Now -read the book!

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

Monday, May 31, 2010

Piracy with violence

What else do you call it when an aid convoy is intercepted - and some of its members murdered - in international waters?

Will we see the same condemnation for Israel as we have for North Korea? What will our Foreign Office say? (Sweden have summoned the Israeli ambassador to explain the actions of the Israelis - will the UK at least do the same?)

What will the White House say when their Israeli visitor arrives?

How can we respond to this outrage? Trade unionists must continue to support the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and particularly the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Update - circular from the Stop the War Coalition;


Yet another act of Israeli barbarism as its forces storm one of the seven ships
on the international flotilla taking aid to Gaza, where Israel's illegal seige
is starving Palestinians of essential resources. At least ten activists on
board have been killed by Israeli forces.

Please join the emergency demonstration today if you can. Publicise it as
widely as possible.

See video of Israeli assault from Turkish televison:
For updates see:


William Hague MP, Foreign Secretary, King Charles Street, London,

Ask him/her to contact Hague on your behalf

LETTER TO: Nick Clegg MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Back to the Future

I remembered my sister, Mim, here a few weeks ago - today is the twenty fifth anniversary of her death, and somehow if feels as if we are right back in the 1980s just now.

Back then I used to read William Keegan in the Observer, (for the elegant despairing Keynesianism rather more than the facial hair) - today he rightly says that "the echoes of the early 1980s are deafening."

A union bashing boss is trying to break a strong trade union with the more than tacit backing of a right wing Government and little in the way of action from the top of the Labour movement. Where have we seen this before?

Who cares that a greedy and stupid millionaire ripped us off for forty grand? His real crime has been in helping to prepare for massive spending cuts which will drive up unemployment and drive down living standards for working class people.

The economic policy of the coalition Government is Thatcherism pure and simple. It is meant to increase unemployment and weaken the ability of workers to resist.

In considering how we respond it's worth a hat tip to Ian from Unite for blogging a link to the latest official statistics on trade union membership.

We are not in a strong position to respond.

In 1985 when I last saw my sister there were still more than 10.8 million trade union members. Now we have fewer than 6.8 million and union density (the percentage of workers in trade unions) has stabilised at just 27.4%.

In 1985 it was possible for socialist candidates to challenge for the leadership of a Party committed to public ownership, the Conference of which could make policy - and global capitalism still faced a global alternative.

Nevertheless respond we must. We do not need austerity. Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is 72.5% higher now than it was when my sister died. This is an enormously wealthy country (even after a decline in GDP of more than 5% over the past two years.

Cuts in public services, wages and pensions are not an economic necessity. If we let them happen they will have been a political choice.

Our first task is to persuade trade union members that it is possible to fight back. From that we can rebuild our movement and defend our class.

Just like the 80s. We need to consider the lessons of that terrible decade as much as the lessons of the past thirteen years of disappointment.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

No honour in the Lords

One of the many disappointments after thirteen years of a "modernising" New Labour administration is that we still have a second chamber devoid of all democratic accountability.

One change is of course that now the second chamber is determined largely by patronage rather than accidents of birth, and partial modernisation means that we now learn online that "The Queen has been graciously pleased to signify Her intention of conferring Peerages of the United Kingdom for Life upon" a selection of political nominees.

The use of twenty-first century communications cannot quite hide the feudal nature of our political system - this list of peerages includes "dissolution honours" and those given peerages will adopt titles with their origins in the Middle Ages.

Whether those on the list feel honoured by the company they keep there I couldn't say.

Jean Charles de Menezes is not here to offer an opinion on Ian Blair's elevation to the House of Lords, but I sympathise with his family who describe this as a "final slap in the face".

That aside I have nothing against those on the list to receive peerages. The two most closely associated with UNISON - Margaret Wheeler and Rita Donaghy are both certainly entitled to recognition for public service and service to the movement.

I cannot shake the feeling though that if people are going to become part of the legislature they should be elected and subject to re-election.

I hope that Rodney Bickerstaffe started a tradition in UNISON when he refused a peerage upon retiring as our General Secretary!

Friday, May 28, 2010

How not to fight the BNP (Part Two)

Whilst one of the leading supporters of Unison's leadership on our NEC offers the BNP a chance to snatch back one of the Council seats denied them by working class Londoners earlier this month (, our NEC has failed to update our disciplinary rules in order to ease disciplinary action against members of this odious far right Party.

Last year the NEC majority ignored criticism from the left and pressed ahead with a Rule Amendment intended to facilitate action against BNP members - of whom we believe we have more than 200 in our ranks.

The basis of the (ignored) opposition was that the wording of last year's Rule Amendment could have been used as easily against members of Parties of the "far" left as the far right.

