Sunday, January 29, 2017

Corbyn is wrong about Article 50

I voted twice for Jeremy Corbyn to be Leader of our Party and support his leadership, but I was disappointed to receive his email seeking to justify the decision to vote in favour of the Bill triggering Article 50 on the spurious grounds that we should respect the Referendum outcome.

I prefer the militant position adopted by Lambeth UNISON at our Annual General Meeting. When we lose a General Election we don’t shut up for the next few years and let a hostile Government attack us – and there is no reason why we should show greater “respect” for the outcome of a consultative referendum than we do for elections.

There is no prospect of a “People’s Brexit” in current political circumstances. The departure from the European Union being planned by this Government will be irredeemably racist and reactionary – the bigots who have been empowered and encouraged by the referendum result know what they achieved (and only the small number of deluded leftwingers who are in denial about having chosen the wrong side in such a critical moment doubt this).

The policy of the Labour Party was agreed at Conference – and it not simply in favour of leaving the European Union come what may.

Labour Party policy is that Conference;

  • considers that full access to the single European market for British goods and services is vital for jobs and prosperity in Britain;
  • Calls for the rights and workplace protections enshrined in EU law to be maintained in the UK;
  • insists that the rights of residence of EU citizens already living in Britain and the rights of British citizens already living in other EU countries should be preserved;
  • recognises that many of those who voted to leave the EU were expressing dissatisfaction with EU or national policy and were voting for change, but believes that unless the final settlement proves to be acceptable then the option of retaining EU membership should be retained. The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through Parliament and potentially through a general election, or a referendum.

It is difficult to see how this policy is consistent with voting for Theresa May’s “Article 50” Bill on the second or third reading. It would certainly be inconsistent to vote for the bill on the third reading unless amendments had achieved the objectives set out above by Party Conference.

There would be nothing to prevent Labour Parliamentarians opposing the Bill on the Second Reading and then still pursuing amendments – so there is no good reason for the three line whip to oppose the previous position of the Party, the views of the large majority of Labour voters and the policy adopted at Party Conference.


The lamentable nonentities of the Parliamentary Labour Party who seek any excuse to oppose Corbyn may use this episode to attack his leadership but socialists who wish to defend our socialist leadership need not defend the grave error which is being made in supporting Theresa May’s Bill to trigger a process which will attack the rights of workers in general and migrant workers in particular.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

So long and thanks for all the fish...

This is what I said to the Lambeth Branch Annual General Meeting on Thursday. If those who were good enough to come to the meeting had to suffer it I don't see why you shouldn't;
Comrades,
I was first elected to a senior branch officer position in our predecessor NALGO branch in October 1990. Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister. Mikhail Gorbachev was President of the Soviet Union – and we had won a national pay dispute the year before.
Here in Lambeth Joan Twelves was Leader of the Council, campaigning against the Poll Tax and Herman Ouseley was our Chief Executive.
After a year as your Branch Chair I was elected as full-time Assistant Branch Secretary, and a further year after that I became Branch Secretary, a position which I have held, with a couple of short breaks, ever since.
If I were to try to say even a fraction of what I might say about the last quarter century of life in Lambeth and the union we would get nothing else done – and for those of you who have been here as long as I have, or even if you haven’t – I think perhaps you may already have suffered enough from listening to me over the years.
I will pick out just a few memories and suggest some of the lessons those memories may offer for our future.
In 1991 we occupied advice centres and youth centres which were threatened with closure – we did not win everything we were aiming for but we did win victories, much as library campaigners forced the Council back in the last year.
As ever, we learned then, as we have over and over again, that if you fight to save jobs and services you may not win all that you hope for – but that if you do not fight you shall win nothing at all.
The following year we took six coaches full of branch members taking unofficial strike action to Hyde Park to show our opposition to pit closures – and were repudiated by our General Secretary Alan Jinkinson.
That had been our first brush with John Major’s anti-union law that required ballots before strike action, a restriction which this Tory Government has made tighter than ever. It was also the first time I was told off by a General Secretary.
In 1994 Labour lost control of Lambeth Council for the first time since the 1970s and a hung Council attacked our trade unions. For two years we had to hold this Annual General Meeting in our own time – and on each occasion more than a hundred members took time off to attend.
Also in the mid 1990s other members of the branch, too numerous to mention, founded and led the campaign which eventually rescued our member Abdul Onibiyo from his unlawful deportation to Nigeria and saw him returned to the job which Lambeth had kept open for him.
That episode is a good illustration of the important lesson that trade unionism is not about individuals. I have done a lot here over the past quarter century, and those who know me will know that I am not modest, but everything that is worthwhile which we achieve as trade unionists we achieve by standing together.
We did the same thing when the racist nail bomber, David Copeland, bombed Brixton in 1999 – and we led and organised a march from Brixton to Trafalgar Square which united local people in opposition to racism and the far right.
In Lambeth we have always understood that trade unionism doesn’t stop when you leave work in the evening, and we have never waited for permission to organise campaigns for justice and against oppression either locally or nationally.
When Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by the police in Stockwell in 2005 we were able to offer his family our help and support at the beginning of their long campaign for justice.
However, the strength of our trade union branch is founded upon our organisation in the workplace – and if we are going to sustain that strength into the future that will have to remain our key priority.
Simply being organised is never enough however, we also need a willingness to fight, or we can never win anything, as well as a willingness and an ability to negotiate so that we can end the disputes we start.
Twenty years ago the Council tried to increase our working week and cut our annual leave and maternity leave. By mobilising our members and uniting with the other trade unions we saw off this threat – and over the ensuing two decades, thousands of workers have had several days a year of extra leisure because of effective local union organisation.
If you have colleagues back in your workplace who are not trade union members because they do not think that trade unions can achieve anything then I suggest that you ask them to give up voluntarily five days of their annual leave, because they only have those days because of you, and people like you over the years, have organised as trade unionists and stood together for better conditions for working people.
As I said, I could go on and on.
I could tell you about how the largest privatisation in the history of English local government in 1997 was a complete and utter failure.
I could tell you chapter and verse about how the idiocy of the cooperative council savaged valuable local services since 2010.
I could tell you more than you want to know about successive Chief Executives and Council Leaders.
And I could tell you all manner of things also about our trade union.
I am and always will be a committed trade unionist.
Trade unions are the only possible guarantee of dignity and justice in the workplace, they are the tool which workers have invented over the past two hundred years in order to even up the balance of power between employers and employees.
However, we must never be starry-eyed about our own trade union and, in particular, we always have to fight for democratic control of our trade union by its members against those within the union who want to tell us what to do.
Our branch has faced repeated attacks over the years from those in the union who find us awkward, militant and troublesome. I myself have faced numerous investigations and at present am under investigation because I have challenged malpractice in the last General Secretary election. I am proud to be judged on the basis of those who oppose me.
There will always be a fight for democracy in our trade unions – and you will need to be vigilant to defend the union as a useful tool to defend your interests.
As I have said, I could go on and on.
But I won’t.
This is the third and final time that I shall stand down as your Branch Secretary and today is the last occasion on which I shall address you as such.
It has been a great honour, and mostly a lot of fun, and I am very grateful to you all.

