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, February 27, 2011

Cuts - acting locally, thinking globally?

It's a busy night for council budget setting meetings tomorrow, as local authorities of all political complexions push through multi-million pound cuts packages under orders from the Tory-led Coalition Government to slash public services to pay for a crisis caused by the bankers (and their economic system):

Newham Stop the Cuts campaign march
Monday 28th February 2011
5:00pm to 7:30pm

No to ConDem Cuts in Camden
Monday 28th February 2011
5:30pm to 7:30pm

Lobby Croydon Council - Stop the Cuts
Monday 28th February 2011
5:30pm to 7:30pm

Brent Fightback! Lobby Brent Council
Monday 28th February 2011
6:00pm to 8:00pm

A hat tip to the Labour Representation Committee for collating and disseminating this information – the LRC leaflet on what Councillors should do is available online -
Our next step in every London Borough following these budget settings must be to maximise turnout on 26 March, whilst simultaneously rolling our sleeves up in our UNISON branches and getting to grips with the details of truly horrendous cuts proposals in order to limit the damage as best we can.
The need of an effective national fight against the Government from the trade union movement is ever more pressing.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Haringey steps up

Yesterday's occupation of Haringey Civic Centre ( shows the growing determination of the gathering anti-cuts movement.

Haringey is one of a number of local authority areas facing social devastation from the savage cuts by the Tory-led Coalition.

Yesterday in Lambeth I learned of the shocking scale of job losses arising from the Council's cuts budget.

The law on redundancy consultation requires that we are given numbers of projected dismissals - and when those numbers equate to one in five of the workforce they are stark enough in their own right.

But beyond the impact on ourselves as workers, behind the raw numbers, there will be a story of shattered hopes, diminished futures and social isolation as the infrastructure of services which support our most vulnerable fellow citizens is subject to this fiscal firestorm.

The sooner we mobilise the collective strength of the trade unions to focus our rage against the Tories the better we shall defend all those who need us to act.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Next business?

Continuing with the theme of intermittent reporting of bits of yesterday's UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) meeting pending my having a chance to write a full report, I thought I would share with you (dear reader) a tale of a procedural manouevre which went a bit wrong.

Ahead of the meeting I had asked about the process whereby UNISON would decide whether or not to appeal the Employment Tribunal decision in the case of Kelly and others -v- UNISON (

This followed a lively (if damp) lobby of the NEC yesterday morning (

I was advised that the NEC would not be permitted to debate this but that I could raise the point at a particular point on the agenda, at which point the Deputy General Secretary would explain why the NEC could not discuss this and I could seek to oppose this (and doubtless lose any subsequent vote). I agreed to raise the issue at that point rather than at the outset - so that any disagreement did not detract from a unified response to attacks on jobs and pensions.

In the event though, my attempt even to ask a question about this case prompted an irate NEC member to move, in a somewhat intemperate way, "next business". Upon my insisting that this should be voted upon, the President permitted a vote on this procedural motion, which was (predictably) carried.

Although the mover of the procedural motion achieved their desire that no one should be able to answer the question, that I had by then already asked, they also (thanks to the support of the majority of NEC members) ensured that no disciplinary cases in which NEC decisions were required can be carried forward until the next NEC meeting.

It's a small point, but it does illustrate the importance of thinking before acting.

For my part, I have been trying for some years to move "next business" in a general way and move our union on from what I believe to be unwarranted use of disciplinary procedures for some time.

I'm afraid I can't promise not to ask a similar question at the next meeting. I can however think of a fairly simple way for us to avoid having to spend further time on such matters.

Now let's move on to next business...

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Pensions - time for action!

My report to London UNISON Branches from yesterday's meeting of the UNISON's National Executive Council didn't get written yesterday as I was a bit busy (

I'll blog a couple of key points ahead of writing up the full report, of which I think a quick note about the debate on pensions may be most important of all. The introduction to the discussion by General Secretary Dave Prentis was markedly more left wing than the written report circulated before the meeting, in that he referred repeatedly to the prospect of industrial action, a topic which was largely absent from the report.

Dave's focus on the need for national strike action to defend public service pensions found an echo across the NEC.

