Sunday, July 28, 2013

Defend the Link! Sign up now!

Ever since Ed Miliband's speech on 9 July was first trailed the political running on the question of the Labour-union link has been made by those who want to weaken the link as a step toward state funding (although my own union did make a suitably robust initial response). Therefore, I was pleased to sign the "defend the link" statement - and would encourage all readers to go online now and sign it too! The statement, which kicks off a campaign which will be launched at a meeting in Central London on Tuesday 3 September, reads as follows; “The creation of the Labour Party opened up the possibility of political representation for working class people. The relationship between the trade unions and the Party has been and remains central to the role of the Party in representing the interests of working people. We therefore support: - the collective affiliation of trade unions to the Party; - collective decision making by trade unionists within the Party; - representation for, and involvement of, trade unions at every level of the Party. We will campaign for this throughout the Party and trade unions and call on all labour movement activists to make submissions to the Collins review in accordance with the above principles.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What's this about The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill?

This Government of, by and for millionaires has introduced the wonderfully titled "Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill" which will have its second reading on 13 September (http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/transparencyoflobbyingnonpartycampaigningandtradeunionadministration.html).

The very title of the Bill gives the game away, linking - as it does - the issue of political lobbying (which is essentially about how a few wealthy people pervert democracy with large sums of money) with the unrelated question of trade union political activity (which is essentially about how very many non-wealthy people can sustain democracy, each with a small sum of money).

Or - as Frances O'Grady put it very well (http://www.tuc.org.uk/union/tuc-22391-f0.cfm) this is the spirit of those who transported the Tolpuddle Martyrs, alive and well almost two centuries on. The Bill (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2013-2014/0097/14097.pdf) proposes to set up a register of lobbyists but then goes on not only to limit the rights of trade unions to campaign (in ways that have been thoroughly demolished by Keith Ewing - http://www.tradeunionfreedom.co.uk/keith-ewing-another-political-attack-on-free-speech/) but also introduces new, unrelated, administrative requirements in respect of the maintenance of membership records by trade unions.

This latest assault upon trade union rights by our real enemies could lead to the weak-kneed and weak-willed in our movement seeking a shabby compromise with Ed Miliband's transparent drive for state funding of political parties (perhaps some cobbled together nonsense about "Associate Membership"?)

No one who has ever campaigned for Labour Party democracy should have any truck with such nonsense.

The Tories attack the trade unions because they see - sometimes more clearly than our own leaders - the political potential of our movement.

That potential rests upon the unique, organic link between trade unions and the Political party to which they relate - a link which is founded upon collective affiliation and collective representation.

The Tories wish to weaken our movement in every way because they see how that link can threaten a status quo inimical to the interests of working people.

Ironically - or perhaps not - Progress and their ilk within the Labour Party want to end the link for the selfsame reason - because it inhibits their project of presenting "austerity-lite" as the best that can be hoped for (and challenges their certainty that we are best led by Oxbridge graduates funded by Lord Sainsbury who have never had a real job).

There can be no doubt that this Bill is a partisan attack upon Labour by the Tories. In this way it should demonstrate - both to trade unionists and Labour Party members - the vital importance of coming together to elect Labour politicians committed to fight this Government and report to our members.

Those who wish to "break the link" from "the left" might wish to reflect upon the fact that they find themselves in agreement with David Cameron. Perhaps now is the time to defend the link?


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Monday, July 22, 2013

Defend the union link

As it turns out, Ed Miliband is indeed an idiot (http://labourlist.org/2013/07/miliband-calls-for-special-conference-in-spring-2014-to-discuss-union-link-reforms/). His transparent project to promote state funding of political parties will now travel by way of Party Conference and another special Conference.



This is a tediously predictable attempt by a precocious (if ungainly) child who has never had a proper job to make himself look like a leader at the expense of destroying the Labour Party. (His father would be amused - if not proud).



If Len McCluskey continues to retreat in the face of brutal personalised attacks he will deserve the next round of attacks (which he must know are coming whatever he does).



UNISON were not implicated in any of the issues which kicked this nonsense off - we need to be totally solid in defence of collective affiliation of trade unions to the Labour Party.



There's more to be said about how Labour's attack on the union link slots into what the Government are already doing - and I'll return to that topic...

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European Court undermines the rights of privatised workers

I am indebted to Daniel Barnett for the news of the outcome of the Alemo-Herron case (http://danielbarnett.us6.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=875913eab2272bcca46358ddf&id=cfc6d4e47f&e=060d042aa5).



This is a truly alarming decision of the European Court which forbids English Courts from applying a "dynamic" interpretation of contractual rights in the event of a TUPE transfer from the public to private sectors, in favour of a "static" interpretation.



