Thursday, July 30, 2009
“Political representation of members
Congress recognises the lack of adequate representation at political level for the members of affiliated unions. Congess notes that New Labour, as currently constituted, is now failing to attract the support of our members and that its vote at the 2009 European Election reached an historic low. The present Government’s policy of continuing privatisation, cuts in Government spending and failure to remove the anti-trade union laws is unlikely to change this in the near future.
Congress therefore calls on the General Council to convene, at the earliest opportunity, a conference of all affiliated unions to consider how to achieve effective political representation for our members.”
In the light of the decision of PCS Conference to consult their members on the standing of candidates in elections – and the speech of our own General Secretary at UNISON Conference (which let the genie out of the bottle) this motion could come to have considerable significance.
Even last year those who could see the need for a new approach to political campaigning by the trade unions could not win the support of the leadership of the largest unions. Now the CWU will put the other affiliated unions on the spot.
The genie Dave Prentis let out of the bottle in June may be about to grant some wishes…
Having gone on at some length about my concern that UNISON’s TUC delegation had failed to follow UNISON Conference policy to submit a motion calling for a defence of pension schemes across the public and private sectors. I was pleased to see Motion P23 from the GMB – Quality Pensions For All, which reads as follows;
“Congress is appalled at attempts by politicians, the media, employers and the pensions industry to undermine workers’ savings.
Millions of people are reliant on public sector pensions for their retirement income and now live in fear of their savings being decimated by a Tory government. Congress recognises that public and private sector defined benefit schemes are both sustainable and necessary; and that the closure of public sector schemes threatens quality schemes in the private sector that are already scarce as a result of continual attacks on members’ deferred pay.
Congress calls on the General Council and Labour Party to:
i) mount a properly resourced, coordinated campaign to promote and defend good quality defined benefit pension schemes
ii) show public sector schemes as a model of good practice to be replicated by employers, not to be cut to the minimum provision possible
iii) publicly support the long-term sustainability of public services and public service pensions
iv) explain the contribution to the economy made by funded schemes which invest billions in UK businesses
v) highlight the savings to the taxpayer from occupational pension saving and the cost generated by inadequate provision and increased reliance on state benefits
vi) challenge the hypocrisy of the pensions industry and politicians seeking to force workers to work longer and save for their retirement but refusing to guarantee secure and reliable means of doing so
vii) take the necessary steps to ensure that all workers on public service contracts can participate in public sector pension schemes.”
This motion seems (at point (i)) already more or less to meet the requirements set by our UNISON Conference, that UNISON should “bring a motion to the TUC calling on them to organise a united campaign in defence of final salary pension schemes in both the private and public sector.” Full marks to the GMB for putting this on the Congress Agenda.
And for those who think it’s ok that the UNISON TUC delegation ignored a Conference decision because “it would open the floodgates to Conference deciding our submissions to the TUC” I suggest a quick search of the Conference database online, which will show that only one other motion passed at this year’s Conference even hinted at a TUC motion (not that our motion P52 on defending the NHS quite does the specific thing that Conference Motion 45 was almost asking for in any case).
Perhaps we should invite the GMB to the UNISON social event at the TUC as a sort of thankyou for implementing our policies when we forget to do so ourselves?
Alternatively, since the UNISON delegate who danced with the GMB General Secretary at last year's Entertainment Unions' party may not be in Liverpool for a repeat performance, perhaps I should offer my services? (Alterting the breakaway online faction of my fan club to bring their cameras of course...)
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
So I learned with dismay that eleven of the workers occupying Vestas wind turbine factory have been dismissed today.
Even if you're on holiday too you can read the blog and take action online to support the occupiers.
Even if you're also busy with other things at the moment.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Or, as much on leave as you can be when you're a Branch Secretary...
At least the branch is in safe hands!
Friday, July 24, 2009
"Currently, Vestas management, together with the police, are restricting the occupiers' food supply, bringing them a limited amount of food while refusing to allow onto the site supporters with enough food to keep the occupation going.
On the second day of the occupation, a mass walk-in got food to the occupied area of the factory.
On saturday the 25th, at 2pm, we intend to stage a second mass walk in with food, this time with every activist and supporter who can make it to the island.
The primary aim is to ensure the occupiers have enough food to hold out for as long as they need to, and aren't at the mercy of the management for their next meal.
The secondary is to show the government that supporters of the Vestas occupation are willing to ACT in support of the occupation and green energy.
Transport details for the Isle of Wight can be found on the savevestas blog at
If you can't make it to the island yourself, you can still help by spreading the word - forward this email, ring your friends or contact networks involved in this sort of campaigning.
The SaveVestas group is still quite new and there will be many contacts others have that we don't.
ACT now in support of the Vestas workers' brave action - come to the Isle of Wight for 12 noon to show the government that the people of Britain will hold them to their promises of green energy".
I can't make it to the Isle of Wight tomorrow but maybe you can - or pass this on.
Under UNISON's Rules such sanctions are held in abeyance pending any appeal, so the eventual outcome of this case is not yet known. It is to be hoped that common sense will have a further opportunity to break out.
In the mean time there will be those who allege that this is a politically motivated attack upon left wing critics of UNISON's leadership and there will be those who will be moved to outrage by such perceived slurs upon the integrity of our Union's disciplinary process (as were a majority of my NEC colleagues a couple of weeks ago). It is a controversial suggestion that the disciplinary procedure of a trade union may be misused for political reasons.
However, having myself been on the receiving end of what appeared to be attempted political misuse of UNISON's disciplinary process some years ago, I do regret with real feeling what our Union is now doing to these four members.
I don't think that it was unreasonable for the Union to conduct a formal investigation once a complaint had been made about a leaflet which did offend some who saw it. I felt very much the same nine years ago when an employment tribunal found me responsible for race and sex discrimination (against a white man).
An investigation by the Union was warranted but formal disciplinary action was not. In the end, in my own case, the intervention of sensible people over ruling other people produced that sensible outcome.
As I understand it, the original investigation involved five activists allegedly involved in the production of the leaflet in question. Four faced disciplinary action, One did not. Four were members of a particular left-wing political organisation. One was not. The one exception was the same exception in each case.
