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)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Arming ourselves with arguments against the ConDems

UNISON did well to support the research, in association with the Fabian Society and the TUC, published in today's Observer which demonstrates that closing the deficit with the emphasis on spending cuts hits the poorest hardest.

We need to use this evidence to rebut the justifications which will be offered to us for particular cuts proposals, when they crystallise into redundancy proposals on which our employers need to consult us. We will be told that the proposals before us will "improve services" even though we will know as well as their authors that this cannot be true.

Unfortunately the Coalition Government have got public opinion on side for spending cuts right now Overall 57% think Osborne made the right decisions for the country as a whole, with 23% thinking he made the wrong decisions. 42% think he made the right decisions for them, 33% the wrong ones.

It's no shock that the political left lost the battle of ideas since 2008 when our standard bearers were New Labour, but the support for Government budget decisions will not long outlast their beginning to bite. Therefore we need to prepare our arguments as much as we need to prepare our forces.

As well as publicising the negative impact of the "ConDem" budget on the most vulnerable we must continue to publicise UNISON's Alternative Budget which is of course very similar in many ways to the People's Charter as a campaigning tool.

UNISON Activists need to familiarise ourselves with the arguments against the cuts as much as we need to improve our organisation and ability to resist.

Debate on the left in UNISON following the General Secretary election

Roger Bannister wrote to the UNISON United Left email list to express the following views;

Dear Comrades

I have seen Paul Holmes' letter, and one posted by Caroline Bedale on the Health Activists mailing list. Whilst both letters refer to the total left vote, my votes plus Paul's together, neither of them address the issues that dominated the debate on the left prior to, and during the election, namely the divided left and the issue of the Labour Party.

During the run up to the elections I was put under great pressure to stand down by the UUL, latterly on the basis of Paul getting more nominations than I did. As I pointed out at the time, this strategy flies in the face of the facts clearly established in previous General Secretary elections, (2005 and 1995), that for the left, Branch nominations are no true indication of grass roots support. This is because the nomination process is activist dominated, whereas the election is open to all members, and any serious trade union activist has to have a realsitic assessment of the varying gap between the consciousness of the activists and the rank and file. In both these elections I had less nominations than other left candidates, but achieved significantly higher votes in the elections. (See attachment with previous results.)

Again, flying in the face of established facts, clearly demonstrated in last year's National Executive Council elections, the failure of the UUL to have an unequivocal call for disaffiliation from the Labour Party is a vote loser amongst left-looking rank and file members. Why else would UUL members lose seats whilst Socialist Party members, clearly calling to break the link, gain seats?

The assumption that by having an organisation confers the mantle of the "Left" on the UUL is obviously erroneous. The UUL reflects only a narrow body of left opinion in UNISON, and most ordinary members have never heard of its existence.

Although it will be a painful process, the UUL must make an honest assessment of the situation in the light of the election result. The votes clearly show that it was wrong for the UUL to split the left vote by standing a candidate, and that the programme of the UUL does not attract sufficient support from rank and file members.

Failure to do this will once again put left success in next year's NEC elections at risk, and will consolidate the right wing hold on the union.

Yours sincerely

Roger Bannister

I expressed my response as follows;

I am not convinced that the question of the Labour Party is as central as you say Roger. It certainly won't be central in a year which will be dominated by fighting cuts from the Coalition Government.

Given the low turnout in the General Secretary election I think it fairly foolish to seek to draw profound political conclusions on such a shaky foundation. (And if that were not the case one could observe that you, Roger, picked up 1,200 extra votes compared with 2005 whereas Paul secured nearly 10,000 more votes than I did).

There was of course another election on 6 May in which more UNISON members voted than cast ballots for General Secretary. I am not aware of any persuasive analysis of May's results which supports the view that hostility to Labour from the left was the political choice of many of our members.

I think the lessons of recent UNISON elections (aside from the vital point that we should try to avoid splitting the left vote) is that we need to build up rank and file organisation. To counteract the weight of the union machine we need more activists conscious of the need for rank and file organisation - and acting on that awareness.

Such organisation will be necessary to mobilise against the cuts and these fights provide an opportunity to renew and rejuvenate the activist base of our Union.

