Saturday, June 30, 2012

The crisis facing (Labour) Councils

The great and the good in local government are right to be worried (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18610169).

Our local authorities face long term increases in demand for services founded upon demography, a medium term challenge to financial stability arising from changes to local government finance and the benefits system, and a short term threat of further reductions in funding.

Local Councils are always most at risk from a Government hell-bent on cuts, because Ministers take less political heat for cutbacks for which locally elected politicians have to take responsibility. Those in local government currently patting each others backs for having managed to make savage cuts thus far without financial meltdown ought perhaps to reflect upon the fact that their lauded "financial competence" makes them an easier target for further disproportionate savings in the next spending round.

The latest hope (though hardly new) is the chimera of shared services, currently being pursued (in London) in the various guises of the "Tri-Borough" and "Project Athena". Councillors desperate to believe that they can make deep cuts whilst protecting "front-line services" are investing in a variety of dogs' breakfasts in the hope that economies of scale will deliver them from their torment. This (as readers in the South West will know) is a triumph of hope over experience.

Meanwhile at the "front-line" local authorities are tail-ending Cameron's "Big Society" privatisation project (even when rebranding it as "co-operative") and hoping against hope that local people themselves will somehow square the circle and enable Councillors to claim credit for the delivery of better services with fewer resources.

For Labour Councils, in the run up to the next General Election, the Coalition Government have erected two well-signposted bear traps between which they find themselves caught.

On the one-hand (and this is the trap the Councillors see all too clearly) Labour in local government fears that, if it can be accused of being imprudent or wasteful, this will hinder the electoral prospects of the "two Eds" at Westminster. Particularly in some parts of Inner London, where certain Labour politicians have never moved on from the personal trauma of the inner-Party strife of the late 80s, there is a folk memory (which is not correct) of electoral damage done to Neil Kinnock in 1987 by tales of the "loony left."

The other bear trap, which appears less well understood in Labour Groups, is the grave risk that, by acting as the agents of a Tory-led Government to deliver damaging spending cuts which have increased rather than reduced the deficit, we will compound the disillusionment amongst Labour supporters which was what lost Labour the last General Election.

As a Tory Government in office becomes less popular, more and more Councils fall to Labour. If these Councils implement Tory-mandated spending cuts (as they are) this provokes either strife or despair. There is a contradiction, in these circumstances, between being efficient administrators of the local state and being leaders of the local working class.

This contradiction is reflected in the inevitability of conflict between Labour Councils and trade unionists who refuse to engage in "concession bargaining" or the surrender of conditions of service won for us by those before us.

The resolution of the contradiction, which would enable Labour Councils to navigate a path between the two bear traps, would require a change of approach at the top of both wings of the labour movement. We need a political leadership which will chart a clear anti-cuts, anti-austerity path and an industrial leadership which is prepared to use trade union power for political ends, uniting all those suffering in these worst times we can remember.

Absent these two necessary conditions we're left with bitter damage limitation and attempts to slow the continuing descent into social disintegration.

But then (as regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will appreciate) you don't get to the end of a post on this blog expecting to have been cheered up!

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

An untruth to sell a dodgy deal on pensions?

Our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, in a thoughtful section of his annual Conference speech last week said that leadership was, in part, about "honesty."

No one could disagree.

Unfortunately the standard set by our General Secretary is not met, in an important way, in the key national UNISON leaflet explaining the proposals which have been negotiated in relation to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS 2014) - which is still online, some time after the blatant error was pointed out, at http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/20840.pdf.

The untruthful content is as follows;
 
"Inflation link for revaluation
 
-CPI revaluation rate - as laid down by the coalition before the current negotiations"
 
(CPI = Consumer Price Index)

This is completely wrong. The Treasury document published on 2 November (http://cdn.hm-treasury.gov.uk/pensions_publicservice_021111.pdf) proposed "an accrual rate of 1/60ths and earnings indexation for benefits while still working in the public service". This was the "reference scheme" and it did not include a revaluation rate of CPI but of Average Weekly Earnings (AWE) (estimated by GAD - the Government Actuaries Department - to be CPI+2.25%).
 
At no point did the Coalition Government "lay down" what the revaluation rate in LGPS 2014 should be - indeed (as honestly reported to UNISON activists in our Region at a briefing before Conference) the negotiators in each of the scheme-specific negotiations had leeway to vary the revaluation rate at the expense of the accrual rate (and vice versa) within an overall "cost envelope".

