Thursday, September 27, 2012

More than just a walk in the park

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



Possible, but wrong.



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



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



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



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



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

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Monday, September 24, 2012

What is the point of the labour movement?

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

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Recruitment crisis?

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



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



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



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



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

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Spoof Tory and the poor rich

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



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



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



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



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



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



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

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Oh Brother!

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



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



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



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



Brothers need to make room for sisters.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Slack Blogger

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



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



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



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



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



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



But I won't.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bob Crow and the Queen's Arse

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



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



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



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



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

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Monday, September 10, 2012

At last! The EIA on the LGPS

In comedy, timing is everything.



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



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



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



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

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Why is there a General Council statement on banking?

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



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



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



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

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

UNISON backs the POA

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



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



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



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



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



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



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

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Saturday, September 08, 2012

Why UNISON should back the POA at the TUC

I blogged yesterday about Motion 5 to the forthcoming TUC, from the Prison Officers Association (POA) which calls for our movement to "lead from the front against this uncaring Government" with campaigns "including the consideration and practicalities of a General Strike."

Some commentators, with whom I share many views, are predicting that UNISON will decide to oppose this motion (http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/struggles-on-the-agenda-at-tuc/).

UNISON will decide its position on this Motion at our delegation meeting tomorrow. I am sure the delegation will be guided by advice, but we have no position from the Policy Committee of our National Executive Council (NEC) which deferred a decision.

I think that UNISON should support Motion 5 for both formal and pragmatic reasons.

Formally, our TUC delegation should vote at Congress in line with policies adopted by our National Delegate Conference - and it seems to me that Motion 5 breaches no UNISON Conference policy and is, in fact, consistent with UNISON policy.

Somewhat unhelpfully the online record of decisions of our most recent National Delegate Conference is, today, unavailable (http://cms.unison.co.uk/Decisions.asp?ConferenceID=277&OrderBy=AgendaID). (If any reader believes that any decision of that Conference would provide a basis for opposition to the POA this week please explain.)

It is, however, possible to refer online to a Conference decision from 2011 (http://cms.unison.co.uk/MotionText.asp?DocumentID=1001980) by which tomorrow's meeting of UNISON's TUC delegation should be guided;

"Conference believes that UNISON must play a leading role in challenging the Government's policies and in campaigning to defend public services. UNISON members are in the front line: not only is it our members' jobs and terms and conditions that are being cut, UNISON members will often be the ones who speak out most loudly in defence of those in receipt of the services they provide - the very young, the old, the sick, the most vulnerable in our society. However, Conference also recognises that UNISON will not be able to win such a campaign on its own. Success will depend upon forging strong alliances - with our members, with other unions, with users of services and their families, with communities and other stakeholders including the student movement."

The decision went on to call upon the Union to "prepare for co-ordinated lawful strike action in defence of public services across service groups and alongside other unions within UNISON rules and organise and build local action in defence of services, including, demonstrations and rallies; and supporting UNISON branches and other trades unions taking lawful industrial action and to promote and support co-ordinated action at local and regional and national level across service groups and between trade unions."

I think therefore that from a purely formal and constitutional point of view, our delegation should support the POA's Motion 5, since it seeks to urge, from the TUC, action consistent with UNISON Conference policy (and it will be for the TUC to interpret and apply the motion if it is passed).

There is also a less formal, pragmatic argument worthy of consideration. Congress is as much about the perception of its decisions as it is about their detail (or subsequent implementation).

Right at this moment, at the half way point of a Parliament in which the Government has done us more damage than ever before, and as the pressure of a pay freeze on the living standards of our members becomes intolerable, we need the TUC to be seen to take a strong position.

And with UNISON membership slipping as we run to stand still in the face of the gathering avalanche of redundancies and job losses, UNISON needs to be seen to be in the fore in taking this strong position.

From every point of view, UNISON should come out in support of Motion 5.

I hope we do.

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Friday, September 07, 2012

The General Council and the General Strike

One of the burdens borne by our leaders is the responsibility of determining the policy of the General Council of the TUC on motions submitted to Congress.



Motion 5 from the stalwarts of the Prison Officers Association (POA) (the one TUC affiliate whose right to strike is repeatedly called into question) has caused some consternation, with a split vote in which UNISON abstained.



Motion 5 calls for our movement to "lead from the front against this uncaring Government" with campaigns "including the consideration and practicalities of a General Strike."