As a former General Secretary nearly said to National Delegate Conference in 1998, if it walks like a politically motivated witch hunt and it quacks like a politically motivated witch hunt...
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Few things better demonstrate the inability of capitalism to provide either stable employment or an appropriate response to climate change than the decision to close a factory producing wind turbines!
Show your support by signing the petition to the Prime Minister and by posting a message of support on the Vestas blog.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
After all the to-ing and fro-ing about the 0.5% offer and the deadline and who said what to whom at a meeting in May we now have a pay offer for local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
And it is...
From 1 April 2009 an increase of 1.25% on SCPs 4 to 10 inclusive
From 1 April 2009 an increase of 1.00% on SCPs 11 to 49 inclusive
* Annual Leave
From 1 April 2009, an increase from 20 to 21 days in minimum annual leave for employees with less than five years’ service.
The National Agreement Part 2 Para 7.2 would therefore be amended to read as follows, with effect from 1 April 2009:
7.2 Annual Leave
The minimum paid annual leave entitlement is twenty one days with a further four days after five years of continuous service. The entitlement as expressed applies to five day working patterns. For alternative working patterns an equivalent leave entitlement should be calculated.
* Joint Statement on Best Practice in Handling Redundancies
By 1 December 2009, the NJC will produce joint guidance on best practice in handling redundancies.
The changes to annual leave are irrelevant to the many authorities who already allow more than the nationally agreed minimum (although we can all use this as an opportunity to ask to increase our local leave agreements!)
The offer of joint guidance on best practice in handling redundancies is about as appealing as the offers frequently made to me outside our branch office in Brixton from people marketing exotic pets (I think that's why they whisper "skunk" to me...?)
The pay offer is better than it was.
Twice as good in fact.
And more than the RPI.
It does now appear that the position of the employers' side is driven by parsimony rather than an outright desire to sabotage national pay bargaining.
This is all worth one and a half cheers. But not an outright welcome.
However I fully support the decision of the Lambeth Branch Committee to recommend rejection of this pay offer.
It is worth less than our employers have budgeted for – so if we take this we are giving them an underspend and inviting them to spend money which should be ours.
It comes nowhere near restoring the ground which local government workers have lost relative to average earnings since 2002.
This is not a good pay offer.
Clearly our members are not eager to strike.No one is.
We face threats to our job security and our pensions and the willing tools of reaction in the mass media have done a good job of trying to persuade us that working people should tighten our belts at this time.
However, the best way to strengthen our Union to defend our jobs and pensions is to take a strong stand on the one issue around which the great majority of local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can unite – pay.
UNISON activists in local government should use the opportunity afforded by the national consultation exercise that will be kicked off by the National Joint Council Committee on Monday 27 July in two ways.
First, this is an opportunity to recruit non-members (who can only have a say about pay as members of the Union) and to organise the members we have. Calling workplace meetings to discuss this issue is also an opportunity to recruit shop stewards where we lack them.
Secondly, we should argue with our members that they should be prepared to reject this pay offer and take strike action for a better deal. This will be a hard argument (but anyone who got involved in union activity for easy popularity was ill advised!)
There will be those in the Union leadership who mistakenly believe that the role of leadership is to hold up a mirror to the membership and reflect back whatever we see, whether that is militancy, apathy or despair. Indeed they may be in a majority in our leadership (they usually are).
However the responsibility of leadership is to offer to our members a strategy that could work to defend our interests. Democracy means that our members - rightly - will choose to support or not to support the proposal put before us by our leadership.
I therefore think that we should recommend rejection of 1% and support for the very serious, difficult and costly strike action which would be necessary to secure a better offer.
Our negotiators have done well to secure an improvement in the original derisory offer, but that does not mean that we should accept the new slightly-less-derisory offer.
I won't. Will you?
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Even though this repeats that the "revised proposals" from the May meeting were originated by the trade unions (which is not quite how the trade union side put it) it does the right thing in calling upon the local government employers to make an improved offer.
However with MPs off for their holidays we need to decide what we will now do ourselves.
Hat tip Stoke UNISON.
Monday, July 20, 2009
The UNISON Head of Local Government is quoted as saying that the two sides "came to a revised agreement for a modest and very affordable increase" before the employers failed to decide whether to make the offer.
This is not quite what the joint union circular says of course. This talks about the 1% pay offer (with 1.25% for the lowest paid)(which is not an offer as it has not been offered) as a 'potential new offer' which is probably more accurate.
The questions which we now face are twofold. What do we do if the employers don't budge - and what do we do if they do make a 'potential new offer worth' less than half the average budget provision set aside by our employers for our pay this year?
At the moment our approach appears to draw inspiration from an unusual source.
Nevertheless, the political motivations of the employers' side seem to me to be the most interesting feature of this year's pay round – and to be something about which we should be telling our members more.
If the employers simply want to achieve the objectives of the constituent members to contain pay costs then they could easily make the 'potential new offer'.
If there is an agenda on the employers's side to seek to humiliate union negotiators and weaken national pay bargaining (and indeed the principle of collective bargaining over pay) then that would explain why the offer might not be made.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Indeed I agree with fellow blogger Heather Wakefield that public sector workers are entitled to decent pay increases. The question which now confronts trade unionists however is, what is to be done?
Perhaps we should start with the latest decision of our Local Government Conference?
Composite F concluded that "Members want to see a strategy which acknowledges and responds to their concerns in a co-ordinated manner" but unfortunately didn't set out much of the detail of that strategy which, Conference agreed "should represent a new social settlement incorporating:-
ii) funding for local government which minimises job loss, increases apprenticeship and training places and maintains services;
iii) review of procurement and commissioning to minimise the threat of privatisation;
iv) recognition of the positive contribution trade unions and our members have to play in service improvement and eliminating waste."
I hope that delegates from the Regions which promoted Composite F will make it their business to help all of us in UNISON understand clearly with whom we are seeking this social settlement (is it with the Leader of the largest political group on the employers' side - really?)
In the mean time we need to prepare to consult our members on whatever the employers' offer eventually is and, as we do so, we have to be clear that - in national pay negotiations (and in the absence of any "new social settlement") the only route to an offer better than "the best that can be achieved by negotiation" is national industrial action.