This error isn't trivial. Taken together with the preceding paragraph in the leaflet (which says that 1/49 accrual rate in LGPS 2014 is better than 1/60 in LGPS 2008 - and, since it fails to compare like with like is merely disingenuous rather than entirely dishonest) it creates the impression that our negotiators were given the revaluation rate as a fait accompli and then managed to improve the accrual rate.

The truth of course is that the unfavourable revaluation rate was a trade off for a more favourable accrual rate and that the whole thing fits into the cost envelope of the "reference scheme" of 2 November which was 1/60 accrual with revaluation based on earnings growth, not prices. (The change for the LGPS post 30 November was the avoidance of contribution increases).

Once again (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/lies-damned-lies-and-examples.html?m=1), national officers of the Union representing the great majority of unionised members of the LGPS are publishing, in our name and spending our subscriptions, misleading information which seeks to "sell" us the LGPS 2014 deal.

I can't and don't say that this is deliberate mendacity. It may be that the author(s) and proofreader(s) did not understand the process they were describing, or that they confused the completely different question of the uprating of pensions in payment (where the Government have prescribed CPI) with the question of revaluation of previously accrued pension prior to retirement in a career average scheme (where they have not). The upshot though is that we are distributing information to our members which is incorrect. This cannot stand.

I didn't rush to blog this criticism but raised the matter appropriately within the Union. Unfortunately this has yet to achieve anything. I would have left it more than one day before blogging were we not saddled with a very tight timetable (never given the explicit approval of our Local Government Conference).

UNISON must revise this leaflet now and issue both a correction and an apology to members who have been misled.

Someone should also answer the question; "If this is such a wonderful pension deal, why does it take such effort to ensure that the information which we issue about it is reliable?"

I'm not happy.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Competitive Tendering starts today

Today's the day that the so-called "Community Right to Challenge" comes into force - and although the statutory guidance has seen some of its reactionary excess pruned it's still very bad news for public services (http://www.info4local.gov.uk/documents/publications/2168588).

Although the guidance no longer seeks (as it did in draft) to prohibit "in-house bids" in the procurement process that inevitably follows a successful "expression of interest" it remains the case that the "Community Right to Challenge" is no more than a Trojan Horse for privatisation.

Those in our movement too readily seduced by the illusion of "mutualisation" are foolishly lacking in awareness of this threat (http://www.lambeth.gov.uk/Services/CouncilDemocracy/MakingADifference/TheCooperativeCouncil/UsingLocalismAidCooperativeCouncilJourney.htm).

Be very clear. All that an "expression of interest" from a voluntary group or would-be staff mutual (in line with the "Community Right to Challenge") can possibly achieve is a procurement process.

That means private sector bids which have to be considered in accordance with European regulations which are designed to facilitate privatisation.

At our Conference last week someone said that this was as bad as Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT).

I said it was worse.

This is random privatisation driven by anyone with enough of a grudge, enough of an ideological fixation, or enough of a financial inducement from a contractor waiting in the wings.

It threatens all remaining in-house services but not existing private contracts (since nothing in the Localism Act or its associated regulations and statutory guidance requires or permits local authorities to breach existing contracts with existing contractors).

This isn't the limited threat of CCT. This is Texas Chainsaw Massacre Competitive Tendering (TCMCT).

The Community has not just a "Right" but a duty to challenge this devastation of our public services - and Labour politicians need to choose sides decisively against this wanton onslaught upon our local services.

The Coalition Government has made an unequivocal declaration of war upon local government workers.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Once more unto the breach (having left the beach)...

Today, the first working day back from Conference, was (not unusually) an eleven hour day in the office.

For all that Conference (done properly) is hard work it doesn't hold a candle to a week in a busy branch office (and for those who experienced "strike fatigue" after just one day last year, I would invite you to see if you could stand the pace for even an hour in Brixton)(an invitation which could similarly be offered by many of my Branch Secretary comrades the length and breadth of the UK).

While we decamp for a week to the seaside to make policy (except in those unfortunate years in which we foolishly hold Conference in medium sized Northern cities which,lacking beaches, are inappropriate venues) the issues facing our members do not go away. We therefore return to redundancies, disciplinaries and tribunal cases (in relation to which our lamentable practice of channelling everything through our solicitors makes it so much harder than it once was to achieve satisfactory outcomes).

