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)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Support the Royal cleaners - not the Royal family

After a couple of hours leafletting for the elections I was pleased to come upon a copy of today's Morning Star - only to find a picture of the Queen and Prince Phil on the front cover! (

To be fair to the comrades, this was to promote the laudable campaign by PCS for cleaners at the Royal Palaces to be paid at least the London living wage (

If the thought that our incomparably wealthy royal family pays their cleaners £6.45 an hour, well below the "London living wage" of £7.85 an hour (established by Ken Livingstone and endorsed by his Tory successor) makes you splutter into your champagne and choke on your caviar (or otherwise interrupts whatever you are doing) then take some action.

Sign the online petition here -

Then drop your MP an email and ask them to sign Early Day Motion 1696 ( to support the Royal cleaners. You can contact your MP online via

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A day off work

Having a day off work, myself and my son today visited the excellent Brighton Museum, where public servants were hard at work on a public holiday so that local people could enjoy art, culture and history.

We particularly enjoyed the Ancient Egyptian galleries where we could look back at a society where an oppressed population lived under hereditary rulers who themselves lived lives of incredible opulence.

How unlike our modern world

Thursday, April 28, 2011

This is a free country (not)

What on earth are the police doing arresting peaceful protesters ahead of the Royal Wedding? ( Those arrested include an actor who dresses up as an executioner (

Do they think a gaggle of fairly ineffectual anarchists and some activists whose activism consists largely of street theatre are a threat or a potential embarrassment?

The antics of some of those who think radicalism means having a swear word on your t-shirt and a balaclava covering your face were an irritation on March 26th (and gave the police the excuse to detain and arrest the effective and responsible protesters of UK Uncut).

However, the "black bloc" lacks the capacity to pose any real threat tomorrow - and as for an embarrassment, well we are about to witness an entire nation come to a standstill to mark the nuptials of a future hereditary head of state and, last time I checked the time, it wasn't still the Middle Ages.

I would say we ought to be past being embarrassed.

Full marks to John McDonnell, MP, for speaking out against this nonsense (

Civil liberties are never defended by supporting the popular, the sensible or the acceptable.

If people were planning stunts to disrupt the Royal wedding then, much as every republican will sympathise with their motivation, I would say that was a poor decision in terms of priorities.

There are better things to do right now to defend our public services and Welfare State.

However, to paraphrase Voltaire (or perhaps not -, we may think the anarchos and their hangers on are pillocks but we should defend to the death their right to be so.

The trade union movement should always be in the front line of the fight to defend civil liberty and to oppose the abuse of the power of the state, because - since, ultimately, we organise the force that could change this rotten society for the better - every attack upon freedom that the state can get away with will become a weapon in the arsenal to be used against our movement should the occasion demand.

And that's the answer to the question I asked at the beginning of this post.

What the police are doing with pre-emptive arrests of essentially unthreatening individuals is testing out the measures they might one day want to use seriously against the serious opponents of this unjust society and its consequences.

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The human impact of the cuts - and what we need to do