What this means in practice is that workers who are privatised will no longer receive pay rises (or any other changes) negotiated by (for example) the Local Government National Joint Council.



This decision tears the contracts of privatised workers away from any existing collective bargaining machinery - and delivers a fatal blow to the approach of those union officials who think we have no choice but to accommodate to privatisation.



The full implications of this very important decision require further thought.



But for now, let me say this.



Damn!



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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Model motion on the Labour-union link?

I'm more used to drafting motions for use within my trade union than the Labour Party, so would welcome comments on the competence or usefulness of the following motion (or someone telling me where a far better motion is already available online);

The Collins Review and the Party's relationship with the trade unions

This branch remembers that the Labour Party was founded as an alliance between trade unions and socialist organisations to provide a political voice for working people.

We believe that Labour's continuing relationship with three million trade unionists who are affiliated members of our Party helps to root our Party in our communities and workplaces. It is a relationship which has seen our Party through its greatest crises and to our greatest triumphs.

We want our Party to continue to be a Party funded primarily by millions rather than by millionaires. We recognise that trade unions are collective organisations of working people, and understand that the relationship between the unions and the Party, locally and nationally should be on the basis of collective affiliation.

We note that Ray Collins is currently leading a review of the Party's relationship with the trade unions at the request of the Party Leader.

We would support positive measures to strengthen and improve the relationship between the Party and the unions, for example by encouraging the greater democratic engagement of ordinary trade unionists in union and Party structures, or by developing the understanding of the nature and purpose of trade unionism among Party members who lack experience of trade unionism. We call upon all individual Party members to join, and become actively involved in, an appropriate trade union.

We oppose any and all suggestions that would weaken or undermine the relationship between the Party and the trade unions based upon collective affiliation. We call upon the NEC to ensure that any proposals for change reflect the views expressed in this motion.

We resolve to submit this motion to Ray Collins, and to the CLP for consideration of the motion (excluding this paragraph) as a contemporary resolution to Party Conference.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Attack on union link puts democracy at risk

Over two centuries working people have fought for our rights in the workplace and wider society.

Among our victories have been those of the Chartists and the Suffragettes (and Suffragists) who won us the franchise.

The right to choose who governs us is an essential element of democracy. Our rulers have never been comfortable with this and are not now.

For all the ideological bullshit about "Western democracy" (which would be, to paraphrase Ghandi, a good idea) capitalism sits most uncomfortably with popular democracy if voters can elect people with real power over the market economy. The "ideal type" of the relationship between capitalism and democracy is far more Chile 1973 than Britain 1945.

Capitalism - as an economic system - is invariably contrary to the interests of the majority of the population and perpetuating it requires impressive intellectual athletics from those whose role it is to sell a lie to workers (the most dedicated of whom these days brand themselves as "Progress" - or "Sainsbury's").

The emergence - more than a century ago - of a social democratic political party linked organically to the trade unions (the Labour Party) posed a continuing, unavoidable challenge to the hegemony of the idea that there was no alternative to capitalism as a way of ordering our lives.

The history of the Labour Party is the tale of how the articulation of an alternative to capitalism was - and continues to be - avoided, marginalised, ridiculed and rejected. However, for as long as the Labour Party was - or appeared to be - a voice for organised labour (because of our collective affiliation to the Party) then the question of capitalism was always contested - as Labour continued to appear as an oppositional voice.

That is what is now at issue.

Ed Miliband seeks to undermine collective trade union affiliation to Labour, leaning upon half understanding of a poor analysis of our history to make proposals which jeopardise our future.

We have declining turnout in elections, and declining support for the two main parties, because there is less to differentiate these two parties in a world lacking both a global alternative to capitalism and a viable domestic alternative to neoliberalism. In the past there was mass support for Labour as an alternative to the world as it is. This support may often have been misplaced, but it was real.

If Miliband succeeds in transforming the Labour Party into an entity which only ever quibbles with the detail of the existing social order, by whose beneficiaries it is funded, he will have blocked the road back to that mass support.

And in that case the purpose of the franchise will have been frustrated and representative democracy will continue its long slide into irrelevance.



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Unfair Dismissal (Variation of the Limit of Compensatory Award) Order 2013

This is the order which is imposing a dual cap on compensatory awards for unfair dismissal - as well as the global cap of £74,200, each individual faces a cap equivalent to their own annual salary. So with the exception of a few people I sit across tables from, and fewer who sit at top tables, everyone I know faces a lower cap.



The Government have introduced this new lower limit only out of kindness of course. The Minister, Jo Swinson explained to MPs; "the limit, which now stands at £74,200, has moved far in excess of the average award, which has been around £5,000 for the past seven years. The Government take the view that the disparity has created unrealistic perceptions about the likely level of award that can be expected at tribunal. " (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmgeneral/deleg5/130709/130709s01.htm).



