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)

Friday, February 29, 2008

Against immigration controls

Today the Government introduced a “points system” to restrict migration from outside the EU. Trade unionists should give this “nul points”.

Some in the labour movement may secretly welcome restrictions on immigration, believing that we should prioritise reducing the supply of labour in order to reduce downward pressure on wages.

UNISON policy is a little more advanced. UNISON believes;a) that no worker should be classed as illegal; b) all workers have a right to put a roof over their head and food on the table.

That’s why the Union focuses on organising migrant workers.

When it comes to immigration there are those in the labour movement who understand the progressive position adopted by trade unions such as UNISON and those who don’t.

Mass migration isn’t going away any time soon – and there is no reason why socialists and trade unionists should wish that it would. We don't set ourselves in opposition to workers coming from other countries.

Historically craft unions could try to enhance their bargaining power by restricting the supply of labour - but general unions (which is what we are really) have very limited scope to do this. Even if it were possible for us to lobby succesfully to restrict immigration in order to reduce labour supply and drive up wages, the political consequences of pandering to racism would impose unacceptable long term costs upon our movement.

We need to organise the workers who are here to be organised.

We need to continue to build alliances for justice for migrant workers – but we also need to see the trade unions taking on New Labour’s racist immigration policies in public.

Where is the public opposition from the trade unions to today’s development? Here? Here? Here?

Right wing attack on Local Government Pensions

The saloon-bar Tories of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (linked to shadowy Tory backers the Midlands Industrial Council) sometimes produce data of which we can make use – but today they are seeking some cheap publicity by having a go at the cost of our Local Government Pension Scheme.

They wonder why taxpayers should be funding a pension scheme more generous than those available to many private sector employees.

Well, first, public sector workers are taxpayers too – unlike all those major corporations who dodge their taxes! As a taxpayer I never voted for this outfit to speak for me.

Secondly, our pensions – and remember many of us will from 1 April be paying more for less as far as our pension benefits are concerned – are part of an overall package of remuneration – public service workers won’t be getting bonuses like they get in the oh-so-well run financial services sector.

Thirdly, if the “Taxpayers Alliance” really cared for the welfare of taxpaying families maybe they would support stronger trade unions in the private sector to fight for better pension provision across the board?

No, I thought not. (Funnily enough the “other TA” don’t seem bothered about real waste…)

Update at lunchtime Friday – online here is a very good analysis of the report from our taxpaying friends. Further update at the weekend - with further thanks to the labour and capital blog – here are links to reasoned comments from the LGA and GMB. There is (as yet?) no comment from UNISON here – perhaps it’s not worth a response??

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Local Government Pay - lessons from the past...

I am sorry if I am becoming obsessive about local government pay – but then this is an unashamedly trade union related blog, so I don’t imagine you’re reading it primarily for its entertainment value.

My last post looked at the statistics which show how the real earnings of local government workers have been declining since our last national pay strike – and consequent settlement – in 2002. (I know that I am simplifying things massively in both that post and this – but I think that’s necessary).

The question of course is what to do about this. I think we should look at evidence about what has happened in the past, and try to work out from this evidence what might happen in the future. One valuable source of historical information on local government pay is the report of the Local Government Pay Commission.

It’s four and a half years old of course, but it still contains some useful data, such as the table above, which shows the relationship between NJC pay settlements and earnings growth in private sector services between 1988 and 2002.
This shows that for most of that period, NJC pay settlements were below the rate of earnings growth in private sector services – the exceptions are three consecutive years in the early 1990s (1990-92) and 2002 itself (which was the last settlement before the Pay Commission collated this data).

What accounts for these periods of relatively rapid pay increase in local government? Well, at the risk (again) of oversimplifying, it is pretty obvious that the national pay strikes in 1989 and again in 2002 are both associated with brief periods in which local government pay accelerates above its general trend, which is to grow more slowly than earnings in the private services sector.

Successful national strike action can secure a better pay settlement in the year in which it is taken but can also have a knock on effect for a little while. Without occasional national strike action, local government pay will tend to fall behind. So, I think, we do need to begin to prepare for national strike action.

