on this blog, informed - as we can now see - by a diminutive avian advisor with questionable sources, there is still no news from Mr Pickles about local government pensions.



Or, to quote authoritative information;



"Just to let you know we have still had no response from the government on LGPS proposals. In the absence of a response the meeting of the scrutiny group on Thursday has been cancelled."



If Mr Pickles doesn't hurry up, our local government Conference in June might be able to make its own recommendation to our members in the Service Group as to how to vote in any ballot...

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Happy Birthday 26 March?

A year ago today half a million of us filled the streets of London (http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/mar/26/march-for-the-alternative-government?cat=society&type=article). We demonstrated the opposition of the broad mass of the people of this country to the vandalism of public services being orchestrated by the Tory Government and their Lib Dem window dressing.



I would like to be able to post to this blog about the ways in which the TUC General Council used the largest ever trade union demonstration in the UK as a springboard for militant and effective campaigning. Such a post would have, however, to be held over to this coming Sunday (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_Fools'_Day).



Union activists need to build our strength and organisation locally. It would be foolish to expect a national lead I'm afraid.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shall we be Pickled tomorrow?

A little bird (well, not so very little) has let on that those of us waiting to know if the Government will rubber stamp a draft "deal" done between negotiators dealing with the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) may hear some news from Eric Pickles tomorrow.

If we do, it may be that we will then hear some justification as to why we must move to ballot our members immediately (and - crucially in the case of the vast majority of affected members who are in the Local Government Service Group - ahead of our Service Group Conference in June).

Such a justification may relate to the need for Regulations to go through Parliament sufficiently in advance to enable implementation of a new scheme from April 2014.

It may therefore be worth recollecting that the current Regulations dealing with the administration of the LGPS were made and laid before Parliament in February 2008 in order to come into force on 1 April 2008 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2008/239/introduction/made).

It's true that the Regulations dealing with benefits, membership and contributions (which we must now learn to call "big ticket items") were made and laid before Parliament in April 2007 in order to come into force on 1 April 2008 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2007/1166/introduction/made).

It's also true that if - in spite of the clear policy of our Local Government Conference 2010 in support of a final salary LGPS - we are looking to move to a career average revalued earnings (CARE) scheme, then the transition from the 2008 to the 2014 may be more complex than the transition to the 2008 scheme.

Career average pensions are not quantum physics though. A Maths A-level ought to be more than enough to grasp the workings out. There is no genuine and honest reason why the Government or the employers need a response from the trade unions on the 2014 scheme offer before (say) 1 October (and I'm sure that 1 April 2013 would still be a workable timetable if the will was there).

There is no genuine and honest reason why we should have to ballot members before our Local Government Conference has an opportunity to express a view as to the recommendation to be made to members in a ballot - as it was able to do in relation to Single Status.

If, however, the Service Group Executive is to be dragooned into making a recommendation this week, it ought to remember the policy of Service Group Conference - and that it lacks the constitutional authority to recommend acceptance of a career average pension without a change in Conference policy.

No doubt if officers do try to cajole the Service Group Executive into a hasty decision they will also have a detailed Equality Impact Assessment for the proposed 2014 scheme (after all, they have known for weeks what deal they have done on behalf of those of us who are actually members of the LGPS). Were that not to be the case, the hypocrisy of recommending a hasty ballot would surely be too much for even the hardiest souls at the UNISON Centre.

Normally, being pickled takes some time. Perhaps this week we shall witness accelerated pickling of our pensions?

I hope not.

Watch this space...

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Timing is everything

Now we know the timetable for the ballot of UNISON members in Health in relation to the Government's derisory "final offer" on pensions (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2643) we can see that timing truly is everything.

It's apparently vital that, in asking our members to take a decision about a pension scheme which will come into force in three years time, we insist they must decide now. I have to say that, as a member of the ruling body of our Union I do not believe this to be true and have heard no justification for this timetable. However, I know that the majority of my fellow NEC members have a proven track record of unquestioning faith in our "world class negotiators" so there must be some cunning plan behind our seeming to accept the timetable of our adversaries.

I understand that it's apparently so important that our members are rushed into an early decision that it is unavoidable that the ballot must open during the Easter Holidays. Since we all know that women bear the lionesses' share of the burden of childcare and may therefore be disproportionately likely to be absent from the workplace - and from related workplace discussion - when the ballot opens, I can only conclude that it's a good job that our Union isn't bothered about such matters.

Similarly, since we are asking our members in health to vote on a pension scheme about which we haven't seen an Equality Impact Assessment, I can only conclude that we never meant that we really cared about equality impact assessments as a necessary prerequisite before decisions were made. That was just a position we adopted to protect ourselves from litigation I suppose. More fool me for believing we were sincere.

The many local government branches who were told that they could not make recommendations to their own members about Single Status deals without legal opinions informed by detailed equality impact assessments will doubtless be as confused as I am by the fact that - if the deal to be struck is a horrendous capitulation to a reactionary Government in a way which is contrary to the interests of all our members - we no longer need to insist upon such an equality impact assessment.

This suggests that we never really cared about equality but only about potential legal liabilities. Surely that cannot be right?

For the Health SGE to have adopted a timetable for a member ballot on this question which begins shortly before Health Service Group Conference and ends just after suggests that they have allowed themselves to be manipulated in order transparently to display contempt for lay democracy in our trade union.

That obviously cannot be the case. It must be some misunderstanding.

However, when the various SGEs dealing with our members in the LGPS allow officers to embark upon "surveymonkey" surveys which undermine our position in negotiations and for which they have no authority all UNISON members have to wonder what is going on.

It's a good job their "surveymonkey" doesn't think to "see no evil", "hear no evil", "speak no evil"...

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A report from UNISON's Health SGE about pensions

This is what you might call a "guest post" giving Karen Reissmann's report of yesterday's meeting of UNISON's Health Service Group Executive (SGE);

Report of special health executive 21st March on Pensions.

We discussed the offer in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
(For Scotland see later)

We were given choice of
 recommend accept in ballot
 say this is best we can achieve in negotiations
 no recommendation
 recommend reject in ballot
 reject the proposals and go straight to industrial action.

We voted in order

No-one voted for accept.

"Best we can achieve" was agreed (21 for, 10 against, 3 abst, I voted against)

Discussion.

Presentation from officers emphasised all the gains and used terms like "This is not perfect but ..." They were preoccupied with possible consequences of rejecting ie the government keep telling them if we do not agree it they will remove the Fair deal offer. But Fair Deal was never just for us. At the rate they want to privatise they need to offer pension to privatised staff or else it will collapse. The whole offer is based on 1% drop out.

