Sunday, June 29, 2014

The absence of rank and file organisation in UNISON

One of these days I’ll get round to writing up the history of rank and file organisation in UNISON over the past two decades. It has been a story of attempts to build unity which founder, are repeated and fail again. We’ve won some important battles (which we are generally very bad at remembering) and have failed to shift the Union on some crucial occasions (about which we generally have much better recollection). It’s a shame that, on the eve of the second biggest strike action since the last General Election, we lack rank and file organisation.

Last year I found I had no choice but to leave the UNISON United Left. Disagreeing profoundly with the clique leading the Socialist Workers Party about how their organisation had mishandled allegations of rape and sexual harassment, I realised that I did not have to continue to be leading member of a group of which they were the largest organised part. So I left.

Although the diverse individuals who, for different reasons, arrived at the same conclusion, briefly aspired to replace the (now clearly defunct) United Left, it is clear that a rank and file organisation cannot be organised on the basis of political exclusivity. That’s not to say that such an organisation can be created, on any particular day of the week, on the basis of political inclusivity either. (There is also a live question of what sort of political inclusivity is necessary to organise a rank and file which is both vibrant and diverse, and for which opposition to various forms of oppression is as vital a question as simple “industrial” militancy.)

Those who have, at different times, quite understandably departed from the SWP appear determined to model the different ways in which one can abandon a damaging relationship. Some, filled with anger, are now quite politically promiscuous and hostile to their former comrades. Others retain the vestiges of a loyalty drilled into them through years of passive (or not so passive) aggressive domination and cannot conceive of a “left” which does not encompass those with whom they have now parted company (for whom they seem to harbour affection based upon their recollection of better times). If we cannot therefore reasonably anticipate getting all the former members of the SWP to stay in the same room for long at the moment it’s clear that wider unity on the left will remain a little out of reach.

For most UNISON activists however, the disputes within the Socialist Workers Party are as insignificant as one might imagine disputes in a small group with a few hundred active members would be. Decent branch activists up and down the country have been frustrated for years by the inability of the (London-centred) “organised left” to live up to that adjective and actually be organised and united. That frustration is all the greater now. Nevertheless, the healthy mistrust of officialdom on which rank and file organisation has always been based remains an essential feature of UNISON.

The need for rank and file organisation is unchanged. The hostility of the trade union bureaucracy – and the need to hold that bureaucracy to account - is unchanged. The obstacles created by the adherence of many good trade union activists to a variety of self-obsessed political sects are unchanged.

Given that no genuinely useful rank and file organisation can be built right now, it is essential that all activists do what we can to mobilise our members for the immediate struggles in front of us, and coordinate as best we can.


We’re all back at the drawing board. I’ll let you know when I can see what it is that is being drawn...

The absence of rank and file organisation in UNISON

One of these days I’ll get round to writing up the history of rank and file organisation in UNISON over the past two decades. It has been a story of attempts to build unity which founder, are repeated and fail again. We’ve won some important battles (which we are generally very bad at remembering) and have failed to shift the Union on some crucial occasions (about which we generally have much better recollection). It’s a shame that, on the eve of the second biggest strike action since the last General Election, we lack rank and file organisation.

Last year I found I had no choice but to leave the UNISON United Left. Disagreeing profoundly with the clique leading the Socialist Workers Party about how their organisation had mishandled allegations of rape and sexual harassment, I realised that I did not have to continue to be leading member of a group of which they were the largest organised part. So I left.

Although the diverse individuals who, for different reasons, arrived at the same conclusion, briefly aspired to replace the (now clearly defunct) United Left, it is clear that a rank and file organisation cannot be organised on the basis of political exclusivity. That’s not to say that such an organisation can be created, on any particular day of the week, on the basis of political inclusivity either. (There is also a live question of what sort of political inclusivity is necessary to organise a rank and file which is both vibrant and diverse, and for which opposition to various forms of oppression is as vital a question as simple “industrial” militancy.)

Those who have, at different times, quite understandably departed from the SWP appear determined to model the different ways in which one can abandon a damaging relationship. Some, filled with anger, are now quite politically promiscuous and hostile to their former comrades. Others retain the vestiges of a loyalty drilled into them through years of passive (or not so passive) aggressive domination and cannot conceive of a “left” which does not encompass those with whom they have now parted company (for whom they seem to harbour affection based upon their recollection of better times). If we cannot therefore reasonably anticipate getting all the former members of the SWP to stay in the same room for long at the moment it’s clear that wider unity on the left will remain a little out of reach.

For most UNISON activists however, the disputes within the Socialist Workers Party are as insignificant as one might imagine disputes in a small group with a few hundred active members would be. Decent branch activists up and down the country have been frustrated for years by the inability of the (London-centred) “organised left” to live up to that adjective and actually be organised and united. That frustration is all the greater now. Nevertheless, the healthy mistrust of officialdom on which rank and file organisation has always been based remains an essential feature of UNISON.

The need for rank and file organisation is unchanged. The hostility of the trade union bureaucracy – and the need to hold that bureaucracy to account - is unchanged. The obstacles created by the adherence of many good trade union activists to a variety of self-obsessed political sects are unchanged.

