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)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tory cuts - what Labour Councils should do

Yesterday I wondered aloud what Labour Councils should do in the face of Tory cuts (

Today the snow held me back in London after work and gave me the opportunity to speak with experienced comrades both from UNISON and the LRC.

From these discussions I think that, as well as exploring and seeking to understand the full range of options open to Labour Councils - including refusing to set a lawful budget if to do so would be a breach of trust with local people - we need clearly to articulate two simple, lawful and achievable things which every ruling Labour Group can do and every opposition Labour Group can advocate.

First, as well as proposing (if in office and feeling this necessary) a "lawful" budget making cuts, each Labour Group (in office or opposition) should also publicise a "needs budget" setting out the spending they would wish to make, were reasonable resources available to meet social need.

Secondly, in order to campaign for the Government to provide additional resources in order to enable their authority to implement the "needs budget", Labour Groups should call for and seek to lead anti-cuts mobilisations.

For London boroughs, for example, it would be a simple matter to organise a march from the Town Hall to Westminster for a lobby of local MPs in support of provision of the resources needed for the provision of local services.

Labour Councils can make the sad, foolish and anachronistic choice of Lewisham's Steve Bullock and set their face against anti-cuts protests (

Or Labour Councillors can prioritise their role as leaders of their local community and set out both the needs of local people and their plans to fight for the resources needed to meet those needs.

Trade unions need to put pressure on our Labour comrades to come out on the side of the people and to make the right decision.

Update on Wednesday morning - thanks to the anonymous commentator who referred me to what UNISON Scotland are doing.

Their model motion for local authorities is well worth looking at.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tory cuts - what should Labour do?

On a night on which riot police have had to evict local people from Lewisham Town Hall in Catford, the role of Labour Councils at a time of Tory cuts is moving once more centre-stage.

Labour needs to campaign against the Coalition Government’s cuts and expose the impact upon Council services of their social and economic policies. The Council for which I work is sending both Members and senior officers to give evidence to Parliamentary Select Committees to this effect and are to be commended for doing so.

However, as opposition to the ConDems is increasingly visible on the streets, Labour Councillors, if they cannot bring themselves to put themselves where they belong – in the front rank of the protests – should at least try not to get in the way or oppose the opposition.

Lambeth Leader Steve Reed is right to warn about the deceit of the Coalition parties who will try, wherever they can, to blame Labour Councils for cuts – but is wrong to caricature anti-cuts campaigners as “A couple of supporters of hard-left fringe groups” demanding “a repeat of ‘Red Ted’ Knight’s ruinous illegal budgets of the 1980s.”

Leaving aside the observation that the budgets of the Knight administration up to May 1986 were not “ruinous” and that their only “illegality” was in a failure to set a budget by a certain deadline, the law has – as Steve knows – changed so fundamentally in the past twenty five years that no is – or could – advocate the same tactics today.

It is insufficient to assert goodwill, blame the Tories and trust that a Labour Council can make the cuts less awful (albeit that may be true). Since the interests of local people in areas such as Lambeth (and Lewisham) are best served by either bringing the Coalition Government down or forcing it into a massive “U-turn” we need a political strategy to fight the cuts more than a managerial strategy to implement them.

At a minimum, Labour Councils should surely produce a “needs budget” which shows what we think our communities need their local authority to spend – if only to illustrate the funding shortfall, caused by the Government’s economic policies.

This would enable a meaningful political debate within the Labour Party and the labour movement about what Labour Groups should do, and whether the assumption that it is always better to be in office and never more important to be tribunes of the people is in fact correct.

Trade unionists – like the people who rely upon local services – have no option but to resist the cuts. Labour Councils should be on our side.

Pensions - time for leadership

Dave Prentis makes some sound and important points on the front page of the UNISON website ( just now.

I'll quote him verbatim;

" This week, news emerged that the value of public sector workers' pensions has dropped by up to 25%. This is due in part to the government's decision to use the CPI rather than the RPI to calculate pension increases.
This means the cost of providing public sector pensions has already fallen and workers are losing out when they retire. Further attempts to cut pensions for social workers, teaching assistants and nurses would be unjustified.
It's time the government turned its attention instead to the private sector, where two thirds of companies do not pay a penny towards their workers' pensions – leaving taxpayers with a multibillion pound means-tested benefits bill."

I agree completely that further attacks on public service pensions would be unjustified. However - following the Comprehensive Spending Review - we know at least one attack (a three per cent increase in contributions) is already on the way. We can also reasonably anticipate further attacks from the final Hutton report (which Dave doubtless hopes to influence with his reasoned and well founded observations - and to which UNISON is making submissions).

Also however, as unjustified as further attacks on our pensions will be, the attack made in June by changing the basis of uprating from RPI to CPI is and remains a disgrace.

In July when the TUC began to spell out the scale of this theft from our pensions I observed that "We may not be ready for a national strike ballot next week or next month, but we need to be declaring disputes, making preparations and mobilising members." (

I went on (and on and on as I do);
"We shouldn't swallow this first Coalition attack upon our pensions just so we can use its effects to show that our pensions, having become less generous, are more "affordable." What is "affordable" is always a political and never an economic choice.
The alternative approach is that set out by Dave Prentis in his speech as General Secretary to UNISON National Delegate Conference - national strike action to defend public service pensions.
We have a lot of work to do to persuade and mobilise our members.
Will we get on with it?"

I regret that the emerging response to the proposals from the National Union of Teachers ( for a strike ballot for action over pensions in the Spring Term (reflected in comments on an earlier post - suggest that the answer to the question I posed on 8 July is "not yet" or at least "not yet sufficiently".

