Now -read the book!

Here is a link to my memoirs which, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can purchase online at
Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Slavery then - racism now

I was glad to see our General Secretary reminding us about the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. I understand why there is an emphasis on a proper apology for this crime against humanity, but in terms of effective reparation we need to step up the fight against the continuing consequences of slavery.

I am very pleased that UNISON Conference 2005 called for a National Day for Remembrance of Slavery – now we need to take the debate forward and make the links with the fight against the underdevelopment of African and Caribbean nations by global capitalism, and against deep rooted institutional racism at work and in our communities.

When we look to our next UNISON Conference we must give a high priority to motions 23 and 25 from the Black Members Conference, which deal with different aspects of institutional racism at work. Those of us working, and representing workers, in multi-racial workforces know that racism is alive and well in today’s workplace, with black workers disadvantaged in recruitment and promotion and over represented in the disciplinary process.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

4 April - picket in support of Zimbabwean trade unionists

Zimbabwe has joined the shameful roll call of nations in which it simply isn’t safe to be a trade unionist (although I guess Colombia will take a lot of shifting from the top spot on that list…)

I shan’t be in London next Wednesday (4 April) so won’t be able to join the picket of the Zimbabwe Embassy that lunchtime supported by the TUC – check out the details here and get along if you can!

The TUC are also asking us to cut and paste the following message;

I am outraged by the violent assault on the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) offices and workers. The opportunity to peacefully demonstrate, associate and campaign is a fundamental human right and the raid on the offices, in which literature was seized, is a basic infringement of this right. The people of Zimbabwe are entitled to demonstrate for workers rights and democracy and therefore such a blatant attempt by the Zimbabwean government to quash a member-based organisation like the ZCTU is deplorable. Workers should not be treated or intimidated in this way. The international community that supports democracy and human rights stands firmly alongside all the innocent victims of this struggle and all who have suffered at the hands of the Mugabe regime. Please pass on my deep disgust with the present treatment of workers and activists to the Zimbabwean government. We demand that they start adhering to these basic rights.

Then send it to the link you get by clicking here (which comes from the Zimbabwe Embassy home page).

UNISON NEC elections on the way!

There are to be contested elections for a little over half of the seats on UNISON’s National Executive Council. Ballot papers will be issued to members from 16 April – let’s hope for a higher turnout than in previous elections. Branches can order additional leaflets to encourage members to vote by calling 020 7551 1455 or by email to quoting number 2404 for the leaflet or 2405 for the poster.

Whoever members choose to vote for it is important that we encourage members to engage in choosing the leadership of our trade union. Just as we hope for a real choice in other important elections (and hope that the UNISON group of MPs are listening to us!)

Trade Unions and conflict with Iran

I apologise once more for a lack of recent posts due to other commitments. I normally restrict myself to reporting on local and national issues, but we are part of an international movement, so I was pleased to find intelligent comment on the issues thrown up by the Iranian seizure of British service personnel.

UNISON and the trade union movement generally have been pretty much united in opposition to the Iraq war. We must keep up the pressure against the threat of war with Iran. The terrible consequences of US and UK military imperialism are not separate from the day to day problems our members face in this country.

War uses resources that are not available for peaceful purposes. War justifies attacks upon our civil liberties. War widens divisions between groups and communities and nurtures racism and Islamophobia.

I don’t know what others think about this, but I can’t see any motions on the Preliminary Agenda for UNISON Conference which could properly be amended to express opposition to military action against Iran. I only hope we don’t need to prepare an Emergency Motion for debate – because the threat recedes.

We have a duty to develop and campaign for policies around pressing international issues because these matter to our members, and because we are part of an international trade union movement.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Preliminary Agenda for UNISON Conference published

As a self-confessed anorak and Conference junkie I am always pleased to see the Preliminary Agenda for UNISON Conference, which is now doing the rounds. The link does not go to the motions, and I will pursue that point as soon as the UNISON Email is up and running again…

By my hasty reckoning 32 out of 133 policy motions on the Conference Agenda come from the Greater London Region (and that excludes the various sensible proposals from within our Region which have been ruled out of order by the Standing Orders Committee).