Given that no genuinely useful rank and file organisation can be built right now, it is essential that all activists do what we can to mobilise our members for the immediate struggles in front of us, and coordinate as best we can.


We’re all back at the drawing board. I’ll let you know when I can see what it is that is being drawn...

National strike action is worth it

One advantage of being somewhat long in the tooth is that I remember things. I remember, for example, explaining more than six years ago how it was only national strike action which had ever lifted local government pay settlements above the private sector average during my working lifetime.

This is a compelling argument to persuade UNISON members (and potential members!), as well as fellow trade unionists, to support the strike action called for Thursday 10 July. Whilst we might wish that all members would respond to a strike call with loyalty to collectivism, we have to appreciate that we need also to make the case to individuals motivated by self-interest.

Even if all we gained through national strike action was an additional 1% pay increase, and if that took three days of strike action, the loss which we suffered would be recouped within a year (for those whose employers deducted 1/365thof annual salary for each day of action) or eighteen months (for those facing 1/260th deductions). Thereafter, for the remainder of each worker’s career, we would be better off – and the incremental increase in our pay would add to our pension (and enhance the weekly earnings upon which any redundancy payment would one day be based).

Clearly we are not striking for such a miserly increase – but for our claim for a flat rate increase to achieve the living wage for all local government workers – and the correct decision of the National Joint Council Committee to identify the need for two further days of action in September if the employers do not shift significantly after 10 July demonstrates that we (or at least our elected lay leadership at sector level) don’t intend to repeat the experience of November 2011.

A single day of action is a recruitment drive. A sustained programme of action is a serious attempt to raise the living standards of our members and potential members. The former cannot be repeated time and again and remain effective. The latter is what we need.

It is not easy to persuade members to take strike action.

Whatever anger our members feel about austerity it has not led, and does not lead of itself, to a willingness to strike. We need to offer each member a persuasive “cost-benefit analysis” to persuade them that the loss involved in taking strike action is worth it because we have a credible strategy to more than make up for that loss.


The historical evidence is that well supported national strike action by local government workers delivers increases in national pay rates for local government workers.

National strike action is worth it

One advantage of being somewhat long in the tooth is that I remember things. I remember, for example, explaining more than six years ago how it was only national strike action which had ever lifted local government pay settlements above the private sector average during my working lifetime.

This is a compelling argument to persuade UNISON members (and potential members!), as well as fellow trade unionists, to support the strike action called for Thursday 10 July. Whilst we might wish that all members would respond to a strike call with loyalty to collectivism, we have to appreciate that we need also to make the case to individuals motivated by self-interest.

Even if all we gained through national strike action was an additional 1% pay increase, and if that took three days of strike action, the loss which we suffered would be recouped within a year (for those whose employers deducted 1/365th of annual salary for each day of action) or eighteen months (for those facing 1/260th deductions). Thereafter, for the remainder of each worker’s career, we would be better off – and the incremental increase in our pay would add to our pension (and enhance the weekly earnings upon which any redundancy payment would one day be based).

Clearly we are not striking for such a miserly increase – but for our claim for a flat rate increase to achieve the living wage for all local government workers – and the correct decision of the National Joint Council Committee to identify the need for two further days of action in September if the employers do not shift significantly after 10 July demonstrates that we (or at least our elected lay leadership at sector level) don’t intend to repeat the experience of November 2011.

A single day of action is a recruitment drive. A sustained programme of action is a serious attempt to raise the living standards of our members and potential members. The former cannot be repeated time and again and remain effective. The latter is what we need.

It is not easy to persuade members to take strike action.

Whatever anger our members feel about austerity it has not led, and does not lead of itself, to a willingness to strike. We need to offer each member a persuasive “cost-benefit analysis” to persuade them that the loss involved in taking strike action is worth it because we have a credible strategy to more than make up for that loss.


The historical evidence is that well supported national strike action by local government workers delivers increases in national pay rates for local government workers.

Book Review - UNISON's Fantastic Four

After a busy week following UNISON Conference I finally have a few moments to catch up with blogging and, in a first for this blog, I’ll offer you a quick review of a book which I was sold by my old friend Brian Debus of Hackney branch, one of UNISON’s very own “Fantastic Four”.

Brian sold me a copy of Unison Bureaucracy Unmasked – The Defend the Four Story (London, Stop the Witch Hunt, 2014), a concise (80pp) telling of the long sad story which began at UNISON Conference in 2007 and will end when the NEC receives the final instalment of a report into the expensive, damaging and misguided pursuit by our union of four activists, which will cover the subsequent unjustified and unnecessary taking into regional administration of our Bromley and Greenwich branches.

I’ll avoid too many spoilers for those awaiting the film version, but (as someone who, like so many other UNISON activists, lived through this tragic foolishness) I can vouch for the factual accuracy of much of the content. In a nutshell, five UNISON activists faced disciplinary investigation following controversy surrounding the production of a leaflet critical of the Union’s Standing Orders Committee (SOC) which had been illustrated with a graphic of “three wise monkeys” considered by some to be susceptible to the interpretation that it was racially discriminatory.