Rejections by other unions were not noted for their size eg 96% Unite, 85% BMA, etc but by their turnout. They sounded more like the Tories than trade unionists.

Other health unions like RCN and BMA were criticised for not leading. They said they felt they were "kicking their reject ballots into the long grass to make it go away" (sounds familiar)

At one point it was suggested that Unite were never serious as they have not used 96% rejection to call more strike action (Despite Unite exec passing motion including "This union commits itself to maximising its support to the public sector members to participate in further action, including co-ordinated national strike action alongside other public sector unions in April..")

They kept referring to pensions being a "personal issue" that each member has to decide on its merits. Adrian O'Malley rightly replied personally most health workers would lose out. Also that we had not just fought on "I'm all right" but for decent pensions for all. Many on strike on 30th were not even in pensions scheme but know victory for us is more than pensions but a huge hole in the whole austerity package being driven through by Tory and Lib dem millionaires. It is no surprise that they are now on attack over national pay, on going pay freeze, jobs, cuts and NHS bill.

Many speakers commented that the deal is STILL PAY MORE, GET LESS AND WORK LONGER with a few gains made due to the strike. They refused to allow the words "these proposals still mean work longer, pay more, get less on any of the material going out.

Often people speaking in favour of this is the best we can do underplayed November 30th. But as Martin Benn said "We were told it was a success. We were there - it was a success and we need to lead our union to complete that success. Dave Prentis promised a fight not a skirmish."

What will happen now.

Ballot will be from 11th April to 27th April.

We complained that the first week is Easter holidays and the last week UNISON health conference when we are all away from our branches. The ballot finishes the day we get our first increased pension contribution in our wages. It is only 16 days. A cynic might think they were deliberately trying to demoralise us further with a low turnout! We tried to argue for an extension but they would not budge.

The question will be "do you accept the offer or reject. If you reject this will mean taking further and sustained industrial action."

We could win this dispute but to do that we need to return to being the union we were from June to November and put up a fight. It is clear the health executive and the officials are not prepared to lead that fight any more. However members can see what this government want from us and know this attack on pensions is only the start. They do want to undo all the gains made since 1945, undo the whole welfare state and its public sector workers.


Scotland.

Scotland are negotiating separately and have balloted with success for further action. They have already had strikes in Ayrshire on 13th and 14th March. They plan more action in Lanarkshire, Lothian and Glasgow on 27th March when legislation is going to the Scottish committee. They expect Labour MSPs to oppose the bill which means it goes to full parliament. They have talks scheduled for 28th march. If no progress they plan further strikes.

Wales health committee met this week and unanimously opposed the offer.

I am very grateful to Karen for her permission to republish this important report.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Error of judgement on pensions

Yesterday's decision by the Court of Appeal that the Government acted lawfully when they unilaterally changed the basis of uprating of occupational pensions in payment gives a seal of approval to a massive transfer of income from retired workers to employers and the state (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/116851).
Our movement was slow to respond with sufficient vigour to this gross theft when it was first announced in June 2010 (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/unisons-retired-members-under-attack.html?m=0) - and the initial official response was weak (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/osborne-has-cut-our-pensions-shall-we.html?m=0) but when it came to persuading our members to take action on 30 November our pensions calculators showed very clearly the scale of loss to be expected as a result of using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than the Retail Price Index (RPI) to increase occupational pensions annually after retirement. It was clear that this disgraceful act of robbery - breaching the principle that accrued pension rights should be protected, as well as specific pre-election assurances from the Coalition parties (on the 27 April 2010, Philip Hammond said on behalf of the Conservatives "Indexation of pensions in payment is an established part of pensions legislation. The Conservative Party has no plans to change the current index-linking of public sector pensions in payment. We agree with the view that the right to indexation of pensions already accrued is part of the accrued pension rights and those rights will be protected.") - was part of what we were fighting against when we took strike action.
However, when Heads of Agreement were proposed in December (or - in relation to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) - when we came to Agreement with the Local Government Association (LGA) about principles) this was on the basis that uprating would be in line with CPI.
In effect, having told our members that their action on 30 November was, in part, in opposition to the change to uprating, our negotiators promptly abandoned this as a bargaining objective and put the uprating of all our nest eggs in the litigation basket. This turns out to have been an error of judgement.
All of which goes to show that it's no use relying on the legal system to provide justice for working people.
If we want to secure pensions justice then next Wednesday's strike action in Greater London (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/116850) shows what will be required.
UNITE's decision to call on their members to support pensions protests next Wednesday (http://union-news.co.uk/2012/03/unite-health-service-members-to-join-demos-during-m28-strike/) indicates perhaps how this morning's meeting of UNISON's Greater London Regional Committee should also respond.
All who can should support next Wednesday's London strike demonstration - assembling at 11am in Malet Street (http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/15321).

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Where will M28 lead?

A quick look at the list of UK Motorways (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motorways_in_the_United_Kingdom) does not disclose the existence of the M28 (although who knows what the future may bring given Cameron's eighteenth century enthusiasm for private sector roadbuilding!)

What does now appear clear is that M28 - in terms of strike action over public sector pensions on Wednesday of next week - will take place all but exclusively within the M25, and also exclusively among members of the Teachers Pension Scheme in the NUT (http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/15321) and UCU (http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=6028).

Today's decision by the Executive of PCS not to take national action alone next Wednesday, but to try to build for wider action next month (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/news_centre/index.cfm/id/7E5803E8-61A6-4D53-A3005D555BF3A0E6) can certainly not be criticised by a member of the Executive of a trade union which has retreated so much further - and so much faster - from further co-ordinated industrial action on this vital question.

Aside from a glimmer of hope in the Scottish Health Service (http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/pensions/nhsstrikes.html), UNISON's leadership have - at least for now - decisively withdrawn from the position at the head of our movement which had been held in the three months following last September's TUC mini-Congress.

Those of us in Greater London must do all we can now to support, and show solidarity with, the teachers and lecturers planning to strike on Wednesday 28 March.

With the imposition of the "pensions tax" contribution increases on many teachers, civil servants and health workers now imminent - and local government workers kept in ignorance of proposals, not yet approved by Ministers, which were supposed to provide the basis for agreement of the "big ticket" items by the end of this month - it is no exaggeration to say that we stand on the brink of a calamity.

If, after the largest and most effective strike in a generation, we withdraw from further action in return for (at least in three out of four pension schemes) no more than a repackaging of the "offer" which we rightly rejected when it was made on 2 November, then we are offering this Government a sort of "accelerated 80s".

