Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sussex University is a disgrace

Let me quickly qualify that.

The people who work at Sussex University are not a disgrace (a few senior managers excepted).

The students who study at Sussex University are not a disgrace.

In particular, the students who have staged a long running occupation against privatisation are not only not a disgrace, they are a fine example to us all.

It is, however, disgraceful that the overpaid bureaucrats who squat above the worthwhile endeavour of the students and staff teaching and studying in the Sussex countryside opposite the Amex Stadium have spent public money litigating to evict the occupiers (http://www.badgeronline.co.uk/2013/03/high-court-eviction/).

As a taxpayer and Brightonian I want to say that this abusive use of public money to silence legitimate dissent is not done in my name.

As a local lad I want to say that the senior managers of Sussex University who wasted our money on this reactionary frolic deserve forever to be unwelcome in our town. I suggest they go and live somewhere where their reactionary views will be accepted.

The Eighteenth Century suggests itself.

As a socialist and a trade unionist I want to say that the students who have carried out the occupation are an inspiration - and that every trade unionist who has supported them can be proud (whilst others should feel otherwise).

As a Labour Party member I want to record that local Labour Party members supported the occupation - and I want to demand that Labour's leadership pledges to reverse privatisation when we win the next General Election.

The plague of privatisation of our public services is striking us down throughout the public sector. The exemplary resistance of the Sussex students stands as a beacon of resistance for which we should all be grateful.

The senior management of Sussex University may be a disgrace - but some of their students are a great and positive example. I know that the Sussex occupation has already provided many labour movement activists with inspiration.

All true trade unionists will have been on the side of the occupiers. Others may have done otherwise.

So, maybe Sussex University is not a disgrace. Perhaps it is just that there are some disgraceful people in senior positions.

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Defend Cllr Kevin Bennett – no victimisation of councillors who oppose cuts

This post is reposted from Councillors Against the Cuts (http://councillorsagainstcuts.org/2013/03/27/defend-cllr-kevin-bennett-no-victimisation-of-councillors-who-oppose-cuts/).



"We have just heard that Cllr Kevin Bennett of Warrington Council and UNITE will face a proposal from the Labour whips of Warrington Labour Group that he is suspended from the Labour Group.



Unite the Union have pledged their full support for Kevin and they are promising a lobby at the Town Hall at the time of the hearing.



It would be good if as many opponents of the cuts in the area could join this lobby organised by Unite.



The hearing of the Warrington Labour Group will be on Thursday 4th April, at the Warrington Town Hall, Sankey Street, Warrington, Cheshire. The lobby will start at 6pm in advance of the hearing which is scheduled to start at 6:30pm.



It was right for 44 MPs to rebel last week against the whips on the issue of Workfare. It is right for councillors who oppose cuts. Messages  of support can be sent to councillorsagainstcuts@gmail.com and will be relayed to Kevin.



No victimisation of councillors who oppose cuts. Solidarity with Councillor Kevin Bennett."



I would only add that all trade unions - and particularly those of us organising in local government - should defend the Councillors prepared to vote against the cuts which we oppose.



UNISON members can of course do our bit by prioritising for debate Motion 42 to our National Delegate Conference.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Filled with horror" at local government cuts? Bring the debate about an alternative to UNISON Conference

Today's news report on local government spending cuts tells local government workers what we already know (http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/25/council-cuts-local-government-knees).



When Council Leaders go on the record to say that the budget cuts which they will be implementing "fill them with horror" you know that things are bad.



But you also have to ask the obvious question - "why are you doing it?" It wasn't the users (or the staff) of our Day Centres or Libraries who brought the global economy to its knees and forced us to bail out the banks.



Why should decent, social democratic local politicians who got involved to make a positive difference for local communities now find their role is to be the transmission belt whereby the Coalition Government can impose the burden of the financial crisis upon some of the most vulnerable?



I can't answer for those who are prepared to do things which "fill them with horror" but I would hazard a guess that what's missing, in the Labour Party and the wider movement is confidence that there is an alternative strategy for a progressive local authority other than to deliver savings to meet cuts in central government funding (whilst trying to minimise the damage).



This is why the challenge posed by "Councillors Against the Cuts" (http://councillorsagainstcuts.org/) is so important. By putting forward an alternative, Councillors Against Cuts open up space for the debate which needs to take place about Labour's strategy for local government in the remainder of this Parliament (and beyond).



This, in turn, is why UNISON activists should campaign to prioritise Motion 42 (Councillors Against Cuts) for debate at UNISON National Delegate Conference. The Conference doesn't take place until June - but Regions are being consulted on their priorities by the Standing Orders Committee now (and should in turn be consulting branches).

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Monday, March 25, 2013

A modest but significant victory for workers

The decision of the Employment Tribunal in the case of UNISON v Capita (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=3015) is very welcome - particularly to your blogger, who was a witness for UNISON in the case.

The tribunal judge upheld our complaint that the employer had failed to provide information about agency workers as required by law in a collective redundancy situation. He went on to make a "protective award" of 45 days pay in respect of the 30 workers who ended up being made redundant when Capita moved Lambeth Council's caller centre to Southampton.

