Friday, August 31, 2012

At last - the Anorak's chapter

Since I don't intend to blog about Chapter 11 of the report of the General Council to next month's TUC (which lists obituaries) this brief post about Chapter Ten brings us to the end of my attempt to read the report (so you don't have to).

I'd like to than regular readers (including Sid and Doris Blogger) for their support and encouragement as I performed a task above and beyond the call of duty, testing me to the limits of my endurance. There were moments - back in Chapter Eight for example - when I didn't know how I could carry on. But we made it!

Chapter Ten deals with TUC Organisation and its first substantial content amounts, in a mealy-mouthed way, to an admission that Congress, and the General Council, got it wrong in 2010 when they proposed that a full scale Congress would only take place biennially.

(I shall say "I told you so" on this occasion - http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2010/09/end-of-congress.html?m=0).

Apparently unions are encouraged, voluntarily, to send smaller delegations and, from 2014, delegates at Congress may not have tables, but proper Annual meetings of Congress will take place once more.

Aside from this point, this chapter let's us know which General Council members have lead responsibility in which areas (information about how many meetings of the General Council and the Executive Committee have been attended by each of these august bodies may be gleaned later in Appendix One).

It is also here that the decision of Brendan Barber to retire, and of 32 unions, representing 96% of the affiliated membership, to nominate Frances O'Grady to succeed him. Brendan clearly outshone Norman Willis as a TUC General Secretary.

It's a positive step for the movement that the TUC will be headed for the first time by a woman, and all trade unionists should wish Frances luck.

It is, however, perhaps only the gender of the successful candidate which differentiates the process of "election" of TUC General Secretary from the process for choosing a Pope. This does mean that such an "election" does not afford our movement the opportunity for the searching debate we need to have, about the future for the movement in general and the TUC in particular.

The chapter closes with some commentary on the role of the TUC as an employer and about its library collections (which are housed at London Met University, suggesting to me the topic of a worthy Emergency Motion to Congress).

Check back here during Congress for the occasional update, the odd irrelevant comment and the occasional outburst of outraged cynicism.

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Your Campaigning General Council

Chapter nine of the report from the TUC General Council to next month's Congress, tucked in quietly near the back, just ahead of the bit about TUC organisation and the obituaries, begins almost apologetically with the observation that "much of the General Council's work in the past year has consisted of campaigning."

That is what happens when you have a hideously reactionary Government led by a Cabinet of millionaires who no more want to be our "social partners" than they want to snog a rattlesnake (though to be honest we could have done with most of the work of the General Council having been about campaigning in pretty much every year of my life).

The chapter begins with a summary of the media coverage which the TUC has generated or been involved with over the past year. Much of this has been worthwhile and - given the timidity of "Her Majesty's Opposition" the TUC - and the union movement generally - is frequently filling a vacuum where there ought to be a Party of the Left.

Once again in this chapter the TUC claim much credit for the positive coverage of "Pensions Justice Day" (which, since the TUC had to be prevented from caving in earlier in November, probably has some people at the UNISON Centre choking over their cornflakes as I write this).

There is then a section on campaigning in Parliament, which I note has the words "John" and "McDonnell" adjacent to each other in the same sentence (something noteworthy to a UNISON member) as it refers to TUC support for the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill. This section is, however, largely a shopping list of issues on which unions have been lobbying and meetings which have taken place.

The division of labour between the "political" (Parliamentary) and "industrial" (trade union) wings of our movement, which was and is at the heart of Labourism, is exemplified by the absence of any clear, coherent and overarching political strategy on the part of the TUC.

The TUC does however have a reasonable online presence, upon which the report comments, as it does on "campaigning through events" (a list of rallies and demonstrations) and "campaigning through publications" (a list of pamphlets).

At a time when we desperately need to improve the profile of our movement - and in a year in which our trade unions took the most significant strike action in generations, it says a lot about the TUC that campaigning activity is reported upon in such an uninspired and uninspiring way, tucked in toward the end of the report.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The much anticipated Chapter Eight

125 pages in to the General Council's report to next month's Trades Union Congress, the dedicated reader stumbles upon the gem of miscellany that is Chapter Eight, enigmatically entitled "Wales and the English Regions."

In fact this chapter attempts to provide a summary of the work of the Regional TUCs in England, the Wales TUC, Trades Councils and Unemployed Workers Centres (and the wonderfully named "Council of the Isles") but I suppose, as a chapter title, "Bits that don't fit elsewhere" failed to commend itself.

Instead of providing discrete reports of the work of each Regional TUC, the chapter starts with five thematic sections each of which includes some reference to activities in each Region. This doesn't work as a way of reporting on the activities of Regional TUC and failed to hold the attention of even this most dedicated reader of the General Council report.

Mind you, since the TUC fails to give London its own Region although London has more devolved powers than any English Region I guess I may not be well-disposed to Regional structures which seem irrelevant to real trade union work in the capital.

The Wales TUC get their own section, which seems more than appropriate since it reports on amendments to their Rules to reflect the increased powers of the devolved Welsh Government - who intend to use those powers to protect against the worst of the Coalitions attacks.

The section on Trades Councils also makes an interesting read for a UNISON activist, given the hostility expressed to Trades Councils more than once at recent UNISON Conferences. As a sort of local mini-TUC (but run by lay activists) Trades Councils have an enduring potential which we should not forget just because it is sometimes squandered.

Similarly, it is good to be reminded of the work of the 35 TUC Unemployed Workers Centres, whose workload is increasing as their funding is reducing - though now may be the time (in the light of UNITE's "community membership" drive in particular) to reconsider how our movement relates to unemployed workers - National Unemployed Workers Movement anyone?

And the "Council of the Isles"? Well, I'm not going to tell you. I don't want to disempower you further dear reader. You must google it for yourself and then decide whether it belonged in Chapter Eight or Chapter Five.

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People protected at work by the General Council

Those experiencing blog-related stress as a result of reading earlier posts reviewing the report to be put to next month's Congress by the General Council of the TUC will be relieved to know that we have reached Chapter 7 "Protecting People at Work" which deals with health and safety.

If you remember that the fight for the "Ten Hours Bill" in the 1840s was a campaign for safety regulation then you can see that this is, rightly, one of the oldest concerns of our movement. In the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) this is also the area of union work in the UK in which relatively meaningful and worthwhile tripartism is most resilient.

Nevertheless, the chapter commences with a report of the TUC's campaigning activities to defend health and safety (as distinct from campaigns on particular health and safety issues).

In general, the report suggests that the worst of the Coalitions threats to safety regulation have been seen off.

The Lofsted report didn't do too much damage, except in its proposal to exempt self-employed workers from regulation and the "Red Tape Challenge" was itself challenged by the extent of support for safety regulation.

However, the level of resources for and activity by, the HSE are causes for concern. In general, union organisation has to be the best way to ensure that employers are aware of (and compliant with) their responsibilities.

Whilst statutory regulations remain intact (if inadequately enforced) the same cannot be said of the civil legal rights of workers to sue for compensation if necessary.

The report warns that the implementation, in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, of proposals made previously by Lord Justice Jackson (including the deduction of costs from damages) will have negative implications both for workers and for the ability of unions to support us.
I'm immediately reminded that I need to read up on this, which is another reason to welcome having read the General Council Report (rather than waiting for them to make the film) (Bob Hoskins as Brendan Barber?)

