Friday, April 26, 2013

Time to stop retreating

I was interested to read some of the information chosen by the author to "contextualise" the employers' laughable 1% pay offer to local government workers (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) in UNISON's pay bulletin number 9 today.

There are two ways to interpret the inclusion of the following information in this particular bulletin at this particular time;

·                    "Half of councils have ended NJC mileage allowances and moved our members onto HMRC rates. For those who do significant mileage as part of their jobs, this means subsidising their employer on top of a three-year pay freeze and other cuts to conditions

·                    Around 30% of councils have cut unsocial hours payments and/or overtime pay – with a massive effect on low paid women workers in particular

·                    Over 25% of councils have cut pay at a local level and others have imposed unpaid annual leave."
 
I don't doubt these things are true, but many things are true - and not all truth could be squeezed into pay bulletin number 9.

One reading (which I prefer) of the motivation for including this particular information is that it reinforces the case for a decent pay rise (which 1% is not!) - this may encourage the reader to think in terms of rejecting 1% and fighting on for our claim for a substantial pay increase.

Another reading is that the selective presentation of this information, which tells a disappointing tale about our union organisation in these very many local authorities where we have failed to defend national conditions of service, could demoralise the reader and lead them towards accepting 1% (and therefore a 2% pay cut in real terms).

The conclusion which I draw is that, whatever the reason for this information having been presented to us in this way at this time, we need to face up to the fact that in many local authorities we have faced defeats and retreats on pay and conditions.

And we need also to conclude that now is a good time to stop this.

Every branch which loses (or fails to mount) a fight to defend conditions of service invites other employers to launch attacks on other branches. There is, of course, no shame in fighting and losing (though there is in failing to fight).

The greatest shame is that our national trade union has failed adequately to encourage and support the branches who have suffered the defeats now itemised in pay bulletin number 9.

Plainly we should reject 1% and try to build a national fight for decent pay (as our Scottish sisters and brothers have already resolved to do). Without a national fight for a decent national pay rise there is precious little point in having a national union.

However, we must also begin to fight nationally to enforce and improve national conditions. We should be fighting not just to hold on to the Green Book but to improve it.

Pay Bulletin number 9 also says that UNISON "will be issuing new bargaining advice shortly to branches and Regions on sick pay and car allowances as it seems clear that the employers will urge councils to cut them further at local level."

The Lambeth branch has successfully defended both sick pay and car allowances over the last year.

In the unlikely event that the national Union doesn't come to us to ask how we think we did this, I can always share information here.

It's not rocket science really though. We need to build rank and file organisation and to provide leadership which is unwilling to make concessions on conditions of service. We have to be prepared to threaten legal and industrial action at the drop of a hat, whilst also always being willing to find a pragmatic resolution if the employers are willing to talk rather than fight.

It's time to stop retreating.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Labour Leaders opt for 1980s period drama?

The 1980s seem increasingly to weigh like a nightmare on the minds of the living - like "Ashes to Ashes" for our political leaders.

Ed Miliband has decided to play Neil Kinnock with an attack on Len McCluskey (http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/apr/24/ed-miliband-union-leader). Miliband has to cast McCluskey (somewhat implausibly) as a "Scargill" figure in order to appease the very Blairites (in the Shadow Cabinet and beyond) against whom McCluskey was warning him (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/politics/2013/04/len-mccluskey-if-ed-miliband-seduced-blairites-hell-be-defeated) - one of whom has apparently claimed that our largest trade unions have been taken over by a new "Bennite tendency" (which will doubtless come as news to many at the UNISON Centre!)

In a sense neither McCluskey nor Miliband are addressing the other at all, each are actually addressing constituencies standing behind them (in one case the Blairites and in the other activists who saw a strong showing for the grassroots challenger in the recent General Secretary election).

Whereas Len McCluskey sees the need for radicalism and imagination to rejuvenate our movement, however, Ed Miliband appears worryingly close to the caricature of a prisoner of those sad people in and around "Progress" who will never stop fighting the inner Party battles of the 1980s.

McCluskey was right - and not at all "disloyal" - to be sharply critical of the Blairites whose vision of a Labour government is of continuity with the thirty-five year old neo-liberal consensus. It's not just that such policies are unlikely to win - even if they did they wouldn't fundamentally change the fact that we are under attack from the Government.