No one in the UL would say that the UL we have is the rank and file organisation we need any more than it was, Roger, when you were still a member in 2004.

However the UL is an organisation and retains the unrealised potential to develop both into the rank and file organisation we do need and, if that can happen, into a body through which we could strive for the unity of the organised left which we managed to let slip from our grasp over the first few years of the century.

Roger, in common with many others on this list, I have voted for you in previous elections. You are the highest profile leftwinger on our NEC.

What are you proposing as an approach to building rank and file organisation and developing unity?

The door was left open when you departed from the UL in 2004. Your political co-thinkers in PCS and UNITE participate in broader rank and file organisations both of which also include Labour left-wingers in their ranks.

Your experience and record mean that you have a lot to teach our activists. I think that contribution would best be made as part of a unified rank and file organisation and that the UL is at present the available framework to develop such an organisation.

If you feel that circumstances in UNISON are so different from PCS and UNITE that you should not join forces with the UL then I think you owe it to our members to spell out what your positive proposals are?



Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Unison election result signals need for unity

Whilst the world focused on yesterday's cuts budget, Unison activists were waiting for the result of the election for our General Secretary.

Dave Prentis has been elected for a third term as Unison's General Secretary. Dave got 67% of the vote (down 8%), Roger Bannister got 20% of the vote (up 3%) and first time candidate Paul Holmes got 13% (up 5.5% compared with my tally five years ago).

The turnout at 14.6% was a couple of points down on the already disappointing turnout last time.

The votes were as follows;

Voters eligible to cast a vote: 1,487,759

Votes cast: 217,027

Valid votes cast: 216,116

Dave Prentis: 145,351

Roger Bannister: 42,651

Paul Holmes: 28,114

Turnout 14.6%

Whilst the usual suspects may claim this as a great triumph for our General Secretary ( I think that the reduced support for the incumbent (in spite of a more unified campaign for him at national and regional level) together with the growth of the combined "left" vote from a quarter to a third of votes cast indicates both the need for a more tolerant and inclusive approach in the here and now and that the next election is not in the gift of the "machine".

Now let's unite to fight the cuts (and expect the same unifying approach from our leadership)!

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Unison's Retired Members under attack!

A Labour Party comrade suggested looking at the news releases from PWC for a swift and accessible summary of key points from today's Emergency Budget.

Why not?

In a medieval battle archers were expected to fire the enemy's arrows back at them!

PWC make clear that the Chancellor has today made a subtle but significant attack upon the future living standards of all retired public servants (

Using the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rather than the Retail Prices Index (RPI) as the basis for the annual uprating of the pensions of those already retired will - on past performance - tend to drag down the value of public sector pensions (including for those who are already retired). So much for the principle that accrued benefits are safe!

Had that policy been in force this year, existing pensioners would have seen a significantly smaller increase in their pension.

Unison's Retired Members are under attack - yet I don't think they precipitated the financial crisis that got us into this mess.

All members - working and retired - need to unite in campaigning against these attacks and in support of Unison's Alternative Budget. Branches need to draw upon the skills and experience of our retired members now more than ever!

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Quangocracy backing the Tories to attack public services

In a ferocious storm all sorts of creatures emerge from their hiding places.

Today's Grauniad introduced me to a couple of elements of what you might call the "quangocracy" who are eagerly sharpening knives to join in ConDem butchery of our public services (

The Institute for Government( is a charity - but not one for which many public servants will want to go on a sponsored walk for since its contribution to debate is to laud the irrelevant "Canadian experience" of the 1990s( (Our economy is not dwarfed by a single, dominant and economically vibrant trading partner and today's Budget is far more likely to propel us into depression than into recovery).

The Institute is working with the Public Chairs' Forum ( - which is not, as you might think, a useful body supporting park benches and other public seating but rather an exclusive club for those unelected individuals running the various different unaccountable bodies into the care of which successive Governments have placed many of our public services (

These bodies want "clever cuts" to improve services. The technical term to describe this aspiration is nonsense. Their real meaning is that "reforms" which would not normally be achievable may be possible in the context of vicious cuts.