A coordinating role for all unions in relation to health and safety is a further justification for the continued existence of a trade union centre - and health and safety is perhaps one area in which the TUC's predisposition to Committees and tripartism is least inappropriate.

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Learning with the General Council

"Learning and Skills" is the title of the sixth chapter of the report from the General Council of the TUC to next month's Congress.

This deals both with the traditional training of union representatives (of which more below) and with the learning agenda (a more recent development given that legal recognition of union learning representatives (ULRs) is a twenty first century development).

Apparently, 10% of all union activity is now about learning, which is double the figure ten years ago. However, half of this activity (the whole of the increase) is funded from the Union Learning Fund.

The TUC is therefore worried about the lack of commitment to a "social partnership" approach in the UK, to the extent that we took a Government Minister to Germany, leading (at a "follow-up dinner with the Minister" no less) to a commitment to joint working on policy development.

We have been lobbying for more and better apprenticeships, and to protect the rights of apprentices, and generally for employers to offer more training and engage with trade unions as we do.

Four senior officials (including our own General Secretary) are trade union commissioners on the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES which - as befits a twenty-first century tripartite body - describes itself as a "social partnership.")

UKCES has overseen a competitive funding process for Sector Skills Councils (so that their funding depends upon the success of their bids rather than any objective assessment of need, which seems a bit daft).

This chapter of the report, more than any other, struggles to be "balanced" and to find things of which it approves in Government policy - but reality keeps intruding, as with the reference to the withdrawal of funding for ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) at work, or to the destruction of the Connexions service.

Unionlearn, which administers the Union Learning Fund (once again we say we are involved as a "social partner") is the recipient and administrator of the public funding which underpins half of our activity in this area. Since there are 230,000 learners involved, this is clearly an area of significance to many members and rank and file experience is that attention to the learning agenda can benefit members and the Union (as long as you ignore all the "social partnership" nonsense - or leave that to those forced to dine with Government Ministers in the interests of our class!)

Of the activist training which would traditionally have taken up the whole of this chapter of the General Council report, there is a less happy tale to tell. The total number of students on TUC training courses fell by a sixth between 2010 and 2011, wiping out an increase which had been driven by increasing attendance on short courses through the second half of the past decade.

As the report rightly observes this decline (predominantly in attendance on the topic specific short courses) reflects the need for unions to "prioritise industrial matters" - but it also reflects the greater difficulty in obtaining paid time off for training in a harsher political climate (and in which many of us are dealing with a lot of job losses).

In this cold climate it's positive to have a trade union centre to offer core and higher level training, including to "union professionals" (though I'm not sure I quite approve of that definition of paid officials if it suggests that we lay activists are amateurs!)

Given the massive decline in industrial action over recent decades, and the trend for unions to use solicitors rather than officials in tribunals, we have a cohort of younger (and some not so much younger) paid officials with some significant training needs just now and trade unions as employers could do with heeding the words we express to employers generally.

Overall, this chapter captures once more the slightly awkward relationship between a traditional focus on training representatives (to represent the interests of workers independently from, and often in opposition to, those of employers) and attention to a learning agenda our work on which relies considerably on public funds (and in connection with which we tend therefore to go on about "social partnership" however much our "social partners" in the UK show us that they're just not that interested in us...)

This reflects an enduring tension at the heart of the TUC which can't decide whether its function is primarily to coordinate an independent trade union movement or to act as an intermediary with the state.

I'm just glad (speaking as a union amateur) that I don't have to dine with Ministers!

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Global Solidarity from the General Council

The fifth chapter of this year's report to Congress from the General Council of the TUC deals with the international work of the world's oldest trade union centre.

Following a brief introductory paragraph it moves on to a section entitled "building stronger unions" (paragraph 5.2) which - bizarrely - is about no such thing, but instead amounts to a list of worthy international bodies on which the TUC is represented, with an itinerary for those representatives over the past year.

The next section - on solidarity - is a far more positive contribution to informing and enlightening the reader and runs through problems faced by trade unionists, and solidarity action taken by the TUC, across the world. Coming from a union branch with an energetic and effective International Officer, I'm familiar with many of the issues raised but the information in paragraph 5.3 of the General Council report ought to be shared widely with the rank and file.

The report goes on to report on the TUC's role in relation to the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - dealing, amongst other things, with the campaign for a Robin Hood tax and for workers rights in China. It's odd that the reference to China is here and not in the section on "solidarity" since surely developments in relation to the workers movement in the country with the largest working class in the world must be the most significant issue in international trade unionism?

The TUC still has, we are told, an international development strategy even though, under the Coalition Government, the Department for International Development (DFID) have cut us off with a penny (or rather without one) and, through TUC Aid, has supported work on the rights of disabled workers in Tanzania and on HIV/AIDS as a workplace issue in Nigeria.

We are also, it would appear, dead chuffed that Guy Ryder (the candidate backed by the TUC) has been elected Director General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Whilst I can see that it is no mean feat that, for the first time, a non-Government candidate has been elected to head a major UN agency, the fact that, at the behest of our own dear CBI, the Employers' Group collapsed the ILO's "Committee on the Application of Standards" - preventing discussion of 25 serious violations of labour standards - suggests to me that tripartism is now at much at risk internationally as it is in the UK.

An otherwise interesting chapter of the report then concludes with a list of which officials sit on which Committees of the European TUC and on the European Economic and Social Committee (even UNISON's Local Government Service Group knows to put such detail in an Appendix!)

In spite of the elements of tedium and travelogue in this chapter, and the failure to acknowledge the work of affiliates, this chapter does provide some of the residual justification for the existence of the TUC in helping to coordinate the international work of our movement in this country.

Perhaps, however, I just feel better disposed towards the General Council at the end of Chapter Five of their report than previously just because - like any British liberal (or social democrat) they are always more radical abroad than at home?

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General Council IV Part Two

Continuing the service to those who are interested in the General Council's report to next month's TUC (both of you) I have arrived at paragraph 4.6 on pensions.

This kicks off with information about the continuing decline in defined benefit provision and the negative impact of quantitative easing on both defined benefit pensions (via gilt yields) and defined contribution pensions (via annuity rates). It goes on to remind us that the TUC welcomes imminent auto-enrolment of workers into pension schemes and to explain how the TUC is lobbying for a better deal for members of defined contribution schemes, before moving on to tell us of the TUC's lobbying against the accelerated increase in the state retirement age.

Strangely, reference to public service pensions is left until later.

Moving swiftly along, Chapter Four takes us on a whistlestop tour past poverty (which we're against), the National Minimum Wage (which we appear to love as much for the tripartism of the Low Pay Commission as for its economic impact), working time (too much - for those in work) and housing (too little).

The report then moves on to climate change and energy, an area in which an entire ecosystem of Committees has evolved for the TUC to participate in, whether it's by giving evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, welcoming the Green Investment Bank, contributing to the work of the Green Economy Council, sitting on the Energy Intensive Industries Task Group or having our very own Clean Coal Task Group. Our commitment to sustainable development is clear and there is obviously a lot going on (though to what effect is less clear).

Chapter Four then deals with transport and the Action for Rail campaign (www.actionforrail.org), campaigns in defence of bus services, and to regulate the hours worked by coach and HGV drivers, before getting to public services. Here we are reminded that TUC-speak for the largest strike in recent history is "Pensions Justice Day" which, it turns out, was led and coordinated by the TUC (which is not quite how I remember the day).