I was particularly interested in contributions from colleagues in the health service who made the point that, in recent years, the "pay as you go" (unfunded) NHS pension scheme has routinely taken in more in contributions than it has paid out in pensions. Far from basking in the reflected glow of so-called "gold plated" pensions, low-paid health workers have been subsidising the Treasury by paying in more than is required to pay the (hardly generous) pensions of retired colleagues.

Yet the Government want to levy an average 3% "increased pension contribution" or (as James Anthony put it) a 3% tax for working in the public sector.

In the case of the (funded) Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) the Treasury are carrying out this theft from the (largely low paid) members of the scheme by taking £900 Million away from local authorities in England and Wales - increased contributions will be needed to cover this shortfall which has been deliberately created by an act of pension vandalism by the Tories.

Even the Tory-dominated local authority employers are up in arms about this theft - which could see an exodus of scheme members, threatening a massive future bill for future means-tested benefits and worsening pensioner poverty for a generation.

All of this comes on top of an estimated 15% reduction in the value of our pensions as a result of the decision, announced in June, to uprate pensions from April in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than Retail Price Index (RPI).

And - of course - we are still awaiting the Hutton report.

There is no doubt that if we can communicate effectively to our members the scale of the attack upon our pensions we can win overwhelming support for united national industrial action.

There are practical and logistical difficulties - and Dave Prentis said that it is because of these that UNISON is arguing for a later date for the commencement of action than are some other unions. However, we overcame these difficulties in 2006 to defend the LGPS and we can do so again.

I argued at the NEC that the welcome tone of Dave's report was long overdue and that we now need to move as swiftly as possible. Every cut, every redundancy, shifts the balance of power incrementally away from us and in favour of the Tories - yet at the same time the infant Coalition Government are still finding their feet (as demonstrated most recently by the U turn on the forests).

The time is now for national action on pensions. (And the time is before noon tomorrow for motions to UNISON Local Government Conference).

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lambeth Council Chamber occupied as cuts are made

In an excellent local protest this evening trade union and community campaigners took over the Council Chamber at Lambeth Town Hall for a debate about how to fight cuts in public services, as Councillors made the cuts elsewhere in private session (

Whilst Councillors (believing that they had no option) bent the knee to the Coalition Government (who have no popular mandate for their kamikaze economic policies) local people engaged in a serious, considered and peaceful debate about how to fight back.

The main focus of contributions to the debate (from a wide range of community and union campaigners) was upon how to develop opposition to Government policies (particularly by maximising attendance by local people at the TUC demonstration on 26 March).

Although some members of deputations who were due to address the Council were disappointed that, having gone into private session, the Council then refused to hear from them, the overall impact of this evening's events has been to strengthen and broaden the campaign against the cuts.

The decisions taken by Lambeth - or any local authority - are never irrevocable and can always be fought. The peaceful, orderly and militant demonstration and protest in Brixton this evening has provided a platform to take this vital campaign to the next level.

The campaign against cuts shall continue to be fought, job by job, service by service, day by day.

That protesters marched out of the Town Hall in a resolute, determined and united way demonstrated the seriousness of the growing forces being drawn around the local "Save Our Services" campaign (

The Tory-led Government is set upon destroying the gains won for working people over previous generations. Tonight local people in Lambeth said that we will fight back.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Solidarity with Wisconsin workers

In the 80s Reagan and Thatcher competed to attack the organised working class - the smashing of the US Air Traffic Controllors reverberated around the world just as did the defeat of the miners in the UK.

So workers here need to be worried that the Tories' transatlantic cousins in Wisconsin are trying to strip collective bargaining rights from public sector employees ( This is precisely the wet dream of the swivel-eyed extremists at the Institute of Directors and other looney-tunes right wing "think" tanks.

That the attack upon our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin includes an attack on their pensions serves only to underline our common interest in resisting the global attempt to make public servants pay the cost of the bankers' crisis.

American readers can sign an online petition ( and - bearing in mind the inscription on the Statue of Liberty - I should imagine we all can.

Just as the Tories wish they had never had to concede any part of the Welfare State (and will destroy it as soon and as far as they can) so they - and their Republican allies - wish they had never had to permit any trade union rights (and will destroy us too if we let them).