How kind of them to save us all from unrealistic perceptions! If only that was all they had been doing with our employment rights.



Labour MP Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) summed it up well; "Statutory instruments in the past 18 months have moved the qualification period from one year to two years, and collective redundancy has been moved from 90 days to 45 days. We have also had the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which spawned the order. Settlement agreements, ACAS early conciliation and the introduction of fees have all been put in place. Someone now has to go around that whole system, managing to navigate the protected and without prejudice conversations and the conciliation service at ACAS, and be able to afford the £1,250 to get into the employment tribunal system, but, even when justice is being delivered, people are unable to claim the compensation that they might deserve, because the draft statutory instrument we are considering restricts it to a year's salary or £74,200. "



Just at the point at which more and more workers have need of our employment rights, the Government is undermining them. These attacks demand a political and an industrial response.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Learn from the teachers - support NUT and NASUWT

The two largest teachers' unions have confirmed arrangements for the next phase of their industrial action (http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/18841).



This will include;

continuation of the current action short of strike action instructions;

further national rallies in September;

a second phase of rolling national strike action in the week beginning 30 September;

a third phase of rolling national strike action in the week beginning 14 October; and

a one-day, all-out national strike before the end of the Autumn term.



The approach of the teachers' unions is to co-ordinate not only between unions, but also to take action in connection with more than one dispute at the same time.



This unusual approach (explicitly repudiated by UNISON's Industrial Action Committee after the experience of July 2002) corresponds to the experience of all public service workers, for whom job cuts, the pay freeze, and the worsening of our pensions are all part of the same experience.



It is precisely the approach to "broadening the battle lines" which we should have adopted early last year. The least we can now do is all within our power to lend support.

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Fight the privatisation of the post - support the CWU

Our economy is in the doldrums as capitalist firms hoard cash rather than invest it, not seeing opportunities for profit.



One of the Government's remedies for this state of affairs (rather than investing in the economy to get it moving) is to find ways to open up to the profit motive areas of economic life not previously driven by this imperative - notably the Royal Mail.



And that's why the CWU campaign against Royal Mail privatisation is so significant (http://www.cwu.org/save-our-royal-mail.html). This is a privatisation which could still be scuppered (particularly if Labour pledged renationalisation on return to office in 2015). If you've not already done so, sign the online petition now (http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/vince-cable-save-our-royal-mail).



The CWU are absolutely right not only to mount a wide-ranging political campaign against privatisation but also to prepare for industrial action to protect members' terms and conditions (http://www.cwu.org/cwu-invites-government-to-work-together-for-new-solution-on-royal-mail-or-face-strike-action.html).



The sort of spivs and sharks who aim to get their share of privatised public services invariably see "shareholder value" in attacking pay and conditions which have been fought for and won over decades. They have to be sent a clear message - not only that CWU members will resist attempts to profit at their expense, but also that the wider labour and trade union movement will stand behind the postal workers to fight both privatisation and the consequences of privatisation, and to demand that an incoming Labour Government returns the post to the public sector.



Although, as a republican, I wouldn't go to the wire about the name...



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The fight for public sector pensions continues - support the FBU

The public service pensions disputes of 2011/12 saw the acceptance or imposition of detrimental changes to pension funds for local government and health workers, teachers and civil servants, albeit the damage was limited by the campaign in opposition which included - on 30 November 2011, the largest strike seen in this country for decades.



One group of public service workers were split off from this dispute, however, as the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the Government held longer running talks about the separate pension fund for firefighters. Those talks appear now to have reached an impasse and the FBU are to ballot their members for action (http://www.fbu.org.uk/?p=6819).



The partial retreat by London Mayor, Boris Johnson, on proposals for the closure of fire stations (http://www.brixtonblog.com/clapham-fire-station-saved-following-community-campaign/14173) demonstrates the potential political power of community and trade union mobilisation to defend the fire service.



The thousands who have been mobilised to defend fire stations are an obvious constituency to support a fight for fair pensions for firefighters. - and the FBU should call for support from all those of us ready to provide it.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Ed Miliband and the union link - the good(?) reason and the real reason

I spent yesterday working for Labour's victory in the Hanover and Elm Grove by election for Brighton and Hove Council, along with something like 80 other Party members and staff from across the City and wider Region.

In the course of traipsing up and down some very steep roads (which readers who have only been to Brighton for Conferences will probably not have experienced) I had an interesting chat with a Labour MP close to the recently aborted Party funding negotiations who explained the Party leadership's thinking leading up to Ed Miliband's speech this week (which he supported).

