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)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Unofficial organisation - a tale of two unions

Some of my UNISON colleagues are very much opposed to the existence of what they call “factions” within the Union. Whether this opinion is founded upon a misreading of the history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union or a simple distaste for organisation amongst rank and file members of the Union I don’t know, but I do know that since vesting day (1 July 1993) there have been repeated attempts to restrict “factional” activity.

I am interested in how other trade union activists organise and have been very struck by the contrast between UNISON and PCS. Whether because of the history of the civil service unions or because the election of an entire NEC in one national constituency lends itself to this approach, PCS members seem to have a wide range of choices, with candidates standing together on platforms of ideas and policies so that members have a clear choice.

The majority of the current Executive are drawn from a Democracy Alliance between Left Unity and the centre-left PCS Democrats. This majority appears to work fairly well with General Secretary Mark Serwotka, whose politics are well to the left and – to an outside observer, this leadership appears to be serving that Union pretty well in difficult times. However, for those who are suspicious and fearful of “political activists” and/or the “far left” there is a new group to the right, called 4themembers, although the members don’t seem to have flocked to its banner in the recent elections. Equally for those who are critical of the leadership from the left a newly formed “independent” left exists, although it doesn’t seem to command much support for its critical perspective either.

Whatever you make of the different politics of these different groups they do appear to offer PCS members some choice – and the Union appears to survive the existence of such groups, and vigorous debate between them. Maybe colleagues in UNISON could afford to be a little more relaxed in their attitude to political organisation among rank and file activists.

The history of the rejuvenation and regeneration of the trade union movement has often seen “unofficial” organising alongside “official” growth – for example in South Wales in 1912 or the Clyde in 1915 (at the safe distance of over 90 years the official labour movement now acknowledges the debt it owes to such unofficial organising).

Whether there is a positive role for such “unofficial” organising in the very different circumstances of the early twenty first century remains to be seen – but the experience of PCS suggests that the official structures of the labour and trade union movement need not feel threatened by the fact that trade union activists also organise unofficially.

UNISON’s own democracy guidelines suggest that in exercising the rights given to members by our Rule Book to campaign to change policy members should operate only within the structures of the Union – however the guidelines also state that they exist to clarify and promote, rather than inhibit, members’ rights – and therefore members can (and do) organise within UNISON to support particular points of view.

Indeed some of the sternest critics of “factionalism” on our Executive do not appear to be above the occasional caucus meeting. Sadly, in four years on the UNISON NEC I have yet to be invited to a meeting of the “sensible left”…

What are we going to do about public sector pay?

Full marks to the National Union of Teachers for sending out half term homework to their members about the NUT’s demand for a pay rise of 10% or £3,000. We certainly need some vigorous campaigning to alert the members of public service unions to the need to fight Gordon Brown’s pay policy.

With strike action over pay by PCS members hitting Liverpool’s museums today, this call from the teachers highlights once more the need for coordination between public service unions, called for by PCS Conference and UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis.

The recent experience of the disputes over public sector pensions is a reminder that coordinating industrial action between unions (and in the case of UNISON even within a Union) raises questions about democracy and governance of such disputes – these questions will be debated at UNISON’s Local Government Conference.

An equally important question which arises is about the tactics to be adopted in taking strike action. This is an issue which is touched upon in an article in the latest Labour Left Briefing which is critical of the approach of the leadership of PCS in their disputes over pay, privatisation and job cuts.

Trade union activists are less used to debating tactics for industrial action than we once were. The incidence of industrial action has collapsed as trade union membership and density have declined since the 1970s.

However, that is no excuse for not trying to learn the lessons which are there to be learned – and I think that activists in the public sector unions who consider ourselves to be on “the left” have a particular obligation to ensure that the debate from which we might learn such lessons takes place.

For many activists the starting point is a desire to see “all out indefinite strike action” as the best weapon to defeat the employers. In a private sector company the threat of all-out indefinite strike action, which interrupts production and hence the making of profit, may be an effective threat. In any setting, all-out indefinite action is the most serious form of strike action available to a group of workers.

Whether to advocate such a tactic depends upon judgements about its effectiveness and achievability in any set of circumstances. For left-wing activists who do not seriously expect to be in a leadership position it is an easy thing to “up the ante” in rhetorical demands without worrying about the consequences of actions which you know won’t be taken – this is why some people always used to call for a General Strike

For those of us who are seriously thinking about the strategy and tactics which the trade unions should adopt, the luxury of calling for the Moon is not an option. We need to work out what we can do to achieve our objectives of securing better pay for our members and how to shift the position of our employers.

In public services, particularly where these are still in the public sector, the relationship between management and union is mediated by political contingency as much as by straightforward economic imperatives. This means that industrial action has to be integrated into a political campaigning strategy to achieve influence for trade union objectives.

Aside from all-out indefinite action the options for strike action depend upon either calling out “all of the people some of the time” or “some of the people all of the time” (or at least for a long enough period of time to make an impact). For many public service workers a one day strike is no more than a demonstration, since the work remains to be done the next day (although of course this does not apply to everyone). Calling out “key workers” for a week or more is an alternative to relying upon purely symbolic strike action.

Ever since NALGO’s 1989 pay dispute, the strategy adopted within NALGO and then UNISON has usually been to seek to combine elements of both these tactics – with a campaign launched with an all-out one day strike and then followed up with “selective” action. The latter – when it entails payment of strike pay at the rate of “full take home pay” - can get very expensive, and there are significant shortcomings with the approach.