Only yesterday I had drawn to my attention some job cuts for which there is no financial need or justification but which managers clearly hope to drive through in the climate of cuts to achieve long standing - and IMHO deeply reactionary and damaging - managerial objectives.

This sort of sleight of hand will be practised by Thatcherite scoundrels throughout public management - and bodies such as the Institute for Government and the Public Chairs' Forum will be there as cheerleaders for attacks on our jobs and services.

Cuts don't improve services and those who say they can are fools or liars.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Strike for Pensions (and against bankers)

I have this evening offended a wealthy banker who was a fellow audience member on Channel 4's Dispatches (

After a hard day reading through proposals to cut valuable public sector jobs it was good to have a bit of fun...

Seriously, the audience voting held the line quite well against the right wing - with the notable exception of agreeing with increased pension contributions for public sector workers (and increasing but not extending VAT).

I think we can see that an attack by way of increased pension contributions is a very real prospect now. We were promised national strike action in response to an attack on our pensions at National Delegate Conference.

Time to start tidying up our membership records for a national strike ballot?

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Class War stepped up by the bosses

The class war in this country is generally fought in a fairly one-sided way. Today's announcement by the bosses' organisation the CBI that they want to raise new obstacles to lawful industrial action whilst shortening the time period for consultation on redundancies is certainly evidence of this (

The TUC are spot on in condemning the hypocrisy of this attack on workers' rights ( Whilst it is of course a disgrace that New Labour in Government did not reverse the anti-union laws of the 80s and 90s (which would have meant we started from a better position to confront ConDem cuts) our focus must now be on the fight against this Government.

We need a Trade Union Freedom Bill now more than ever ( and the commitment of John McDonnell MP to use his first place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills to put the TUC Bill before Parliament ( will - at the least - force a public debate on trade union rights which has been needed for years.

(We will also be able to see which of the five contenders for Leader of the Labour Party will support a Bill drafted by the TUC and reflecting the agreed policies of the trade unions!)

Whatever the Government does to the legal shackles on our trade unions (and we cannot rule out their being tightened) this will not prevent popular anger being expressed.

When a Government of millionaires decree that the UK cannot afford free swimming for the under 16s and over 60s you have to wonder how many of them have their own swimming pools!

A class war is being fought against us and it is time we fought back. Unison Conference was united in agreeing a plan of campaign which starts right now (

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Friday, June 18, 2010

UNISON United will never be defeated!

Unison Conference has just unanimously agreed Emergency Composite 2 setting out a detailed campaigning agenda to respond to the cuts coming from the ConDems.

The Composite was moved by NEC Policy Chair Jane Carolan and then supported by Camden Branch Secretary George Binette (Secretary of Unison United Left) and Tower Hamlets Branch Secretary, John McLoughlin (Convenor of Unison United Left).

This afternoon Unison branches will receive an Emergency Bulletin encouraging local protests next Tuesday when the Chancellor reveals his plans to savage our services.

Jane Carolan said that "UNISON United Will Never Be Defeated" - we need unity, but we also now need energy, enthusiasm and imagination.
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What was the meaning of Card Vote 3?

Unison Conference has just heard the result of Card Vote 3 on Rule Amendment 12 from the Bolton Branch.

The Rule Amendment sought to impose a 24 month limit upon the power of the National Executive to suspend from office members who face disciplinary action under Rule I. It was opposed by the NEC.

It required a two thirds majority and narrowly failed to achieve this, securing 718,273 votes for to 373,801 against.

Not surprisingly the vote had looked close to being carried on the show of hands and delegates had been shocked when the Vice President initially refused to call a Card Vote, declaring that the amendment had fallen.

The closeness of the vote, after a recount, thoroughly vindicates those delegates who remained on their feet calling for the Card Vote until the Vice President accepted the advice of the General Secretary and allowed the vote.

Though the NEC clung on with the support of 34.2% of Conference it had earlier lost two Card Votes on NEC Rule Amendments (one to merge the Higher Education Service Group and Further Education Sector and one to prohibit the holding of duplicate branch officer positions).

As is so often the case on the Thursday afternoon of Conference the Conference was shadow boxing in the Rules Debate. The real clear message of the afternoon was that 65.8% of the Conference had lost confidence in the NEC's custody and conduct of our disciplinary procedures.

