Thursday, January 31, 2008
I think the staging of pay awards is wrong because it steals money from the workers. I am less troubled by the fact that this might “undermine the credibility of the review body process.”
If a “pay review body” were to replace collective bargaining on the basis that it guaranteed above inflation pay increases on some sort of “RPI plus x%” formula then that might be acceptable, as might a formula such as that which emerged from the 1977 firefighters dispute which linked earnings for a group of public servants to earnings growth in the economy as a whole.
Pay review bodies in which “experts” make pay awards having considered “evidence” undermine the role of trade unions in negotiating pay without giving us anything worthwhile back. I can see the attraction to those in our movement who think that we should do the best we can by putting sound arguments the Government and then selling the outcome to our members as the best that is possible. For those of us who are trade unionists the attraction is a lot less obvious.
The only good thing about the fact that the Government has taken to stealing from awards made by pay review bodies is that they reveal the fiction upon which the whole process is based.
The Government won’t honour pay awards from pay review bodies if they don’t want to – and trade unionists don’t have to accept such awards if we don’t want to (ask the teachers!)
Now let’s just start preparations for the massive strike action which will be required to wring a fair deal out of this wretched reactionary Government shall we?
The branch has a majority of its members in the private sector thanks to the obsessions of the Tory employers - and Rahul, and other branch activists, have faced unique challenges over recent years.
Rahul will be sorely missed. We could do with more such activists.
Our trade unions generally adopt good policies on civil liberties, but then soft pedal on them because they aren’t at the centre of our members’ day to day concerns – and because we rely on campaigning organisations to lead the charge.
The state does not exist to protect citizens but to sustain and perpetuate a form of society which does not serve the interests of trade union members – we need to defend liberty so that we can use it to achieve social change. We need to mobilise our members in defence of freedom. ID cards probably give us the sort of opportunity which was presented by the poll tax to develop a campaign of mass non-compliance.
Do we need to return to this topic at UNISON National Delegate Conference? (And will be allowed to debate a topic if we suggest we might be in favour of defying unjust laws…?)
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The weirdo eurosceptics of the strange former leftwing sect the “CPBML” are seeking to lead the calls for a referendum on the EU treaty (a.k.a. constitution) in our movement.
It’s nice to see the “comrades” stick their head above the battlements and I hope to meet – in the course of their campaign - some of the paid officials of the labour movement who (anonymously) write all the articles in the little read magazine “Workers” (which is sadly afflicted with an opposition to migrant workers which can best be described as racist)(although to be fair they are also in favour of nuclear energy so their support for the reactionary politics of our ruling class is pretty wide ranging!) There are a significant number of paid officials of various trade unions who owe their position to their current or previous association with this slightly odd political faction – who once knew who was leading the way to the future…
I have been accused (by a nearly literate critic) of living in a “parallel universe” so maybe I am wrong, but I cannot help but observe that whilst our General Secretary criticised in his last Conference speech those who take their instructions from a “central committee” he doesn’t seem to have noticed these weird parasites from a once radical organisation now peddling the politics of the Daily Mail – yet they are influential in our Union and have numerous placemen (and women) in the paid and lay structures. (Any of whom are more than welcome to defend their politics here in their own names – or if one or more of their stooges wants to stick up for their political masters then they too are welcome to do so!)(indeed I will even publish anonymous comments from senior paid officials of my own Union who are associated with this weird political sect – as I often have in the past!)
In the mean time, I would be interested in informed views from real labour movement activists (as opposed to the odd bods of the CPBML) about the EU and the demand for a referendum. For my part, I support the policy of the TUC.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Which is to say that National Delegate Conference is now four and a half months away, but the deadline for submission of motions and Amendments to Rule is just four weeks away (noon on the 26th February).
Since most branches of the Union hold monthly meetings of their Branch Committee – and since Conference motions have to be agreed at a quorate meeting of either the Branch or Branch Committee, now is the time to be drafting those motions (or Rule Amendments).
At last week’s meeting of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee (which I am afraid I missed as I was sitting an exam) there was some discussion about whether to propose reducing the thirteen week qualifying period for entitlement to legal representation. A view was (probably rightly) taken that such a proposal would stand a better chance of success coming from a branch or Region than from the NEC.
I do think we need to reduce the qualifying period for legal assistance. It is utterly daft to try to organise (for example) a new employer on the basis that we cannot guarantee to provide effective support if the employer response promptly with hostility. This will no doubt be debated again at Conference this year.