The eventual value of this award isn't as important as the clarity of the decision itself. Of course it may be appealed (as I understand the earlier decision against Barnet Council may have been) but it is a robust and well argued decision, so I'll go out on a limb and say I expect it to stand - particularly in relation to its finding on liability.

Employment Judge Baron notes that employers may not like subsections (g), (h) and (i) of subsection 4 of section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which were introduced, with effect from October 2011, by the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 - but they are the law (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/93/schedule/2/paragraph/4/made).

In any collective redundancy situation (and also, as a result of a similar amendment to TUPE) in any transfer situation, the employer must disclose to the trade union details of all their agency workers. Critically, Employment Judge Baron observes that - whereas at the time Capita made the mistake in this case the legislation was fairly new - now "there can be no excuse" for employers who fail to maintain a central list of agency workers so as to be able to meet their legal duties in the event of a future collective redundancy consultation.

All activists can draw this tribunal decision to the attention of employers in order to put them on notice of the requirement to provide agency worker information in the event of a collective redundancy or transfer consultation (of course you can also try to get them to share the information regularly and routinely in any case!)

If the employers subsequently fail to comply with the law in this regard, the fact that the union has put them on notice of their obligation should help to persuade a tribunal to award closer to the maximum "protective award" of 90 days' pay.

This too can be pointed out to employers to force from them information about their use of agency workers (which we can then use to try to avert redundancies, both directly - by substituting redundant employees for agency workers - and, more importantly, indirectly, by putting pressure on employers to limit their use of agency staff).

Trade unionists ought not, of course, to be opposed to agency workers (and we are not) - but we are opposed to the deliberate segmentation of the labour market by employers seeking to "divide and rule" between a "flexible" periphery of insecure workers and a (slightly!) more secure "core" workforce. In essence, we should - and do - campaign for all workers to have the rights of employees.

However, at a time of job losses we rightly seek to minimise the use of agency workers where this will, in general or in particular, reduce the risk of redundancies. This tribunal decision is a small but important asset to us in that endeavour.

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will understand that I am cheerful about this tribunal decision as I have been banging on about the subject for some time (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/section-188-and-agency-workers.html?m=1).

If any trade unionist would like a copy of the tribunal decision, let me know.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

UNISON support for the election of officials?

Respect to the Dudley General branch of UNISON, who have got Motion 111 (Election of Paid Officers) on to the agenda for UNISON's 20th National Delegate Conference.

This promises a return to a debate last visited sixteen years ago, in UNISON's infancy, about whether senior paid officials should be elected or appointed.

In 1995 Conference had voted down a call for the election of the position of Deputy General Secretary, which was mischeviously, but effectively, caricatured as an attack upon the then incumbent (now, of course, our General Secretary).

In 1996, in an unexpected card vote, Conference had come within an inch of supporting the principle of the election of Regional Secretaries, but when the subject was revisited in 1997, following preparation on all sides, the proposal was more decisively rejected in spite of an excellent "right of reply" from your not-at-all-humble blogger.

Thereafter other issues captured our attention, including the epic battles over UNISON's disciplinary rules which were the shadow boxing in this dimension of the private battles over the late 90s witch hunt. The question of the election of officials slipped somewhat down the agenda after the defeat in 1997.

In recent years every attempt to approach this question on the Conference agenda has been ruled out of order, so it is greatly to Dudley's credit that they have persevered and now enable us to consider the question afresh.

The issue of democracy in our movement is almost as old as our movement itself. The "iron law of oligarchy" holds that, as a workers movement appoints skilled administrators to coordinate its work, so it also creates a caste of officials, seperate from the workers, with their own distinct interests, and needing to be held to account (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law_of_oligarchy).

There have long been two schools of thought about how to achieve this accountability, whether by strong lay Committees controlling paid officials or by direct election.

From my personal observation of a decade on UNISON's ruling body, I have to conclude that, at least for us, and at least for now, the former approach is ineffective and the latter commends itself. I support Motion 111 and shall seek to persuade my NEC comrades to do likewise (though, I have to admit, without holding my breath).

Other TUC affiliates go further than electing only their General Secretary (which is, of course, required by law) and - in the cases of both the FBU and the NUT - elections of Deputy General Secretaries from the left have, in recent years, seen those successful candidates go on to become General Secretary.

Elections are good enough for lay activists and there can be no reason, in principle, why they should not be good enough for leading officials. Indeed, when you think about it, every argument which can be marshalled against the election of union officials could be (and often was) used to argue against representative democracy based on a universal franchise.

If, as a citizen, I have a democratic voice to choose legislators, why, as a worker, ought I not to have such a voice to choose negotiators?

Some rumour-mongers are suggesting that the UNISON Centre has been deliberately keeping the position of Deputy General Secretary (DGS) (which is a Rule Book requirement yet has been vacant for eight months - http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/sonnet-bows-out.html?m=1) vacant so that the option of electing a DGS could be considered.

Others say that any such suggestion is the invention of irresponsible bloggers.

I wouldn't want to comment...

(Except to say that electing a Deputy General Secretary would be a very good thing for UNISON).

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Councillors Against the Cuts? Don't Panic! Prioritise Motion 42!