The question then is, how are we going to organise this to win, in circumstances which are certainly far less favourable than they were in 1989…?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fed up with falling pay :(

I was pleased to be invited to speak yesterday to the AGM of the Southwark branch of UNISON, in connection with which I was reading some briefing notes produced by UNISON HQ in support of the local government pay claim.

These made the sound point that price rises rather than our pay claims are what is driving inflation (although I did feel a reference to the price of haircuts made me needlessly self-conscious…)

Anyway, it got me looking at labour market statistics, which led me to think that prices certainly have gone up – the all items Retail Price Index having increased by 17.3% between 2002 and 2007. That means roughly that each pound we earned in 2007 could buy what eighty five pence would have bought five years before.

Earnings across the economy as a whole have kept ahead of prices (though not by much) – having increased by 20.6% over the same period, so on average workers are a little less than 3% better off in material terms over those five years. This is what an increase “in real terms” means – it means you can buy more than you could before.

However, taking a fixed point on the local government pay spine (say SCP 28), that has increased by just 15.5% between 1 April 2002 to 1 April 2007, from £19,776 to £22,845. So a local government worker stuck at the top of a grade for those five years is actually worse off in real terms (by 1.5%) than we were five years ago. That means that our salaries are only buying us 98.5% of the goods and services we could afford when we settled the 2002 pay dispute (that's a pay cut "in real terms").

So not only are we falling behind average earnings (by four and a half per cent over the five year period) which pushes us down the “pay league” we are actually worse off than we were. A 6% pay rise (bringing SCP 28 up to £24,216), with the RPI at 4%, in the coming year, would put our pay a grand total of half a per cent higher “in real terms” than it was in 2002.

Implementation of our full claim would just lead to us “catching up” with rising prices, it wouldn’t come near to “matching up” with increasing average earnings. I think we had better do something about this…

Strike action works

UNISON members – taking action with other trade unionists – have achieved some success in a dispute with our largest English local authority employer.

UNISON members in Birmingham really have achieved a result in getting their employers back into negotiations over Single Status by taking strike action.

When the same view is taken here, here and here, it seems pretty clear that this is real progress.

It’s always good to see when those who describe strike action as out of date are shown to be as wrong as they always have been.

However, with disputes all over the place we need more coordination of action across the country.

This won’t be easy because of our natural proclivity for parochialism in local government – it will hardly be possible at all if (as I may have mentioned) we continue to maintain a vow of silence on the question at Conferences…

LGPS Valentine's Day message...

Like most of you, dear readers, the laying of Statutory Instruments before Parliament was not foremost in my mind on Valentine’s Day.

Indeed, commentators on this very blog took issue with my sadly cynical and unromantic attitude to UNISON’s activities on the day in question.

Little did I then know that the Government had expressed its love for local government workers with The Local Government Pension Scheme (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2008. Regulation 9 provides some limited good news for those paying a “protected” 5% pension contribution (a small number of former manual workers) as their increased pension contributions will be phased in over three years.

For those waiting until they make the film before reading this short but snappy work of non-fiction, Schedule 2 seems to be quite important.

In a nutshell, protection of the “Rule of 85” in respect of all pensionable service for those who will be 60 on or before 31 March 2016 is preserved by paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Schedule, repeating earlier provisions (which had been increased from 2013 if you remember).

Paragraph 7 repeats what was Paragraph 6 of The Local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment) Regulations 2006 (inserted by the snappily titled Local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment)(No 2) Regulations 2006) and simply says that;

“7.—(1) This paragraph applies to a member who retires, having reached the age of 60, on or after 1st April 2016 and before 1st April 2020, and who would (but for the provisions of paragraphs 1 and 2) have satisfied the 85 year rule before the latter date.
(2) That part of his retirement pension and grant which is calculated by reference to any period of membership after 31st March 2008 shall be reduced in accordance with guidance issued by the Government Actuary.”

Happily we employ pensions experts to explain all of this, because to my simple mind this looks like a provision to apply an actuarial reduction to benefits payable in respect of all post 31 March 08 service for those retiring under 65, but over 60, between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2020, who are currently given “tapered protection” (described on the LGPS website as follows; “If you will be aged 60 between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2020 and meet the 85 year rule (or meet an earlier Normal Retirement Date which some members who joined the Scheme before 1st April 1998 have under previous regulations) by 31st March 2020, the benefits you build up between 1st April 2008 and 31st March 2020 will be reduced, but the reduction will not be the full amount.”)