The report is cautiously optimistic that we may see off the break up of national pay bargaining in public services (the topic of discussion at this year's only meeting of the Public Services Forum between Ministers and unions). This optimism may be well founded but since national pay bargaining has not given us a pay rise for several years workplace celebrations may be muted.

Chapter Four is sound in its criticism of plans for "mutuals" in public services ("used to marketise public services") and in sounding the alarm about the "Community Right to Challenge" proposals in the Localism Act.

We also learn from the General Council report of how it was the TUC who led the (ultimately unsuccessful) fight against the Health and Social Care Act 2012. I did think UNISON had something to do with that. I imagine that activists in teaching unions will be as interested to learn of the TUC's pivotal role in dealing with Academy schools and the Higher Education White Paper.

The TUC has also been resisting privatisation in the criminal justice system, has given evidence to the Leveson Inquiry and has been excited (at some length) about the Olympics.

Overall, this longest chapter of the General Council report does give a mixed impression of an organisation sometimes playing a useful coordinating role, sometimes claiming credit for the work of affiliates and always seeing the world through the lens of lobbying and Committees and not from the perspective of the workplace, the street or the picket line.

More soon (bet you can't wait!)

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General Council IV Part One

Reading the Report of the General Council to the Trades Union Congress (a link to which went up yesterday at http://www.tuc.org.uk/the_tuc/tuc-21350-f0.cfm) is in some ways similar to archaeology.

Different Chapters exist in the report like different layers of rock and sediment. So this year's Chapter One (dealing with the "A Future that Works" campaign - http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-blog-that-reads-report-of-tuc.html?m=1) is a recent addition, whereas Chapter Two (on Organising) reflects the trends and fashions of the past decade or so, and Chapter Three (Equal Rights) dates back several decades.

By the time you reach Chapter Four, by some way the longest in the report, you reach a part of the report (on Economic and Industrial Affairs) which feels like it must have been in General Council reports for the best part of a century. As it's a long chapter, and I don't want to over-excite readers, I'll blog about it in parts.

This chapter begins with an overview of the economy which is quite as dispiriting as anything earlier chapters have had to offer. The economy is 4% smaller than it was before the 2008 downturn and real wages have been falling for two years (at an annual rate of 3%). Private corporations are failing to invest and are instead hoarding cash.

The report advances a persuasive "underconsumptionist" argument that falling real pay is a major cause of subdued demand and backs this up with the observation that the share of Gross Domestic Product going to wages has fallen, since the 1970s from around 65% to around 52%. The living standards of the poorest are falling fastest as they face a higher effective rate of price inflation than either median or wealthy households.

Even economic "good news" turns out to be not what it seems, as falling unemployment reflects increases in self-employment and involuntary temporary and part-time working (developments which aren't only bad for workers who cannot get the secure and well paid employment they seek but also for our movement which finds it harder to organise those in precarious employment - although the TUC did get some money from the last of the Union Modernisation Fund to work on organising vulnerable workers).

The chapter includes sections on manufacturing (which we broadly like) and banking (which we don't - particularly bonuses) as well as corporate governance (which we want to see improved). In keeping with the weight of history and tradition which accompanies any General Council report, these sections all seem to yearn for a 70s social democracy of corporatism, regulation and high hopes for putting workers on the board.

But then - putting aside the dress sense and much of the music - what's not to like about the 1970s? In those days wages were squeezing profits rather than the other way round, and there were more than twice as many members of TUC affiliated trade unions.

In the past year, after a generation of decline capped by the longest period of declining real wages for decades, we staged our biggest strike since 1926. How have we done? Are we turning things round? In the next post I'll cover the rest of Chapter Four, starting with what the General Council has to say to Congress about pensions.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

General Council Chapter Three - All chapters are equally important but some are more equally important than others

Continuing the review of this year's report of the General Council of the TUC to next month's Congress I have arrived at Chapter Three - "Equal Rights."

Following the unavoidably depressing reading of Chapter Two in the last post (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/general-council-chapter-two-just-when.html?m=1) I was hoping for more cheer. After all, during a generation of decline in union membership, density and power, there has still been some limited social progress on a range of equality issues.

However, the Chapter begins with a report of the attempts of the Coalition Government to limit the Equality Act, weaken the Public Sector Equality Duty and undermine the (already pretty toothless) Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The TUC, it is reported, are valiantly - and quite correctly - writing to Ministers and issuing briefings but to no avail.

The TUC may have made more of an impact on nudging the Government over its "Modern Workplace" proposals in relation to maternity, paternity and flexible working - joint guidance from ACAS and the EHRC on maternity/pregnancy and redundancy may, for example, prove useful to trade unionists.

This chapter goes on to report on the work of each of the TUC's four "Equality Committees" (broadly mirroring each of UNISON's Self-Organised Groups). In each case a large chunk of the work of the Committee has entailed looking at the impact of Government cuts on (respectively) women, black workers, disabled people and LGBT communities. The work of describing the differential and unequal impact of cuts is vital and important but - as someone once almost said - it is not enough to interpret the world. The point is to change it.

In this context, Chapter Three details the work being done under the auspices of the various Equality Committees.

The Women's Committee dealt with a range of international issues including the rights of migrant domestic workers and campaigned in defence of abortion rights and against violence against women.

The Race Relations Committee addressed issues around access to employment and training for young black people, opposition to the far right, the legacy of Stephen Lawrence and the rights of asylum seekers.

The Disabled Workers' Committee has supported Remploy workers, opposed welfare "reform" and highlighted hate crime against disabled people (possibly encouraged by hate speech from Ministers).

The LGBT Committee had worked through the TUC to ensure that the EHRC, in their interventions in European litigation, had supported progressive decisions of UK courts protecting LGBT people from (so-called) "faith based" discrimination and had campaigned around international solidarity (including support for World Pride in London), equal marriage and homophobia and transphobia in sport.

Regular readers (Sid and Doris Congress-House) will be happy to learn that a reading of Chapter Three leaves your blogger slightly further from the suicide- watch threatened by Chapter Two. Although our Tory Coalition Government is clearly determined to roll back as many of the social gains of the past as it can, the development of equality structures in our movement in the generation since we last faced such an onslaught probably equips us a little better to resist, not least because at least some of our priorities are now determined by (rather than for) our members who face particular forms of oppression.

At a rank and file level we need to support grassroots self-organisation wherever we can and to continue to try to build a diverse, inclusive, united and representative labour movement as the best defence for all our members.

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General Council Chapter Two (just when you thought it was safe to go back into Congress)

Continuing the service to those in the movement who are interested, I've had a look at the second chapter of the Report of the TUC General Council to next month's Congress.

It's best not to read this chapter if in a depressed state to begin with (happily I wasn't). It starts with the observation that (on reasonably reliable Government data) we have lost 143,000 trade unionists, with a loss of 186,000 public sector trade unionists dwarfing an increase of 43,000 in the private sector.

Even the "good news" from the private sector isn't particularly good, since union density in the private sector is stuck at 14%, meaning that the movement is recruiting only one new member for every seven new jobs.

Almost three quarters of employees are not in a trade union, and more than two thirds work in an environment where their pay and conditions are not determined by collective bargaining. Less than 10% of workers aged 16-24 are in a union.