Those of us approaching a certain age, and distancing ourselves with the passage of time from a teenage love of radio science fiction comedy, have always known that the answer to "Life, the Universe and Everything" was "42" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/hitchhikers/).



It now turns out that the Lambeth branch motion about "Councillors Against the Cuts" which has been admitted to the agenda for UNISON National Delegate Conference - and about which I blogged a little while ago - is Motion 42. (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/councillors-against-cuts-priority-for.html?m=1 - follow this link for the text of the motion).



In the light of this information, I think only a Vogon (http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/hitchhikers/guide/vogon.shtml) would not want to see Motion 42 debated at UNISON National Delegate Conference.



For those readers of a more serious disposition (regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger) I would add that Motion 42, in calling for a debate about how councils and councillors should respond to Coalition cuts, addresses a question of vital importance to our members.



However you can influence the Conference prioritisation process - please prioritise Motion 42!

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On Saturday - support the Barnet Spring!

This Saturday there is an opportunity for people around London - and beyond - to support the long running struggle of the citizens and workers of Barnet against privatisation (http://barnetalliance.org/barnet-spring/).



All those who can should gather at Finchley Central tube station at 11am on Saturday 23 March to show support for the people of Barnet - and opposition to the Council's plans for massive privatisation on an unprecedented scale.



The campaign initiated by Barnet UNISON has spread into the wider community, with political consequences for the Tory Party which have included the decline (http://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/the_barnet_spring_prompts_brian_coleman_s_political_fall_from_grace_1_1384148) and fall (http://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/barnet_councillor_brian_coleman_kicked_off_council_committees_over_assault_charge_1_1685117) of Brian Coleman.



For Barnet's Tories to lose a leading Councillor (and former Mayor) may of course be considered a misfortune - to then lose a Chief Executive last October (http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/oct/05/barnet-easycouncil-chief-quits) looked like carelessness.



But they're pressing ahead with mass outsourcing of services to swell the coffers of Capita at the expense of local people - even in the face of a legal challenge to the adequacy of consultation (http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/19/barnet-council-high-court-budget-cuts).



Because, of course, the Tories couldn't care less about many vital local services and those who depend upon them.



The long war which has been fought by the workforce and community in Barnet to resist the wholesale destruction of local government as a public service is an example to every local community facing such threats - that's why all our communities must be represented in Barnet on Saturday.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Support the Budget Day Strike!

Solidarity to members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) taking strike action today (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/national-campaigns/action-now/index.cfm).



PCS are rightly protesting at cuts to pay, pensions and working conditions - and have sensibly concluded that well timed strike action (on budget day!) must be part of such a campaign.



The same is true in UNISON.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Whipped to abstain???

Today Labour MPs were whipped to abstain on legislation being rushed through Parliament to let the Government off the hook of repaying those whose benefits have been unlawfully docked because they wouldn't participate in the pointless, pernicious workfare scheme (http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?p=2296).

Whipped to abstain???

It sounds like the latest literary offering from the author of some dubious soft porn (fifty shades of Progress?), but apart from that, really, what does it mean?

Was it so vitally important that "Her Majesty's Opposition" failed to oppose (whilst of course not supporting) this disgraceful Government action that our MPs had to be instructed to sit on their hands?

Perhaps this was the perfect expression of the bankrupt politics of the Blairite "Third Way" (to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its defining achievement?) - we shall neither join the attack on the poor, nor shall we defend them (except that if we won't defend those who are vulnerable then of course we do line up with those attacking them).

I really do understand why this pathetic display of cowardice and stupidity from Mr Ed and his shadow cabinet of fools could drive good people to consider the invitation from Ken Loach to contemplate forming a new left political party (http://leftunity.org/appeal/).

There were, however, 40 Labour rebels who voted as any Labour MP should have (http://labourlist.org/2013/03/labours-40-welfare-sanctions-rebels/).

That's far and away the largest group of opponents of this disgraceful legislation (just as Labour MPs were the largest group of opponents of the Iraq war ten years ago).

If we are going to build an opposition to this Government of millionaires which has more than a toehold in Parliament (as we must) then we shall find our allies on the Labour benches.

Those who embark upon yet another episode in the never-ending soap opera of building an electoral alternative to the left of Labour don't need to be "whipped to abstain" from effective politics because they abstain voluntarily.

That said, socialists in the Labour Party must now foment a rebellion against the pathetic, idiotic and reactionary decision openly to capitulate to the Tories as was done today.

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Take action now against NHS privatisation

This is a brief and simple post.



Click on this link now to spend a few minutes lobbying your MP to resist the privatisation of our National Health Service - http://action.goingtowork.org.uk/page/speakout/nhs-privatisation-help-call-for-real-debate-on-new-nhs-plans.



That is all.



(If you're reading this blog and don't get that you're in the wrong place!)

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Support Cleaners at SOAS

I have been passed the following urgent appeal from Sandy Nicoll, Secretary of the UNISON Branch at the School of Oriental and African Studies;



"SOAS Justice for Cleaners Lobby of SOAS Governing Body Outsourced Contracts Working Group

Wednesday 20 March 2013, 1pm, Main SOAS Building



The decision on whether our members working for the cleaning contractors will be brought back in house, a move supported by over 98% of the 1,300 staff and students who took part in the SOAS Community Consultative Referendum held last December, will be taken in the next few months.