The last we heard was that the Government were still considering whether to extend full protection of the Rule of 85 to existing scheme members who will be 60 before 1 April 2020 – so why are they laying new Regulations before Parliament in February which don’t make any change on this outstanding question.

This leaves me utterly confused about whether we have made any progress at all on one of the four “outstanding issues” identified by the Service Group Executive at the Special Local Government Conference on pensions last March – which was precisely the extension of protection of the Rule of 85. We made a great deal about the consultation on extending this protection (which was, as an objective, less than we were originally aiming for) – where has the consultation gone?

I await the next update…

Friday, February 15, 2008

London UNISON Labour Link Election

It that time of year again when London region holds its Labour Link elections. Once again we have a choice to elect socialists who will stand for a Labour Link that will take UNISON policy’s into the Labour Party and fincially support MP’s and other representatives though constituency devlopment plans etc who support UNISON policies. For a change to the current leadership of the regional Labour Link who just want the link to be a supporters club for the Brown Government.

The following candidates are being supported by London UNISON Labour left Network for Labour Link elections in The London region.

Regional Committee Seats (Female)

Jacqui Brown
Katrina Hoogendam
Felicity Irwin
Helen Martin
Pam Woods

Regional Committee (Male)

Andrew Berry
Phil Lewis
Daniel Nichols
Francis Prideaux
Heenal Rajani

National Labour Link Forum (Female)

Lucy Anderson
Jacqui Brown
Katrina Hoogendam
Helen Martin
Pam Woods

National Labour Link Forum (Male)

Sean Fox
Daniel Nichols
Francis Prideaux

Labour Party Conference

Katrina Hoogendam

Standing Orders Committee

Andrew Berry

The ballot papers have been sent to the Labour Link Officer or Branch Secretary, the deadline to return them in is 29th Feb. If you can’t locate them contact the regional office.

Also don’t forget to get Branch Delegates elected to the Labour Link Forum taking place on the 26th Feb 4-6pm, House of Commons. Deadline for Branches to register there delegates is 22nd February.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

February 14th - Groundhog Day for UNISON


We have delivered a Valentines Card to the Government…

Last year it was the local government employers.

In 2002 we sent a card to all MPs, in 2005 only to Scottish MPs.

What an inspired and original tactic…

A tale of two mergers...

Interesting to see two contrasting union mergers announced today. Over on the class struggle wing of the movement members of the OILC are joining forces with the RMT, meanwhile in the quieter pastures of social partnership ACM and ATL have come to an agreement which Brendan Barber describes as “an imaginative new form of union co-operation” although it looks like a carbon copy of the UNISON/FDA vehicle “Managers in Partnership” only for the education rather than the health sector.

Clearly there is room in the movement for both approaches to building trade unionism, but my heart is certainly with the comrades joining the RMT. Offshore workers had been badly let down by the union movement when they were forced to create their own union twenty years ago – and it is good to see the OILC coming back to a TUC affiliated union.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More fun at the UNISON NEC

Having already posted some of the main items of debate at today’s meeting of the UNISON NEC, I’ll just mention a few other topics before the excitement of the day overcomes me.

Among the subjects covered by our General Secretary in a wide ranging report were the following.

UNISON will be protesting about the conduct of (former trade union official) Kim Howells, who got himself photographed alongside a Colombian military unit noted for killing trade unionists.

We will be encouraging members to lobby their MPs to support agency workers by staying at work on a Friday afternoon to back the Private Members’ Bill on 22 February. Lobby your MP now!

UNISON, together with Searchlight and the Daily Mirror, will be backing a major anti-BNP campaign in the run up to the May elections.

In response to a question, Dave confirmed that a campaign against the victimisation of Karen Reissman is now being led by the North West Region. He also offered to discuss with my fellow London NEC member, and Newham UNISON Branch Secretary, Irene Stacey, what further support to offer to victimised Newham UNISON Branch Chair, Michael Gavan.