Although the NEC majority insisted that this was not their intention, they were predictably disbelieved and Conference failed to give their proposal the necessary two thirds majority.

The arrogance of those who refused to moderate their position ahead of last year's Conference vote was reflected in their exaggerated denunciation of those on the left who had understandably objected to their cack handed drafting of last year's Rule Amendment.

One NEC member in the North West made a point of excess venom.

This year the NEC was united in support of moderated amendments to Rule C (on membership) and Rule I (on discipline) which - this year - sensibly took on board the reservations expressed last year from the socialist left.

Whilst the amendment to Rule C will open Thursday afternoon's debate at Conference, the equally important amendment to Rule I never made it on to the agenda.

The most senior official who should be accountable for implementing NEC decisions (as a Branch Secretary is accountable to their Branch Committee and a Regional Secretary answerable (to some extent) to their Regional Committee) shamefully allowed a more junior employee to take the blame for the absence of this Rule Amendment from the Conference agenda.

The shrill voices of denunciation which shouted themselves hoarse after last year's Conference have been strangely silent thus far this year.

This is all a great shame as there is a good case to be made that our existing Rules are sufficiently robust to permit action to be taken against members of the BNP. Last year the leadership loyalists wouldn't admit this as they were eager to attack the left for not going along with their poorly drafted proposals.

This year it's all quiet...

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How not to fight the BNP (part one)

I missed the start of today's meeting of the Regional Local Government Executive and therefore the congratulations to our member had been elected to Barking and Dagenham Council (, knocking out a sitting BNP Councillor.

I was still there though for any other business and hence the news that she has resigned as a Councillor (

There will now have to be an election in Goresbrook ward, previously represented by BNP GLA member, Richard Barnbrook.

I shall not comment except to observe that it is unfortunate that a further election should have to take place so very soon after the BNP were wiped off the Council. The reasons why working class voters rejected the far right on 6 May still apply and we must work to ensure that they lead to the same consequence.

Were I - or another socialist critic of the leadership - to have stood down in such circumstances I - or they - would expect to be vilified within our Union.

I prefer not to do vilification. I will stick with disappointment.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Livingstone presumes

The highlight of a disappointingly (if not unexpectedly) inquorate meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Council was without doubt the stirring speech from a UNITE member of BA Cabin Crew who exposed with great clarity the union-bashing agenda of Willie Walsh and BA management.

However the other speakers also made valuable contributions. Jon Richards national officer, called persuasively for support for a national "day of dissent" on 21 June in response to the wave of cuts currently engulfing our colleges and Universities. Dissent is of course tremendously important and it was good to see an unequivocal welcome for dissent from our Regional Secretary.

Our final speaker was former London Mayor and - IMHO as importantly - former GLC Leader Ken Livingstone who will clearly be seeking the Labour nomination for Mayor in 2012.

Ken pointed out that whereas in 1992 the Tory lead over Labour in London had exceeded their national lead, by 2010 Labour had retained a lead in London in the face of a similar lead for the Tories nationally. He suggested that this was due to the more progressive direction of the Labour Party in London, as developed over the past generation.

Ken also had some welcome positive words for trade unionists trying to push Labour administrations to resist the cuts agenda of central Government.

I hope that the Regional Labour Link Committee will encourage the widespread consultation amongst levy payers that will give our (hoped for) support of Livingstone for Mayor real weight and force.

Unusually we were permitted to ask questions - and Danny Hoggan from Greenwich made an excellent contribution rightly highlighting the disgraceful treatment of his UNISON branch. As the top table sought without success to stifle Danny's contribution it became clear that our support for "dissent" is not supposed to be unlimited...

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Two Eds no better than one

Word reaches your humble blogger of confusion at the very top of our Union where the word appears to have gone out to back Ed for Labour Leader.

But which one? Should it be Ed Miliband, author of the manifesto on which Labour just lost an election, who did so much to reach out to the environmental lobby by backing nuclear power?

Or should we be commending to our members Ed Balls, who last year removed the requirement for sponsors of Academy schools to put up any cash at all ( Bearing in mind that Unison rightly supports the Anti-Academies Alliance our members might respond to such a recommendation simply by repeating the candidate's surname...

It doesn't matter. Neither Ed can offer the change necessary to rebuild Labour - both offer continuity with the policies of a Government that failed to do just that.

With the senior leadership of our Union united in their support for a "steady as she goes" candidate for General Secretary, committed to maintaining the status quo for a full five year term (albeit with a few more senior appointments) it ought not to come as a shock that a similar, complacent, view is being taken in relation to the Labour Party.