With Conference rightly ending with calls for unity against the ConDem Government it is time now to end intolerance of dissent in our trade union. The representatives of a large majority of our members throughout Unison made this clear yesterday afternoon.

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Close vote for UNISON Vice President

Unison's NEC today elected East Midlands Regional member Chris Tansley as Vice President. Chris got 27 votes. I was one of 23 members voting for the defeated candidate, Mike Hayes.

This was the closest vote for the position of Vice President in my time on the NEC. Current President, Gerry Gallagher, stands down from the NEC on Monday adding to the significant number of vacancies for which elections are required in the near future.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How not to build unity

Given what I said in the last post about the availability of official Conference reports online I thought I might share some news which won't make it onto the Unison website.

Conference started half an hour late this morning because a delegate refused to remove a t-shirt which some other delegates found offensive.

The t shirt advertised a lunchtime fringe meeting and described expelled former Unison member, Yunus Bakhsh, as a working class hero.

Whatever one thinks about the wearing of slogan t-shirts (and if that is an offence then I am a serial offender) I struggle to see how the slogan could reasonably have caused offence.

The circumstances of Yunus' dismissal and expulsion have been widely publicised and it is clear that there are those within Unison who support what was done to Yunus. However there are many of us who believe that Yunus has been the victim of a grave injustice.

This issue is not going to go away.

The truth of that last observation was made clear by the attendance of more than 200 delegates at a lunchtime fringe meeting, where Yunus spoke alongside Caroline Bedale and Glenn Kelly (two more victims, in the opinions of many activists, of unjustified action).

Those who attended the fringe meeting marched back to the Conference Centre in a spirited - and entirely appropriate - display of support and solidarity, which caused no disruption to Conference.

Though none of the three are permitted within the Conference Centre, they were able to go for a coffee in an adjoining coffee bar, where delegates were able to chat to them - the t-shirt wearer (whose credentials had been removed) was able to join them there.

Our international guest speaker, Paul Moist from the Canadian public service union, CUPE mentioned dissent as one of the trade union values which he rightly lauded. Some of my NEC colleagues need to pay closer attention to the importance of cherishing - rather than stifling dissent.

Dissenting voices often speak truth - and an atmosphere of intolerance is hardly conducive to the courageous creativity which is needed to lead campaigns against cuts.

In the face of the coming onslaught upon jobs and services we need a unifying approach within Unison - not further politically contentious, internally divisive disciplinary action.

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Conference blogging delayed

Every year I intend to blog regularly at Unison Conference and every year I find that I fail - because Conference, as much as it takes place in a bubble, takes place in a very busy bubble.

Those who want a blow by blow account of Conference business can in any event find it on Unison's official website. I shall limit myself to some general observations.

The keynote speech by our General Secretary was not on a par with last year's and the eventual ovation was muted by comparison with 2009.

The best response of the speech was to Dave's pledge to ballot for national strike action to defend our pensions, a position now adopted by the Conference having agreed Motion 18.

The remainder of the week may help us to determine how real this determination to fight is...

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Card Vote Victory for common sense (and the Lambeth Branch)

The result of the card vote on Amendment 20.01 at the Unison Local Government Conference was that the amendment was passed by 307,190 votes to 258,243.

This means - in particular - that it is the policy of Unison's largest service group, representing a clear majority of Unison members, is in favour of working with other trade unionists, through Trades Councils, as part of our response to Total Place.

This sensible decision - resisted inexplicably from the right - reflects the common sense conclusion that we need a joint union response to the challenges which now confront us as trade unionists.

Unison is a splendid trade union but - as Local Government Conference has now agreed - we cannot and must not campaign in splendid isolation.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Card Vote II - just when you thought it was safe to go back into Local Government Conference...

I will aim tomorrow to blog a full report of today's business at Unison Local Government Conference, and of the well attended fringe meeting organised jointly between the Lambeth and Barnet branches this evening.

For now I shall simply note that - for the second year running - the Lambeth Branch has found itself associated with a card vote at Local Government Conference.