These emerged in the early 1990s in the Newham NALGO dispute, in which at one point the Union was paying “full take home pay” to an entire branch – or at least those who weren’t tempted back to work by offers of a premium payment for strikebreaking – in response to threats of victimisation against “selective” strikers.

Those of us who want to see united action by public service workers in opposition to Gordon Brown’s attempt to hold down our standard of living need to start spelling out what united action it is that we want to see.

It is easy to see that this would start with the largest possible one day strike, less easy to see where we would go from there…

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Deputy Leadership and the influence of the unions...

I was pleased (as I said here) when UNISON and GMB jointly agreed to try to push union issues up the political agenda in the context of the Labour leadership election.

Now of course, all we have is a choice of six candidates for Deputy Leader, a job with no clear job description and no obvious influence. To make matters worse, it appears that there is no coherent union view on which candidate to support in order to advance our interests.

The joint General Secretaries of UNITE have at least been consistent in their open support for Jon Cruddas, even if he may not have been their first choice as a standard bearer for the trade union cause. However they don’t seem to have remembered to lobby other unions to form a united front. (I can see the problem in getting enthusiastic for someone who supported the Iraq war, even if they have recanted, particularly since Cruddas also backed foundation hospitals and the Government’s draconian anti-terror legislation which threaten our civil liberties).

The CWU are reportedly backing Alan Johnson, former CWU General Secretary in spite of his having floated the idea of part privatisation of the Royal Mail and the fact that his right wing backers within the Party love his plan to reduce the union vote at Conference.

Shop workers union, USDAW are backing Hazel Blears, on the slightly odd basis that her strange views will help Labour win the next election.

In the mean time construction union UCATT are reportedly backing Peter Hain, as are the Bakers’ Union and rail union ASLEF – who backed John McDonnell.

Hilary Benn has attracted some support from the left in Parliament but his campaign website does not yet boast of any union support. Harriet Harman has a long list of endorsements in Parliament but is very light on union support.

The GMB will make a decision on Monday 4 June but having been giving Hain some positive coverage on their website and he reportedly has support in some GMB Regions, with two GMB Regional Secretaries endorsing him on his campaign website.

UNISON’s Labour Link Committee meets again on 31 May to make a decision about whether to make a recommendation for Deputy Leader. Given the number of replies I got when I wrote to members of the Committee urging support for John McDonnell I won’t even bother to hazard a guess about the outcome!

UNISON and GMB have produced a worthy little leaflet with questions to ask candidates at the hustings meetings.

But having missed the chance to back a challenge for the job with policy responsibilities it is difficult now to get worked up about a contest in which the union leadership are facing in different directions about a choice between six candidates who are now desperately trying to differentiate themselves from each other.

We can ask all the good questions we want, but without an organised push by the unions to get the vote out for the candidate who gives the best answers it is difficult to see what good we will have done. And in any case it doesn’t matter what the individual views of the Deputy Leader of the Party happen to be.

There seems to be a need for a debate about how to build political influence for progressive policies such as those supported by our Unions…

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Surely we're not going to...

I have just heard Alan Johnson, on Question Time, applauding Academy schools. That’s not UNISON policy. So I hope the silly rumours about UNISON backing him for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party are just that…!

Whilst watching the telly I quite like Bob Crow for Deputy Leader, except of course he hasn’t taken the sensible step for any socialist of joining the Labour Party…

UNISON Regional Council report

There was no quorum at the start of the Regional Council meeting this morning so we listened to guest speakers. (There was still no quorum at 10.30 so no formal business could be taken)

Barry Francis (SERTUC) spoke about the attacks on English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) training, pointing out that he was addressing Regional Council during Adult Learners’ week. The Mayor’s office is supporting continuing provision in Greater London – against the wishes of Central Government.

UNISON National Officer, Mike Jackson spoke about public sector pay. He pointed out that inflation is at an eight year high. He reported on the discussions in local government where negotiations are ongoing. In Higher Education he reported that UNISON members are in the second year of a three year pay deal.

In health the Pay Review Body recommended a below inflation 2.5% increase and a similar offer was made to non-PRB staff. Mike was particularly critical of the “staging” of the pay award, with just 1.5% paid on time and another 1% due in November (worth 1.9% over the year). He also reported that the Pay Negotiating Council (for non-PRB staff) have rejected the offer to them – and that Health Conference has rejected both the PNC offer and the PRB award.

Preparatory steps are underway for a national strike ballot of UNISON members in health and UNISON is hoping to coordinate ballots with other health unions, with a likely start date for a ballot of 3 September. Mike pointed out that it would therefore be possible to coordinate ballots across UNISON Service Groups if local government moves towards a ballot.

Questioners from the floor asked about the slow pace of pay campaigning in UNISON and the need for co-ordination with other public service Unions. Mike responded that there are practical difficulties with coordinating action given the different settlement dates.

David Eggmore, Chair of the NJC Committee made clear that there is as yet no formal offer beyond 2% in local government, but that there was an informal offer of another 0.5% of the pay bill. He did not think the Committee would recommend acceptance of 2.5% and that there would then need to be an industrial action ballot. David pointed out that the National Union of Teachers are also likely to be balloting for action in the autumn and expressed the view that we will not be able to maintain our standard of living without taking national strike action on pay.

A delegate from Tower Hamlets read out the letter sent by Dave Prentis to PCS Conference and asked if we should be building support for the rally on 14 June at which UNISON will be sending a speaker. This was a valuable service – since the Regional Secretary and Convenor had not known of this letter at the Regional Committee pre-meeting (!)

Mike responded pointing out that there needed to be a campaign in support of our original claims so that we are fighting for enough to make the sacrifice of industrial action worthwhile. In response to criticism of the leadership being provided by the Union he called upon delegates present to work in their branches to mobilise support from the membership.