Without the unifying framework of national action we are destined to months and years of guerilla action against particular the cuts.

We will win some battles at a local level. Some jobs and some services will be rescued in the future as they have been in the past.

However, we cannot defeat a national Government with purely local campaigns. The attack on pensions provides an opportunity for us to mobilise nationally.

This is an opportunity that must be seized by our national officers. At a local level our activists are inevitably prioritising local campaigns.

The impact of those local campaigns can be magnified by a national intervention which goes beyond exhorting the Government to be reasonable and starts exhorting our members to be militant.

If our members are not yet motivated to fight on pensions this is at least in part because we have been too slow to promote this issue over the past five months.

It is not too late to put this right. The NUT are showing the way.

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A leader showing wisdom

President of the National Union of Students Aaron Porter has to rise in anyone's estimation for apologising for tardy support for student occupations against fees and cuts and pledging more forthright support in future (

The particular pressure on Lib Dem MPs who made a clear and unequivocal pledge combines with the Parliamentary arithmetic to create the possibility of a significant defeat for the Coalition. Unity in the campaign to impose this pressure is important since it is unity in favour of urgent action.

A united student movement is in a better position swiftly to mobilise its faster moving forces en masse than is the TUC. However the trade unions can and must turn supportive words ( into deeds.

I hope that now there is no question that the NUS is supporting all nonviolent action the unions at every level will encourage our members to support the students in every way possible.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Resistance is fertile

The spirit of the many thousands of young people who have today protested against the ConDems is an inspiration and a challenge to the organised working class.

I was moved at lunchtime today by the spontaneous enthusiasm of students at Lambeth College to sign up to a petition against the truly savage cut that will take away the EMA.

That a Cabinet with a majority of millionaires can take from teenagers from low income households the thirty quid a week that helps them stay in education tells you more than you ever wanted to know about the nature of this hideous Coalition.

We must of course build towards a million strong demonstration on 26 March, but in the mean time we must learn from the example of the young people who have turned anger into action up and down the country.

This means we must reject the counsel of those who would "march in March and not before" - we must lobby before breakfast, protest before lunch, organise before tea and agitate before supper. The Welfare State our grandparents bequeathed us is at risk - and if we wish to be able to look our grandchildren in their eyes we must now turn every effort to its defence.

I have just left a freezing Parliament Square where I have watched the Met Police unlawfully kettling two thousand mostly young people in Whitehall. I saw police officers prevent a Member of Parliament from going down Whitehall to see what was going on.

Some damage may have been done in Central London - but that is nothing to the damage being done to our public services. If they will kettle kids to try to contain our protests we need to raise the temperature and bring things to the boil.

Respect is due to the trade unionists kettled in there with them, who include the General Secretary of the CWU and the Assistant Branch Secretaries of Lambeth UNISON.

Kettles can only be so big. There are so many of us. We have the power to defeat the Government. We need our leaders to rise to this challenge. We also need warmer coats and more layers...

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Follow the leaders?

In the spirit of supporting other trade union bloggers when they get blogging right - by posting signed rather than anonymous articles - I'll link to a report of the UNISON Local Government SGE meeting over at UNISON Active (

That said, I'm disappointed at the tone of the report, and by what it tells us about thinking in some quarters about the role of trade union leadership in relation to our current and coming struggles.

Our rapporteur (who will in my mind I fear always be "the other" Glenn)(and for whose bid for the NEC a bell tolled most unfortunately) is critical of those who tried and failed to commit the SGE to supporting the sensible (and unanimous) decision of the Executive of the National Union of Teachers to prepare to ballot for strike action in defence of pensions (thereby implementing the very policy to which our General Secretary committed UNISON at our Conference in June).

I will pass by the implicitly perjorative references in the report to the "minority" stautus of those who lose a vote - although any union rep who is not sufficiently confident to be the one person in the room who is right (whilst respecting the right of the majority to be wrong) lacks the strength we will need from our leaders over coming years.

What troubles me more is the view, presented strongly in this report, that the role of a leader is to reflect the views of members (rather like a mirror).

Therefore if we know today that - were they asked today - the majority of our members would not jump at the chance of joining the NUT on strike to defend our pensions in the Spring Term, it follows that we must argue against any such proposal (even whilst agonising about how hard it is to be "democratic" and reflect the views of members when these are less forthright than our own).

I fail to see what is "leadership" in that approach. It sounds and feels a lot more like a, fairly passive "followership".

Now clearly, if you want to lead, you cannot do so by being so far ahead of the people you are leading that they can't see you. This is my worry about - for example - calls for a General Strike which we know isn't going to happen any time soon (however much we may wish otherwise).

However, if you aspire to leadership you do need to be a step or two (rather than ten) in front of the people you are hoping to lead - and that means that it is certainly not your role simply to reflect members' opinions back at them.

Rather it is the role of a union leader (from a shop steward all the way down to General Secretary) to analyse the interests of the members you represent, formulate a strategy to advance those interest and then advocate that strategy to those members.

You may or may not persuade members that your assessment of their interests and of the action they should therefore take is correct, but at least by doing so you will be discharging your duty as a leader.

In his Conference speech in June, Dave Prentis correctly identified the issue of pensions as one on which we could take national action to inflict a defeat upon the Government. He rightly urged us to take national action in our own interests.

It's a shame that Dave's supporters are now backing away from our General Secretary's accurate analysis.

What we need now is leadership which is less like a mirror and more like a beacon.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Too hot in the kitchen?