Having set this unhappy scene, Chapter Two then tries to cheer us up with references to the work of the TUC in supporting unions recruiting and organising, but this brief and timid positive theme then gives way to detailing TUC responses to a litany of Coalition inspired assaults on employee rights.

One of the best things about the General Council report is always the way in which it draws together everything so the reader can step back from their own everyday experience and be reminded of just what it is that we have been and are living through.

The Beecroft Report, the "Red Tape Challenge", the Employment Law Review, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, Employment Tribunal reforms... The list, if not endless, is certainly quite long enough.

We've already have the extension of the qualifying period to claim unfair dismissal and next year will see the introduction of fees to lodge tribunal complaints. In the mean time the Government are consulting now not on whether to reduce the minimum period for consultation on mass redundancies but only by how much.

Whereas the report can record that the European TUC (ETUC) has helped to block a Regulation which would have supported the anti-worker decisions of the European Court of Justice in the Viking and Laval cases, all it can say of the UK is that some of the more bonkers proposals have been shelved (and these are the proposals described as "bonkers" by Vince "savage cuts" Cable).

Although the chapter draws to a close with some less miserable references to the work of ACAS and the Better Regulation Executive, the overall message of Chapter Two is that a weakening and shrinking trade union movement is failing to prevent a legislative onslaught upon our individual and collective rights at work.

It is perhaps noteworthy (although not commented upon in this chapter) that the major countervailing factor to overall membership decline over the past year was the boost to recruitment (in UNISON in particular) in the run up to 30 November.

It may be that many among the millions of unorganised workers beyond our ranks can see all too well the attacks from the Cabinet of Millionaires and would join us if we inspired their confidence that we could resist these attacks.

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The blog that reads the report of the TUC General Council (so you don't have to) Chapter One

The General Council's report to next month's Trades Union Congress should shortly be available online at http://www.tuc.org.uk/the_tuc/index.cfm?mins=62&minors=2&majorsubjectID=19. I got my copy over the weekend.

Whereas the Annual Report of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) to our Conference has come more and more to resemble a company (or college) prospectus, the General Council report, although just as prone to accentuating the positive, remains a heavier document, perhaps because the TUC is increasingly mindful that it needs to justify its existence (a need not felt by the authors of some other Annual Reports).

Since this is a niche blog, and you're not reading it for fun, and in the forlorn hope that this week won't be too busy at work, I'll read the report chapter by chapter and blog comments as I go.

The first chapter of the report deals with the "A Future That Works Campaign" (a title, we are told, which was adopted in the spring as part of a "rebranding" of "the most vital campaign for our movement in a generation" mandated by last year's Congress).

This chapter provides an overview and therefore doesn't deal with "day to day campaigning" - not even 30 November 2011 (which is remembered on planet TUC as "Pensions Justice Day") of which, the report's authors observe that it "represented a mass mobilisation in many ways as challenging as the 26 March demonstration last year" (a comment which provides a fascinating insight into the difference of perspective when looking at a mass strike from Congress House, as opposed to a picket line, since a strike is much much harder to organise than a march).

As well as looking forward to the forthcoming 20 October demonstration ("which the General Council have, after consulting unions, decided should be the next major event of the campaign") the report looks back to a special General Council meeting which took place in early October last year which concluded that our "most vital campaign" should have four elements.

The first of these elements is "the battle of ideas" which, it appears, we are waging through research, seminars and Conferences intended to give us economic messages which are comprehensive and credible, with arguments backed up by authoritative evidence. All of these aspirations can be judged against the criterion of the absurd alternative (in that no one would suggest we set out to advance messages which are partial and/or incredible, having no evidential basis).

However, for a trade union centre looking for a role in a twenty first century in which just three affiliates have a majority of the membership, and in which the Party of the (centre) Left is generally too timid even to own up to social democracy, this modest objective that the TUC should develop economic policy for the labour movement seems reasonable.

The second element of the campaign, clearly building to some extent on the first, is "the battle for narrative" - which seems to mean that we'll try to shift public opinion, basing our approach in part upon finding out what people are thinking now in order to tailor our message to maximum effect in changing their minds.

Whilst this also seems to be a sensible element of a present day role for the TUC, it's odd that the demarcation that kept "day to day campaigning" out of this first chapter of the report precludes mention of the dramatic (if temporary) victory in the "battle for narrative" on 30 November, when opinion poll data showed large majority support for a strike condemned by the Government and opposed by much of the media.

The third element of the campaign is "day to day" campaigning, concerning which this chapter gives limited information about pilot projects based around clusters of marginal Parliamentary constituencies. Since it is individual unions (rather than the TUC) who have the capacity to mobilise "bodies on the ground" for campaiging activity, this is probably a more challenging element of the campaign for the TUC to develop.

The third element of the campaign appears to relate to the fourth, which is "building better campaign capacity" and this must also be challenging, given that the only funding for the campaign has been a one-off single-year 10p per member levy on affiliates which may (or may not) be repeated.

The first chapter of the report concludes by previewing the 20 October demonstration (now less than 8 weeks away) (www.afuturethatworks.org). The ability of a trade union centre formally to organise such events on behalf of the movement as a whole is a compelling justification for the continued existence of the TUC (as a body to which even the largest and most prickly trade unions will defer as they would not to each other).

I very much hope to emerge from Congress, in a little over a fortnight's time, convinced that we will - on 20 October - show, as the report almost puts it "that the scale of opposition to the austerity based policies being adopted by the Government" has not diminished since 26 March 2011.

The campaign against the Government is at the front of the report of the TUC General Council. It needs to be at the front of the work of thousands of paid officials and tens of thousands of shop stewards and activists over the coming weeks.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Solidarity with DPAC against ATOS

Next week Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) (http://www.dpac.uk.net/) are staging the ATOS Olympics (http://www.dpac.uk.net/2012/08/atos-games-opening-ceremony-monday-august-27th/) to highlight opposition to the role of ATOS in denying benefits to so many disabled people (http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/aug/02/atos-disability-benefit-tests?cat=society&type=article).



In a time when the response of the labour and trade union movement to the savage onslaught from the Tory Coalition Government has been generally less than inspiring, the emergence of new grassroots campaigning organisations have offered rare opportunities for optimism - and DPAC is a fine example of how those bearing the brunt of Tory attacks can organise, mobilise and fight back.



All trade unionists should do whatever we can to support DPAC.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Zero out of ten for neo-Blairism

I'm pleased to be one of three letter writers to the Guardian to take issue with the hardly even half-baked approach to public finance advocated by some of the Parliamentary Labour Party's leading Blairites (http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/aug/21/zero-rating-labour-young-turk?cat=politics&type=article).



Stella Creasy wants "zero-based budgets" for the public sector, and to encourage volunteers and drive out waste (http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/aug/14/labour-focus-value-for-money?cat=politics&type=article). This is all "progressive" because the poor pay more tax than the rich.



This sort of arrogant laziness and inattention to detail (and evidence) on the part of career Labour politicians did great harm to the country (and - more importantly - to working class people) whilst we were in Government. Now it can only do damage to our electoral prospects. And it will.



When each week (if not day) brings with it some new Tory outrage (the attack on social housing is still stuck in my throat) then the very last thing we need is youthful acolytes relearning their master's strategy of "triangulation".