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cuts? Notts!

Following a blog post about Forest it's only right to mention Notts County, where UNISON members are set to strike against job cuts next Thursday (

After Kirklees branch showed that - even in these hard times - the threat of strike action can wring concessions from even the most parsimonious employers, it's good to see the lesson spreading.

Good luck Nottinghamshire!

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Lobby Islington Council against cuts - today

Here - for the benefit of those who can make it there this afternoon - is an appeal from UNISON's Islington branch to support their march and lobby of Islington Council today -

Dear Comrades and colleagues

Tonight Islington Council trades union members are marching and lobbying outside the Council's budget setting meeting.

At 5.30 We are assembling on Highbury Fields at the top of Fieldway Crescent. We will move off around 6PM.

The March will proceed to the town hall for speeches and to lobby Council Members about the cuts package planned for the Council meeting.

£50 millions and 280 job losses are planned as the first part of the four year package being pushed by the Condem government.

Unison are utterly opposed to the policies of the Condem government. We think that the council needs to lead a fight in the community against these vicious plans. Each of the 280 job losses is an individual with family members and these cuts affectveach of them and the communities they live in.

Islington Unison believes that councillors in the borough should think about the needs of the people of the borough. When going into the chamber on Thursday evening they should think long and hard about who elected them in May 2010 and why the working class people of the Borough chose to put the Labour Group in power.

It was certainly not to axe £100 million off the budget over four years frontloaded to make half now!

It was not to attack Childrens services and the most vulnerable in the community.

It was not to dump 700 onto the dole queues.

Labour Councillors should be heading up an alliance with the unions and community groups and activists including user groups to prevent these terrible cuts.

In the chamber tonight they must put the community first and help launch the resistance.

The march and protest have been organised jointly by Unison and the GMB with support from other unions.

We hope that you come along and join in this fight with us.

Our struggle is your struggle.

Comradely Greetings

Mike Calvert
Deputy Branch Secretary
Islington Unison

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Take to the trees?

Those in the trade union movement advocating "guerilla struggle" in our "war of attrition" with the Coalition Government will be pleased at the welcome U-turn which has staved off the privatisation of woodland (

The public woodland may provide cover for our hardy guerilla warriors when they sally forth from Congress House to harry Government forces?

This will be trickier in inner London of course as we don't have too many trees - though with Lambeth Council planning to sack its few park rangers and cut back on the contractor's workforce, such wooded areas as we have may become more overgrown...

The definition of a "war of attrition" is "a struggle in which you harm your opponent in a lot of small ways, so that they become gradually weaker." (

The problem with the perspective of a "war of attrition" is that all the attrition is on our side. We have workers facing compulsory redundancies, managers ignoring agreed procedures - and madcap schemes for enforced privatisation. Every UNISON branch, in every service group, could tell a similar tale.

This one sided attrition weakens us more than we are strengthened in the mean time. Whilst we wait for "the time to be right" for a co-ordinated offensive against the Coalition Government, that date is slipping further away with each blow struck against us.

It is true that our members will be more angry about the pay freeze as inflation, and national insurance bite hard.

It is also true that our members will be more motivated to defend pensions when we see what Hutton has in store, and a clear timetable for increased contributions.

It is similarly true that opposition to spending cuts will grow as their impact is seen.

All these factors do weigh in the balance against aiming in an over hasty way for national action.

However, these factors are outweighed by the real-world real-time impact of the Government's war of attrition on our jobs and services.

Many of the local government workers who will have received redundancy notices before we take to the streets on 26 March will not be there to fight further attacks next year. Their absence will reduce our numbers and discourage those who remain.

Each library or day centre which they succeed in closing will bring anger and demoralisation in equal measure.

Rising unemployment will tilt the balance of power in each workplace away from the shop steward (where there is one) and toward bullying and reactionary managers.

This is not a counsel of despair - rather it indicates the need for urgent action. A trade union movement of six million members need not be weak and fearful. We need to pick a fight, wisely and in a timely way, which can focus all our strength to deliver a hammer blow to the Coalition, rather than localised pinpricks.

The issue is public sector pensions and the time is as soon as practicable, bearing in mind that we have not yet done nearly enough to communicate the seriousness of the attacks already made upon our pensions.