Having been supported with qualifications by the Service Group Executive on an amendment concerning the potentially valuable role of local Trades Councils in responding to the Total Place initiative, the branch was flattered by attention from delegates from Newcastle and Manchester opposed to working through Trades Councils on this issue.

The outcome of the subsequent Card Vote is awaited. A rational explanation for the position of critics of the amendment is also awaited...

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lovely sunny weather - for now!

Delegates arriving in Bournemouth for Unison Conference are greeted by weather every bit as sunny as the medium term outlook is for storms ahead!

London Region delegates should meet at the Connaught Hotel at 6pm for the Regional Briefing - the essential United Left Agenda planning meeting is at 8pm at the Bournemouth Central Premier Inn in Westover Street.

Tomorrow we debate personalisation and social care in the morning, spending cuts and privatisation in the afternoon. As I intend to digest the detail of £1.165bn in year cuts in this afternoon's sunshine I foresee clouds on the horizon..

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Now for a Unison hustings?

The GMB deserved the media attention they received for the hustings at their Conference addressed by candidates for the Labour Leadership.

Whilst it is a crying shame that the best candidate - who evoked the best response from our brothers and sisters in the GMB - is not now on the ballot paper, having stepped aside in the interest of diversity, UNISON nevertheless now faces the challenge of matching the self-confidence of the GMB and organising hustings at our National Delegate Conference.

As a member of our NEC I believe that - if we have the courage of our convictions - we will invite all candidates for Labour Leader to a hustings either in the lunch break or immediately following the conclusion of the afternoon session of Conference on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. I hope that is not a big "if"!

A hustings only at the Labour Link Forum will exclude many Unison members and will signal defeatism on the part of those charged with preserving - and developing - our affiliation to the Labour Party. Anyone who believes that Unison should remain affiliated to our Party must support the proposal that hustings for Labour Leader take place at National Delegate Conference.

And if (with which I would not agree) we felt that we should restrict attendance at such a hustings to APF payers then we should ensure transfer forms were available on the door so that we could invite GPF payers over!

Those who want to hear the very best candidate for Labour Leader (the one we cannot vote for) may do so at the Bournemouth Central Premier Inn at 7.30 on Tuesday 15 June.

Unison needs to change sides within the Labour Party. We need to be on the side of the workers - not the bosses.

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John McDonnell's letter withdrawing from the Labour leadership election

I was sorry to get this letter by email moments ago. There are clearly not enough members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who yet understand the scale of the challenge we face to turn our Party into the campaigning socialist Party needed to fight the coming cuts!

"Dear Comrades
I am writing to let you know that I have withdrawn from the Labour Party leadership race this morning.
I stood for the Labour leadership as the candidate of the Left and trade union movement so that there could be a proper debate about Labour's future in which all the wings of the party were fully represented. It is now clear that I am unlikely to secure enough nominations and so I am withdrawing in the hope that we can at least secure a woman on the ballot paper.
We came into this campaign knowing that it would be really difficult to obtain sufficient nominations but we knew we had to try. The support we received from rank and file party members and from trade unionists was just overwhelming but we still could not overcome the barrier of gaining sufficient support from Labour MPs.
I appealed to the party leadership to lower the qualifying bar to allow all the candidates on the ballot paper. It was perfectly possible within the existing rules for this to be done. Reducing the bar to 5% would have allowed all the declared candidates to get on the ballot paper and the Party to have a full and open debate about its future direction. The party hierarchy refused and instead threw its weight behind one candidate.
I know that many Labour activists and trade unionists will be disappointed.
I want to thank you for all your hard work in lobbying and campaigning to secure sufficient nominations to get me on the ballot paper. You could not have worked harder.
I am urging everyone to continue the fight for democracy within the party so that in future elections rank and file members will be represented by the candidate of their choice.
We must also now throw our energies into the campaign to resist the cuts that the Coalition government is launching against our community. Providing
leadership in this struggle is critically important in this coming period. We will be convening rallies and demonstrations and linking up with trade union action to resist the cuts. Let's rise to this challenge.
Yours in solidarity,

John McDonnell MP"

If Diane Abbot now makes it on to the ballot paper she must use the platform she will have been offered to encourage and support the struggle to which John refers in his letter.