I am also interested in Rule Amendments which would clarify the role of Conference as the “supreme Government” of the Union (to use the lovely old phrase in the Rule Book). There are a variety of specific Rules which give powers to the National Executive Council which, it has been argued, are exceptions to this general rule about the supremacy of Conference. These cover areas including the interpretation of the Rules themselves, the granting of legal assistance, approval of industrial action and the employment of staff.
It is, for example, because the Rule Book gives sole responsibility for the employment of staff to the NEC that recent attempts even to debate the principle of the election of officials have been ruled out of order. If we wish to have a trade union in which important questions can be debated, we probably need to pay a little more attention this year than we have recently to Rule Amendments.
Conference may or may not choose to give a two thirds majority to Rule Amendments asserting its authority vis-à-vis the NEC (or for that matter the Standing Orders Committee – SOC) but it should probably be given the choice.
Friday, January 25, 2008
The TUC are pledged to coordinate action over public sector pay – although TUC President (and our own General Secretary) did emphasise to the UNISON NEC that this means first and foremost organising “sector by sector” unity.
I am not particularly taken with this sectional approach, but if that is the approach which the leadership is to adopt then let’s see it put into practice now. Local Government workers have submitted pay claims which we know the employers will reject.
We cannot be in any doubt that the employers in local government will not offer us a deal in line with the Retail Price Index, the very least we could even consider settling for. Therefore if the teachers are moving to take action, we need to be preparing ourselves to do the same.
Every local government worker who has ever been on strike knows that united action between teachers and other local government workers maximises the impact of our action.
The TUC are talking to the Government – that’s fine. What we need now though is united action. We have warned the Government, now we need to organise to give that warning meaning.
Discussion should begin now about whether it will be possible to coordinate action between as many teaching unions as possible and as many other local government unions as possible.
Watch this space? Or maybe this one?
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Since the background is fairly well reported online I shall summarise it briefly. Some UNISON branches in London agreed to prepare and circulate a leaflet at last year’s National Delegate Conference critical of the practice of the Standing Orders Committee in ruling out of order so many motions.
This leaflet appeared at Conference illustrated with a graphic of “three wise monkeys” (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) and some delegates felt that this graphic amounted to an offensive, even a racist attack upon the Chair of the Standing Orders Committee (who is a black man). These views were expressed forcefully on behalf of black members in particular.
This criticism was voiced at Conference but the authors of the leaflet were not able to respond formally as the matter had already by that stage been referred to an internal UNISON investigation (the eventual outcome of which is still awaited but which could lead to formal disciplinary action against the authors of the leaflet with outcomes up to and including expulsion).
There has been some criticism of the leaflet’s authors for the perceived inadequacy (if not downright absence) of a proper apology for any offence which was caused by the leaflet, although a comment on the earlier post on this blog rightly points out that the branches associated with the leaflet were not permitted to make any open statement (including any apology) at Conference once the matter was subject to investigation (although that does not mean that no apology could be given).
Supporters of the authors of the leaflet have set up a campaign, with a website and a Facebook group, in their defence. They perceive this matter from the perspective of a dispute between the rank and file left in the Union and the Union machine wishing to stifle critics. There continues however to be concern within the Black Members self-organised group at Regional and National level that the leaflet did cause genuine offence and that the campaign in defence of its authors does not appear to recognise this. This view was expressed eloquently at the Lambeth UNISON Branch AGM as follows “this is not about an attack on the left or an attack on the right, this is an attack on black people.”
The Lambeth Branch AGM had before it a motion agreed for submission by the Branch Committee the previous day which drew from the “Defend the Five” campaign. This attracted some criticism from comrades from the Black Workers Group who felt that the imagery of the “three wise monkeys” could indeed have been taken as an offensive racist attack upon the Chair of the Standing Orders Committee at National Delegate Conference.
Those who thought the leaflet might genuinely have been perceived as offensive did not argue that they thought this was the intention of the authors, nor did they support the action being taken against them. Those who thought that the priority was to defend activists who appeared to be facing a politically motivated attack did not take issue with the suggestion that the leaflet might genuinely have caused offence.
The end result of the discussion was that the motion was referred to the branch Black Workers Group for debate and subsequent further debate at the Branch Committee. The intention of all participants in the debate is to arrive at a consensus reflecting the considerable common ground between the views expressed at the Annual General Meeting.
Since then the debate has continued and I am indebted to one of our shop stewards who contributed the following to the debate;
“Below is a short history of the Three Wise Monkeys. I have highlighted the last point in the hope that it clarifies the issue.
Together they embody the proverbial principle to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". The three monkeys are Mizaru, covering his eyes, who sees no evil; Kikazaru, covering his ears, who hears no evil; and Iwazaru, covering his mouth, who speaks no evil.