There is no doubt that we do need to campaign amongst the membership to prepare members to take strike action. The rally which has been called by the East London Teachers Association and other local NUT branches on June 14 in Central London is a good opportunity for activists to get together to take this campaign forward. I was gravely disappointed to hear, at the Regional Committee pre-meeting, that the small “Regional Service Group Liaison Committee” (which has no constitutional status) had decided not to respond positively to a request to co-sponsor the rally, but pleased at least that a UNISON speaker had been offered.

Jeremy Corbyn gave the Parliamentary report to a meeting which had just been told that we were inquorate. He pledged his support for our campaign for fair pay for public servants and, in a brief but wide ranging report, his criticism of Margaret Hodge for appeasing the racist politics of the far right was particularly warmly received. Jeremy also called upon those present to keep up the fight against Trident and for the “Prime Minister elect” to set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

I shall post this report now and cover any further speakers later.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Union to demand they show us their envelope...

I understand that UNISON’s National Joint Council Committee has agreed to respond to the employers hints that they might put 2.5% of the pay bill into an envelope for us by asking them to put it in writing.

At the moment the only formal offer is 2% across the board. The employers have indeed indicated that another 0.5% of the pay bill might be available – but no formal increase in the offer has been made.

Therefore the NJC Committee are going to ask for a formal offer as a basis to consult members – through branches – between now and the end of June. Our options will be to negotiate around how to share out 2.5% of the pay bill, or to proceed to ballot for strike action in support of our claim for 5%.

Although cynics will observe that the consultation period takes us past Local Government Conference, that does not mean that Conference cannot arrive at a sensible position on pay – there are amendments on the agenda calling for a strike ballot.

The answer to the apparent contradiction between a consultation process up to the end of June and a Conference decision to ballot would be for branches to get on with consulting their members right now so that we know that there is support for a ballot when we get to Brighton.

As the impact of not having had a pay increase in April increasingly makes itself felt the pressure from members for action on pay will increase. United action across local government, the health service and the civil service could defeat Government pay policy and protect the living standards of public servants.

Where to post that envelope?

If I’ve got this right yesterday’s local government pay negotiations didn’t produce an improved offer from the employers – whose last response to a Retail Price Index increasing at 4.8% was to offer 2% salary increases (that’s what economists call a 2.8% cut in “real terms”!)

Apparently they did say they could have some flexibility within an overall 2.5% envelope. I hope our negotiators told them where they could post their 2.5% envelope…

More here as I hear more.

Monday, May 21, 2007

PCS Conference applauds McDonnell

As I have been too busy to blog properly today I’ll cheat and post a story from the website of our sister union PCS. UNISON is seeking a closer relationship with PCS.
The Thursday of last week’s PCS Conference ended with a powerful speech by John McDonnell MP, chair of the PCS parliamentary group. Speaking the day after learning he had not secured enough nominations to challenge Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership, he received a spontaneous standing ovation before he even began.
John thanked delegates for the welcome and noted wryly: “It’s been rough old week in Westminster.”He added: “I’m disappointed, but not for myself. I’m disappointed for all Labour party members across the country. They are not going to get a voice or a say in the future direction of a Labour government.”
John thanked PCS for its solidarity, saying: “I’m really grateful for you standing shoulder to shoulder with me.”
He went on to outline the threat Gordon Brown poses to members’ terms and conditions, and public services in general, with increased privatisation and real terms pay cuts.Other unions should come on board and show solidarity with PCS, he said, and the TUC should also show a ‘more robust interpretation of solidarity’.
“We want them to lead, we want them to co-ordinate, to be at the forefront alongside us and brining others along.”
He hailed the Make Your Vote Count campaign as ‘tremendously effective’. “It put us right in the faces of those politicians making the decisions”, he said. “There could be a general election in the next two years and votes of PCS members and their families are enough to change an election.”
Closing, he promised to continue to wholeheartedly support PCS both in parliament and workplaces. “In PCS I see a membership determined. I see anger building and we can turn that into solidarity and action. Whether it’s in parliament or on the picket lines I’ll be there with you.”
It is - of course - a crying shame that PCS are not affiliated to the Labour Party - but not as much of a shame as it will be if UNISON joins UNITE in pointlessly nominating Gordon "pay cut" Brown....

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Unity between UNISON and PCS

It’s good to see a positive approach from UNISON to PCS in relation to joint working – and a call from PCS for united action over pay.

Our General Secretary has proposed meeting with PCS to discuss how the two unions could:
coordinate campaigns against privatisation and work together to promote public services
liaise on pay developments, so any industrial action could be coordinated
share information on developments in public services, the impact on members and in developing a response.

This follows from discussion at the last meeting of the UNISON NEC at which we were told, in the context of a report of joint initiatives with the GMB that “discussions on closer working have also been taking place with civil service union PCS.”

Last year’s UNISON Conference instructed the NEC to “initiate preliminary discussions with those trade unions who work closely with UNISON on bargaining arrangements and other trade unions who interface with UNISON such as the civil service unions, with a view to forming a new public service trade union in order to maximise the organisational strength of trade union members within public service.”

Practical unity in action on the ground is what we need now if we are to take on the Government over pay.

What next?

In the absence of a leadership contest in the Labour Party how do we try to get influence for the trade unions?

I doubt that making supporting nominations for Gordon Brown will do us much good. Is it true that this is what the TGWU section of UNITE have decided to do? What's the point?

One thing we can do is assess the influence we currently have. So let's have a look at the Government's performance on the promises it has made to us.