The message of the forests U-turn is that this Government is not invulnerable. If we could knock them back on a major issue we would become stronger and more confident whilst they would become weaker and less certain.

As long as we restrict ourselves to "guerilla struggle" in the "war of attrition" which we are currently losing, then it is their strength that grows and ours that is diminished.

That's why I'll be supporting the candidates of the serious and meaningful left in the forthcoming elections to the UNISON NEC (

Every candidate will say they oppose cuts, but those prepared unquestioningly to support the leadership that has spent the last year backing delay have failed to put such sentiments into action.

As well as preparing to campaign for left candidates, activists also need to put down Conference motions, drafted to be steered safely through the standing orders set out in Rule P, which call for united action in defence of public service pensions.

The deadlines are 25 February for Local Government Conference and 1 March for National Delegate Conference. Drop me an email if you have (or would be interested in) possible text for Conference motions for consideration in your branch.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Facing up to the challenge?

Last Wednesday's Annual General Meeting of UNISON's Greater London Regional Council was, yet again, one of the largest gatherings of lay UNISON representatives other than at a national Conference.

The current leadership team were re-elected and I congratulate them and wish them well for UNISON's most challenging year. There was a mood of determination in the face of the current tidal wave of cuts and job losses, reflected in the unanimous agreement of a motion to go to UNISON National Delegate Conference on campaigning against cuts, passed with an amendment supporting industrial action.

As is now traditional there was an introspective debate on our structures which ended, from the point of view of the delegates from the Lambeth branch at least, in a "score draw" as the Council accepted our proposal to reduce the frequency of scheduled meetings from four to three but rejected our suggestion that the quorum be reduced from one third to one quarter of registered delegates.

Since it was 2005 when a Regional Council meeting other than the Annual General Meeting last attracted a quorum of delegates, I am worried that we may have missed an opportunity to make use of our Regional Council as a forum to focus anti-cuts campaigning in 2011.

I hope that delegates will turn up to the June Regional Council and to reporting on this blog that a quorate meeting will have taken forward our campaign in support of public services.

Worryingly, judging by the turnout in the elections, attendance at this year's AGM had dipped somewhat, from around 250 to around 200 voting delegates. Whether this reflects greater difficulties in getting time off, increased pressure of work in branches, or a degree of disengagement from the Union at Regional level I'm not clear.

All of us who hold leading positions in UNISON in London need to consider how we can make our lay structures more relevant and effective in meeting the challenges which 2011 has in store.

Twenty years ago I supported the proposed creation of UNISON because I believed that united action by public service workers was the best way to defend the interests of ourselves as workers and the public services we work to provide - and because I thought that a united public service union could deliver that action.

Now is the time to find out if we were right.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Health workers fighting back

I was pleased to have been invited to the AGM of UNISON's East London Mental Health branch ( this lunchtime.

Whilst its depressing to hear of the millions of pounds of cuts being made to the local health service, it was encouraging to meet fellow UNISON members committed to fighting back.

The branch had been supporting the demonstration at Homerton on Saturday and were mobilising members for further protests in the next few days. With £20 Million cuts announced at Barts and the London there is much against which to protest.

The spirit and determination of the East London Mental Health Branch is an example of what is both necessary and possible throughout UNISON.

Those of us not in health can also access information from the NHS Support Federation ( who are encouraging people to email our MPs in opposition to the Government's plans to break up the NHS. You can do this online via the UNISON website (

The scale and breadth of this Government's assault upon the Welfare State means that the labour movement needs to match their audacity and start planning now for national action on an issue where we can force them to a standstill. In this way our national trade union can live up to the example set by so many local activists.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

New Cross library occupied

As a former Lewisham resident (and Lewisham Labour Party activist) I'm pleased to learn of the occupation of New Cross Library ( (Hat tip Nick). This is a sensible response to the threat of closure.

It will clearly be necessary for the defence of our public services to step beyond the narrow confines of an exclusive focus on strictly lawful protest.

Libraries (or any other public service) don't belong to the Council as much as to local people, who clearly have the right to seize our collective assets to protect them from harm.