This afternoon, as the nation prepares to spend a day celebrating the marriage of an upper class twit to a wanabee upper class twit, out here in reality the cuts are biting hard.
In spite of months of effort on the part of the trade union, I have today seen a good UNISON member made compulsorily redundant - even though UNISON had identified alternative employment opportunities which the employer had failed to explore.
Of course there may be a further legal remedy months down the road. But activists know both how hard it can be now to get a case before a tribunal with union backing, and how meagre the compensation for unfair dismissal can be. Essentially, a compulsory redundancy is a defeat for the trade union (without in any sense being a victory for the employer, since it is public service which will suffer in the end).
I am driven to great anger when I see a dedicated and effective public servant thrown out of work as I have today. Every Councillor who believes they took "hard decisions" when they voted to make cuts should realise that the truly "hard decisions" are those made by redundant workers having to work out how to make ends meet.
This isn't the first such instance - and certainly won't be the last. Whilst I wholeheartedly welcome and support UNISON's campaign against the candidates of the parties of the Coalition Government in next week's local elections (outside London) we need to remember that Labour Councils have bent the knee before George Osborne and are cutting back just as are Tories and Lib Dems.
UNISON needs to stand up against all the attacks our members face, and from whichever quarter they come. We need to do so locally and nationally.
We face a strategic choice. We could batten down the hatches and try to negotiate retreats and concessions dressed up in rhetorical opposition to cuts which we will in fact have accepted.
Or we can organise the maximum effective resistance achievable in order to mitigate the impact of the cuts through resistance rather than collaboration.
Regular readers (Sid and Doris Borderline-Trot) won't be suprised to learn that I favour the latter, which I think means we must do the following.
First, we must build union organisation at a local level - but not as an end in itself. Organisation is not an objective, but a tool to achieve our objective, which is to defend the interests of our members and of workers generally. Therefore, alongside building organisation we must try to build the confidence and combativity of our members.
Secondly, we must maximise effective solidarity with the forthcoming co-ordinated national strike action on 30 June, timetabling any official action we can to coincide and organising support for pickets and protests for those who are taking action.
Thirdly, we must take to UNISON Conference the demand that UNISON must lead the next nationally co-ordinated action, and must lead it as the next step in a sustained campaign of action with the objective of defeating the Government. Pensions may be the causas belli but the battle which will be joined is over the whole future of public services and the Welfare State.
Finally, since we want a leadership which builds union organisation because we want to fight to defend our interests (as opposed to a leadership which will talk a good fight in the hope of sustaining union organisation) it is all the more important that UNISON activists get the vote out in the current NEC elections - for the candidates of the left .
(I confidently predict that, with more than a million members yet to cast their votes, there is everything yet to play for.)
Anyone who has some spare time on their hands tomorrow should find plenty of union work waiting to be done...

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Remember the dead - fight for the living (do your bit online!)

Today is Workers' Memorial Day, a day to remember those killed at work (

I won't be able to attend any of the local events listed on the TUC website (

While our movement cares about health and safety, the Coalition Government does not - it plans to cut the Health and Safety Executive's budget by more than a third with hundreds of job losses.

PCS have condemned plans to withdraw unannounced safety inspections across large areas of the economy to implement these cuts (

UNISON has also warned of the likely impact of these cuts - and drawn the lesson that we need to step up organising for safety in the workplace (

Those of us who cannot get out to any of today's events can do our bit online by visiting the Government's "red tape challenge" website ( to put the case against weakening or removing safety regulations.

To comment on health and safety regulations go to Alongside predictable ill-informed complaints from "businesspeople" irritated that the law requires them to pay attention to the wellbeing of others, there are serious contributions in defence of sensible regulations.

It's not red tape that worries me as much as the hazard warning tape which will go up around the scene of the next avoidable workplace fatality.

Take a few minutes today to join that online debate - and tell the Coalition to keep their hands off our safety regulations!

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

TUPE or not TUPE?

Privatisation is central to the purpose of neoliberal Governments (like this one and the last one).

It's in the nature of capitalism to exhaust opportunities for the making of profit and to experience periodic crises "of overproduction" as capital which cannot profitably be invested is hoarded, and goods and services cannot find a market.

The self-correcting mechanism of capitalism is a recession which drives down wages, and forces the least profitable firms out of business, eventually restoring profitability at the expense of the wasted years and ruined lives of mass unemployment.

However, another opportunity for the capitalist system is to open up new areas for private profit - and ever since the rulers of Western Europe were forced to concede welfare states in fear of their own people (and the Red Army) - profit hungry privateers have gazed greedily at the possibilities to profit from public services.

The application of the EU Acquired Rights Directive and therefore the "Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations" (TUPE) to public services in the 1990s was intended to smooth the path of privatisation by protecting (to some extent) workforce conditions in the hope of neutralising union opposition.

This worked "well" in Lambeth, where in 1997 we saw what was then the largest single privatisation in the history of English local government. TUPE encouraged union officials to accept privatisation from New Labour. TeamLambeth (as it was) was a sorry failure and TUPE failed to prevent the betrayal of the privatised workforce and the communities depending on their services. Councillors haven't learned anything from this either locally or nationally, as we face still further privatisations.