An important factor in the timing was that the Party funding talks had been sabotaged by the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Labour Leader wanted to be in a position to go on the offensive against the Tories on this issue (as anyone who has seen this week's Prime Minister's Question Time would have to acknowledge that he did reasonably effectively).

The leadership's view was that they were hamstrung in launching such an attack by (in their view) the public perception that there was little difference between millionaires' making big donations for favours and Trade Union General Secretaries seeking policy changes in return for affiliation fees and donations (for example in the "Warwick" talks under the last Government).

When I countered that there had only been rows in the "Warwick" process because the Party leadership had moved so far away from the values of the movement of which it was supposed to be part, it was put to me that trade unions could no longer meaningfully claim to speak on behalf of a working class, the majority of whom were outside its ranks. Further, it was argued, most workers these days had no dealings with trade unions in their everyday lives, as we are largely restricted to the public sector and to parts of the private sector which were themselves formerly in the public sector.

I can see, how, on this basis, politicians who see their fundamental purpose as being to govern "in the national interest" can come to the conclusion that, as a result of the decline of trade union presence, our movement no longer has a claim to be any more than one (albeit important) "vested interest."

However, if you examine the empirical foundations upon which these conclusions are based, it turns out that the whole basis of this analysis is flawed.

First, it just isn't true that "most" workers no longer have dealings with trade unions in their everyday lives. Of course we are smaller, weaker and less relevant than we were a generation ago - but, according to the latest Workplace Employee Relations Survey (about which I blogged ad nauseam earlier in the year) 52% of employees work in workplaces where there is at least one union member and 46% work in a workplace with a recognised trade union.

Bearing in mind that there is a considerable degree of turnover in the labour market, even during a recession, many of the 54% of employees who currently work at a workplace where there is no trade union recognition, will have in the past worked in one of the 46% of workplaces with such recognition, or will do in the future.

It's not fanciful to assume therefore that a clear majority of employed adults of working age have experience of working in a workplace with trade union recognition - which means that unions will have played a role in bargaining over their pay, leave, sick pay, health and safety etc.

We don't have the presence, in workplaces and the wider society, that we had in (say) 1979 - but we are a long way from being as absent and irrelevant as the Leader of the "Opposition" appears to believe.

Taking a long view also puts declining trade union density (the proportion of employees who are members of a trade union) into some sort of perspective, particularly in terms of its meaning for the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party.

Again it is true that trade union density has slumped catastrophically since it peaked a generation ago, and now hovers around the 26% mark across the economy as a whole. However, that is precisely the level to which trade union density had fallen in 1929 (after the defeats of the 1920s) and from which it continued to fall until slowly clawing its way back to the 26% mark in 1936.

So, in 1931, when the trade unions stood by the Party after it was betrayed by its Leader, when no one thought to question a relationship which gave the unions far greater formal power than we have eighty years on, trade union density was lower than it is now.

Therefore, just as Ed Miliband is wrong to think that trade unions fail to touch the lives of most working people in 2013, he fails to see that we are now still more numerous than we were at vital moments in the Party's history.

What has changed about our movement since the 30s is not trade union density or presence, but the gender and sectoral composition of our movement. Our strength is not now in (predominantly male) manufacturing (which in any case employs far fewer than it did then) but in (far more feminised) public services (which employ more now precisely because of the past achievements of our movement).

On the one hand, this makes our policies and demands less (not more) sectional in nature, because the protection and improvement of public services is a shared interest of "producers" and "consumers" (or citizens).

On the other hand, in a period in which a capitalist crisis is being resolved through savage cuts and privatisation, the trade unions appear (to all those who refuse to see beyond the existing order of things) as a major obstacle to the "common sense of the age" (that budgets must balance and the private sector knows best).

It must be much easier for a Labour leader to sleep at night as he plans to implement Tory spending plans if elected if he can (in his own mind) dismiss the cries of the trade unions on behalf of all working people as no more than the "special pleading" of a "vested interest" contrary to the "national interest" - this is a problem which has confronted every Labour leader and which has generally been resolved by them in the same way. (Of course, socialists know - or ought to know - that there is not and never has been any such thing as a "national interest" and that this is always a political construct designed, in the final analysis, to deliver for the rulers against the ruled).

In fact, Ed Miliband has been captured by another small and pernicious "vested interest" of which he himself is an expression. It is clear that his game plan is to secure state funding for political parties. This is very much in the interests of lifelong career politicians, and of the employees of political parties - indeed (in the UK) of all those who live their lives within the "Westminster bubble".

Freed from the pesky business of accountability to the organised working class, "One Nation Labour" can get on with the business of fitting our economy and society to the needs of global capital (albeit softening the edges) unencumbered by anything that would interfere with the wisdom of those who live within the bubble.