For those with an interest in internal trade union matters I can report that we had a split vote on whether or not to approve a report on internal disciplinary matters, with a majority of those voting approving the report but a larger number of NEC members either not present or not voting.

I was also assured, having made representations at the request of the Greater London Regional Committee about the permissibility of jobsharing seats on the TUC delegation that the composition of the delegation would be reviewed.

A full report will be with London branches in the next couple of days.

Update on Thursday – the official report is now online here.

Equal Pay debate at the UNISON NEC

I can tell you that UNISON’s NEC today discussed Equal Pay. I can’t say much more, although I think I can safely mention campaigning for funding to fill the gender pay gap and that UNISON made a submission to the Discrimination Law Review, since they are pretty much in the public domain anyway.

Beyond that it is pretty safe to say that there is a lot of litigation, case law is developing apace and it all costs a fair bit. Of course this topic relates to the implementation of Single Status in local government, and the NEC sent its support to the 20,000 members who recently took strike action in Birmingham.

For detailed guidance on equal pay issues UNISON activists should continue to look out for the briefings that are taking place. Unfortunately we still won't be debating these issues at Conference, a state of affairs which I think is becoming untenable.

Debate on pay at the UNISON NEC

Appropriately enough the issue of pay was high up the agenda for today’s UNISON NEC meeting, although much of the progress that could be reported related to what is on the website.

It was reported that the NHS employers have yet to make an offer (in the context of discussions about the possibility of a multi-year pay deal which would encompass matters beyond the remit of the Pay Review Body) and that local government employers won’t make an offer until 19 March. Opinion is divided as to whether they will make a single year offer and if so at what level they will pitch it. The Scottish local government employers have just made a very low three year offer.

UNISON’s Service Group Liaison Committee will meet in March to consider the position and we were advised that this is the first time in history that UNISON’s Service Groups have agreed to talk to each other before accepting pay offers. Truly today the UNISON NEC was walking with destiny…

We shall just have to be patient, as I was advised that “anyone with half an ounce of sense” would know that we can’t start talking about strike action when we don’t even have a trade dispute yet. We were also told to concentrate on unity with unions in our own sectors (although bizarrely this doesn’t seem to include likely strike action by a key local government union in April…)

Local Government NEC member Paul Holmes expressed the view that national strike action will be unavoidable and will be supported by members, since the employers won’t make an acceptable offer and our members can’t afford more years of declining living standards. I tend to agree and certainly think it’s prudent to be preparing now for the eventuality of national strike action.

Conference discussion at the UNISON NEC

UNISON’s National Executive Council today welcomed a delegation of trade unionists from Southern Africa attending a Conference on HIV/AIDS. We were also treated to a presentation on green issues, which provided one of the Conference motions to be proposed to National Delegate Conference by the NEC.

The NEC agreed to submit motions on;
Equality through Learning;
South Africa and the Region;
Education and Skills;
Employment Rights;
NHS at 60;
Local Services;
Public Services;
The Economy.

If any UNISON branches in Greater London would like to see copies of the motions please get in touch.

There was a fair bit of discussion about several of the motions, but the approach of our President was to take an affirmative vote and only to consider amending motions if a majority did not back the motion unamended. Few amendments were made to the motions as drafted by the office (NEC motions are not of course generally written by NEC members…)

Health service group rep Kate Ahrens suggested we might put fewer motions on the agenda from the NEC but that idea did not find favour, any more than the sensible suggestion from Yorkshire and Humberside Regional representative, John McDermott, that we might think of inviting the General Secretary of another public service union to address our Conference on the theme of unity over public sector pay.

One missing motion was a proposal from the Finance and Resource Management Committee for a motion on measures necessary to fund the cost of litigation on Equal Pay. The Committee had been advised (informally) that the Standing Orders Committee had indicated that such a motion would likely be ruled out of order. The NEC was therefore advised that these proposals would now appear in the Annual Report to Conference.

I shall return to this topic.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is now the time for action?

As in comedy so in industrial struggle, timing can be everything. At a branch level you know when it is too early to argue for strike action over impending job losses (when everything is too vague and uncertain for people to be sufficiently worked up about it) and you know when it is too late (when the majority know that they are safe and only a few people face possible redundancy). Getting that moment in the middle isn’t easy.

