Friday, May 17, 2013

Rudderless in a storm?

As the Government of millionaires attacks on one front after another, the political left is bereft of direction.

The catalogue of brutality unleashed by the side currently winning the class war would have been unimaginable even three years ago.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs have gone over the same period as real wages have continued to fall in an unprecedented way.

The tide of privatisation rising across the public sector has begun irreversibly to engulf the health service and now laps at the feet of postal workers.

The demonisation of claimants is gradually capturing the popular imagination as benefit cuts force us back to the nineteenth century.

Legal aid cuts and employment tribunal fees (coupled with changes to rules on remission), together with other changes to employment law further hobble workers individually and collectively.

Even the seemingly solid social gains of a generation of progress towards equality are fragile in this most reactionary century. The defence of the public sector equality duty will be of totemic importance.

So where is the opposition?

The (capital "O") Opposition are sporadically present - unfortunately their official backing is as much an unavoidable necessity as it is generally unavailable for effective national resistance.

Labour can still mobilise some meaningful opposition to "Tory cuts" (as in the London Fire Service) but is hamstrung by the Party's collusion in many cuts in its quest for "credibility" on the economy.

In large part the absence of our Labour Party where we so badly need it is a function of a generation of timidity and inadequacy on the part of the trade union leadership.

The strategic error of supporting New Labour in the 1990s has had cumulative, calamitous political consequences for the trade union movement which are still playing themselves out.

Since the General Election the unions have been pushed into mobilising us as a stage army on three occasions, as if we could still play by rules written decades ago. We can't and it hasn't worked.

Even the largest strike since the General Strike secured next to nothing in the way of meaningful concessions on public service pensions. Laughable attempts to pretend otherwise did nothing other than undermine the morale and motivation of our activists.

The General Secretaries are staring into the abyss and have no more idea what to do than I have.

Out on the further reaches of the left (where I have always found my friends, comrades and spiritual home) there is no more direction or purpose.

Those who hoped the Green Party was a new road to a new Jerusalem can pick their way through the litter strewn streets of Brighton as they contemplate their error.

The largest far left political party has imploded, and those clinging to its wreckage simply haven't noticed yet that it is over (though it may not be dead for years - some people still sell the "Newsline").

The latest electoral project of the far left has broken all records for tragic irrelevance. Socialists might as well practice "entryism" in the Monster Raving Loony Party as continue to place hope in TUSC.

Such is the lack of hope that an excellent film maker has managed to lever his deserved reputation to promote the "Left Unity" project (which falls somewhere between Sir Richard Acland's Common Wealth Party and the political equivalent of vanity publishing).

I too wish their were an alternative to the Labour Party - but no matter how many lamps I rub no such alternative appears.

The political problem confronting the working class in this country, as throughout Europe, over the last generation is the political inadequacy of our trade unions, not the political label of the politicians we can vote for.

This time of weakness and disorientation provokes and encourages infighting. Unable to make a difference in the wider world, comrades retreat into squabbles they believe they can win.

Internicine strife between and within groups on the left will continue to get worse as long as we fail to change the script of this tale of retreats and defeats.

So what do we do?

We fight back.

Wherever you are, working or unemployed, you can organise collectively to resist the ruling class offensive as best you can.

We have suffered many defeats and will suffer more. Lives are being ruined - and ended - and we, who should lead the resistance, are continuing to fail.

So we must rethink, regroup and redouble our efforts.

We may be rudderless in a storm but that is no excuse for failing to keep the boat afloat.

Our trade union movement, the oldest in the world, remains the largest voluntary organisation in UK civil society by a country mile.

We are not weak.

We are not powerless.

We need not be ineffective.

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Fire Cuts Should Burn Boris

I was proud to be among the 200 people who marched through Brixton to Lambeth Town Hall on the evening of Thursday 16 May to express our opposition to the closure of Clapham Fire Station (http://www.saveclapham.com/).



The subsequent public consultation reflected local feeling in that it was dominated by opposition to cuts and closures in our fire service. Having had the unique experience of speaking on top of a fire engine in order to address protestors, I was also lucky to be called to ask a question in a packed Assembly Hall.