It's nonsense to characterise the leaders of the big trade unions as "Bennites" (and I should know, I am one)(a Bennite that is, not the leader of a big trade union!) - but we do need a much more assertive approach from the trade unions to the Party.

In particular, we don't need to see votes and energy from UNITE, UNISON, GMB or any unions being expended in support of candidates in Parliamentary (or other) selections unless those candidates can be relied upon to back policies in support of working people.

There is, unfortunately, no evidence of the sort of concerted and effective joint union work that could make a positive difference to the composition of the next Parliamentary Labour Party.

That's the real shame. It's not the 1980s and we need to move on.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

1%? No Thanks!

Today the national negotiators representing the employers of more than a million local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (the largest organised bargaining group in the UK economy) made a final pay offer of 1% with no strings, effective 1 April.

Perennial optimist, and lead negotiator for the GMB, Brian Strutton, says there'll be "relief" that this marks the end of the outright pay freeze (http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/gmb-consults-members-on-pay-offer). Even he has to concede though that there will be "disappointment that there is only 1% on the table."

Well.

Quite.

Prices are increasing at a rate of more than 3%, so a pay rise of 1% would concede a further 2% reduction in our standard of living to compound the 16% fall in our real wages/salaries since 2009.

Heather Wakefield, for UNISON, makes the point that "we held out for a better deal" (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=3043) - and that our National Joint Council (NJC) Committee can be expected to consider the offer against the backdrop of our falling living standards.

Our officials do need to wait for our elected lay Committees to make recommendations - but lay activists, speaking for ourselves, need not be so reticent.

The 1% offer - equivalent to the offer which has just been decisively rejected in a consultative ballot by Scottish local government workers - is barely even worth considering.

If we bend the knee, without a fight, and swallow a below-inflation pay rise after three years of pay freeze we will do our members and our union an injustice.

For our members (us!) - we cannot afford a continuing decline in our living standards in a country which (according to the Sunday Times "rich list") now boasts 88 billionaires. Our members are often now failing to make ends meet, and payday loans are increasingly a feature of everyday life. We may, of course, fight for more and fail - but we will only fail our members if we fail even to fight.

For our union - this is an existential crisis for national bargaining (and therefore in the longer term for national trade unions as we have known them for decades). If we cannot mobilise a national fight for a national pay rise that at least beats price inflation after a three year pay freeze then it doesn't matter how high we build our towers on the Euston Road - our relevance as a national organisation is called into question.

As the North West Region motion agreed earlier by the NJC Committee made clear, we are not charging ahead because we want a strike - but we have to recognise that we must respond with strike action to this continuous assault upon our real earnings and standard of living.

A 1% offer deserves 100% rejection.

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Back to the future in Kilburn

It really is like going back to the 80s! First Thatcher is all over the news and then along comes a wordy, insightful and - in large part - persuasive analysis co-authored by Stuart Hall (The Kilburn Manifesto - http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/soundings/manifesto.html)

Hall, and his fellow authors, argue that neo-liberalism has, over the 40 years since Pinochet's coup led to free market experimentation in Chile, established an (albeit incomplete and contested) global ideological hegemony, which means that the left is failing to turn the current economic crisis into a political challenge to the status quo.

They argue that; "This phase of free-market capitalism has now entered a serious economic crisis from which it cannot easily engineer an exit. But the shape of the crisis remains 'economic'."

This is evident, and provides a firm foundation for the following commentary on our Party; " Labour, the official opposition, is in serious diffculties. It leads in the polls but it is not yet winning hearts and minds. It shuttles between conficting ways forward. It seems afraid of its own (left) shadow, in hock to the old Blairite rump and a belief in the conservatism of the electorate, trapped in parliamentary rituals, mesmerised by electoral politics. It has been rendered speechless by the charge that it opened the door through which the Coalition is triumphantly marching."

There is much to applaud in the insights of the authors of this "Kilburn manifesto" including an accurate identification of our adversaries (the global ruling class) and an analysis of the articulation of class with other structures of oppression which could usefully inform current debates - and which leads to the plausible assertion that "Mobilising resistance requires alliances of a sort which only a multi-focused political strategy can hope to construct.".

If there's one thing I'm uncomfortable with (as I was in the 80s come to think of it) it's the weight given to what I was taught to call "the dominant ideology thesis."