Particularly in a local government branch, where we rely mostly upon ourselves and - given the continuing failure of national bargaining - can see little that is of benefit to our members from our participation in a national union (and none at all from the existence of Region), it is important to remember why the week just gone was a good use of time.

We were right to spend time in Bournemouth (however much that may have angered some members expecting a swifter response to their issues) precisely because we cannot only respond to national attacks with local action. Activists in the branches which want to fight back need Conference as an opportunity to connect and coordinate.

From this point forward, those branches with members in the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) who want to build the October 20 demonstration and make good our General Secretary's pledge to smash the Tory pay freeze, must also campaign for rejection of the unsatisfactory "Work Longer. Get Less" proposals for our pensions. We cannot build a fight on pay by capitulating on pensions and the response on Conference floor to our General Secretary's keynote speech made this all too clear. We now have a massive task to mobilise our members for action.

Just for fun, we have to do this on top of catching up with "routine" work (none of which is "routine" for the individuals or groups affected) which has been piling up while we were away.

Allons y.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Unite with UNISON and be in unison with UNITE

It would appear that leading activists in UNITE anticipate a generally progressive consensus around policy questions at their Biennial Policy Conference which commences tomorrow in Brighton (http://l-r-c.org.uk/features/story/watch-out-for-some-real-debate/).



This is pretty much the same prediction (more or less) correctly made by your humble blogger about UNISON Conference earlier this week (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/conference-consensus-reflected-in.html?m=1).



The policy positions of UNITE and UNISON are rarely far apart. The interests of our members are similar. Our enemies are the same.



So why are our two largest unions each building alliances in a competitive rather than collaborative way? Why do UNISON officials decry action by UNITE? Why does UNITE poach UNISON members?



The successful fight against Southampton's Tories shows how potent an alliance of our two biggest unions might be. Rank and file members of each union must reach beyond the sectional, particularist interests of each official machine if we are to be the movement our members deserve.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Taking on the far right - now is the time for action

UNISON's number one priority, as delegates make their way home from Bournemouth or, having arrived, try to catch up with life in the real world beyond the Conference bubble, must be to build our struggle against the Coalition Government - first of all by working for a truly massive demonstration in London on 20 October.

However, our opposition to austerity is multi-faceted, and delegates at Conference rightly gave their highest priority, in the reprioritisation ballot, to Motion 86 on Fighting the Far Right, which was passed unanimously yesterday afternoon. At a time when our rulers have sought to turn a financial crisis of their economic system into an crisis for our welfare state, there is an ever present danger that far right bigots will slither up from the sewers on to our streets to try to find a market for their lies that the cause of capitalism's crisis is your neighbour of a different race, nationality or religion.

We have seen this with the electoral progress of the neo-Nazi "Golden Dawn" in Greece (by all accounts a right shower) and - whilst the lager-fuelled louts of the English Defence League (EDL) may not pose a similar threat now, we cannot be complacent.

As well as mobilising our members to confront the EDL on the streets, in an organised and disciplined way which protects both the safety of our members and the rights of our communities not to be bullied by racist and Islamophobic street gangs, Conference's earlier decision on Rule I will enable action to be taken against members of far right organisations in our own ranks.

We need to move swiftly to initiate such action if our NEC is to keep faith with the strongly held views of our Conference. We will need to put adequate resources (in terms of quantity and quality) into the important project of implementing the will of Conference in such a way that we do not risk either injustice to individuals or putting a foot wrong.

Since our NEC Committees will not now meet until the autumn, I hope that July's NEC meeting will be able to ensure progress on this important question.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Away from Conference floor

At this morning's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) we held the elections for the Presidential Team.



In accordance with a convention which is not enshrined in Rule, Chris Tansley, who has now been Vice-President for two years, will become President of UNISON at the close of today's Conference. Maureen LeMarinel, who was elected as Vice-President last year, remains as Vice-President for a further year.



We did get to vote for a further Vice-President and I was one of 12 NEC members who voted for Helen Davies, who was, as has become customary, denied the right to say anything. A far larger number voted for Lucia McKeever, who joins the Presidential Team once this afternoon's session of Conference is over.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Missing blogger found

After a day's energetic live-blogging on Tuesday, the pressure of Conference work (official and less official) has forced me into radio-silence, from which I'll now try to catch up.



This afternoon I was asked to speak on behalf of the National Executive Council (NEC) for the first time in eight years (and only the second time since I was first elected to the NEC).