If we draw what is good out of Composite F and use the exercise of consulting members on pay offers as an organising tool then we can point ourselves in the right direction towards the destination at which, when we arrive, we can take effective action when it is required.
(As an aside, some of the least persuasive arguments against national industrial action have been put by a minority in the Greater London Region who seem to have fallen under the sway of a political group who have never favoured national action.)
There is nothing novel about hostility to national strike action (whether that hostility is informed by simple bureaucratic timidity or by an anachronistic brand of Maoism filtered through the experience of manufacturing trade unionism in the 60s and 70s).
Nevertheless, in the face of challenges to our pay, pensions and job security our first priority must be to build our organisational strength - and this must inform the way in which we now use the necessary process of consulting our members on what will obviously be an unsatisfactory and inadequate pay offer.
Indeed he is Vice-Chair of the local Committee which does set the pay of employees of Buckinghamshire County Council ("taking into account representations made by recognized Trade Unions and staff"). Although this patrician Tory and his opted out authority didn't leave the NJC in the interests of their workforce, this year they have paid an increase of 2.25%.
So if the council tax payers of Buckinghamshire can afford 2.25% in the opinion of their Council Leader, what does he have to say to the Leader of the Tory Group on the Local Government Association about their refusal to support an increased pay offer nationally, when he sees him in the mirror?
Or maybe it's true that Tories cannot be seen in mirrors? (It is Tories isn't it...?)
Hat tip to the Head of Local Government...
Friday, July 17, 2009
Today we learn that a 1% pay offer (with 1.25% for the very lowest paid) had indeed been discussed and that the politicians have simply refused to make that offer.
The statement from the trade unions tells the tale as well as I could;
" At a meeting of the full Trade Union Side of the NJC for local government services held on 16 July 2009 it was agreed to issue the following joint statement:-
1. 2009 pay negotiations for 1.6 million local authority workers began with the Trade Unions submitting a claim for improvements on 14 January 2009.
2. The Local Government Employers, on behalf of local authorities, made a written formal offer on 6 April 2009.
3. The offer dated 06 April 2009 was for a 0.5% pay increase with a deadline for agreement of 31 May 2009.
4. The Trade Unions rejected the 0.5% offer and deadline on 7 April 2009 and requested an urgent meeting of the full NJC
5. The full NJC was held on 22 April 2009 where it was agreed to continue negotiations via the NJC Executive and joint secretarial negotiations.
6. Trade Union and Local Government Employer negotiators held discussions during May 2009 with a view to reaching a new offer. On 21 May 2009 after six hours of talks a 'potential new offer' emerged and comprised of:
o A 1.25% increase in pay for those on scale points 4-10 inclusive
o A 1% increase for those above scale point 10, up to scale point 49
o An increase in minimum annual leave entitlement of 1 day from 1 April 2009 and a further day from 1 April 2010
o an increase in all allowances by 1%
o An increase in the sleeping-in allowance to £35.35p
o A review of parental entitlements by 1/10/09 and appropriate implementation thereafter
o Conclusion of a joint 'best practice redundancy avoidance' agreement by 1/9/09
7. The NJC trade unions raised the issue of the employer's deadline and were told unequivocally by the LGE Officials that while productive negotiations were ongoing the 31 May deadline would be held in abeyance.
8. The Local Government Employers undertook to put the 'potential new offer' to the political leaders of the Local Government Association (LGA) for approval following which it could become a formal offer on which the Unions could consult members.
9. It has been reported to the Trade Unions that the political leaders of the LGA have so far been unable to decide whether to approve the 21 May 'potential new offer' or to do anything else and there is no foreseeable prospect that they will.
10. This indecision is unfair to council workers. It is a political derogation of the responsibility of employers towards their employees and shows a total lack of respect. The impasse is not acceptable to the Trade Unions.
11. The trade unions are aware that the Employers' Side are meeting to take a decision before the end of July. We request that a full NJC meeting take place that same day for the Employers' Side to report or by the end of July at the latest."
There isn't a local authority in the NJC that hasn't set aside at least enough in its budget to enable the employers to make the revised offer - it's almost as if the political majority on the employers' side are out to sabotage national pay bargaining...
Thursday, July 16, 2009
I am on leave tomorrow or would make sure I was at the lobby of the disciplinary hearing from 8.30 am; The Grange, Holborn Hotel, 50-60 Southampton Row, WC1B (Nearest tubes Holborn or Russell Square.)
I understand that the four have been found "guilty" - rather than comment further upon that at this time I want to say something about these four activists.
Brian Debus of Hackney UNISON is a stalwart activist who shows the sort of dedication and commitment from a lay activist which keeps our Union in operation from one year (and one decade) to the next. Brian deserves recognition and respect rather than villification.
Onay Kasab ("Kas") of Greenwich UNISON is a model of a good and committed UNISON Branch Secretary. His enviable track record as a trade unionist is the sort of thing I would expect to read about as a role model in UNISON Focus. If nominations for awards at the TUC were made on merit alone, Kas would be a recipient.
Glenn Kelly of Bromley UNISON achieved a new first this year when - at his first Conference on the platform - our General Secretary quite deliberately quoted Glenn's words in his important speech on the future of our relationship with the Labour Party. Glenn was re-elected to our National Executive in spite of wide publicity given to the charges against him. Our members nationally in local government have chosen Glenn to continue to serve on our NEC. Their views should be respected.
Suzanne Muna of the Tenant Services Authority Branch I know less well than the other three on a personal basis - but I do know that she has led a small UNISON Branch through sometimes difficult circumstances. This is the sort of voluntary work for our trade union which should be recognised and respected.
In all, these are four good trade unionists - the sort of people who would be an asset on any Branch Committee and who honour UNISON by their commitment to and work for our trade union. All hold positions in our Union to which they have recently been re-elected in the face of widespread publicity given to the allegations against them.
All four have (IMHO) the misfortune to be members of the Socialist Party - but I do feel as a Labour Party member myself that I am in no position to cast aspersions on the political choices made by other comrades. I also believe that UNISON is a trade union and not a political party and that we have room within our ranks for those of many political views (excluding only the far right).
UNISON faces a series of hard fights in the coming years as the Government (of either colour) sets out to cut public spending (worsening the recession as they attack the jobs and living standards of our members). I hope that as we face these challenges Brian, Kaz, Glenn and Suzanne are standing in our ranks, in their elected positions, as part of our collective resistance to defend the interests of our members.