The Working Group set up by Governing Body to look into this issue will be meeting on Wednesday 20 March and a very important lobby of this meeting has been called by the SOAS Justice for Cleaners Campaign supported by the SOAS UNISON branch.



We are asking you if you could:



1. Attend the lobby at 1pm and email your branches to encourage other members to attend;



2. Write to your local UCU branches asking for them to do the same;



3. Write or email your support for the Campaign to Donald Beaton, SOAS Registrar and Secretary who is coordinating the Working Group (d.beaton@soas.ac.uk).



We are hoping that if we can show the strength of feeling that exists over this issue then the School will have to take note and end the discrimination these workers face. We have fought long and hard to ensure that outsourced workers at SOAS are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. We will also be hosting a speaker from the Sussex occupation the same evening (details to follow). We may be heading in that direction if the School doesn't begin to move!"



I can't attend tomorrow's lobby but have sent an email as requested - please do the same!

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Monday, March 18, 2013

The Spirit of 1941?

I really enjoyed seeing Ken Loach's new film, "the Spirit of 45" - it is a great tribute to the achievements of the Attlee Labour Government (which were achievements of our class).



However, in the light of Ken Loach's call for a new political party (http://leftunity.org/appeal/) it is perhaps interesting to note that, missing fron Ken's history of the period is any reference to the "Common Wealth" Party (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Pcommonwealth.htm) - founded in 1941 in opposition to Labour's wartime pact with the Tories. How did they do in 1945 and thereafter?



Indeed, Ken is pretty quiet about all the other various attempts to build an alternative to the Labour Party, from the departure of the Social Democratic Federation in the early years of the twentieth century, past the tragic split by the Independent Labour Party in the early 1930s, through to the Socialist Alliance in this century.



Sorry to be predictable, but I think our task is to try to reclaim the Labour Party rather than (or at least before) trying to replace it.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Councillors Against the Cuts - a priority for UNISON Conference

I'll blog a report of tomorrow's Councillors Against the Cutsmeeting in Birmingham later in the weekend.

Today's news is that the following motion, from the Lambeth Branch (and perhaps others?) has been approved by the Standing Orders Committee for admission to the Preliminary Agenda for UNISON's National Delegate Conference.

The motion is cautiously worded (following an experience of having a straightforwardly "anti-cuts" motion calling for deficit budgets ruled out of order a few years ago). It is of course open to amendment if comrades feel that is needed (although it would be wise to have regard to the guidance which is available on drafting Conference motions and amendments!)

The first thing which needs to be done is that the motion needs to be prioritised for debate. This means that branches need to put it forward as a high priority to their Regions (each Region, as well as Service Groups, Self-Organised Groups and the NEC can express up to twelve priorities - I won't go on at length about the prioritisation process as you can search the archives of this blog if you want to explore its intricacy and wonder - this six year old post for example...)

Anyway, this is the text of the motion which UNISON members need to prioritise if they want to see it debated at Conference (unless someone else has got a better version on the agenda elsewhere?);

Councillors Against the Cuts


Conference restates our opposition, expressed at National Delegate Conference 2012, to to the sustained attack on public services resulting from the savage cuts to local government funding being inflicted over more than 5 years by the ideologically driven Tory led government.

Conference notes that these continuing attacks have prompted debate within local government about how progressive local authorities should respond, and believes that UNISON should be involved in these debates.

Conference notes the emergence of the group "Councillors Against Cuts" and notes that this brings together Councillors who express the following views;

*           "We are a new network of local councillors formed to support the fight against cuts. We believe that instead of implementing the Coalition's cuts, councils and councillors should refuse to do so and help workers and communities organise in resistance.

*           We are pledged to vote against all cuts to services and jobs, increases in rents and charges, and increases in council tax.

*           We do not accept that cuts are "necessary": there is plenty of money in society, but it is in the wrong hands. Taxing the rich and business, taking the wealth of the banks and cutting Trident are all rich sources of funds.

*           We stand in solidarity with anti-cuts campaigns, with people defending their local services and with the broader community, tenants and residents, our children, disabled people, pensioners etc - in defence of the living standards and rights of the most vulnerable people in society as the Coalition government attacks them."

Conference believes that the emergence of Councillors Against the Cuts is a welcome addition to the debate which needs to take place in the labour and trade union movement about how to respond to the Coalition's cuts.

Conference therefore

1. Calls upon the National Executive Council to initiate a debate in the labour and trade union movement about how Councils and Councillors should respond to the continuing savage spending cuts imposed by Central Government, consistent with UNISON Rules and agreed policy, and;

2. Requests that UNISON Labour Link establishes a dialogue with Councillors Against the Cuts in order to determine the scope for joint campaigning activity within UNISON Rules and agreed policy.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Eric's unjustified attack on our unions

Eric Pickles, having devastated local government funding, is now determined to disrupt employee relations in local government with (ill-founded) "advice" on how to cut back on trade union "facility time." (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/taxpayer-funding-of-trade-unions-delivering-sensible-savings-in-local-government)

Mad Eric summarises his "advice" in ten points. Let's look at each one;

1. Councils should save taxpayers' money by significantly scaling back the cost of trade union facility time.

Eric, you are the one driving the need for facility time with your constant cuts! The time taken to do trade union work depends upon the issues being created for the union by the employer.

