Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The incredible lightness of London Region UNISON in the health service

I wouldn’t want readers of this blog in the bowels of Congress House to think that I shall completely ignore the Greater London Region of UNISON now that I am simply a member, rather than holding any office.

Indeed, I was about to send greetings of solidarity in connection with the strike action by Serco employees in London’s health service. Low paid cleaners and security staff have voted by an awe inspiring 99% for strike action at the Barts NHS Trust.

Unfortunately (for UNISON) these strikers are not being led by UNISON. Indeed the activist quoted in the news report to which I link above, an admirable trade unionist and old friend of your blogger, Len Hockey, is one of many good activists hounded out of UNISON in London into the waiting arms of UNITE.

Whilst cries of sub judice may be raised if anyone moves to discipline members of the Regional Management Team in Greater London who colluded with the gross misconduct of the former Regional Secretary, it remains the case that the current regime in the Region will continue to ensure that UNISON does not play a leading role in important struggles for workplace justice.

It is a shame that the energy devoted by paid UNISON offiicals to securing nominations from London health branches in the General Secretary election is not devoted to organising the workforce and fighting for workers’ rights.

Where will we win a Labour Government?

Here is a link to the list of Tory held marginal seats which Labour needs to win in order to form a majority Government.

In Sussex the three Tory held target seats are Hastings and Rye, Crawley and East Worthing and Shoreham.

Of course we also need to work to retain the seats we gained (and held) in June – and the Party has to prepare for future local elections in all areas (which must be a major priority in Brighton and Hove).

However, Labour Councillors could do so much more under a Labour Government, and therefore local Parties need to organise, from the ground up, support for the key marginal seats which will determine the outcome of the coming General Election.

Friday, July 07, 2017


I see that some of my fellow complainants in the recent case at the Certification Officer concerning the last General Secretary election in UNISON have lodged an appeal with the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

I haven’t.

I don’t want to comment on the legal merits of an appeal. I’m not a lawyer and it’s never wise to prejudge a case that hasn’t been heard yet. However a Certification Officer decision can only be altered by the EAT if it involves an error of law or if findings of fact are so unreasonable as to be perverse.

At any events, my decision not to appeal was not based upon any assessment of the legal merits of so doing.

My reason for not pursuing an appeal is that I fear that further litigation will just be used to delay UNISON facing up to the precise recommendations and damning conclusions in the decision of the Assistant Certification Officer (with which regular readers of this blog will be familiar).

There are those within UNISON (including a larger number of members of the National Executive than ever before) who are motivated to pursue change within our trade union, particularly in relation to the conduct of overzealous supporters of the successful candidate in the last General Secretary election.

Others, however would rather not have to confront these issues. Whatever happens at the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the recommendations which both UNISON and the complainants asked the Assistant Certification Officer to make stand to be considered.
There will also be another election for UNISON General Secretary, in 2020 if not before, as well as biennial elections to the Service Group Executives (this year) and the National Executive Council (next year).

As an ordinary rank and file UNISON member, holding no office or position in the trade union, I very much hope that my friends and comrades in the UNISON Action Broad Left will continue to make headway in all these elections.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

The "left" and racism in a time of Brexit

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that, after a quarter century on release to my trade union as a full time lay official, and following fourteen years’ service in the purgatory that is the National Executive Council (NEC) of UNISON, I have returned to work.

I am therefore trying to study for a work-related exam and had no intention of blogging at you this weekend. Unfortunately, having expressed an opinion which some found controversial I have been confronted with such a steaming pile of online ordure that I have to say something.

Like many of you, I am sure, I spend some of my online time in that privatised and corporately controlled part of the internet which we know as Facebook. It was there that, after having chaired a characteristically lively but also good humoured and largely comradely meeting of the General Committee of Brighton Pavilion Labour Party on Thursday evening I ventured to express a few views.

I deplored those who – it seems to me – want to make support for Brexit a litmus test of support for Labour’s leadership. Although this was in the context of Corbyn having dismissed three frontbenchers for having signed up to a mischievous amendment from Chukka Umanna it wasn’t that act to which I was referring.