We are not so well provided with excellent activists that we can afford to throw them away!
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Having spent the afternoon defending a UNISON member facing dismissal under the sickness procedure I cannot help feeling that, beyond the advice on basic hygiene and common sense which is all that can really be said about a 'flu' pandemic, there is an issue in relation to absence management which the trade unions need to pick up on.
Since one of the KPIs on which our local government employers are measured relates to levels of sickness absence there is constant pressure to reduce this. However, rather than focus on the progressive means to reduce sickness absence - by focusing on employee wellbeing and prevention of ill health - many managers are trained to prefer a punitive approach.
With the Government encouraging people to stay away from work if they think they have "swine 'flu'" we need to be pressing employers not to take such absence into account against employees facing action under sickness or absence management procedures. We don't want people coming into work ill because they are afraid their absence is being monitored and that they could face dismissal for sickness.
Any readers of this blog at LGE - please take note!
I was pleased to be able to spend some time with the pickets at London Metropolitan University this morning.
I spent an hour outside Central House and in that time just a couple of strikebreakers went in, two postal deliveries were turned away - and a number of passers by asked for directions!
The joint official strike action by Unison and UCU members is a very necessary response to the massive job cuts threatened because of past mismanagement and the continuing refusal of the Higher Education Funding Council to prevent staff and students paying for errors for which they are not responsible.
Branch duties will keep me away from the lunchtime rally - noon outside Central House.However it looks likely that there will need to be further action to protect jobs and services at London Met - check out the joint union Blog for regular updates.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Dear fellow trade unionists,
This is to both update you on the situation at London Metropolitan University and to thank you for the many messages of support and help offered to our campaign over the last few months.
As you know, London Met UCU and London Met Unison have been conducting a major campaign to oppose our management's insistence on the loss of 550 FTE posts - which may result in up to 800 job losses (1/4 of our entire workforce). Both unions have won overwhelming endorsement for industrial action in recent ballots, and UCU took an initial day's strike action in May. However, as the threat of job cuts (including compulsory redundancies currently scheduled for the end of July) has so far not been lifted, we have decided we now need to escalate our action.
To that end we shall initially be taking a joint UCU/Unison university-wide one day strike next Tuesday (July 14th).
JOINT UCU/UNISON STRIKE – TUESDAY 14TH JULY (BASTILLE DAY)
Our picket lines will commence at 8am at each of our main campus buildings in Holloway Road, Moorgate, Aldgate East, and Whitechapel (see the blog for details).
In addition we will be holding a mass rally from 12-1pm outside our Central House Building (just opposite Aldgate East tube on the District line), before sending a delegation to the Dept of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), in Victoria (opposite St James Park tube) to hand-in a 3,500+ petition, demanding a full public inquiry and a halt to the job cuts at London Met, to Peter Mandleson.
Please make every effort to join us in the morning on our picket lines and to send delegations (and banners) from your branches to our rally in the afternoon. Further updates will be posted on our blog: http://savelondonmetuni.blogspot.com.
We believe that the situation at London Met, though very specific on the one-hand re the serious financial mismanagement of our institution, is also far too generic re the response of university/college management generally to attack staff, students, and the very education ideals we believe in, to pay for either their own, or Government induced, financial crisis, or to use the threat of financial crisis to remould the shape of education institutions to the dictates of what can best be described as the failed neo-liberal market model of education. We are only the tip of the iceberg, as the threat to jobs at 100+ institutions across both FE and HE indicates. This is therefore not simply our fight, but one of the first salvos in a much bigger fight for the sort of education system that all of us - students, staff, community, deserve.
Please join us.
UCU Co-ordinating Committee - London Metropolitan University
UCU National Executive
Saturday, July 11, 2009
I have therefore written to the General Secretary as follows (and await comments along the lines of the anatomical references offered to me in respect of previous correspondence on another matter by a senior officer);
“National Delegate Conference, in passing Composite D took a clear decision that UNISON should "bring a motion to the TUC calling on them to organise a united campaign in defence of final salary pension schemes in both the private and public sector."
Under Rule D.1.1 "The supreme government of the Union shall be vested in the National Delegate Conference." However, following Thursday's TUC delegation meeting the Union appears set to fail to implement this clear Conference decision.
The power to affiliate to the TUC and to determine arrangements for the delegation is given to the NEC by Rule D.2.9.7 and, in accordance with the preamble of Rule D.2.9 this is "part of" the general power of the NEC given by Rule D.2.1. This in turn is subject to the caveat that the NEC "shall not do anything that is inconsistent with... ...the policy of the Union as laid down at National Delegate Conference."
There is no Rule which permits the NEC to disregard, or to take into account only to a limited extent, Conference decisions about which the NEC itself had previously expressed some "qualification." The TUC Delegation does not itself have any particular standing under Rule and it must therefore operate in accordance with the Rule Book and hence the powers of the NEC(which is why the NEC was able, last year, to agree changes to the arrangements whereby previously individual members of the delegation had been able to table motions for discussion).
I am therefore writing to you, with copies to the President and to the Chair and Director of Policy, as a member of the NEC (sharing responsibility to see that the Union abides by Conference decisions) to request that you take urgent and appropriate action to avoid our acting in a manner which would be inconsistent with the policy of the Union laid down by National Delegate Conference 2009 when it agreed Composite D.
I look forward to hearing from you or from another appropriate colleague.”
Perhaps some other trade union will put a motion on the TUC agenda calling for a united fight to defend pensions across the private and public sectors, and UNISON can become part of a composite by way of an amendment, but strictly speaking we will have failed to implement Conference policy.
(Update on Sunday 12 July – check out this cogent argument for the defence of defined benefit pension schemes across the private and public sectors over at Ian’s UNITE Site.)
Nowadays only some deluded sections of the British ruling class (and their New Labour hangers on) believe that this country is still really a Great Power.
Because of this delusion 184 British troops have died in Afghanistan.
These (mostly) young working class men could be alive now, living and working in this country.
UNISON supports the Stop the War Coalition and I am glad that Stop the War are organising a timely protest on Monday 13 July (at Downing Street at 5pm) to call for the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan.