As vague as this form of words is, I can't imagine it ever getting past the Standing Orders Committee at UNISON Conference, since, on a good day, in the right light, and from certain angles, it might be taken to imply support for unlawful industrial action.



I understand why UNISON delegates (and others) abstained at the General Council (which split 16-16 on whether to support Motion 5). It's not unreasonable to say that UNISON policy is made through UNISON's structures and not on the hoof by our General Council members.



We will, however, have to vote one way or another at Congress and, bearing in mind both that Congress has no authority to instruct affiliates and that a motion says what it actually says (not what its movers say they mean for example) I can see nothing to oppose in Motion 5.



The POA are right. Our movement should "lead from the front" and we should be considering a General Strike. The politics of UNISON's decision on this motion are simple. Are we going to take the side of forthright criticism of the Government or we to be seen to be for moderating and limiting opposition?



We shall see.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Solidarity with London Met


I’m not in London tomorrow to support the protest being organised in solidarity with the international students at London Metropolitan University whose lives have been turned upside down by the decision of the UK Border Agency to withdraw from London Met the right to authorise non-EU students to study here.

The members of UNISON and UCU at London Met have made a robust response and sympathetic MPs have tabled an Early Day Motion – get your MP to sign EDM 437 now (you can contact them easily online). The attack on London Met threatens the interests of students and staff across higher education.

Members accept pensions deal


Last week’s publication of the result of the ballot of UNISON members on the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS 2014) demonstrated a decisive majority to accept, with a 90% yes vote on a 20% turnout. There is now a clear UNISON policy, determined by UNISON members, to accept the LGPS 2014 proposals.

Whilst there will be continuing negotiation on various important points of detail (and likely debate about certainaspectsof the conduct of the debate) this development takes local government workers out of whatever was left of the unified fight around public service pensions which we were waging last 30 November.

Overall, the Government have secured significant reductions in the value of our pensions, most notably through the successful imposition of the change in uprating of pensions in payment announced in June 2010.

This was an attack which revealed a great deal about the ambition of this Government, since it was made in the context of an “Emergency Budget” aiming to close the deficit in the lifetime of one Parliament, yet it is an ever increasing cumulative reduction in the value of future pensions which will save the Government and employers far more in twenty years time than it ever could in this Parliament (as is explained in this Parliamentary briefing paper).

A fortnight after that attack was made, I pointed out that the TUC’s initial responsedid not suggest a fight back.

It was another five months before a campaigning response emerged on this issue.

Although we referred to the question of uprating in our materials in the run up to the 30 November strike we had, by that time, more or less committed ourselves to a hopeless legal challenge.

I won’t go on at great length on this topic as I did that a few months ago, but it is obvious that we missed an opportunity to fight sooner and harder against a measure which will transfer an estimated £83 billion pounds out of the hands of retired workers over the period 2011-26 (including those who are otherwise “protected” as they are within ten years of retirement).

In the two years since the Government announced this massive theft from working people, our movement has not grown stronger. If we now seriously mean to resist the continuing pay freeze we need to find a different approach.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Inside the velvet glove

As the savage assault upon working class living standards and vital public services steps up a gear, the iron fist is glimpsed within the velvet glove of consultation and "community engagement" by the police.



Yesterday the boys and girls in blue were assaulting disabled protesters(http://www.dpac.uk.net/2012/09/needed-witness-statements-for-31st-police-response-outside-dwp/).



Today they tried to escort a bedraggled gaggle of far right lager louts through East London whilst kettling the local community who had turned out to protect themselves (http://marxpostings.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/edl-humiliated-in-walthamstow.html?spref=tw&m=1).



Meanwhile down here on the south coast they kettled peaceful anti-cuts protesters with the apparent collusion of the organisers of Brighton Pride (http://bethgranter.com/blog/2012/09/queers-against-cuts-mistreatment-at-brighton-pride-statement-from-organiser/).



The forces of "law and order" exist to maintain social order, and in an exploitative class-divided society that means keeping a lid on those who resist our rulers, while protecting those far right stooges of the ruling class whose function is to try to divide and weaken us.



Not all individual police officers are necessarily deliberately pursuing this course of action - and many are aware of their shared interests with other public servants. Anyone with a simplistic "anti-police" point of view needs to study the history of the 1919 police strike (http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/Latest/Police.html).



However, as the inadequacy of Parliamentary and industrial opposition to this reactionary Government forces us more and more on to the streets, we can expect more kettling, more assaults and more unjustified arrests.



Be careful out there!

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