Yet somehow I am always disappointed when I realise once more that the prospect of Unison pursuing the progressive politics reflected in our own policies in relation to the Labour Party is negligible. We could have done the Party so much good in the past had we been more willing really to take on its leadership. I struggle to believe that we might continue to refuse to do so - and am reminded why I voted for Paul Holmes for General Secretary!

Will a majority of the National Labour Link Committee do as they are likely to be told and back one of the Brownite candidates so they can be as successful a Leader for Labour as their former mentor?

Regular readers Sid and Doris Mabledon-Tank will guess the answer to this question, but will have discounted this blog post on the basis of my foolish and old fashioned belief that we should be recommending support in the Labour Leadership election for a candidate who has consistently supported our members and our policies (

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Bakers back McDonnell

In a letter to all Labour MPs, the Labour affiliated Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) have called for nominations for John McDonnell in the contest for the Labour Leadership (

Joe Marino (General Secretary) and Ronnie Draper (President) write:


"BFAWU recognises the unquestionable and unwavering work that John McDonnell has done for the British trade union movement.


We also welcome his determination that working people must not be made for a crisis that is not of their making, and his opposition to the Con-Dem cuts agenda that will devastate our communities.


Therefore we are calling upon all Labour MPs and members of the Bakers Union Parliamentary Group in particular to nominate John McDonnell in the interests of party democracy, regardless of the final candidate they may choose to support."

Hat tip LRC (

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Law and the Trade Unions - a timely reminder

Don't forget the timely discussion on the law and the trade unions coming up this Thursday evening!

As you'll recall the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and Institute for Employment Rights
invite you to joint Lord Wedderburn QC and Jim Mortimer (former Labour Party General Secretary) in conversation with John Hendy QC on a topic which could hardly be more important after last week's legal rulings around the BA strike.

Thursday 27 May 2010, 6.30pm - 8.30pm at Invision Suites 1 and 2, TUC, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS, nearest tube Tottenham Court Road.

News from across the pond

Since we, as a Union, are quite deliberately - and in my view rightly - working with colleagues from the American SEIU in the Three Companies Project it is right that we should keep abreast of what is going on in relation to their former leader Andy Stern, and his successor, Mary Kay Henry.

I would welcome updates from UNISON colleagues involved with the Three Companies Project to share with NEC colleagues. The genesis of this project did not reflect the very best of our Union's lay democracy, but it's achievements could be very significant.

A hat tip to Debbie Anderson at UNITE HERE for the links to US media coverage of the SEIU.

Support BA Cabin Crew

I have added a link on the side of the blog to the micro site from which you can email British Airways in support of the Cabin Crew in dispute with the airline.

This is timely as the strike starting tomorrow appears now to be going ahead.

Whether you blame Willie Walsh's intransigence, Derek Simpson's twittering, the adventurism of some members of a left group or the fundamental conflict of interests between labour and capital for the absence of a settlement in this dispute it is pretty easy for trade unionists to decide what to think.

Good luck to BASSA and their striking members.

Predictable outrage of the smear-mongers

I notice that, from the safety of anonymity, one of the bloggers over at UNISON Active has made a desperate attempt to link leading left candidate for UNISON General Secretary, Paul Holmes, to the foolish disruption of negotiations between BA and UNITE at ACAS yesterday.

I won't detain you on that topic dear reader. The internet is full of criticism (some justified and some excessive) of those responsible for the disruption (and a sort of defence of the action from the SWP).

For what it's worth I don't think there is any political point in invading the ACAS office (a workplace for a lot of PCS members trying to do a decent job of keeping conciliation work in the public sector and stopping solicitors raking in money for the old rope of signing off compromise agreements).

What strikes me though is how eager the Prentis camp are to try to associate Paul with this episode. This reflects the disappointing red-scare tactics of Dave's election address.

The fact that members of the Socialist Workers Party support Paul no more associates Paul with the SWP than the fact that leading members of the Communist Party of Britain play a key role in supporting Dave Prentis means that Dave is a secret fan of the Red Army Choir. Paul is no more "beholden" to the SWP than Dave is to the CPB. In fact I have more often heard Paul Holmes be open about his membership of the Labour Party than I have our current General Secretary.

If supporters of Dave Prentis were truly confident of their own politics or their candidate they would be inviting all comers to online hustings and debating the policies, not seeking to smear their opponents. How sad.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Unison - Challenge received wisdom!

We are approaching the second week of voting in the Unison General Secretary election and the received wisdom is that most of those who are going to vote will already have done so.

The received wisdom is also that a rank and file member cannot be elected as our General Secretary - and that we must elect a full-time officer.

The received wisdom also holds that a divided left must hand victory to the incumbent - and that the supporters of a failed challenge can expect to be trounced in the next elections to the National Executive.