So I do have some sympathy with those at the top of the movement who can’t quite decide whether this really is the year to stop the public sector pay freeze. Last year UNISON members in health were balloted without a recommendation on pay (and woe betide any who tried to issue recommendations!) In local government we were recommended to reject but in the face of equivocal views from sections of the lay as well as the full-time leadership, our strike ballot delivered a result which did not lead to action. So 2007 wasn’t the year.

I think it should be 2008. I don’t believe anyone who says they think that 2009 looks a better bet. With a General Election likely I fear that there will be a battening down of political hatches. If we don’t fight back against below inflation pay rises this year then we are likely to walk into multi-year pay deals (whether they start this year or next) which will cut the living standards of our members year on year for the foreseeable future.

I have heard a fair bit now about how complex it is to coordinate action on pay between different Unions – indeed between different bits of the same Union! I am sure it is complex, but I think that we have a national leadership precisely in order to do complex and difficult things so I am not persuaded by that argument to the conclusion that we cannot achieve coordination.

I have also heard it said that national strike action is somehow out of date, but this unoriginal argument (which I am sure I first heard parroted by “Eurocommunists” more than twenty years ago) belongs in the undergraduate politics seminar where it was first thought of (particularly since its adherents haven’t the first idea what we can put in place of strike action).

I’ll let you know what is said on Wednesday at the UNISON NEC on this topic. I have heard it said that UNISON has been hostile to calls for action at the TUC, but I’m sure that can’t be right, because such calls are in line with our agreed policy. I expect it was a joke. But then in comedy, as in industrial action, timing can be very important to the humour…

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Regional Council Annual General Meeting - London4Change - but changing what?

I said earlier that I would post a further report from Wednesday's meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Council Annual General Meeting. Those seeking a somewhat different point of view can find one here. I should stress that what follows are my personal opinions.

This was another well attended Annual General Meeting of our Regional Council, though those attending in such numbers have not been able to make other meetings of the Regional Council quorate since 2005 - we must do better this year.

We managed to agree one policy motion (on pay) and to debate four Rule Amendments (none of which were carried by the required two thirds majority). We therefore failed to reach the majority of the agenda put forward by branches and Committees in the Region. Our Convenor will have to rise to the challenge of chairing future Council meetings in a way which facilitates swifter progress. (it was unfortunate that several obviously unnecessary counts were taken of votes where the show of hands was clearly not that close).

Gloria Hanson (Newham local government) defeated Mandy Berger (Camden local government) for Convenor and Conroy Lawrence (Lewisham hospital) won the position of Deputy Convenor in a contest with Malcolm Campbell (Croydon local government). The elections for other Regional Council officers went with these results so that the candidates of "London4Change" defeated candidates of "the left". The results were very close, as is evidenced from the results in the election of six General seats on the Regional Committee in which each "slate" won three positions.

A victim of the vote was former Equality Convenor, Khi Rafe, who stood as an independent candidate (though clearly supported by the left). Khi had established a high profile in that role over the past year and will be a hard act to follow.

These results are consistent with a margin of victory in single figures at a meeting at which the number of votes cast must have exceeded 250.

The winning side continued their practice of close cooperation with paid officials (delegates uncertain of how to vote were visibly introduced to certain lay activists who helpfully assisted in the completion of ballot papers - although this shouldn't have been necessary since otherwise unmarked voting instructions went so far as to tell those supporting the leadership slate in which order to cast their preferential votes depending upon the initial letter of their surname). If this impressive level of organisation could only be translated to the workplace some of the branches who have such difficulty securing the release of delegates to attend meetings would no doubt be in a better place! Initially I was clear that "London4Change" stood against what they perceive to be the "far left" in our Union. However after two years in which the elected Convenor and Deputy have stood - and been elected - on this basis I am still waiting to see what my colleagues are in favour of (rather than what they are opposed to). This year I learned that "London4Change" are against national strike action on pay, but not what it is that they think should be done positively...