Blairite advocates of privatisation may think that TUPE means that the workers will be ok. They should experience the reality.

In "protecting" our conditions, TUPE turns us into chattels to be "transferred" against our will from one boss to another in a modern day slave auction - and sometimes people fall through the cracks in this legal "protection".

As bad as it is to have the identity of your employer changed against your will without legal remedy it is even worse to disappear into a legal limbo where no one will admit that they employ you.

Thanks to my employer's "open mind" about opening up public services to private profit I am and have been dealing with workers left in limbo when their former employer tells them they are being "TUPE transferred" to another employer who says they're not.

This puts blameless individuals into a Kafkaesque world where everyone knows that someone ought to be paying them (or paying redundancy) but no one will admit liability.

Hats off to Barnet UNISON ( who are showing our movement that it is possible to have a trade dispute - and take action - against a change in the identity of your employer.

The answer to privatisation is not to rely on TUPE. It is to fight.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dog barks, caravan moves, ostrich stays put, oblivious

It's not often, in the blogosphere, that one is treated to a semi-official "ostrich-eye view" of internal trade union controversy (

Without quite being able to mention the name Yunus Bakhsh the anonymous user of cliches over at UNISON Active draws this conclusion about the order of reinstatement made in a case of proven victimisation of a trade union activist;

"In such circumstances the outcome of litigation is of no significance to the union."

The success of a victimised union activist in securing an order for reinstatement is, on the contrary, of significance for all trade unionists.

Ostriches, by hiding their heads in the sand, do of course, put themselves in a position, at one and the same time, where they can see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

What does that remind me of?

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Dented shield or alternative programme?

Martin Wicks yesterday published a useful critique of what he sees as the approach of the trade unions - and UNISON in particular - to confronting the cuts (
He pulls apart two related aspects of our response, first, the demands we place upon employers (with particular reference to Labour local authorities, upon whom we are - as an affiliated trade union - in a particular position to place demands), and, second, how we work co-operatively with employers making cuts (and what that means for our role in the anti-cuts movement).
In a nutshell, Wicks is critical of our refusal - at a national level - to demand that Councils (and in particular Labour Councils) do not make cuts and sees this reflected in "partnership" practice locally, where branches are surrendering pay or conditions in return for (unreliable?) promises of "no compulsory redundancies" which amount to acquiescence in cuts and therefore isolate us from the anti-cuts movement.
Both aspects of this problem reflect the debilitating perception that there is no alternative but to make cuts (albeit we may query their "speed" or "depth").
The overall impact of this perception is a return to the "dented shield" advocated by Neil Kinnock a quarter century ago - where Labour clings on to office wherever it can and the trade unions cling on to the hope that a Labour Government will arrive soon to rescue us.
I think these criticisms (although perhaps not so much that comparison) are well made and commend the original article to you. However, I think the conclusions are overly pessimistic because the analysis misses a couple of important points, one about local activism and one about national policy.
Locally, there are UNISON branches opposing every cut (as best they may) and responding to job losses with resistance rather than concessions. The best recent example of action being taken in this cause is the joint strike by UNISON and NUT members in Tower Hamlets ( However - even where such action cannot be delivered locally - there are many more examples of branches taking a principled position to resist attacks on jobs and conditions of service.
These glimmers of local activity are consistent with the formal national policy position, which is that spending cuts are not necessary (as set out in UNISON's alternative budget) (
The material is available, from UNISON's national policy and the local practice of branches and activists, to construct a coherent alternative approach to that criticised by Wicks.
We can make the case that there is no "economic necessity" for the current deficit reduction programme, and certainly not for the cuts. These are a political choice and require a political response.
The grave disappointments of the last Government indicate that our political response should not be unquestioning support for the inadequate policies of the Labour Party. Voting out Coalition candidates is necessary but insufficient.
Instead we must redouble our efforts to build, on the basis of the splendid response on 26 March, the emerging anti-cuts movement, both as a bulwark of opposition to cuts in the here and now and as a force to shift the centre of political gravity leftwards.
It follows from this that we should avoid approaches which, in accepting cuts, isolate us from opposition to cuts. It also follows that we should unashamedly oppose the cuts and call upon all those charged to make them not to do so.
These debates will need to be had at Conference in June - although, as ever, we'll have to have some discussions with Standing Orders Committees about just what it is we can debate.
Those who want UNISON to fight as hard for the future of the Welfare State as it will for the future of UNISON also need to get the vote out now for the candidates of the left in the current NEC elections .
We need to build an alternative approach for UNISON, not in opposition, but based upon the best of our current response, nationally and locally.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

