Thursday, May 22, 2014

Vote Labour

The Labour Party, of which I have been a member for thirty five years, is a miserable shadow of what it once was and less than a shadow of what it might (and ought to) be.

In 1945, led by a leader who would never have risen in these times of shallow celebrity, Labour (pushed by a population determined not to go back to the 1930s) created a welfare state at a time when the economy was in every way in a far worse state than it ever has been since.

During the longest continuous period of Labour government we have ever had (and perhaps ever will have), Labour refused to legislate to remove from the trade unions (who created and have always sustained the Party) legal shackles more onerous than those imposed in any other advanced capitalist country.

Last year, under a (less worse) leader elected with union support, the Party began to move to fracture fundamentally the relationship between the Party and the unions. At the same time, whenever a handful of brave socialists dare to question the complicity of Labour local authorities with Tory austerity they are rewarded with disciplinary sanctions.

And yet today I voted Labour without question. So should all trade unionists who want to engage with the real (and horrendous) politics of our country in 2014.

We face a Government which (whilst it may all to often be “marching over bridges New Labour built”) has done social damage of which Thatcher and Major could only have dreamed.

As it has devastated the remnants of the post-war settlement, so the political support for social democracy which rested upon those remnants has withered. Today, in the European elections, the Coalition parties will gain fewer votes than a Poujadiste protest party which stands clearly to their right.

The Sainsbury-funded (and misnamed) “Progress” faction and the weird “Blue Labour” types will conclude that Labour should chase right-wing voters with coded racism and authoritarian social policies.

Against this defeatist nonsense we will try to rally the good people in the Party around the demand that Labour pose a radical alternative to austerity – as those candidates who advocated rail renationalisation did so well recently.

I hate that this is where politics is in my middle-age.

I hate that my children are growing up in a more reactionary country than the one I saw in my teenage years.

I hate that all we can do is to try to nudge leftwards a Parliamentary Labour Party so far removed from the people we ought to represent.

But, comrades, this is where we are.


Vote Labour. Join Labour. Fight for real Labour.

Vote Labour

The Labour Party, of which I have been a member for thirty five years, is a miserable shadow of what it once was and less than a shadow of what it might (and ought to) be.

In 1945, led by a leader who would never have risen in these times of shallow celebrity, Labour (pushed by a population determined not to go back to the 1930s) created a welfare state at a time when the economy was in every way in a far worse state than it ever has been since.

During the longest continuous period of Labour government we have ever had (and perhaps ever will have), Labour refused to legislate to remove from the trade unions (who created and have always sustained the Party) legal shackles more onerous than those imposed in any other advanced capitalist country.

Last year, under a (less worse) leader elected with union support, the Party began to move to fracture fundamentally the relationship between the Party and the unions. At the same time, whenever a handful of brave socialists dare to question the complicity of Labour local authorities with Tory austerity they are rewarded with disciplinary sanctions.

And yet today I voted Labour without question. So should all trade unionists who want to engage with the real (and horrendous) politics of our country in 2014.

We face a Government which (whilst it may all to often be “marching over bridges New Labour built”) has done social damage of which Thatcher and Major could only have dreamed.

As it has devastated the remnants of the post-war settlement, so the political support for social democracy which rested upon those remnants has withered. Today, in the European elections, the Coalition parties will gain fewer votes than a Poujadiste protest party which stands clearly to their right.

The Sainsbury-funded (and misnamed) “Progress” faction and the weird “Blue Labour” types will conclude that Labour should chase right-wing voters with coded racism and authoritarian social policies.

Against this defeatist nonsense we will try to rally the good people in the Party around the demand that Labour pose a radical alternative to austerity – as those candidates who advocated rail renationalisation did so well recently.

I hate that this is where politics is in my middle-age.

I hate that my children are growing up in a more reactionary country than the one I saw in my teenage years.

I hate that all we can do is to try to nudge leftwards a Parliamentary Labour Party so far removed from the people we ought to represent.

But, comrades, this is where we are.


Vote Labour. Join Labour. Fight for real Labour.

What sort of unity do we need?

Having spoken with PCS comrades at the lively and interesting Labour Representation Committee fringe meeting on Tuesday evening, I was interested in yesterday’s outcome of the debate – at PCS Conference – on the possible “transfer of engagements” to UNITE.