I was pleased to support the succesful Rule Amendment number three, which, with its counterpart Rule Amendment eleven, has now established a framework for the lawful exclusion or expulsion from UNISON of members of far right organisations.



I understood the reservations of those comrades who feared that such rules might be used against socialists, but believed them to be misplaced.



The challenge now facing UNISON is to initiate action against known members of far right organisations in our ranks - and to respond to the clear desire of Conference for an end to unjustified disciplinary action. Dropping a wasteful and unnecessary appeal against a particular EAT decision might be a good start...

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Devolution in UNISON?

UNISON Conference is now debating a motion from devolution from the Scottish Region.



UNISON's structures are generally centralised at UK level, and the allocation of resources does not necessarily reflect the particular responsibilities imposed upon those UNISON Regions which are in fact nations (nor for that matter the work for the Greater London Region due to the Mayor and Assembly).



Motion 20 deals with this point - which is also reflected in the devolved arrangements for bargaining in local government and health (where Scottish NHS UNISON members have been able to carry on the pensions fight this year).



The debate throws up the question of the forthcoming Scottish referendum, although thus far there have been more references to football...

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Meanwhile, outside the Conference bubble...

UNISON (and our General Secretary) have sent a message of support to our members on strike today at Downhills Primary School in Haringey, against enforced Academy status (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=7884).



I understand from my friend and comrade, Haringey Branch Secretary, Sean Fox that the strike has been 100% solid with 30 pickets from UNISON and NUT, and a busload of strikers sent to Westminster to take their message to Gove.



Solidarity!

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We must break the pay freeze - which does need leadership

Dave Prentis gave a characteristically considered and thorough review of the past year and of the challenges ahead of us in his annual speech to UNISON Conference.



I'll blog a link to the text of the speech once it is online. My initial thoughts are that I agree with almost every word, and accept that such a speech may not be the place to explore the tensions between believing on the one hand that leadership is about "honesty and listening" and that on the other it is also about "raising people up" and giving them confidence.



The muted reception of what was a less tub thumping speech than in recent years should give activists some pause for thought. Cynicism is as much our enemy as it is of the General Secretary, and, as much as we may be cautious about calls for united action on pay as we remain rightly unhappy with the handling of the pensions dispute from December onwards, we need to mobilise members to march in October and to fight on pay.



The challenge to our leadership is to win the confidence of all our activists that, when we embark upon a major dispute with this Government, we are "in it to win it" and not simply for the easily anticipated surge in recruitment.



Applying the principles of "honesty and listening" to the consultation exercise and ballot on the LGPS will be an important element in winning that confidence.



Our members, and potential members, need our Union more than ever - and we need our Union to fight for our interests. Socialists in UNISON, with our eyes wide open and our critical faculties unimpaired, must be the most enthusiastic organisers for 20 October, and the most vigorous supporters of the call from our General Secretary for industrial action to defeat the pay freeze.

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Waiting for Dave on Tuesday afternoon

I've fallen behind in the (newly permitted) live-blogging from UNISON Conference.



I should point out that it wasn't simple Regional chauvinism that led me not to blog a report of the debate on Motion 33 (on the North-South divide) shortly before lunch.



Indeed, the real political and socio-economic divide certainly places the deprived areas of Inner London in "the North" and the issue is as vital now as it was in the 80s, so I would've liked to hear the whole debate.



Motion 33 was passed, and was as worthy as Motion 83 on elder abuse, which is being debated now ahead of the General Secretary's keynote address. This motion, from our National Retired Members Committee, tackles the scandal of mistreatment of our vulnerable elders.



Certainly there needs to be a sea change in the treatment of many vulnerable old people and UNISON needs to campaign on this issue.



Mind you, what I most want from my union in my old age is a decent final salary pension. Bringing down this Government would also be a good thing for our elders, as an Edinburgh delegate is pointing out.



I'm waiting to hear Dave Prentis give us a lead in that direction in a few minutes time!

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Sunday's pensions debate - what next?

Although those of us who had wanted a clear recommendation from our Conference to our members in the forthcoming ballot on the proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) from 2014 did not get our way, those who have seen the outcome of Sunday's debates simply as a defeat for the left and the rank and file seem to me to be mistaken.



The position which emerged triumphant (for widespread consultation ahead of a decision on a recommendation by Service Group Executives) was counterposed to a position of simply recommending acceptance, advanced in isolation by the Barking and Dagenham branch.