I have taken the unusual step of deleting a blog post, having been asked to do so by a UNISON colleague.

It is never my intention to cause personal offence with posts on this blog.

It is my intention to make robust - sometimes even rude - political criticism.

If you don't like it, don't read it.

I make no secret of my view that our movement is often let down by its leadership. If individuals who are part of that leadership don't like to hear that view expressed they need to grow tougher skin.

It does not bring UNISON into disrepute for our disagreements to be aired in public. On the contrary it is the hallmark of a democratic member-led trade union that we should be proud of robust debate.

I have read criticisms of myself online (some of them even unjustified) which have far exceeded anything I may say here. I think that is pretty much the price of being outspoken.

Anyone who had trouble coping with occasionally intemperate online criticism would certainly struggle to confront the ConDems...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Snouts in the trough?

I have just seen my old friend Clive Smith, now our GMB Regional Organiser, on Newsnight condemning the failing ALMO in Lambeth ("Lambeth Living") for paying consultants sums of up to (and more than!) four thousand pounds a week.

I'm all for us putting pressure on public employers not to throw money at people earning more than anyone needs (who needs more than, say £50,000 a year? What would you do with it?) but of course the real disgrace is the profligacy of the private sector.

Still, I hope that Lambeth Council will take action to stop managers in their decrepit ALMO from wasting public money on overpaid private consultants.

Dot to dot class war

Join the dots.

Thousands of people in disadvantaged areas are to be left in near derelict streets as the Government stops a major regeneration project in its tracks (

Increases in tuition fees will deter poorer students from entering higher education (

The Government refuse to enact a duty to assess the socio-economic impact of public policy (

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Regional Local Government Executive Committee Report

Owing to the arrangement of trade union meetings using a variant of a calendar found inscribed on an Aztec monument, the Regional Local Government Executive, this morning, followed hot on the heels of the Regional Committee yesterday.

The meeting commenced with a minute's silence in memory of former member, Chris Morey, whose untimely death yesterday has robbed us of the trade union side expert on many questions.

Regional Head of Local Government, Vicky Easton, ran through a verbal briefing on Parts Two and Three of the Green Book, their status and implications for employers seeking to vary our conditions of service. She repeated the good news shared yesterday, that Croydon have backed off from an attack on the (Part Two) sick pay scheme and - later in the meeting - confirmed that Greenwich have an indicative ballot on the suspension of incremental progression, in support of which - I was assured - meetings are being held with members.

The meeting agreed a budget bid for next year which incorporated the vital proposals from the recent planning meeting for regular briefing sessions for local government branches across London - a more positive take on the idea that this is not "business as usual" than exemplified by an ill-judged email from Regional Office encouraging a reduction in "routine" meetings ("so we can go back to our branches and get on with our work").

The meeting heard about plans to co-ordinate campaigning around library services, and about current industrial action ballots, as well as receiving the latest figures on density of UNISON membership across London Boroughs.

I won't take the time for a full report now - but will say that this was a constructive meeting of activists from a number of branches - we need to share and help across branch boundaries now more than ever.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Regional Committee report

Today's meeting of UNISON's Greater London Regional Committee, which I had to leave after giving my NEC Report to get back to the Branch, was overshadowed for me by terrible news from Ealing.

Chris Morey, the long standing UNISON Branch Secretary who had only recently retired, has died. Chris was invariably good company as well as being an exemplary trade unionist and it seemed strangely and sadly appropriate to learn of his passing at a Regional event, for he was the source of knowledge about Provincial level agreements in London local government.

The Regional Committee sent condolences to Chris's family and to the Ealing branch before returning, as we had to, to the issues before us.

The main topic of discussion was our response to the ConDem attacks. The Regional Secretary gave an overview of these attacks and the response of our movement which was supplemented by further reports from others.

We heard the good news that Croydon Council are backing away from their intention to attack nationally agreed sick pay. This is a tribute to the work of the Croydon branch and a testament to the way in which, even in the worst of circumstances, concessions can be won by determined struggle.

Our job, locally, Regionally and nationally, must be to wage the most determined and effective struggle possible in order to secure the maximum concessions, with the clear goal in mind of defeating every cut and every attack (and of bringing down this Government at the earliest opportunity).

Sadly, one Regional Council officer struck a slightly jaundiced note, bemoaning the fact that we had lost the General Election (as if this meant we should accept Government policy?) he was worried about our ability to mobilise our members. A fellow NEC member wondered whether members would be prepared to give up a Saturday to demonstrate.

These slightly disappointing contributions (which are hardly in the spirit of UNISON's approach) were effectively countered by others present. Phoebe Watkins, Camden local Government, pointed to the success of the Camden Trades Council demonstration on 20 October. Len Hockey, Waltham Forest Health, commended the mobilisation initiated by the RMT Union on Saturday 23 October.
Andrew Berry, Islington local government, reported from the STUC Demonstration in Edinburgh on 23 October.

The marvellous NUS/UCU demonstration last week was also given as an example of the possibility of mobilising opposition to this Government.

In summing up, the Regional Secretary responded positively to these more positive contributions - and urged branches to share information about campaigning activities so that the Region could publicise them.

I hope branches campaigning actively against Government policies will take the Regional Secretary up on this. As we build up to the TUC demonstration on 26 March (and beyond) we should not make the mistake of those who would "march in March and not before" - to mobilise a million then we must first mobilise hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands in local and Regional and national activities.

We also need to think seriously about the approach of the NUT Executive on pensions, which may offer us a chance to inflict a major defeat upon this Government.