Whereas the 80s saw the Government and employers choose and win a series of battles with the trade union movement - with ASLEF over flexible rostering, with the ISTC, most notably with the NUM over pit closures, but then with the NUT and, of course, the print unions - it seems that the second decade of this century may deliver to Thatcher's children victories equivalent to those which took her Government a decade in a single Parliamentary term - and with barely "a shot fired in anger."

This outcome is not inevitable. We can still make our own history, albeit not in circumstances of our own choosing. Teachers and lecturers in Greater London find themselves to be the workers who have drawn a line and said that the retreat must stop here.

Every activist in the NUT and UCU in London who is now carrying out the thankless task of trying to persuade members to make the sacrifice of further strike action deserves the thanks and respect of every other trade unionist. The leadership of our movement is not now to be found on the General Council of the TUC (and has certainly never been found at Congress House) - it is in the NUT and UCU branches in London.

It's a good job the M28 isn't a Motorway because we need to take this chance to push our movement into a complete U-turn from the path of capitulation which we having been speeding down for the past three months. UNISON branches in London local government - and Higher Education - who have members working alongside next week's strikers must apply ourselves imaginatively to the question of how we can help.

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The use and abuse of surveys in industrial disputes

I am struck by the contrasting use of surveys in different parts of the current dispute over public service pensions.

Unions rightly considering further strike action against unacceptable offers (such as UCU - http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=418992) have used surveys and consultative ballots (which are really just fairly rigorous surveys) to test (and build) support for further action. In the case of UCU (and other unions) this survey of members' opinions was initiated by a unanimous decision of the lay Executive.

UNITE - who aren't contemplating further action - are using a range of means whereby their members can vote in a consultative ballot (or survey) on the Government's derisory offer on NHS pensions (http://www.unitetheunion.org/resources/pensions/protecting_pensions_for_our_pu/health_sector_consultative_bal.aspx). UNITE's survey of its members opinions - and the clear recommendation to reject the offer - was agreed by its lay National Industrial Sector Committee (NISC).

In UNISON on the other hand, our local government branches received, out of the blue and with no authority of any lay Committee, the following message on behalf of the Head of Local Government, late on Friday afternoon. It concerns the negotiations on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS);

"Dear Colleagues
 
We are looking to include a short-term, 'low cost option' in the new LGPS from 2014.  The intention would be to enable non-members to join the LGPS on a 50% contribution and benefits basis as a way of moving towards full membership of the scheme. It would also enable members to reduce contributions for up to three years at times of financial hardship.
 
We have designed this short 'Survey Monkey' survey to seek members' views of this possible option. There is a two-week completion window, with a deadline of 30 March. We would like as many responses as possible so please circulate this email to your colleagues.
 
You can access the survey via the link below.
 
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LGPSLowCostOption"
 
This "survey" differs from the others I have just mentioned in two important ways. First, it isn't being sent to all members so that, given sufficient turnout, it will provide some indication of the collective opinion of members - it is being cascaded out in a fairly ad hoc way and is likely to be completed by a self-selecting sample. This is a technique intended to provide evidence for a decision already arrived at (rather than "evidence based policy making" this is the approach of "policy based evidence gathering").

Secondly - and even more importantly - no lay body with democratic authority in our Union has authorised this survey, nor the assertion in the accompanying email that "We are looking to include a short-term, 'low cost option' in the new LGPS from 2014." Whoever is included in the first person plural in that sentence it certainly doesn't include any elected body accountable to UNISON members.

Let me be clear. There may (or may not) be sound arguments to permit members of our pension scheme a brief period of reduced contributions for reduced benefits. It may encourage low paid and young workers who are not currently in membership to join the scheme. It may provide an alternative to dropping completely out of the scheme for members who experience short term financial hardship.

Equally however, there are good arguments against a trade union colluding in the emergence of any sort of "two tier" pension scheme, in which those who can afford to pay more get better pensions. If we want to encourage the participation of lower paid members we could vary the differential contribution rates to make the full pension more affordable for those at the lower end of the income distribution (particularly by relating the rate of pension contribution to actual - rather than full time equivalent - earnings).

This alternative approach, of using the tiered contribution rates to promote equity would seem closer to UNISON's values than the offer of short-term cut-price reduced-value pensions to our low paid members, who are overwhelmingly part-time women workers (which appears to something our employers have been aiming for).

The crucial point though, is that the debate about these different approaches should be taking place at our lay Service Group Executives, in our Regions and our Branches - perhaps even at our Conference - before anyone speaking for UNISON can say "We are looking to include a short-term, 'low cost option' in the new LGPS from 2014."

In a lay led trade union this sort of thing would not happen. That it can happen in UNISON shows the atrophy of lay democracy in our organisation.

Since mere trade union members have not been told what has been going on in the LGPS negotiations we cannot know whether this cut-rate option will be part of achieving that part of the second Principle agreed with the Local Government Association that the new LGPS "can include zero increases in employee contributions for all or the vast majority of members provided overall financial constraints are met."

I hope Friday's email will be withdrawn and the "surveymonkey" survey taken down (though until it is you can complete it and comment upon the lack of appropriate lay authority, the laughably unscientific nature of the exercise or indeed anything else you wish to say).

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will probably be as cynical - and as worried - as I am about what this development tells us about who is calling the shots in the LGPS negotiations.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

A message from Barnet UNISON about the film Barnet's Tories don't want you to see!

 I want to bring to your attention a community documentary film produced by Barnet residents.

 

We are all witnesses to the vicious assault on our communities, some of of us are enduring it both as residents, carers, service users, and workers. The recent story about Goldman Sachs is clear evidence that nothing has changed in the Financial Markets and worse still that there is a high likelihood that it could all happen again. http://www.barnetunison.me.uk/?q=node/839

 

This film is having its world Premier tomorrow on Monday 19 March at the iconic independent cinema Phoenix (opposite East Finchley tube).

 

The programme for the event is as follows

 

6.10     Press Conference & Reception

7.00    Film starts

7.30    Discussion about the film

 

There has been a recent development by which the Council have banned the Barnet Alliance flyers for the film from being left in Council Libraries



 

http://barneteye.blogspot.com/2012/03/stalinist-barnet-council-bans-posters.html

 

The offending remark was made by BAPS activist and service user Phillip. He has been given his right to reply here in the local press http://www.barnet-today.co.uk/news.cfm?id=9458&headline=

 

Now this has become the film the Council doesn't want residents to see.

 

There are going to be a number of community screening across our borough but we are looking for opportunities to share our story across the UK. 

 

We have produced a number of DVDs which we are hoping to sell and hope that they will be used for other screenings. 