Whilst in many cases this may simply have been a device to avoid a Conference recommendation to reject - and therefore to secure a recommendation to accept by a more roundabout route - we nevertheless have the opportunities both of the consultation exercise and of the subsequent ballot to campaign against a proposed deal which would see our members work longer before receiving a reduced pension (with all workers whose state pension age moves to 68 receiving a worse deal if they retire at 65 - and all longer serving staff seeing a lower pension even if they work and pay pension contributions for a further three years).



Mobilising our members for October's TUC demonstration, and probable strike action to break the pay freeze, is far more consistent with a robust approach to rejecting an inadequate pensions offer than it is with accepting it.



It will also be interesting to see if proposals to support the "68 is too late" campaign make it on to our Conference agenda (http://www.68istoolate.org.uk/pages/motion-backing-68-is-too-late-goes-to-unison-conference).

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Opposing bullying at work

It's apt that, having affirmed support for reasonable regulation of health and safety at work, UNISON Conference has moved on to debate the problem of bullying at work - a problem which is inevitably aggravated by staff shortages caused by job cuts and the tyranny of the market over public services.



The National Women's Committee has done Conference a service by putting this highly prioritised motion before delegates - and it has inevitably invited eloquent and heartfelt testimony from the front line of public service delivery.



Pat Jones from Kirklees deserves an honourable mention for explaining how admin workers are standing up to unacceptable treatment from their employer with the effective tool of strike action.



Ultimately the best defence against bullying bosses is union organisation, but union organisation which is supported and informed to deal with what can be a gruelling experience for members - and a difficult and challenging task for lay union representatives.



As long as there are power imbalances in social relationships there will be instances of the abuse of power, and workplace bullying in heirarchical organisations cannot be eliminated - but capable and committed union representatives can do what we can to redress power imbalances and to support and empower victims.



Structural inequalities based upon social oppression mean that those who already face forms of oppression are disproportionately at risk of bullying, a point well made by delegates from self-organised groups and others.



Conference has rightly agreed Motion 5 unanimously in opposition to the culture of fear in the workplace.

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Health and Safety tops the bill

Roger Bannister, leading member of our National Executive Council (and perennial General Secretary candidate) has moved the opening Composite motion at National Delegate Conference, dealing with the attacks by the Coalition Government on the regulation of Health and Safety at Work.



The entire edifice of health and safety regulation exists only because of the struggle of our movement over the past two centuries - the fight for the Ten Hours Bill was a fight to limit working time! Now that we have a Government determined to eliminate the "burdens on business" imposed by requiring employers to exercise common sense so that their workers aren't injured, we need to return to a campaigning approach to the promotion of health, safety and welfare at work.



With 171 work related fatalities a year this is not the trivial issue presented in the right-wing press.



Even under the previous Government, inadequate resourcing of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) meant that the role of trade unions was increasing in importance. Now, however, we need to engage our members directly and maximise pressure on employers and politicians to ensure that the regulatory basis for the protection of health, safety and welfare at work, established for us by previous generations, is protected.



Unanimous support for Composite C has been a good start to Conference.

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An unquestioning approach?

Following the Presidential address and the introductory report of the Standing Orders Committee, UNISON's National Delegate Conference continues, as ever with the Annual Report of the NEC (and the Financial Statements), which also provides an opportunity for branches to ask questions.



Some years ago, the Annual Report was a comprehensive factual record. Now it reads more like a company's prospectus to its shareholders. Nevertheless, the right to ask questions of the Report, and the Financial Statements, is an important moment in the democratic accountability of our Executive to the representatives of the membership.



It is therefore disappointing that only 5 branches asked questions of the Annual Report, and only 4 of the Financial Statements. This is not an adequate level of scrutiny of an organisation which does so much.



In my experience of asking questions of the Annual Report and Financial Statements these are treated seriously and responded to helpfully, and it's a shame more branches don't engage with the process.



This year's Annual Report managed to upset the Welsh delegation through some unfortunate proofreading errors. Thereafter only a couple of delegates tried to ask verbal supplementary questions - and the one which would have been less welcome was hardly facilitated, which was a shame, although, in fairness, it's a tricky bit of Conference to Chair.



I hope that in future years more branches will use the opportunity afforded by the "supreme Government" of the Union (as Rule D.1.1 defines National Delegate Conference) to hold to account those who lead our Union on their behalf. Particular congratulations to the Tower Hamlets branch for trying to do this.