No to Cuts (absolutely) and No to AV (just about)

Having had a couple of days away from the daily diet of cuts and redundancies, I have had a chance to think about my answer to the question, “how are you voting in the referendum?”

Initially my sympathies were with the (under-reported) “Meh to AV” camp. With hundreds of job losses in my branch alone and threats to vital public services in the here and now, never mind the rolling back of mass access to higher education, the intended destruction of the National Health Service and comprehensive education and the imposition of a benefits regime bearing comparison with the early Victorian New Poor Law, it almost seemed that spending time thinking about the referendum was a near criminal waste of time and energy.

Indeed, it is because of the vicious class war being waged by the Government of millionaires against millions of working people that I have no sympathy with the idea that there would be anything wrong with casting a vote in the referendum because of its presumed impact upon the struggles being waged around us (and by us). If by voting either “yes” or “no” we could be sure to weaken the Coalition’s attacks on us ahead of the next General Election, then I would certainly say that the urgency of our current need would take precedence over any argument about this or that voting system.

However, this is not the case. A “no” will damage the Liberal Democrats, a “yes” the Tories. Neither party will willingly precipitate an early General Election as a result. Neither result will, of itself, give heart or confidence to the struggle against the cuts, which matters far more than the outcome of the referendum. I hate Cameron far more even than Clegg because I know the monkey only does the bidding of the organ grinder – and because I know what Tories are (lower than vermin) – but that emotional response isn’t enough of a reason to cast a vote one way or another.

A thoughtful response to the question of how to vote in the referendum should depend upon what you think democracy is for. I think that the point of democracy, of “rule by the people” is that the people should have power over Governments, which we should be able to exercise peacefully and lawfully when possible – as opposed to the way in which our ancestors had to try to hold the executive to account two centuries ago (what Hobsbawm called “collective bargaining by riot”).

I am not interested in the idea that the purpose of an election is to secure some “mathematically accurate” reflection of popular opinion. Elections can’t do that. Opinions are multi-dimensional and cannot be reduced to a preference for one political party or another. Even if they could, that would, I think, miss the point of democracy.

The most important thing we can do in any election is sack our Government or our elected representative. The point of democracy is to secure the accountability of power and therefore, the electoral system which makes it easiest to oust an incumbent (individual or Government) is the best system from the point of view of the working class (a calculation which might change in a future society but is best remembered whilst we live in this one). (Incidentally this is also the argument for the election of all those union officials who negotiate on behalf of our members, but that’s another blog post…)

Of the flawed options which confront us in next week’s referendum I think that the status quo of “First Past the Post” is marginally more likely to assist in achieving this purpose of democracy. I don’t say there’s much in it – there isn’t, but since there are only two boxes to tick in the referendum, my vote will be “No” (in line with the policy agreed by the National Committee of the Labour Representation Committee, of which I am a member).

I understand, and sympathise with, the motivations of some of those on the left who will vote “Yes” in the hope of an electoral system which may encourage voters on the left to give first preferences to the left of Labour, secure in the knowledge that they won’t thereby “let the Tories in” – and I can see that such displays of socialist views by a proportion of our electorate could exercise a positive impact upon Party policy and practice (although of course the UKIP first preferences from a larger chunk of Tory votes might pull the centre of political gravity even more firmly in the opposite direction).

However, unless someone can demonstrate to me that AV makes it easier to oust a Government (a proposition for which I can see no convincing evidence) then I will hold my nose and vote “no” on Thursday 5 May.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's going on?