Just as everyone always has two reasons for what they do - the "good reason" and the "real reason" - so Ed Miliband has a (more or less) high minded justification for seeking to break the union link which conceals (perhaps even from himself) the real reason.

Or, to paraphrase Marx "it is not a matter of what this or that Miliband brother pictures as his goal, it is a matter of what that Miliband brother is in actuality and what, as a result of this being, he will historically be compelled to do."

Unless we can stop him.


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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The history of UNISON's two section political fund

Red Pepper asked me to explain UNISON's political fund arrangements for the uninitiated following Ed Miliband's reference to them in questions after his speech yesterday (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/ed-miliband-praises-unisons-labour-fund-opt-in-but-its-not-that-simple/). I hope that regular readers (not all of whom share all my views) will feel that I did a reasonably good factual job.

In that post I did say "this isn't the time or place for a detailed history of the UNISON arrangements and their consequences" - and indeed that wasn't.

But this might be. And I should declare an interest, in that my Labour Link NEC colleagues decided once again this month not to elect me to the Labour Link Committee...

Prior to the creation of UNISON twenty years ago, two of the three
"former partner unions" were Labour affiliates, whereas NALGO (which
brought with it the majority of members to the new Union) had voted
down proposals to affiliate some years previously.

NUPE and COHSE did not want merger to disaffiliate them, but NALGO did
not expect its members to vote for a merger if this meant an affiliation which they had rejected. The negotiators hit upon the "fix" of two political funds, although (following discussion with the
Certification Officer who oversees trade union mergers) it became clear that the law only allows a trade union to have one political fund, and so the new Union was established with one fund, which had
two sections.

Initially the two sections of the Political Fund were known as the "Former NUPE/COHSE Fund" and the "Former NALGO Fund" and members remained in their former fund (with new members joining the appropriate section for the branch they joined). After two years, this interim period came to an end and members were permitted to switch between the two sections, which became known as the "General Political Fund" (GPF) and the "Affiliated Political Fund" (APF) (now known as "UNISON Labour Link"). Indeed members can pay into both sections of the fund if they make a small additional contribution.

The APF developed its own autonomous structures within UNISON as set out in the initial Rule Book. Attempts by opponents of Labour affiliation to force a debate on affiliation within UNISON were
frustrated in court by the design of the UNISON Rule Book (http://www.certoffice.org/CertificationOfficer/media/DocumentLibrary/Decisions/Decision_D-4-5.01_December_2000.pdf?ext=.pdf), which (it became clear) had been written with a clear intent to preserve affiliation even though only a minority of members chose to affiliate.

Indeed, over the years it has become increasingly obvious that insulating the APF from rank and file pressure was an important aspect of the two section political fund, since neither section of the fund is directly accountable to UNISON Conference or even the UNISON
National Executive, but only to the specific National Committee established for it by the Rule Book.

This meant that, whilst Labour was in Government, motions to UNISON
Conference which sought to place demands on the Labour Party were
ruled out of order. All that most members of the Union could do was ask Conference to request that the National Labour Link Committee considered making such demands. Labour Link payers did eventually force the introduction of directly elected members of the National
Labour Link Committee alongside NEC members, but the Labour Link
structure remains a structure of essentially toothless annual
"forums". Following an early shock in which Geoff Martin led the APF
left to victory in opposition to Tony Blair over Clause Four, the Union machine has become increasingly comfortable with its control of the Labour Link.

UNISON members, on the other hand, became increasingly dissatisfied, for example with the vote on Foundation Hospitals in Blair's second term (in which the Government would have lost were it not for the "UNISON group" of MPs voting more decisively against UNISON policy than the House of Commons as a whole. Members could not see what "UNISON Labour Link" was doing for them.

This dissatisfaction culminated in a Conference decision to launch a review of the political funds early in the last decade, in which the Socialist Party's preferred option of a "third" section to the political fund (which could have supported non-Labour candidates) was considered alongside the options of the status quo and outright disaffiliation. This process of consultation (which excluded the option of a single section political fund under the control of UNISON Conference preferred by many on the left) did not lead to change (which given that the "change" option was absurd is hardly surprising - it could have led to UNISON supporting more than one candidate in the same election).

The two section political fund came through thirteen years in which a Labour Government was (at the very best) a distinctly mixed blessing for UNISON members and is therefore a robust way of retaining affiliation to Labour in the face of mass opposition from trade union
members. It may not have served the interests of our members, but it served its purpose.

However, by the end of this period dissatisfaction with the utter inadequacy of the Labour Link forced our General Secretary - at the 2009 Conference - to trespass on the autonomy of the APF by calling - in his Conference speech - for a moratorium on Constituency Development Plans with their selective reinstatement on political grounds.