 

 

We are also holding a screening at the House of Commons on Thursday 18 April at 7pm in the Wilson Room, 

 

You can help, either by

coming to one of the screenings,

purchasing the DVDs,

invite Barnet residents to a screening in your community  

publish our film on your Blog, Twitter Facebook



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Thursday, March 15, 2012

The complexities of pensions "deals"

Were our Health Service Group Executive (SGE) next week to agree to recommend the Government's "final offer" on NHS pensions - even though it is essentially the same offer against which we took strike action - there is a danger that, in agreeing age-related protection, the Union could be responsible for unlawful, indirect age discrimination.



In order to show that we were not, in those circumstances, in breach of Section 57(2)(a) and\or (d) of the Equality Act 2010 read with sections 19 and 5 of that Act we would have to be able to show that our agreement to age-related protection is a "proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim".



In order to understand how this point applies in practice, it is always as well to remember the case of Allen -v- GMB (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2008/810.html) in which the Court of Appeal upheld a tribunal finding that the way a trade union negotiated an agreement amounted to unlawful indirect discrimination, remarking in passing that;

"The worst aspect of the case in our judgment was the way in which the... ...Union members were manipulated into either accepting the offer or doing nothing," and that;



"Its [i.e. the union's] obligation to its members is that in return for their subscription it will provide to them without discrimination, benefits and services, not deliberately omit to afford them access to those benefits and services and not subject them to any detriment." Also that;



"Still less is it [the union] free to procure the acceptance or acquiescence of those members by a marked economy of truth in what it says and writes to them."



If I were contemplating asking UNISON to recommend changes to a major pension fund, I would be inclined to err on the side of caution and ask for a full Equality Impact Assessment before making such a recommendation.



Our professional indemnity insurers would expect as much. You might think.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Section 188 and agency workers

As a child I always enjoyed "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" in which Dr Seuss's cat draws upon assistance from increasingly smaller - yet more powerful - cats, named sequentially for letters of the alphabet, who emerge from his hat.



Today I am mostly liking little cats (g), (h) and (i), all added to subsection 4 of Section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 by virtue of the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/93/schedule/2/paragraph/4/made).



This important new law requires employers making 20 or more redundancies to notify trade unions about all the agency workers they have. For those of you whose employers have failed to supply such information hitherto this is an important opportunity.



At least in local government, Councillors and corporate senior managers are likely to be sympathetic to reducing reliance on agency workers - but will need our pressure if they are to do anything.



Bearing in mind that subsection 4 of Section 188 is a series of requirements to provide information "for the purposes of consultation" and that - in accordance with subsection 2 - such consultation must be about, amongst other things, about how to avoid or reduce redundancies and must be undertaken "with a view to reaching agreement" with union representatives, the clear meaning of the new subsections of subsection 4 of Section 188 is that the employer should not merely provide information about the current use of agency workers when notifying redundancies but should also be prepared, proactively, to use this information to avoid or reduce redundancies.



I hope that we will encourage and support our branches to use this new law as another tool with which to resist redundancies.

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Defending the public library service

A free public library service is such an important cornerstone of a decent society that it's no wonder this Government are happy to watch it smashed up.



For some reason, libraries are uniquely vulnerable to the perception that the skilled work of their professional staff could easily be replicated on a voluntary basis by enthusiastic amateurs. This perception is founded, more than anything else, on the ignorance of libraries on the part of politicians and senior managers.



The Government's approach to the statutory duty on local authorities to provide a public library service also gives Council's virtually free rein to devastate the service, with library closures in many areas as local services pay the price of bailing out the banks.



All of which makes today's lobby of Parliament important - full information and all the right links are over on the False Economy Blog (http://falseeconomy.org.uk/blog/speak-up-for-libraries-lobby-parliament-on-tuesday).



If, like me, you can't make it to Westminster today, you can still download a model letter to your MP (http://www.unison.org.uk/file/SpeakUp4LibsMP.doc) and email it to them (http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/).

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Last chance to lobby MPs to save the NHS

Tomorrow's Opposition Day Debate on the Health and Social Care Bill is the last chance for elected MPs to express opposition to the privatisation and break-up of our National Health Service.



To email your MP follow the links from the UNISON website - http://action.unison.org.uk/page/speakout/last-chance-nhs.



Don't leave this to someone else - particularly not if your MP is a member of one of the Coalition parties.

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Solidarity with UNISON members striking tomorrow against pension contribution increases in the NHS

Solidarity to UNISON members in the Central De-Contamination Unit at Ayrshire Central Hospital Irvine, who are striking tomorrow and Wednesday against next month's "pension tax" contribution increase for health workers (http://unison-scotland.blogspot.com/2012/03/unison-increases-pressure-on-scottish.html?m=1).



UNISON members in the Health Service in Scotland have no option but to fight this - as the Chair of the Scottish Health Committee puts it - "The reality is that many of our members will simply not be able to afford to make the proposed contribution increases due to start in April, and will be forced to opt out of their scheme to the future detriment of themselves, their families and communities - and the public purse."



This week's action is just the beginning of a programme of selective industrial action intended to put pressure on the Scottish Government not to do the bidding of the UK Government given that NHS pensions are a devolved matter in Scotland (http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/pensions/index.html).



All UNISON members - indeed all trade unionists - should wish the Ayrshire strikers well for their action this week. With the SNP administration in Edinburgh carrying out orders from Westminster, this is a battle in the all-out war which has been declared on our movement by the Tory Coalition Government.



However, since the Scottish proposals (http://www.sppa.gov.uk/Documents/NHS/NHS%20Useful%20Resources/NHS%20Consultations/2011/NHS%20Superannuation%20Scheme%20(Scotland)%20draft%20amendment%20regulations.pdf) against which UNISON members are taking action broadly mirror the proposals in England and Wales, the action of our Scottish comrades is also a timely reminder that nowhere in the UK do health workers have to give in to a slightly revised version of the proposals which were rejected in the run up to the 30 November strike.



(Hat tip to the commentator on the previous post, who reminded me of this).



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Sunday, March 11, 2012

NHS Pensions - What if?

UNITE are recommending that their health service members reject the Government's "final offer" on pensions (http://www.unitetheunion.org/news__events/latest_news/unite_calls_for_rejection_of_g.aspx).

This puts them on the same page as the Doctors' union - the non-TUC British Medical Association (BMA), although - unlike UNITE - the BMA are currently calling for support from their members for industrial action (http://web2.bma.org.uk/nrezine.nsf/wd/BSKN-8RXGBE?OpenDocument&C=3+March+2012).