As happens sometimes to a Branch Secretary, I was asked today by an active and effective shop steward "what's going on?"
Ever the labour historian, I quoted Harold Wilson and said that, "what's going on is that I'm going on" (and on, and on - as regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger can attest).
What is also going on is the hardest work by dedicated trade union activists, with and without facility time, that I have seen or known in a quarter century on the front line of the class struggle.
I see people pushing themselves past their limits daily as we try to deal with mass redundancies and madcap privatisation whilst the daily diet of disciplinary and sickness cases continues.
Good friends and comrades are reaching their limits - and sometimes even falling out in consequence - because it takes a great deal to handle the sheer injustice and damage of these Tory cuts. (And to every Labour Councillor who says how hard it has been to "take hard decisions" I say - spend a day with a shop steward representing those on the receiving end before you expect any sympathy from me!)
In part, and as worthless as this may be, I simply want to record here my solidarity with and admiration for the thousands of lay trade union activists who are bearing the brunt of the Tory Coalition's attacks upon the welfare state - and are doing all we can to inspire a fightback against these.
For those who foresaw a "war of attrition" - you were right. And all the attrition is us.
For those who advocated "guerilla tactics" you were right. We have no choice but to fight back however we may.
But you were also wrong.
What we need now - what will answer the crying need that (to be blunt) leaves some of us crying just now - is national action.
As a leader of two and a half thousand workers I can do so much and - with the back up of a brilliant, committed team of activists - I will do all I can.
As a small part of a movement of six million workers, who put 500,000 on the streets of London in one of the largest demonstrations in the history of our movement, the branch of which I am proud to be a member can do much more.
The question isn't really "what's going on?" The question is "what ought to be going on?" The answer is that we need to build and build and build for unified national action against the attacks on our pensions at the earliest practicable date.
Unless and until our movement is led into decisive conflict with the Government, one element of the consequences of the "war of attrition," which is being prosecuted so successfully against us, will continue to be the despair, disputes and demoralisation that are so damaging to us at a local level.
To activists I say, see beyond the factors which may set us against each other for what our members need is a unified fightback.
To fellow NEC members I say, now is the testing time - let those who will lead a fight provide that leadership.
And all UNISON members in London can choose now whether it should be me who is "going on" as your NEC member.
To strengthen our union please support the candidates of the left.
What's going on? I would like to say that "I'm going on" - but that is for the members to decide!

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Stop Lansley - Save the NHS

The "pause" in progressing the Lansley bill to end the National Health Service will only be a pause for breath unless we step up campaigning to defend the NHS (

The LRC website today has some useful links to campaign resources (, including details of a demonstration after work on Tuesday 17 May in Central London(

Those of us who are union activists in other sectors need, somehow, to find time from fighting job losses to motivate and mobilise our members to defend the NHS - we also need the broadest unity in this cause, which must (for those of us with Labour Councils) mean taking time out from arguing with Labour employers about cuts and privatisation in order to stand side by side with them to save our health service.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Now you've upset teacher...

When I was at school I knew the differences between the three teaching unions. The National Union of Teachers (NUT), including my mother, was the progressive union to which my socialist and communist teachers belonged.

The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NAS/UWT) matched the NUT for sectional militancy but was less progressive on issues of educational policy (retaining in those days a somewhat retrograde position on corporal punishment that led, years later, to my friend and comrade Dick North (late of the Inner London Teachers' Association - ILTA) to refer to them as the "floggers' union").

Then there was AMMA, as it then was, the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association. This was the former grammar school teachers' union and it wasn't militant (to put it mildly). Those teachers I knew to be in it as a child were, I assumed, Tories.

Scroll forward thirty plus years and AMMA is now ATL (the Association of Teachers and Lecturers)( and its Conference has just voted for a strike ballot over the Government's attack on public sector pensions (

This is a political earthquake to match any seismic activity in Japan this year. This isn't just a union that isn't eager to strike. This is a union that hasn't taken strike action before.

This Government have driven to strike action people who chose a trade union on the basis that they didn't want ever to have to take such action.

Having spent today in meetings about more than 200 of the more than 500 redundancies that my employer will propose in the coming financial year (on top of 240 redundancies - and the loss of more than 300 agency staff - up to the end of March), you might think I'd have no time to think about the attack on our pensions.

Think again.