PCS delegates set certain “red lines” for any further discussion between that union and UNITE (including a political fund independent of the Labour Party). It remains to be seen how that will sit with the reported decisions of the UNITE Executive on the subject. (Incidentally, Ian Allinson, the UNITE EC member to whose blog that is a link demonstrates in that post the occasional value of such blogs!)

Twenty two years ago I was an enthusiast for the creation of UNISON – and I still think, as a local government worker, that our attempt to move towards an industrial union for our sector, and to overcome the historic divide between “white-collar” and manual workers was the right thing to do.

However, the increasing domination of our movement by a tiny number of enormous general unions, generally competing with each other for members across numerous sectors and industries, has not bequeathed us a structure which would have strengthened our unions, even had we not lost half our membership in a generation.

Large general unions are more readily controlled from their centre by the relatively sizeable official structures which they are able to afford. No single occupational group within such a union is large enough, relative to the union, for even an existential threat to that group to threaten the union itself in such a way as to prompt the militancy and determination for which such threats call (the dockers created what became the TGWU in the late nineteenth century, but by the late twentieth century the union could – and did – do without them).

The sort of unity which we need to focus our attention on is the sort of unity which PCS Conference agreed on Tuesday – unity in action. We don’t need merger discussions between any of our unions for local government workers, teachers and civil servants to strike together on Thursday 10 July.

What we do need is for local government workers to vote YES for strike action over pay!


Of which, more later...

What sort of unity do we need?

Having spoken with PCS comrades at the lively and interesting Labour Representation Committee fringe meeting on Tuesday evening, I was interested in yesterday’s outcome of the debate – at PCS Conference – on the possible “transfer of engagements” to UNITE.

PCS delegates set certain “red lines” for any further discussion between that union and UNITE (including a political fund independent of the Labour Party). It remains to be seen how that will sit with the reported decisions of the UNITE Executive on the subject. (Incidentally, Ian Allinson, the UNITE EC member to whose blog that is a link demonstrates in that post the occasional value of such blogs!)

Twenty two years ago I was an enthusiast for the creation of UNISON – and I still think, as a local government worker, that our attempt to move towards an industrial union for our sector, and to overcome the historic divide between “white-collar” and manual workers was the right thing to do.

However, the increasing domination of our movement by a tiny number of enormous general unions, generally competing with each other for members across numerous sectors and industries, has not bequeathed us a structure which would have strengthened our unions, even had we not lost half our membership in a generation.

Large general unions are more readily controlled from their centre by the relatively sizeable official structures which they are able to afford. No single occupational group within such a union is large enough, relative to the union, for even an existential threat to that group to threaten the union itself in such a way as to prompt the militancy and determination for which such threats call (the dockers created what became the TGWU in the late nineteenth century, but by the late twentieth century the union could – and did – do without them).

The sort of unity which we need to focus our attention on is the sort of unity which PCS Conference agreed on Tuesday – unity in action. We don’t need merger discussions between any of our unions for local government workers, teachers and civil servants to strike together on Thursday 10 July.

What we do need is for local government workers to vote YES for strike action over pay!


Of which, more later...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dilemmas of activism, politics and unity


A recent meeting of UNISON activists makes this a timely (and as far as I can see accurate) account of issues of which UNISON activists need to be aware.

Diligent readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Trotspotter) may recollect my public criticism of the lamentable handling of allegations of sexual harassment and rape by the tragically inadequate "Central Committee" of the Socialist Workers Party, and perhaps also the subsequent decision of myself and some other comrades to leave UNISON United Left (UUL) rather than organise alongside those who defended such conduct.

I know there are those who think that action was a mistake, or an over reaction (or that I and others were over-hasty). I invite them to read the link at the head of this blog post. The response of the leadership of that Party to such serious allegations has been consistently grotesque.

Of course most workers, most trade union activists even, have no knowledge of, or interest in, the goings on within a small political organisation (even one which has in the past "punched above its weight" in some admirable causes).

And therein lies a problem.

Because, among the few hundred remaining loyal members of that Party, there remain some good trade union activists. Why they subordinate themselves to the misleadership of a clique of "full time revolutionaries" capable of such atrocious conduct is a mystery to me - but then again I have always been mystified by the deference shown by some of the most vocal trade union militants (who would think nothing of confronting employers or union leaders) to the idiots who lead various sects.