I asked about the Equality Impact Assessment, copies of which were not available at the meeting and are only available online (http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/Documents/Sup16-Equality-analyses.pdf). This impact assessment is clearly a very important document, since the fire cuts being pushed by Mayor Boris increase response times to fires in Inner London whilst improving response times in much of Outer London.



The Commissioner didn't answer my question, but offered a meeting with the people who did the Equality Impact Assessment. I'm sure he didn't offer that hoping that I wouldn't bother - but if he did that was a poor judgment.



Lambeth UNISON will hold London's Fire Service to the promise from its most senior official of a proper dialogue about equalities. We certainly need to see - for example - a disaggregation of changes in response times as between those in "high-rise" flats and those who are not, which should be cross referenced with information about "protected characteristics".



We don't make idle criticisms - and if we need to assert our criticism we shall do so on the basis of evidence. We need rid of the current Mayor - whose fire cut plans are as poorly justified as they are intolerable.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A good day for UNISON in South East London

A little over three years ago I became quite irate when UNISON's Greenwich and Bromley branches were taken into regional supervision (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/unisons-suburban-sigurimi.html?m=1).

So I am pleased to have been today at a meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) to hear it formally reported that neither of these branches is any longer under supervision.

There are - exceptionally - circumstances in which a trade union may need to take over the affairs of one of its constituent branches (where there may have been fraud for example). No such circumstances ever existed in either Bromley or Greenwich.

The three years in which UNISON members in two South East London boroughs were needlessly denied their democratic rights witnessed poor performance by our Union in those boroughs. This wasn't because of any failings on the part of the staff dragged away from other duties to take over the branches - it was because gratuitous and unnecessary takeovers of branches is directly contrary to the best ethos of our Union.

UNISON at it's best is a lay-led trade union in which a solid partnership between lay and full-time officials is founded on mutual respect. At it's worse, our Union is capable of being much less than that, and the regional supervision of these branches showed us, unfortunately, at our worst.

It's not as if we weren't warned. Tom Snow had described the state of the Greater London Regional office on the occasion of his retirement just week's before the dawn raids in Woolwich and Bromley (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/thoughts-of-regional-organiser.html?m=1).

It's sadly still true that the Regional Office has a greater focus on bolstering power within the Union than on building the power of the Union. As long as the office can maintain its internal focus on ensuring that the lay structures never challenge it or hold it to account it doesn't seem to matter that UNISON's Greater London Region has no profile and no worthwhile influence.

Just in recent weeks members have approached me about a branch where - encouraged by the Region - officers excluded a member from their Annual General Meeting and a branch where - guided by the Region - officers managed to secure massive disaffection and significant resignations from amongst a recently organised and militant section of the workforce (the Region are trying to turn that situation on its head by misleading the Centre into focusing on the issue of a protest by low paid workers at the UNISON Centre, when the real issue is the attitude of the UNISON Region to those low paid workers in the first place).

I encourage our members to express their concerns appropriately within our Union, but I often doubt whether, when doing so, I am giving good advice. Even after the experience of the pensions dispute, I do not believe that there is a sufficiently powerful will at the UNISON Centre to hold renegade Regions to account. If UNISON fails to provide an effective in-house laundromat we will inevitably and unfortunately end up washing our dirty laundry in public.

At least though, our members in Bromley and Greenwich local government branches can face their daily challenges now as the masters and mistresses of their own fate, no longer under the unhelpful direction of the Region.

Now they can build back to being UNISON at its best.



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Monday, May 13, 2013

Out of order?

I owe my apologies to the Dudley Branch for having expressed my support for their Motion 111, on the election of paid officials, which made it on to the Preliminary Agenda for UNISON Conference (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/unison-support-for-election-of-officials.html?m=1).

Clearly a curse afflicts all expressions of support for greater democracy in our trade union, as the Motion has now been ruled out of order, following the decision of the National Executive Council (NEC) to ask the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) to change its mind.

However, the SOC may be keen that a casual observer would not think that they are easily pressured by the NEC (by which I mean, pressured by those whose bidding the NEC does).

For Motion 111 is not the only motion to suffer from the rare but potentially lethal "retrospective ruling out virus." Another motion, seemingly beloved of the NEC, is stricken with the same affiliction - Motion 106 (from the NEC itself) on Branch Funding has also disappeared from the Final Agenda, having flourished in apparently rude health on the Preliminary Agenda.