Over the years the proportion of members in the APF has fallen from
40% at the time of merger to 33% now. Of course now, after twenty years, the vast majority of UNISON members have only ever been in UNISON. As I explain in the Red Pepper piece, the administrative arrangements for allocation of members who do not express a preference is vital to keeping the size of that minority up.

Those of us who believe in the link between Labour and the trade unions (and I believe that its loss would be a strategic defeat for the working class) ought not to express admiration for political fund arrangements which have prevented our members from making best use of the link because they were always designed to preserve affiliation with or without support, whilst insulating our Labour Party work from rank and file pressure.

I'm not suggesting that the arrangements in other unions are, or have been, any better. In some ways, UNISON's structures and lay democracy (however limited) expose our shortcomings to view more clearly.

The link we should fight to defend ought, however, to be a living, breathing, democratic link, which the APF certainly never has been.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Dave Prentis is right

Regular readers of the blog will realise that the title of this post isn't really what is to be expected here.

However, I've had occasion to look at the responses from our three largest trade unions to Ed Miliband's silly little speech earlier today, in which he provided an object lesson in why we need far fewer career politicians with no genuine labour movement experience.

I can't really see the need to add to what I said yesterday in anticipation of this unfortunate episode (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/what-do-i-do-with-rosette-ed.html?m=1) (except to say that, after listening to the speech, I still went canvassing)(or "door knocking" as we now say).

At first glance the response from UNITE (http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/uniteandthepoliticallevy/) looks skillful. It's the sort of spin we would normally expect from Progress (the Tory fifth column within Labour) but in an opposite direction. Essentially, UNITE are trying to interpret what Ed Miliband said in the direction of what Len McCluskey wishes he had said, hoping to frame the debate in order to influence the outcome of forthcoming discussions about the detail.

Unfortunately, it's not persuasive to anyone who heard what Ed Miliband actually said. It's quite clear that, like the worst sort of employer, he wants to deal with trade unionists "as individuals"and not collectively, represented by the one with the biggest mouth (perhaps particularly if that mouth belongs to a Scouser).

A softly-softly approach to the talks which McCluskey welcomed so gushingly almost as soon as Miliband had sat down is unlikely to cut much ice. We can't out-spin Progress, we need to outnumber them and out-organise them if we are going to defeat their agenda, which is to neutralise what little is left of trade union power in the Labour Party.

Turning to the response from Paul Kenny and the GMB (http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/gmb-ballot-on-political-fund), this is also superficially welcome, being, as it is, characteristically "old school." The GMB position amounts to threatening a ballot on affiliation.

Such a ballot could, of course, only be won through a campaign backed enthusiastically from the top of the Union. Therefore, you could take the view that this is shrewd negotiating by a skilled tactician, showing what he is prepared to do if a compromise cannot be achieved.

Or not.

This might be effective if we were dealing with people who cared about the labour movement or the Labour Party - but the Party Leader aims now to become the willing prisoner of people who believe, as Tony Blair did (and does), that the Labour Party was a historic mistake. Given this, the GMB position will appear to our adversaries as Paul Kenny threatening to saw off the branch on which he is sitting. (The perception of our adversaries may be flawed, but it will influence their response to our actions).

I wondered briefly if these two General Secretaries were playing "good cop, bad cop" but decided that was the script for a low budget "straight to DVD" movie.

So it was something of a relief to come to the UNISON response (http://www.unison.org.uk/content/conBlogPost/25). Dave Prentis says, rightly, that this whole issue is a diversion from the real issues which our members expect us (and the Labour Party) to deal with.

It is.

Progress have eagerly led a (perhaps not unwilling) Labour Leader into a well signposted Tory bear trap which has the dual benefit, for a cruel and failing Government of dividing what we have at the moment instead of an Opposition whilst simultaneously diverting attention from their own failings.

If Miliband had felt he needed to comment further he could have responded with references to the many disgraces of Tory funding (as some of us tried to point out today's Standard - https://mobile.twitter.com/philewis/status/354662800959889408/photo/1).

He did not need to make today's speech. He chose to do it. In doing so he ignored the pressing priorities of working people to dance to a tune played by the media, in harmony with Progress and the Coalition.

The UNISON response is the best of the three both because it is right in its own terms and also because an inscrutable failure even to engage with or acknowledge proposals which you wish had not been made is very often the best opening gambit.

So there you are. Dave Prentis is right.

For anyone who's made it this far into the post, please rest assured that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, as I intend to review the history of UNISON's unique dual section political fund over the past twenty years.

I can't imagine I'll give that post the same title.

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Monday, July 08, 2013

What do I do with the Rosette Ed?