Putting that mystery to one side,‎ there remain good trade unionists in the ranks of those still following the fools who mislead the Socialist Workers Party. In my daily work I deal with trade unionists whom I respect, in my own branch, and other local branches (as well as at all levels in the Union) who continue to make what I consider to be the grave mistake of supporting the rotten faction which runs that Party. I accept that they - and others - work with me whilst harbouring strong views about my lifelong affiliation to the Labour Party.

And to those many trade union activists who neither know (as they probably should) nor care (as perhaps they should not) what brought the Socialist Workers Party into its current, terminal, crisis, it appears evident that we should - at all costs - have unity on "the left".

So, when a meeting of UNISON activists earlier this week (convened to discuss issues of concern in our Union in the run up to Conference and the local government pay dispute) was disrupted by the arrival, uninvited, of SWP members still loyal to the leadership which has destroyed their organisation as a serious force, many of those present were immediately won to the seductive argument that we should all organise together on "the left."

And I have some sympathy with that argument.

For a hundred years, since the Miners' Next Step and the Clyde Workers' Committee, union activists have understood the need for rank and file organisation, not only to win elections within our unions, but also because we aspire always to be able to take action with the officials when we can, and without them when we must.

Such organisation benefits enormously from the unity of all those who see the need for it.

However.

Such unity is rare.

The history of UNISON is a case in point.

After the "broad lefts" of NUPE and NALGO failed meaningfully to cohere following the creation of UNISON, some of us organised the Campaign for a Fighting and Democratic UNISON (CFDU).

The CFDU brought together activists on the Labour Left‎ with members of the Socialist Party and other independent leftwingers. The Socialist Workers Party members active in the Union deliberately abstained from this united organisation. To say that they ever advanced a persuasive argument as to why they did this would be to exaggerate.

In the late 1990s, in the context of what was, I believe, a witch hunt of SWP activists‎, we began to forge a wider unity, bringing in to the (newly created) "United Left" not only those already organising in the CFDU and those who were members of the SWP but also other, respected, independent activists. One moment in this process was the support of SWP members for the CFDU candidate in the General Secretary election in 2000.

This unity was short-lived, as - in the run up to the 2005 General Secretary election, at National Delegate Conference 2004, members of the Socialist Party decided ‎to leave the United Left, producing a special broadsheet to publicise their "official" reasoning (which was quite unrelated to any - probably unfounded - fear that their preferred candidate would not have been chosen to stand as the UUL candidate in that election).

I remained sufficiently committed to the project of unifying "the left" that I was prepared to stand (at the behest of a then comrade otherwise facing pressure to do so themselves) as a "United Left" candidate in a General Secretary election in which I came a poor third (though of course that was still a bronze medal position...)

The, by then hardly well-named, "United Left" staggered on for years (I staggered with it!) - and my friend and comrade Paul Holmes came a better third place in another General Secretary election five years further on (whilst my other friend and comrade Roger Bannister came second in a third consecutive General Secretary election - presumably entitling him to keep the silver medal?)

Throughout this period of disunity on "the left" we managed to work together (under the banner of "Reclaim the Union") both against the further round of political witch-hunting which commenced after the 2006 TUC and petered out (too slowly) following the 2010 General Election (and the resilient campaign to "Defend the Four") and to stand candidates in internal UNISON elections (with mixed results).

Therefore, from my own experience, I know that disunity, whilst regrettable, is no impediment to joint work in the interests of our members. I believe that the response of some of us to the facts set out in the link at the head of this blog post provide a more serious objection to unquestioning "unity at all costs" than any of the reasons (real or "official") which led the SWP to abstain from the CFDU in the 90s or which led the SP to depart from (and remain outside) UUL ten years ago.

Therefore I won't accept lectures about the importance of unity from either of those organisations. 

Nor will I accept that I must simply forget a political analysis of the disgraceful failure of the failing leadership of the SWP to handle serious allegations of rape and sexual harassment because it is "more important" to defend some of those who continue to justify this disgrace from the possibility that they might be isolated and politically attacked.

I will, however, defend any socialist activist in our Union who may face political attacks - and I will work with those with whom I have profound political disagreements (even those who still mistakenly believe that Alex Callinicos and the "Central Committee" of the SWP are worth following).