As I was observing this morning in the previous post on this blog, Labour Councils facing such action face an immediate challenge and a choice which is different from - and cannot be reduced to - the choice they made when they decided to set a lawful budget.

Lewisham Mayor Steve Bullock (whom I remember as less worse than another previous Labour Leader) now has to decide what to say. If his priority is to denounce local opponents of his budget he will be lining up with Cameron and Clegg.

If, as I hope, he can remember to express outrage not at those who oppose his cuts but at the Ministers whose decisions to reduce grants have driven his actions - and if he ensures that no hostile action is taken against the occupiers or those supporting them by anyone under his authority - then he will, as he should, be moving in the direction of opposition to the Tory Government.

The same choice which faces the elected Mayor of Lewisham faces every member of a ruling Labour Group.

The trade unions need to mobilise pressure on politicians so that the best of them find the confidence to argue against cuts.

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Why Councillors should fight the cuts - and what we do about it now...

Over at the LRC website there is a clear and coherent exposition of the case for Labour representatives to resist, rather than implement, cuts in public services required to balance Council budgets following devastating reductions in Central Government grants (

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will be used to posts on these issues and will know that I can also bore for England on the related subject of local Council's reserves (

Whilst I agree that Labour Councillors ought to be resisting, rather than implementing Tory cuts (even at the cost of handing control of their budget to their Chief Finance Officer) - there is, as far as I am aware, no ruling Labour Group in the country which is anywhere near this position.

I believe that the political ground which Labour Councillors are trying to occupy, in between the Government (who are assaulting our welfare state) and the workers and service users (who are and will be trying to defend it) will shrink, and that Councillors will increasingly be forced to choose sides.

Therefore, in the here and now, as well as advancing and defending the (correct) principled position that Labour Councillors ought not to make Tory cuts, we need also to make lesser demands which may help defend some jobs and services and/or encourage the movement of opposition to our main enemies - the Tory-led Coalition Government.

The debate about Council reserves is part of this work (however much it may be seized upon hypocritically by opposition Councillors in Labour authorities).

Another discussion which now needs to begin is about how Councils respond to anti-cuts campaigning activites which may have to cross some lines and break some laws in order to seek to prevent greater wrongs.

Twenty years ago I was one of a group of trade unionists who occupied two Council advice centres facing closure by a Labour Council implementing Tory cuts. Our action was clearly unlawful - and potentially a dismissable disciplinary offence. We saved one of the centres - at least for several years.

The Council chose to negotiate with us rather than take legal (or disciplinary) action against us.

The legal position is less favourable now than then (our unlawful occupation had the official backing of the Union!) However, the political choices facing Councillors are essentially the same.

We need a reasoned and informed debate about how Labour Councillors can respond to strikes and occupations opposing cuts which they are implementing in a way which builds united opposition to the ConDem source of the problem.

We also need a discussion within our unions about how to ensure that an approach of compliance with the anti-union laws (which I oppose but do not expect to change in the next few months) does not obstruct our political support for some actions which may take the anti-cuts campaign outside some laws.

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Support the People's History Museum

Last year when the TUC met in Manchester I visited the People's History Museum (formerly the National Museum of Labour History). I'm therefore blogging the following message circulated yesterday to LRC members in London, and coming from the SERTUC Regional Secretary;

"I know many colleagues support and have a great affection for the People's History Museum in Manchester. The TUC has a long association with the museum and its predecessor, the National Museum of Labour History. The museum had some brilliant news this week – it's on the long list for the 2011 Art Fund Prize. This is the UK's largest arts prize with a prestigious £100,000 award for the winning museum. For further information about the award, if you're interested, please use the links below: -        

Link to the news story on the museum's website about the Art Fund Prize -  -        

Link to the Art Fund Prize website with the list of the judges for 2011 – -         

Link to an article on the Guardian website by Charlotte Higgins (one of the judges) - 

But most importantly, please consider voting for the museum in the online public poll, and you might want to encourage your friends and contacts to do so too.  -           Link to the online poll to vote for PHM – 

It would be wonderful if this museum of working class and trade union history won and got a financial boost from the prize! 

All best wishes,


Megan Dobney

SERTUC Regional Secretary"

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