Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Our chance to comment on the boundary review that spells oblivion for Pavilion

Having only just been elected as Chair of Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party, I have to face the possibility that I may be the last person to hold that exalted office – since the first proposals from the Boundary Commission redraw the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies across the border between Brighton and Hove in such a way as to eliminate the constituency.

The Commission has today published the responses received last year to the first round of consultation (which took place at a time when our local Labour Parties were unjustly suspended and prevented from functioning effectively). These include a well-argued submission from Labour Councillor Lloyd Russell-Moyle, seeking to replace the proposed constituency which links East Brighton to Seaford with a more rational option linking East Brighton with Lewes. Lloyd’s concern having been with what is currently the Kemp Town constituency he can hardly be criticised for expressing no criticism of the proposals for the other two constituencies in Brighton and Hove.

Local Labour Party activists now need to consider whether, and if so how, we should consider a formal response at this stage – the local Conservatives having done so earlier. We cannot help that we were unable to respond formally to the first stage consultation but we do now have a brief opportunity to comment, not least on the widespread evidence of local opposition to ignoring the distinction between Brighton and Hove. The current proposals put Brighton station, and the Pavilion in what is essentially the Hove constituency whilst moving Hove Park into a Brighton constituency. We have until 27 March to comment.

The Tories’ alternative counter-proposal gives two seafront Hove wards to Brighton Pavilion in return for Patcham and Withdean (in what seems transparently to be an attempt to make Hove a Tory seat). Whilst it is tempting to look for Party advantage only in boundary changes, it is far from easy to predict such advantage more than a few years ahead – and part of the justification for a constituency based electoral system is that there should be a relationship between representatives and the area they represent (which does mean that there should be some logic to that “area”).

There does seem to be considerable local concern about what is being proposed. The proposals for the 84 current constituencies across the South East Region have attracted a total of 2,259 comments (an average of 27 per constituency). The proposals for the three current Brighton and Hove constituencies are considerably more controversial, with 69 comments from Kemp Town, 160 from Pavilion and 209 from Hove.


Labour Party members now need to consider our position.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

With friends like these...

As someone who is standing aside from UNISON positions in part with the intention of becoming more active in the Labour Party (of which I have been a member since 1980) I suppose I should be particularly interested in the advice which the General Secretary of my trade union has for the Leader of my Party.

Or then again maybe not.

Much of the commentary which can be read about the outcome of the Copeland by-election is utterly predictable. The right-wingers who abandoned Labour’s core supporters in the North over many years (and lost Scotland completely) conclude that Corbyn is to blame. Those who (like myself) support Corbyn blame the treachery of Blair and Mandelson.

These predictable conclusions are predictably uninfluential. Those who are most determined to remove a socialist leader of the Labour Party look to those who have supported Corbyn in the past to move against him. 

UNISON’s General Secretary, speaking with the authority he only has as leader of a trade union which has twice backed Corbyn, denies that the Leader should be solely to blame and goes on to advise that the Leader draws in “the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour”

This is difficult advice to decipher, both because the Parliamentary Labour Party is hardly a brains trust, but also because so many “leading” Labour Parliamentarians have shown nothing but contempt for the democratic decision of Party members twice to elect our Leader.

I don’t, in this brief blog post, intend to intervene in the debate about who is to blame, or what the Party and its left (both of which are far more than our Leader) should do now (although these are indeed vital questions).

I simply want to make some observations about what our General Secretary has had to say, in the light of the role of the leadership of our trade union in bringing this country into its current state.

Had UNISON not persuaded our members to accept shabby compromises on public service pensions in 2012 (which, with the partial exception of the Local Government Pension Scheme, offered us nothing more for our strike action on 30 November 2011 than had already been offered at the beginning of that month) we might have inflicted a defeat upon the Coalition Government, rather than handing them a victory.

We might not have won, but as it was we did not try – and having led our forces up and down the hill over pensions our General Secretary then found it impossible to lead a meaningful fight against the pay freeze which has reduced the living standards of our members since the economic crisis that preceded the election of that Government.

Our approach as a trade union, since we launched the ill-fated “Million Voices” campaign at the end of the last decade, has been to let our members know that we feel their pain, giving the impression that we are fighting its causes whilst actually battening down the hatches in the hope that the institution of the Union will weather a storm from which we fail to protect those members.

It was therefore with some interest that I read the words which our General Secretary addressed to our Leader, in support of a fallacious argument that the left don’t want to win elections;
 “if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.
If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.
And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.”

I think that there is another perspective worthy of consideration;
If you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need a trade union which can organise you and fight for your rights.
If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need a trade union which will enforce your rights and campaign in your interest.
And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to capitulation from your trade union.