Some local government delegates got the impression that certain leading lights supportive of the winning candidates were also opposed to local government UNISON branches (!) - certain colleagues from health made ill-informed comments about employee relations in local government which appeared to be calculated to sow division between health and local government activists in order to firm up a voting bloc at Regional Council without any thought for the unity or strength of our trade union.

As a member of UNISON United Left I would obviously prefer the Regional Council election results to have been different, but it would be churlish to begrudge the victors their victory or to complain about the level of organisation behind the succesful candidates (indeed if a narrow victory is all that can be achieved with such organisation in the third year of such effort it is very clear that there is a large constituency for lay democracy in the Greater London Region of UNISON).

Those who want to see a lay-led democratic trade union which takes its policies from our membership rather than the odd politics associated with some officials, need to pay more attention to the Union at Regional level. The lack of democratic accountability at Regional level hamstrings us when we are in dispute with employers and undermines campaigns against victimisation.

See you at the June Regional Council comrades, but in the mean time we need to get on with the work in the branches building opposition to Government pay policy and support for UNISON's campaign on pay.

Friday, February 08, 2008

UNISON London Region backs coordinated pay fight

A full and considered report from Wednesday's Annual General Meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Council will have to wait for the weekend.

Gloria Hanson was elected Convenor and Conroy Lawrence Deputy Convenor and I have sent both my congratulations. The first opportunity for the new team to show leadership will be in Newham on Monday evening – to support victimised activist Michael Gavan (for whom the Regional Committee expressed their full support).

In the brief time I have now I will remark upon the perplexing sight of a small bloc of delegates (including fellow NEC members and Regional Council officers) voting – against the policy of the Regional Committee – against a motion calling for coordinated action over public sector pay (which motion was entirely consistent with UNISON national policy and with what our guest speaker, UNISON President Norma Stephenson, had been saying).

The speaker against the motion rallied a small minority of delegates in opposition with the thought that national strike action is outdated and that we need “new thinking” – quite what this new thinking is about, where it is leading and how it will help our members facing real terms pay cuts we were not told. Perhaps someone who also opposed the motion will be able to elaborate in public on this “new thinking”.

Even stranger, the text of the gist of the speech which was read out by the delegate who spoke against the motion (and some of its keynote imagery of “sabre rattling”) is available online (as an article in the February 2008 edition of the journal of an obscure and secretive political group). If this is the inspiration for “new thinking” on pay I can’t wait!

Happily the Regional Council overwhelmingly agreed the motion for coordinated action on public sector pay and agreed to submit it to National Delegate Conference in the name of the Region.

The duty of all those in leading positions in the Region is now to work to implement the policy to coordinate the fight against the Government’s public sector pay policy – starting with wholehearted support for our comrades in other Unions.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Reactionary pillock of the month?

Just now and again New Labour can still astonish with outbursts of such reactionary stupidity that it takes your breath away.

Our new Housing Minister admitted she was surprised by figures showing that more than half of those of working age living in social housing are without paid work (which suggests she should get out more – maybe for a kebab with the Home Secretary?)

Therefore she wants to threaten tenants with eviction if they are deemed not to be seeking work. I don’t think UNISON members who work to provide social housing will be taken with such nonsense. It is not the job of Housing officers to throw people out of their homes at the behest of the employment service!

Many people without work need help to find decent, well-paid employment, and many of those people live in social housing. The threat of homelessness is not an acceptable tool to be employed by a supposedly Labour Government seeking to achieve this goal. What next? The Workhouse?

Happily Ms Flint says this is all to start a debate (with the cuddly Fabians). I hope that one of the other speakers has a chance to put her right!

Monday, February 04, 2008

London UNISON AGM Wednesday

With no use of UNISON resources I shall pass on the content of an email circulated by my friend and (Labour Party) comrade Malcolm Campbell to London Region UNISON Branches...