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"Stronger UNISON" demonstrate their weakness

You might think that a group of members of our largest public service trade union, organised around support for the well-established leadership of the union, would have a robust self-confidence in their own position.

You might think that when a maverick individual blogger made criticisms of their (almost coherent) “Stronger UNISON pledge” they would be well able to rebut such criticism and would be proud to assert their confident defence of their own position.

You might think almost anything!

Best not though.

The feeble-minded adherents of the confused and confusing “stronger UNISON” pledge have three times deleted a link to an earlier post on this blog when it was posted to their Facebook.

What we can clearly see is that those lay members prepared to subordinate themselves to the (officer-led) “Team Dave”  and their recent electoral misbehaviour are not prepared to engage in dialogue with other lay members.

It is almost enough to make someone want to go into some detail in examining the records of the individuals who are so disrespectful of UNISON members and UNISON democracy.

Perhaps it is more than almost enough.

Perhaps that will be fun?


The status quo in UNISON is over.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Looking back in Lambeth

Next week I shall cease, for the first time in more than twenty six years, to hold a position as an officer of my trade union branch. Since I became Branch Chair of Lambeth NALGO in the autumn of 1990 I have always been part of the leadership of the branch and – since I first took up a position with full-time release in November 1991, I have had just two years “back at work” full time, and two years part-time (on each of the previous occasions, in 1994 and 2006, when I have tried to stand down as Secretary).

This is part of a deliberate process of disengagement from my UNISON responsibilities, which includes my decision not to seek an eighth consecutive term on the UNISON NEC (about which I am grateful for recent kind remarks). If you think I am trying to show people more important than myself that it is possible to plan succession and step back then (I’m afraid) you’re wrong (but I don’t object to the point being made). I am doing this for myself and my life (and in order to have time for those I care for – which includes myself).

To be a proper UNISON Branch Secretary is very much more than a full-time job, and I won’t really have time to take stock and decide what to do next until I have been able to draw breath, but – as the Annual General Meeting approaches inexorably – I cannot avoid looking back over many, often tumultuous, years of local government trade unionism.

I am a little bit more than one year older than the London Borough of Lambeth, which itself came into being in its current form in 1965. I went to my job interview in Lambeth from a picket line in Lewisham, where I was part of the five week long strike over health and safety in the Housing Advice Centre in late 1986. My first year in Lambeth was the year in which Thatcher won her third term in office, leading to spending cuts in local government, disputes within the labour movement and – a little further down the road – politically motivated “witch hunting” of the Labour Left.