I wish all Regions were sending as many motions up for debate as we opinionated Londoners. With a little over a tenth of the Union’s membership we furnish a quarter of the proposals for debate at Conference. Well done London!

For some years opponents of democracy in our Union fought a doomed battle to persuade us to move to a biennial Conference because they thought it a waste of money that ordinary working people should have an opportunity to determine the policies and practice of our Union. Happily they gave up and admitted defeat some time ago, although the price of democracy is eternal vigilance and we should not relax in our defence of lay member control.

I shall blog later about the content of the Preliminary Agenda (and – who knows – may even comment on some of the motions ruled out of order). For now I shall remind readers that getting a motion on to the agenda is only the first step.

The only motions which stand any chance of being debated are those which are prioritised in the prioritisation process in which Regions, Service Groups, Self-Organised Groups and the NEC express preferences for motions to be debated. Branches should be consulted by their Region about the prioritisation process, the deadline for which is generally the same as the deadline for amendments (24 April – although Regions may set earlier deadlines for branches to let them have comments on prioritisation where they do consult branches).

Let me know if you would like more information about UNISON Conference procedures.

Regional Committee AGM

Today was the Annual General Meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Committee (so that explains why you awoke with a sense of deep foreboding this morning…)

As a member of the National Executive Council (NEC) representing the Region I attend the Regional Committee in a non-voting capacity, and so offered to act as scrutineer in the elections for Regional Committee representatives on various SubCommittees.

In a proactive interpretation of the role I ended up counting the votes – whether I will be asked to do so again remains an open questions since we ended up with a seven-way tie for five of the six seats on the very important Recruitment and Organisation Committee!

I suspect that the innovation of holding a ballot for these positions was misguided (as well as being contrary to the established policy of the Regional Committee which has always been happy to conduct such elections by show of hands). Elections were, as I recall, forced through in 1996 against the wishes of a former Regional Secretary who thought that he should decide which members of the Regional Committee served on which SubCommittee…

Happily such control freakery has no place in today’s Greater London Region.

I shall blog a more considered and substantial report when I have time, but will record here and now my pleasure that the Committee was informed that Chairs of Committees within the Region may take Chair’s action.

This arose as a delegate had been appointed to the Regional Committee to represent the Regional Disabled Members’ Self-Organised Group by the Chair of the relevant Committee which has not met for some time.

The seemliness of this course of action is a matter for others to consider, but it does at least settle the debate about whether Regional Chair of Local Government, David Eggmore, had the authority to endorse a very useful briefing on pensions called by some local government branches on 1 February.

I should add that my friend and comrade Malcolm Campbell, representing the Local Government Committee on the Regional Committee behaved with characteristic and commendable restraint in articulating the unhappiness of that Committee with some foolish and childish statements made at the recent Special Conference.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

2% pay offer rejected - talks continue

The Local Government Employers have responded to our claim for a pay rise of 5% or £1,000 with an offer of 2%.

The trade union side have rejected this offer and further negotiations are to take place.

There are no further details as yet on the local government section of the UNISON website. I hope we are forthright in our condemnation of this stingy offer which won’t keep up with inflation and offers nothing to the low paid.

Here is what the GMB have to say. Nothing yet from the TGWU (at least as I write this).

The employers are obviously prepared to go up to 2.5% and perhaps a little higher – but we will only get a decent pay rise (and reverse the decline in our living standards over the last three years) if we can mobilise support for industrial action.

Update on Thursday morning – UNISON’s response to this pay offer went up on our website yesterday. Our Head of Local Government describes the offer as “paltry” which it certainly is.

Support Fremantle workers!

It seems only yesterday that I blogged here about signing the ETUC petition in support of public services and mentioned that we needed to do more than petitioning and lobbying.

Well yesterday evening Barnet UNISON circulated the latest information about the dispute between Fremantle, the outfit who run care homes in that borough, and UNISON and the GMB, representing the staff.

This “not for profit” “third sector” provider is about to sack any staff who won’t accept cuts in pay and conditions. This is the reality of New Labour policies for our public services.