Rather, I was alarmed that some socialist comrades seemed to see the list of those (including leftwing backbenchers) who had supported that amendment (some in good faith) as a “hit list” for deselection, whereas in my view socialists can legitimately take the view that free movement of labour is worth defending (and extending) and that the membership of the EU single market is, in reality, in the interests of workers in the UK.

I was quite prepared for this view to attract opprobrium from some for whom support for Jeremy Corbyn does appear to be more about a fan club than considered support for the principles he has espoused all his adult life – and in particular from those in the semi-detached fan-club who won’t actually join the Labour Party to provide any effective support for the leadership, but are desperately keen to invent reasons why they were right to line up with UKIP and vote for the UK to exit the EU.

What I wasn’t prepared for was a shocking display of (let me generously describe this as) unconscious racism from socialist(?) “comrades” who could not handle being challenged about their Lexit-obsession by a black person identifying the racist consequences of last year’s referendum outcome.

One “comrade” seriously asked a black fellow trade union member “Why does a UK wide referendum effect you more than others?” Seriously. Asked.

I guess the spike in race hate crime after the referendum result may be easier to forget if you weren’t on the receiving end of it. However, the same individual, when it was put to them (not unreasonably) that they would next be telling their interlocutor that they had “a chip on their shoulder” responded with “no i wouldn't say you've got a chip on your shoulder. I’d say you've a boulder on your back (covering both shoulders), which must be effecting brain functions, which has led you to play the race card and call myself and anyone else who disagrees with the public majority of the referendum, racist and a white supremacist.”

Another “comrade” responded to observations from a black comrade that “if you were Black and/or an immigrant and been the victim of racist abuse (as I have many times since June 2016) the views here may be different. But most of you are not and can therefore choose to chase after UKIP voters instead of recognising what is happening around you to your neighbours and friends who are immigrants or children of immigrants like me.” with the response that “I'm from an immigrant working class family who suffered racism from the moment they arrived in this country so your tedious identity politics liberalism doesn't work on people like me but good try.”

On another thread this same “comrade” seriously (seriously) told a black person that they would be rescuing them with a leftwing government in the context of dismissing the concerns which they had expressed (“we'll be saving you from the massive racism a right-wing Tory government would unleash”) – before being demolished in debate by a young white comrade demonstrating that it is quite possible to spot – and call out – prejudice even if one is not on the receiving end of it.

To say that I am disappointed to find that self-professed socialist activists have the same grasp of racism which we sometimes find in newly arrived white managers in the London Borough of Lambeth (who are invariably shocked to learn that the organisation – sensibly – accepts that it is institutionally racist) would be the least that I could say.

The capitalism in which we live is the capitalism which depended upon and was shaped by the Atlantic slave trade. Our cities (and our world) continue to be shaped by the consequences of those centuries of racist genocide and oppression. Socialists who cannot see the absolute centrality of this experience to our struggle today are as far from socialism as those who think that gender oppression can somehow be relegated for future resolution.

Twenty years ago UNISON activists in local government in London fought hard to make our employers accept their institutional racism. We forced them to commission research which showed that white managers systematically favoured white subordinates and admitted in interviews that the ethnicity of an employee was a powerful determinant of whether disciplinary action would be taken against them. I was as shocked then as I am now by the stark findings of that research.

I am not shocked – but I am angry – that institutions can be so deliberately forgetful about their own racism. I am both shocked and angry that self-proclaimed socialist activists can be less intelligent and aware about racism than the institutionally racist organisation for which I work.

Having said this, I can now go back to revising for my exam. If you could avoid annoying me again for the next week or so I would be grateful. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Time for the Green Party to affiliate to the Labour Party

Now that I am no longer a UNISON representative I think I should turn my talent for writing controversial blog posts which may upset people to the sphere of my Labour Party activity. As regular readers will know, everything I say here is only my own personal opinion and so what I say here I say as an individual Labour Party member and not as Chair of my Constituency Labour Party (CLP).

One of the pleasures of the recent General Election campaign was meeting my old history teacher (and centenarian) Len Goldman. Len, who has given a lifetime to the struggle for socialism, wrote recently to the Grauniad to express the view that; “In the ‘30s we built a united front against fascism. Today’s inheritors of the fascist mantle need to be fought in the same non-sectarian way. Away with party shibboleths, which often hide real intentions. The Labour MPs who helped the Tories by denigrating their democratically elected leader are a prime example. Labour should at least unite with the Greens and welcome others who are prepared to defend the victims of the Tory onslaught and build a fairer, more democratic society. Caroline Lucas is certainly nearer to the intentions of the originators of the Labour party than those MPs I have mentioned.”