Sometimes there is a fourth monkey depicted with the three others; the last one, Shizaru, symbolizes the principle of "do no evil". He may be covering his abdomen or crotch, or just crossing his arms.
Meaning of the proverb
Just as there is disagreement about the origin of the phrase, there are differing explanations of the meaning of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."
In Japan the proverb is simply regarded as a Japanese Golden Rule
Some simply take the proverb as a reminder not to be snoopy, nosy and gossipy.
Early associations of the three monkeys with the fearsome six-armed deity Vajrakilaya link the proverb to the teaching of that cult that if we do not hear, see or talk evil, we ourselves shall be spared all evil. This may be considered similar to the English proverb "speak of the Devil - and the devil appears."
Others believe the message is that a person who is not exposed to evil (through sight or sound) will not reflect that evil in their own speech and actions.
Today "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" is commonly used to describe someone who doesn't want to be involved in a situation, or someone turning a wilfull blind eye to the immorality of an act in which they are involved.”
This corresponds with what you can read online.
Where does this take us?
Well, I don’t want to prejudge the discussions which I hope we will now have in Lambeth, but I don’t think that expressing my personal opinion as it is now will do that.
The criticism of the Standing Orders Committee which the authors intended was a legitimate criticism, the essence of which was shared by many at Conference. It would have been so much better done without the “three wise monkeys”!
Although I entirely accept that the authors of the leaflet had no intention of offending anyone with the slightest suggestion of racism – and the history of the imagery which they employed supports this – nevertheless I think that in all the circumstances the use of the “three wise monkeys” was unfortunate to say the least. On the face of it, it did offend some of those who saw it. I think that this has to be accepted, and that to accept it is in no sense to line up with any unwarranted attack upon the authors.
That this could not be resolved at Conference is a consequence of the speed with which the matter was turned into a complaint to be investigated rather than a concern to be resolved. Turning this issue into a complaint investigation created a momentum which is hardly helpful to the best interests of UNISON, and it is understandable that those who perceived themselves to be under attack have mounted a vigorous defence.
There are two dimensions to this question and both have to be taken into account. To see this simply as an issue about an attack upon leftwing activists writes out of the story the genuine sense of offence felt by some of those who saw the leaflet at Conference and perceived – and therefore experienced – it as racist. However, to see this as simply an issue about UNISON’s opposition to racism is to ignore the glaringly obvious political context. Neither approach deals with what is going on.
My view as things stand is that it is quite right to stand in solidarity with Glenn, Kaz, Brian, Matthew and Suzanne, and to make clear that a draconian response to criticism of the Conference leaflet will provoke a very serious dispute within the Union. However, in standing alongside these comrades we have also to say to the “Defend the Five” campaign that it is not good enough simply to say that no racism was intended or that the history of the “three wise monkeys” means that racism cannot have been perceived. Racism was perceived and the five activists can and should make more clear that they apologise unreservedly for the offence to which their leaflet unintentionally gave rise.
It is never a sign of weakness to apologise for a mistake. Indeed I note from a comment on the earlier post that a letter of apology was sent to the Standing Orders Committee and National Black Members Committee.
I think that the way forward should be to build upon this apology in order to address and respond to the offence that was caused – not to pursue formal disciplinary action in circumstances in which this will lead inexorably to a major avoidable confrontation.
Apologies for the length of this post (that’s the trouble with blogs, no one subedits my ramblings…) Apologies for the absence of hypertext links also (I am learning Linux and OpenOffice...)
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Sometimes we also have to defend trade union activists under attack from within our own movement.
At a meeting of the Lambeth UNISON Branch Committee this morning, activists were shocked to hear details of internal disciplinary action being threatened within UNISON against five London activists facing allegations of racism in connection with a leaflet critical of the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) at last year’s UNISON Conference.
The leaflet used the graphic of “three wise monkeys” (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) to illustrate reasoned criticism of the enthusiasm with which the SOC was ruling out of order contentious or controversial motions for debate at the Conference. Some delegates felt that the use of this graphic was racist.
This is the sort of dispute that can all too easily crop up at a trade union Conference – and that is where it should have been resolved. If delegates were offended then the branches concerned could have been asked to apologise since it was clear that they never intended to offend.
Instead the Union has launched into a formal disciplinary investigation – and the possibility of disciplinary action against the activists. The five officers, under investigation are Glenn Kelly NEC member and Bromley branch secretary, Onay Kasab, Greenwich Branch secretary, Brian Debus and Matthew Waterfall, Hackney branch chair and secretary respectively and Suzanne Muna, housing corporation branch secretary.