The received wisdom is that the power of patronage gives an unbeatable advantage to the official "machine" as long as it maintains its unity and wears the necessary left face.

I say we should challenge the received wisdom by working hard from now on to get out the vote from the 80% of Unison members who have certainly not yet voted.

Any members of the Union who get to hear the candidates speak will be overwhelmingly likely to support Paul Holmes. We can circulate links to Paul speaking on youtube.

The triumph of the received wisdom will be if the large majority of members are kept distant from the process of choosing our General Secretary.

If we get the vote out anything is possible.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Support grows for John McDonnell

Whilst regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will know that I am very concerned about the Unison General Secretary election (in connection with which I yesterday gave a leaflet to the main challenger to leading left candidate Paul Holmes) - no sensible trade unionist can ignore the Labour leadership election.

The latest online poll ( shows a surge in support for John McDonnell, whose support has doubled in a week and shows the largest percentage point increase of any candidate.

John is in third place behind the disappointing offspring of Ralph Miliband.

Unison United Left supported John's leadership bid at our AGM on Saturday and were right to do so.

John has done more to build the organisation of the left and the rank and file in our movement than any other socialist Parliamentarian.

Whilst there is an urgent need for effective diplomacy within the PLP - and clearly the Campaign Group must ensure a united Left campaign around a single candidate - rank and file activists must make crystal clear to all MPs that John is the best candidate around whom to build enduring rank and file organisation to keep up the pressure for socialist policies within our Party and our movement (and therefore to support Campaign Group MPs in a spirit of accountability).

I understand the initial flurry of excitement arising from the celebrity candidacy of TV star Diane Abbott but am not persuaded that we should choose her as standard bearer of a rank and file left of which she has never really been a part.

The "fan club" style of organisation on the Left, epitomised by "Progressive London" and associated with a political tradition rooted in a certain part of the old International Marxist Group, doesn't seem to me to offer a worthwhile model for taking socialist politics forward in the Labour movement in the twenty first century.

Trade unionists who believe that our affiliated levy payers are entitled to an opportunity to vote for a candidate for Labour Leader who will consistently support ourselves and our unions should lobby Labour MPs to nominate John McDonnell.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Harriet Harman or Horrible Hypocrite?

Today, like other Labour Party members, I got an email from our Acting Leader, Harriet Harman, asking me to encourage friends and family to join the Labour Party.

Harriet told me to let them know that, by joining before 8th September, they can help choose our next Leader.

Harriet forgot to mention in her email to Party members that the choice I am to offer to those of my family and friends who join the Party will be limited to those candidates who secure sufficient nominations from Members of Parliament between 24 and 27 May!

John McDonnell is right to describe this as a stitch up ( We have been done up like kippers!

If you will excuse my quoting from a press release from the Labour Representation Committee I will share the following;

"Effectively this means that the whole process is biased towards the Labour hierarchy's favoured candidates, largely excluding the possibility of others coming forward to secure sufficient nominations.

It also prevents rank and file party members having any say over the process. Labour MPs will have no real opportunity to consult their local parties and constituency parties will have no time to meet.

John McDonnell said:
"We thought that New Labour had learnt its lesson from the coronation of Gordon Brown and wanted a genuinely democratic process this time round. By curtailing the nomination process so drastically in this way the whole process is being discredited from the start. Effectively excluding rank and file members of the party in this way will just alienate all those who are looking for a fresh start."

If the truncated nomination period means that the Parliamentary Labour Party fail to put a socialist on the ballot paper for Party members and trade unionists to vote for then the contest will become a pointless marionette show.

Harriet's email will have been utterly hypocritical if we end up without the choice of a break with New Labour on the ballot paper for Labour Leader. No former Cabinet member can offer this.

All those who wish to rescue Harriet from hypocrisy and - more importantly - rescue the Labour Party from irrelevance must pile the pressure on Labour MPs to nominate John McDonnell and give Party members and trade unionists a real choice.

We have a matter of days in which to act.

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Labour Leadership - trade unionists need a choice

With Jon Cruddas ruling himself out of the race for Labour Leader ( there remains a crying need for a socialist presence in the fight for Labour's future.

Candidates who, in office, backed tuition fees, ID cards and imperialist foreign policy won't help Labour attract back "progressive" voters duped by the coalition.

Supporters of PFI, foundation hospitals, academy schools and housing stock transfers cannot credibly appeal to public sector workers.

Similarly, candidates who, in office failed to back the Trade Union Freedom Bill - leaving us at the mercy of judges yearning for a new Taff Vale - deserve no support from trade unionists.

The break with the past which we need now is not to do with age, presentation or personality - it is a break from the policies of New Labour which is needed.