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Conference consensus reflected in compendium of Composites

Standing Orders Committee Chair, Clytus Williams, has followed, as ever, the inaugural Presidential address, which has kicked off UNISON National Delegate Conference.



There are more Composite motions than ever before, reflecting what is expected to be a high level of consensus, with the National Executive Council (NEC) supporting all but one motion and one amendment of the 137 policy motions on the Conference Final Agenda.



This is the first year I can remember when there have been no questions on either of the first two reports of the Standing Orders Committee!



Regular readers (Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak) will appreciate what this may mean for the coming week. The question must be, if he we have a lot of unity, what will we do with it...

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Card vote fiasco mars pensions debate

A lengthy and contentious, yet generally comradely, debate about the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) at today's UNISON Local Government Conference was marred at its conclusion by some spectacularly inept Chairing, as UNISON's Vice-President refused to call a card vote in breach of UNISON Rule P.8.1, which requires the Chair to call a card vote if (as was clearly the case) in excess of 10% of the delegates demand one.



Officials refused to permit a delegate (me, as regular readers might expect) to raise a point of order, contrary to UNISON Rule P.15.1. This calls into question the legitimacy of a decision, which may well have reflected the views of Conference, to refrain from making any recommendation at this stage in relation to the forthcoming member ballot on the LGPS 2014 proposals.



I'll blog further about the debate when I'm less irate...

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Serious discussion on pensions on the eve of Conference

In anticipation of tomorrow's vital debate on the Local Government Pension Scheme at UNISON's Local Government Service Group Conference, I ought to acknowledge some positive progress in the fair presentation of data.



Whilst other bloggers are wasting their time with wild sectarian rants (http://unisonactive.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/new-lgps-20214-and-old-miserablists.html?m=1) serious activists are looking in detail at the proposals before us, and are welcoming the more accurate data published today on the UNISON website (http://www.unison.org.uk/pensions/lgps.asp).



These appear to replace the misleading and unacceptable "examples" document about which I had blogged before - and concerning which several UNISON branches had submitted critical Emergency Motions which are likely to be admitted to the agenda as Emergency Composite 3.



One set of calculations are based upon the, still relatively pessimistic assumption that, in the long term, average earnings and pay will increase by only 1.5%p.a. more than the Consumer Price Index (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/PensionsCalculator40yearsRevalued.xlsx) and another set of calculations reflect the assumption made by the Government Actuaries Department - that pay and earnings will in the long run exceed CPI inflation by an average annual amount of 2.25% (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/PensionsTreasury40yearsRevalued.xlsx).



Although these figures deal only with the amounts people will receive at their normal retirement age and therefore do not address the capitulation to the Government's "work longer" agenda, and although they also fail to deal with the impact on the future value of our pensions of our conceding to the uprating of pensions in payment in line with the CPI rather the Retail Price Index (RPI), they are a far more honest presentation that that offered in the "examples" document.



This is a positive response to valid criticism.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

And now for something completely different...

Whilst focused in an almost pathological way upon the pensions dispute, I still try to notice the world around me.

It is in this context that I welcome the recent legal judgment in the case of Yunus Bakhsh, nurse and former UNISON activist, who was unfairly dismissed by his employer in a blatant act of victimisation of a trade union activist (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2011/04/victory-of-yunus-bakhsh-is-victory-for.html?m=1).

Represented by John Hendy, Yunus has won the right to a full hearing of his application for judicial review of the wilful refusal by his public sector employer to implement a tribunal order for his reinstatement (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2012/1445.html).

Since the right of employers to ignore such orders is one of the worst things taught to everyone preparing for their first tribunal hearing, this decision is of great interest and vital importance.

The legal point at issue is that, since employees of public sector bodies (and some others carrying out public functions) can rely directly upon their Convention rights (as set out in the Human Rights Act) then it is arguable that a refusal to comply with a reinstatement order, where this is made further to a decision that a dismissal was an act of trade union victimisation (breaching the employee's human right to freedom of association) may be unlawful where the employer is a public body.

The relevance of this decision to the activists of the UK's main public service trade union is self-evident, and I hope that the handful of embittered individuals who pursued a vendetta against Yunus within UNISON won't prevent our Union from keeping our activists informed about a legal case of such compelling interest.

It may be that an Emergency Motion has been submitted to UNISON National Delegate Conference to draw attention to this case. Were I given to gambling I wouldn't offer attractive odds against someone thinking that the text of such a motion shouldn't even be published.