We do now need leaders, at every level, who are prepared for this fight. Pessimism of the intellect is always reasonable, but pessimism of the will would be inexcusable.

We could also do with a unifying approach - if an agreement could be reached to reduce both the quorum for and the frequency of our Regional Council (so that we had three meetings a year attended by at least a quarter of registered delegates, rather than failing three out of four times a year to secure attendance by a third of registered delegates) that might suggest we were focused on what now needs to be done.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Appointment of Assistant General Secretary

All UNISON email users received, in the past hour or so, an email message sent on behalf of Bob Abberley, Assistant General Secretary, as follows;

"As the senior officer conducting the interviews held on 11th and 12th November, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Liz Snape, Director of Policy and Public Affairs, as AGS Communications, Campaigns and Policy.

This post carries responsibility for the strategic development and implementation of UNISON's campaigning strategy, policy development and implementation strategy, external communications strategy, including media and press, and has overall responsibility for the general and affiliated political funds. 

This appointment is the second made to the new senior management structure, and interviews for the other three AGS posts will be held over the next two weeks.

Once the appointment process is complete the General Secretary will consult with the appointees and confirm the commencement date of the new structure. 

Bob Abberley"

Though I personally believe that such important leadership roles should be elected rather than appointed, all UNISON members will I am sure wish Liz well in this challenging role.

True Rule Book anoraks may wonder about the implications both of these tidings and of the identity of their bearer for UNISON Rule E.4.2...

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Service Group seats on the NEC

I should start this post with a warm welcome to newly elected NEC members. I am particularly pleased to see that Max Watson will be one or the representatives of our members in Higher Education.

Some members have asked me whether or not elected members of Service Group Executives are eligible to contest the seats on our NEC which represent the Service Groups.

I am afraid that it is clear that elected members of Service Group Executives are not eligible to contest Service Group seats on the NEC. This arises from the NEC interpretation of the Rule Amendment agreed in 2008.

This is an extract from the minutes of the Development and Organisation Committee meeting of 7 October 2008;

· Item 2.1
New Rule D.3.5.8: Eligibility to hold office on a Service Group Executive

A report was circulated which addressed the implementation of new rule D 3.5.8. It made recommendations on transitional arrangements to avoid detriment to members holding office arising from elections which were held before 2008 National Delegate Conference. Also, it identified restrictions on eligibility for contesting NEC service group representative seats. Accordingly, it was agreed to recommend to the NEC that it makes the following ruling under Rule D 2.9 regarding transition arrangements for the implementation of Rule D 3.5.8:

“This NEC agrees to make a ruling under Rule D 2.9 powers regarding interpretation of the rules with regard to the implementation of new Rule
D 3.5.8.
In the 2009 elections for the National Executive Council [term of office from June 2009 to June 2011] current members of service group executives [for the 2008 to 2010 term of office] should be eligible to contest the National Executive Council service group representative seats in the 2009 elections. This is a transitional measure for the 2009 National Executive Council elections only.
Thereafter, NEC members who hold a seat as service group representative on the National Executive Council will not be eligible to stand for any other seat on a service group executive and, members of service group executives [with the exception of NEC service group representative seat holders] will not be eligible to stand as a service group representative on the National Executive Council.”

I had tried to amend this so that SGE members could stand for SG NEC seats but without success, and reported this on my blog (and in my report to branches) as follows;

“It has been agreed that from 2011, SGE members who wish to seek election to the Service Group seat on the NEC will need to stand down from the SGE before they are eligible to be nominated to the NEC. I proposed an amendment to this recommendation without success.”

I haven't changed my mind on this in the past two years and still think we were wrong. However, the position is very clear.

Personal report of the D&O Committee 8 November

The Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee of the NEC met on 8 November.

This is a personal report I have sent today to London branches. It is not an official document nor is it intended to be a comprehensive report of everything which was discussed. I am always happy to respond to questions about reports, or to attend meetings of branches or Branch Committees (subject to notice and availability). You can contact me at or on 07957505571.

Apologies to diligent readers of this blog who will notice some similarity between aspects of this report and some earlier posts...


This meeting commenced with a report on recruitment, which repeated the good news, from the October NEC, that we are on track to exceed our target of 1.75% membership growth.

In Greater London, where our target was only 0.5% (because we have the highest turnover rate of any Region) we are currently heading for 2.4% annual growth in 2010.

Learning and Organising

The Committee received a report updating NEC member on training activity. In the year to 30 September, 3,755 new shop stewards were appointed nationally and 2,634 stewards completed induction training.

In order to protect the availability of public funding for shop stewards’ training the previous three day introductory course and two day “handling grievances and disciplinaries” course have been brought together into a new Organising Stewards course.

From September 2011 it is likely that public funding for trade union training will be further restricted. As an indicative figure, should UNISON have to meet the current costs of the 1,728 reps who attended ten day TUC courses in 2009 this could cost us approximately £375,000. The Committee will be considering this further.

RMS Update

The Committee received a regular update on progress with the development of the RMS. The bulk email facility for which many branches are waiting will now be piloted by the end of the year with a view to full rollout early in 2011.

Changes are also being made to the facility for members to amend their details online on the website. This will shortly be piloted to Branch Secretaries.

Enhancements are also planned to enable the RMS better to describe members’ job descriptions which will assist the Union when balloting members for action.

Communications Workshop on New Structures

The Committee received a report of a workshop which had taken place in July to discuss improving communications with UNISON members in the context of our structure of sectors and Service Groups.

If any branch wants a copy of the report please get in touch.

National Delegate Conference – Representation and Participation

The Committee was presented with an analysis of attendance at last year’s National Delegate Conference which suggested a declining proportion of delegates are low paid and part time workers.