The four out of five who faced formal disciplinary action (coincidentally – or not – the four who were members of the Socialist Party) were eventually banned from holding office for a time, following which officials from UNISON’s Greater London Regional Office took two of the branches into regional supervision

The four mounted a continuing campaign of public opposition to their treatment including legal action which (in twists and turns which will make the film version all the more dramatic) led at one point to a tribunal decision that the Marxist views of the four were not “worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

Eventually however, a tribunal ruled that the four had been subject to “unjustified discipline” for criticism of the SOC, a decision which UNISON accepted when it withdrew its appeal. The two of the four who remain UNISON members had their ban from holding office lifted, and both were present as delegates at this year’s UNISON National Delegate Conference. The other two are now members of UNITE, having been followed into that union by a number of other members and activists. Compensation payments awarded by the tribunal added to the six figure cost to the Union of pursuing this entirely unnecessary internal strife.

The book written from the point of view of the four is unashamedly partisan but provides an honest telling of the tale from their point of view and has the added strength of locating this unfortunate episode in the political and industrial relations context of the time. Among the four were activists who posed an alternative, and more positive, approach to the dilemmas with which “single status” was facing the Union in local government. The four also symbolised some of the most assertive critics of the Union’s relationship with New Labour in Government. It is difficult to disagree with the authors’ implicit (and sometimes explicit) assertions that, had it not been for this context, the saga would never have unfolded as it did.

This strength does however highlight a weakness in the text, which is the omission of references to other politically controversial internal disciplinary action which was going on at the same time. The events of National Delegate Conference 2007 had been preceded by the action taken against delegates at the 2006 Trades Union Congress who had joined an RMT-inspired walk out when Tony Blair got up to speak.

Shortly after that episode one of those who had walked out (Tony Staunton, then of the Plymouth Branch) faced disciplinary action. Around the same time Yunus Bakhsh was suspended by his employer in circumstancesin which the conduct of UNISON officials was subsequently subject to criticism. Tony and Yunus were both leading activists within the Socialist Workers Party, but in the period following these cases other independent leftwing activists, including Caroline Bedale and Alan Docherty, faced disciplinary action in circumstances in which many activists questioned the political motivations and legitimacy of the action taken.

The “four” knew at the time that their case was neither isolated nor unique, indeed joint fringe meetings on the Wednesday lunchtimes of UNISON Conference were an annual fixture for a number of years – and those of us critical of what we saw as the misuse of UNISON’s disciplinary rules also raised the issue elsewhere. It is a characteristic weakness of the political tradition from which the “four” draw their inspiration that its adherents fail to pay sufficient attention to other socialists in their analysis, however much they may show practical solidarity in reality.

However, it would be unjust to criticise Unison Bureaucracy Unmasked for not being the comprehensive history of politically contentious disciplinary action in UNISON in the period after 2006 which it does not claim to be. Anyone with an interest in trade union democracy – and anyone who wants to help UNISON avoid wasting time, energy and money we can ill-afford on future internal strife – could do a lot worse than add this useful little book to their Christmas list.



Book Review - UNISON's Fantastic Four

After a busy week following UNISON Conference I finally have a few moments to catch up with blogging and, in a first for this blog, I’ll offer you a quick review of a book which I was sold by my old friend Brian Debus of Hackney branch, one of UNISON’s very own “Fantastic Four”.

Brian sold me a copy of Unison Bureaucracy Unmasked – The Defend the Four Story (London, Stop the Witch Hunt, 2014), a concise (80pp) telling of the long sad story which began at UNISON Conference in 2007 and will end when the NEC receives the final instalment of a report into the expensive, damaging and misguided pursuit by our union of four activists, which will cover the subsequent unjustified and unnecessary taking into regional administration of our Bromley and Greenwich branches.

I’ll avoid too many spoilers for those awaiting the film version, but (as someone who, like so many other UNISON activists, lived through this tragic foolishness) I can vouch for the factual accuracy of much of the content. In a nutshell, five UNISON activists faced disciplinary investigation following controversy surrounding the production of a leaflet critical of the Union’s Standing Orders Committee (SOC) which had been illustrated with a graphic of “three wise monkeys” considered by some to be susceptible to the interpretation that it was racially discriminatory.

The four out of five who faced formal disciplinary action (coincidentally – or not – the four who were members of the Socialist Party) were eventually banned from holding office for a time, following which officials from UNISON’s Greater London Regional Office took two of the branches into regional supervision

The four mounted a continuing campaign of public opposition to their treatment including legal action which (in twists and turns which will make the film version all the more dramatic) led at one point to a tribunal decision that the Marxist views of the four were not “worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

Eventually however, a tribunal ruled that the four had been subject to “unjustified discipline” for criticism of the SOC, a decision which UNISON accepted when it withdrew its appeal. The two of the four who remain UNISON members had their ban from holding office lifted, and both were present as delegates at this year’s UNISON National Delegate Conference. The other two are now members of UNITE, having been followed into that union by a number of other members and activists. Compensation payments awarded by the tribunal added to the six figure cost to the Union of pursuing this entirely unnecessary internal strife.