But perhaps I too am a sad and embittered old cynic...

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Being made an example of...

I have commented previously about the disappearance, from our website, of a document setting out "examples" of the impact of proposed changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) which I thought embodied dishonest assumptions (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/where-have-all-examples-gone.html?m=1).



As you'll find out when I write up my NEC report, our NEC was told, in no uncertain terms, by our national Head of Local Government, that the withdrawal of this document was to correct technical errors and had nothing whatsoever to do with any issues I had raised. Clearly we are in touch with economists who can explain how a capitalist economy would function if, over the long term, earnings rose by substantially less than prices and can therefore disregard pesky blogs.



However, at today's sparsely-attended (having been arranged at short notice) Regional UNISON briefing on the LGPS we were told about the assumptions made by the Government Actuaries Department (GAD) when they costed the LGPS 2014 proposals.



GAD assumed that - over the long term - increases in the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) would average 2% and that Average Weekly Earnings (AWE) would increase, also over the long term, by 2.25% more than CPI. It must certainly be the case that any honest "examples" document explaining the future impact of predicted future changes to a pension scheme should include an illustration based upon these authoritative assumptions from a Government agency.

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Sunday is D-day for the LGPS

Continuing the positive and constructive approach which they have taken to debate around the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) in the run up to this year's Local Government Conference, the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) have admitted a number of Emergency Motions on to the Conference agenda.

As a result of this, the debate on pensions, originally scheduled for Monday afternoon has been brought forward to Sunday afternoon. Ever fleet of foot, the Tower Hamlets and Havering branches have been able to bring forward their "eve of debate" pensions fringe meeting from Sunday evening to Sunday lunchtime.

The SOC for Local Government Conference (who could perhaps offer lessons in respect for lay democracy to some other SOCs in our Union) have tasked officers with preparing a number of Emergency Composites to facilitate the business of Conference, and a lively debate is in prospect.

As regular readers of this Blog (Sid and Doris Trotskyist-Trainspotter) will be aware, I am one of the "usual suspects" and as such have a finger in several of the potential "Emergency Composite" pies, some of which may not be palatable to the "top table".

I understand also that a large branch from a city in the North West may have an Emergency Motion seeking to shore up the position already adopted by the Service Group Executive.

All those branches which were able to convene quorate meetings at impossibly short notice to agree motions for submission to the Local Government Conference deserve every bit as much credit as the SOC for helping to ensure that a meaningful debate can take place on Sunday.

The large majority of unionised members of the LGPS in England and Wales are in UNISON and the large majority of UNISON members are in the Local Government Service Group. UNISON's Local Government Conference is therefore the least worst place at which delegates elected by the unionised members of the country's biggest pension scheme can come to a view about proposals for the future of the scheme.

Sunday may be an important day.

I would hazard a guess that amongst those hoping that the Conference does not recommend that our members vote to reject the cheapening of their pensions will be the employers, Government Ministers, national trade union officials and the majority of the Service Group Executive.

I beg to differ and will explain why here shortly.

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Green Book threat?

Yesterday's news from the GMB (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5gva30hBSvJ4-f9sg6pD_5_X905Zg?docId=N0218091339432377892A) may really have been about the importance of an appearance of radicalism as members are recommended to swallow a cheapening of their pension scheme.



However, on the reasonable assumption that GMB officers did not invent the story, it's worthy of note that our employers have malicious designs upon the sorry remnants of our national conditions of service (and that they appear to have shared this news "in confidence" with our negotiators, presumably so the negotiators can be seen to breach this confidence in order to redeem themselves in the eyes of activists for their conduct of the LGPS talks).



The national agreement for local government workers in England and Wales ("the Green Book") sets a pretty low and basic floor in terms of our core conditions of service. I voted against it in 1997 because I thought it made many of the concessions against which one of our "former partner unions" had taken successful strike action in 1989 - and the big achievement of 1997 (single status) took more than a decade to make progress.



However, national conditions of service in local government were an important achievement of our movement in the twentieth century and we need to preserve a national framework if we are to maximise our collective strength.



I shall be interested to see what is said about this in Bournemouth next week.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

SGE results are a warning

The results of the biennial elections to UNISON's Service Group Executives are now available at http://www.unison.org.uk/file/2012%20SGE%20summary%20results.pdf.



From the perspective of socialist activists within the union, these are a mixed bag, with some positive and some disappointing results. I congratulate all those elected and commiserate with excellent socialists not elected.