Plus ca change.

I am not trying, in this blog post, to write the history of Lambeth Council from the perspective of the workforce over the past thirty years (which isn’t necessarily to say that I won’t ever do such a thing). I’m just reflecting (for my own amusement, which is the only good reason for anyone to blog) on some of the moments which will stay with me from the recent history of trade unionism in Lambeth Council, and from which I should probably try to draw some lessons when I am no longer getting daily requests for representation. Because I am, and have been, a trade unionist, all of these memories are of collective action, in which I have been but one participant;

  • ·         The ten week occupation of the Consumer Advice Centres in 1991, which saved one Centre from closure for several years – this is the sort of effective action, which we cannot even discuss within UNISON in 2017;
  • ·         Six coach loads of NALGO members departing the Town Hall to support the miners in 1992 on an unofficial strike for which we were “repudiated” by NALGO General Secretary, Alan Jinkinson;
  • ·         The “Section 5” report, the Appleby inquiry and the missing twenty million quid – the atmosphere of paranoia (not necessarily unfounded) and chaos which led to the “hung Council” of the mid-1990s;
  • ·         The defeat of 1996, in which workers in the Housing neighbourhoods lost sick pay for the first two days each time they were ill – a setback which it took us five years to reverse;
  • ·         The victory of 1997, when trade union unity successfully defended our Leave Code, our maternity package and our 35 hour week. In the twenty years since we won that fight we have given up none of our conditions of service;
  • ·         The largest privatisation in the history of English local government, also in 1997, which set up the soon-to-fail joint venture company “TeamLambeth”, the first of our many experiences of the failures of New Labour;
  • ·         The victory of the Onibiyo Family Anti-Deportation Campaign and the return of our member Abdul Onibiyo to employment with Lambeth Council following his unjust deportation to Nigeria;
  • ·         The march from Brixton to Trafalgar Square on May Day 1999 in protest at the Brixton bombing, led by a fabulous banner produced by our former Branch Secretary, Ed Hall;
  • ·         The publication, in 2000, of research commissioned by the Council (under pressure from UNISON) which showed that managers acknowledged that the ethnic origin of staff was a key factor in deciding on disciplinary action;
  • ·         Starting the picket line at 2/7 Town Hall Parade, protesting the dismissal of Alex Owolade in 2001;
  • ·         Giving evidence to the Lambeth Community Alarms Inquiry in the Assembly Hall in 2002, criticising the institutional racism of the authority and defending the trade union;
  • ·         Dozens of appearances at the Croydon Employment Tribunal between 1993 and 2006, when UNISON changed our approach, winning many thousands of pounds for trade union members;
  • ·         Hundreds of (disciplinary, grievance, sickness and appeal) hearings advocating for union members over more than twenty five years, in only one of which did “baked bean lasagne” feature as part of a disciplinary charge;
  • ·         More than three hundred meetings of our vibrant, diverse, lively and only occasionally infuriating Branch Committee at only one of which were we visited by a former Regional Secretary of UNISON;
  • ·         Welcoming the family of Jean Charles de Menezes to the branch office in 2005, as we assisted their campaign for justice – as we have stood, on far too many occasions over the years, with those contesting deaths in custody in Brixton and elsewhere;
  • ·         The campaign to give tenants a right to vote on whether or not there would be an Arms Length Management Organisation (which we won) and the fight for a “No” vote which we – so narrowly – lost in 2007;
  • ·         Our fight against the successive waves of cuts and redundancies which we have faced every year since 2010, as the Council workforce has been cut by something like 40%;
  • ·         The tragedy of the “early adopters” of the Cooperative Council, and the damage done to valuable public services, including the One O’clock Clubs, in the name of ill-judged ideology since 2011;
  • ·         The strongest strike action in years in Lambeth to defend our pensions on 30 November 2011 (and my being denounced as a “trade union bully boy” in the media and told off by UNISON) – and then having to campaign against an unsatisfactory settlement;
  • ·         Seeing the Chief Executive run out of a Council meeting after a UNISON deputation opposing race discrimination in the Housing restructure in 2012, leading to an independent investigation and defeating the threat of compulsory redundancies;
  • ·         Marking the demise of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 2013 (with a banner and a bottle) – and getting into trouble with UNISON again for doing so;
  • ·         Campaigning for fair pay for local government workers in 2014, only to be presented with a settlement which was worse than the offer against which we had gone on strike;
  • ·         The strike action taken (unofficially in 2015 and then officially) by our members in libraries in defence of public services, which shows what local government workers will need to do in the coming years;
  • ·         The inspirational occupation of Carnegie Library by local people in 2016 – which showed that working class people can still take action even when working class organisations are prohibited from doing so.

I can see that there are a fair few things for me to think about once I have had the opportunity to recover from the impressive hangover which I expect to have after next week’s AGM.