In the mean time the non-TUC nurses' "union", the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are equivocating following a poor turnout in a consultative ballot, but have not accepted that their members should work longer and pay more to get less (http://m.nursingtimes.net/5042067.article).

UNISON is the largest and most important trade union in the health service but - unlike in local government - we don't have such overwhelming numbers that our decision alone is utterly decisive.

On the face of their "final offer" on the NHS Pension Scheme, the Government make clear that; "If the proposals are not accepted by a sufficient number of Trade Unions, the Government reserves its position on all aspects of this proposed scheme design."

Although it may not be much of a threat that they might withdraw an "offer" which, the Government Actuaries Department (GAD) confirm, is within the same cost ceiling as the "Reference Scheme" offered on 2 November, it does beg the question of where the dispute might go, on each side, if enough unions reject the offer - and of what a "sufficient number" of trade unions will turn out to be.

Incidentally, GAD assume, for the purposes of valuing the scheme, that earnings growth will exceed the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) by 2.25% a year in the long run, which rather puts into perspective the misleading implication in UNISON's published commentary on the Heads of Agreement that a revaluation rate of CPI+1.5% is somehow "better" than revaluation in line with earnings growth, because earnings have fallen behind prices in the recent past.

The whole point of the work undertaken by GAD is surely that you can only assess the value of a CARE pension scheme on the basis of the interplay of the accrual rate and the revaluation rate (considered in the light of the contribution rate). The GAD valuation underlines that it would be dishonest to brag to members about the "better" accrual rate compared to the "Reference scheme" without acknowledging that this is offset by the less favourable revaluation rate. The detail of the information we put before our members will be an indication of our integrity.

As to the question "What if enough health workers reject the Tory Coalition's pensions robbery which would see them working until 68, whilst paying more to get less?" I think the answer to that question is still that we could deliver a unified fight on pensions across the public sector which could win a better settlement.

Key to realising this potential would be a clear recognition on the part of our leadership, that this battle is part of the general war which the Government have declared upon us (and is therefore inextricably linked to the fights over pay, jobs and the defence of the Welfare State and NHS) - and a serious effort to develop this recognition amongst our members.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pensions and Equality - the case against haste

The useful website of UNISON's London Ambulance Service Branch has a link to the proposed Agreement on the 2015 NHS Pension Scheme (http://news.lasunison.eu/?p=559). This is to be considered by the Health Service Group Executive (SGE) on 21 March.

Reading the Agreement throws up a new - and very important - question touching upon the timetable for trade union decisionmaking about the proposed Agreement.

Annex F to the Agreement deals with the vital question of conducting an Equality Impact Assessment of the new scheme. The Annex clearly applies equally to the other unfunded schemes and indicates that the following approach will be taken;

• The equality impact assessments will be conducted by the relevant sponsoring departments. In addition, the Government will conduct a central analysis in order to compare and assess the impact across all of the schemes.

• The timescale for the assessment is pressing, and the process must be completed in good time to allow the analysis to influence decision making and the conclusion of the policy development process, prior to the introduction of legislation. Departments will therefore aim to complete the EIAs by the end of May 2012.

• The Government will then complete the central analysis over the following four weeks.

• The central working group will meet in June to discuss the analysis and consider any further action.

UNISON takes the question of equality impact assessments very seriously. Our guidance to our local government branches (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/AA9891.pdf) states; "It is an overriding principle that UNISON avoids entering into an arrangement that introduces or extends inequality as a result of a cuts package. Care must be taken in agreeing to changes in collective agreements or employer action to change contracts of employment."

"UNISON's policy is that cuts in jobs, terms and conditions, and restructuring should be regarded as having 'high relevance' and be fully impact assessed."

"The (general equality) duty is complied with before and at the time that a particular policy is under consideration and a decision is taken. A public authority cannot satisfy the duty by justifying a decision after it has been taken."

In other words, UNISON rightly tells our branches to use the public sector equality duty to insist that employers carry out, and consult upon, equality impact assessments in advance of decisions about, amongst other things, pay and conditions (and therefore pensions).

UNISON's guidance is founded on case law relating to an earlier equality duty, equally relevant today (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2008/2062.html); "The jurisprudence relative to the issues reinforces the importance of considering the impact of any proposed policy before it is adopted... ...The need for advanced consideration must be distinguished from the use of such impact assessments for a rearguard action following a concluded decision... ...What is important is that (an) equality impact assessment should be an integral part of the formation of a proposed policy, not justification for its adoption... ...Time is needed to consider the impact of any assessment. The suggestion that a policy can be adopted contingent on such assessment smacks - of policy-based evidence rather than evidence-based policy."

In other words, referring to my English-Judge Judge-English Dictionary, consideration of the public sector equality duty must precede decision-making. It is not consistent with the public sector equality duty to agree a policy on the basis that you'll do an equality impact assessment later and revise the policy if you must.

So how could we possibly ballot our members in health on the 2015 Pension Scheme before the Equality Impact Assessment had been carried out?

How could the SGE make a recommendation to members without knowing the outcome of such an assessment?

If we seriously mean our advice to our branches about the importance of equality impact assessments (and I believe we do) then we cannot make ourselves hypocrites by failing to follow our own advice about something as centrally important as the NHS Pension Scheme.

That would contravene our "overriding principle that UNISON avoids entering into an arrangement that introduces or extends inequality" because we would not have the evidence from the equality impact assessment before taking our decision.

Surely the SGE must conclude that we cannot recommend changes to a pension scheme concerning which no equality impact assessment has yet been undertaken?

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Responding to the Government on pensions - business unionism or organising unions?

The Government's "final offers" in the three unfunded "pay as you go" major public service pension schemes have been received with less than unalloyed joy (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/116422).

The largest teachers' union is recommending rejection (in common with unions representing a clear majority of the unionised members of the Teachers' Pension Scheme, and is campaigning for further action (http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/15209).

The largest civil service union, representing the majority of unionised members of the Civil Service Pension Scheme is also recommending rejection and campaigning for further action (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/28-march--vote-yes/index.cfm).

From the largest health union though there is as yet no recommendation (to reject or otherwise) (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2624), This is because our Health Service Group Executive (SGE) will not meet to make a recommendation until 21 March.

This doesn't stop our Head of Health from opining - on our website - that; "The final proposals on the new NHS pension scheme released today have changed significantly from where the negotiations first started." This is (of course) almost inevitably true of lengthy negotiations in which the Government clearly started with wild proposals such as 1/100th accrual rates. The question surely isn't "have they moved at all?" It is; "have they moved significantly since the 2 November proposals which we rejected and against which our members in health took their first national action in a generation?"