The book written from the point of view of the four is unashamedly partisan but provides an honest telling of the tale from their point of view and has the added strength of locating this unfortunate episode in the political and industrial relations context of the time. Among the four were activists who posed an alternative, and more positive, approach to the dilemmas with which “single status” was facing the Union in local government. The four also symbolised some of the most assertive critics of the Union’s relationship with New Labour in Government. It is difficult to disagree with the authors’ implicit (and sometimes explicit) assertions that, had it not been for this context, the saga would never have unfolded as it did.

This strength does however highlight a weakness in the text, which is the omission of references to other politically controversial internal disciplinary action which was going on at the same time. The events of National Delegate Conference 2007 had been preceded by the action taken against delegates at the 2006 Trades Union Congress who had joined an RMT-inspired walk out when Tony Blair got up to speak.

Shortly after that episode one of those who had walked out (Tony Staunton, then of the Plymouth Branch) faced disciplinary action. Around the same time Yunus Bakhsh was suspended by his employer in circumstances in which the conduct of UNISON officials was subsequently subject to criticism. Tony and Yunus were both leading activists within the Socialist Workers Party, but in the period following these cases other independent leftwing activists, including Caroline Bedale and Alan Docherty, faced disciplinary action in circumstances in which many activists questioned the political motivations and legitimacy of the action taken.

The “four” knew at the time that their case was neither isolated nor unique, indeed joint fringe meetings on the Wednesday lunchtimes of UNISON Conference were an annual fixture for a number of years – and those of us critical of what we saw as the misuse of UNISON’s disciplinary rules also raised the issue elsewhere. It is a characteristic weakness of the political tradition from which the “four” draw their inspiration that its adherents fail to pay sufficient attention to other socialists in their analysis, however much they may show practical solidarity in reality.

However, it would be unjust to criticise Unison Bureaucracy Unmasked for not being the comprehensive history of politically contentious disciplinary action in UNISON in the period after 2006 which it does not claim to be. Anyone with an interest in trade union democracy – and anyone who wants to help UNISON avoid wasting time, energy and money we can ill-afford on future internal strife – could do a lot worse than add this useful little book to their Christmas list.



Monday, June 23, 2014

All out on 10 July!

http://www.unison.org.uk/media-centre/local-government-workers-vote-for-strike-action

A clear majority for action from UNISON members working in local government in England, Wales and Northern Ireland fires the starting pistol for preparation for the strike on 10 July.

This will be the largest single strike since November 2011 and we need to do all we can to make it effective. The ballot turnout is not all we would wish, and highlights the erosion of our union organisation by year after year of cuts and job losses.

The tide that has run against us for so long has to turn eventually however - and right here, right now is surely the best place - and the best time - to turn this tide.

Now stop reading this and get those picket rotas sorted!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

All out on 10 July!

http://www.unison.org.uk/media-centre/local-government-workers-vote-for-strike-action

A clear majority for action from UNISON members working in local government in England, Wales and Northern Ireland fires the starting pistol for preparation for the strike on 10 July.

This will be the largest single strike since November 2011 and we need to do all we can to make it effective. The ballot turnout is not all we would wish, and highlights the erosion of our union organisation by year after year of cuts and job losses.

The tide that has run against us for so long has to turn eventually however - and right here, right now is surely the best place - and the best time - to turn this tide.

Now stop reading this and get those picket rotas sorted!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

The two tier workforce is no answer

Today's Grauniad reports that British Airways cabin crew are 'ready to strike' over a pay claim.

http://gu.com/p/3qb6j

This story illustrates that the creation of a "two-tier" workforce is a recipe for further strife.

British Airways achieved a settlement of a previous dispute which allowed them to bring in new staff on worse (and cheaper) pay and conditions.

All they have done is store up trouble for the future.

As UNISON members at Lambeth College prepare to strike tomorrow in opposition to a two tier workforce I only hope their management are Guardian readers...

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

The two tier workforce is no answer

Today's Grauniad reports that British Airways cabin crew are 'ready to strike' over a pay claim.

http://gu.com/p/3qb6j

This story illustrates that the creation of a "two-tier" workforce is a recipe for further strife.

British Airways achieved a settlement of a previous dispute which allowed them to bring in new staff on worse (and cheaper) pay and conditions.

All they have done is store up trouble for the future.

As UNISON members at Lambeth College prepare to strike tomorrow in opposition to a two tier workforce I only hope their management are Guardian readers...

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Unity after UNISON Conference

I will blog further, when I have time to be considered, about the events of last week at UNISON Conference. In many ways, this year our Conference has been overshadowed by events in the industrial struggle beyond the Conference chamber.

There were however important questions, for example in relation to branch funding, about which we had significant debates. There was also controversy around the decision to rule out of order a motion concerning violence against women.

This decision, overturned once and subsequently accepted by delegates, caused justifiable and understandable concern, expressed by many delegates (most notably my many women delegates who adopted the slogan "I am a woman, believe me" - a legitimate and appropriate form of reasonable protest).