It wasn't needed in the mid-90s when (as I remember Rodney Bickerstaffe saying more than once in our Union) John Smith would have won in 97 had he lived and without jettisoning our politics and values. It certainly isn't needed now.



The challenge to the trade union movement is how we take on and defeat these Tory fifth columnists in our ranks.

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University for sale?

Today's Guardian has both sides of the argument about privatisation in Higher Education. On page 33 a comment article makes the case for wholesale outsourcing of all the non-teaching functions of a University (http://m.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/aug/20/london-metropolitan-university-outsourcing-services?cat=education&type=article), while on page 31 the letters column provides some space for the contrary case to be made (http://m.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/aug/20/university-challenge-london-metropolitan-university?cat=education&type=article).



The author of the former article is the "principal" of a "private university" (http://www.bpp.com/bpp-university-college) and Chief Executive of BPP Professional Education group (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/BPP_Holdings) a wholly owned subsidiary of the US based Apollo Group which makes money out of education in the states - and had revenues of $4.7 billion last year. He is full of praise for the plans of the Vice-Chancellor of London Metropolitan to privatise all non-teaching jobs (except his own office of course!) He says this will allow academics to focus on teaching while creating a "centre of excellence" for support services.



The letter writers are a half dozen UNISON members working in (public-sector) higher education in London, sounding the alarm bell about those same plans - and pointing to numerous examples of privatisation disasters.



From the experience of local government it's clear that the letter writers see more clearly, perhaps because their perception isn't skewed by avarice. The private sector snake-oil salesman who persuade public sector managers they have a magic formula to save money generally do very nicely out of the contracts whether or not services improve and - when they don't - the public sector institution has less operational control and less flexibility.



The "magic formula" is to make savings at the expense of low paid workers - and UNISON activists in HE need all our support to fight this threat.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Remember Sean Rigg - Fight for Justice

Tomorrow will see an important memorial event for Sean Rigg who died in police custody in Brixton four years ago (http://www.seanriggjusticeandchange.com/Press-Releases.html).

This event comes after the damning narrative verdict of the jury at the Coroner's inquest which has rightly been described as "a victory for the voiceless and marginalised, and for the many others who have lost their lives but whose families have not been able to bring the issue to public attention." (http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/01/sean-rigg-black-men-death-custody?cat=commentisfree&type=article).

This is a victory won, more than anything, by the principled and dignified campaign of Sean's family. Their campaign for justice deserves the support of every trade unionist. The inequality and oppression we face at work, including for example institutional racism and prejudice against those using mental health services, does not arise in the workplace - it also reflects inequality in the wider society. Some manifestations of the inequality outside the workplace may be more significant for our members' lives than the workplace injustices with which we more commonly deal.

One of the most shaming of inequalities in our society is the massive over representation of black men amongst those who die in the custody of the state. Every death is a tragedy. Deaths in custody are a tragedy for which we all bear responsibility - we all need to respond.

It's long past time to end the culture of impunity which sees no one held to account when (often) vulnerable people, in the care and custody of public servants, meet an untimely end. This will not be achieved overnight - but our continued efforts to this end will be the most fitting memorial to Sean Rigg, and to all those whose lives have been snuffed out whilst they were in custody.

I hope a fair few UNISON members will attend tomorrow's memorial to show our continuing respect and solidarity to the family of Sean Rigg - and that UNISON will continue to be to the fore in the continuing fight for justice.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

What are we going to do now?

GMB members have accepted the proposals for the future of the Local Government Scheme (LGPS 2014) by 95% (http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/latest_news/95_vote_yes_for_pensions_ea.aspx#). The press release doesn't reveal the turnout, but it's a decisive result.
Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Trotwatcher) will know that I am a committed rejectionist, believing that the detrimental change to the uprating of pensions in payment, and the increase in the normal pension age, in particular make this a poor deal - and that the rapid retreat from industrial action after 30 November, and the consequent sacrificing of trade union unity, has squandered the best chance our trade unions have had in this Parliament to inflict a defeat on this Government.
However, I think it's clear that UNISON's ballot will also return an acceptance. I understand that national officials are hoping for a "yes" vote in the 80s (%) and a turnout above 25% (the latter to justify holding the ballot in the summer holidays and the former to silence critics of the decision to embark on the ballot in breach of Local Government Conference Policy). In a little over a week we'll know if they've hit these (not particularly ambitious) targets.
The left must, as ever, follow the advice of Chumbawumba and must, if knocked down, get up again. We have to turn the discontent felt by members as prices (for food, utilities and transport) spiral above our frozen pay into a willingness to take action once more.
In so doing we need to strengthen our organisation at the base of the union and build democratic rank and file organisation amongst activists so that, when we repeat the effort which brought us out last 30 November, we are better able to avoid what then happened afterwards. Part of this work will entail taking up in the union arguments about democracy, including the rights of branches to campaign and the requirement upon Service Group Executives (SGEs) to abide by Conference policies.
I hope we don't have to spend time and energy defending activists from any ill-judged action against those whose interpretation of Rule B.2.5 differs from that of the officials - but that choice is in the hands of others. I have been clear throughout that I allege that the conduct of national officials in respect of this issue have breached UNISON Rules in a number of ways. These disagreements should be debated through our democratic structures (rather than in formal investigations, or outside the union).
Whilst we need to move on to the fight against the pay freeze (alongside the endless diet of redundancies and privatisation with which we are being force-fed) we cannot simply not use the word "pensions" (that was tried and failed). I think we need to look back over the past 27 months to work out what went right, what went wrong and what could have been done better.
For the future, having conceded the link between the LGPS pension age and the state pension age, we need now to campaign for reductions in the state pension age - ideally by joining the "68 is too late" campaign. We need to swallow our pride and support wholeheartedly a campaign initiated by other unions. So-called "UNISON chauvinism" is one of our least attractive features as a trade union (and, as it is the labour movement equivalent of severe halitosis, helps explain why no other unions want to merge with us).
Having failed to fight the switch from RPI to CPI to uprate pensions in payment (the greatest theft of all) with sufficient vigour before it was implemented - and then put all our eggs in the broken basket of a legal challenge - all we can do is press for a new and better index to uprate pensions and benefits. This will also be a campaign for all unions - and many others.
On both these vital issues (which taken together mean that we have lost unequivocally on two of the three demands of our 30 November strike) we need to influence the policies of Her Majesty's Opposition as much as of her Government. UNISON Labour Link needs to raise its game to get a lower state pension age and a better index for uprating in Labour's manifesto for the next General Election.
There's a lot for UNISON activists to do, whatever next week's ballot result.


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Keeping up with the Jones on equality, rape allegations and international relations

This is a niche blog (most recently obsessed almost exclusively with the Local Government Pension Scheme).

However, like all trade union activists, I live in the wider world too. Just occasionally I feel driven to express some opinions.

Right now I want to express my support for what my comrade Owen Jones has to say about the case of Julian Assange (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/owen-jones-there-should-be-no-immunity-for-assange-from-these-allegations-8053869.html).

In a disappointing echo of the political "campism" of the Cold War there are those on the left who appear to reason that, because Julian Assange is hated by the USA we must support the argument that he need not face allegations of rape in Sweden (a country not noticeably more compliant with the wishes of the Americans than the UK).

Let's be clear. The Government of the United States of America has been, throughout my lifetime, the greatest threat to humanity on the planet. Wars fought and inspired by this greatest of imperial powers have led to countless murders - and rapes.