One thing these five have in common is that they – and their branches – are leftwing critics of the Union leadership. To take formal disciplinary action over this matter would be so grossly disproportionate that it would appear to be politically motivated. I am afraid that this is not the only example of over the top disciplinary action against left wing activists within the Union. (You might almost think that elements of the Union leadership lack the confidence that they can win an argument with the left in front of the membership and are resorting to administrative measures to silence critics!)
UNISON activists need to make very clear that any such unwarranted and unjustified political attack would lead to a strong, united and wide ranging response. UNISON needs to concentrate upon defending our members interests – not on witch hunting socialists. Further details are online here.
Monday, January 21, 2008
In today’s Guardian he berates the Government for its plans to hold down the living standards of public servants. This is of course fitting in the leader of a trade union centre which now has its last source of strength in the public sector.
However, he does not conclude with a stirring call to industrial action but with a warning about the potential electoral consequences of disappointing six million voters.
It’s a fair point, but one which the trade unions could be making with more force. What Brendan implies is correct – given a Labour Government which attacks our standard of living, public sector workers will, in some numbers, be driven away from supporting Labour.
Some will (foolishly) vote Tory or Liberal, some will (perhaps more understandably) experiment with radical alternatives (some see the nationalists and the Greens in this light). However, there is no prospect of the trade union leadership doing anything whatsoever to focus the political pressure to which they are eager to allude.
Without some conscious effort on the part of the union leaderships to apply meaningful political pressure upon the Government this invocation of the electoral consequences of parsimony looks like nothing so much as an attempt to avoid the hard work involved in organising industrial action, and to appear critical of a Government for whose re-election we will work tirelessly for fear of something worse.
There are those who offer the unions the alternative of breaking altogether with the Labour Party, whether directly or through limited support for other candidates. I am afraid that the recent implosions of both the Scottish Socialist Party and Respect, together with the consistent failure of any other far left force to achieve significant electoral progress make it inconceivable that this argument will make much headway in the near future. I am certainly not persuaded!
Does this leave us to moan about the policies of a Labour Government whilst we continue to write cheques to, and devote energy to the Labour Party without question or influence?
The trade unions had an opportunity to back a challenge to Gordon Brown in the leadership election and the leadership failed to do so. Yet we still have the option of lining the trade unions up alongside those in the Labour Party who support our policies.
We threw away our right to make policy at Conference – we need to reclaim the right to fight for the interests of our members at every level within the Labour Party, from the branch all the way down to the Parliamentary Party. This means fighting against the Party leadership and alongside the left.
This is not an alternative to industrial action – that is what is needed to take on Gordon Brown’s disgraceful public sector pay policy. However we can obtain greater political influence for our industrial action through the most effective use of our potential political weight.
Hinting that our members might stay home come election day, whilst we remain committed to getting them all out to vote Labour come what may, is a very poor use of the power of our movement. Come on Brendan, buck your ideas up!
Thursday, January 17, 2008
This is something that those of us who work in public services know all too well. Private contractors are not our “partners” and they don’t exist, as public sector bodies do, in order to provide services – they exist to maximise shareholder value, which means you have to watch them like hawks.
It is all very well the NAO and the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee berating the public sector managers who are “allowing themselves” to be ripped off. The problem is not about competency. It is a structural problem.
We should be bringing as many services back in-house as we can, and funding the development of public services with public money in the public sector. Public-private partnerships are simply a device to siphon taxpayers money into the pockets of shareholders.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The elections to UNISON's Service Group Executives are due and candidates are requesting nominations. In London, local government branches are being asked for nominations for the male seat by respected left-wing incumbent David Eggmore, current chair of the National Joint Council committee, Regional Finance Convenor, John Gray (from the right) and NEC member (and Socialist Party leading light) Glenn Kelly.
Two years ago David held the seat in a straight left-right election against John Gray. Glenn's intervention threatens to split the left vote and let a right wing candidate in. On the face of it this is incredibly daft because Glenn is already a full voting member of the body to which he is now seeking election. As a member of the National Executive Council elected to represent the local government service group, Glenn is a member of the Service Group Executive with the right to both speak and vote. Were Glenn to hold both his NEC seat and the SGE seat currently held by David Eggmore, he would hold two seats on the SG with only one vote.