No one can – of course – be criticised for what they said from the rostrum at our Conference by anyone who understands our Rule Book and the powers of our President under Rule P.7.2.

It appears that this self-evident observation has not prevented hasty expressions of intent to pursue, beyond Conference, arguments which do not need to be pursued in that way. It is, in particular, futile for us to encourage the use of social media if we are not big enough to accept the occasionally excessive or ill-informed criticism which is a feature of such media.

Those who comprehend what is going on around them and also appreciate the meaning of “unjustified discipline” and “victimisation” will be on the side of those of us who want to steer UNISON away from avoidable aggravation.

I have expressed concern before about formal action arising from a Conference contretemps. The last time that UNISON’s Greater London Regional Office was given its head in such circumstances things did not go well for our trade union.

I shall return from Conference to both a local and a national industrial dispute. UNISON has plenty to do. It does not need internal strife.

I myself have been the victim of online conduct which one could describe as bullying (long ago when sad souls ran the anonymous “Scandalfax” blog – but more recently if I wanted to be as sensitive as we are led to believe some colleagues are).

A trade union Conference is not a playground. I urge all colleagues to be calm and reflective and to avoid inviting internal conflict. Where political criticisms may have been expressed personally this has been regrettable and inappropriate – political criticisms themselves are not however inappropriate, nor are they are regrettable.


It would be a grave mistake if anyone were to imagine that any divisions amongst rank and file activists would in any way weaken the resistance to unnecessary injustice.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In jeopardy at Conference

‎I am blogging from UNISON Conference where I have, over the years, occasionally found myself in jeopardy of one kind or another.

These days however, there is a spectre haunting our Conferences (and, or so it would seem, our Standing Orders Committees in particular) and that is the spectre of legal jeopardy.

‎At Local Government Conference a couple of emergency motions on the pay dispute were ruled out of order - and their texts not even printed - on the ground that they might  place the union in legal jeopardy.

This was unsettling for many delegates, since we could not even know what it was we should refrain from saying, or debating, if we wished to avoid this "legal jeopardy." At the behest of wise and helpful comrades your humble blogger sought to move the Conference into private session for that debate in the hope that we might protect ourselves from jeopardy.

The Conference having heard from our President that this would make no difference (since this legal jeopardy - which must be some sort of fluid - could get in through the doors even if we were in private session) decided not to take up that suggestion (although, in the event, no delegate had to be silenced for having overstepped any unseen mark).

Today at National Delegate Conference, legal jeopardy once more reared its invisible head and bared its unseen fangs as the Conference floor, having yesterday referred back a controversial decision to rule out important motions on‎ violence against women, refused to allow the movers further time to debate with SOC and accepted the SOC view that a debate at our National Delegate Conference around a policy already adopted by our Women's Conference could put the union in legal jeopardy.

The partial understanding of ever more cautious legal advice has been a convenient tool to eliminate controversy at our Conference over many years.

Now, however, the spectre of legal jeopardy has escaped even from the control of those who sought to use it in this way.

We need fundamentally to rethink our approach to this question. Otherwise we might as well dispense with Conference altogether and simply refer motions from branches and UNISON bodies for a Counsel's opinion.

As a student of labour history I doubt that we would have a labour movement to have Conferences had those who built our unions had the same attitude as our SOC to legal jeopardy.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.



We can be heroes for more than one day

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Phf0WWlfbF8

‎Regular readers of the blog (Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak) will know that this blogger is prone to cynicism.

So I couldn't help noticing the theme tune to the short film (of UNISON's year) which preceded the ‎General Secretary's speech at UNISON Conference yesterday afternoon.

And its lyrics.

"We can beat them. Just for one day.
We can be heroes. Just for one day."

This was, with the benefit of hindsight, the anthem of the 2011 pensions dispute. We cannot afford to let this be the requiem‎ for our 2014 pay disputes.

UNISON members need a substantial pay rise if we are to go any way to reduce the decline in living standards experienced by the vast majority of our members over recent years.

A single day of strike action may (perhaps) secure a modest improvement in an unacceptable offer, which might even place a dent, or even a small hole, in the Government's 1% pay ceiling.

It will not, however, lead to the sort of improvement which might make a genuine difference to the living standards of our members.

A strategy based upon a single day of action might be an appropriate strategy if our true objective were to recruit members in the interests of the long term viability and sustainability of our trade union.

Since that is not our primary objective (‎although it may be a spin-off benefit) it is very welcome, in relation to the local government pay dispute, that the National Joint Council (NJC) Committee have already identified two further days for strike action in September.

‎There is, in fact, a clear coincidence between the action we need to take to improve our members' living standards and the action which we need to take to secure the future of our movement.

Workers join trade unions for instrumental reasons - and a key reason is to secure fair pay increases. The argument for collective bargaining, from a working-class perspective, is that we will never get a fair price for our labour by bargaining individually.

The trade union wage premium (the average amount by which the wages of trade unionists exceed the wages of non-members) has been a powerful selling point for our movement for decades.