The unions are balloting for strike action. The strike action would have commenced but for a legal challenge from the employer under the anti-union laws.

UNISON member and Labour leadership contender John McDonnell has put down an Early Day Motion in Parliament in their support – contact your MP to see that they sign!

And keep checking the excellent Barnet UNISON blog to be kept up to date with this important dispute. Blogging is useful only insofar as it helps us to undertake worthwhile activity for our unions and our beliefs.

I sometimes post stories about political disagreements and disputes within the union and labour movement (and these are not unimportant) – but it is most important not to lose our focus as socialists and trade unionists.

Our enemies are not each other (not even those who themselves seem to lose sight of this). Our enemies are bad employers who attack our members’ conditions and politicians who allow these scoundrels to run our public services in the first place.

I hope everyone reading this blog – and every trade unionist blogger – will publicise this important dispute and take some action to support the Fremantle workers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Defending public services across Europe

Well it has only taken me a few weeks to get round to signing the European TUC (ETUC) petition in defence of public services which is supported by UNISON. It only takes a few moments (you have to check a confirmation Email and click a link).

The petition calls on on the European Commission to propose European legislation on public services designed to:
Give priority to the general interest embodied in public services; Ensure that everyone has access to public services; Strengthen public services in order to guarantee citizens’ fundamental rights; Guarantee more legal security so as to allow the development of sustainable public service missions; Give public services a firm legal basis and thus immunity from ideologically motivated free market attacks.

This is a welcome riposte to the reactionary agenda pushed by the present New Labour Government and is in line with UNISON’s Positively Public campaign and with the joint union Public Service Not Private Profit campaign which inspired the TUC to organise the recent lobby of Parliament.

The ETUC want a million signatures and as I write this there are just short of 75,000 so get clicking. I suspect we may have a little more work to do to defend public services beyond the occasional lobby and petition. I wonder who has some good ideas?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Support for a victimised activist

Nine years ago I wrote an article for Labour Left Briefing expressing concern about a case in which a leading leftwing activist in UNISON was under attack from his employer, who may have thought that they had the tacit support of some within the Union’s official structures. At that time the person in the frame was Glenn Kelly from Bromley who now sits on the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC).

Now it is health activist Yunus Bakhsh from Newcastle who faces action from his employer which could lead to his dismissal. I was one of seventeen members of UNISON’s NEC and Health Service Group Executive (SGE) who have supported the following statement;

We the undersigned, members of UNISON's NEC and Health SGE, are writing to call for the fullest possible support for Yunus Bakhsh, member of UNISON's Health Service Group Executive in the Northern Region, who faces possible dismissal at a hearing scheduled for 19 March.

We believe that disciplinary charges against Yunus have widely been seen as victimisation of a leading UNISON activist by a hostile employer.

We believe that it is vital for the strength and health of our Union that all activists are assured that we will receive the very best support and representation should we face hostile action from our employers.

We believe that UNISON should respond to the action against Yunus with the same vigour and determination as was shown, for example, in the defence of Nigel Flanagan and Paul Summers in the North West Region in 2005, which included giving positive support and encouragement to members to take industrial action.

This request was made with the support of the following members of the NEC and Health SGE;

Roger Bannister
Caroline Bedale
Bill Beeko
Paul Harper
Nick Holden
Helen Jenner
Glenn Kelly
Mark Ladbrooke
Diana Leach
Ann MacMillan Wood
John McDermott
Raph Parkinson
Karen Reissman
Jon Rogers
Jessie Russel
Jean Thorpe
Mike Tucker

Our request was sent to the General Secretary and President of UNISON, and the latter replied in a circular to all NEC members stating that;

“In view of the "round robin" sent by Jon Rogers on the Yunus Bakhsh issue let me re-assure you all that the facts set out in the e-mail are wrong. Indeed Yunus has praised the quality of the representation he has received and the whole matter is being dealt with fully in accordance with normal Unison processes and procedures in such cases. Let me remind you that it is the normal practice, in such cases, to leave the matter wholly confidential and that no discussion takes place whilst the issues involved remain unresolved.
I sincerely hope that this puts everyone's mind at rest on this issue, but should there be any cause for concern then of course it can by raised in the normal way at the next meeting of the NEC scheduled for 19th April 2007.”