I'm off work tomorrow, and have been intending to do some work, as a Labour Party member, in a local Council by-election.

But the Leader of the Party appears not to want the union link any more (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23234340). He may say he wants to "mend" not "end" the link but if you look at what is being said that's not true.

Our latterday Kinnock says;

"I believe we need people to be able to make a more active, individual, choice on whether they affiliate to the Labour Party.

So we need to set a new direction in our relationship with trade union members in which they choose to join Labour through the affiliation fee: they would actively choose to be individually affiliated members of the Labour Party and they would no longer be automatically affiliated."

The key word here is "individual". The Party will happily take money from willing trade unionists, who will be able to participate in fundraising, door-knocking and generally promoting the political careers of the well-connected with wealthy backers, whilst enjoying all the power and influence which comes of being a Party member these days.

A good, socialist case can be made for the Labour-union link (http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/not-just-in-defence-of-the-union-link/) but that's not our Leader's politics. He has chosen the side of "Progress" and those who don't really want the union-link.

Because, if we all just choose as individuals whether or not to affiliate to Labour then there will be no more organic a link between our Union and our Party than there is between the Party and any other civil society organisation.

Individual UNISON members might join the Party, be active in it and even be selected to stand for office, but UNISON as a collective organisation would have no voice (and the fact that we have used our voice poorly and weakly too often is no argument for silence).

Without collective affiliation, how long will trade union delegations still attend Party Conference? Why would there be dedicated seats on the National Executive for bodies which did no more than happen to have in membership a number of disconnected and unorganised individual members of the Party?

Similarly, on Planet Miliband (which appears now to be a satellite of Planet Mandelson), since there would be no affiliation, there could be no disaffiliation and so "Progress" can deliver to the anti-Labour Left the prospect of trade union support for other candidates (which both parties to this unholy alliance have long sought).

It is an irony that Miliband may have been encouraged to believe that this approach to "opting-in" is something the Party could easily survive by a misunderstanding of how it is that as many as a third of UNISON members come to pay into the "affiliated" section of our political fund. If so, he has been very poorly advised - and anyone who thinks the UNISON system amounts to "contracting-in" needs a tutorial in UNISON Rules and processes.

For a son of his father Miliband also exhibits little comprehension of the history of Labourism. "Contracting-in", when it was introduced in 1927 by the Baldwin Government, cost Labour 1.3 Million affiliated members and a quarter of its income.

But that was "contracting-in" imposed upon us by our enemies as revenge for the General Strike, resisted by a united front of the Party and trade unions, and preserving the vital collective nature of union affiliation which anchors the Party to the wider movement. This would be an attack from our own Leader, dividing the Party and movement in order to individuate (and thereby neutralise) the union link.

The half-baked plans of Ed Miliband will do damage to the Labour Party of which Stanley Baldwin could only have dreamed.

The question confronting the trade unions is a much bigger dilemma than my parochial worry about whether I put on that Red Rosette tomorrow. The question is, shall we resist?

Ed Miliband is gambling that our desperation to oust the Coalition will mean that we will swallow anything. I don't think that any self-respecting trade unionist who has hope in the Labour Party should do that.

Any trade union leader who supports Ed Miliband on this question would be writing off the idea of a Party of Labour in this country.

If I wear that Rosette tomorrow, it will be because I am not yet ready to take that step.

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Thursday, July 04, 2013

General Secretary's report to the UNISON NEC

Wednesday's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) was dominated by the allocation of NEC members to Committees, and the election of Committee Chairs for the next two years.

General Secretary, Dave Prentis, did however give his characteristically wide-ranging "state of the Union" report.

He began with the demonstration in defence of the National Health Service in Manchester on 29 September, emphasising that this is a priority for the Union. In response to subsequent questions, Dave confirmed that a note would be going out to our Regions the very next day.

Details of the demonstration are apparently set to be finalised at a meeting of the TUC Executive on 9 July. Within UNISON lead responsibility is being given to the North West Region, a decision which may these days have some political as well as geographical merit.

Dave also covered pay in his report, expressing his disappointment that members had not generally been stronger on this issue this year (rest assured that several questioners expressed the view that it might be the leadership who most need to show more strength!)

I was one of those confident that Dave did not intend the more downbeat interpretations of his remark that no one Union, nor one sector, could expect to breach the 1% pay policy for public servants.

With Scottish Local Government workers set to commence a strike ballot with just this aim in mind, and the Higher Education Service Group Executive (SGE) agreeing (at a meeting which - quite annoyingly - clashed with Wednesday's NEC meeting) to ballot for action also, it's clear that the best-led elements of our Union are fed up waiting for a pay dispute that always recedes into the future as time passes. The challenge to our NEC (and our General Secretary) is to give a clear and inspirational lead.