Please forward this to your Regional Council delegates and ask them to
read it carefully.
I'm writing to urge you to vote for the following people in the election of Regional Council Officers this Wednesday:
Convenor: Mandy Berger
Deputy Convenor: Malcolm Campbell
Finance Convenor: Heenal Rajani
Publicity Officer: Katrina Hoogendam
Equalities Convenor: Khi Rafe
In his election address, Conroy Lawrence (who is standing against me for Deputy Convenor) talks about the Region being "captured by those who take their policies from extreme parties and who are answerable to their political masters and not UNISON's members". He is clearly suggesting that this describes those of us standing against him and his running mates. This is completely untrue.
I'm a member of the Labour Party and have never been a member of any other political party. Heenal, Katrina and Khi are also members of the Labour Party, and Mandy is not a member of any party.
The idea that we won't be answerable to the membership is misleading in the extreme. We're standing on a platform of democracy and accountability, because we believe that the leadership of the Region for the last two years hasn't been allowing the views of the membership to be considered. Debate has been stifled.
Examples of this are:
  • An inquorate Regional Council meeting where debate was quite rightly allowed regarding the fight against fascism, but we weren't allowed to discuss the Pensions Dispute, which was at a crucial stage
  • Not allowing the Regional Committee to vote on a proposal for a Regional rally on a strike day, when other regions were holding them.
  • A consultation exercise regarding the establishing of a Regional Standing Orders Committee which only outlined two alternatives, and not a third which had been proposed, involving a directly elected SOC
  • Introducing an SOC comprised of the Regional Council Officers, without the agreement of either the Regional Council or the Regional Committee
  • Not allowing a proper debate regarding motions submitted to Regional Council which had been ruled out of order (this was at a meeting of the Regional Committee curtailed after only 10 minutes of the allotted 45, when the Acting Regional Convenor and the Regional Secretary left the room despite there still being a number of people indicating that they wanted to speak!)
  • Not allowing a vote at the last Regional Committee on a perfectly valid proposal to commit the Region in principle to a joint union meeting in the future over Public Sector pay
This list isn't exhaustive and demonstrates that the way the Region is currently being run just isn't good enough.

Malcolm seems to have put it very well...

Although he seems to have forgotten to tell people how to vote depending upon which letter of the alphabet their surname begins with, as is done by the "Congress House" slate (a.k.a. "London for Change" who are committed to no change). Come on now Malcolm!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Progress? Not with this Labour leadership...

It would be easy to ignore vacuous nonsense from Charles Clarke – who says that his priorities are “environmental sustainability, modern and effective public services and our relationship with the EU and the wider world” (thereby skilfully differentiating himself from those in favour of environmental catastrophe, old fashioned and ineffective public services and isolationism).

However it would be a mistake for rank and file trade unionists to take no notice of the latest outpouring of “modernising” twaddle from the Blair babes at Progress. We seem to have spent large parts of the last few years on the sidelines of shadow boxing between the former Prime Minister and the former Chancellor, during which we were encouraged to put our faith in the allegedly Labour instincts of the latter.

With Gordon Brown’s accession, backed by the nominations of the trade unions, we were supposed to expect a new dawn. Instead we have seen an acceleration of anti-trade union policies and a public sector pay freeze. We should be advancing positive trade union policies for a real Labour programme in opposition to the Government.

Instead some trade union leaders make an absolute priority of the re-election of a notionally “Labour” Government at any price. Others will welcome the re-appearance of a sub-Blairite “opposition” to the Prime Minister in order to justify continued support for the man responsible more than any other for attacking our members’ standard of living. This would be a terrible mistake.

Of course when the Blairites “warn Labour cannot afford to be seen as an "out-of-touch statist leviathan" what they actually mean is that there should be more privatisation and job cuts in the public sector (plus a smattering of talk about “partnership”, “the third sector” and so on). These people are not our friends.

But neither is the architect of the pay freeze. The real political dividing line in this country is not at all between different flavours of New Labour (nor between New Labour and Cameron’s Tories) it is between the political establishment on the one side and the trade unions (and the majority of Labour Party members) on the other.

The sort of modernisation we should want to see is a modern approach to fighting poverty, achieving equality and promoting the rights of workers and trade unions. Will those whose job it is to get political influence for the unions rise to this challenge?

Fighting for the rights of agency workers is a promising sign, but we need much more. We don’t need to take sides in debates at the top of the Labour Party between politicians all of whom are committed to privatisation – we need to mobilise our members to campaign for our policies – and drag along as many of the MPs who claim to be on our side as we can.