Len’s views are clearly shared by many on the left, including many within the Labour Party both nationally and locally. Unfortunately, however, this has been translated into support for a so-called “progressive alliance” which appears to entail one party (or more than one party) standing down in favour of other “progressive” parties. The fact that protagonists of this approach appear to include the Liberal Democrats (late of Coalition fame) within the definition of “progressive” does more damage to an inherently flawed concept.

It is one thing to vote tactically for a Party you like less than your first choice in order to defeat an even worse enemy – but quite another to deny your supporters the chance to vote for their first choice because you want to dragoon them into such tactical voting whether they want it or not. Those who thought that Labour should have stood aside for the incumbent Green MP in Brighton Pavilion have to face the reality that, whilst she increased her vote, share and majority, Labour came second and held a vote from 15,000 local people (many of whom might not have voted Green had we accepted the argument to step aside).

As we face the possibility of an early General Election, it is worth looking at the relationship between the Green Party and Labour nationally as well as locally in order to consider what we should be doing to avoid unnecessary division between those who want to see Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. A Corbyn led Government will not only face every obstacle beforehand but also sabotage from the deep state, the media barons, the wealthy and their fifth column in our movement after the election. It is worth looking at every opportunity to unite those who will support such a Government both before and after its election.

The Green Party, outside Brighton Pavilion Constituency face an almost existential threat from the willingness of their former supporters to switch to Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn – in the General Election the party with the most lost deposits was the Greens, they only saved their deposit in 11 of the 466 constituencies they contested. Given that you only need 5% of the vote to save a deposit this indicates that the Greens have been marginalised nationally.

In the Isle of Wight, where Caroline Lucas had argued that Labour should step aside for the Greens they got 17.3% of the vote, more than 4,000 votes behind the second placed Labour candidate in a safe Tory seat. Nationally the Green vote fell by more than half. There were fewer Green Party voters in the 2017 General Election than there are Labour Party members (and that means individual members and takes no account of three million affiliated trade unionists).

There is no prospect whatsoever of the Greens winning any more Members of Parliament without a change in the electoral system unless Labour abandons its current socialist policies. The electoral base of the Greens, to the extent that it exists in a few localities was built largely at Labour’s expense in areas where radical voters saw an effective means to express dissatisfaction with New Labour’s obsessions with privatisation and imperialism. Now that Labour has a socialist Leader and a social democratic programme for Government that electoral base is melting like snow in spring.

Of course the situation within Brighton Pavilion is unique. Caroline Lucas is proven to be a popular local MP, twice re-elected with an increased majority and (whilst some of us in the Labour Party might think some of the Green’s electoral campaigning tactics mirror the worst of the Liberal Democrats) plainly impregnable in the immediate future on the basis of the current constituency boundaries. Many Labour supporters in Brighton Pavilion (mistakenly in the view of your blogger, but not in their view) believe that they can support Jeremy Corbyn by voting for Caroline Lucas (and not only because some of them may have believed the lie that there was a risk of a Tory MP in Pavilion).

In these circumstances, and taking account of the seismic change in both the Labour Party and national politics through which we are living, the answer to the question posed (and answered so unconvincingly) by protagonists of the “Progressive Alliance” is that the Green Party should affiliate to the Labour Party in the same way the Co-operative Party does. The Co-op Party has 38 MPs, all of whom also sit as Labour MPs. If the Green Party came to the same electoral agreement with Labour as the Co-op Party they would put themselves on a fast track to increasing their Parliamentary representation compared to their current strategy of electoral isolation whilst waving the mangy carrot of the “Progressive Alliance” at an uninterested Labour Party.

Perhaps if we had some system of proportional representation there would be room for more than one progressive political party, between which alliances might be formed, but in 2017 that is not an option. The ball is in the court of the Green Party and its lone MP, but if that ball is served to the Labour Party we should be prepared to return it in a very positive way.