2. There should be full transparency on the level of facility time given to trade unions.

"Facility time" is not "given" to trade unions Eric. Employers have a duty to give reasonable time off with pay for elected representatives to carry out their trade union duties. Transparency wouldn't be a problem for any trade union branch worth its salt, but you need to understand that neither you nor our employers "give" us time - you and they demand we spend time dealing with issues which you create (and for which they then have a legal duty to pay us).

3. Employees should not be spending all or the majority of their working hours on trade union duties.

Oh Eric. You should not spend all or the majority of your time being a reactionary caricature of yourself (and I'm sure you don't mean to). Sometimes you find you have no choice though. The law requires employers to give "reasonable" time off with pay to elected officials to carry out trade union duties - in some cases that leads to full (or part) time release. Sane employers deal with this sensibly. You need a quiet sit down.

4. Time off for trade union activities should be unpaid.

Why Eric? The statutory Code of Practice, whilst acknowledging (of course) that the legal position is that the right to time off for trade union activities is a right to time off without pay, nevertheless acknowledges that employers may wish to permit time off with pay for trade union activities (not least to ensure that workplace meetings are representative). Naughty Eric doesn't appear to have any advice for local authorities about the evident applicability of the public sector equality duty to their decisionmaking on this topic either. Could it be you don't care about equality Eric?

5. The amount of facility time should be reduced and should be limited to a set percentage of an organisation's pay bill.

Eric! Employee relations isn't like a diet! You can't set a calorie limit in advance! The amount of paid time off which an organisation will be required by law to provide to trade union representatives will vary with the issues giving rise to the need for the time off. Try to spend some time listening to what is happening around you.

6. Councils should adopt private sector levels of facility time.

Now you're being lazy Eric. There is no single homogenous "private sector" to have "levels of facility time" and - to be honest - we public sector employees are increasingly fed up with being told to emulate the greed-driven sector of the economy that got us in to the financial mess which your Government hasn't a clue how to get out of. Shape up Eric. You're not impressing anyone.

7. Restrictions should be placed on the use of office facilities for trade union representatives.

Clearly you're tired after making six brief suggestions Eric, since you now turn to the meaningless. The facilities to be given to elected officials in employment are invariably a matter for discussion - as much in the interests of the organisation as of staff. If you deny union reps a telephone how do you suppose they'll talk to management?

8. Political material, or material which incites industrial action, should not be produced or distributed on or using taxpayer-funded facilities.

By this point I think Eric had wandered off (for lunch?) and left someone just to tick boxes. Given that political material has to be funded out of a voluntary political fund and that few employers ever permitted the use of their resources to pursue a fight against injustice, we need an informed debate (which we're not getting from daft Eric).

9. Councils should charge for collecting union subscriptions, or end the practice completely.

Most Councils charge for subs deduction already. It's hardly an expensive service to provide! Eric's visceral hostility to trade unions is, by now, quite clear.

10. Councillors should declare payments and sponsorship from trade unions and ensure there is no conflict of interest.

Bless little Eric, he's lost it hasn't he? We don't (as trade unions) make payments to or sponsor individual Councillors.

He probably knows that (as I don't think he's as stupid as he appears to be).

Could it be that a Secretary of State is deliberately misusing his role in Government to behave in a blatantly partisan way?

Could it be that a Government Minister is playing politics with no regard for the consequences of his action?

Oh.

Yes.

I'm afraid it could.

Eric Pickles was a poor Council Leader but is a far worse Government Minister. The Bullingdon millionaires presumably only keep him around because they think he's "common".

His attack on our trade unions must be rejected and resisted.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

UNISON's message to Councillors on local government pay

I am copying this (below) to encourage us all to complement this national bulk email to Councillors with our own local messages.

To all councillors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

National Joint Council (NJC) Pay 2013 – 14

This email brings you up to date with negotiations on NJC pay and calls on you to urge the Local Government Employers (LGE) to make an improved offer to our members.

The Employers have responded to the Trade Union Side's pay claim for 2013-14 with the two options outlined below, both of which UNISON has rejected for the reasons given. We are writing to give you details of the offer and are calling on you as councillors to speak to your council leaders and chief executives and ask them to put pressure on the Local Government Association (LGA), Welsh LGA and Northern Ireland LGA to return to negotiations with an improved pay offer.

Since April 2010 the NJC workforce has been suffering the effects of a long and painful pay freeze and across-the-board job cuts. Some councils have lost over one third of all posts. UNISON believes that those who are keeping essential services going by covering for lost jobs, deserve a fair pay rise that recognises and rewards their loyalty in these difficult times.

A cut in pay of 18% in real terms

Since 2010 pay for the local government workforce has dropped, in real terms, by a staggering 18%. Our members have lost almost 1/5th of their earnings. In addition, many councils have cut unsocial hours and overtime payments, hours of work, car allowances and redundancy pay. Others have introduced unpaid annual leave and term-time only working and have cut pay and frozen annual increments. Many have also introduced car parking charges. Local government pay and terms and conditions continue to be the lowest in the whole of the public sector and continue to decline in relation to NHS staff and others. The lowest paid receive only £6.30 per hour – that's just 11p above the National Minimum Wage.