For the leadership election to become a process out of which such change can come it is essential that members of the Parliamentary Labour Party use their right to make nominations in order to ensure a wide debate which includes the socialist left of the Party.

As a Labour Party member and political levy payer I want a right to vote for a field of candidates which is broader not only than the Miliband family, but also the whole dysfunctional New Labour family of "Blairites" and "Brownites."

Union members who share this view need to begin pressing MPs to nominate John McDonnell, the willing socialist candidate best placed to make it onto the ballot paper.

John has stood on the side of trade unions and the working class against New Labour and continues to do so against the "ConDem" coalition.

With no prospect of a Cruddas candidacy those who wanted a "leftish" presence now face a clear choice.

Only a Socialist Campaign Group candidacy can now make the leadership election into the meaningful debate the Party - and the movement - needs.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

What is to be done?

Today, as I have just observed, the Government announced an unprecedented attack upon our social wage ( whilst the courts made clear that effective industrial opposition may be all but impossible within the law (

Trade unionists face our greatest challenge in a generation and to meet it we need to renew our organisation.

I offer a few suggestions.

We need to enthuse our active members with a positive lead into taking immediate action - starting with a demonstration on Budget Day.

We need to build alliances with those who share our interests - not those who have attacked those interests. We must not endorse Blairites or Brownites.

We need to invert our Union. We must be bottom up, not top down. Career officials should be subordinate to ordinary workers.

We need to cherish dissent and disobedience, without which we would have no trade unions. Let's reverse some of the recent injustices to good members.

We need to remember the Clyde Workers' Committee and build solidarity "with the officials when we can, without them when we must."

We also need to remember the "Miners' Next Step" and mount a challenge in union elections to all those who cannot be relied on to fight.

For these and other reasons I shall support Paul Holmes for UNISON General Secretary. Who leads the Union is not the only question. Nor is it unimportant.

Looking back at the few suggestions I have just made about how we respond to a truly frightening time, it is self-evident to me that Paul is best suited to these tasks.

There may be times when it is best to trust to a tried and tested "safe pair of hands" who has made a career out of working for a Union. These are not those.

More of the same from our Union leadership will offer "less of the same" to our members. Less pay. Less pension provision. Fewer jobs.

No honest assessment of our achievements over the past decade could salute a triumph. Now it will get harder.

Our enemies have changed. We need to.

Vote Paul Holmes.

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Too angry to think of a witty title for a blog post!

This news is almost but not quite unbelievable.

UNITE’s ballot in favour of strike action by BA aircrew is ruled unlawful by a judge because of minor errors in communicating the result. That’s a bit like saying we should rerun the General Election because of a typo in the newspaper reporting the outcome (as a Grauniad reader that suddenly seems to me like a good idea!)

This outrageous extension of the legal restrictions on the right to strike through judge-made law is a timely advantage for the Government of Millionaires and underline the point that the judiciary, as much as the legislature and executive, are part of the state apparatus which exists to perpetuate a capitalist class society.

I agree with Bob Crow who has said that “there is no doubt that this new Con-Dem government wants to effectively outlaw strikes in publicly used services before they swing the axe at our hospitals, schools and fire stations, and the courts are the battering ram to make that happen.”

This poses an incredibly serious challenge to UNISON given that in recent years our Standing Orders Committee has been given legal advice that the meaning of Rule B.4.5 is such that our Conference may not even debate the possibility of deciding to break the law.

Given the impact of public spending cuts upon the poorest and most vulnerable in our society we may need to remind ourselves of the words of George Lansbury.

"It is better to break the law than to break the poor".

The Millionaires take on the Millions

This is it then – here is the Chancellor’s speech in which he announces the Emergency Budget.

In a speech full of ritual denunciation of the previous Government (so much for “new politics”) we are promised more and more pain.

We are told that it is all somehow in our interests – that if we don’t savage public spending it is we who will suffer.

Osborne says, “If we don’t get on top of our debt, every family in Britain will be poorer and the dreams of millions of young people will be dashed”.

On the contrary premature reductions in the deficit will make some of us a lot poorer and most of us a bit poorer. If, like two thirds of the Cabinet, you are a millionaire the I suppose it doesn’t matter much.

This budget is the dream of millionaires and a nightmare for millions.

A majority of our Cabinet of millionaires went to public (i.e. private) schools or (as they sometimes prefer) “independent” schools. They seem to value a certain independence…

The “independent” Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the creation of which Osborne announced today, is “independent” it seems to me in much the same way as an “independent” central bank.

Our rulers want to increase their “independence” from accountability to us. The “independent” central bank takes key monetary policy decisions out of the democratic sphere and this new creation will start to do the same for fiscal policy.