In the UK our largest remaining bastion is a public sector subject to a pay freeze. If we can't break that pay freeze with a real and worthwhile boost to the living standards of our members then any temporary burst to recruitment around a single day of heroism will turn out to be short-lived.
UNISON needs a sustained mobilisation of our members to fight for higher pay.

We can be heroes for more than just one day.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.





We can be heroes for more than one day

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Phf0WWlfbF8

‎Regular readers of the blog (Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak) will know that this blogger is prone to cynicism.

So I couldn't help noticing the theme tune to the short film (of UNISON's year) which preceded the ‎General Secretary's speech at UNISON Conference yesterday afternoon.

And its lyrics.

"We can beat them. Just for one day.
We can be heroes. Just for one day."

This was, with the benefit of hindsight, the anthem of the 2011 pensions dispute. We cannot afford to let this be the requiem‎ for our 2014 pay disputes.

UNISON members need a substantial pay rise if we are to go any way to reduce the decline in living standards experienced by the vast majority of our members over recent years.

A single day of strike action may (perhaps) secure a modest improvement in an unacceptable offer, which might even place a dent, or even a small hole, in the Government's 1% pay ceiling.

It will not, however, lead to the sort of improvement which might make a genuine difference to the living standards of our members.

A strategy based upon a single day of action might be an appropriate strategy if our true objective were to recruit members in the interests of the long term viability and sustainability of our trade union.

Since that is not our primary objective (‎although it may be a spin-off benefit) it is very welcome, in relation to the local government pay dispute, that the National Joint Council (NJC) Committee have already identified two further days for strike action in September.

‎There is, in fact, a clear coincidence between the action we need to take to improve our members' living standards and the action which we need to take to secure the future of our movement.

Workers join trade unions for instrumental reasons - and a key reason is to secure fair pay increases. The argument for collective bargaining, from a working-class perspective, is that we will never get a fair price for our labour by bargaining individually.

The trade union wage premium (the average amount by which the wages of trade unionists exceed the wages of non-members) has been a powerful selling point for our movement for decades.

In the UK our largest remaining bastion is a public sector subject to a pay freeze. If we can't break that pay freeze with a real and worthwhile boost to the living standards of our members then any temporary burst to recruitment around a single day of heroism will turn out to be short-lived.
UNISON needs a sustained mobilisation of our members to fight for higher pay.

We can be heroes for more than just one day.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.





Monday, June 16, 2014

Will UNISON support our women members?

http://toomuchtosayformyself.com/2014/06/11/why-cant-unison-believe-women/#more-8551

I recommend that anyone wanting an answer to the question above reads the post to which the above link leads.

I have just come from a Regional delegates briefing at which delegates were - in many cases - fuming that our Standing Orders Committee (SOC) have (on legal advice) ruled out of order a motion on violence against women which had been in order at our Women's Conference (which also has a Standing Orders Committee) (which also receives legal advice).

‎This decision is inexplicable, inexcusable and incredibly damaging to our trade union. No coherent case can or has been made for this decision and it is quite clear that the SOC are acting in breach of UNISON Rules by sticking to an ill-judged anti-equality position.

‎Happily Conference delegates have the opportunity to refer back SOC reports at UNISON Conference. Any delegate who takes seriously the aims and values of our trade union will presumably do so.

The irony is that, whilst the SOC are fearful that even allowing debate about a motion which suggests that the Union believes women alleging male violence could place the union in legal jeopardy (which is in any case surely a debating point against a motion rather than a procedural reason to rule it out) the fact that the NEC's Policy Committee has endorsed a report of decisions from the Women's Conference means that the wording to which the SOC object is ALREADY the policy of the Union.

Therefore, if there is any legal jeopardy (which, in my view, there is not) it is already upon us. The SOC decision is as futile as it is offensive to UNISON's aims and values.

It's not for me as an NEC member to say or do more - and I would not want a union in which a lay SOC could be over ruled by the NEC - but every individual Conference delegate has an appointment with their conscience, their commitment to UNISON's values and the women members they represent.

That appointment is as soon after 10am tomorrow morning as they have to vote on whether to refer back the report of SOC.


Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

An analysis of the Standing Orders for UNISON Local Government Conference as they relate to the pay dispute

‎The text of this blog post cannot be published as it may bring the Union into legal jeopardy.



Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

An analysis of the Standing Orders for UNISON Local Government Conference as they relate to the pay dispute

‎The text of this blog post cannot be published as it may bring the Union into legal jeopardy.



Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

And we're off!

‎90 delegates to UNISON local government Conference attended an eve-of-Conference fringe meeting this evening at Community Base in Brighton, kicking off the Conference fringe ahead of the Conference itself.

The impressive turnout - and the quality of considered contributions from the participants - vindicated the decisions of the organisers (of whom your blogger was one) to proceed in spite of an ill-considered and unreasonable purported "instruction" that branches ought not to organise fringe meetings.

Given that it will often be that delegates need to consider, before the start of a Conference, what action to take in relation to challenges to the Standing Orders Committee, there will always be a place for eve-of-Conference meetings.

This evening that place was Community Base.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Organising the fragmented workforce

A few months ago I was reflecting on the challenges we face in trying to organise the fragmented (and frequently privatised) public service workforce.