Since the extent to which the Government had shifted by 2 November was so inadequate that we called for strike action, to justify "selling" an offer on which the elected leadership have yet to make a recommendation, national officials really should offer an honest assessment of what further progress has been made. This is all the more important since the Chief Secretary to the Treasury claimed on 20 December that the "Heads of Agreement" "deliver the Government's key objectives in full, and do so with no new money since our November offer" (http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/statement_cst_201211.htm). If that isn't true we should be able to spell out why it isn't. If it is true then we should be honest with our members and not pretend to have achieved more than we have.

We are also told by our Head of Health that ""Key to the changes that UNISON has secured is success in keeping the fair deal. This is particularly significant in the light of NHS reforms because it allows outsourced staff to remain in the pension scheme."

Danny Alexander (http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/statement_cst_201211.htm) says about this; "Because we have agreed to establish new schemes on a career average basis, I can tell the House that we have agreed to retain the Fair Deal provision and extend access for transferring staff.

The new pensions will be substantially more affordable to alternative providers and it is right that we offer workers continued access to them."

A cynic might say that our message to our members might therefore be; "don't worry if we fail to prevent the privatisation of your job, because - since we also failed to protect the value of your pensions, your new private employers have signed up to keep them."

In further shameless marketing of a negotiated outcome yet to receive the endorsement of elected leaders, we are also told that; "In this harsh economic climate it was crucial to ensure that no health worker earning less than £26,000 a year should be hit with an increase in their pension payments this year."

Leaving aside the question of whether those enjoying the fabulous lifestyle which £27,000 brings aren't also feeling the pinch just a bit (as are even those who enjoy the better living standards of our national negotiators), this desperate attempt to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear also rather begs the question of what our health service members are to do when all pension contributions go up next year - when there is perhaps still just an outside chance that there will still be a "harsh economic climate".

The propoganda in favour of the Government offer on the UNISON website concludes with the observation that "In addition, scheme members within 10 years of retirement will receive protection."

Whether we should congratulate ourselves on protecting members on the basis of age (and whether that is really consistent with our Rule Book opposition to age discrimination) is one question. A more important question is why we should present this as part of the reason to accept a worse pensions deal now when it had already been offered to us on 2 November (http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/statement_cst_021111.htm). We already had this protection for those within ten years of retirement before we notified the employers of our strike on 30 November. If we struck in spite of it then it can hardly be part of a victory achieved by that action.

I have sat through more than one too many NEC meeting at which sycophants have praised our "world class" negotiators to now join in such a chorus of idiocy in relation to the pathetic "offer" which "we" have "negotiated" for our members in the NHS Pension Scheme.

I cannot believe that any trade unionist worth their salt would vote to recommend this to members in a ballot, bearing in mind that anything other than a clear recommendation to reject will amount to a seal of approval from the pre-eminent health service trade union to a new pension scheme which will deliver the Government's objectives that health workers work longer and pay more to get less.

A democrat interested in member participation might think that we should delay any ballot to enable our Health Service Group Conference - which meets in a few weeks (http://cms.unison.co.uk/ConferenceDetail.asp?ConferenceID=285) to consider and approve (or amend or reject) a proposed recommendation to our members in the ballot (proposed to Conference by the SGE).

A trade union leadership acting with self confidence and a clear conscience would certainly adopt such an approach.

Regular readers Sid and Doris Marxist-Leninist will have picked up that I am unimpressed with the Government's "final offer" to our health service members, but of course that is neither here nor there. I am not a health worker and, as an NEC member, my views have no greater weight than those of any other interfering blogger.

However, we are a trade union, not an opinion polling company. We don't - or at least ought not to - seek the views of members on a question such as this in the abstract, but as part of a plan to build and strengthen our organisation. Therefore the views of our activists are very important, as they are the builders of our organisation.

If - and I merely hypothesise here - we were to embark upon a ballot with an SGE recommendation to accept which was seen by many activists to have been influenced by the sort of inappropriate "selling" of a dire Government "offer" which today shames our UNISON website, we would alienate some of our best activists. Similarly if a ballot were to commence without a recommendation agreed through the appropriate lay structures that would be a gross abdication of responsibility - and would be tantamount to a recommendation to accept as it would signify the unwillingness - or inability - of the trade union to fight on for a better deal.

If, however, Conference makes a recommendation, as was the case (in health) for Agenda for Change and (in local government) for Single Status, then - like it or loathe it - the recommendation has democratic legitimacy. The legacy of bitterness threatened by the approach of leaving it all to the SGE might thereby be avoided.

An organising union would ask Health Service Group Conference to make a recommendation to members in a ballot on the NHS Pension Scheme. A business union would sooner leave it to the SGE. Which is UNISON?

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Thursday, March 08, 2012

International Women's Day - an inappropriate contribution

David Cameron (of all people) is using International Women's Day to claim that his Government gives a high priority to ending violence against women and girls (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/blackberry/p.html?id=1327807).



Which is odd - because the evidence is that the Government's austerity programme is doing considerable damage to vital services (http://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/publications-research/gender/professor-sylvia-walby-reports-on-the-impact-of-cuts-on-violence-against-women-services-2.html).



Thirty-one percent of the funding to the domestic violence and sexual abuse sector from local authorities was cut between 2010/11 to 2011/12, a reduction from £7.8 million to £5.4 million.



The hypocrisy of this Government is so brazen it isn't even shocking any more.

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Health workers defend the NHS as their pensions are smashed

Whilst in local government we wait (and wait) for the Government to give our negotiators the nod so that we can be told what agreement has been arrived at for members of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) ahead of a ballot, our members in the health service are already being notified of next month's increase in pension contributions, against which we all took strike action on 30 November.

The GMB have made a point of expressing outrage that the Government have imposed the contribution increase whilst negotiations continue (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5i-Sk4HW-A_VXgtG4snzz1GdSlm6A?docId=N0961591331124109201A)

In UNISON our Health Service Group Executive (SGE) will have to determine it's recommendation to our members in a forthcoming ballot. UNITE's equivalent lay leadership body (the National Industrial Sector Committee - NISC) is recommending rejection.

UNITE's consultative ballot of their health service members, which opened a week ago and closes on 19 March, is accompanied by a clear and persuasive recommendation to reject the current proposals (http://www.unitetheunion.org/resources/pensions/protecting_pensions_for_our_pu/health_sector_consultative_bal.aspx).

Our website, on the other hand, still hosts the commentary on the Heads of Agreement (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/B5774.pdf) about which I have blogged criticism before (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2011/12/nhs-pensions-comments-on-commentary.html?m=0).