Of course, in a class society, no one is truly “independent” and what these bodies will do is what a capitalist society needs from the state – they will attempt above all to reproduce the conditions in which private capital can make a profit.

Politicians sometimes have to pretend to care if economic policy decisions taken in pursuit of that overriding objective devastate our public services. The “independent” OBR, just like the “independent” central bank, doesn’t need to bother, and furnishes the politicians with an alibi.

The trade unions need to plan from now for a massive demonstration outside Parliament on the day of the Emergency Budget to signal the start of the war that must now be fought to defend our public services and our Welfare State.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tweedledee and Tweedledem are in charge - we must not be Tweedledumber!

Slightly over thirteen years ago I remember walking along Whitehall just to watch the removal vans at work on Friday 2 May 1997. I tried hard then to suspend disbelief and join the euphoria.

However, whilst I do remember telling a Human Resources Director that now there was a Labour Government he had to call union officials "sir" or "madam," I never really put any hope in that one public schoolboy who took office then - except that I knew (and have always known) the truth that the Tories are always worse.

Today we have the nauseating sight of two public schoolboys gleefully entering No. 10 in order to attack the working class and devastate our public services (because sadly our one public schoolboy - and his unelected [but union endorsed] successor - missed the once-in-a-century chance to make real change in this country because they had time for imperialist wars but not to repeal anti-union laws).

I am tribally Labour and have always known that Tories are hateful. The last couple of days have underlined that the Liberals are also an anti-working class outfit (just as the German Free Democrats have been consistent advocates of the interests of big business). Labour is hideously flawed but it is the only political vehicle available to working class people to achieve our aims (please will everyone else on the left - including the CPB backers of the Unison establishment - now abandon their illusions in the availability of an alternative and join the socialists trying to make Labour what it ought to be?)

If trade unionists are to defend our class from the coming onslaught we need to make the right allies and use such influence as we have to pull the Labour Party back to represent the working class and the public services which form our vital "social wage". An effective Labour opposition will make a material difference to the scale of horrors about to be visited upon us.

The best way to drive the Labour Party in our direction and to ensure that there is effective Parliamentary opposition to the "savage cuts" promised by the "Condem" government is to push 33 MPs to nominate a socialist candidate for Labour Leader in the forthcoming election.

A Campaign Group candidate could command such support in the electoral college that they would, by their candidature, force the Party and trade union leadership to take proper account of the widespread support for socialist policies at the heart of the UK labour movement.

The reality of our rightwing Government is today the obituary of the New Labour project. If the unions back Blairites to run Labour as a cosy opposition to the savage "Condem" Government then we will be abandoning our members to the coming attacks.

We need to back Labour politicians who want to take on the rightwing Government - not those who wish that they were the rightwing Government (as they have been in the recent past). This means we have to go beyond backing "Brownites" against "Blairites" - we need to back socialists.

It is for this reason (amongst others) that I will back the socialist candidate - Paul Holmes - in the election for General Secretary of Unison. Paul is an unashamed Labour member (which distinguishes him in my view from his opponents) but he will not curry favour with worthless timeservers such as Alan Johnson.

The project of Unison's leadership over the last decade was to lean gently on the Labour Government whilst standing slightly to their left. It's legacy is PFI, Foundation hospitals, stock transfers and privatisation. (And of course top up fees, the Iraq war and the retention of the anti-union laws).

Whilst we have managed to grow our membership (albeit at a lesser rate than the increase in public service employment) we are not stronger and more effective than we were when New Labour took office.

An honest assessment of the last decade would have to conclude that we had failed to punch the weight our 1.3 million members give us. When being honest in private supporters of Unison's current leadership concede this point.

Such is the atmosphere of intolerance in our trade union that it is rare that such concessions will be made in public (even though individuals at the very heart of the campaign to re-elect our current General Secretary plainly take that view).

Unison members who hope that their subscriptions will pay for effective organisation of resistance to cuts in jobs, services, conditions and pensions should back Paul Holmes. I am proud to be one of those who will do so.

We face Tweedledee and Tweedledem in Government - let us not be Tweedledumb in response!

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Their Master's Voice

As the bosses' parties keep talking the bosses themselves have issued their instructions (

The CBI say that our elected politicians don't need to panic about forming a coalition but need to get on with it.

Who asked them?

What is it about making money from the labour of others that makes "business leaders" feel their opinions should be listened to?

I hope Labour politicians will listen to the views of workers and local communities as assiduously as the Tories and Liberals will do the bidding of big business.

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Law Versus the Trade Unions? Reflections on the Past and Strategies for the Future

My friend and comrade Liz Davies has asked me to publicise this important - and perhaps all to timely - event coming up on Thursday 27 May.