Could it be that the SOC, having given the NEC the void it wanted in place of a sensible debate on union democracy felt obliged to assert its robust independence by pointing out that Motion 106 did not in fact meet the terms of the previous instruction from our Conference which it was meant to address?

Maybe...

On the other hand, perhaps Motion 106 (which had hitherto been timetabled for debate without any need for prioritisation) had attracted sufficient competent amendments that it threatened an unavoidable and unpredictable debate which might have led to a (necessary and desirable - but not from the perspective of the Centre) devolution of resources?

Perhaps, as I blog, some at the UNISON Centre are celebrating the ruling out of order of Motion 106 even more than that of Motion 111...

Perhaps the celebration is taking place on the empty sixth floor? Or the empty seventh? (Or the roof garden on the essentially empty fifth?)

The eighth is empty most of the time too and would do as well.

The ninth is just empty prestige when we have better facilities elsewhere but might suit such a celebration.

Some things really are out of order.

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Monkeying about with pay consultation on the 1% pay insult

UNISON activists - and many officers - are preparing to throw ourselves in to maximising member participation in the important consultation over the 1% pay offer to local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (rightly described by the National Joint Council as an insult).

Unfortunately, the sensible, imaginative and pragmatic approach of using electronic communication to supplement other forms of communication with members is being obstructed and frustrated by ill-judged advice in Pay Bulletin 11.

The bulletin's author was driven to dip their quill pen into the inkwell by the news that branches might use the "survey monkey" site (rather as the national union did during the pensions dispute...)

I am grateful to officers of the Camden local government branch for what follows, as they have considered the bulletin point by point.

Pay Bulletin 11 says;

"The agreed Service Group Pay Consultation Procedures agreed at conference suggest 'flexibility', but do not provide for electronic consultation. (We will look at this with a view to a potential safe means of electronic consultation for future consultations, but this would need to be agreed by Conference)."
 
Camden say;

"We have used electronic consultation before to feed into national union decisions, for example in consultation on initial pay claim, where I believe we had the biggest response of any branch in London. Furthermore even official industrial action ballots, such as the Unison ballot for the November 30 pension strike, had the ability to vote online, despite the restrictive legislation around industrial action.
 
In 2013, when over 80% of UK households have internet connections, and 70% of people use a computer every day, not to mention the millions of people with smartphones - including vast majority of our members - it is inconceivable that we should be denied this avenue for communicating with our members."
 
Pay Bulletin 11 says;

"There is significant scope for abuse of the consultation process through multiple voting using Survey Monkey or other electronic means and it is therefore not appropriate to use it."

Which does beg the question about national use of the site last year, but anyway, Camden say;

"This is completely inaccurate and based on a misunderstanding or inadequate knowledge of surveymonkey or other electronic survey systems. The most common type of online survey used by Unison nationally is an open survey. However we use surveymonkey's closed surveys where personalised individual ballots are e-mailed to each individual member who can then make their individual vote through a secured encrypted connection. This ensures that only active members can vote and that each member only has one vote. The system records every member who does vote and every member who doesn't.
 
This is much more secure than workplace meetings or workplace ballots - as with the former members can attend multiple workplace meetings and vote multiple times, and with the latter ballot papers are not individualised so members or even non-members could fill in and return ballots from people's pigeonholes or inboxes."
 
Pay Bulletin 11 says;

"Our own experience shows overwhelmingly that electronic surveys result in substantial under-representation of 'hard to reach', front-line, low paid and part-time staff. This was borne out in our survey of local government workers earlier in the year. While part-time workers are 55% of the local government workforce, 75% of survey respondents were full-time and skewed towards higher earners. This is presumably because they have access to IT in their jobs and are more likely to be conversant with it."

Camden say;

"Again, this is referring to open surveys, not individualised ballots. In our experience, electronic ballots have much higher turnout than paper ones. In a recent branch indicative ballot turnout from 1700 members over e-mail was 43% but turnout from paper ballots sent to work or home addresses was only 12%. It is true that more low-paid staff in general have less internet access than the better paid but amongst those that do have internet access they are more likely to vote electronically than ones surveyed on paper.
 