The Committee agreed that the same scheme of representation for branch delegations will apply at National Delegate Conference 2011 as applied this year, with one amendment that Regional Committees upholding appeals from branches not sending a young delegate should first of all consult their Regional Young Members’ Forum.

Branches under Regional Supervision

The D&O Committee receives regular reports on branches under Regional Supervision.

In Greater London this includes the Bromley, Greenwich and Newham Branches. Bromley and Greenwich were taken into Regional Supervision in the spring, following the conclusion of disciplinary proceedings taken against their former Branch Secretaries. The Tenant Services Authority branch, which was under Regional Supervision, has been closed as the employer has been closed by the Coalition Government.

In relation to Newham branch, which has been in administration rather longer, the Chair gave the Committee news which was somewhat more reassuring than the written report from the Region which was before the Committee.

Whilst the Regional report did not offer any immediate prospect of restoration of normality, the Chair made clear that it was the expectation that the Branch would leave regional supervision soon and would hold an AGM in the normal way in the New Year.

I will continue to press for the restoration of all branches in the Region to normal control by their own members in accordance with our Rule Book. If members in any of the branches concerned would like more information please get in touch.

Certification Officer cases

The Committee received a report of two recent cases involving UNISON heard by the Certification Officer, one of which (Searle –v- UNISON) was within our Region.

In this case the only declarations which the Certification Officer made were in respect of issues relating to the annual election of shop stewards where the Union had already conceded error and taken steps to put things right.

National Executive Council election procedures

The Committee endorsed revised election procedures for the forthcoming biennial elections to our NEC. The nominations will open on 11 January and close on 18 February. Voting will run from 11 April to 13 May. Results will be announced on 7 June. The new NEC will take office at the close of June's National Delegate Conference.

For the first time the regulations define as a candidate someone who has submitted their candidate's form. This should make it easier for branches who want to interview candidates (or their representatives) before deciding on a nomination.

A couple of other changes show us learning from experience. The regulations now make clear that a candidate must retain full membership throughout the entire election period in order to retain eligibility. The regulations also alert branches of the need - if holding a social event to which one candidate is invited - to be sure to invite other candidates.

Interpretation of Rule

The Committee agreed to interpret UNISON’s Rules to clarify that NEC members sitting on Service Group Executives do have a vote in the election for Chair of the Service Group (albeit they are not eligible to be a candidate).

Scheme for the Establishment and Restructuring of Branches

The Committee endorsed a revised version of the scheme governing the establishment and restructuring of UNISON Branches.

Whereas ten years or more ago questions were frequently raised about branches like Bromley, which happily organised members in more than one Service Group, the new guidelines turn our historic practice on its head to positively welcome cross service-group branches (which have become an inevitability since the creation of the Community Service Group).
Indeed one of the models for the future is of a "Community" branch, in which all members working in public service provision in a town or city, whether in local government, health, education or the voluntary sector, might be members of the same branch, with separate Committees for its members in each service group.

There are already examples of branches which are, as a matter of practical necessity, a world away from the model of a "lead employer branch" which was the basis on which branches from our "former partner unions" (COHSE, NALGO and NUPE) were merged fourteen years ago.

That model was then already anachronistic to some extent given the extent of privatisation under the Tories. Almost all UNISON branches are multi-employer branches and have been since they were created. Hundreds of our branches already now organise members across more than one Service Group and it makes sense that this option is not ruled out in branch restructurings.

However the best feature of the revised guidance is that it stresses that there a range of models and does not try to impose a "one size fits all" branch structure. I did express reservations about how the guidelines deal with the (hopefully exceptional) circumstances in which there is no clear consensus about how to restructure a branch (or branches).

I would sooner have seen a more prescriptive approach to member decisionmaking in those circumstances (a mandatory ballot). In practice I hope that common sense and democracy would prevail should disagreements arise.

If any branch would like a copy of the guidelines endorsed by the Committee, please get in touch.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Support the students

Having heard from a student speaker at today's meeting of UNISON activists in London I have added my name to the following statement;

We need unity to break the Con-Dems' attacks

Stand with the protesters against victimisation

Wednesday's national NUS/UCU 50,000-strong national demonstration was a magnificent show of strength against the Con-Dems' savage attacks on education.

The Tories want to make swingeing cuts, introduce £9,000 tuition fees and cut EMA.

These attacks will close the doors to higher education and further education for a generation of young people.

During the demonstration over 5,000 students showed their determination to defend the future of education by occupying the Tory party HQ and its courtyards for several hours.

The mood was good-spirited, with chants, singing and flares.

Yet at least 32 people have now been arrested, and the police and media appear to be launching a witch-hunt condemning peaceful protesters as "criminals" and violent.

A great deal is being made of a few windows smashed during the protest, but the real vandals are those waging a war on our education system.

We reject any attempt to characterise the Millbank protest as small, "extremist" or unrepresentative of our movement.

We celebrate the fact that thousands of students were willing to send a message to the Tories that we will fight to win.

Occupations are a long established tradition in the student movement that should be defended. It is this kind of action in France and Greece that has been an inspiration to many workers and students in Britain faced with such a huge assault on jobs, benefits, housing and the public sector.

We stand with the protesters, and anyone who is victimised as a result of the protest.

I encourage all readers to add their names to this statement by email to

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Friday, November 12, 2010

The money to improve your bathroom was spent bailing out the banks...