Whilst it's clearly true that "every social settlement, in order to establish itself, is crucially founded on embedding as common sense a whole bundle of beliefs - ideas beyond question, assumptions so deep that the very fact that they are assumptions is only rarely brought to light", the authors are also right to concede that "there are legitimate differences of view about the causal emphasis that should be allotted to ideological, political and material factors." I tend to think it has been our material defeats which have paved the way for their ideological triumphs and that it is to the rebuilding of our movement that we need to pay the greatest attention.

That minor quibble aside, this is a refreshing contribution to the thinking the left needs to do and I look forward to the publication of further chapters.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

The choice before UNISON members

As I've mentioned before, I am seeking re-election to UNISON's National Executive Council, alongside a wide and diverse range of socialist comrades.
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With four exceptions (who have been elected unopposed) we candidates of the left face opponents who, in many cases, would seek to describe themselves as being on the left (or perhaps "the Centre-left"). And, in a sense, they are.

Most UNISON activists are on the left politically when you consider where the centre of political gravity has shifted to over the past generation.

None of the candidates in the NEC elections support austerity or the Coalition Government!

The choice before UNISON members is not a choice about Government policy - but a choice about trade union practice. The choice is about what we want and expect our trade union to do.

Our opponents are, generally, those who can be relied upon, when push comes to shove, to support the leadership of the Union more or less uncritically. The left of which I am a part, however, is a critical, questioning and challenging left, which is - I think - what UNISON needs.

In the two years since the last NEC elections, the most important event was, without doubt, the strike of 30 November 2011. This showed the strengths and weaknesses of UNISON more clearly than any other event in the twenty year existence of the Union.

Our strength was demonstrated in the three month period beginning some ten weeks before the strike, when the General Secretary announced the strike plan to the TUC. We saw the extent of mobilisation which was possible with determined leadership and unity. We also saw rapid growth.

From mid December 2011 however, we saw the grave weakness of UNISON, as we slowly abandoned that strength to strike a series of more or less unsatisfactory deals sector by sector. The dispiriting impact of this clumsy failure has impeded our attempts, up to now, to break the pay freeze.

The choice in these NEC elections is a choice between those who think that we did fine in the pensions dispute and are willing to put a gloss on the conduct of our leadership at the time, and those of us prepared to tell the awkward truth - that we should have fought harder and could have done better.

The more of the candidates of the genuine left who are elected to the UNISON NEC, the stronger will be the critical challenge in future, and the better our Union will perform to defend our interests.

If you are a UNISON activist, please do all you can to maximise the vote for the candidates standing to reclaim our union.


The perfect cure - opposing the far-right in the sun

I've shamefully neglected blogging over the past few days, having been laid up with some sort of bug.



I discovered yesterday that the best aid to recuperation is a trip out in the sunshine, with thousands of other local people, to confront a sorry gaggle of extreme right-wingers implausibly claiming the cross of St George as "their" symbol on the misnamed "March for England" (http://stopmfe.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/brightons-beautiful-anti-fascist-day/)



The dwindling number of self-proclaimed "nationalists" looked if anything uglier and more miserable in the sunshine than they had last year, while the good natured determination of the vast majority of anti-fascist demonstrators made the counter-demonstration a joyful event (thanks very much to the real "EDL" - the English Disco Lovers - http://www.edl.me/).



The anti-fascists looked like the England we live in, we were diverse, tolerant and cheerful in the face of adversity (in the form of perhaps over-zealous policing). The fascists appeared every bit as out of place as they were - their naked hatred can never be made attractive.



I hope they now give up and go away. If they don't, I hope we continue massively to outnumber them on our streets.



And I feel better!

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Defend Equality - Save Section 3

Today MPs may overturn a successful Lords amendment in order to repeal Section 3 of the 2006 Equality Act at the final stage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.



Why does this matter?



Well Section 3 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/3/section/3) defined the duties of the then newly established Equality and Human Rights Commission as follows;



"The Commission shall exercise its functions under this Part with a view to encouraging and supporting the development of a society in which—



(a)people's ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination,



(b)there is respect for and protection of each individual's human rights,



(c)there is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual,



(d)each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society, and



(e)there is mutual respect between groups based on understanding and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights."



The present Government think this duty too "wide-ranging" and "unrealistic" - but if the objectives of a body set up to promote equality and human rights aren't at least a little aspirational what's the point?



The position of the House of Lords was overwhelmingly supported in the responses to official consultation.



You can contact your MP via the website of PCS, the union which represents the Commission's workforce - http://action.pcs.org.uk/page/speakout/save-section-3



If Section 3 is repealed, can the public sector equality duty, codified in the 2010 Act long survive in its present form?