And this is not an argument against our preferred method consultation, which is to:
- consult those members whose e-mail addresses we have by e-mail
- consult those whose e-mail addresses we do not have by post to home or workplace addresses."

Pay Bulletin 11 says:

"On-line consultation alone could mitigate against recruiting and organising around pay. Branches are being encouraged to hold branch and workplace meetings."

Camden, tiring perhaps a liitle at having to respond to such foolishness, say;

"This is a non sequitur. You could equally argue that e-mailing members at all "mitigates against recruiting and organising…". Not recruiting or organising of course mitigates against recruiting and organising. The best strategy is to combine recruitment and organising activity like shop meetings with the most effective method of consulting, and shop meetings can be used to increase turnout in the consultation and recruit more members."

Finally (at last!) Pay Bulletin 11 says;

"It is very important that all members receive the same questions, in the same format and that the consultation is  carried out consistently. Use of Survey Monkey could undermine this."

Camden, quite rightly, say;

"In fact, using an electronic survey makes this much easier to do, as questions and answer options can be presented uniformly much more easily than can be guaranteed in shop meetings."

Overall then, Pay Bulletin 11 has to be awarded a grade "F" as a poor piece of work, founded upon misunderstanding and pushing in exactly the wrong direction. The spirit and intent of Conference policy is clearly to encourage branches to use all suitably robust means of consultation to maximise member participation.

There will doubtless those who perceive here a deliberate ploy to reduce participation in branches likely to return majorities to reject. It may be that there are those at the UNISON Centre who no longer believe in national strike action and would be happy to avert it.

However, this smacks more of "cock-up" than conspiracy. It's fairly obvious that our active local government branches have more relevant skills and experience to conduct ballots (outside the strict and specific laws around industrial action or union elections) than can be found at the UNISON Centre. (Who is it, after all, who counts the votes in a General Election?) It's equally obvious (to me at least) that the Camden branch (for one) have a better understanding of the use of electronic consultation than that upon which the author of Pay Bulletin 11 was able to draw.

Service Group Executive members should probably try to assert themselves and bring some common sense to bear on the situation.

In the mean time, activists need to crack on with securing maximum participation in consultation - and maximum rejection of the 1% pay insult.

And the author of Pay Bulletin 11 should pop out for some more blotting paper...

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Labour Link elections - an opportunity for the left?

Tomorrow nominations open for elections to the UNISON Labour Link Committee (http://www.unison.org.uk/elections/pages_view.asp?did=15639) - this is an area of our trade union's work which desperately needs to be improved - and capable socialist candidates are vitally needed!

The National Labour Link Committee is a little-known body which has seemingly existed to ensure that, in the twenty years of UNISON's existence, our Union has been generally ineffective in our intervention in the Labour Party.

The pinnacle of the worthlessness of UNISON Labour Link was probably the vote on Foundation Hospitals during Blair's second-term, when the Government's majority (against UNISON policy - and all real Labour principle) amongst the "UNISON group" of MPs was higher than its overall majority - had the entire UNISON group, on both sides of the Division, been absent from the Commons, the Government would have lost the vote.

The mind-numbing idiocy which appears to have been the hallmark of UNISON's strategic approach to the Labour Party ever since our Union did Blair's bidding in Opposition by moving the "Partnership" proposals to undermine the power of Party Conference (and the unions) is still going strong, as UNISON Labour Link has determinedly set its face against learning from the Foundation Hospital vote fiasco over the intervening years.

Labour Link seriously advances the proposition that we should support, in a Parliamentary selection, any UNISON member, regardless of their politics or record. This approach may create the illusion of influence on the basis that we are on nodding terms with Members of Parliament - but it is genuinely foolish if what we want out of our political work is support for our policies and values. (It may be less foolish if we see our Labour Party affiliation as essentially a vehicle to advance the political careers of a lucky few, or to provide a retirement option for those of our senior officials prepared to sit in the House of Lords).

The "democratic" structures of UNISON's autonomous Affiliated Political Fund (UNISON Labour Link) were designed to insulate our Labour Party work from accountability to rank and file members and - with some noteworthy exceptions - they have proven their effectiveness by ensuring our wider political ineffectiveness in the Labour Party over the years.