Given that anyone who has ploughed this far through this turgid blog post will know what I'm saying, I will observe that those members of the Communist Party who stood by their Party after its political turn following the Nazi-Soviet Pact made a catastrophic error out of loyalty to a tragically erring leadership but did not thereby cease to be part of "the left".

Since the death throes of the Socialist Workers Party will last for years we shall continue to face the dilemma which some of us faced earlier this week.

I'll try not to blog about it at quite such length again though!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.







The future for Regional supervision?

One of the more controversial topics about which I have blogged here in recent years has been the putting of UNISON branches into Regional Supervision. Occasionally I have even lost my temper (for example when the Bromley and Greenwich branches were taken into Regional Supervision in 2010).
The NEC is still due to see a report on those cases when pending litigation has been resolved, and my purpose in writing this brief post now is not to comment on any particular case, but to draw to the attention of readers who may not have seen it the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision in the case of UNISON –v- Street.
UNISON won the appeal, in the sense that an earlier decision of the Certification Officer that the UNISON had acted unlawfully in not holding an Annual General Meeting for a branch under Regional supervision was overturned. However the case has been sent back to the Certification Officer to reconsider based on guidance from the EAT.
In a nutshell, the EAT have made the common sense ruling that the UNISON NEC must have the power to take a branch into Regional supervision where the branch is dysfunctional but that whether in so doing any of the other Rules of the Union (such as the requirement to hold an Annual General Meeting) should be suspended depends upon whether this is both necessaryand proportionate. By implication, the same test should be applied to the taking of branches into regional supervision in the first place.
We wait to see what Certification Officer will make of the facts of the Street case on this basis, and also for the final report into Bromley and Greenwich. However, the EAT guidance ought to ensure that the extreme step of Regional supervision is taken only where truly necessary.
Facing the challenge of organising the fragmented workforce, UNISON needs its branches and branch activists. The Union cannot now be run, if it ever could, from the Centre or the Regions alone.



The future for Regional supervision?

One of the more controversial topics about which I have blogged here in recent years has been the putting of UNISON branches into Regional Supervision. Occasionally I have even lost my temper (for example when the Bromley and Greenwich branches were taken into Regional Supervision in 2010).
The NEC is still due to see a report on those cases when pending litigation has been resolved, and my purpose in writing this brief post now is not to comment on any particular case, but to draw to the attention of readers who may not have seen it the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision in the case of UNISON –v- Street.
UNISON won the appeal, in the sense that an earlier decision of the Certification Officer that the UNISON had acted unlawfully in not holding an Annual General Meeting for a branch under Regional supervision was overturned. However the case has been sent back to the Certification Officer to reconsider based on guidance from the EAT.
In a nutshell, the EAT have made the common sense ruling that the UNISON NEC must have the power to take a branch into Regional supervision where the branch is dysfunctional but that whether in so doing any of the other Rules of the Union (such as the requirement to hold an Annual General Meeting) should be suspended depends upon whether this is both necessary and proportionate. By implication, the same test should be applied to the taking of branches into regional supervision in the first place.
We wait to see what Certification Officer will make of the facts of the Street case on this basis, and also for the final report into Bromley and Greenwich. However, the EAT guidance ought to ensure that the extreme step of Regional supervision is taken only where truly necessary.
Facing the challenge of organising the fragmented workforce, UNISON needs its branches and branch activists. The Union cannot now be run, if it ever could, from the Centre or the Regions alone.



Sunday, May 18, 2014

Local Government Pay - Now is the Time for Action (and not only now)

It’s less than a week until we start a strike ballot of the members of the majority trade union in the largest bargaining group in the entire UK economy – the local government workforce in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We have our work cut out to get the “YES” vote which we need – and to win our members to take strike action in the numbers needed to have the impact which will force the employers to shift their position.
With a clear target date for strike action in early July we have every opportunity, not least through coordination with other unions, such as the NUT and PCS, as well as the other local government unions, to begin to make that impact.