What have the Employers offered?

The Employers have offered our members a below-inflation, 1% increase in return for cuts to car allowances and replacement of the unilateral arbitration clause. In exchange they have offered an increase of 1 day on basic annual leave only, which will benefit very few employees, and an extension of continuous service provisions from 5 to 10 years. As you know, the direction of travel is sadly out of local government, not in, so this will be of little benefit. The Employers also want to draw up a list of further changes to conditions to be negotiated later, which our members view as a hostage to fortune. Local government workers already have the worst conditions in the public sector so it is an insult to seek further cuts to their terms and conditions.

In the event that this offer is not accepted, staff are then being faced with a "no strings" 'punishment' increase of 1% for those earning up to scale point 10 - £13,874 and an increase of just 0.6% for those earning £14,733 - scale point 11 or above.

Is there a mandate for this offer?

It is unclear where the Employers are getting their mandate for this offer from:

Several Regional councils have publicly supported a no-strings, 1% increase in line with Government public sector pay policy – an increase that falls well short of our claim, but which is the minimum any public sector worker should receive this year according to the Chancellor

At least 50 councils are prepared to pay, or have pledged to pay, the Living Wage. This amounts to an 18.25% increase on the lowest NJC pay rate. An increase above 1% without strings for all must therefore be affordable

Councils not covered by the NJC who have settled pay for 2013 are paying at least 1% – some up to 2%
Low pay and poor conditions are harming morale and causing debt

We would also ask you to consider the following:

Since 2010, over 260,000 jobs have been lost in local government through redundancies and deletion of vacant posts, leaving existing staff to cover over the cracks as demand for services increases

A recent survey of over 14,800 UNISON members showed that more than 80% feel that workload, pressure and stress has increased since 2010 and over 70% feel that workplace stress is harming their personal and working lives

53% of UNISON members in our survey are in debt and over 55% of them have debts of over £5000

Many part-time workers have lost Working Tax Credit due to the increase in the hours threshold

Frozen pay harms the local economy. Public spending plays a crucial role in supporting economic growth and job creation. Crucially, local government workers re-spend 52.5 pence in every pound they receive in wages in their local economy

A decent pay rise is affordable – and necessary

UNISON believes that a decent pay rise for local government workers to make up for lost earnings is affordable – and necessary:

With the number of jobs falling drastically, there has been a corresponding drop in the basic local government pay bill (excluding teachers). In 2011/12, it dropped by over 10% to £23.9 billion, when RPI inflation is taken into account - on top of a similar decrease in 2010/11

In addition to the reduction in pay bill, councils have also taken the decision to increase the amount they hold in reserves. Non-school reserves increased to over £16 billion in England alone by 31 March 2012. Over £4 billion of this was in unallocated reserves

Around £1 billion on the basic NJC pay bill in 2013-14 would provide our members with a pay rise which would start to make up for the dramatic drop in their earnings since 2010

To fill the staffing gaps left by drastic cuts, councils are also increasing the amounts being spent on agency workers. Millions of pounds that could be used to secure the jobs of our members working in-house and pay them a decent wage are being wasted on costly external consultants from multi-national accountancy firms, called in to make cuts and re-organise services

With a falling pay bill it is unclear why middle earners in local government - like nursery nurses, social workers, customer service staff and engineers - should be punished with a token 0.6% pay offer. A salary of £14,733 is still well below the government's own low pay threshold of £21,000. The local government workforce as a whole is very poorly paid – with 502,500 NJC employees – 31% of the workforce - earning less than £15,000 a year and over 1,000,000 earning less than £21,000

Mid-point earnings in 2012 for the economy as a whole were £26,500, compared to £24,312 for local government – that's 8.26% lower. There is no public sector pay premium in local government!!

UNISON knows that times are tough and that the government has singled councils out for the harshest austerity measures within the public sector. However, councils need their employees more than ever to keep services going and retain their allegiance for the tough times ahead. It is clear that they can afford a higher basic pay award this year and that the loyalty of our members is severely stretched by the one that has been made.

I would urge you to do everything in your power to convince the LGE and you Local Government Association to make an offer which really does recognise the sacrifices our members have made to keep local government afloat.

I would welcome a reply from you. You can write to me at UNISON, 130 Euston Rd, London NW1 2AY or e-mail at NJCPay2013@unison.co.uk.


Yours Sincerely,

Heather Wakefield



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A victory for UNISON members

In a hard fought victory for principle and common sense (and for UNISON members in Bromley), Glenn Kelly has been elected as Secretary of UNISON's Bromley local government branch.



Glenn has had to overturn unlawful disciplinary action taken against him by his own trade union (in a case so long running that I can link back to a debate on this blog, foreseeing trouble, five years ago - http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2008/01/i-promised-in-response-to-comments-from.html?m=1).



He now faces resuming elected office in a branch taken under the control of the Regional office three years ago on grounds which were, in the opinion of this writer, never adequately justified (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2010/03/unisons-suburban-sigurimi.html?m=1).