UNISON members have voted with their feet, as the proportion of members choosing not to pay into the affiliated section of our political fund has risen over the years. Walking away from the possibility of influence over a potential Party of Government would amount, however, to letting the authors of our political weakness have a final victory.

Whilst the Labour Link Committee may well deserve its obscurity, UNISON members don't deserve a continuation of two decades of relative uselessness.

Socialist candidates - who must be both UNISON Labour Link payers and individual Labour Party members - should seek nomination and campaign for election to the National Labour Link Committee.

Good luck comrades!

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Friday, May 10, 2013

More and more reject the 1% pay insult

There's a growing body of support for the sensible view that local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should join our brothers and sisters in Scotland and reject the employers' pay offer of a miserly 1% (2% below the current rate of price inflation after our living standards have fallen by 16% over the three years of the pay freeze).

A couple of days ago the semi-official "UNISON Active" blog took a clear position (http://unisonactive.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/1-in-local-government-only-credible.html?m=1). The position expressed in that blog post - to campaign for rejection of 1% - which reflected the previously agreed position of the Regional Local Government Executive in Greater London - has since been forcefully reiterated in the influential North West Region (whose representatives had originally moved the position that pointed us in the direction of a dispute over pay in 2013).

Such forthright views seem also to have informed the official UNISON leaflet issued today to accompany the branch-issued consultative ballot papers (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/B6296a.pdf), which clearly states that the NJC Committee viewed the 1% offer as an insult.

It would be churlish in the face of such excellent campaign materials even to wonder aloud how it was that, whereas 13 Committee members rightly concluded that an insult should be rejected, another 14 couldn't join the dots to that formal conclusion.

It might be equally churlish to pick holes in the threadbare arguments against using electronic means to consult members as expressed (electronically) in Pay Matters 11 (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/B6296.pdf). However - since I think there may still be elements around the UNISON Centre who haven't been won to the sensible, reasoned and pragmatic position of rejecting 1% - I can't promise not to be churlish on this point over the weekend.

In the twenty-first century, using all available technologies to mobilise our members against declining living standards strikes me as quite reasonable (rather as a strike over this issue does...)

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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The best that can be achieved by negotiation...

Well done to the 13 members of UNISON's National Joint Council (NJC) Committee who supported a sensible proposal yesterday to recommend rejection of the local government employers 1% pay "offer".

I'm less enamoured of the 14 members of the Committee who opposed that call and left us going out to consult UNISON members in local authorities, and related employers, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on the basis that "this is the best that can be achieved by negotiation" and that it would take "sustained all-out action" to get more.

Yes.

Of course.

Tell us something we don't know.

Those weasel words "the best that can be achieved by negotiation" can be translated (when expressed with no other recommendation) as "we hope you'll accept this lousy offer because we don't think we're up to leading a fight for something better but we don't want to admit our inadequacy as your leaders and would be grateful if you would be so kind as to take responsibility for our failure."

After three years of pay freeze - in which the living standards of local government workers have fallen by one sixth (16%) it is truly pathetic that some of those who aspire to lead our trade union are content to acquiesce in a further fall in our standard of living (as long as they can find a form of words which means it's not their fault).

Our movement will not escape from its current decline until all our leaders can show the pragmatic determination and reasoned courage of the large minority of the NJC Committee who backed a recommendation to reject.

Those of us who agree with the wise 13 and reject the timidity of the feeble 14 should not give up.

UNISON's Rules and Conference policy give a clear right to branches to campaign for rejection of the 1% pay insult. We should use the official national ballot paper in branch consultative ballots, accompanied with clear, simple, persuasive and well-argued recommendations to reject.

If control-freaks try to stop us we must resist. Those who vote to accept a further cut in our living standards by accepting a below-inflation pay rise are on the side of David Cameron - and anyone who tries to prevent branches recommending rejection is doing the work of the Tory Party.

It is never easy to persuade members to take strike action - as we must if we want a decent pay rise. But the lesson of history is that it is only ever when local government workers take national strike action that we secure better pay.

We know 1% is "the best that can be achieved by negotiation".