Here, from the TULO website is a list of 91 promises that form part of the “Warwick Agreement” between the Labour Party and the trade unions. There are 91 of these promises and I shall look at each of them in turn over the next (shall we say) 91 days – or maybe a few more since I don’t get to blog every day (or fewer if I get carried away).

I remember Gordon Brown telling the TUC in 2005 that the Government would implement the Warwick Agreement over the coming year, so we should have seen all these promises kept by now…

As a rank and file trade unionist I can comment on the real meaning of some of these promises and what has been done – but for others I shall have to do some work to find out what is going on. Any Scottish readers who can assist with an assessment of the penultimate promise on the list below please do!

I recollect that after the Agreement our General Secretary told the National Executive Council (NEC) that named national officers were assigned to chase up each of these promises, so perhaps I’ll cheat and ask for an update on all 91 items from UNISON officials…

And here are the promises...

Extending two-tier workforce protection in Local Govt across the public services, in consultation with the social partners
Consult with key stakeholders to monitor PFI, inc. future financial implications
Reform of local authority PFI credits to ensure equality of funding between PFI and conventional procurement
Confirmation that PFI does not require transfer of staff
NHS Choice and Capacity - the vast bulk of NHS services will remain directly provided
Review of NHS cleaning contracts on test of cleanliness
Network Rail to oversee all rail engineering work; national rail card
New rules for Quality bus contracts – giving greater public accountability. PTEs to have more control over fares. Crossrail Bill
Agreement to tackle unequal pay in local government inc. gender segregation
Public Services Forum will engage with unions on workforce development
Commitment on no extension of school selection by ability; affirm LEA role in admissions and raising standards
Making private schools justify charitable status to Charity Commission
Increase access to higher education for disadvantaged groups
Commitment to address term time workers issue
Measures to promote healthy eating in schools
Steps to develop staff e.g. health care assistants with paid training and poss. registration
Full implementation of the mental health national service framework
Elected regional govt to draw powers from central rather than local govt
Continued investment in council housing; more borrowing powers for councils; tackling abuses in Right to Buy
Strategy to promote independent living for elderly people where possible
Commitment to full employment
New ‘compact’, with contractors and unions to ensure that, when Government contracts for services, employees have access to trade unions, advice, basic training and skills.
Steps towards a national policy of occupational health and safety
Will legislate on corporate manslaughter; compensation for victims; draft this session.
UK government to support the EU Agency Workers Directive, and to engage with the Commission with a view to reaching an early agreement on the proposed Directive
A commitment to work in partnership with strong, modern trade unions and to help unions such grow
New sectoral forums bringing social partners together in low paid sectors to discuss strategies for productivity, health and safety, pay, skills and pensions
Working with unions and employers to develop a comprehensive, voluntary, ‘good employment standard’
Radically improved enforcement; advice, guidance and support for workers
New measures on insolvency to ensure that management consult and do not take precipative action such as removing plant
Uprating of redundancy pay
Review of changes in employment tribunal regulations, including the issue of re-instatement
Low Pay Commission to examine differential pay rates for 18-21 year olds
Protection from dismissal for strikers raised from 8 weeks to 12 weeks
Keep the Agricultural Wages Board and consider extending its remit
Bank holidays cannot be counted in four weeks statutory holiday
Support for pilot in union recruitment in small firms
Assurance that Posting of Workers Directive will not lead to under-cutting
Family friendly rights inc. review the right to request flexible hours for parents and carers, maternity, paternity, adoptive and parental leave (including paid); extending respite care
Major roll-out of childcare schemes; inc Sure Start and Extended Childcare Scheme for lone parents.
New Women at work Commission reporting in 12 months including on mandatory equal pay audits and equality reps
Recognition of the value of facility time for workplace union reps and need for a discussion between Government and unions on this
Rights for migrant workers, inc. stopping employers holding passports of migrant workers
Using ASBOs, eg on buses and in pubs; tackling violence and anti-social behaviour in and around front-line workplaces
TUPE-style protection to include pensions affected by a company transfer or merge
Steps to make Pension Credit payment more automatic and steps to move beyond old-style means testing
Moving to make pensions a bargaining issue for recognition proposes
Measures on women and pensions – report back in 2005
Commitment on pensions for same sex partners
Assistance for those who have already lost out on occupational pensions, seeking contributions from the private sector
Training for pension trustees and move to 50% member trustees
Agreement to engage in effective dialogue over future of public sector pensions
Legislation if necessary following the Turner Commission to move beyond the current voluntary occupational pensions system
Review and enhance investment funds for support for manufacturing with a view to having the best business support possible.
Increase R&D investment to 2.5% of national income
£1 billion extra spending on Science
£178m funding for the Technology strategy by 2007/8
Additional funding of £6million a year for the manufacturing advisory service.
Improve export credit facilities
Promote a procurement strategy which safeguards UK jobs and skills as permitted within EU rules to ensure that British industry can compete fairly with the rest of Europe.
Encourage public procurement contracts to be given to UK firms and benefit UK workers within EU law
Support an EU review of procurement policy.
A strong skills agenda
Expansion of apprenticeships
Rolling out Employer Training Pilots, with training for all up to NVQ2
Action in sectors under-performing on skills, including possibly training levies.
Target to treble the number of Union Learning Reps to 22,000
Removing barriers to TULRs, including through workplace committees
Pathway for training as a bargaining issue
Supporting trade union academy
Ensure RDAs produce manufacturing strategies and work with employers and trade unions
Encourage RDAs to assist manufacturers to find new markets
Bank of England to take note of regional and employment data and to engage with all stakeholders including trade unions
Improve productivity through a culture of long term investment, skills and high quality production
Labour is committed to narrowing inequalities in society, tackling the gap between rich and poor and abolishing child and pensioner poverty
Domestic violence – further action to tackle domestic violence and support those at risk
Royal Mail to stay in public hands; telecom regulation to focus on service choice and reliability, as well as network competition
Pensioners to remain able to collect benefits from post office
Agreement on steps to take forward the Disability rights agenda, with more Access to Work help Immediate review of NI Lower Earnings Limit to help low-paid workers get benefits
Stronger company disclosure on social, ethical & environmental issues
New Deal to utilize voluntary and private sector expertise; help for unemployed over-50s
Consider further action to promote race equality in private sector
Action to tackle unethical labour agencies in health sector
Extend training for police staff in widening their roles
Consider certification of air cabin crew
Take account of both UK industry and Less Developed Countries in radical reform of EU sugar regime
Actively promote accredited proof of age card for age-restricted sales
Consider ways to reduce smoking hazards at work
Legal limits to stop rip-off interest rates for credit
Will address long professional driver hours inc. self employed asap
Balanced energy policy
Encouragement of recycling/reducing waste; aid for alternative fuels
New wildlife, marine protection and animal welfare provisions
Consideration of road pricing, with proceeds to help transport investment
Precautionary approach to GM food; UK aim to produce 70% of its organic consumption
Recognition of importance of fish processing in Scotland
Commitments on world debt relief, increasing overseas aid and funds to tackle HIV/AIDS