On a more positive note, Dave invited Assistant General Secretary Bronwyn McKenna to report on UNISON's application for judicial review of the Government's imposition of fees for claimants in employment tribunals. Whether or not we succeed in this legal challenge it has certainly been the right thing to do, as sometimes litigation is the only available response to injustice.

UNISON has separately referred to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) the absurd legal restrictions on industrial action ballots imposed by UK law and has won a vitally important, precedent setting Supreme Court decision that school staff can use refuse collectors as comparators in equal pay claims.

Dave also reported that every Region would be organising an event to mark the 65th anniversary of the NHS and covered the challenge which the Union faces to recruit more members and to shift resources from the Centre to the Regions.


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A series of unfortunate events...?

I will get, promptly, to a proper report from today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) but first I need to comment upon the latest of a series of unfortunate events.
At the point today at which NEC members were travelling from the 9th and 1st floors to the ground floor of the UNISON Centre for an unanticipated run-off ballot in the election of NEC members to the National UNISON Labour Link Committee (an election in which your humble blogger was sadly not a winner), thirteen people spent an hour stuck in a lift.
The title of this blog post was suggested to me by one of the NEC members involved in this incident. It was unfortunate that this happened at all, and embarrassing to the Union that it happened on the day of an NEC meeting.
It was additionally embarrassing (I should imagine) that this happened on the day of the first full meeting of a new NEC following our biennial elections.
But, this was just the last in a series of unfortunate events (and that series of events help to explain why today's lift incident was even more embarrassing than might otherwise have been the case).
For the reason why so many people were in a lift travelling from the top to the bottom of the impressive erection of the Euston Road in the middle of a UNISON NEC was that we don't hold NEC meetings all together in one place.
We don't do that because the Ninth Floor of the UNISON Centre is not an accessible venue for all NEC members. So most NEC members meet at the top of the building, and a few participate (imperfectly) through a partial audio-visual link from the first floor.
We could meet - on the ground floor of the UNISON Centre - in a perfectly satisfactory venue accessible to all NEC members.
However, not only have successive Presidential Teams refused to consider any such relocation, repeated requests that the NEC be permitted at least to vote on where we should meet have been refused, most recently today.
Two years ago a UNISON NEC meeting took place on the ground floor of the UNISON Centre because of teething problems on the 9th floor - but since then the NEC has not been offered the opportunity to continue to meet in that entirely satisfactory venue, nor even the opportunity to vote on this.
So what was (perhaps) most unfortunate of all the series of unfortunate events was that UNISON NEC members were trapped in a lift precisely because they had not been given the opportunity even to vote on relocating their own meeting within their own building.
UNISON cannot be held responsible for the disgraceful approach implemented in our name (that an approach to making a "reasonable adjustment" which segregates the person for whom such an adjustment is made from the rest of the NEC is to be preferred to moving NEC meetings so that all members can participate equally).
UNISON cannot be held responsible for this disgraceful approach because the democratically elected ruling body of our trade union has had no opportunity to take such responsibility. However, our NEC can not deny responsibilty for allowing ourselves to be treated in this way.
Those of us who can no more stomach segregation in the name of "reasonable adjustment" than we would on grounds of race or gender (or any other reason) have had no opportunity to express our views within our trade union (even though we may be members of our Union's ruling NEC).
It will be yet another "unfortunate event" if this blatant breach of UNISON's proud commitment to equality has to be taken outside our trade union. However, those of us who believe in UNISON's values cannot permit a misplaced loyalty to those who claim to share that belief to get in the way of giving effect to our values.
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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

UNISON's Magnificent Seven Minus One

Before I get further into reporting from today's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council I will report on a relatively minor item from the end of the meeting, but one which puts UNISON in a good light.

This concerns nominations to the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). UNISON has - as all TUC affiliates have - the right to make nominations to various sections of the General Council which are elected by the whole of Congress. In one such we agreed to renominate Gloria Mills to represent black women trade unionists.

We also have the right, in Section A, to nominate seven direct representatives of UNISON on to the General Council. However, today, our NEC nodded through a recommendation that we make only six such nominations. This was not some error or oversight, but a thought out approach to demonstrating UNISON's commitment to the principle that the TUC should not simply be dominated by the biggest trade unions.

Therefore we agreed to nominate Jane Carolan, Eleanor Smith and Chris Tansley, from the NEC, and Karen Jennings, Dave Prentis and Liz Snape, from our senior management, to sit on the General Council of the TUC, whilst leaving our seventh seat vacant.

As a forthright critic of our leadership from time to time, it is only right that I pay tribute to the Presidential Team for having thought through, debated and recommended this gesture of respect for the smaller trade unions who are also an important part of our movement.