We face a wholesale attack upon our welfare state. There are job cuts, a pay freeze, privatisation - and attacks on pensions, which are - to a considerable extent - intended to facilitate that privatisation.

We are at war with an illegitimate Government which has no mandate for its attempt to roll back the gains of the postwar settlement. We must pick our fights because they will use the full force of the state to crush us if they can. Cameron is Thatcher on speed.

The national fight to defend public service pensions is the battle we can win. The decision of ATL reflects the determination, at UNISON's last NEC meeting, of colleagues with whom I don't often see eye to eye.

If we can't join a strike on 30 June we need to do all we can to support it (as we embark upon a ballot which must surely see us commence action no later than the week of Tory Party Conference). Where there are local trade disputes, let us strike on that date. Where there aren't, let us press Headteachers to close schools, and where they won't then let us make clear that, law or no law, we will give total support to workers who comply with the higher law - thou shalt not cross a picket line.

Let 30 June be the opening salvo in a battle to defend public service pensions - and let the end of that battle be the day when Cameron, like Thatcher before him, is driven out of Downing Street.

This is the battleground on which we can defeat our enemy.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Strike action in prospect in Manchester against job losses

Whoever thought that UNISON members in Manchester did not have the leadership and confidence necessary to fight job losses - you were wrong! Great news from Tony Wilson is that members of his branch are set upon strike action and are currently balloting. UNISON Branch Secretary Tony Wilson said; “Not only is the process needlessly making people compulsory redundant it is causing widespread concern and lack of morale across the workforce. The employer’s claims of increased organisational effectiveness lack any credibility. The process is extremely labour intensive and is actually delaying easy cost savings in some areas. The organisation has failed to consider the impacts changes could have on service provision. Consequently we are urging our members to Vote YES to strike action”. Theresa Griffin UNISON Regional Organiser added; “UNISON members do not take industrial action lightly but we have been forced to ballot our members due to the intransigence of this employer, however, UNISON will seek to avoid this industrial action and has sought early talks with the employer.”

Speak up for Equality

In an attempt to give a populist gloss to a programme of deregulation driven entirely by the interests of big business, the Tory Government have set up their "red tape challenge" website where you can share your views on what regulations should be scrapped.

There doesn't seem to be an option to call for improved legislative protection for workers or consumers - since, as far as this Government is concerned, legislation to protect the rights and welfare of working people is precisely the sort of "red tape" which holds back profits!

Whilst this exercise in CONsultation is primarily a device to assure Daily Mail readers that the Government sees them as more than voting fodder guaranteed to back politicians who actually take their lead from the CBI, there is one aspect so outrageous that it's worth spending the few minutes it takes to respond.

The Government is treating the Equality Act 2010 as part of the consultation - as if it had the same status as the range of secondary legislation, regulations and statutory instruments which are also the subject of consultation.

Since a savage programme of public spending cuts will inevitably hit hardest those who are already vulnerable, it's no shock that the Government want to water down requirements to give effect to commitments to equality. That's why all existing specific equality duties on local authorities have been withdrawn and not replaced (

It tells you all you need to know about the Tories that they see a simple requirement not to discriminate as pesky "red tape" - to tell them what you think visit

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Justice for Smiley Culture

I was pleased today to be able join the well attended March for Justice for Smiley Culture (, which found its way from the Wandsworth Road, over Lambeth Bridge, to New Scotland Yard. I was particularly pleased to take my turn carrying the Lambeth UNISON banner on the march, as decided by our Branch Committee.

Thousands of local (and some not-so-local) people were united in the sadly familiar demand that there must surely be a truly independent inquiry into a questionable death in police custody. As a trade unionist in Brixton I recall so many campaigns for justice in such circumstances, of which one of the most recent is the campaign for Sean Rigg (

On the march I also learned of campaigns for justice of which I had not heard before - such as that for Habib "Paps" Ullah ( and Julian Webster, killed in Birmingham in 2009.

There are clearly too many cases in which those taken into custody die in circumstances which give rise to legitimate questions, to which answers are not then forthcoming. Most - but not all - of these cases seem to involve black people.