That's the list of things which should have been done by now. Some of them are vague and pointless, some are more specific. Have we got them?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

No say for trade unionists about the Labour leadership

There will not now be an election for Labour Leader.

As an individual Labour Party member I shall have no say.

As a trade unionist proud to pay the political levy to the Labour Party I shall have no say.

A wise man once told me that there were two enormous obstacles in our way on the road to socialism in this country.

The first was the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

The second was the General Council of the TUC.

Seems right just now.

Nevertheless, one day children will be born into a world without hunger, poverty or oppression and that day will dawn because of the struggle for socialism to which so many trade unionists devote our lives.

I know I am not alone in being disappointed this evening. I also know that I am not alone in being determined to continue to devote my energy to the sensible and practical struggle for socialist policies within the Labour movement.

I would also like to congratulate UNISON member John McDonnell for being prepared to stand up for the policies of our trade union at the highest level. The best of the PLP nominated John. Were it not for courageous and principled comrades prepared to stand up for their beliefs I would see no reason or purpose in Labour Party membership.

Trade Union strategy for the Labour leadership contest...

This is from the front page of the UNISON website.

“UNISON and the GMB have united to develop a joint strategy for the forthcoming Labour leadership contest.This is to ensure there is a new direction to party policy which includes fairer pay, better working conditions, pension improvements and equal pay for all public sector staff.”

Who can spot the flaw in this approach?

What if the leaders of the big unions haven’t done all they could to ensure that there will be a leadership contest?

And what if that means we get a leader who is the architect of privatisation?

It’s not as if we haven’t been offered an alternative

A Brown study...

According to the BBC it looks as if Gordon Brown will be elected unopposed. It is still a mathematical possibility that the intelligent, imaginative and principled McDonnell campaign will see a socialist candidate on the ballot paper for Labour Leader who will support trade union policies.

If we don’t have a choice for trade unionists and Party members because the PLP are so determined that Brown shall be our Leader we may not be able to do anything about that – but trade unionists who seriously want political influence for our movement will have to take stock of how we use the relationship we have with the Labour Party.

UNISON Conference will provide one such opportunity.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Leadership - will we get a choice?

Unsurprisingly most Labour MPs (282) have already decided to back the frontrunner – Gordon Brown – including most members of the UNISON group of MPs. 27 MPs so far back the idea that the membership should have a choice of leader and are backing John McDonnell.

Our trade union movement needs a political voice – and we won’t get it with Brown as Leader of the only political party we have. If Party members and trade unionists are to offered a choice in the election to the post that really matters another 18 Members of Parliament need to nominate John. With 44 members of the PLP not yet having made a nomination this is clearly a tall order.

However, nominations remain open until Thursday lunchtime – those of us who want to see an opportunity for our members to have their democratic voice need to chase up the MPs who have not yet nominated and try to persuade them.

The list of MPs who have nominated Gordon Brown is here.

The list of MPs who have nominated John McDonnell is here.

Will the Labour Link stand up for UNISON policies?

So Alan Johnson reckons John McDonnell won’t get the 45 nominations from MPs to give Party members and trade unionists a choice… (if he fails to become Deputy Leader he can always take up fortune telling on Brighton Pier!) That would be the same Alan Johnson who wants to reduce the trade union role in the Labour Party of course…

Some mischief making is going on obviously. However for those of us outside the Westminster bubble – all we can do is press MPs to use their right to nominate to give us our democratic voice for Labour Leader.

UNISON (and the GMB) have set out our objectives for the election. UNISON members need to press UNISON MPs to nominate a candidate who supports our policies. Official pressure from our trade union could make all the difference.

Tomorrow’s meeting of the UNISON Labour Link Committee has a once in a decade opportunity to give our Union some clout by nominating a candidate who supports our policies. If we don’t stand up for our beliefs now then I don’t give too much for the long term future of the Labour Link…

UNISON promotes "United push" with GMB

Good to see the united position of UNISON and the GMB in relation to the Labour leadership is now headlining news on the UNISON website.