I am in continuing correspondence with our President as a result of this reply, and acknowledge that since the original request was drafted the hearing due to take place on 19 March has been postponed. Otherwise however I am at a loss to see how it can be said that “all the facts set out in the e-mail are wrong.” Doubtless we can discuss this at the next UNISON NEC meeting as suggested.

In the mean time I am pleased to note that there is no opposition to the request made for the fullest support for a victimised activist in line with the best traditions of our Union. Bromley Council backed off from their attempt to attack Glenn Kelly in 1998 because they were clear that Glenn had the support of the Union, Yunus Bakhsh must and will receive the same support.

Whatever our disagreements as trade unionists (and I have profound political differences with both Glenn and Yunus) we close ranks when a union activist is attacked by their employer.

A threat to UNISON democracy - or just a mistake?

Apologies for the lack of posts, dear readers, I am afraid I have been a bit tied up this week. However, something caught my eye on our UNISON website today and got me thinking about this…

UNISON is increasingly, and rightly, concerned to do our bit to combat Climate Change. One of the lay activists who has done more than almost any other to push this issue up our agenda has been Plymouth Branch Secretary, Tony Staunton, about whom I have blogged here before.

I won’t comment here and now on the detail of internal UNISON investigations, but there is one matter which is already in the public domain, which I can’t let pass. Tony has been suspended from holding office within the Union under UNISON Rules – but has not faced any disciplinary hearing.

However, he now has been told that he is ineligible to be nominated for election to a UNISON post whilst subject to this suspension. This is wrong and I hope that Tony’s appeal against this ruling succeeds. Suspension is not a disciplinary sanction but a precautionary measure.

If UNISON were to interpret our Rules so as to prevent members who are suspended from holding office from standing for election this would deny members the democratic right to nominate and vote for a candidate who has not been found guilty of any offence. It would leave those who decide about such matters vulnerable to the perception that decisions on suspensions were being taken in order to pre-empt Union elections.

As decisions in relation to elections for the NEC are a matter for the independent Returning Officer (and not directly for the Union) it would be premature to conclude that there is any deliberate intent to frustrate UNISON democracy. I hope that those who are jumping to this conclusion are mistaken.

I have raised my concerns as a member of the NEC and will report back in due course.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Lobby Parliament against Trident

UNISON is backing CND’s lobby of Parliament on Wednesday, as MPs prepare to vote to waste billions on an unnecessary and immoral system to slaughter millions. The least worst thing that could ever happen with the new nuclear weapon system is that it would never be used, and only be a waste of billions of pounds. Anything worse doesn’t really bear thinking about.

If, like me, you won’t be able to get to Parliament on Wednesday you can check whether your MP has signed Early Day Motion 579. This simply calls for more time for debate, yet Blair wants to press ahead with a decision to replace Trident now. Of course, Gordon Brown supports him. So perhaps those of us opposed to Trident ought to be clear that we won’t be supporting Gordon Brown?

Will the MPs signing EDM 579 nominate a candidate for Labour Leader who opposes Trident or are they content to make a stand now, to lose in Parliament to the combined strength of the Tory vote on the opposition and the Government benches and then meekly to support a leader who will continue with Trident replacement?

Incidentally, it looks to me as if only 17 out of 61 members of the UNISON group of MPs have signed up to EDM 579 thus far, although at least one other member of the group is set on resigning from the Government because of this important issue. That would still leave a large majority of MPs associated with our Union voting against our policy on this key priority for our Union.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A tale of two victimisations

A couple of years ago UNISON responded vigorously to the victimisation of two of our activists in Sefton, Nigel Flanagan and Paul Summers who were victimised by their employer for their union activities (specifically for their opposition to the privatisation of Council housing).

In a classic employer’s trick the two, and four colleagues, were accused of having been threatening and intimidating. When they were sacked our General Secretary condemned the dismissal and UNISON supported members to take industrial action.

The Union’s support for our activists was determined and consistent. The eventual settlement did not secure all UNISON’s objectives, but was far more than would have been achieved without UNISON’s campaign.