This issue, which will be an important topic for discussion at UNISON Conference over the coming week, has also been one of the things keeping me away from blogging over recent days.

UNISON faces a public service workforce employed by thousands of different employers, sometimes on zero-hours contracts, often without the benefit of trade union recognition.

Whilst we have made great strides in organising the workforce of a company like Four Seasons (where we have a national recognition agreement), we need a significant change in our own culture if we are going to unionise employers who do not welcome our presence.

The NEC’s Development and Organisation Committee is still waiting for a final report of the lessons learned from the “Three Companies project” (which attentive readers of this blog may remember). I won't forget to pursue this.

Most of all though we need to face forward and prepare ourselves to organise in hostile environments.

I’m aware of the case of an activist who has been through two suspensions since he began trying to organise for UNISON in his employer. In a world in which workers need two years direct employment before they even have the right to gamble a thousand pounds on a claim of unfair dismissal, we need to provide different, appropriate, support to activists in such circumstances.

I have sympathy with the argument that our structures (including our lay democratic structures) are not perfectly designed to facilitate such organising, or to represent the interests of our members “out there” in the fragments of the fragmented public service workforce.

However, I have very little sympathy with the idea that we should prioritise years of navel-gazing when there are workers out there now experiencing unilateral pay cuts from employers, some of whom seek to prohibit discussion of trade unionism in work time.

Our ramshackle branch structures are the only structures we have now, in 2014, to organise workers who need to be organised in 2014 and our over-stretched lay activists are the only activists we have, right now, to help to achieve this.


Organising the fragmented workforce

A few months ago I was reflecting on the challenges we face in trying to organise the fragmented (and frequently privatised) public service workforce.

This issue, which will be an important topic for discussion at UNISON Conference over the coming week, has also been one of the things keeping me away from blogging over recent days.

UNISON faces a public service workforce employed by thousands of different employers, sometimes on zero-hours contracts, often without the benefit of trade union recognition.

Whilst we have made great strides in organising the workforce of a company like Four Seasons (where we have a national recognition agreement), we need a significant change in our own culture if we are going to unionise employers who do not welcome our presence.

The NEC’s Development and Organisation Committee is still waiting for a final report of the lessons learned from the “Three Companies project” (which attentive readers of this blog may remember). I won't forget to pursue this.

Most of all though we need to face forward and prepare ourselves to organise in hostile environments.

I’m aware of the case of an activist who has been through two suspensions since he began trying to organise for UNISON in his employer. In a world in which workers need two years direct employment before they even have the right to gamble a thousand pounds on a claim of unfair dismissal, we need to provide different, appropriate, support to activists in such circumstances.

I have sympathy with the argument that our structures (including our lay democratic structures) are not perfectly designed to facilitate such organising, or to represent the interests of our members “out there” in the fragments of the fragmented public service workforce.

However, I have very little sympathy with the idea that we should prioritise years of navel-gazing when there are workers out there now experiencing unilateral pay cuts from employers, some of whom seek to prohibit discussion of trade unionism in work time.

Our ramshackle branch structures are the only structures we have now, in 2014, to organise workers who need to be organised in 2014 and our over-stretched lay activists are the only activists we have, right now, to help to achieve this.


Educating managers in employee relations at Lambeth College

Today’s Grauniad carries a report on one of the things that has kept me away from blogging recently – the dispute at Lambeth College. UNISON members (in the Lambeth branch) took two days of strike action last week, during the second week of indefinite action by lecturers’ union UCU, and are planning further action.

The UNISON dispute is over the imposition of new, less favourable, contracts on new starters which, among other things, increase the working week and reduce sick pay for those who are off long term.

The attack on sick pay in particular has its origins in proposals which the Association of Colleges (the national employers’ organisation for the Further Education sector) could not persuade the national trade unions to accept (and which other London FE colleges have recently considered and rejected).

The financial savings from an attack upon the income of staff who are off long term sick are negligible and the impact upon the culture of an organisation which announces that it now cares less than it did for staff when they are most vulnerable is hardly likely to be positive.  Attempts to reduce sick pay are a purely ideological assault upon the rights and living conditions of working people, driven by a generation of managers who are Thatcher’s children.

The College management do appear perplexed that trade union members should take action against changes which will not immediately impact upon them and have been convinced that they could resolve the dispute with offers of (time-limited) “protection” for existing staff. Management appears to live in a world in which one cares only for oneself, an attitude of mind which sits comfortably alongside seeing education as, first and foremost “a business.”

The College workforce (both teaching and support staff) have a clearer understanding of employee relations than their better remunerated senior management colleagues however, as they grasp that a two-tier workforce undermines unity and (at an organisation with an annual staff turnover of 24%) will inevitably lead to downward harmonisation.

Both trade unions seek negotiation with the employer over the terms of the new contract, but the College insist that the new contracts are a done deal because they are “modern” and “fit for purpose.”

(If any readers have a spare English-Managementspeak Managementspeak-English dictionary that would help the negotiators I am sure.)