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and Institute for Employment Rights invite you to Lord Wedderburn QC and Jim Mortimer (former Labour Party General Secretary) in conversation with John Hendy QC

"The Law Versus the Trade Unions? Reflections on the Past and Strategies for the Future".

The speakers will reflect on the trade unions' relationship with the law and legal strategies, including thoughts on the 1984 – 1985 miners' strike, legal assaults on the right to strike and other forms of collective action along with the growing emphasis on individual redress
through employment tribunals. In the present context of a severe economic crisis and increased attacks on workers, this meeting aims to equip a new generation with lessons learnt on how to both use and confront the law in the struggles ahead.

Thursday 27 May 2010, 6.30pm - 8.30pm at Invision Suites 1 and 2, TUC, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS, nearest tube Tottenham Court Road.

Admisison free (£10 to legal practitioners requiring CPD points).

John Hendy QC is a leading QC in the areas of employment law, health and safety, public inquiries and personal injuries. He has represented the National Union of Mineworkers on numerous occasions, appeared in the inquiries into the Southall and Ladbroke Grove train crashes on behalf of the victims, and led the ground-breaking test case litigation establishing liability for "vibration white finger" on behalf of British Coal mineworkers. He is currently acting for Unite in the British Airways litigation. He is a Vice-President of the Haldane Society.

Jim Mortimer was General Secretary of the Labour Party between 1982 and 1987. He played a notable role in the miners' strike of 1984 – 1985, throwing himself into support for the miners and being given honorary membership of the NUM in recognition of his efforts. Prior to becoming General Secretary, he had been a national official of the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen, later to become part of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union (MSF) and now contained within Unite. He was a trade union member of the National Board for Prices and Incomes between 1968 and 1971, and was the first Chairman of ACAS.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton QC is a distinguished employment lawyer and legal academic and was Professor of Commercial Law at the LSE 1964 - 92. His books range from The Worker and the Law (first published 1965) to Employment Rights in Britain and Europe (1992), and Labour Law and Freedom (1997). In 1998, European Community Law: Principles and Perspectives, containing essays by an international group of writers, was published in his honour. He is a Labour member of the House of Lords and a Vice-President of the Haldane Society.

With the kind sponsorship of Garden Court Chambers, O H Parsons & Partners, Old Square Chambers, Pattinson & Brewer, Thompsons solicitors and Tooks Court Chambers.

Further information: and

Now for the next elections! - to lead our Unions

As the two public schoolboys meet in private to see if the Tories and Lib Dems can cobble together a joint plan to attack the working class, I am looking forward to hearing from Paul Holmes and Jerry Hicks on Thursday about their rank and file campaigns to lead UNISON and UNITE in opposition to these attacks.

Our trade unions achieved far less than we had hoped for out of thirteen years of majority Government by a Party to which we are affiliated and to whose finances we have contributed immensely.

The most we can expect from the current horse-trading around Westminster is that it may slightly delay a far more combative approach towards us from a UK Government than we have been used to for some years.

To meet this challenge we need to renew our organisation and leadership. The ballot for UNISON General Secretary opens in a week's time, and nominations for the General Secretary of UNITE are expected to open shortly.

These elections are an opportunity for trade unionists to debate what we do next - and to build the rank and file organisation which we will require if we are to defend our jobs, pensions and conditions of service over the next couple of years.

Londoners have not voted for cuts in local government services

Dave Hill's Grauniad blog gives a good overview of the local election results in London which showed a surge in support for Labour.

Whilst it is great to note the smashing of the racist British National Party in East London, the story across the whole city is that London's working class voted against the Tories - and in favour of Labour local authorities to defend services from a widely anticipated Tory Government.

The point made by Dave Prentis nationally applies with particular force in London. There is no compelling macroeconomic case for big reductions in public spending (whether or on "front line" services or "back office functions" - the deflationary impact of spending cuts is the same!) - nor is there political support from local communities for cuts in spending.

UNISON activists need to build links with community groups and service users and put pressure on Labour politicians in particular to stand alongside our communities to defend our services.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Never mind the Government...

What I want to know is who will be in opposition to the attacks which the next Government will make on the working class? (And I am sorry that the best opponent of such attacks came second rather than first in Brighton Pavilion - I hope we fight the next election using the Alternative vote...)

Seriously, trade unionists ought not to be too interested in the flirtation by Cameron and Brown with Clegg. We need to know which Parliamentarians will stand with us against the coming onslaught.