UNISON and the GMB are looking to the Labour leadership contest as an opportunity to push for real change within the party - to policy as well as personalities.

As I was saying this must surely lead us in the direction of supporting a leadership candidate who supports our policies. MPs who got into Parliament through their hard work for the trade union movement should not now forget their roots!

Development and Organisation Committee report

I was sorry to be late for what could – subject to the wishes of UNISON members in the Greater London Region – be my last meeting of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee.

I joined the meeting as a report on Honoraria payments was being considered. This tricky question – of whether and if so how the Union should compensate activists who carry out large amounts of Union work in their own time – will now be the subject of wide ranging consultation.

My personal feeling – and the practice of the Lambeth branch – is not to pay honoraria but instead to ensure that activists are paid for expenses they incur. However many UNISON branches do find it useful to pay honoraria, and activists will no doubt also be concerned at any perceived increase in central direction of branches. Nevertheless, the current guidelines appear sometimes to be honoured more in the breach than the observance, so some attention to the topic is required.

The Committee then moved on to discuss recommendations for NEC policy on Amendments on the Final Agenda for National Delegate Conference, only a few of which where within the remit of the Committee, and all but two of which were recommended to be supported. The only controversy, caused by an awkward member of the Committee (me) was over a recommendation that we oppose Amendment 1.01 from Greenwich, a sound amendment which I still believe that the office – and the Chair – have misinterpreted.

My genial NEC comrade Bob Oram pointed out in opposition to my support for that amendment that the Committee were clearly reasonable and open minded as they were supporting three amendments from the Lambeth branch. The Chair’s recommendation was carried overwhelmingly and the NEC will oppose the Amendment. Whether Conference will also do so remains to be seen!

The Committee considered a valuable report on branches under regional supervision – and I am pleased that we approved the lifting of regional supervision in the only London branch covered by the report. In the exceptional circumstances in which it is appropriate for the Union to step in to the affairs of a branch it must be right that we step out again as swiftly as possible – and I am only sorry that the Standing Orders Committee for National Delegate Conference are refusing to allow a debate on this topic at Conference because of an alleged link to a current internal disciplinary case.

We also received and approved a report setting out advice to branches on the circumstances in which applicants for membership can be refused – to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of contravening the anti-union laws by unlawfully rejecting applicants. This relates to the underhand practice where members of far-right organisations apply to trade unions hoping to be rejected so that they can claim compensation – a recent legal case has not removed this risk.

Finally, I took the opportunity to point out, as a matter arising from previous minutes, that the previous decision of the Committee to advise the Greater London Region not to debate, at our Regional Council a motion touching in part upon the Labour leadership had now been contradicted by the decision of the Standing Orders Committee to admit motion 44 to the agenda for National Delegate Conference.

The Chair said that that was not a legitimate “matter arising” and should not be minuted as that I was simply trying to make a point.

As if…

UNISON and GMB set the Leadership agenda

It was good to see today’s Morning Star reporting the outcome of yesterday’s groundbreaking joint meeting of UNISON and GMB which set out the trade union agenda for the forthcoming Labour Party elections.

Following the meeting Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, and Paul Kenny, General Secretary of the GMB, issued the following joint statement“The two unions, who between us represent almost 35% of the trade union vote in the electoral college, have agreed to co-ordinate the activities of both our unions around the election.“Both unions will also make nominations/ recommendations to our Labour Party affiliated members who will have a vote in this election."Both unions will now draw up a list of issues that we will use to assess candidates covering privatisation, equal pay, employment rights, the NHS, public service workers pay and pensions.“Both unions will push for a new direction to enable the Labour Party to reconnect with the electorate to ensure that it can win a fourth successive general election victory.”

Looking at the trade union issues identified by the General Secretary it is clear that Gordon Brown is not a candidate to be supported. He is pro-privatisation, has failed to lift a finger to fund filling the gender pay gap, has refused to back the Trade Union Freedom Bill, is all for pressing ahead with so-called “reform” of the health service and is the guiding force between the 2% pay norm which threatens the living standards of all our members! His only challenger – John McDonnell – supports the position of the trade unions on all these questions.

This is an issue which matters to all trade unionists – particularly in the public services, because the policies of the Government of the day – which this contest can influence – largely determine the terms and conditions of our employment. We also aspire to influence for the wide range of progressive policy objectives agreed, by the representatives of all our members, at our Annual Conference.

If we want to pursue our agenda with vigour and determination we need to ensure that there is a contest for the one position with real power – the Leader of the Party. Today’s Guardian calls on Labour MPs to nominate John McDonnell to ensure that grassroots Labour Party and trade union members have a choice of who to vote for.

If the trade unions are serious about our policy agenda – and I believe we are – then we have to say the same thing to MPs over the next 48 hours.

Development and Organisation Committee...

I am sorry to say that I shall be late to today's meeting of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation Committee as I have to attend a meeting of the Lambeth UNISON Branch Committee first thing.

This means I shall miss the important debate on recruitment which always kicks off the meeting - at which I hope the Committee will focus on how we can use campaigning on public sector pay to boost sluggish recruitment in 2007.

The Committee will also be discussing NEC policy recommendations on amendments to the Conference Agenda - I hope to blog a fuller report later.

Happily the London Region will not be unrepresented since all three of our sitting NEC members serve on the Committee (so I hope members in the Region will forgive me...!)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Labour leadership - now a clear choice confronts trade union MPs

I was very pleased to hear the good news (from the BBC) that Michael Meacher has endorsed John McDonnell’s candidacy for Labour Leader.