Yesterday's proposals for the allocation of (greatly reduced) funding to improve social housing which doesn't meet a standard of decency are noteworthy primarily for just how little a nation that could find billions to bail out bankers is prepared to find to combat squalor - just £260 Million nationally in the next financial year (

Lib Dems have once again excelled themselves in resurrecting another of the five giants ( identified by one of their most illustrious predecessors (

However, for those of us dealing still with Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) there is a tiny silver lining.

ALMOs were an unlovely and unloved device used by New Labour's neoliberals in pursuit of their ideological obsession with the break up of democratically accountable local authorities.

Additional funding to improve Council housing would not - we were told at the time - be made available to "traditionally managed" Council Housing and so - up and down the country - tenants and Councillors were cajoled into accepting an ALMO as the "least worst" option to secure needed improvements in the state of the housing stock.

There will now be a single allocation process for all Council landlords to bid for the available pittance. There is therefore now no advantage in having an ALMO over and above a traditional housing department when it comes to accessing what little funding will be available.

There is therefore no longer a rationale for the duplication at senior levels - nor of expenditure on the governance costs - which arise from having an ALMO.

We face a hard fight to defend and improve public and social housing under the ConDems. Alliances between housing workers and tenants and residents will be vital.

ALMOs aren't likely to help and the sooner they are put out of our misery and the management of housing stock returned to local authorities the better.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Teaching us how to protect our pensions?

Not-quite-breaking news from the NUT ( that their Executive has set out plans for a campaign in defence of pensions.

The NUT Executive recognise that the combined impact of the proposals of the Hutton Commission' the decision to switch the indexation of pension benefits from RPI to CPI and the inclusion in the Comprehensive Spending Review of an assumption that public sector workers will pay 3% more in pension contributions amount to "a much bigger threat to our pensions than the proposals we fought in 2005" - as a member of the Local Government Pension Scheme I remember our fight going on into strike action in 2006 and a Special Service Group Conference in 2007 - but the point being made by the NUT is essentially sound.

What they sensibly now propose to do is to produce and distribute campaign materials for use with members and the public, to plan meetings, rallies and lobbying activities - and to ballot for strike action in the Spring Term.

Their Executive has also instructed their General Secretary to approach other unions with a view to coordinated action.

How should UNISON respond to such an approach? We already know the views of our General Secretary!

At UNISON Conference five months ago, Dave Prentis touched on pensions in his keynote speech ( Dave said;

" if we find ourselves faced with a concerted attack on our pensions, and if Nick Clegg, who claimed expenses for a biscuit tin, comes for our pensions, as he boasted only yesterday, then we will ballot for national industrial action."

He rightly continued;

"If this government picks a fight with us, then we will be ready. And if this government picks a fight we will be fierce defenders of our members, and the services they deliver, the next four years will test us all. Test our resolve. Test our nerve. But we will pass the test. The world has changed - new worries, new fears. And our members look to us to lead. This is no time to hang our heads. It is time to stand tall. Proud, confident, bold. We know what we stand for. We know who we are. The union who will stand in the way. The union who will fight 'til the end. This is the time to lift our hearts and raise our flag. A brand new chapter. Strong, determined, united."

UNISON is a member-led union and our General Secretary cannot decide when or why we take strike action - but his views will rightly carry weight with decision makers.

There is a compelling case for coordinated national action to defend our pensions.

This is an issue on which our members can be mobilised - as we cannot (yet) mobilise them against the pay freeze.

This is an issue about which unifying national trade disputes can be declared - as they cannot against cuts and redundancies implemented locally by particular employers.

This is an issue which hits all our members - not just those whose jobs may currently be at risk.

This is an issue on which we can win - and force back the ConDems in a significant national dispute.

Such a victory would strengthen our hand in each local dispute about cuts. It would encourage all trade unionists and working people to believe that this Government can be forced back. It would be a victory for all those millions under attack by the Government of millionaires.

For those wishing to pursue this matter in UNISON's Greater London Region I am tempted to point out that this might be a legitimate topic for an Emergency Motion to our December Regional Council (but I wouldn't want to incur the wrath of a fellow blogger who knows the need for a sedate timetable in the struggle -

On second thoughts, I suggest UNISON activists raise this question in every appropriate forum!

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Brilliant students

50,000 demonstrators defending the rights and interests of future students today set a wonderful example to the trade union movement.

Mainstream media coverage seems a bit carried away with events at Millbank (unfortunately assisted by some clueless careerist of a student politician eager to deplore violence when he should have had the gumption to stick to the message of the demo).

Since 50,000 peaceful marchers attract less media attention than a far smaller number smashing windows it's the media's priorities which help to drive people towards spectacular action.

Whilst I'd sooner it was explicitly nonviolent direct action, the correct answer to the question "do you condemn the violence?" is to condemn the Government.

The real story of today is the militant selflessness and justified anger of tens of thousands of young people. The rest of us should learn from this marvellous example.

I am all for building towards the TUC demonstration in March but - as a local government worker anticipating deep cuts and many thousands of redundancies before then - I think we shouldn't wait to March to march (so to speak).

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Branching out?

Monday's meeting of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee considered revised guidelines for the restructuring of UNISON branches, which suggest that in future we may have a more diverse and flexible branch structure.

Whereas ten years or more ago questions were frequently raised about branches like Bromley, which happily organised members in more than one Service Group, the new guidelines turn our historic practice on its head to positively welcome cross service-group branches (which have become an inevitability since the creation of the Community Service Group).

Indeed, in a good example of how, once you start using a fluffy word that can mean anything you'll never break the habit, one of the models for the future is of a "Community" branch, in which all members working in public service provision in a town or city, whether in local government, health, education or the voluntary sector, might be members of the same branch, with separate Committees for its members in each service group.