Now is not the time for negotiation.

Now is the time to reject 1% and campaign for strike action.

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Sunday, May 05, 2013

No Right Turn

While the Tory right-wing are seizing on UKIP's performance in the local elections to promote their obsessions, those who want to insulate Labour from any possibility of posing a radical alternative to austerity aren't keeping quiet either.

The "Blue Labour" boys club recommend we embrace social conservatism, believing that this is UKIP's appeal to its working class supporters (http://www7.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2013/05/05/henry-g-manson-on-the-ukip-challenge-to-labour/). This perhaps misses the point that there have always been socially conservative working class voters - and that they have voted Conservative.

Progress, who prefer some social liberalism as it makes them feel better about their craven capitulation to economic liberalism are less prescriptive, but equally pessimistic, Paul Richards arguing that; "UKIP took votes, not only from disgruntled Tories, but white working-class voters in hitherto Labour areas. There's an important lesson there for Labour too. The surge in South Shields should not just worry the Tories. If white working-class voters desert Labour in the heartlands for the UKIP, it will dent Ed Miliband's chances in 2015. It certainly should kill stone dead any notion of a 'progressive majority' just waiting to be led to the New Jerusalem." (http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2013/05/03/not-just-gin-and-jag/).

Typically, Progress watch as the political right try to shift the centre of political gravity in a reactionary direction and then consider how to accommodate this (in the interests of their political careers?) They also join "Blue Labour" in missing the point that not all "white working class voters in hitherto Labour areas" have necessarily been Labour voters.

The fact that Labour lost no seats (and probably - directly - very few votes) to UKIP does not mean that we should sit back and simply enjoy the Tories losing votes. If we do that, Farage will pull Cameron to the right and Progress will link arms with "Blue Labour" to push the Shadow Cabinet in the same direction. That way leads away from the path to popular support for a Government carrying out policies in the interests of working people.

Socialists within the Labour Party and trade unions need to organise far more effectively to mobilise support for a radical alternative to austerity, the formal basis for which can be found in the policies of the trade unions - who need, as I was saying (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/unions-need-to-answer-ukip.html?m=1) massively to raise our political game.

As implausible as this may seem to some, we need to try to do this from within the Labour Party. Attempts to build a "UKIP of the left" outside Labour's ranks are proving lamentably unsuccesful.

The candidate of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) standing for Hampshire County Council in Eastleigh who was beaten by the candidate of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party (http://election.hants.gov.uk/hwdivisionresult.aspx?year=2013&id=175&distid=2&divelecid=4423) may have been particularly unfortunate, but anyone who came away from last week's elections thinking that the time is right for a socialist electoral challenge to Labour probably wasn't paying attention.

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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Unions need to answer UKIP

The local election results are not good.

Our Party is not where it needs to be now to win a General Election in 2015 (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/05/local-elections-labour-isnt-where-it-needs-be-win).

Opposition to austerity is being drawn around Farage (our very own Poujade - http://m.guardian.co.uk/news/2003/aug/28/guardianobituaries1), and around the poisonous nostalgia of the populist right. UKIP is clearly an "English" manifestation of the anti-political feeling expressed elsewhere is support for the Five Stars or Syriza.

The labour movement needs to find a way to articulate the anger and disillusionment which UKIP are channeling - which means that we need a clear and assertive statement of the progressive anti-austerity policies supported by the trade unions - in opposition to the neo-liberal policies of both this Government and its predecessor.

The polished moderation of "Progress" types in suits is the exact opposite of what we need from the Labour Party - but we may well be consigned to more of that if the trade unions continue to be as useless in influencing the Party as we are now.

UNISON's laughable approach of backing any UNISON member going for a Parliamentary selection, regardless of their politics, is simply one expression of the almost apolitical nature of the practical intervention in the Party by the big unions.

There's no point making headline-grabbing speeches to win votes at Party Conference if the unions aren't populating the Parliamentary Labour Party with people who will fight to put policies into effect.

With so many thousands having voted for the right-wing populism of UKIP, unions like UNISON also have to recognise that some of our members will have been among those voters.

If the labour movement cannot articulate the anger of our members with a progressive voice, criticising the political establishment from a working-class point of view, then we'll cede that role to the populist right.