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) elections - it's that time again!

I've just updated the other page on this blog which has a list of all the candidates standing in the UNISON NEC elections on a platform to "reclaim our union."

UNISON resources cannot be used to support any candidate in the elections although Branches are permitted by the election procedures to notify their members of who they have nominated in the usual way in which they communicate with members (email/newsletter/mailshot etc).

As ballot papers are due out on Monday week (22 April) this coming week is the week in which to get information out. Anyone in London on Tuesday evening who can offer to help us distribute election materials in London please come along to the Cock Tavern 23 Phoenix Road NW1 from 6pm

Oh - and as I have said before - if you're a London UNISON member then please vote for me! (I'll blog a proper request for support later).

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

An urgent appeal from UNISON to safety representatives (and all activists)

In March, UNISON was successful in influencing the House of Lords decision to remove clause 62 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill. This clause would have made it harder for an employee to claim compensation for injuries sustained at work.
 
However, the amendments by the House of Lords will now be considered by the House of Commons on 16 April 2013. The House of Commons could decide to ignore the House of Lords' recommendation and instead reinsert clause 62 and press on regardless.
 
To ensure that the House of Commons do not ignore the House of Lords' recommendations, write to your MP and tell them why you want them to vote to remove clause 62 from the ERR Bill.

http://www.writetothem.com/
 
To write to your MP, click on the above link, enter your post code, and select your MP. You can copy and paste text from UNISON's model email to help you to write your own email about why your MP should vote to remove clause 62 of the ERR Bill.

Here is the text of the model email;

I am writing to you in my capacity of a Safety Representative at my workplace .............
The House of Commons is due on the 16 October to consider the House of Lords decision to remove clause of 62 of Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which the government inserted into the Bill at the Commons Report stage on 16th October 2012. This clause had it become law would have amended Section 47 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and removed the ability of an employee to enforce a civil claim for workplace injury on the grounds of a breach of workplace regulations.
Contrary to what the government claims, clause 62 went far beyond what Professor Lofstedt recommended in his report "Reclaiming health and safety". No review has been undertaken. Also by amending section 47 of the Health and Safety at Work Act as clause 62 proposed, the change would apply all civil cases involving breaches of workplace regulations, not just those regulations where strict liability applies. This would mean that workers would have to rely on proving negligence on the part of the employer, and would lead to claims being settled for substantially less than their true value, because of course the insurers, representing employers, would be in a much better position to afford the cost of fighting and losing such a case. The government claimed this change would reduce costly litigious action. Nothing could be more far from the truth as employers and their insurers would be encouraged to mount spurious defences for breaches of regulations, where in the past they would have settled out of court.
Clause 62 was only introduced to the Commons at Report Stage after it had already gone through the Committee Stage. This means that this highly contentious and far reaching amendment to the Health and Safety at Work Act has not been subject to the scrutiny by the Commons that is normally associated with such changes. However it has been scrutinised by the Lords and found wanting.
I therefore ask that the Commons listens to the Lord and removes part 5: section 62: Parts 1-11 from the bill on the basis that the government should review and consult on the issue of strict liability in an open and transparent manner, inviting submissions from all affected parties."

Please act on this if you can.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

TUC General Secretary tells it like it is about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher

The first female General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress has some fine words about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher (http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/09/clearing-up-margaret-thatchers-mess);



"she assumed no responsibility to minimise social disruption or to create new jobs and industries"



"The family silver was squandered on bribing voters rather than modernising the economy"



"The 70s was Britain's most equal decade. The jobs that went during the 80s tended to be good, skilled jobs, delivering decent incomes and some security. She failed to replace those jobs with well-paid equivalents. Demonising unions and stripping the great mass of private-sector workers of a voice and power in the workplace is still the root of the great living standards crisis that saw the share of wealth going to wages slide long before Lehman Brothers failed"



"The financial crash of 2008 was a direct result of the policies Thatcher championed. The dominance of finance in the economy and the failure of bank regulation flowed from her belief that markets should always be left to themselves"



It is good to see the General Secretary of the TUC refuses to be cowed into sycophancy by the rabid response to criticism of a divisive and reactionary Prime Minister.