There are already examples of branches which are, as a matter of practical necessity, a world away from the model of a "lead employer branch" which was the basis on which branches from our "former partner unions" (COHSE, NALGO and NUPE) were merged fourteen years ago.

That model was then already anachronistic to some extent given the extent of privatisation under the Tories. Almost all UNISON branches are multi-employer branches and have been since they were created.

Hundreds of our branches already now organise members across more than one Service Group and it makes sense that this option is not ruled out in branch restructurings. However the best feature of the revised guidance is that it stresses that there a range of models and does not try to impose a "one size fits all" branch structure.

Whether this echoes Khruschev's attempts at decentralisation in the Soviet Union in the late 1950s I wouldn't like to say - but I do have reservations about how the guidelines deal with the (hopefully exceptional) circumstances in which there is no clear consensus about how to restructure a branch (or branches).

I would sooner have seen a more prescriptive approach to member decisionmaking in those circumstances (a mandatory ballot). In practice I hope that common sense and democracy would prevail should disagreements arise.

Our first priority must be to resist the gathering wave of ConDem attacks upon our members, but lay activists thinking about the future of our union need also to pay attention to sometimes obscure discussions such as this.

Trade union democracy is not a luxury and a little knowledge about the challenges facing Khruschev is always handy in our movement.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

This is not business as usual

I have had to miss important local meetings to attend a Regional planning meeting for local government branches this morning.

Whilst it is unfortunate that only a minority of local government branches were able to attend this was nevertheless a useful opportunity for representatives of branches across London to share information, experiences and ideas.

Branch activists need to transcend localism and engage with wider co-ordination in the fight to defend our public services - and we need our Regional structures to facilitate this coordination. Branch activists can and must help each other over the coming months and years. The Region must help us to do so.

The ideas thrashed out this morning need to be considered formally by the Regional Local Government next week - and those with budgetary implications will need agreement from the Regional Finance Team and ultimately the Regional Council.

If ever there was a time to spend some of the reserves in the Regional lay budget this is the time - and the modest ideas considered today for frequent and regular co-ordinating meetings drawing in representatives of local government branches across London certainly warrant the commitment of necessary expenditure.

If there was a theme to today's meeting it was that we will not be doing "business as usual" any time soon.

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Branches under regional supervision - for how much longer?

Yesterday's meeting of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee considered, as it regularly does, a report on the small number of UNISON Branches under "Regional Supervision".

There are circumstances in which branches fail to function in accordance with UNISON Rules and in some of these the Committee Chair, on behalf of the NEC, authorises the Regional Secretary to take over the running of the branch.

In Greater London three local authority branches - in Bromley, Greenwich and Newham are being administered in this way.

I have previously made clear my reservations about the circumstances in which the Bromley and Greenwich branches were removed from the democratic control of their members this spring (

In relation to Newham branch, which has been in administration rather longer, the Chair gave the Committee news which was somewhat more reassuring than the written report from the Region which was before the Committee.

Whilst the Regional report did not offer any immediate prospect of restoration of normality, the Chair made clear that it was the expectation that the Branch would leave regional supervision soon and would hold an AGM in the normal way in the New Year.

Given the scale of the challenges now faced by UNISON and our members - and whatever judgement is made about the rights and wrongs of regional supervision in any particular case - it is vital that the return of these branches to normal lay democracy is expedited.

From a local point of view, the enthusiastic engagement of active members in the defence of public services depends in part upon the infrastructure of branch democracy.

From a Regional point of view, we need to deploy the resources currently swallowed up by Regional supervision to face the attacks from the Coalition Government.

Regional supervision should only ever be an exception - and a very temporary one. Now more than ever UNISON needs to remember this.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

What next to fight the cuts?

Esteemed blogger Dave Osler is optimistic as ever about the prospects for resistance to the ConDems from the trade unions.

In responding to a call for restrictions on the rights of public sector workers to take industrial action Dave opines that "it is by no means certain that the big public sector unions have got sufficient fight left in them to mount anything more than token resistance to what the Tories and the Lib Dems have in store".

I think that this is a question which needs to be answered by those of us who are trade union activists. UNISON Branches can access campaign resources online very easily. It is in our hands to build the campaign that can stop the Coalition Government in its tracks.

Mike Marqusee in yesterday's Grauniad made a compelling case for health workers to stand up for the health service - even if that means industrial action - and a similar case can be made in all our public services.

We shouldn't need to be persuaded - attacks on public services are not just attacks upon our jobs (and hence our living standards and quality of life) but also upon the quality of life of all working people who rely upon our services.

The question isn't whether we should fight, only how. But this question does raise the further question of how we go about persuading our own members both that there is an alternative to public spending cuts (both in general and in any particular case) and also that we can use our collective power to shift the outcome of a dispute in the direction of that alternative.

It is clearly possible to win the argument with trade union members about the need to take action to defend our interests - the current dispute between the NUJ and the BBC is a topical example of this.

However, it is certainly true that trade unionists generally are not straining at the leash to go on strike, nor that the only thing holding us back is reluctant leadership.

In building up opposition to the ConDems (and - I ought to add - to any acts by Labour employers which essentially implement Government policy) we face the challenge of picking our fights based upon where we have the best chance of mobilising members and the best chance of winning something.

The decision of the London Regional Committee of the FBU in relation to the dispute in London has provoked some fairly predicatable online comment - I think that the tactical decisions governing any particular dispute must be the property of the workers in that dispute and the FBU Regional Committee only suspended the action provided the brigade agreed to go to arbitration and delay any decision on mass sackings until the authority meeting on 26 January. Other commentators may question this decision - but it has to be up to the Firefighters what they do with their own industrial action!