The pundits are asking who will be the Government. Now that I have woken up I want to know who will be supporting us as part of the opposition.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Voting for our Party - not New Labour's record of reaction

George Monbiot does a service to all those socialists pained at the prospect of voting for a Party which has - in Government - betrayed or disappointed so many of our ideals by summarising in today's Grauniad that sad litany of reactionary policies and their negative consequences (

For those who approach politics as individual consumers seeking the most palatable policy mix for which to vote - and believing that things are so bad that anything which precipitates constitutional change must be good this may be a persuasive approach.

My neighbours with Green posters hoping that the bookies are right about Brighton Pavilion would doubtless agree.

However, the point for trade unionists about supporting Labour - and supporting in particular the decent leftwing candidates who will be the heart of any effective Parliamentary voice against the coming onslaught on jobs and services - is not so much what (New) Labour in Government has or has not done. Rather, what matters is what Labour is.

For trade unionists support for a political party ought not to be a matter of individual choice but of collective engagement. The horrors of New Labour in Government are attributable in large part to the failure of that collective engagement due to the political weakness of the leaderships of the big affiliated trade unions.

The answer is not for individuals to find a nice cosy progressive alternative in the privacy of the polling booth, but for trade unionists to organise effectively for collective political influence in the context of the coming struggles.

It is not predetermined that such organised collective political work by trade unionists will always take the same Party political shape.

One of the most important debates at Unison Conference could (dependent on the prioritisation process) be on the NEC amendment to Motion 53 from the Havering branch (the amendment seeks to remove reference to the Trade Union Coordinating Group (TUCG) - an imaginative attempt to develop collective political influence by affiliated and non-affiliated unions which is too radical by half for Mabledon Place). TUCG is not counterposed to Labour affiliation but nor is it constrained by it.

We cannot foresee how things may change in the future - although it is foolish to imagine that, in an atmosphere of hostility to politics and with a resurgent far right (and comprehensively marginalised far left) all change must be for the better.

In any event, right here and right now, the collective engagement of the trade unions is with the Party formed by our predecessors a century ago - in the ranks of which we will find our most useful Parliamentary allies in opposition to the attacks we can anticipate from the next Government.

If you don't read much on this blog for the next couple of days it'll be because I'm working for the election of a good Labour candidate. Good luck to Nancy Platts!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Red not Brown

Labour's campaign in this General Election has been a car crash (literally -

Those of us who wanted to see Gordon Brown's claim to the Labour leadership tested in a ballot have been vindicated to a degree that we could not have anticipated and, in the circumstances, would not have desired.

However trade unionists need now to do what we can both to stand by and hold on to a union-linked political party.

Many good socialist comrades (quite understandably) cannot stomach voting for a Party that - in Government - could find the time and energy for imperialist wars but not to repeal the anti-union laws.

However - in the great majority of constituencies across the United Kingdom - there is no viable alternative to the left of Labour.

The Liberal Democrats may be more progressive than the New Labour Government on civil liberties and nuclear weapons, but they are in favour of "savage" public spending cuts and so are clearly to the right of the outgoing Government on the most important issue of the moment.

The Lib Dems are also - inevitably - to the forefront of those promoting coalition or even a National Government (the most threatening option of all for the working class).

The Blairite idea that the historic creation of the Labour Party (initially as the Labour Representation Committee) in 1900 was a mistake (and that "progressives" should have stuck with Lib-Labism) was always an attack upon the link between our Party and our unions.

The link - and in particular the pathetically poor use of that link by the leaderships of the affiliated unions over thirteen years - comes in for justified criticism from the left.

However those who really hate the link between the trade union movement and our Party are those to whom the very idea of political influence for the organised working class is anathema.

What has been going wrong is not that our unions have backed Labour - but that Labour, in Government, has not backed the unions and the working class.

It is not the fact of our organic relationship with the Party founded by the unions that is a problem - it is the utter inadequacy of our attempts to derive benefit from that relationship for union members.

We should neither forget the Labour leadership (non) election nor forgive the craven support shown for Gordon Brown by decisionmakers in Unison and other unions back when we had the chance instead to support the a real trade unionist.

As we watch the car crash we should remember that the hands on the steering wheel have been those of the leaderships of the largest affiliated unions.

Nevertheless, the answer to the shortcomings in the relationship between our Labour Party and the organised working class is clearly not to collapse into support for Nick Clegg and a (purportedly) "progressive" politics from which all influence for the collective organisations of our class are systematically excluded.

Between now and Thursday we need to get our members to vote Labour. Beyond that we need to equip ourselves to participate in the coming struggle within the Labour Party in order - at the least - to press the case against participation in a National Government.

Whilst the prospect of electoral reform may rewrite the rules which have governed the relationship between Party and unions for a century, for now the interests of trade unionists are best served by a Labour vote backed by a serious attempt to hold Labour Parliamentarians to account in the face of the working class.

I wouldn't vote "Brown" but I will vote Red.