When the National Labour Link Committee considers the criteria by which we will decide which politicians our Union will support in future I hope that we will take into account whether they are among those who have opposed such military adventures.
(Update – shortly after first posting this I find that I am in agreement with my fellow Branch Secretary.)
(Further update - sign the petition to bring the troops home!)
Friday, July 10, 2009
“At a special meeting of the National Negotiating Group held on 7 July 2009 negotiations of the terms of this year’s pay settlement resumed. At the end of the session the management team presented their final offer including some significant improvements secured by the trade unions during the negotiations.
The key elements are as follows:
A 2% increase to all pay scales and allowances.
An increase to standby allowance from £87.15 to £120 per week. (37.7% increase)
A new Disturbance Allowance that provides additional travel assistance for three years.”
In the mean time the Local Government pay negotiations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are going nowhere fast, as reported in the latest bulletin;
“There has still been no response from the LGA to the proposals arising from the talks held on 21 May. In light of this, a meeting of the Joint NJC Trade Union Side has been arranged for 16 July to discuss the next steps. The UNISON NJC Committee will have a short meeting beforehand. Our understanding is that the four political groupings on the LGA have failed to reach agreement between themselves on our proposals.”
Most local authorities have set aside enough in their budgets for the current year to afford a settlement at the level being recommended to members employed by the Environment Agency (which is still below the level of the Government’s favoured measure of inflation the Consumer Prices Index in April), yet the Tory controlled employers are unwilling at present to increase an offer of 0.5%
Holding down the pay of low paid local government workers will worsen the effects of the current recession by restraining spending power in local communities – so much for the “recession support for Councils” from the Local Government Association!
The NEC meeting was followed by a meeting of the TUC delegation which I attended as an NEC member.
The delegation meeting had to choose three motions to submit to the TUC. In line with what was described as “the way we have always done things” (but was in fact in line with decisions taken only last year) the delegation meeting was presented with three draft motions from which to choose any three.
Formally these motions came from the Presidential Team (who had been elected the previous day) in consultation with the Chair of the Policy Committee (who had also been elected the previous day). In practice they had been drafted by officers.
Delegates queried the arrangements for submission of motions and were assured that all the “constituent bodies” of the TUC delegation (Regions, Service Groups, Self-Organised Groups etc.) had received adequate notice to submit either motions or ideas for motions and that where this had been done these had been taken into account.
The motions dealt with defending the NHS, fighting the BNP and public services.
The first motion “Defending Our NHS” calls for an end to privatisation in the Health Service and is likely to be the heart of one of the major composite motions at this year's Trades Union Congress.
The second motion “Fighting the BNP and Far Right” concentrates on a number of specific action points instructing the General Council on how to assist trade unions in responding to the rise of the far right. Delegates successfully proposed amendments to this motion from the floor in order to add a reference to “Unite Against Fascism” alongside “Searchlight.” Again I am sure that other trade unions will submit motions on this topic in the light of the results of the European elections and the confusion created by the new Employment Act and that this motion will become part of a Composite.
The third motion “Public Services and the Economy” deals with the need to protect public services in a recession. This gave rise to some debate as (of the three motions before the meeting) this was the only one in which any attempt could be made to implement a specific decision of our National Delegate Conference.
When this year's National Delegate Conference agreed Composite D “Defending UNISON Members' Pension Schemes” it took a specific decision as follows;
“UNISON to bring a motion to the TUC calling on them to organise a united campaign in defence of final salary pension schemes in both the private and public sector.”
I argued that the Union should comply with this Conference decision and that, if the only way to do this was to add this demand into the motion on public services and the economy then this is what should have been done (making compensatory cuts elsewhere in the motion to comply with the TUC's stringent 250 word limit).
Both before and during the meeting it was pointed out to me (in respect of Composite D at National Delegate Conference) that “this had been our qualification” when the policy of the NEC on this motion had been agreed as “support with qualifications”. This laughable argument (in response to which I confess to having laughed) reflects a misunderstanding which is widespread at Mabledon Place, where there appears to be a view that if Conference passes a policy which the NEC has “supported with qualifications” then the NEC is somehow entitled to implement the Conference decision only in part because of those “qualifications”. There is no basis in Rule for this view.
I believe that the failure of UNISON to implement the policy of our Conference to “bring a motion to the TUC calling on them to organise a united campaign in defence of final salary pension schemes in both the private and public sector” is both constitutionally and politically mistaken. If NEC colleagues believe that it is wrong for Conference to “tie the hands” of the TUC delegation with specific instructions about the submission of motions to the TUC then the NEC should either propose amendments or speak against such proposals. Once Conference has taken a decision, whether it was supported or opposed by the NEC (and regardless of any “qualifications”) that is the policy of the Union. UNISON's affiliation to the TUC is implemented by the NEC in accordance with its powers under Rule D.2.9.7 and as such is subject to Rule D.2.1 which provides that the NEC shall not do anything “that is inconsistent with” the policy of the Union “as laid down by the National Delegate Conference.
In approving for submission to the delegation meeting a selection of three motions which failed to comply with a specific Conference decision taken just three weeks previously the Presidential Team were acting on behalf of the NEC but, since what they did was inconsistent with Conference policy, neither the NEC nor the Presidential Team had the power under Rule to act as they did. As a Rule Book anorak I shall raise this with the General Secretary.
More important than these procedural points however (and they are important) I think it is a grave error that UNISON has not (yet) taken the opportunity to put on the TUC agenda a demand which unifies the interests of workers in the public and private sectors. We should do this because we have thousands of private sector members who are often forgotten – but we should also do it to defend the interests of our public sector members.
One of the greatest threats to public servants at the moment is the attempt on the part of the Government and employers to drive a wedge between public and private sector workers – seen most recently in the demand for a public sector pay freeze from the £250k a year head of the Audit Commission.
UNISON's response to this should not be to focus on the falling membership of UNITE and to stoke up fears that they will start poaching our public sector members. Instead we should be demanding that, as well as protecting conditions in the public sector, the TUC must fight for the same rights and conditions for private sector workers. The decision of our National Delegate Conference that one of our motions to the TUC should be a defence of final salary pension schemes across both the public and private sectors was not just a timely identification of a coming battle ground for our public sector members, it was also an intelligent attempt to build solidarity beyond the confines of the public sector.