This document certainly compares unfavourably with the clarity of UNITE's communication to their members - and I hope that plans are in hand for a much more straightforward communication to our members of whatever recommendation our Health SGE decides to make.

Ultimately though, unless the outrage of the GMB or the rejection from UNITE is accompanied by an attempt to persuade members to take further strike action it will end up no different from the deplorable comment reportedly made by a UNISON official that "this was always about damage limitation".

I spent this evening at a very positive rally of (predominantly) health workers committed to defending our NHS (http://www.tuc.org.uk/industrial/index.cfm?mins=395&minors=371&majorsubjectID=8).

The tools which those health workers have to defend the NHS are, first and foremost, their trade unions. If our trade unions cannot improve upon a pensions offer that health workers should work longer and pay more to get less then we shall struggle to inspire confidence in health service (and other) members to use their trade unions to fight to defend our health service.

The speaker who told this evening's rally that we weren't there about pay or pensions but to defend the NHS was much more wrong than right. David Cameron, George Osborne and Andrew Lansley (with their willing stooges Clegg and Cable) are not pursuing a series of discrete attacks upon the NHS, claimants, the pay and pensions of public sector workers and jobs and services.

The Government plainly have an overarching plan to attack the working class, the Welfare State, claimants and trade union rights. They can see a big picture which our trade union leaders must face up to.

If the utmost priority is the unity of the "Big Three" then - unless that unity is used to wage war back against a Government which has declared war on us - we might as well call it "The Triple Alliance" (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Friday_(1921)) - though on this occasion we would not see two unions letting down a third but all three letting down their members.

The Government have declared war on our movement and our class. If we are to honour the memory of the generation who, having defeated fascism, gave their lives to build the Welfare State in general and the National Health Service in particular, then we must be as determined in our opposition to them as they are in their attacks upon us.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The perils of mobile blogging

The triple publication of the last post on this blog (now corrected) is an error almost as amusing as the Freudian slip in yesterday's NEC report to London UNISON branches, in which I misdescribed the "Rally to Save the NHS" as a rally to defend the NEC...
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Broadening the battle lines ahead of M28

Today's Morning Star publishes my review of the Communist Party's pamphlet on the pensions dispute, "Broadening the Battle Lines" by Party Chairman, Bill Greenshields (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/content/view/full/116240).

A focus on the pamphlet - and its argument 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 - is timely in the run up to the likely strike action on 28 March (M28).

This Monday I attended, with some other UNISON activists, a local organising meeting with representatives of unions preparing for action on 28 March. Although final decisions will be taken in the light of current consultation with NUT and PCS members, on the ground preparations are being made for action to take place on the day.

Whilst we are not in a position where UNISON will be calling for UK wide strike action on 28 March, it is nevertheless in the interests of UNISON members that any action taken as part of the pensions fight has the maximum impact.

A solidarity presence on picket lines - and attendance by UNISON members at lunchtime or other protests and rallies on the day is the very least we should be aiming for. We may not be able, formally, to advise members to respect picket lines - but we can press employers beforehand for assurances that they won't victimise anyone who does so (and we ought to be prepared to use all the resources of the union to defend any member victimised in those circumstances).

Most importantly, we must do what we can to maximise the political impact of the action set to be taken, and the sacrifice being made, by our sister and brother trade unionists. The point needs to be made, to our own members, to employers, politicians and the local media, that there has been no settlement of the pension disputes in health and local government and that UNISON has current mandates for further action in both sectors.

To put our movement into a better position to wage the long war which has been declared upon us by the Tory Coalition Government we need to do all we can to rebuild the unity which we saw on 30 November, and to do so on the basis of an understanding that these are not normal times.

In these times we do not have normal industrial disputes, to be settled by skilled negotiators so that we can return to "business as usual." In these times every dispute is an act in a larger drama, in which our opponents are planning each move of a deliberate war on the organised working class and the social gains of the past century.

We desperately need the same level of understanding and determination on our side as they show on theirs.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Higher Education Service Group Conference - the unexpurgated version

Fellow UNISON NEC blogger, Max Watson, provides a somewhat fuller report of UNISON's Higher Education Service Group Conference than the official version to which I linked previously (http://maxwatsonunison.blogspot.com/2012/03/anger-and-frustration-over-pensions-in.html?m=1). I shall not repeat his report - which you should read in the original - but will instead offer some comment.



Now that we know that it would be unjustifiable discipline to be taken to task for criticising a Standing Orders Committee (SOC) within UNISON, I can safely observe that SOCs need to remember that their power to rule motions out of order under Rule P.2.3.4.1 is subject to the preamble in Rule P.2.3.4.



This says that the consideration by an SOC of motions which have been submitted to a Conference is "for the purpose of enabling Conference to transact its business effectively."



In the case of a Service Group Conference the relevant business is defined by Rule D.3.4.2 which states that "the policies of a Service Group shall be determined by the Group's Conference."



Therefore an SOC at a Service Group Conference which ruled motions on a key service conditions issue out of order because of minor terminological inexactitude (for example, misdescribing "Principles of Agreement" as "Heads of Agreement") would arguably be acting against Rule P.2.3.4 to frustrate rather than facilitate the purpose of the Conference they are supposed to serve.



There may be those in the UNISON Centre who believe that SOCs exist for the convenience of the office, to shield it from accountability to the elected representatives of our members - but that isn't what the Rule Book endorsed by our membership says.



It's time to call a halt to the atrophy of lay democracy in our trade union - and it sounds as if Higher Education delegates said that loud and clear. I hope this call is heeded without the need for too much strife - but it must be heeded.

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Sunday, March 04, 2012

Pensions - a fractured fight we need to repair

Following the unprecedented and impressive unity of purpose shown by trade unionists across the UK on 30 November, the "sector by sector" approach has now bequeathed us an entirely predictable fracturing of the struggle.

Some important trade unions - including PCS (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/AB5B658A-34D0-40CE-8FDF94699F6C245E), NUT (http://www.teachers.org.uk/pensions) and UCU (http://markcampbell4gs.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/ucu-nec-unanimously-agree-to-join-with-nut-and-pcs-in-strike-action-on-march-28th/) are consulting their members about further action on 28 March. This action is likely to be concentrated amongst trade unionists in the teachers' and civil service pension funds.