However it is equally clear that a single day of strike action – without even the threat of further action – would be unlikely to shift the employers (even if they are less intransigent after the local elections).
We need to identify, at the least two further consecutive days of national strike action in September for a number of reasons, including;
  • To ensure that the employers realised how serious we are about the dispute
  • To enable regions and branches to organise for further action over the summer
  • To enable us to have a focus for our campaigning across the summer period
  • To allow us to liaise with our Health and other colleagues and co-ordinate action with other unions
I know that my colleagues on the National Joint Council Committee are being consulted on concrete proposals to name such further action in early September. This is a most welcome development.
The difference between a purely symbolic dispute which is essentially a recruitment exercise and a serious dispute which aims to achieve real results for our members is precisely this difference between a single day and a sustained campaign.

We’re some of the way to achieving the goals of model resolutions which my UNISON branch has been told we ought not to have circulated (of which more later ad nauseam).

We need to remain vigilant, as local government workers, to ensure the effective and successful prosecution of our pay dispute – and the democratic control of our dispute by our members and their elected representatives.

More importantly than anything else though – we need to mobilise our members to take action.

Defend pension rights at Aberystwyth University

Solidarity and good wishes to UNISON members at Aberystwyth University, contemplating strike actionas a result of an attack on their pension rights.

The university is consulting on plans that would see the final-salary pension for 600 support workers at the bottom of the pay scale replaced with an insurance-based defined-contribution scheme.

The move would see some staff members lose 60 per cent of their pension pot.

Pensions are deferred pay and an attack on pensions is just a pay cut deferred into our old age, to take effect when we are no longer at work and able to resist it.


Any questions?

UNISON branch activists need to be mindful that the deadline for asking questions of the NEC Annual Report (which has been posted out to all members and is available on the website if you sign in) is this Wednesday!

Asking questions of the NEC Annual Report is a useful way of obtaining information (which you may need to support arguments you wish to make at Conference).

It can also be an opportunity - briefly - to make a point to Conference delegates on the Tuesday morning of Conference week (although only if you both ask an initial written question online by Wednesday's noon deadline and then ask a further supplementary question online (should you need to) once you have an answer).

So, union activists who like to ask awkward questions of powerful people have a couple of days yet.

And union activists who don't like to ask awkward questions of powerful people.

Well, I don't mean to be rude, so I shan't say anything about those people...

Solidarity with Lambeth College workers

On Saturday more than 300 people marched from Clapham to Brixton in solidarity with workers at Lambeth College in dispute with their management as a result of a (literally) unjustified attempt to create a two-tier workforce by imposing (non-negotiable) new, and less favourable, conditions of service on new staff.

The demonstration was organised by lecturers’ union, UCU – but also supported by UNISON members (myself included) and many other trade unionists. UNISON members at the College have also voted for strike action in opposition to changes which would see new starters working a longer working week, and entitled to less sick pay (with only time-limited offers of protection for existing staff).

Since I’ll be involved in negotiations to try to settle this entirely avoidable dispute, caused purely and simply by actions of senior managers (with the lamentable support of some College Governors), I shall refrain from too much comment at this stage (and I particularly draw the reader’s attention to the disclaimer on this blog, which is a personal blog and not in any way the responsibility of UNISON).

I will make this observation though. If you ask an employer to justify proposed changes to terms and conditions and they answer by telling you that their proposals are both “modern” and “fit for purpose” then you know you are dealing with those beyond the reach of irony.


You can show solidarity on Facebook.

Lambeth Joint Trade Unions demand #Bring Back Our Girls!

I'm catching up on blogging, and will start by posting up the leaflet distributed at our Lambeth joint trade union vigil in support of "BringBackOurGirls on Friday. We thought it important to stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria without illusions in imperialism. There are many Nigerian members in UNISON - and we need to build a relationship of solidarity with sister and brother trade unionists in particular.

What is going on and why?

A wave of revulsion has spread worldwide over the news of the kidnapping of at least 276 young girls from a school at Chibok, in Borno state in north-western Nigeria, and subsequently the slaughter of at least 300 villagers in nearby Gamboru Ngala on the Nigeria-Cameroon border by the violent Boko Haram sect. “Boko Haram” means “Western education is forbidden” in a mixture of Hausa and Arabic. The ultra-violent sect is just the latest of a series of such groups, going back to the 1970s, which consider that “western,” meaning modern, education is sinful because of its teaching of scientific concepts, its association with Christian proselytisation and because it promotes the education of women and thereby alters patriarchal gender relations.