The College senior management remain apparently unflinching in spite of the news that their parsimony toward staff does not inhibit generosity to the Principal himself.


However, all disputes end with negotiation. It’s up to the management to start negotiating. In the mean time, delegates at UNISON Conference can expect to hear more about how they can “sponsor a striker” so that we can top up UNISON strike pay should our members be forced to take further action.

Educating managers in employee relations at Lambeth College

Today’s Grauniad carries a report on one of the things that has kept me away from blogging recently – the dispute at Lambeth College. UNISON members (in the Lambeth branch) took two days of strike action last week, during the second week of indefinite action by lecturers’ union UCU, and are planning further action.

The UNISON dispute is over the imposition of new, less favourable, contracts on new starters which, among other things, increase the working week and reduce sick pay for those who are off long term.

The attack on sick pay in particular has its origins in proposals which the Association of Colleges (the national employers’ organisation for the Further Education sector) could not persuade the national trade unions to accept (and which other London FE colleges have recently considered and rejected).

The financial savings from an attack upon the income of staff who are off long term sick are negligible and the impact upon the culture of an organisation which announces that it now cares less than it did for staff when they are most vulnerable is hardly likely to be positive.  Attempts to reduce sick pay are a purely ideological assault upon the rights and living conditions of working people, driven by a generation of managers who are Thatcher’s children.

The College management do appear perplexed that trade union members should take action against changes which will not immediately impact upon them and have been convinced that they could resolve the dispute with offers of (time-limited) “protection” for existing staff. Management appears to live in a world in which one cares only for oneself, an attitude of mind which sits comfortably alongside seeing education as, first and foremost “a business.”

The College workforce (both teaching and support staff) have a clearer understanding of employee relations than their better remunerated senior management colleagues however, as they grasp that a two-tier workforce undermines unity and (at an organisation with an annual staff turnover of 24%) will inevitably lead to downward harmonisation.

Both trade unions seek negotiation with the employer over the terms of the new contract, but the College insist that the new contracts are a done deal because they are “modern” and “fit for purpose.”

(If any readers have a spare English-Managementspeak Managementspeak-English dictionary that would help the negotiators I am sure.)

The College senior management remain apparently unflinching in spite of the news that their parsimony toward staff does not inhibit generosity to the Principal himself.


However, all disputes end with negotiation. It’s up to the management to start negotiating. In the mean time, delegates at UNISON Conference can expect to hear more about how they can “sponsor a striker” so that we can top up UNISON strike pay should our members be forced to take further action.

Pre-Local Government Conference Fringe Meeting

Having been told not to organise a pre-local government fringe meeting, a number of branches of UNISON have responded appropriately by continuing to organise a...

Pre-Local Government Conference Fringe Meeting


Sponsored by a number of local government branches

Saturday 14 June, 7.30pm – 8.45pm
Community Base (South Wing) 113 Queens Road, Brighton

Come along to discuss the NJC pay campaign, and the business of our Local Government Conference before the start of Conference.

Invited speakers include Paul Holmes (Kirklees) and Mark Evans (Carmathenshire). Chair, Ruth Cashman (Lambeth).

This will be a brief, practical meeting for delegates and visitors to discuss how we build the pay campaign and what we do at Conference.
Refreshments will be available at the meeting.

How to get to Community Base
Community Base is 300 metres towards the sea from Brighton railway station. From the seafront (or Conference Centre) walk up West Street to, and past, the Clock Tower, crossing North Street on to Queens Road in the direction of the railway station and Community Base is on your right hand side. The meeting room is fully accessible.
Address:
113 Queens Road,
Brighton BN1 3XG

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

This is not my country

‎Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will know that I am a commuter.

I'm on a train from London to Brighton (as I so often am).

In years of commuting (including all manner of disruption) I think I have never been as angry.

At Victoria Station this evening, British Transport Police were herding an (exclusively black) group against a wall.

When challenged they could provide no justification for their conduct.

It was plain that the Transport Police (for whom we pay to police the transport network) were acting as agents of the Border Agency.

It is intolerable that our fellow citizens should be treated in this way.

It is intolerable that our fellow human beings should be treated in this way.

I do not recognise (or claim any affinity with) a country in which we accept this.

I withdraw my consent to be governed in such an outrageously discriminatory way.

It is the duty of trade unionists to oppose such discrimination.

Let's oppose this wholeheartedly.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

This is not my country

‎Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will know that I am a commuter.

I'm on a train from London to Brighton (as I so often am).

In years of commuting (including all manner of disruption) I think I have never been as angry.

At Victoria Station this evening, British Transport Police were herding an (exclusively black) group against a wall.

When challenged they could provide no justification for their conduct.

It was plain that the Transport Police (for whom we pay to police the transport network) were acting as agents of the Border Agency.

It is intolerable that our fellow citizens should be treated in this way.

It is intolerable that our fellow human beings should be treated in this way.

I do not recognise (or claim any affinity with) a country in which we accept this.

I withdraw my consent to be governed in such an outrageously discriminatory way.

It is the duty of trade unionists to oppose such discrimination.

Let's oppose this wholeheartedly.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.