Julian Assange did humanity a great service in founding Wikileaks. The (more courageous) leaker, Bradley Manning did another great service. They earned the emnity of the US Government and that entitles them to support and solidarity.

But no one is entitled to impunity, least of all when accused of hate crime (in this case rape). Being a heroic opponent of the most powerful imperialist power in human history does not entitle a man to insert his penis into another person (without a condom) regardless of their stated wishes.

And if an allegation is made, in a country governed by the rule of law (even if it is a capitalist country) then due process must take place. This point is reinforced, for socialists, by the vital importance of proper investigation of every allegation of rape, which is vital to confronting the prevalence of sexual violence by men against women.

The Government and people of Ecuador are entitled to respect for their sovereignty and could probably do without patronising attacks (http://grayee.blogspot.com/2012/08/but-why-is-ecuador-protecting-rape.html?spref=tw&m=1 - I have no idea whether Ecuador is a more or less safe place to be a woman than the UK, but we shouldn't throw stones from our glass house, even at other glass houses).

However, respect for Ecuador also does not require a belief that Julian Assange does not have to answer to the allegation that he violated the bodies of other human beings by imposing himself upon them, in ways to which they did not consent.

Whilst not as gargantuan villians as the United States of America, the Metropolitan Police have certainly done many appalling things in my time and I have attended countless protests against this (all too often outside Brixton Police Station). If, however, Julian Assange steps back on British soil and they arrest him then that will be right and just.

Magna Carta established the principle that the King is not above the law. Neither is the King of Wikileaks.

Socialists who argue that allegations of rape should not be dealt with properly because of the identity of the alleged assailant have no understanding of equality.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The death agony of local government?

It is just conceivable that those of us in some Inner London boroughs, like our comrades in some Northern cities, are overly pessimistic as a result as the devastating uneven impact of Coalition Government cuts to local authority funding, which fall most heavily, by some unimaginable coincidence, upon Labour authorities with poor populations.

That said, as I work for an organisation which has shed a sixth of its workforce since the General Election, I think I'm entitled to a downbeat assessment of where the local government workforce is heading. Pay freeze, job cuts, increasing retirement age, reduced pensions, increasing workload, reducing staff. It's not good.

Those of us trying to mitigate the worst effects of Vince Cable's "savage" cuts in public spending ("required" to reduce the deficit increased by bailing out his banker friends) are generally stuck in a cleft stick because, whilst Labour Councillors will not (with noble exceptions) even consider options other than passing on the pain of Tory cuts to communities who elected them precisely to protect against this, we have no option but to encourage our members to vote Labour.

The attempts to build a socialist electoral alternative to the left of Labour have (with particular exceptions dictated by local circumstances) been a disaster - and the standing of the Green Party as a "left alternative" to Labour has been irreparably damaged in my own home town. Any good trade unionist would wish we had something better than the Labour Party as is. I do. We don't.

To a considerable extent it has been the caution and misdirection of our trade union interventions in the Labour Party over the past twenty years which have helped to ensure that the Party has been such a worthless asset for our members (for all that was achieved in three terms it was pathetically little from the point of view of workers' rights).

However, whilst our co-thinkers in a number of large trade unions are doing their best in leadership positions, the socialist left in the largest unions has nothing to crow about.

Since it is the "big three" who can exercise decisive influence at Labour Party Conference, their perennial timidity, which lay activists have been unable decisively to shift, hobbles all attempts to force "Her Majesty's Opposition" into real opposition to austerity.

We must continue to press, in every way we can, for a real trade union intervention in the Labour Party, based not upon misguided faith in this or that member of the Shadow Cabinet, but on a principled alliance with what remains of the constituency left around socialist policies. The unions have to find the courage and confidence to be consistently in opposition to the leadership.

In the mean time, many of us will have to fight against Labour employers as they continue to implement Tory cuts. Given the "community right to challenge" and the Tory obsession with privatisation our fight is no more nor less than a fight to defend the direct provision of public services.

The Government seeks a massively reduced role for the local state, with such services as are still provided contracted out to firms which are (by and large) generous donors to the Conservative Party. If they get their way they will demolish democratic local government as it developed over the last century.

Labour Councillors should oppose the Government on this point. This is one of those times when you either oppose or support. There is no middle ground. No "third way".

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Vote on the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme

Now is the time to remind UNISON members to cast their votes in the ballot concerning the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) - the LGPS 2014 proposals.

The ballot hotline is open for members who have not received ballot papers and the ballot closes at the end of next week.

The national union is pulling out the stops to get the ("YES") vote out (in line with the recommendations from four out of five Service Group Executives).

I'm not persuaded and am a convinced "NO" voter on this occasion - but the most important thing is to encourage members to vote.

This has been hard enough eight months after our single day of strike action - and has hardly been assisted by attempts to clamp down on debate and stifle dissent.

We need at least to match the turnout in the strike ballot if we want this ballot result to have real moral, as well as formal, authority.

After the ballot there will be much still to be done in relation to the LGPS. A lot of important questions (such as how "admitted body status" will change to preserve scheme membership for all staff privatised in future) remain to be resolved.

There are also other important questions raised by the conduct of the current ballot to which we shall have to turn.

The issues around the democratic rights of branches to campaign for their own local recommendations in national ballots probably need to be debated once more at National Delegate Conference 2013, since the clarity of Rule B.2.5 may be obscured when viewed from Euston Road.

Delegates to Local Government Conference 2013 will also have to consider whether they are content that their Service Group Executive (SGE) disregarded clear Conference decisions both in relation to information to be circulated with the ballot paper, and - crucially - prior publication of an Equality Impact Assessment.

I have been advised that no complaint can be made about the SGE failing to abide by Conference decisions and that this has to be raised within the Service Group. I shall happily follow this advice.

In response the constant queries from regular readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) I am also happy to report that I finally received a response late last week concerning the error in the main national UNISON leaflet describing the proposals for LGPS 2014 (about which I have blogged ad nauseam - http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-fire-safety-issue.html?m=1).

Our leaflet, still uncorrected, told our members, incorrectly, that the Coalition Government had predetermined the revaluation rate in the LGPS 2014 proposals, when the truth was that this had been part of the outcome of the negotiations which led to the proposals - with the (less generous) revaluation rate traded for a (more generous) accrual rate when compared with the Government's "reference scheme".

I have been advised by the author that "The issue you highlight was a genuine error made by myself when drafting the leaflet for members'.

Everyone can make mistakes.

I've had more gracious apologies I suppose, but you take what you can get.

Move along now.

Nothing to see here.

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Lion, the Unicorn and the Olympics

This is a bit off topic but even I have noticed that there's a big sporting event going on.

Since the Olympic opening ceremony diluted the cynicism of so many of us on the left about what had seemed a corporate jamboree, and moreso since so many medals have been won for "Team GB" by a wonderfully diverse body of athletes (answering so decisively the stupid bigotry of the BNP and EDL), many on the left have been wondering how to relate to patriotism.

The answer has always been in front of us in the words of one of our greatest - if deeply flawed - English socialists, Orwell (http://www.k-1.com/Orwell/site/work/essays/lionunicorn.html). Follow that link and read that essay if you have not.