This makes it more likely (according to the Guardian) that members of affiliated trade unions such as UNISON will have the opportunity to vote in a leadership election – and, if they wish, to back a candidate with a proven track record of support for the priorities of our trade union.

The next step is that 45 MPs (or more!) need to nominate John. This takes some courage when the obvious frontrunner has the backing of the entire establishment (including – it seems – the tacit support of many in the leadership of the trade unions!) I hope that more than enough MPs will show that courage, so that our members can have their democratic voice.

Congratulations to Michael Meacher on taking an honourable decision – and to all those who want our members to have a choice. UNISON members who want to contact MPs linked to our Union can find a list on our official UNISON website.

I would particularly welcome comment from any fellow UNISON member who feels we should be supporting Gordon Brown rather than John McDonnell!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Labour leadership - will the MPs listen to the rank and file?

Gordon Brown is now online setting out his stall. I see he is pledging to make the NHS better (which should differentiate him from all those politicians pledging to make it worse eh?) The problem for Labour Party supporters in the trade union movement is that Brown, the architect of New Labour economics, believes that privatisation is the way to do this.

If Brown is crowned as Leader without facing a serious challenge from the left there is little hope that we can mobilise political pressure to push the Party back in the direction of trade union policies – which is what we repeatedly tell ourselves we are trying to do. In UNISON, without a change in direction, the proportion of our members paying into the Labour Link will continue to decline and the future relationship between the Union and the Party will be in ever greater jeopardy.

Michael Meacher has emerged as the man most likely to ensure that Gordon Brown does not face a serious challenge from the left – a disappointing end to a mixed career in politics. If you compare the endorsements which he has received with the rank and file support for the serious left wing challenge of John McDonnell it is clear that Meacher fails to inspire the activist base of the movement – the essential ingredient to a worthwhile challenge.

Having promised to honour an agreement with John McDonnell that he would stand aside if John has promises of nomination from a greater number of MPs it now appears that Meacher intends to renege on this agreement! Surely this can't be true? And surely those respected MPs who are backing his campaign wouldn't want to be associated with such an approach.

Meanwhile, following a strong expression of support yesterday, John McDonnell is picking up more and more grassroots support. I wish I could be in London this evening to hear John best Gordon Brown and Michael Meacher in debate.

I hope that enough MPs can be persuaded to allow Party members and trade unionists the opportunity to vote for a candidate in whom we can have confidence. Good luck John!

Friday, May 11, 2007

UNISON Scotland Backs McDonnell

I’ve just taken down an earlier post as I have now heard the good news that UNISON’s Scottish Labour Link Committee have voted to back John McDonnell for Labour leader.

I think this is good news for UNISON. All UNISON members have an interest in this debate.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Labour leadership is an issue for all UNISON members

I wouldn’t want to trespass on the territory of my friends and comrades on UNISON’s Labour Link Committee, but it does occur to me that the question of who becomes the next Prime Minister is a “citizenship issue” (as we say in UNISON) and therefore of concern to the whole of our membership, including the majority who choose not to pay into UNISON Labour Link (though I wish they did!)

A lot of energy is being expended in debating who will be the next Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, but since that is a contest to hold a post with no role and no power it ought not to detain us. The Deputy Leadership campaign is an exercise in shadow boxing.

There are three candidates for the Labour leadership. Gordon Brown is an enemy of UNISON members and all that we hold dear. He is the architect of privatisation and stands for the continuation of the policies which have brought support for the Labour Party as low as it has been in a generation. I don’t believe that there is any scope for active support for Brown from the leaders of the big trade unions, much as that might be their inexplicable predisposition. The strategy that has transparently been pursued until now has been to pretend that it would be somehow wrong to express a view “until we know who all the candidates are” and thereby to cede to the Parliamentary Labour Party all power to decide upon whether our members who pay the political levy will be offered a real choice.

Regular readers of this blog (both of you!) won’t be shocked to hear me use the word pusillanimous in relation to the attitude which seems to have been taken to this question in the commanding heights of our trade union movement.

Another declared candidate is Michael Meacher, who offers a purely token “centre-left” challenge rooted in Parliament, in order to provide a suitably dramatic conclusion to a career in politics.

I know of no rank and file organisation of trade unionists or Labour Party members who are backing Meacher – and this seems to me to be an encouraging indication of the good judgement of the rank and file. Rumours abound that supporters of Gordon Brown are pretending to lend their support to the man who stood for Deputy Leader 24 years ago simply in order to see off a real left-wing challenge. If left-wing MPs endorse Meacher as the left challenger to Brown they will be writing an obituary for the Labour Left.

I am much more interested in the leadership campaign of John McDonnell, a stalwart supporter of UNISON and its policies. This campaign seems to me to offer a real opportunity for there to be a candidate on the ballot for Labour Leader committed not only to supporting trade union policies but also to organising in the movement to deliver these policies.

I know that there are those in UNISON who feel that this discussion belongs only to the Labour Link but – as a Labour Link officer and party member for many years – I think that all UNISON members need to be debating this.

Most of our members have our pay set by the Government either directly or at one stage removed. Who resides at number 10 Downing Street matters to all our members regardless of which section of the political fund their subscription income goes to!

We have three choices. Should we;

(A) Provide tacit support to the frontrunner, Gordon Brown, in the hope that he will be less bad than Tony Blair and will somehow wish to reward us should we assist in his coronation?
(B) Lend our weight to the attempt by Michael Meacher to get himself a footnote in the history books by mounting a purely token left challenge to Brown?
(C) Maximise the vote for a candidate – John McDonnell – who has a record of consistent support for our policies and who wants to use the leadership election to broaden and deepen the organisation of those in the Labour Party who share our values?