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Glenda Jackson, MP speaks truth to power in Parliament about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher

http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2013/apr/10/margaret-thatcher-mps-pay-tribute-live

When I made my maiden speech a little over two decades ago, Margaret Thatcher had been elevated to the other place but Thatcherism was still wreaking, as it had wreaked for the previous decade, the most heinous, social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country, upon my constituency and my constituents.

Our local hospitals were running on empty. Patients were staying on trolleys and in corridors. I tremble to think what the death rate for pensioners would have been this winter if that version of Thatcherism had been fully up and running this year.

Our schools, parents, teachers, governors, even pupils, seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time fundraising in order to be able to provide basic materials, such as paper and pencils. The plaster on our classroom walls was kept in place by pupils artwork and miles and miles of sellotape. Our school libraries were dominated by empty shelves, very few books, and those books that were there were being held together by ubiquitious sellotape and offcuts from teachers' wallpaper used to bind those volumes so that they could at least hang together.

But by far the most dramatic and heinous demonstration of Thatcherism was certainly not only in London, but across the whole country in metropolitan areas, where every single shop doorway, every single night, became the bedroom, the living room, the bathroom for the homeless. They grew in their thousands. And many of those homeless people had been thrown out onto the streets from the closure of the long-term mental hospitals. We were told it was going to be called Care in the Community. What in effect it was was no care at all in the community.

I was interested to hear about Baroness Thatcher's willingness to invite those who have nowhere to go for Christmas. It's a pity she did not start building more and more social houses after she entered into the right to buy, so perhaps there would have been fewer homeless people than there were. As a friend of mine said, during her era London became a city Hogarth would have recognise. And indeed he would.

But the basis to Thatcherism - and this is where I come to the spiritual part of what I regard as the desperate, desperately wrong track that Thatcherism took this country into - was that everything I had been taught to regard as a vice - and I still regard them as vices - under Thatcherism was in fact a virtue: greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees. They were the way forward ...

What concerns me is that I'm beginning to see possibly the re-emergence of that total traducing of what I regard as being the basis of the spiritual nature of this country, where we do care about society, where we do believe in communities, where we do not leave people to walk by on the other side. That is not happening now. And if we go back to the heyday of that era I think we will see replicated again the extraordinary human damage that we as a nation have suffered from.

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Former UNISON President, Dave Anderson MP explains to Parliament how Thatcher is viewed in former mining communities

http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2013/apr/10/margaret-thatcher-mps-pay-tribute-live



Lady Thatcher came to power promising to bring harmony, he says. But, in the mining communities, she achieved the opposite.



The British coal industry was deemed uneconomic because it had high safety standards, he says.



After the pit closed in his community the burglary rate went up, he says. He says people discovered what it was like to be burgled by the child of a friend.



That is why mining communities feel so strongly about Thatcher, he says.



A lot has been said over the last 48 hours of the harsh nature of some of the responses to the news of Mrs Thatcher's death. This House needs to understand the reason for that, because before, during and ever since the attack on the coal industry, and the people in it, the government ignored the impact of that policy ... Mrs Thatcher's lack of empathy, her intransigence, her failure to see the other side, her refusal to even look at the other side has left [mining communities] bitter and resentful ... Her accusation that the enemy within was in the mining areas of this country still rankles with with people.

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Monday, April 08, 2013

Speaking ill of the dead

We should all be grateful to Glenn Greenwald for expressing in an admirably concise way why we should not be compelled to apply the rule that one does not speak ill of the dead in the cases of political leaders generally and Margaret Thatcher in particular (http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/08/margaret-thatcher-death-etiquette).

Anyone with a spark of humanity who came of age under that brutal Government, which largely opened the continuing assault upon our class and our society hated that Government for what it was doing.

And we hated the Prime Minister who personified that Government.

And we still do.

Thatcher's death is an entirely legitimate cause for celebration for millions of decent people - but it is Thatcherism that we need to finish off.

We live in a country which is (on average) materially wealthier than it was thirty four years ago when Thatcher came to power, but it is in many ways poorer.

The raising up of greed as a socially acceptable motivation, the looting of commonly owned assets to enrich a tiny minority and the ruthless and continuing disempowerment of all possible centres of popular opposition have combined to create a nation into which I am almost ashamed to have brought children.

For Labour Party members we bear the additional shame of political responsibility for a Government which, in far too many ways, continued her poisonous legacy of privatisation at home and imperialism overseas, thereby paving the way for the return to power of Thatcher's true heirs.