Lambeth UNISON was on today's demonstration because this problem is indeed so sadly familiar to us. As a trade union branch we have been clear that the safety of local people is our concern, and that unexplained deaths in police custody are very much an issue for our trade union.

I was proud today to have been part of a trade union delegation on a demonstration addressing the pressing concerns of the local community. I hope that the trade union movement will support the call for change made today outside New Scotland Yard.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Pensions - on the road to industrial action

More than 130 UNISON activists attended this afternoon's pension campaign briefing in UNISON's Greater London Region, with a wide representation across service groups and from many branches.

Following a thorough briefing on the details of the changes implemented and proposed by the Coalition Government, the briefing moved on to discuss how we shall organise our response.

Every branch shall have (at least one) "pensions champion", who will be trained and briefed to understand the changes and proposals as they impact on the pension scheme(s) in which the branch has members.

These will be supplemented by "pensions contacts" (ideally) in every workplace in the branch. These "champions" and "contacts" need not be existing officers and stewards - indeed the role of "contact" in particular may be a relatively easy way to engage members who came out on their first demonstration on 26 March.

To keep up to date with the pensions campaign activists should check in regularly at and encourage members to do the same.

The Region are keen for branches to identify members willing and able to speak to the media as representative members of public sector pension schemes, as it is vital that we contest the perception, eagerly engendered by the Daily Mail (and other vile Tory rags) that our pensions are "gold-plated" by having the real voices of real people ready to answer the lies of our enemies. Members who are willing to do this should approach their branch, and branches should approach their Regional Organiser for support.

The meeting was briefed about preparations for industrial action and about the genuine and serious need to update membership records. An experienced and respected health activist made the important point that branches need to be prompted to begin discussions at an early point with management about the requirements for "life and limb" cover in the event of strike action - not least as this will underline the seriousness of our intent to act.

There was also some welcome discussion of our tactics in the event of industrial action - a discussion which needs to be continued on the widest basis. We need to accept both that a single day's strike, and "action short of strike action" are not, of themselves, actions which will force a Government to retreat. This does not, however mean that both one day strike action and action short of strike action may not form part of a programme of action designed to achieve our objective. These tactical decisions will eventually have to be taken by a relatively small group of people at HQ, but they must be informed by the widest debate amongst our membership - and this needs to be happening now.

I was struck by the fact that, amongst those who contributed to this debate were myself and my friend April Ashley, who are standing on the left slate in the current NEC elections. Those NEC candidates in the room being backed by the "leadership loyalist" slate simply had nothing to say on this question.

This did reinforce for me the point that the key difference between the serious united left, who stand "for a fighting and democratic union" and those who stand against us in support of a union led by its paid officials, is that whilst we all talk a good fight in the election addresses which we (or someone) writes - it is the candidates of the left who have a proven track record of actually fighting to defend our members.

Another area for discussion was the possible strike action on 30 June, when it may be that members of the NUT, PCS and possibly other unions, will follow the example already set by UCU members by striking against the Government's attacks on our pensions.

Activists from schools were particularly concerned that we should find ways to offer advice to our members which would underline our moral support for such action, if it is taken, even if logistical and other difficulties prevent us from taking action of the same kind on the same date.

I suggested that, should the action on 30 June proceed, we use it as a major part of our own campaign, by organising (for example) lunchtime protests in solidarity with those taking strike action on the day.

Before then, the next important date Regionally is likely to be Wednesday 25 May, when there is likely to be an afternoon briefing on the pensions campaign and industrial action procedures following a meeting of the Regional Council in the morning.

I was assured by a member of the Regional Management Team that they would be doing all they could to help the lay leadership ensure that we have a quorum at that Regional Council meeting (achieving which will clearly be an important indicator that we are both serious about developing our organisation for this coming struggle and that we are capable of doing so in the Region).

It would appear that we all now agree that we shall no longer be able to rely simply upon "guerilla tactics" to respond to the Coalition's "war of attrition" against public services and public servants, and that we all now accept that we must gear up to take national action to defend our pensions (both as an end in itself and as the only viable national trade dispute it is possible to have on a joint union basis).

This is certainly the message I took from our General Secretary at this week's NEC.