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Welfare not Warfare

Simon Jenkins is a long way from being one of my favourite Grauniad columnists but he is spot on today in calling for the elimination of expenditure on "defence."

If our Con-Dem Government really wanted to "think the unthinkable" about public spending then the - almost entirely unproductive - expenditure on maintaing a standing army, Navy and Air Force would come under scrutiny.

Before urbanisation the very idea of a standing Army in peace time was seen as a threat to liberty. From the eighteenth century on the Army has existed not so much to defend the "nation" as to defend the rulers of the nation, if necessary from its own people.

It's not just the extreme and absurd expense of Trident replacement (an expensive exercise in global posturing to prop up the weak claim of the United Kingdom to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council as part of our Walter Mitty Great Power status).

The whole infrastructure of a system that has 180,000 people bearing arms in our small, peaceful and secure islands off the North West coast of Europe is a monumental waste - and the existence of these forces encourages our rulers to engage in foreign adventures to justify this expense.

If there were a threat of invasion to a democratic nation (the former doesn't apply at present and the latter is a questionable definition of our status quo) then it would be possible to invest in genuinely defensive "defence" expenditure (as advocated by Peter Tatchell a quarter of a century ago).

There are many other important economic arguments to be had about why cuts in public spending are a damaging and politically motivated attack upon the working class - but it will be worth remembering as we resist pay freezes, job losses, pension cuts and service closures that there is no moral or political case for any of these measures whilst the UK wastes billions on armed forces which contribute nothing to the defence or security of the people of this country.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A call for democracy in the Labour Party

The LRC ( is calling on party members and trade unionists to lobby the Labour Party NEC to lower the threshold to 5% to allow all candidates onto the ballot paper for Labour leader


Please email acting Party leader Harriet Harman at <> and Party General Secretary Ray Collins at <> . The NEC meets tomorrow afternoon, so please email tonight!


John McDonnell MP today has had a surge of support for his leadership challenge taking his nominations to within sight of the qualification level.


Commenting on recent events in the Labour Party leadership race, contender John McDonnell MP, said…


"The Party leadership has got itself in a real mess over this leadership election.


"The solution is for the party to simply lower the qualifying bar and allow all the candidates on the ballot paper. It is perfectly possible within the existing rules for this to be done. Reducing the bar to 5% would allow all existing candidates to get on the ballot paper and the Party to have a full and open debate about its future direction."


Unite and CWU conferences called for all six candidates to be on the ballot paper. The LRC, along with Compass, LabourList, Save the Labour Party and the Fabians all called on MPs to co-ordinate their nominations for all six candidates to be on the ballot paper.


And Unison would've had something to say were we not so democratic! (

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Our last chance for a better Unison

This is the last week of voting in the Unison General Secretary election.

The official machinery of the Union, scrupulously neutral, has been carrying statements from the incumbent daily.

Paul Holmes - candidate of the left - doesn't have the support of such a machine.

No one is backing Paul to advance their career or to curry favour.

Paul is backed by ordinary trade unionists who have the temerity to believe that an ordinary trade unionist can (like Mark Serwotka) become an extraordinary leader.

Paul needs you (and me) to make a last push to get the vote out.

The majority of Unison members will not have voted.

The majority of members who hear the candidates speak will vote for Paul.

Follow the link above and forward it to your friends and colleagues (without using Unison resources!)

Spend a little time in the next 48 hours chasing those votes - the time is coming for workers to lead Unions.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Mutual Benefit?

Whilst enjoying half term I have been forced to think about the role of mutuals or co-operative social enterprises in the delivery of public services. This is of pressing local interest to me.

Labour presented "mutualisation" as a "progressive" alternative to David Cameron's Big Society (and Barnet's "EasyCouncil") in the recent General Election campaign.

This was backed up by a Cabinet Office publication in March and based upon a "pledge" from 115 local Labour Groups;

"We want to protect frontline services. Where appropriate, we shall do this by giving citizens and communities real power to take responsibility for running services themselves, freeing up resources to guarantee services for the most vulnerable. This will not only save money, but also help build stronger communities, local leadership and services that are more responsive to local needs.