The arrogant refusal to implement a Conference decision because of a foolish misunderstanding of the meaning of “support with qualifications” threatens to set back the interests of our members.
The only response to this argument at the delegation meeting was to add the word “pensions” to a call to oppose cuts in public services. This is positive but does nothing to indicate the need for a united campaign to defend final salary schemes across both the public and private sectors which was what Conference specifically agreed that we should do.
I hope that the NEC Policy Committee, who will have a chance in August to consider our three amendments to motions on the TUC Preliminary Agenda will try to repair the damage which has been done by the failure of the Presidential Team to implement Conference Policy.
(Update on Sunday 12 July – check out this cogent argument for the defence of defined benefit pension schemes across the private and public sectors over at Ian’s UNITE Site.)
My views of the Service Group Liaison Committee (a body which is not collectively accountable anywhere in our Union's structures) are similar to those of our Local Government Conference.
In describing the Conference decision not to give even a simple majority to the proposed devolution of accountability for bargaining to Sector Committees (in the absence of adequate arrangements for democratic accountability of those Committees) the report said that “Concerns at a perceived erosion of democratic accountability supplanted the member centred considerations at the heart of the NEC proposals.” (As I couldn't resist pointing out, Conference had – back in the 1990s – amended Rule B.2.2 to change the definition of UNISON from a “member centred” Union to a “member led” Union, and the decision of Conference was a fine example of our being “member led.”)
Some contributions to the debate suggested to me that there is a degree of confusion on our NEC about what was and was not agreed at Conference – in particular references to members in some sectors not wishing to remain within large local government branches were either at a complete tangent to the Conference decisions (which, we had been assured, had no implications for branch structures) or were an indication of the agenda which had led some to support the proposals in the first place.
The report itself however focused upon the Conference decisions and the main area for discussion were the practicalities of implementation. A deadline of 30 September to achieve the allocation of members to Service Groups was felt by many (myself included) to be overoptimistic. One NEC member who described themselves as being a member of the new “Community” Service Group was certainly jumping the gun. Conference has agreed new Service Group structures but it is the responsibility of the NEC (under Rule D.3.1.2 in the brand new 2009 Rule Book) to allocate members to Service Groups.
A working party of the Development and Organisation Committee is to be established to deal with the issues arising from this report. The creation of the Water, Environment and Transport Service Group should be fairly straightforward since it is the merger of two existing Service Groups. Similarly the new Police and Justice Service Group simply entails adding members employed in Probation to an existing Service Group.
However the creation of the Community Service Group will be more complex since it is not immediately obvious which of our members belong within it and Conference did not decide this. Member of dedicated Voluntary Sector branches are probably fairly clearly within this Service Group as are members in other branches who are identifiably part of the previous Community and Voluntary Sector.
However, with the spread of the contract culture, members are frequently transferring from “voluntary” organisations into private employers and back again (just as they are transferring in and out of the public sector). The Rule Book identifies four factors to be taken into account by the NEC when allocating members to Service Groups and the D&O Working Party will need to look at this in time to report to a Committee meeting in early September if the October NEC is to be able to take the necessary decisions.
The report also proposed that there should be further consideration of the question of democratic accountability of Sectors which may lead to either revised Rule Amendments or to the making of Regulations (under Rule D.2.9.2) or both. It may well be that if Regulations could be drafted which provided reassurance about the accountability of Sector Committees (and in particular allowed for annual Sector Conferences to determine Sector policy where that was the will of the Sector) then these would provide the reassurance that delegates were looking for in Brighton. However the devil will be in the detail.
If I am appointed to the Working Party by the Chair and Vice Chair of the Development and Organisation Committee I will be able to report further on this.
Among the other permissive (as opposed to prescriptive) recommendations of the report, which were agreed with general assent, was the suggestion that consideration be given to a cross-Service group Sector for Private Sector members and that the Energy and WET Service Groups re-establish arrangements for joint working on issues of mutual concern.
A fair amount of work will also be needed to establish “occupational groups” in line with the new Rule Q definition. This will be an important element of making members feel that UNISON is their Union in the sense that they can identify it with their own job. This sense of collective identity is an obvious strength of “industrial” Unions, such as the RMT, NUT and FBU who broadly organise in one “industry” but is much harder to inculcate in large general Unions such as UNISON, UNITE and the GMB.
In all, the work programme around the review of structures will be a major part of the work of the NEC in the coming year and beyond, and is important to developing our Union for the future.
There are many potential pitfalls and dangers, particularly in relation to branch organisation, but the real devolution of accountability for bargaining and the alignment of the Union with our members' occupational identities can strengthen UNISON.
In knocking back proposals which failed to ensure appropriate accountability within a member-led Union, Conference has helped the NEC to make the future structure of our Union stronger and more appropriate, and I hope that NEC colleagues will move forward constructively in the spirit of the report agreed on 9 July.
I also hope that there will be further discussion at Regional level, since limiting consultation to Service Group Chairs at National level will clearly not be adequate.
If any London UNISON branches would like a copy of the Report agreed by the NEC please let me know.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Here, to be going on with, is the unexpurgated first draft of the section of my report dealing with the report of the General Secretary;
The second day of the NEC meeting commenced with the report of the General Secretary who (as usual) gave a wide ranging verbal report of which I shall report the main items.
The NEC agreed to send a message of support to members taking strike action at London Metropolitan University on Tuesday 14 July.
In relation to the decision of Conference not to approve Rule Amendments intended to facilitate disciplinary action against members of the British National Party and other far right organisations (because many delegates feared that the wording of the the proposed Rules was too vague and threatened action against other political opponents of the Union leadership) Dave stated that we had to “sit down as a Union and work out how we are going to deal with” the UNISON members who appear on the list of BNP members which has been circulated quite widely.
Following the Conference decision a number of those who had been in support of the proposed Rule Amendment had foolishly suggested that it would not be possible for UNISON to take any action against BNP members in our ranks. I had even heard this view expressed by an NEC member in the Greater London Region. However Dave Prentis adopted a more mature and sensible approach, expressing his regret that we would now have to involve more people (and more effort) in taking action (and saying that it was a “disaster” that we now needed to do this) but nevertheless committing us to taking action (and agreeing to seek legal advice on circulating the information on BNP membership which the national Union has to our branches).