You may have picked up that I am a little biased. Well I am. I am biased in favour of someone whose candidacy can advance UNISON policies. I would particularly welcome comments – or at least thought – from those at Mabledon Place who consider themselves socialists. The Morning Star can get this right comrades – can you?

Good riddance to bad rubbish

Thankfully Blair has now gone.

Three years too late.

We should have pushed the argument for his resignation in the movement when he was wavering about going in 2004.

The Labour Party would have done better in the 2005 election – and the case for trade union policies within the Party would have been significantly advanced.

I remember being told off at UNISON Conference in 2004 for supporting the call for Blair to go.

I would like to blog the list of policy gains we made as a trade union by preserving our influence and not calling for Blair to go. But I find I have writer’s block…

Perhaps someone else can help with that though? What exactly have we gained since June 2004 by our loyal refusal to demand that Blair went when it might really have done us some good?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

LGPS - it gets worse...

Since I have been too busy to blog much recently I shall take the liberty of stealing the following report from the UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive meeting yesterday from comrades John McDermott and Vikki Perrin from Yorkshire and Humberside – the news on the Local Government Pension Scheme is not good…

"Officers gave an update on the ‘negotiations’.
Most of it was bad news.
There is no immediate move from the Government to extend protection of the 85Year Rule to 2020.
The contribution bands have changes and instead of being like a tax allowance in that you pay lower contributions on the first £12k of earnings. There are now more bands 5.5-7.5% and members will pay the set percentage on all earnings.
The transitional regulations promising 5% workers a phased increase over 3 years have not been produced.
No movement on part time workers paying contributions on full time equivalent earnings. Heather Wakefield stated that UNISON still thought this was discriminatory but had legal advice it could not be challenged through the courts until after April 08.
Ill Health Retirement, second tier, will only apply to workers who are 45 years and older from April 08.
Members will only be able to get pension based on best 3 years in last 10 if they have agreed to stay on reduced earnings or have accessed a flexible retirement option. Otherwise it is the best year in the last 3.
Term time workers will have pension contributions based on term time pay not full time equivalent.

The Head of Local Government stated she felt that UNISON had been lied too by Government Minister Phil Woolas and that it had implications for the relationship with the Labour Party.
There are a few meetings with other trade unions over the next few weeks.
There was intense lobbying of Government ministers over the protection issue, it was hoped that there maybe movement over the next few days but there was a large amount of scepticism.
Several delegates stated we should not be surprised about Government lies, we had heard them before.
Vikki Perrin, John McDermott and Glen Kelly argued to recommend rejection of the current regulations and move to a consultation ballot.
Some delegates stated that we should not reject the regulations as there are some good points.
A vote was taken.

7 Delegates voted to reject and move to a ballot.
17 Delegates voted to recommend acceptance if additional protection was offered and ballot.
Nobody voted for a proposal from the General Secretary that we should ballot as the best that could be achieved by negotiation.

There was no report given but after the meeting we spoke to a member of the NJC Committee who said there was a meeting with the employers 21st May, where some progress is expected. There is then a meeting of the NJC 22nd May where an update can be given.
There is also a meeting of all the Public Sector Trades Unions at the TUC in the next few weeks to look at a joint coordinated approach.

Members will recall that at the special pensions conference branches were persuaded to vote against a ballot for action on pensions on a number of promises,
More protection of the 85 Year Rule
No discrimination against part time workers
Justice for 5% workers.
There was no stance taken by the union on the employers cut in contributions.

The reality, at the moment, is that the Government and Employers lied to UNISON officials who then passed on the lies to conference.
UNISON officials have been ‘duped’ not for the first time on this issue.
This is not acceptable on all sorts of levels.

We believe that we cannot deal with this Government and employers with any degree of certainty and should ballot to reject the current regulations and move to an industrial action footing as soon as possible.
This should be used to gain improvements and focus Government and Employers minds these important issues.

There is LGSGE 5th June to discuss a full agenda including Pay and Pensions."

Thanks to the comrades from Yorkshire for providing such a useful report!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Strangers into Citizens

I’m not going to waste time blogging about yet another announcement from Blair that he is leaving (I wish he’d gone when Lambeth UNISON proposed a motion calling for his resignation back in 2004, but wiser counsel within UNISON prevailed and we preserved our influence with New Labour by not asking him to go…)

Instead I want to urge readers to join UNISON in supporting Monday’s “Strangers into Citizens” event in London. Full details (at over 1MB) are here.

There are those in the Labour movement who worry that, by increasing the supply of labour in some parts of our segmented labour market, migration is depressing wages. There is no doubt that as long as so many migrants are “illegal” then employers can exploit them to hold down wages and conditions – but the socialist answer is never hostility to migrants, nor is it any sort of immigration control.

UNISON policy favours an amnesty for illegal migrants – this policy has been developed in the direction of “sustainable regularisation” (although the policy of our Conference remains unchanged). On a personal note, on international workers day, as an internationalist I believe that all workers have the right to travel to and work in any part of our world.

I hope to attend on Monday – and I hope that the UNISON London Regional Committee tomorrow will be doing some real work to maximise attendance from the Region. Each UNISON branch should at least match the attendance it delivered at the Regional Council AGM – there’s a target for us!

May Day Greetings

Greetings on International Workers Day! First of all to members of PCS taking strike action in their continuing dispute with this reactionary government.

Also to all the members of UNITE – the new Union being created by members of AMICUS and the TGWU.

Walter Crane famously offered the workers a garland for May Day. What we need is a stronger and more combative trade union movement.