The demolition of democratic trade unionism has led to a situation in which Bromley Council are bidding to be the first London Borough to break away from national pay bargaining. In a repeat of lessons that UNISON should have learned more than a decade ago in Birmingham and Sheffield we can see that, where it is plainly politically motivated, "regional supervision" of our branches leaves a legacy of lasting damage to the strength of our trade union.



Now that the members of Bromley UNISON have been allowed to speak, they have spoken clearly.



It is most welcome that, at the UNISON Centre, there is no appetite for further internal strife. However, in the dark and impenetrable interior of Congress House there may still be Regional officials who do not know that this particular war is over.



I'll do my best to tell them.



But they don't always listen to me.



On the off chance that anyone at the UNISON Centre is reading, do you think you could have a word?

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A victory against victimisation

It is entirely brilliant news that my friend and comrade Max Watson is returning to work at London Metropolitan University, alongside his colleagues, Steve and Jawad (http://stopthewitchhunt.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/thank-you-from-max-jawad-and-steve/).



The campaign against these three utterly unjustified - and unjustifiable - suspensions over recent weeks has been exemplary. It provides a lesson in how to resist victimisation which will - I fear - be all too necessary over the next couple of years.



The rank and file mobilisation was matched and complemented by the firm official support of the trade unions at every level.



This has been a victory for all those who supported the "WLRI three", for Dave Prentis as much as for Jeremy Corbyn, and for all the hundreds who have given voice to our anger at injustice.



Most of all though, this is a victory for Steve, for Jawad and for Max (who must surely now be looking forward to Friday's UNISON Higher Education Conference!)



Well done comrades!

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What should Labour Councils do?

For those interested in such matters, I've been having a bit of a disagreement with a fellow Labour Party member (and Lambeth Councillor) over on the Red Pepper website (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/debate-is-the-co-op-council-really-co-operating-with-cuts/) about whether the "co-operative council" is an adequate response to the cuts.



I think Lambeth's Labour Group deserve some credit for at least trying to think about what Labour Councils should be doing under this Government.



The superficially appealing "co-operative council" is, at least, a political response to Barnet's "Easy Council."



Just not the right one.



I'm inclined to go to the "Councillors Against the Cuts" meeting in Birmingham on Saturday (http://councillorsagainstcuts.org/2013/03/08/one-week/) in search of the correct response.



But if you're a regular reader of this blog (Sid? Doris?) then you could have told me that...

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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Would a pay rise cost jobs?

As we prepare for a campaign to persuade local government workers to fight for fair pay, we need to prepare to answer the arguments which will be put against us.



Supporters of the public sector pay freeze - and now of pay restraint (which means real terms pay cuts) sometimes use the argument put by Ed Balls to last year's TUC - that we must tolerate falling living standards to save jobs.



Prophets of doom within the unions sometimes echo this counsel of despair - saying that members fearful for their jobs won't fight for fair pay.



There's an obvious superficial plausibility to both of these flawed arguments, if you imagine local authorities as simply having a fixed pot of money, the size and distribution of which cannot be influenced by political pressure.



The evidence of official Government statistics tell a different story however - and one that should be shared with trade union members;



"Excluding the reclassification of jobs between the public and private sectors, the number of people employed in the public sector fell by 128,000 between September 2011 and September 2012." (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/february-2013/statistical-bulletin.html#tab-Public-and-private-sector-employment--first-published-on-12-December-2012-)



So the pay freeze didn't avert massive job losses - it accompanied them.



The obvious truth is that if the trade unions don't at least attempt to show our strength by mobilising our members then we won't achieve much on jobs or pay.



And if the trade unions don't fight back on a national scale we will fail to mobilise the political pressure which will be required, under this or any conceivable Government, to restore local government spending and repair the damage being done to jobs and services.

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

It's never about one leader

I'm very sorry to hear of the death of Hugo Chavez (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-13928049), in precisely the way I won't mourn the passing of Margaret Thatcher, Elizabeth Windsor or (for that matter) Tony Blair or David Cameron.



I rarely touch on international issues on this blog because I prefer to concentrate on issues I know at least something about and/or can do at least something about.



But I can see, as anyone can, that Chavez stood as a representative of the poor, the oppressed and the working class in Venezuela. Socialists should share their sorrow at his passing.



He was a charismatic leader and plainly something of a populist and, were I Venezuelan, I imagine that my support for him would have been critical to the point that might have been worrying for me. As an old Bennite, I understand that we must always mistrust and criticise all leaders (Benn included!) - a lesson which many of my more leftwing comrades would do well to learn.



Nevertheless, Chavez stood in opposition to US imperialism (and if that led him to questionable alliances he never gave support to the most reactionary nations - such as Saudi Arabia - which are lauded by our leaders).



Sometimes there is no more a "third camp" than there was ever a "third way" and - in general - the popular opposition to US dominance which Chavez expressed and exemplified has been a positive and progressive political force.



And that's the point.



Chavez did not personify opposition to imperialism. He expressed it.



Chavez himself may not have agreed with Lao Tzu on leadership (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/10627-to-lead-people-walk-beside-them-as-for-the) but the truth is that the "Bolivarian revolution" was and is the property of the people and not of one President.



