Friday, March 08, 2019

Watching the wheels go round

I have been relaxing for a few days leave, before going back to work for a few weeks ahead of radiotherapy treatment for the Prostate cancer with which I was diagnosed in the summer.

This means that, rather than participating in political life, I have had the opportunity to be a spectator – with a choice of what to watch.

Locally, I have had the opportunity to admire the participation of Labour women in the Brighton demonstration supporting the Women’s Strike on International Women’s Day, and to witness the social media launch of pledges from Labour to women voters, ahead of May’s local elections. These are examples of our mass membership Labour Party defending and advancing the interests of the people our Party was founded to represent.

Of course, I could have chosen to devote my attention to the national media, and to the obsession of both the right-wing and “liberal” press with ceaseless attacks upon our Party. Or I could have paid attention to the self-obsessed inhabitants of the Westminster bubble setting up little groupuscles within or without the Party.

There is, of course, nothing new about the media being fed stories from within the state to attack our Party. Nor are “new Parties” a novelty, nor caucuses of Labour MPs trying to fight against the influence of socialist ideas. The games played between Parliamentarians and the media are simply much less interesting than what is going on on the ground, where ordinary working people are taking control of our own political Party and fashioning it into a tool to defend and advance our interests.

I look forward to being cured of my cancer by NHS staff, my fellow public servants, and to be able to continue to participate fully in the real political life of our country, of which Parliament knows little and the media reports less.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

An Open Letter to Sean Matgamna

Dear Mr Matgamna,

Good day

I am not sure that we have ever met. If we have it might have been during the failed attempt, in the mid 1990s, by your small sect (the Alliance for Workers Liberty) to control the left wing publication “Labour Briefing” (on the editorial board of which I served for a number of years).

I am not a person of any real significance in our Labour movement, which is something which you and I have in common. I held various offices in my trade union, UNISON, for a number of years, and am currently Chair of my Constituency Labour Party.

I note that you have written an “Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn”.

I have read this letter, from which I have learned that you are verbose.

I have also learned that you believe that the Party of which I am a member (I do not know if you are?) is in the grips of a crisis concerning antisemitism.

I have therefore learned that you are capable of responding to the agenda set for you by the media.

I suppose when one writes an open letter one can choose one’s topic.

If I considered myself to be some sort of leading light of a group of socialists, and thought my opinions of sufficient weight that I should write an “open letter” to the Leader of the Labour Party, there are all sorts of topics which I could think about covering.

There is the question of whether the Labour Party should pledge to go beyond the repeal of the 2016 Trade Union Act to repeal all anti-union legislation for example.

Then again there is the question of whether the Labour Party should adopt a clear position in opposition to racist immigration controls, extending “freedom of movement” beyond the boundaries of the European Union.

Or, to take another topical example, there is the very live question of what the Labour Party, and its leadership, whilst in opposition, can and should do to address the problem of cuts in jobs and services being made by Labour Councils.

All of these questions correspond, I suggest, to the interests of working-class people in this country.

I can see why socialists might want to make representations to the Party Leader on these questions (and many others) – although Labour Party members have policy making machinery which we can use to shape the policy of our Party and don’t always have every debate out in public.

You seem to have picked your topic based entirely upon the headlines of newspapers hostile to our Party, and to the wider movement of which you presumably consider yourself to be a part.

I understand that you also write poetry.

Perhaps it would be more useful to the cause of socialism in this country (and internationally) if you stuck to poetry in future.

Limericks are quite fun.

All the best,


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Suspend in haste. Repent at leisure?

As I have mentioned before, the vicissitudes of life (and the perennial reorganisations which are one of the forms those vicissitudes take for those of us with the mixed fortune to be local government workers) find me working these days in Human Resources.

I don’t blog about my job, but in that job I have to be aware of developments in employment law, and therefore of the gathering body of case law that warns employers against over-hasty suspension of employees.

This case law refers (of course) to the employment relationship. Employment law cannot simply be “read across” into (for example) the law as it impacts upon disciplinary procedures of trade unions, or political parties.

On the one hand, someone’s job is central to their life and ability to earn a living, and so the law relating to their employment ought (you would hope) to be careful to protect their rights. Perhaps therefore you would expect a more cautious approach to suspension from employment than in some other walks of life.

On the other hand, if you are suspended from employment, you continue to be paid. Whilst it is possible that an unjustified suspension could amount to a breach of contract, it is also true that the contract of employment can continue through a suspension and – if all goes well from the employee’s point of view – out the other side.

Whilst a suspended employee is denied the opportunity to work, they nevertheless continue to be paid. The basic reciprocity of the employment relationship (I am available for work. You pay me) is not terminated simply by the act of suspension.

However, when an elected representative in a trade union or a political party is suspended, there is an immediate impact in that they cease – in effect – to hold the position to which they have been elected (or selected). The union (or party) still takes their subscriptions but it has removed them completely from the role from which they have been suspended.

Because our membership of a trade union or political party is not circumscribed with the same range of legal protections which our movement has fought for over centuries for our rights as workers, there is -potentially – inordinate scope for suspension of union or Party office holders to be used inappropriately – to seek to resolve political differences by administrative means.

And sometimes this happens.

I am more familiar than I might wish with UNISON’s disciplinary processes. These limit the power of the National Executive to suspend someone from office to a maximum of 60 days (excepting cases of alleged financial irregularities).

This is a reasonable time limit. It enables the organisation to take a little time to consider a case in which discipinary action may be required, without permanently removing an elected official from a position to which they have been elected by the membership.

Unfortunately, Labour Party rules permit suspensions to drag on (and on) – which amounts to the imposition of a disciplinary sanction in advance of any hearing or of the opportunity for the individual to advance a defence.

I do not mean to make direct comment on a suspension announced today by the Labour Party – but, having recently seen a comrade return to Party membership following a suspension which lasted for more than two years – I think that the need for some time limit on the power of the Labour Party NEC to suspend members (as proposed by Brighton Pavilion CLP at 2017 Conference) is urgently required.

Of course, if I were going to say something about today’s suspension, it wouldn’t be something I would want to say on this blog. I try to avoid swearing here.