Within UNISON, members are taking different paths and expressing different views. In Scotland our members in the NHS are resuming strike action (http://unison-scotland.blogspot.com/2012/03/unison-protesters-lobby-health-minister.html?m=1), whilst the same Service Group Executive which supports this action north of the border is prepared to see the mandate for action short of strike action in the Ambulance sector expire unused (http://news.nwasunison.com/2012/03/03/news-%e2%80%93-pensions-dispute-and-action-short-of-strike-for-ambulance-members/). Since health workers have already been notified of the imposition in April of the pension contribution increases against which they struck in November, the "Scottish strategy" seems the only way to keep a fight for decent pensions going for those in the NHS Pension Scheme.

As for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), the (funded) odd one out of the "big four" public sector pension schemes, we wait to hear if the Government will endorse proposals agreed by the negotiators. The emerging proposals which sound as if they were almost being marketed at the Community Service Group Conference (http://grayee.blogspot.com/2012/03/pensions-what-next-for-pensions-in.html?m=1) had been the subject of vigorous controversy at the Higher Education Service Group.

Whether or not sufficient branches support the call for a Special Local Government Conference ahead of a member ballot on the "big ticket" items for the 2014 LGPS, there could be considerable controversy - and it is established that branches and Regions may make their own recommendation in a ballot such as that envisaged in the next few weeks.

The premature shift away from a united front of all unions has shifted UNISON's leadership from the forefront to the sidelines of the struggle over public sector pensions. It will be up to UNISON's membership to decide if they (and we) stay there.

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The 35 MPs who supported us

A hat tip to PCS for publishing the list of 35 MPs who supported all the public and private sector occupational pensioners whose lifetime pensions were reduced by 15% in value at a stroke by George Osborne in June 2010 when he changed the basis on which our pensions were to be uprated from the Retail Price Index (RPI) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/6374B777-A9FF-4289-9652A49C5B55FA41).



It is shameful that only 20 Labour MPs were part of this principled minority. The equivocation of the leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party on this question epitomises the weakness which may doom us to further terms of Tory rule.



Last year's UNISON Conference condemned the change in uprating of pensions and called on the National Executive Council to mount a substantial campaign amongst members against the change from RPI to CPI and to call on the Labour Link to work to gain a commitment from the Labour party to repeal this change when re-elected (http://cms.unison.co.uk/MotionText.asp?DocumentID=1002411).



We must not cease this fight just because the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party have been shown to be a near terminal disappointment. Indeed, were we to be discouraged by the inadequacy of Her Majesty's Opposition right now, we might just as well each seek our own death in service benefits.

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

"Conference also discussed the government attack on public service pensions"

I am given to understand that the extract above from the report on our website of yesterday's Higher Education Service Group Conference (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=7635) - which is in fact the last sentence of the report - may somewhat understate the importance of that debate and the significance of the events leading up to it.



Regular readers Sid and Doris Rule-Book-Anorak may well want to learn more about a day long stand off between a Conference and its Standing Orders Committee. Others (in the vicinity of Euston Road) may be given pause for thought.



I'm looking forward to a full report from a reliable source (http://maxwatsonunison.blogspot.com/).

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Warm words in the Pay Ice Age

In case any readers of this blog thought that the local government employers were unfeeling as they refuse once more to make a pay award, although prices have now risen by 13% since they last did so, I thought I should share with you the following extract from Tuesday's letter from the employers to the trade union side Secretaries (in which the employers refuse to go to ACAS);

"The difficult decision to not make a pay offer was made in response to the unprecedented financial situation facing councils. Nevertheless the Employers are keen to stress how much they appreciate the hard work and commitment of the local government workforce and understand that asking them to accept a third year without a nationally-determined pay increase will come as a disappointment."

It certainly gives a warm feeling to know how much our "hard work and commitment" is "appreciated." Sadly this warm feeling doesn't unfreeze our pay!

As for a "disappointment", I think what is more disappointing than the predictable intransigence of the employers is the failure of the trade union side clearly to put the option of industrial action before our members.

It is completely mistaken to suppose that we can "build" for action next year against the fourth year of pay freeze whilst silently swallowing the third year now. Leadership is not shown by only asking members questions to which you already anticipate a positive answer.

What is required, for workers within the NJC and all our bargaining groups, is a continuing campaign against the pay freeze, with the aim of encouraging UNISON members to be prepared for, and take, sustained industrial action, coordinated on the widest possible basis.
At a minimum we need - now - a vigorous campaign to mobilise political opposition to the pay freeze in local government (and beyond).

We ought, for example, to be able to secure sufficient signatures on an e-petition to force a debate in Parliament, which would provide a focus for lobbying and to raise the arguments for action with our members.

I fear though that the answer to the question "when shall we fight the pay freeze?" always seems to be "next year" and that - if our leadership won't even clearly and formally ask our members the question about industrial action in 2012 - we ourselves have thereby made it harder to see how we can get a positive answer to that question in 2013.

The pay freeze is part of the same ideological anti-working class offensive as the attack on our pensions and the massive programme of spending cuts. We desperately need to start showing the same determination as is shown by our enemies.

Otherwise the pay freeze could become a Pay Ice Age, which will never be defrosted by warm weasel words from the employers.

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LGPS - what's the hurry?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that getting an email bulletin about pensions negotiations should be a cause of concern to anyone with an interest in their welfare in old age.

Yesterday's UNISON Focus is a case in point. First, because our negotiators appear to have reached a tentative understanding with the employers' side negotiators about the so-called "big ticket items" for the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) but, until we know the views of the Government we mere scheme members cannot know the terms of the understanding.

Secondly, because we are told that there will be a member ballot in March (because we have apparently bought into an unnecessarily tight timetable as the "price" of the Government's previous (and unavoidable) acceptance of the pointlessness (from their own point of view) of forcing through contribution increases before 2014).

To call a ballot to a timetable which will ensure that few branches will have an opportunity to give proper consideration to a recommendation to our members smacks of an approach in which we will be presented with an outcome "which is the best that can be achieved by negotiation."

Our negotiators won't try too brazenly to "sell" this outcome to us (although they will remind us of just how far this outcome is from the Government's opening position many months ago)(as every negotiated outcome always would have been).

They will however also explain just how prolonged and sustained the strike action would need to be that would stand any chance of improving on this outcome.

If all this happens in the next month that will betray an agenda to acquiesce in a poorer pensions settlement for the future.

Only if we are given adequate time for decisionmaking and a real debate between opposing views can we credibly claim that our trade union is still fighting for our pensions.

And, of course, the real tragedy is that - after a brief burst of apparent understanding in the autumn, we seem to have retreated to the mistaken view that what we have been engaged in has been, primarily, an industrial dispute against pensions, when in fact it has been an important moment in an ideological war being waged against our members and our class.

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