Public sector disputes are political disputes and industrial action is one (very important) tool with which we can apply political pressure.

Tactical decisions in local disputes have to be made in the context of the overall political situation at any point in time, and as activists we need to try to influence both of these aspects.

The TUC demonstration on 26 March seems a long way away and - whilst I am not convinced that the call for a General Strike really resonates with members in the here and now - I do think that we need some further activity far sooner than March, if we are going to encourage members to stand together in opposition to the coming cuts.

The call from the Norfolk Coalition Against Cuts for a demonstration on 4 December corresponds to the devastating cuts proposed in that County - but since we all face such attacks perhaps we should set that date for coordinated activity in every Region and locality?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Support a member led dispute

Perhaps the most refreshing thing I heard from an FBU speaker at this evening's Brixton meeting to build solidarity with the firefighters was his answer to a questioner who, in asking about the future of the dispute, advocated indefinite "all out" strike action.

What we were told was that this was a "member-led" dispute and that the tactics of the dispute going forward would be determined by the members.

This response is not only correct in principle - it is also tactically sound, since workers will not long endorse an approach to a dispute which we have not ourselves originated. Our trade unions should be just that - ours. The organisations of the ordinary workers paying our subs. The tactics of this dispute will be determined by firefighters.

That said, it seems clear that the intense provocation of the strikers by managers and scabs, including two incidents in which strikers were injured, is setting the scene for an escalation of action by the FBU if management don't back down.

This dispute now has totemic significance - if LFEPA can sack FBU members in order to re-engage them on less favourable terms, then every public sector employer will consider doing likewise - some already are.

Whatever the firefighters decide to do, the rest of us need to step up a gear with solidarity. The firefighters need our moral, financial and practical support in every way possible.

And, of course, let's all check our employer's fire risk assessments have been updated to take account of inadequate fire cover by barely trained scabs on strike days. Perhaps we should insist upon fire drills on each future strike day to check the adequacy of our employers safety arrangements.

In fact, why don't we press for co-ordinated fire drills?

We could all walk out of our workplaces when the FBU are on strike without contravening a single one of the anti-union laws...

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Channel 4 exclusive - it's all our fault

Shame on you if you foolishly thought we were living through the aftermath of a recession which had its origins in the (private) financial services sector and with a Public Sector Borrowing Requirement massively enlarged by consequent reductions in tax revenues.

Channel 4 News - in a masterpiece of lazy and shoddy journalism has now revealed that it's all the fault of local government workers (

Apparently we take more time off sick than the average private sector worker. The "cost" of this absence can be calculated in order to bash local government workers (a bloodsport that is always in season) - but this "cost" is meaningless since a marginal additional cost only arises where additional staff are taken on to cover for sickness absence, as happens only in a minority of cases of long term sickness.

Otherwise there is no financial cost - although of course there is a (non-financial) impact on service provision and (more importantly) an additional burden on those of us who aren't off sick to pick up as much of the work of those who are as we can manage.

One major factor in higher sickness absence in local government than the private sector average is the different profile of the workforce in terms of jobs. There is almost an epidemic of work related stress in some parts of the local government workforce. I would happily invite the "consultant" (which means overpaid layabout) who told Channel 4 that we can easily reduce sickness absence in local government to spend a week working alongside some of our front line workers (and living on the same salary) and see if they can hack it.

Another factor will be that we have civilised sick pay provisions, whilst for many non-unionised private sector workers a bout of 'flu' can mean trouble paying the bills next month.

I think the problem isn't really that local government workers take too much time off sick but that private sector workers take too little.

We should work to live, not live to work and to drag oneself into work when unwell for fear of losing money or upsetting the boss should be a source of shame, not pride.

I think the Channel 4 "journalist" who worked on this story may need a better attitude to their own sickness absence. They must have been so unwell when they reported on the increase in local government expenditure over the past decade that they forgot to take account of inflation, and of the consequent difference between current prices and constant prices...

I'll stick to BBC News from now on.

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Torygraph stands up for victims of "brutal" cuts!

The Torygraph are up in arms for some victims of the public spending cuts being imposed by the ConDem coalition (

That's the companies, suppliers of privateer Serco, who are being asked for a retrospective rebate of 2.5% (with the implied threat of no further contracts if they don't deliver) in response to Serco being asked by the Government to find savings from existing contracts.

The Government are upset too (since this rather exposes the half-baked "crowding out" thesis which leads them to believe that public sector cuts make room for private sector growth).

Although trade unionists should consistently oppose all the deflationary impacts of cutting public spending when aggreggate demand is already too low, I think I'll save my tears for the local authorities and benefit claimants facing so much worse (and, like most local government workers, I would make an exception to my opposition to such cuts if local authorities asked highly paid consultants for such a rebate.)

Local authority employees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who haven't had a pay rise since April last year have already given our employers - in real terms - a "rebate" of over 5%, and now we face front loaded cuts of 28%. As soon as the Torygraph shows us any sympathy I'll be sure to blog a link...

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Support the FBU

Firefighters in London ( are striking today ( and deserve the support of all trade unionists.

The threat of mass sacking to impose contractual change is the hallmark of the reactionary employer and if LFEPA get away with it than every trade unionist in London will be at greater risk.

In other organisations we need to review fire risk assessments and consider if existing control measures are adequate in circumstances in which scab outfit AssetCo are the only fire cover.

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