Now, another leading lay UNISON activist, Yunus Bakhsh, is under attack from his employer. Yunus visited Sefton to speak in support of Nigel Flanagan when he was under attack. However, although we have had some time to prepare to defend Yunus, who has been suspended since the autumn, the same level of public campaigning by UNISON is not yet in evidence.

It is time for that to change.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

What about a Town Hall poor list?

In common with most other workers on PAYE I occasionally notice that I am paying a considerable amount of tax when I look at my pay slip – no one has ever invited me to join the Taxpayers’ Alliance though. Which is just as well as it appears to be a weird right-wing group dedicated to slagging off our public services.

This outfit have had a fair bit of publicity for their “Town Hall Rich List”. This is a listing of all those local authority employees earning more than £100,000, based on requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. Here is a link to the full report.

These are some of the things we learn from the report. There are 5 people in local councils who earn more than £200,000 a year. There are 64 people in town halls who earn more than £150,000 a year. The number of people earning above £100,000 in local authorities is increasing. There are 578 people on these “fat cat” salaries, compared with 429 people the year before, an increase of 35 per cent. Senior staff turnover in local authorities is rapid, but there are 350 people who feature on the Rich List in both 2004-05 and 2005-06. Their average pay rise was 6.09 per cent, three times the official rate of inflation.

Of course the Taxpayers Alliance simply want to use these figures to support demands for lower taxes (which means massive cuts in vital public services, such as we are already experiencing in many London Boroughs at the moment). But the figures illustrate another important contrast.

Compare the handful of high paid high flyers with the local government workforce as a whole. Thirty per cent of all employees are on the lowest five pay points, that is earning less than £12,747 (based on 1 April 2006 pay levels). A further thirty one percent of all employees are on scale point 10 – 17, that is earning up to £15,825 per year. This is £8,000 less than the median annual earnings across the economy of £23,850 – so 60% of local government workers are earning at least £8,000 less than average earnings.

All of this information comes from this year’s local government pay claim. Quite rightly we are putting in for 5% or £1,000, whichever is the greater. Between 2004 and 2006 pay in Local Government rose by only 8.9 %, falling behind the rise in average earnings, which grew by 12.4% and inflation which rose by 9.3%. This represents a fall in real living standards for local authority employees. Not of course for the 350 individuals singled out by the Taxpayers Alliance – whilst our NJC pay went up by 2.95% last year, their pay went up more than twice as fast, by over 6%.

The Local Government Association have responded to the Taxpayers Alliance, saying that “when senior salaries in the private sector are compared to senior salaries in the public sector, the taxpayer gets very good value for money.” I don’t know about that – but I do know that the low pay of many local government workers means that we are getting public services on the cheap. I shouldn’t imagine we’ll see either the Taxpayers Alliance (the hard working tax payers they say they are speaking up for don't seem to include us!) or most of their “Town Hall Rich List” lobbying in our support. We shall have to rely upon ourselves.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

SGE win without inspiring Special Conference

I have blogged on the excellent Lambeth branch blog about the outcome of today’s Special Local Government Conference. This rejected calls for a strike ballot by a convincing margin and voted instead for continuing negotiations, to be followed by a consultative ballot in which members will be asked to choose either to accept the Government’s proposals, with any changes secured in those negotiations, or to back substantial and escalating industrial action.

Jean Geldart, Chair of the Service Group Executive(SGE), moved the successful composite, acknowledging that we had not achieved all our objectives but pointing out the significant improvements which she claimed had arisen from the negotiations to date. Her most powerful argument, borne out by the eventual vote, was that many branches lacked confidence in the willingness of members to take further strike action on this issue at this time.

I have blogged here incessantly about my criticisms of the tactics in this dispute which have played a major role in creating circumstances in which it is now clear that many members and activists have lost confidence in our ability to repeat the effective strike action taken on 28 March last year.

Paul Holmes, Secretary of the Kirklees local government branch – the branch which had led pressure for a Special Conference to be called – proposed the alternative point of view, that whilst members may have lost confidence and enthusiasm for the dispute because of the errors which had been made, nevertheless when presented with the arguments, members would be willing to back action.