Boko Haram have also bombed workers’ May Day demonstrations, killing 19 people at Nyanya in Abuja. There are complaints that the Nigerian military has — before the kidnapping — gone after Boko Haram’s social base with extreme harshness, committing many murders and other violations of human rights. The Nigerian Labour Congress has criticised the response of the Nigerian authorities, saying that they “need more brain than brawn.” In March, Amnesty International claimed that six hundred mostly unarmed detainees were extra judicially executed by the army in a single day.

The roots of Boko Haram lie in the isolation, backwardness and poverty of the north. There is a real danger of losing sight of this root cause of the problem, namely the neglect and poverty of huge areas of Africa like Borno state. Economic development requires the empowerment and education of women and girls.

Is Western intervention the answer?

The problems of Nigeria have their origins in the colonial involvement of European powers in Africa. Nigeria is a product of British and French colonial rivalries in west Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when feudal Muslim emirates, stretching east to west along the Sudanic belt of West Africa, were seized by direct or indirect military intervention. The Borno emirate, where Boko Haram started, was an ally of Britain, so when it became part of its empire in Africa in 1905 the ruling dynasty was kept on. The idea of administering colonial possessions through traditional rulers was promoted by colonial administrator Lord Frederick Lugard. As governor of Nigeria between 1912-19, Lugard continued the policy of leaving the north essentially neglected while southern areas were developed more but without concessions to labour unions and democracy.

After independence in 1960, the stage was set for north-south conflict. A 1966 coup by junior army officers from the south, in which a number of Muslim leaders were killed, set off bloody reprisals against southerners living in the north, followed by the Biafra war of independence. Since then, hostility between the Muslim north and the mostly Christian south and a series of military coups has bedeviled Nigeria.

Although Nigeria is endowed with great natural and human resources, the for-profit system of capitalism ensures that over 80% of the country’s oil wealth is cornered by a few while the vast majority are condemned to struggling to benefit from the remaining 20%. According to latest statistics, Nigeria is now the biggest economy in Africa. In addition, the richest person in Africa is a Nigerian, while Nigeria is home to hundreds of private jets to support the exotic lifestyle of the rich. Yet over 100 million Nigerians (about 70%) are said to be poor. Over 50 million youths are unemployed and the number of homeless is unknown. On March 15 2014, over half a million graduates turned up at test centers all over the country to seek employment for less than 5,000 advertised vacancies at the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). Tragically over 20 people died in the process due to crowd stampeding.

Behind Nigeria’s corrupt capitalist ruling elites are often Western imperialist countries, like the US and European powers. Their global financial institutions, the IMF and World Bank, prop up corrupt regimes in Nigeria, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, for their own strategic and economic gains. The western powers’ humanitarian concerns are always linked to their strategic interests.

What can we do?

Ordinary working people across the world are mobilising around the slogan #BringBackOurGirls– we must offer our solidarity and support to the people of Nigeria, their trade unions and civil society organisations.


As the United Nations say; “The violation of the rights of women and girls on such a scale, no matter who they are and where they are, requires the whole world to stand up and take action. We are racing against time and every moment counts. We need the Government of Nigeria to act fast and we need the support of the world.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A small victory for trade union democracy

‎With apologies to anyone who visits this blog for the latest celebrity gossip, I have a little news to share following today's meeting of UNISON's Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee.

Attentive readers of this blog will be aware that our National Executive Council (NEC) had deferred taking a policy decision in respect of some very straightforward rule amendments, which variously proposed shifting National Conferences, Regional elections and Branch elections from an annual to a biennial cycle.

This decision to defer had been taken to allow for some swift consultation with‎ Regions, Service Groups and Self-Organised Groups before the NEC took a decision. Upon receipt of a report back from this hasty consultation exercise, today's D&O Committee has agreed to recommend to June's NEC meeting that, at Conference, the NEC opposes these proposed Rule Amendments in favour of our current practice of Annual Conferences, Annual Regional elections and Annual General Meetings in our branches.

Branches have every right to put these proposals forward (as part of the annual right of all UNISON branches to propose amendments to our Rules). It is to protect that right that I hope and believe that the NEC will support the recommendation of its D&O Committee and that Conference will, on this issue, support (what will then be) the position of the NEC and throw out these Rule Amendments.