I am with all those who are raising a glass this evening and trying to remember the lyrics to "Tramp the Dirt Down" - but particularly if tomorrow they will be waking up committed to the fight to bury Thatcherism alongside Thatcher.

As the establishment mourn their heroine we should remember, and draw inspiration from, all those who opposed her. The Greenham Common Women, the Miners and their supporters, the opponents of Section 28 and the much derided "loony left" in local government should all be rescued from what EP Thompson called "the enormous condescension of posterity" and rehabilitated as examples to those of us committed to carrying on their struggles.

I make no apology for smiling at the news of Thatcher's death. Now let's work to bury her legacy.

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Sunday, April 07, 2013

The future of our unions is in our branches

What matters is what matters materially.



Within our trade unions, the allocation of our limited resources is always a vital question.



Over the decades of my union activity I have witnessed a centralisation of power and resources in our union.



At the same time there has been a decentralisation (indeed, a fragmentation) of bargaining and representation.



So, as we have empowered our national (and regional) officials so they have become increasingly irrelevant to our members.



To be brutally frank, there are increasingly strong grounds to question what it is, exactly, that our national trade unions are "for". National pay "bargaining" has delivered nothing of substance for several years. Whether it ever will is now an open question.



Equally, as our Regional structures have become less and less likely to facilitate industrial or legal action, so they have drifted away from mattering to our members.



At the same time, wherever locally our unions can bring together courage, competence and good fortune, we are still able to deliver for our members (or, rather, to enable them to use their trade unionism to deliver for themselves).



I draw two lessons from this state of affairs.



First, we need to raise our game nationally. Our priority in UNISON ought not to be our recruitment campaign but rather our pay campaign. UNISON can still be the Union we wanted when we made it twenty years ago. If we want to grow we must fight.



Secondly, we have to be serious about changing our Union to meet changing circumstances. We have to understand that the future of our Union is not in a prestigious HQ, nor in our Regional offices.



A twenty first century trade union will live or die in our branches - and that is where we need to focus our attention and resources.



Those who draw from this that there is a need to amend Motion 106 to UNISON National Delegate Conference win the prize for paying attention...

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Friday, April 05, 2013

Solidarity with the long weekend of action

Members of our sister union, PCS, are variously taking half day and one day strikes today and Monday following the civil service wide budget day strike (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/55F34F0B-1DA3-4C01-9F000054956E8DEF).



Given the intransigence and hostility of this Government, civil servants are clearly left with no option other than to resist by whatever means are available to defend their jobs, pay and pensions.



The same does not automatically apply on every issue for all of us. In some local authorities, for example, we continue to have a dialogue with our employers even through the deepest and most damaging cuts.



However, all we are achieving is, at best, modest damage limitation (and in a frighteningly large number of cases local authority employers have successfully attacked conditions of service as well as jobs).



The perpetrators of the attacks upon public service workers (and what's left of our Welfare State) can be found at numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street. To confront these villains we need co-ordinated national action not just across one sector, but across the whole movement.

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Class - you've either got it or you haven't?

According to the BBC I am part of the established middle class (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22007058). I must tell the bank - maybe they'll increase my overdraft!

More to the point though, this "new" approach to a superficial definition of "class" doesn't actually assist our understanding of society. Class isn't a category, it's the expression of a social relation of (in a capitalist society) exploitation and struggle. (http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/Chapter%201%20--%20Wright%20Jan%202004.pdf)

An obsession with class as a category is an obvious manifestation of individualism as an ideology. It starts with the individual's question "what am I?" Class then becomes a badge worn by an individual and loses - as a concept - the explanatory power which it could (and does) have to help understand, and therefore be able to change, this hideously unjust society.

Essentially, those who sell our labour (or "labour power" to be precise) in order to live are workers. Those who live off the labour of others are bosses (capitalists to be precise). These two groups exist in an exploitative relationship, which is a class relationship.

There are, of course, those who are (at a particular point in time) in "contradictory class locations" between these two extremes, as well as those (such as the self-employed, small shopkeepers and students) who are permanently or temporarily outside this fundamental class relationship. Also, those of us who work in the public sector are workers employed by the state (on behalf of the capitalist class as a whole, rather than any individual capitalist).

However, the exploitative relationship between workers and bosses in a capitalist society is of fundamental importance in shaping both our society and the opportunities which exist to transform it.

A compelling vindication of this (Marxist) understanding of class is that, in every case where capitalist social relations have established themselves, workers have sought to form trade unions in order to express and defend our class interests as workers in a capitalist society (and these unions either do, or aspire to, organise all the BBC's "classes" except "the elite").