The Chair of the Development and Organisation Committee said that guidance would be issued to branches on how to take action in relation to BNP members in our ranks and that branches would also be advised to await that guidance before taking any action. Since evidence of BNP membership on the part of a UNISON member provides sufficient grounds (in accordance with Rule I.5) to commence an investigation into whether the member has been active in support of that Party (contrary to Rule I.3) I hope that this guidance will be available very soon and that it will therefore not be necessary to circulate unofficial guidance.
Informed views of the current law suggest that it will be difficult to take action against a Union member simply for their membership of the BNP (which implies that the NEC's optimistic reliance upon questionable legal advice may have been misleading to Conference). It is however possible to take action against any UNISON member actively supporting the BNP and branches should initiate investigations wherever they have evidence of such activity (obviously seeking the advice of the Regional office as appropriate).
I noted that when Glenn Kelly (NEC member for local government) spoke in this debate and – in measured tones – suggested that the Conference's refusal to back the NEC proposal with the requisite two thirds majority reflected views about the political witch hunt in the Union, he was howled down by the majority of my NEC colleagues. Far from intervening to chastise the meeting for its treatment of an NEC member deserving of respect, the President sought to silence Glenn.
This behaviour on the part of the majority of the NEC very much gives the lie to the confected “outrage” about heckling at Conference, a subject upon which some colleagues have wasted a lot of time and hot air. I hope to hear no more complaints about gentle heckling from Conference delegates from the hypocrites who howled Glenn down (but appreciate that this may be a triumph of hope over experience!)
Dave also dealt in his report with the threats of privatisation of primary care services within the National Health Service and stated that this would be a major campaign for the Union in the run up to the TUC and Labour Party Conferences and that we had “re-formed” the NHS Together campaign, bringing together all the TUC health unions with the RCN and BMA to defend the health service (under UNISON's leadership).
Dave spoke about the “Million Voices for Change” campaign and said that this would be a nationally coordinated campaign reflecting the priorities of branches, Regions and Service Groups. The General Secretary also responded positively to my suggestion that we should use this campaign to showcase examples of good practice such as the campaigning activities of the Barnet local government branch in response to their employer's “Future Shape” proposals. In discussing the public sector pay freeze proposals disgracefully advanced by the overpaid head of the Audit Commission, Dave said that the Treasury seemed to be retreating on this at the moment but that it remained a threat.
In response to questions, the General Secretary confirmed that the National Labour Link Committee had suspended all UNISON Constituency Development Plans and that the Committee were working on criteria by which to determine whether to resume support for any Constituency Labour Parties, and would also be reviewing our relationship with Members of Parliament. He reminded the NEC that there is a review of the effectiveness of our political fund (in connection with which branches should be completing and returning a questionnaire).
On being asked about pensions, Dave said that a factsheet would be issued as part of the Million Voices campaign – and the Chair of the Service Group Liaison Committee confirmed that a meeting of representatives of Service Groups and Sectors would take place on 30 July to discuss the defence of the Local Government Pension Scheme. Branches wishing more information about this should contact their Service Group or Sector representative.
Tomorrow I hope to finish the report back from the NEC meeting - covering the discussion of the review of UNISON structures and the implementation of Conference decisions on Service Groups - and also to report back from the TUC delegation meeting (at which a specific Conference decision was ignored because it had only been supported "with qualifications"...)
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
The letter read as follows;
"We are writing as members of the National Executive Council (NEC) to make a number of points about the status of John McDermott in relation to the recent NEC election, and also to make a constructive proposal to resolve the issue which has arisen as a result of the independent scrutineer publishing a report in which in one case they have declared the losing candidate to have been elected.
John was eligible for nomination in accordance with the election procedures (as is evidenced by his name appearing on the ballot paper). The election procedures deal with eligibility for nomination (at paragraph 11) but are silent as to what happens if the status of a candidate changes after they have been nominated.
After John had been nominated (but before he was elected) he was dismissed by his employer as a result of a dispute in which UNISON was supporting him. His branch at the time sought to continue his full membership in accordance with Rule C.7.1.2.
When John was excluded from the April meeting of the National Executive Council it was proposed that the NEC could take a vote to use its powers under either Rule C.7.1.1 or Rule C.2.4.2 to have permitted John to remain. The then President would not permit a vote on these suggestions but only on the suggestion that John be permitted to remain as an observer (a proposal which was defeated).
John subsequently resumed employment and full membership of UNISON. John is eligible to take up his seat now, and has been since the result was declared – in accordance with Schedule C.7, which refers to eligibility from the point of election. The Rule Book is silent as to circumstances such as he found himself in between nomination and election.
Under section 51 subsection 6 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 the ballot must be conducted so that the result is determined solely by counting the number of votes cast directly for each candidate. John got 4,670 votes. His opponent had secured 4,577 votes.
The first that John knew that he had won the vote was when he saw the results. The first that he knew that he had been “withdrawn” from the election was at exactly the same time.
John is not a member of a "class of members" excluded from eligibility by the Union's Rules and it is not lawful for him unreasonably to be excluded in accordance with section 47 of the Act.
Therefore, on the face of it, ERS appear to have been wrong to certify the election as having taken place in accordance with the statute. This may have arisen as a result of incorrect information being provided to ERS from within UNISON or it may have arisen for some other reason. If information was provided to ERS on UNISON’s behalf (or by someone who believed that they were acting on UNISON’s behalf) which led ERS to conclude that John should be “withdrawn” from the election, we would be grateful to have some further information about this.
In particular we would like to know why neither UNISON nor ERS informed John that he had been "withdrawn" from the election in advance of publication of the results to all candidates. If it is felt that the legislation prohibits this in some way we would appreciate an explanation of why this was so.
However, the independent scrutineer has now reported to the Union that John has not been elected. Harvey's Law of Employment suggests that if a Union considers that the independent scrutineer has made an error the prudent course of action will be to refer the matter to the Certification Officer.
UNISON cannot expect that John will simply drop this matter having won the election. To do so would disrespect our Union and the members who voted in the election expecting that the winning candidate would be elected.