Labour councils will draw on co-operative values to give power to all of us – as residents, service users, carers and staff. We will use whichever models are most appropriate to different services and different communities, including co-operatives, mutuals, or services with greater involvement from service users and the community.

Such services must embody public-sector values, and we will ensure that where public money is spent, organisations are run in the interests of the whole community rather than the narrow sectional interests of one stakeholder group against another, and with the highest levels of financial probity under accountable public scrutiny.

Co-operative values will also shape the way that we seek to rebuild our local economies, ensuring that they serve our collective needs as people, putting long term social benefit ahead of short term private gain."

This statement reflected the work of a growing lobby for the "mutualisation" of public services based upon those with an interest in the co-operative sector.

What should we make of this?

When the Tories offered support for co-operative delivery of public services, UNISON's General Secretary was forthright in his response; "This is another ploy to break up public services, plunge them into confusion and then let the private sector pick over their bones."

Also, during the General Election campaign, UNISON's Head of Education said of Tory plans for Sure Start; "They say Sure Start should be the first of their public-sector co-operatives. If that happened they would drive down standards."

Labour's plans for the "co-operative Council" are also now attracting criticism - as we consider how to respond as trade unionists the question in my mind is whether there is in fact a "progressive" difference between the Tory plans which UNISON slated before the General Election, and what we are now being offered by Labour Councillors?

And is the NEC's opposition to Amendment 42.1 at National Delegate Conference consistent with what we as a Union have recently said in public?

Watch this space.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

UNISON supports Gaza

UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) was today united in condemning the Israeli attack upon the Gaza flotilla. UNISON also condemned the "muted" response of the UK Government.

This follows on from the statement issued earlier in the week by the TUC.

UNISON calls upon members to support Saturday's national demonstration in London (and a similar event in Glasgow) - I hope to see you there (in London that is)!

General Secretary outlines strategy to deal with the Coalition government's attacks?

The major part of the General Secretary's report to today's meeting of the Unison NEC dealt with what Dave described as the cataclysmic change of Government.

The Tories didn't, we were told, get the result they wanted. They had wanted a massive majority for ideologically driven cuts.

The deficit is due to bailing out banks and there is no need to close the deficit so quickly. Nevertheless the Government will cut public spending because that is what they want to do. There will be a misleading focus on waste and on the non-existent distinction between the "front-line" and the "back-office" with local government already taking a big hit.

We are into a four year battle to defend public services, jobs, pay and pensions. Our main focus must be on defence of jobs and services.

Resources need to be shifted to the local level in our Union.

Government plans for schools and health privatisation threaten us. Whilst inflexible contracts may mean disproportionate cuts for in-house public services.

What we need is unity with other trade unions and alliances with service users. We have a lot to do politically.

We may also have a lot to do industrially. Whereas - we were told - an attack on pensions could lead to national industrial action local action is a more likely response to compulsory redundancies.

Dave reported that the European TUC were calling for a demonstration in Brussels on 29 September and floated the idea that perhaps we should demonstrate in London rather than Brussels.

Since we had been told that the NEC would be making a statement to Conference following the outcome of the General Election, I made the foolish error of asking if we couldn't see a copy of the statement. This led to some of the audible "tutting" with which I am often honoured by some NEC colleagues.

There needs, you see, to be discussion with "the Regions" about the content of such a statement but I wasn't to worry, as the statement will be available for the next NEC meeting, ninety minutes before the opening of Conference on Tuesday 15 June (by which time the NEC will be presented with a statement already agreed with "the Regions" shortly after the Regional Convenors will have themselves been presented with a statement.

My friend and comrade Paul Holmes asked what UNISON's Strategy was to deal with the new situation after the General Election. The General Secretary kindly explained that this was a matter for the Service Group Executive as far as Local Government is concerned and that Paul could ask there.

Another NEC member pointed out that we already have the "Million Voices" campaign (to which some 15,000 voices have been added) and that all we needed to do was to take this campaign back into our branches.

So that's all right then.

I think I may have to return to this topic.

We're too democratic to support democracy...?