That's why the most important news about "class" in the last couple of days relates not to the BBC survey but to the TUC consideration of the "practicalities" of a General Strike (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22029895).

The politics of our Tory Coalition Government, which are the UK expression of a global ruling class offensive, are the politics of naked class war. This week, millionaires got a tax cut funded in part by benefit changes which threaten people with the loss of their homes if they have a spare bedroom.

If you "get" class then you "get" that this is a very real struggle in which we have to join. From the "established middle class" to the "precariat" workers need to be united against these attacks on our interests. This does require a labour movement led by people willing to show almost reckless courage.

Which reminds me that I need to blog about the UNISON NEC elections...

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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

In spring a UNISON activist's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of priorities for UNISON Conference

Tennyson claimed that "In spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love" (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174629).
This was clearly reactionary propoganda intended to distract us from the important business of prioritising motions for debate at UNISON's National Delegate Conference. 113 motions have thus far made it on to the Preliminary Agenda for our Conference in Liverpool in June (together with the eighteen Rule Amendments which will adorn our Thursday afternoon). 52 motions and three Rule Amendments fell at the first hurdle, having been ruled out of order by the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) (though one or two may come back after an appeal). Not all of these motions will get debated though. This will depend upon the prioritisation process which is now upon us. I have sought to explain the process here before (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2008/03/prioritising-unison-conference.html?m=1) and won't repeat the explanation, both of the process and how (I believe) activists should engage with it, which I set out on that link. Though I will repeat the point that intelligent prioritisation is not so much about picking what are, on the face of it, the "most important issues" as about ensuring that other important issues don't slip off our agenda. So, here are some purely personal thoughts and suggestions about motions which I think are worthy of support in the prioritisation process. I will preface these suggestions with an observation about motions on branch funding. This is an important topic. Unless SOC depart from their past practice on such matters, they will automatically timetable the NEC motion 106, since it responds to a previous Conference instruction to the NEC. This motion will then (almost inevitably)be counterposed (by SOC, in a decision on "consequences") to motions 107, 108, 112 and 113 (bearing in mind the wording of the second and third paragraphs of motion 106), so that those other motions will only be debated if 106 falls. I think this means that the debate around branch funding will take place around Motion 106 and any amendments thereto which make it on to the Conference agenda - and that we can therefore put this to one side when considering Conference priorities. If other comrades think I've got that wrong I'd like to know, as it is vital that we restructure our trade union to cope with the fragmentation of public services which our current centralised structure has failed to prevent. This will be what happens to UNISON over the next decade and our national Centre will be a much smaller and more modest creature a decade from now. There are many motions which socialists might want to prioritise (Motion 47 for example is a thing of beauty and therefore a joy forever). However, we have to focus on a very few - and these are a dozen of my personal suggestions; Motion 42 Councillors Against the Cuts (as advertised on this blog) Motion 111 Election of Paid Officers (ditto) Motion 104 General Strike (because we need to continue the debate started at last year's TUC) Motion 64 Defending Trade Union Facility Time (because we have to) Motion 96 Opposing the Welfare Reform Act, Council Tax and Other Benefit Changes (an important addition to a vital debate) Motion 9 Democracy in Unison and the Right to Campaign in Ballots (a motion to rebut control freaks) Motion 86 Defending our Reproductive and Sexual Rights (does what it says on the tin) Motion 84 Defeating the English Defence League (ditto) Motion 93 Disabled People Against the Cuts (an important affirmation of support for a key campaigning group) Motion 36 National Action to Defend our Health Service (because we need it) Motion 38 Demise of the State Education System (because we need to fight it) Motion 78 Solidarity with South African Workers (because it's obvious) I'd be interested to know what other comrades think about this. As a rule, just as the left punches above its weight at Conference, we fail to punch our weight in the prioritisation process. (The sedge has withered at the lake, and no birds sing...)
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Monday, April 01, 2013

Don't do it Avril!

I'm upset at the news that leading Labour anti-cuts Councillor, Avril Poisson, is to defect to TUSC. I can't say any more now. Will post further later.
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Ok! Not the best of April Fools I know - but what can you do on a 1 April when the Government are dismantling the welfare state whilst rewarding millionaires and the priority of at least some in the Labour Party is to affirm their support from Trident nuclear submarines...?