We need to embark upon a self-confident programme of political education to build support for our policies, to politicise our trade unions and democratise our political work.

On several occasions since the General Election we have caught a glimpse of the potential political power of our labour movement (in March 2011, October 2012 and - above all - November 2011).

It is because we have repeatedly failed to capitalise on these opportunities or to sustain the momentum of our struggles, that we have allowed the political space to be created in which anger at austerity can be translated into votes for a return to an imagined 1950s.

The sense of identity to which UKIP speaks and from which it draws strength is reactionary, xenophobic and homophobic. It's "little Englandism" shades into racism and is socially conservative in every way. Yet it clearly appeals to many whose interests would be better served by the progressive policies of our movement.

The trade unions must become more vocal, more radical and more assertive if we are to draw people - including our own members - around a positive alternative to austerity.

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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Vote Labour

There are no local elections tomorrow where I live or where I work, but in much of England a minority of the electorate will cast votes for local Councillors.



The option which ought to be open to us is to vote Labour. Working people need a political voice and that is what the Labour Party was created to be.



It's not much of that right now of course, and hasn't been for some time. The key problem is not so much the infestation of Blairite careerists from "Progress" - it's more the consistent inability of the trade unions to use our influence effectively.



My own trade union has a risible approach of backing anyone in a Parliamentary selection if they are members of our Union.



Given that UNISON members in Parliament delivered a bigger majority for Foundation Hospitals - against UNISON policy - than the Government could then command in the Commons as a whole, it is clear that the current approach of the big unions to the Labour Party is almost the exact opposite of that which you would adopt if you sought real influence and power.



Nevertheless, the trade unions could still one day seek to do real and useful political work on behalf of our members. Labour retains the potential to be a party of and for working people. Particularly if we shifted the leadership of our trade unions we might then have a Party worthy of support.



No credible electoral alternative exists or is in prospect for working people. As mind-bendingly impossible as it may seem that we should be able to turn the Labour Party into a vehicle for socialist politics, this prospect is less remote (by an order of magnitude) than the abiding fantasy that some other, better, Party can be built to the left.



Vote Labour.

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May Day solidarity with mid-Yorkshire

Today, May Day, is a day for solidarity.

UNISON members employed at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust - where the Union is balloting all our members for strike action, need that solidarity today (http://m.morleyobserver.co.uk/news/local/unison-to-ballot-3-000-members-at-mid-yorkshire-hospitals-trust-1-5626886) as they prepare for a branch-wide ballot.

Adrian O'Malley, Unison Mid Yorkshire branch secretary, said: "As we expected the Trust is pushing forward with more downbandings and job losses in other departments. Clinical Nurse Specialists, Dental Nurses and more Admin staff are at risk of job and pay cuts. At the same time the Trust is employing more senior managers and has given over £4 million to private management consultants Ernst and Young.

"We have been forced into balloting our whole membership as the Trust is unwilling to discuss any alternatives to the downbandings (pay cuts)."

"The Trust is holding a gun to its staff's heads and saying take a pay cut or your sacked. We cannot allow this to continue. Industrial relations within the Trust have broken down due to the senior managements bullying."

Our members in mid-Yorkshire offer a refreshing alternative to the failed approach of swallowing attacks on pay and conditions to save jobs. As the North West Region pointed out to the National Joint Council Committee in local government, we've had both a pay freeze and massive job losses in local government over recent years. The health service faces similar medicine.

After the premature ending of the public service pensions dispute (following the biggest strike action for decades on 30 November 2011), last year - 2012 - saw the lowest level of official strike action since records began. In the twelve months to November 2012 only 250,000 working days were lost to strike action (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/january-2013/statistical-bulletin.html#tab-Labour-disputes--not-seasonally-adjusted-).

(Which is to say, in the whole year that followed the strike action on 30 November 2011, the sum total of all the officially recorded strike action was perhaps a quarter of the action which took place on that single day.)

However, 2013 has seen a modest resurgence of action, including by the CWU and PCS.

The decision of UNISON health workers in mid-Yorkshire to ballot for branch-wide action is a timely inspiration to us all - particularly in UNISON.



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