London has three seats on the Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE), another of the seats is falling vacant as Jean Geldart, currently Chair of the SGE is standing down. This, I am afraid, explains why Glenn is pursuing this bizarre course of action. As an NEC member on the SGE, Glenn can speak and vote but is ineligible to be elected as Chair of the SGE. He believes that he, and only he, can challenge current Vice-Chair, Chris Tansley, to be Chair of the SGE after the elections. I have yet to speak to an SGE member (other than Glenn) who believes that Glenn could win such an election, nor even that he would be the best candidate to stand against Chris Tansley.
Glenn has pointed out that David could potentially be re-elected indirectly to the SGE through his membership of the National Joint Council Committee (of which he is Chair). This rather massively misses the point that Glenn himself is already a member of the SGE. Even if David were simply to stand aside for Glenn (as Glenn believes that he should) there is no guarantee that Glenn would win an election against John Gray, who could campaign on the basis that his opponent is already a member of the SGE. John is gearing up for a serious (if not perhaps entirely forthright) campaign (his request for nominations omits to mention his Labour Party membership, of which readers of his blog will know he is very proud!)
With truly legendary chutzpah Glenn has tried to present David's decision to seek re-election to the SGE, and the decision of many leftwing activists to back him, as sectarian manoeuvring against himself and the Socialist Party.
On the contrary, David is an incumbent left-wing candidate who has done a good job, particularly in recent years. It is Glenn who has to explain why the prospect of his failed candidacy for Chair of the SGE is so vital that it is more important than the unity of the left in the Union.
Far from wishing to do down the Socialist Party, left wing candidate Sonya Howard, who is seeking nominations to the vacant seat currently held by Jean Geldart and is supporting and supported by David Eggmore, offered to stand aside and lend her support to a woman candidate from the Socialist Party. With a campaign uniting the left in London this offer could have led to the addition of another member to the SGE from the Socialist Party, something that Glenn's election would not do (since he is already a member of the SGE). Unfortunately, Glenn rejected this proposal and has issued a request for nominations.
I have worked alongside Glenn Kelly for many years. I respect and admire him (although we do not always agree) and I consider him a friend. It is with great sorrow that I see my friend about to make this terrible mistake.
Glenn is seeking nominations to a body of which he is already a full voting member simply because he cannot conceive that there could be another candidate of the left in the election to Chair that body. I have more confidence in friends and comrades on the Service Group Executive. I believe that those who are elected to the Service Group Executive and who wish to see a serious fight against the Government’s pay policy will be well able to find from amongst their number a candidate to Chair the SGE – perhaps even a candidate who can win.
Glenn appears to believe that if he is not there to stand then no one else in a Union with over a million members is capable of doing so. That could be characterised as perhaps a little self-absorbed. More importantly it is just plain wrong.
When, as I hope and believe, our Union acquires a more militant leadership, I hope that Glenn and his comrades will be a part of that. We need to find ways to work together as socialists, much as we may disagree about many things. I believe that the United Left made a serious attempt to compromise with the desire of our comrades in the Socialist Party to stand candidates in the elections to the SGE – this failed because one individual believes that he is the only possible leader for local government workers.
Well, Glenn, you are often right mate. But this time you are badly wrong.
Last week Brian Strutton of the GMB acquitted himself well in a debate with notorious “no win no fee” lawyer Stefan Cross. Yesterday, Trevor Phillips from the Commission for Equality and Human Rights was calling for representative legal action to be possible in order to unblock the employment tribunal system which is overloaded with equal pay cases.
The CEHR appear to be heading towards backing the phased introduction of equal pay in order to limit disputes, such as that in Birmingham, over pay protection for those who lose out. If we don’t get sufficient funding from central Government to provide adequate protection and fair back pay then perhaps this compromise is unavoidable.
Capitalisation – allowing local authorities to borrow to meet the one off costs of implementing equal pay – has given some authorities room to manoeuvre but the real answer would be for the Government to remember where it keeps those billions of pounds which were available for Northern Rock or for the Iraq war and to apply some of them to funding the implementation of single status…
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
The fundamental problem which faces employers and unions in local government is the lack of central funding – we need to step up our campaign on this issue.
At the moment we are more than a little hamstrung in campaigning on Equal Pay by the legal advice that we can’t discuss the issue in our Conferences and Regional Councils for fear that someone will say something that could be used in evidence against the Union. Also the sheer volume of litigation is clearly taking up the time and energy of our senior officials to such an extent that we aren’t taking the political initiative as we should.
Gordon Brown told the TUC in 2005 that “our aim is to end once and for all the gender pay gap in our country.” It is a laudable aim, and it requires further reaching social change than can be achieved by either litigation or collective bargaining – but it also requires money. We need to step up the pressure on the Government – and those who aspire to exert influence on behalf of our movement need to raise their game.