A hat tip to the blogger who let me know during today's UNISON NEC the very good news from Manchester, where UNITE's Conference delegates overwhelmingly called upon Labour MPs to ensure that all declared candidates for the leadership receive sufficient nominations.

Regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger will know that I am a supporter of John McDonnell, but also that I think that there is a compelling argument for trade unionists to want to see a socialist on the ballot paper for Labour leader, whether or not you intend to vote for them.

I therefore shared with the NEC the news from UNITE and asked our General Secretary whether he thought UNISON Labour Link should consider making a similar call. As is so often the case at our NEC the answer which I received told me how well UNISON had already done. We had not wanted someone "shoehorned" in (unlike last time!) and that would not now happen. We had wanted a longer timetable and that would now happen.

We would now look at candidates for Labour Leader "as they come forward" with a view to making a recommendation having considered the stance of candidates on issues such as public services, trade unions and equalities. There would be hustings at the Labour Link Forum in July, but "we don't want to go further than that."

The structure of our NEC meetings, in which the General Secretary's report is followed by a question and answer session, lends itself to the occasional misunderstanding (never I am sure wilful) and of course this response missed the point that by the time we come to think about who to recommend to our members we will be well past the point at which the Parliamentary Labour Party(PLP) have decided for us from whom we can choose.

Trade unions which do not try now to influence nominations by MPs are - in effect - continuing to offer the PLP the same blank cheque we gave the last Government. This is not in the interests of our members, our Union or - for that matter - our Party.

I therefore pressed the point outside the meeting with the Chair of the Labour Link Committee, who explained that, because of the democratic structure of our political fund there was no - democratic - way in which we could decide to do what UNITE decided to do today.

Whereas UNITE Conference delegates (elected by UNITE members) are able to take a decision about UNITE's political work, UNISON democracy precludes such an obviously undemocratic arrangement.

Instead we will have a National Labour Link Forum, composed of delegates elected indirectly on the basis of a range of different systems employed in different Regions, all of whom must be individual Labour Party members. In London delegates are elected on the basis of "branch block votes" (cast by individual Labour Link officers or Branch Secretaries with or without consultation with members).

So you see, dear reader, that much as many in UNISON might wish to support the democratic demand that Labour Party members, and levy payers, should be able to choose from the full field of declared candidates for Party Leader, it is democracy itself that prevents us from doing anything, at all, to try to influence events. It's not at all that we don't want to back candidates from the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs because we are simply trying to choose which Ed to back.

Our General Secretary would, of course, never pre-empt the "democracy" of UNISON Labour Link by calling upon them to act before they had taken the relevant decision...

The incredible disappearing Congress

In response to a question from East Midlands NEC member Moz Greenshields, one of our General Council members advised today's meeting of the UNISON NEC of plans for the full traditional meeting of the Trades Union Congress to be biennial rather than annual.

There will be smaller, shorter meetings in alternate years at Congress House - we would have only 37 delegates (out of total of 305) at these smaller meetings (from 2011).

This plan has to go back to the TUC General Council but is likely to be agreed.

Since the Congress is hardly an effective device to hold the General Council to account (never mind "the office") this reduction in frequency is less of a threat to the democracy and governance of our movement than the late and unlamented notion of a biennial National Delegate Conference which was born - and died - in Mabledon Place a few years ago.

We were told that other unions, less financially secure than UNISON, were keen to save money by cutting back on Congress - but that savings accruing to the TUC would be earmarked for a "fighting fund."

Somehow I'm not convinced that too much accountability is a problem in our movement. The move away from an annual TUC may be a necessary recognition of weakness and decline, but that is what it is.

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Caught in the headlights of the oncoming car, the rabbits held a high level seminar to make a plan...

The trade union side of the National Joint Council will respond to the pay freeze, two months after we were due a pay rise for a million local government workers in England and Wales by holding not one but two all day seminars.

In the East Midlands meanwhile Unison is to hold a "summit meeting" of all parts of the Union.

Our General Secretary wants trade union unity but NEC members James Anthony and Clare Williams don't think Trades Councils should be coordinating the trade union response to Total Place.

Unison's NEC will make a statement to Conference about the coalition Government.

What will it say?

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