Given the financial pressures on our Union and our branches it is right that we weigh the value of each pound that we spend - but reducing our democracy would be a false economy which would reduce our effectiveness in representing the interests of our members.

UNISON needs more democracy, not less (of which, more in due course...)

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Democracy in UNISON?

Sometimes it seems as if my trade union is determined to become a caricature of whatever it was George Orwell was trying to caricature in “1984”.

The Democracy in UNISON Guidelines sometimes appear to be used in as if their purpose was the exact opposite of their title. One could even imagine a Branch Secretary being told that they might not circulate a model motion, or solicit support for a fringe meeting, on the basis of selective quotation from those “guidelines”.

However, such an attempt would be unlikely to succeed if the Branch Secretary knew that these “guidelines” did not have the force of Rule, nor even the status of the Code of Good Branch Practice. It would be less likely still to be effective if the Branch Secretary had been party to the compositing ahead of National Delegate Conference 1998, and to discussions on the Conference floor at that Conference, and had received assurances about the right of branches to organise fringe meetings from a (then) Assistant General Secretary.

The idea that “horizontal” communication (between branches across Regions or Service Groups) should be verboten is something borrowed from the experience of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It may be unkind to some comrades to point out that this approach did not turn out to be a terribly useful one, but I do think it is an observation worth making (and for those who prefer to borrow this practice from the Catholic Church, I think they have even less reason to be proud of such anti-democratic nonsense).

In fact the power of branches to requisition special Conferences (which is specifically provided for in Rule) absolutely requires that branches should engage in such “horizontal” communication. Those who try to prevent this are in breach of Rule themselves – and we lay members who care for our trade union must not be shy to assert this.

If anyone wants a war about democracy in UNISON they are a fool. We have much more important battles with Government and employers which should detain us now – we don’t need avoidable internal squabbles.


But if anyone does want such a war, then they are very welcome to the defeat and humiliation which is in store for them, as regular readers of this blog, Sid and Doris Trade-Union-Democrat will be able to attest. UNISON is its many many members, not the small number of inconsequential individuals (myself included) who believe themselves significant within it.

Friday, May 09, 2014

I am the Walrus (not)

‎Who needs a tusk?

An Elephant? A Walrus?

Well, when it comes to TUSC, the sad answer is, no one.

No one needs this least persuasive, least popular and least convincing of all the unpopular and unsuccessful attempts to launch a socialist electoral alternative to Labour.

In many ways I wish Labour faced a credible electoral challenge to our left. As a Brightonian I almost wish the Greens had emerged as such (as they have not).

However, as a trade unionist I must stare reality back in the eye. And, as I do, I see that there is no other option for a progressive voter than a Labour vote. My friends who are engaged in the (lego-like) construction of a new ("Left Unity") political alternative need to find the courage and confidence to face this harsh reality too.

As a Labour Party member I urge every trade unionist not only to vote Labour but also to join the Party as an individual member, to try to gain a voice about what the Party should do.

Politics is often horrendous, but to make it a little less horrendous is a sound ambition - and to fight for our beliefs even inside today's Labour Party is a worthwhile fight.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

The love which (in UNISON) can never speak its name...

I do realise that I owe regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) an apology for the infrequency of my recent blogging.

Sometimes being a lay activist is even busier than other times!

However, I think I must say something now about the love which (in UNISON) must not speak its name.
That is the love of democracy.

For UNISON is a progressive trade union which welcomes us all – yet there are those who purport to speak for UNISON who draw the line at democrats.

Those who think that we others who believe that there should continue to be annual elections for branch and Regional lay officials (and annual Conferences) – we should really remain silent.

Those who think that we others who believe that branch delegates should decide the recommendation to our members on any pay offer from the employers – we should curb our tongues.

Those who think that we others who believe that there should be five yearly elections for our General Secretary – we should take a vow of silence.

Guess what?

No.

I think it is time to return to daily blogging, simply because of the encouragement I have been given by those who have told me not to.

I wish I did not have to spend time upon internal union disputes when we have so many battles to fight with the Government and employers, but trade union democracy is a non-negotiable necessity.

We cannot resist the attacks upon our members unless we do so as a democratic trade union.


So now would be a good time for all those who oppose annual democracy, or the rights of Conference delegates, or the principle of the election of our General Secretary to themselves go away to a very quiet place and never come back.