I thought that Paul made amongst the very best contributions of the day and that his initial analysis that we would stand or fall by our ability to impart to those who are disappointed the confidence that we could do better proved to be spot on, albeit that we fell rather than stood as a result.

In my doubtless biased opinion the “left” (for want of a better word) had the best of the debate, with supporters of the platform rapidly descending to the sort of red-baiting that I thought they mostly preferred to do anonymously these days.

I am in no doubt that had we not blundered by calling off further strike action in the run up to last May’s elections we could have secured more substantial progress than we have done, particularly in relation to protecting existing scheme members, some of whom stand to lose many thousands of pounds as a result of this error by our leadership.

I suspect that many of those who supported the “top table” position today share that view – indeed more than one of those supporting Composite A against the pro-strike ballot Composite C said as much.

However, it was always going to be incredibly difficult to overcome the disillusion which set in through the loss of momentum as we were led through fruitless negotiations with the employer by way of a misguided legal challenge. Today an attempt was made to do this, but it failed.

It would be wrong to view this outcome as a crushing defeat, just as it would be wrong to view the current proposals on the new look LGPS as simply a bad deal. They fall short of our objectives (and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise) but there are positive aspects of the proposals.

Our strike action on 28 March last year put us in a better position to secure concessions than if we had not struck (just as further timely strike action would have put us in a better position still). There will be further challenges to our pensions, as there will be to our pay and conditions, our job security and our public services.

The outcome of the LGPS dispute to date shows what can be achieved with organisation and the willingness to take action, and how much more could be achieved with greater organisation and greater willingness to take action.

One final comment – there are those who are critical of the calling of a Special Conference. They should reflect upon the reasons why so many branches backed the call for a Conference, including many who clearly voted today for Composite A. In no sense can today be interpreted as a vote of confidence in the conduct of the dispute. I hope that lessons are learned.

Here is an update on Wednesday afternoon – the UNISON website now carries an official report of the Conference decision. Coincidentally the longest quotation from any individual speech is from an NEC colleague facing, as most do, a contested election.

A further update on Thursday evening. The sole right wing "rank and file" UNISON blogger has now chipped in on the discussion about the Special Conference as you will see in the comments below. I try not to be freaked out by his apparent obsession...

I won't post a link to nonsense - but if you want to know where it is you can email me at and I shall let you know. For my part I shall continue only and ever to blog openly - I have very limited respect for those who hide behind anonymity to attack others in our movement.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Special Conference Composites decided

I am on my way home from a fringe meeting organised by the Kirklees branch in advance of tomorrow’s Special UNISON Local Government Conference to discuss the Local Government Pension Scheme.

It now appears that the central debate at tomorrow’s Conference will be a grouped debate between two counterposed Composite motions, Composite A will be the position of the majority of the Service Group Executive, backed by the South East Region and North Yorkshire, which is against a strike ballot and for a consultative ballot on whether or not to accept the Government proposals. No proposal is made as to whether there should be any recommendation to the members in such a consultative ballot.

Composite C, to be moved by the Kirklees Branch, has the backing of the Greater London Region, several London branches and Wolverhampton. It reflects the policy of last year’s Conference – and the policy of the SGE until very recently – and calls for a strike ballot. It also calls for any further package to be put before the June Conference to make a recommendation ahead of any ballot on acceptance.

Although supporters of Composite A will argue that the current Government proposals are a good deal, that the members don’t want to strike and that the democratic thing to do is to put it to the members, I hope that the advocates of Composite C will find that their better and more persuasive arguments win the day.

The mixed bag of proposals from the Government simply don’t deliver on the central point for which our members took strike action on March, and there is no sense in ducking that issue.

Nevertheless it would be true that we might have to settle for something less than our objectives (hardly a novelty in our movement!) if our members could not be won to support the action necessary to win – but we have hardly even tried asking at this stage, and where the debate has been had it has generally been won.

Finally – and crucially – it is more democratic to put a clear choice to our members in a strike ballot, with our leadership demonstrating some real leadership by campaigning in support of our Union policies amongst our membership, rather than abdicating responsibility by the ruse of a consultative ballot with no recommendation.