I know that the whole world is my country and my only law is liberty - but I also know where I come from and that this place gave human history the Peasants' Revolt, the first execution of a monarch by republicans in modern times, the Levellers and Diggers, the first trade unions, the Suffragettes and the Welfare State - never mind the hard won tolerance driven by the sacrifices of those who arrived in the Empire Windrush and in so many other ways.

I also know that, from Sussex, Thomas Paine took ideas of liberty to both America and France when it mattered most.

As Orwell acknowledges in his essay, there is of course much that is shameful in the history of England and Britain. Much of this relates to Imperialism. The Union Jack has deservedly been called the "Butcher's Apron".

I'm a British Subject not proud of it, while I carry the burden of shame - but I am also an English, and therefore British, citizen in a tradition which includes all the native radicalism mentioned above in which there is much that is laudable from the perspective of human progress.

I don't stand up for "God Save the Queen" (believing in neither deity nor monarchy) but I am proud of where I come from and of the contribution to humanity made by people from the place to which I belong.

After the Olympics I look forward very much to our chasing the English Defence League's inebriated and ugly "March for England" out of Brighton next year for the last time - and to finding out whether the flabby bigots can run as fast as our diverse and multicultural Olympic athletes.

I'm not sure any of this amounts to patriotism but there's nothing wrong with pride in a place to which you have a connection.

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Solidarity with the Olympic strike for a living wage

Visitors to London over the next couple of days of the Olympics may find parking in the London Borough of Camden less financially risky, as enforcement staff employed by private contractor NSL embark upon three further days of strike action in their important fight for the London Living Wage (http://camdenunison.org.uk/2012/08/02/camden-unison-members-working-for-nsl-to-strike-on-9th-10th-and-11th-august/).



The workers, who are paid just £8.09 an hour for what is a difficult and stressful job, took industrial action on 11th & 12th July in furtherance of their claim for a living wage and better terms and conditions. They intend to repeat this well-supported action on 9th, 10th and 11th August to get NSL to see sense and ensure that the employees who help generate NSL's massive profits get a decent wage.



The link above includes details of picket lines which Londoners (or Olympic visitors) can get to to show support.



This dispute is strategically significant for the trade union movement in London and beyond and is an important opportunity further to develop the fight for a living wage.



Parking enforcement has been a sector of the economy marked by gross exploitation of marginalised workers, and some horrendous employment practices. Through slow, patient dedication union branches like Camden UNISON have helped workers to organise to the point at which this fight back is now possible.



Every trade unionist must want this strike to succeed.

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One month to Congress

The Policy Committee of UNISON's National Executive Council will today meet to agree amendments to submit to motions on the Preliminary Agenda for September's Annual Trades Union Congress (http://www.tuc.org.uk/the_tuc/tuc-21274-f0.cfm).



Congress will take place, starting one month from today, as we approach the half way point of the first (and, I hope, last) term of a Coalition Government which has taken an axe to jobs, services and the rights of workers and our unions on a scale which is unprecedented in my lifetime.



We've had one massive demonstration on 26 March last year (and I we'll do that again on 20 October) - and UNISON in particular flexed our muscles in defence of pensions last 30 November. However, a frank assessment of what we have achieved nationally, through our trade unions or the Labour Party, to protect working people from this Government since 2010 could not be positive.



The challenge which will confront delegates at Congress will be to find a way to mobilise our millions against the Government of millionaires in a way which goes beyond token or symbolic action, and which has a material impact to limit their constant attacks upon our members and communities.

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A fire safety issue?

I'd like to be in a position to publicise the answer to a long outstanding question which I asked in June about a material inaccuracy in an important national leaflet concerning the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) (about which I have blogged before - http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/pants-still-on-fire.html?m=1).



Unfortunately, not having had an answer more than six weeks after putting the question, I still can't.



Since I'm naturally concerned about the health and safety implications of a conflagration of nether garments, I wondered about contacting the Fire Brigades Union - but they're busy campaigning for their members in the LGPS to reject the LGPS 2014 proposals because they concede the link to state pension age (http://www.fbu.org.uk/?p=5720).

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Ten weeks to get ready for the next steps in the fight with this Government





Here is the window of my workplace proudly showing off the only slightly bizarre "footwear oriented" publicity for the TUC demonstration on 20 October which was launched at UNISON Conference (we're considering a health and safety disclaimer since we can't really mean that people should march in high heels or flip flops!)

With just a little over ten weeks until the demonstration which we need to be a massive show of opposition to a Government which has done more harm to our people in the last two years than we could have imagined, it's time to start mobilising members seriously to achieve the turnout that we need.

Activists were in our office today collecting leaflets (and membership forms) for office walkabouts. We'll also need street stalls and leaflet drops in our communities as well as our workplaces. It's easy to be cynical (and if you've read this blog before that'll be part of why you've come back) but it's critical that we maximise attendance at this demonstration.

There are all sorts of debates to be had about how we go forward, beyond 20 October to take national action against the Government - and whether we can hope to mobilise members again as we did on 30 November last year. There are also valid debates about the political strategy for the movement. These debates need to take place.

However, the first and most important thing to do next is to ensure the largest possible attendance on the 20 October demonstration. Keep up with developments at http://www.unison.org.uk/20102012/ and pledge to join the demonstraton at http://afuturethatworks.org/pledge-to-join-us/.

Another way to ignore UNISON Conference policy and break UNISON Rules...

The accident-prone ballot of UNISON members expected, according to the script, to deliver a resounding acceptance of proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) has hit another problem.

The LGPS 2014 proposals acquiesce in an increasing pension age and the uprating of pensions in a way which reduces their value by 15% (thanks to the use of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than the Retail Price Index (RPI) for uprating).

However, the Unions's Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE) has recommended that members vote to accept the scheme and - in consequence of this recommendation - some over zealous officials have been making dark threats of action against elected branch officers implementing locally agreed policies to campaign for rejection.

I've blogged before about why, in general, this unnecessary heavy handedness is contrary to UNISON Rules, and also about the lamentable failure of officials to comply with a clear Conference decision that an Equality Impact Assessment of the proposals should be published before we balloted members.

Today I had the misfortune to read an unsolicited pamphlet produced jointly by the trade unions and employers, which reproduces wholesale misleading "examples" comparing benefits under the current and proposed LGPS - which were subject of criticism by UNISON's Local Government Conference.

Local Government Conference agreed Emergency Composite Motion Three as follows;
 
"Conference notes that proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) were released on 31 May 2012.
 
Conference further notes that the factsheet "LGPS 2014 - Examples", published on UNISON's website on 31 May uses different assumptions for price and earnings growth than those used in the UNISON pensions calculator publicised in protect our pensions newsletters and used in the run up to our ballot for industrial action on pensions.
 
Conference believes that, in the interests of consistency and transparency we should use the same assumptions in published examples illustrating the LGPS 2014 as we used in the pensions calculator.
 
Conference therefore resolves to instruct the Service Group Executive to ensure that the examples published to date are reissued to reflect the same assumptions as those which underpinned our pensions calculator, and that these are issued to all branches, pensions contacts and with the ballot paper."
 
Not only has the SGE failed to comply with the specific instruction to ensure that such examples were issued with the ballot paper but the Union has circulated bulk copies of the joint trade union-employer document on LGPS 2014 which repeats precisely those "examples" to which reference was made in the Emergency Composite.
 