Perhaps what is most striking is the number of vacancies, and that the great majority of those elected were elected unopposed, fewer than 30% of those elected having faced opposition. This is an alarming indication of the retreat from activism at the base of the union at a time when the onslaught of job losses is beginning to impact upon our membership.



At a national level our lay democracy is not in good health, and we are not inspiring new activists to take on national roles. At this rate the value of the national trade union to activists at a local level may be called into question.



We aren't delivering nationally on pay, we try to promote disappointing compromises on pensions and our (UK wide) political engagement over recent years has seen a comprehensive failure to secure our objectives from the longest serving Labour Government in history, preparing us now for a comprehensive assault from the most anti-union Government in living memory.



We have to face up to these challenges at next week's Conferences, or we'll continue to slide towards irrelevance.



(This blog post has been brought to you by the pessimism of the intellect...)

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Solidarity with the GMB

The GMB have taken the opportunity of their annual Conference (in the best venue, Brighton) to publish details of the involvement of privateer Carillion in organised victimisation of union activists (http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/latest_news/224_blacklisted_by_carillion.aspx#).



This is just one more reason to oppose privatisation of our public services.



With GMB General Secretary, Paul Kenny, attending next week's UNISON Conference as a guest speaker, in his capacity as this year's President of the TUC, I hope that UNISON can find our way to wholehearted support for the struggle being waged against Carillion by GMB members in Swindon (http://www.gmb.org.uk/default.aspx?page=2807).



The interests of lay trade union members are generally best served by trade union unity rather than competition between unions.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Who decides in a lay led trade union? And when?

Please note that this post has been updated since first being posted.

One of the penalties I pay for the honour of serving on UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) is that I must pore over minutes of Committees to be reported to the NEC (which meets tomorrow).

It is in this context that I find that our Policy Committee decided, on 19 April, to restrict the size and composition of UNISON's TUC delegation in 2012.

Or did they?

Because, on 8 February, fully two months before our lay Policy Committee took "their" decision to restrict the size of our TUC delegation, it had been "reported" to our Equality Liaison Committee that, whilst larger than it had been at 2011's mini-TUC, UNISON's delegation to TUC 2012 "will still not be as large as it used to be."

Surely it cannot be that paid officials take decisions and then engineer their rubber-stamping by lay Committees?

But how otherwise could a decision not taken by the Policy Committee until 19 April have been reported as fact to the Equality Liaison Committee on 8 February?

Perhaps (since I enjoyed seeing Men in Black 3 today) I should accept that the UNISON Centre has perfected time travel?

That, being the explanation that involves neither breaches of our Rules nor criticism of officials (which may offend sensitive souls), must be true.

So, if we've got time travel cracked, can someone go back to June 2010 and start fighting the change to uprating our pensions as soon as it was announced?

Update:

 I have been assured that the information given ot the Equality Liaison Committee in February reflected the established policy of various lay Committees, notably our Finance and Resource Management Committee.

The overwhelming reason for reducing the size of the TUC delegation is, I am advised, to save money (and there are certainly legitimate savings to be made).

It is the case that a significant number of lay NEC members support reducing the size of the TUC delegation. The controversial question (with which I will deal in my NEC report, which I have lazily failed to do whilst on leave) is how the reduced number of places for NEC members are allocated as between NEC Committees.

Speaking personally I think it is a shame that our approach to the TUC is motivated primarily by cost, as I would prefer that our movement had been able to find a way to make its annual "Parliament" a more meaningful and useful body, worth the expense.
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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Where have all the examples gone?

A funny thing has happened at our website this bank holiday weekend. The list of "examples" about which I have blogged, somewhat intemperately, before (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/lies-damned-lies-and-examples.html?m=1) has been removed from the list of links to documents concerning the LGPS 2014 proposals (http://www.unison.org.uk/pensions/lgps.asp).



You can still find the document online at http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/LGPS2014Examples.pdf - but there is no current direct link from the UNISON website. Meanwhile, at the LGPS website (http://www.lgps.org.uk/lge/core/page.do?pageId=15431012) we are told that examples of benefits under the new scheme "will follow shortly".



If the link has been taken down so that the document itself can be corrected so that it is based upon realistic assumptions about future trends in prices and earnings this will enable a proper evaluation of LGPS 2014 against LGPS 2008 on an honest basis.



Whatever view one takes of the proposals, that would be a good thing.

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