We had a Labour Government from 1997 until 2010 and (whilst it is true that the worst day under a Labour Government is better than the best day under a Tory Government) UNISON members found that to be a Government which privatised our jobs and held down our living standards.

Whilst it was a tragedy that our opposition as a trade union to New Labour was so weak and ineffectual, it is a farce that, having failed to confront the far worse Governments which have succeeded New Labour, we are now invited to place our hope exclusively in the election of a Labour Government.

I suppose at least there is some honesty in the acceptance that the impoverished home care worker, the overworked nurse (or any of the other UNISON members cited by our General Secretary in his “friendly advice” to our Leader) should not place hope in our trade union.


--> I hope that the Labour Party Leader will weigh the advice he receives from his friends, taking account of their experience and achievements.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Proud to stand up for UNISON members today at the Certification Officer hearing

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will probably be aware that today saw the final session of the hearing of the various complaints made to the Certification Officer arising from the last UNISON General Secretary election.

Today we had the oral submissions and argument from the various parties, UNISON on the one hand and the complainants (Heather Wakefield, Roger Bannister, myself and John Burgess “and others”). Assistant Certification Officer, Her Honour Mary Stacey, now has the unenviable task of going back over 3,000 plus pages of paperwork, three days of testimony and the various submissions, witness statements and case law in order to arrive at a decision.

I won’t, this evening, attempt anything like a comprehensive commentary upon how I see the case as having gone, and to anyone who wishes to join those who have already asked me what I think will now happen I can only say that I have no idea (and neither does anyone else). I will say that, for all that I regret having to bring a complaint against the Union of which (if we include a former partner union) I have been a member for thirty years before an officer of the state, I was proud and happy today to sit amongst my fellow complainants and their various representatives.

Heather Wakefield, who has shown courage and determination since her strong showing in the recent election, was ably represented by Ijeoma Omambala – and personally shared with me the burden of physically carrying copies of the documents today for use by the complainants (no mean feat). Though slight in stature, Heather stands head and shoulders above her critics within UNISON, about whose character (rather than her own) one can learn much from their treatment of her.

Roger Bannister, assisted by Glen Kelly, arguably found one of the very best ways to mark his recent retirement both from work and from tenure as a branch activist that makes your humble blogger look like a lightweight. It is, of course, one of the marks of a good leader to be able (successfully) to plan succession and to know when to move on – and Roger also has distinction of having been first off the mark in submitting a complaint to the Certification Officer (although any suggestion that his complaint travelled a mile in under four minutes would probably show the age of those who made it…)

John Burgess, and the other complainants whose complaints were synoptic with his own, was robustly represented by my former NEC colleague, Yunus Bakhsh (whose modesty did not prevent him from referring to the earlier decision of the Certification Officer in Bakhsh –v- UNISON – particularly not when the Union tried to rely upon it!). John has withstood tremendous pressure and deeply unpleasant bullying over the year in which we have been pursuing this case and I offer him my wholehearted solidarity and support.

For my part, I was honoured to be represented today by George Binette, my friend and comrade (and Camden UNISON Branch Secretary) who rose to the challenge (with which all we union activists are sadly all too familiar) of representing an awkward and opinionated individual – and acquitted himself with distinction. In a world accelerating towards reaction it is good to find such comrades and to stand beside them.

Overall, the complainants (rather than the Union) today represented all that is best about UNISON both as it is and as it might be. Each of the complainants, and their representatives can this evening be proud that they have stood up for trade union democracy and the rights of UNISON members. I doubt that any individual involved in the preparation and presentation of the case on behalf of UNISON feels any such pride (although I do think the poor souls who had to collate the documentation deserve all our thanks, and accept that others were simply carrying out orders).

I shall have more to say about all of this soon, but for the moment I simply wanted to place on record my appreciation to all my fellow complainants – and to note that the unity which we have shown in taking on this fight is precisely the unity which UNISON members will now rightly expect that the left in the Union continues to show.

UNISONaction Broad Left candidates in the forthcoming elections to the NEC must be triumphant if we are to have a democratic trade union of which we can be proud to be a member – whereas those committed to the unfortunate “Stronger UNISON” statement are plainly those for whom all is already for the best in this best of all possible trade unions, and who will not therefore commit to the change which is required.

I may be giving up my UNISON positions this year, but I remain a UNISON member, unless and until I am expelled for having complained about electoral malpractice – and (whatever my membership status) I shall continue to comment here.


I shall also report on progress with a complaint concerning the admitted breaches of the Democracy in UNISON guidelines (and our agreed Conference policy) by one of our Assistant General Secretaries…