In accordance with Rule D.3.5.1, the SGE's overall control of Service Group policy is subject to the powers of the Group Conference which, in accordance with Rule D.3.4.2, determines the policy of the Service Group. 
 
The SGE has failed to implement Conference policy to ensure that the examples published to date are reissued to reflect the same assumptions as those which underpinned our pensions calculator, and that these are issued to all branches, pensions contacts and with the ballot paper.

It's a good job that I'm still in a good mood after a lovely holiday or I might be slightly irritated by the time I have to waste responding to misrepresentation and misinformation issued in breach of UNISON Rules.

No informed observer genuinely believes that the LGPS 2014 proposals (taken in the round and considering the changes to pension age and pension uprating) are truly better than LGPS 2008. The real reason why national officials want us to accept is that they lack confidence in our ability to fight on for a better deal.

That's a point of view. It ought to be honestly expressed so that it can be reasonably debated.

That's the debate we should have had but have been denied by persistent refusal to comply with the Rules of our Union.

Which is a shame.

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A voyage into the past over pensions

For those who believe that the world began to go down hill with Khrushchev's "secret speech" in 1956 (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Cult_of_Personality_and_Its_Consequences), you will be able to treasure the latest contribution to "debate" on pensions over at UNISON Anonymous (http://unisonactive.blogspot.com/2012/08/unisons-lgps-ballot-questions-of.html).



A blogger so proud of their views that they won't put their name to them attempts to savage (with all the vigour of a dead sheep) unnamed adversaries who "trumpet their flawed "interpretation" in the blogosphere."



This irrelevant failure to intervene in the debate about the LGPS proposals which we ought to be having fails to reflect either UNISON Rules or clear Conference policy on democracy and the rights of branches - UNISON Anonymous clearly hold to a model of internal democracy based upon the CPSU sixty years ago. That's not what makes the author of the blogpost a hypocrite though (just an authoritarian).



There's room in our movement for those who believe in democratic centralism just as there should be for libertarian socialists (or, for that matter, anarchists).



What is truly breathtaking is the chutzpah which enables the unknown commentator to claim that the Local Government SGE recommendation strictly follows on from Local Government Conference policy.



Hello?



Equality Impact Assessment?



Emergency Motion 5?



Clearly the anonymous blogger doesn't care about equalities, or about Conference decisions.



Spitting venom online is never attractive or persuasive, but if you're going to dribble it down your own chin like that comrades I guess I understand why you wish to remain anonymous!

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Monday, August 06, 2012

The Rights and Wrongs of branches and ballots

As I return to work from my summer holidays, I am walking back into the continuing dispute about whether it is proper for UNISON officials to seek to cajole branch activists into campaigning exclusively in support of the recommendation of "their" Service Group Executive (SGE) in the current ballot over proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) even where their branch has clearly and democratically adopted a different position.

I don't intend to let this dominate my time. I think the position is clear and that it is illegitimate, and in breach of UNISON Rules, for officials to have been instructed to conduct themselves in this way.

I think there are two particularly important points. The first is of general application and the second applies specifically to the current ballot and to the case of the Local Government Service Group.

First, Rule B.2.5 commits us "to promote and safeguard the rights of members to have an adequate opportunity to participate in the initiation and development of policy making through... (inter alia) ...ballots" and further commits us to "encourage maximum debate."

Whilst these exhortations are qualified by the observation that we must be "acting within the rules and agreed policy", I think it is self-evident that when our chosen mechanism for policy-making is a member ballot, that there cannot be said to be an "agreed policy" ahead of the declaration of the ballot result.

I think that Rule B.2.5 is sufficiently clear on this point that there is no need for any "interpretation", but even if there were, our National Delegate Conference (the "supreme government" of the Union in accordance with Rule D.1.1) considered this question in 2008 and affirmed the rights of branches to make and campaign for recommendations in ballots.

Even if it were legitimate for this matter to be considered in accordance with Rule A.2.2 (the NEC power to interpret the Rules), as has been suggested (and which I would dispute), the final sentence of Rule D.2.1 (which makes clear that the NEC is generally subordinate to Conference) would apply so as to rule out an interpretation of our Rules which seeks to prohibit branches from making, and campaigning for, recommendations.

Secondly, and in the particular case of the Local Government Service Group and the current ballot, officials cannot rely upon Rule D.3.1.4 to assert that there is "Service Group Policy" in relation to this ballot because the ballot itself is taking place outwith the agreed policy of the Service Group.

This year's Service Group Conference called for the publication of an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) into the proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme before any ballot of members (and took no other explicit decision about the timetable for the ballot).

This Service Group Conference decision became the policy of the Service Group in accordance with Rule D.3.4.2 and, as the first clause of Rule D.3.5.1 makes clear, the Service Group Executive has no authority to overrule Conference policy.

The SGE can hardly properly have determined Service Group policy as to how members should vote in the ballot (even if Rule B.2.5 permitted this, which I do not accept) when, on a proper reading of the policy of the Service Group Conference, the ballot ought not to be taking place at present because the EIA has not been published.

I shall continue to campaign, as a branch official, in line with branch policy. Most important now though is that we encourage members to participate in the ballot. The higher the turnout the better. Whether you think this a good deal or a poor one, whether - like me - you think we should take further action for a better deal alongside other public sector workers or whether you think such action implausible and that we must swallow what is on offer - now is the time to vote.

And when the ballot result is declared, then there will be an "agreed policy" for us all to abide by. 

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Coded criticism of pensions ballot from within the UNISON Centre?

Yesterday's circular to UNISON's Local Government branches from the UNISON Centre was LG/39/2012  "Introducing a Living Wage in Local Government - The Equalities Considerations". It dealt with Equality considerations in relation to the introduction of the Living Wage for local authority employees.



It advised branches as follows; "It will be necessary to assess the equality impact of every proposal under consideration to verify the assumption that the introduction of a Living Wage will secure improved pay for women and narrow the gender pay gap."



It's clear that branches are (quite rightly) being advised to carry out this work before putting any proposal to their members in a ballot.



Given the timing of this circular, in the first week of the ballot on the proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS 2014), which is taking place in the absence of an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) (and on the basis of precisely the sort of unverified assumptions which are criticised in the circular - http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/pensions-how-to-ignore-conference.html?m=1), it's hard not to see this as a very clear implied criticism of the handling of the Pensions ballot.



Given that the holding of the Pensions ballot without an EIA puts the whole exercise in breach of Local Government Conference Policy, this (barely) coded criticism of the conduct of the LGPS Ballot from officials within the UNISON Centre is both timely and appropriate.


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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Pants still on fire?

Following my blog post a week ago about the persistent failure of national officials to respond to a simple query about a material inaccuracy in the main UNISON leaflet providing information about the proposals for the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS 2014) (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/pants-on-fire.html?m=1) I would like to be able to tell you that I have received a full and honest response.



Unfortunately I can't.



I would not in any case have been impressed by attempts to dragoon branches and activists into supporting recommendations from "their" Service Group Executives (SGEs) in the current ballot (not least because such attempts contravene UNISON Rule B.2.5 and because - in the case of the Local Government Service Group at least - the ballot is now proceeding in breach of Conference policy).



I am particularly unimpressed to see such an authoritarian over reaction in the context of the mixture of arrogance and incompetence exhibited by the failure to reply to a simple question which I put to national officials on 27 June.



It's a good job I am having a relaxing holiday or I would be quite out of sorts.

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