It is to the credit UNISON’s Local Government Service Group that we are having a Conference to debate this vital issue. Whatever the outcome we will at least have had the opportunity to have a debate.

I just hope it isn’t like the last Special Conference at the Ally Pally, the closely contested outcome of which has very much come back to haunt us!

How Special is a Special Conference?

I hope that tomorrow's Special Conference of UNISON's Local Government Service Group will endorse proposals for a strike ballot to continue the campaign we started with last year's strike. My local branch AGM - which was well attended - unanimously endorsed this approach following debate.

The alternative proposition - which is that we embark upon a consultative ballot on the Government proposals without even considering what recommendation to make to members in that ballot (beyond warning them that if they reject them we can go no further through negotiation) makes a nonsense of the Service Group Executive(SGE) having called a special conference in the first place.

Why bring us all to the Ally Pally and then not ask us to decide about anything? At least in 1997 we had a vote on whether or not to recommend the Single Status deal to members in a ballot.

I only hope that the SOC allow proposals for a recommendation to be put in any consultative ballot on to the Agenda - though I am worried about what I hear on this score.

A consultative ballot with no recommendation amounts to an indication to the membership that we are giving up on the question of protection for scheme members losing out - the issue which we put at centre stage when we took strike action last year.

That would be foolish.

Equal pay on the radio but not in local government?

Once again, the media – this time the Today Programme are debating a topic currently verboten for debate at UNISON Conference – Equal Pay. Whilst the crucial topic of Equal Pay in local government was headlining the BBC’s flagship news programme, the trade unions were notable only for our absence. There are good reasons for this reticence, but it is still unfortunate.

(The link to the Today Programme isn’t updated with today’s headlines yet as I post this, but I assume they’ll be there later).

Noted author and former left-winger, Chris Mullins MP is calling for legislation to prevent historic equal pay backpay claims from those covered by collective agreements. I am not sure how this could comply with the Equal Treatment Directive, nor would it have any impact in the majority of local authorities yet to come to an agreement on Single Status. Nor would this proposal do anything to address the question of litigation against trade unions themselves. In short the idea that we try to make collective agreements directly enforceable is probably not going to fix this problem.

The problem is not fundamentally with the law – it is about money. Achieving Equal Pay means redistributing resources in the direction of women workers whose pay has been unfair for years. These resources have to come from somewhere. One option is to leave other inequal structures of wealth and income distribution untouched and redistribute resources within the working class, between men and women. Another approach would be to tackle the massive class inequalities in income and wealth distribution so that women’s pay is levelled up as part of a wider equalisation of income.

With the latter approach sadly unlikely just now the best practicable approach must be for the Government to fund the filling of the gender pay gap in line with the policy of UNISON – our Conference agreed in 2005 to call on the National Executive Council to demand that the government ensures that initiatives to close the gender pay gap are fully funded, legally enforceable, and address past inequalities as a matter of urgency. These demands have not been met by the New Labour Government.

The sums of money required may be large – but we could save them by not replacing our Trident nuclear submarines… However if we want to put pressure on the Government in line with our agreed policy we are going to have to get beyond a vow of silence on Equal Pay issues!

In the mean time activists need to continue to refer to the official UNISON guidance on Equal Pay.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Saturday is the day to defend our NHS

Saturday is an important day in the defence of our National Health Service. Check here for official details of activities all over the country. I hope the weather stays good!

I hope to be supporting the day in Brighton – other UNISON activists will be supporting events all over London, including the official rally. There are also a wide range of events which don’t appear in the “official listings” – but which you can read about here.

As a general rule, grassroots campaigners and rank and file activists are key to effective campaigning. That is why you can read about events in Tower Hamlets, Sutton (good luck Kevin!), Enfield and all over the place, which don’t feature in the “official listings”.

The trade union leadership need to recognise that the defence of the NHS requires a positive engagement with activists. Partnership with New Labour is no longer on offer, and won’t be even under “listening Brown”…

So let's get out there on Saturday and defend our health service!