I'm sorry that Chavez is dead, not because I mourn him as an individual but because I am in solidarity with Venezuelan workers who do have that sorrow and do mourn.



But, of course, it's never about one leader.





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Monday, March 04, 2013

Stop London Met Victimisations

The senior management of London Metropolitan University seem driven to risky behaviour. If external forces don't plunge them into crisis (as the Border Agency did when it withdrew their ability to accredit overseas students), they do it themselves.



Not long ago they pioneered a madcap scheme for mass privatisation (suggesting that they aspired to be the Barnet of Higher Education). Now they have launched some of the most transparently unjust cases of victimisation seen in many years (http://stopthewitchhunt.wordpress.com/).



In a series of events which could almost have been scripted by Tom Sharpe, the management appear to have reacted to the election of an unwelcome staff governor by suddenly remembering a long disclosed criminal conviction. This they used not only to get the governor out of the way but, as a bonus, to suspend the union activist who had had a hand in his original appointment.



Captured by the logic of their actions they then had to suspend a leading academic in spite of the now obvious reputational damage to the University, as they ferociously paint themselves into an ever more irrational and reactionary corner.



The case was raised at UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) last month - where an official message giving full support to the two UNISON members was sent, as recorded in the official report (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=8374).



Tomorrow's public meeting (6.20pm at Resource for London, 356 Holloway Road, N7 6PA)(http://stopthewitchhunt.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/public-meeting-stop-the-witch-hunt-at-london-met/) is therefore not only an opportunity to support the victims of this madness (Jawad, Max and Steve) - it is also a chance to rescue the management from themselves.

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Sunday, March 03, 2013

Local Government Pay - it's a citizenship issue too


I have copied the post below from the Facebook page “Local Government Workers Deserve a Decent Pay Rise” (http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Local-Government-workers-deserve-a-decent-pay-rise/590019704361076). It makes the point that (in UNISON Conference speak) local government pay is a citizenship issue as well as a Service Group issue - and that we can therefore act as citizens as well as workers;

"Following the positive and encouraging decision of UNISON’s National Joint Council (NJC) Committee to recommend rejection of each of the unacceptable offers put to the local government trade unions by the Council employers, we can now expect a vigorous campaign led from the top of UNISON, and – we can all hope – the other trade unions too.

However, there is no reason why we should wait for a lead before taking our own action, as citizens, to support the position of the national trade union negotiators. Every local government worker is also a voter in local elections, whether for their own authority or elsewhere – and so are our families and friends.

The national employers side negotiators represent all the local Councils which are in the NJC – and each of those Councils is made up of individual elected Councillors. Unless you live in one of the minority of local authorities (mostly in the South East) who have opted out of the NJC, you can write – as a citizen – to your local Councillors in order to lobby them.

All you have to do to contact your Councillors is go to http://www.writetothem.com/and enter your postcode. This then takes you to a page which gives you the option to write to each or all of your Councillors. Before you visit the site, compose a brief statement which you can cut and paste on to the Writetothem website and they’ll pass your message on.

      It’s best to keep it brief and to use your own words – but here are some points you could make (pick just one or two points that mean most to you, that you understand and can relate to). If you can also add a point or two about what the pay freeze and the decline in your living standard has meant to you over recent years that would be even better;
  1. The last national pay rise for local government workers was implemented in 2009. High inflation, coupled with a three-year pay freeze, means that since 2009, pay for the Council workforce has fallen by 13% in real terms - it is now more than 10% below where it was in 1996 and will have fallen by 15% by April 1st (the pay settlement date).
  2. The employers’ offer is below the current rate of inflation and therefore represents a further pay detriment in real terms and a further erosion of living standards for local government workers. On a journey to restore pay values and living standards the offer represents setting off in reverse gear.
  3. Nationally, 69% of UNISON members working in local government have had to cut back spending on food in the last twelve months according to a recent survey.
  4. A pay settlement which more closely reflected the national trade union side claim, for a flat rate increase which benefits the lowest paid proportionately more and reduces pay inequality in the workforce, would put money into the hands of workers whose spending would have positive implications for the economy nationally and locally.
  5. The lowest pay rate in local government has been stuck at £6.30 an hour for nearly four years – that’s only 11 pence above the National Minimum Wage.
  6. 76% of the local government workforce are women, six out of ten working part-time. With the changes to working tax credits the pay freeze is hitting women hardest.
  7. If there isn’t an improved offer to the local government workforce from the employers there is every prospect of an industrial dispute.
    Remember to finish by asking them to ask the Council Leader and Chief Executive to lobby the national employers to make an improved pay offer.
    Once you have written to your local Councillors why not encourage your partner, parents, friends or children to do the same? After all, they all want you to have a decent pay rise too!
    And, of course, those of us who are activists in trade union branches can also encourage all our members to take this action as citizens. No other group of workers has employers who are locally elected politicians who can so easily be lobbied. If we are serious about trying to win an argument with our members for strike action (and we have to be) let’s start by trying to persuade as many of them as possible to get lobbying."
    If you're on Facebook and haven't already "liked" that page, I commend it to you.