Equally, no one wants avoidable conflict about this issue to divert our collective energies from confronting hostile Government policies, preparing for the prospect of a Tory Government, or taking on the far right.
Therefore we wish to propose that UNISON should support John in referring the matter to the Certification Officer. If it is necessary for John to submit a complaint, so should another
UNISON member (acting with the consent of the NEC). Any UNISON member would appear to have sufficient locus to take such action.
All parties should then agree to accept the decision of the Certification Officer and to abide by any enforcement order about this matter if one were made by the Certification Officer. We hope that you will agree that this is a sensible approach to resolving a difficult question and look forward to your response.
The meeting commenced with election of the Presidential Team. Gerry Gallagher was elected unopposed as President and Angela Lynes and Eleanor Smith were elected unopposed as Vice-Presidents. Eleanor is the first black member to hold the office of Vice-President.
The President then made some opening remarks, which he advised the NEC that he had written himself, in which he criticised the unnamed organisers of “what went on at the end of Conference” (when senior officers of the Union decided not to convene an NEC meeting because of the presence of a candidate who (despite having won most votes) had not been declared elected). Gerry expressed disappointment not for himself but for family members and others who had been upset. He said that he would be prepared to forgive these unidentified individuals but that it would take a long time to forget.
The NEC then embarked upon the equally purposeless annual exercise of the “review of Conference” in which NEC members are split into small groups to consider what went well and less well at Conference. The London NEC members were sat together for this and we agreed not to discuss any political points after some fairly forthright disagreements. I was disappointed that one fellow London NEC member was very dismissive of the General Secretary's keynote Conference speech in which he took up the question of our relationship with the Labour Party in a way which was welcomed by the great majority of delegates. I hope that we will hear more about this tomorrow.
The NEC then approved the allocation of members to Committees, and the Committees then met to elect their Chairs and Vice Chairs. I am a member of the Development and Organisation Committee once again (and, once again, only of that Committee).
Sue Highton is Chair of the Development and Organisation Committee once more with Chris Tansley as Chair.
Jane Carolan and Steve Warwick remain as Chair and Vice Chair of the Policy Committee.
Alison Shepherd remains Chair of the International Committee with Linda Sweet as Vice Chair.
Maureen LeMarinel Chairs the Services to Members Committee with Gerry Gallagher as Vice-Chair.
Bob Oram and Sue Forster remain Chair and Vice Chair of the Staffing Committee.
Mike Hayes and Fiona Smith remain as Chair and Vice Chair of the Finance Committee.
Angela Lynes and Colm Magee remain Chair and Vice Chair of the Industrial Action Committee to which I sought election without success.
The outcome of elections to the General Political Fund and Labour Link Committees are awaited as I write this.
In relation to the regrettable tone and content of the President's opening remarks I am pleased to report that a number of NEC members have made a constructive proposal to resolve the situation created by the candidate who won one of our elections not having been declared to have been elected.
It is a great shame that the leadership of the Union failed to take responsibility for a proactive and constructive response to this situation before (or for that matter after) the declaration of the results.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Following an unfortunate delay about which I am still awaiting a full explanation it is good news that UNISON and UCU members are taking action together - you can add your support online thanks to LabourStart.
Do that now - and get along to the picket lines next Tuesday if you possibly can.
Monday, July 06, 2009
The sort of cuts - and threats of privatisation - that we do oppose are still in prospect on the basis of the report currently being considered by Barnet Council.
It is however greatly to the credit of Barnet UNISON and their friends and allies locally that the Council has retreated from some of its wilder ideas, and the campaigners can be optimistic that their determination will continue to win concessions. There is much to do to win fairness for the workforce and community however.
John Burgess was right to tell the lobby (and anyone else who may have been listening) that now is the time for detailed engagement with the plans of the employers. That requirement for hard graft will apply in more and more parts of the public sector over the coming years.
Barnet UNISON exemplify the best of our Union, a lay led Branch unfazed by bureaucracy, committed to campaigning and trade union unity and not afraid to stand up to anyone in the interests of UNISON members.
I hope that UNISON Greater London Region will have the sense to use Barnet as a showcase of good practice.
Perhaps the Prime Minister should have a word with his own Chancellor? Leaving to one side the question of fairness to low paid public service workers whose pay has fallen behind increases in average earnings in recent years, the public sector pay squeeze advocated by the Chancellor will achieve the dire consequences of the fiscal contraction against which Gordon Brown is warning.
Hold down the pay of teaching assistants, street cleaners and social care workers and the Government will restrain consumer expenditure just at the point at which spending needs a boost to avoid a double dip recession. With one stroke Alistair Darling could complete the alienation of public sector workers from the Labour Party and worsen the economic crisis.
The question confronting the trade unions is whether we can mobilise to prevent this.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
Steve Bundred uses a column in the Observer to call for public sector pay restraint whilst lauding both his own record of hacking back service provision and the current experience of the "loony right" administration in Hammersmith and Fulham.
It simply isn't true that public sector workers have been having a ball for the past few years and can now therefore expect to accept pay restraint with equanimity. As I pointed out in the run up to last year's local government pay dispute, local government pay fell behind average earnings by 4.5% from 2002 to 2007.
It's not only the living standards of public servants which are at risk from reactionary nonsense masquerading as common sense however, Bundred's daft plan to hold down the pay of thousands of workers who earn far less than he does could also do real macroeconomic damage.
In a recession every capitalist employer wants to cut the pay of their own workers (to restore profitability) whilst hoping that other employers will increase the pay of other workers (to provide a market for their products). The market system cannot resolve this contradiction.
However, the state can boost spending directly by maintaining the living standards of that section of the workforce which it employees. As Will Hutton points out elsewhere in today's Observer, it is this sort of reflationary spending, rather than spending cuts, which we need from the Government right now.
We need a vigorous response to this attack from our trade unions, emphasising both the injustice and the economic illiteracy of attacking public sector pay in a recession.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
The Government is abandoning some of its treasured neoliberal policies because of its own weakness however and not at all because of any strength on the left (whether within or beyond the Labour Party). The CWU have cause to be glad today – but if the trade unions are to get any value from a relationship with the Labour Party in future the next few weeks are a final opportunity to assert real authority.
Watch this space?