From all of this, I draw two conclusions about what UNISON activists on the left in London should be doing. First, we must do all we can to maximise turnout at the Regional Council and the briefing on 25 May.

Secondly, we must also do all we can to encourage members to vote in the current NEC elections and - in so doing - to vote for the candidates of the serious left who will put deeds as well as words into the fight to save our pensions (

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A modest victory for trade union rights

It's worth buying today's Morning Star for a concise summary of the main points of the court decision in the case of RMT v Serco (available online in full at about which I have blogged before (

This case has loosened the legal shackles around our unions somewhat, in part by clarifying that, in describing which workers are covered by a dispute, we need not use particular descriptions chosen by the employer.

This doesn't though mean that we don't still have to offer a description, nor that we don't have to ensure the maximum accuracy of membership records if we are to minimise the chance of legal challenges frustrating democratic decisions to take action.

I hope that every UNISON member reading this is already aware of the steps being taken in your branch to check and verify the details of our membership records. Now more than ever we need to prepare for action.

Individual members can also now update our details online ( in order to help the union get to a position where we can take action.

Of course, since it is our human right collectively to withdraw our labour we shouldn't have to be jumping through all these hoops, which is one reason why UNISON branches should prioritise and support Conference motion 80 "Defend Trade Union Rights" from the Havering branch.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

If it moves, privatise it?

UNISON's criticisms of plans for more private social work practices are spot on.

I particularly share the sentiment that "Most social workers went into the job so they could support people, not so they could set up a business" - very true! In fact, I'd go further, anyone who went into social work so that could set up a business is not the sort of person I'm happy to see supporting vulnerable people.

To see the barking-mad right wing Coalition promoting this nonsense is no shock, but the role of Labour Councils in colluding with this is a sad reminder that it was under New Labour that the scourge of privatisation was admitted into the heart of public service delivery in this way.

Barnet UNISON are setting a fine example about how to respond to privatisation - with not just a general campaign against privatisation, but also a specific trade dispute about the desire of local Council workers to remain employed by the local authority.

The tendrils of private profit do not seek to penetrate the public sector in order to improve the experience of service users, but to suck out public funds paid for by taxpayers in order to provide value for shareholders.

If you haven't already taken action to support UNISON's Million Voices campaign - now would be a good time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Libya - stop the bombing! (Says UNISON)

I'm pleased to see that, as we were promised earlier this afternoon, the first official online report from today's UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) meeting concerns our call for an end to military action in Libya (

The key point is that UNISON is calling for a peaceful solution and a cessation of military Action. I had intended suggesting an amendment to the statement clarifying opposition to the NATO military action, but accepted the argument of our General Secretary that a call for that action to stop immediately more than does the job that could be done by any statement of opposition.

It is absolutely right that UNISON should adopt this position of opposition to the military intervention in Libya, and should make it clear. Not only are we part of a global movement with a well-founded historic opposition to war, we are also the people in the forefront of savage cuts in vital public services driven forward by a Government which can find millions at the drop of a hat to underwrite military intervention.

We should continue to stand for "welfare not warfare."

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The long and winding road

I'll blog my full report of today's UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) meeting after I have circulated it to London branches. For now I'll deal with some highlights.

Dave Prentis was clear with the NEC that "we are on the road to industrial action" in relation to the various attacks upon our pensions which have their origins in the deliberate policies of the Coalition Government.

He emphasised the importance of the widest unity, of the need for sustained action (beyond a single "day of action") and of the need to prepare our members to give resounding support for such action - and to prepare our membership records to give us the greatest possible confidence in the face of likely legal challenges to our ballot(s).

In this context, he was clear that UNISON would not be in a position to call strike action on 30 June, the date being mooted for action by the NUT and PCS. As I said at the meeting, I wish we were in a position now to ballot for national action on that date, but accept, regretfully, that we are not.

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Trotwatcher) will know that I have not been uncritical of the tardiness of our response - particularly to the decision, taken in June of last year, to reduce the value of all our pensions by changing the basis on which they are uprated. I wish we were further ahead on our trip down the "road to industrial action."

However, now that the Union leadership is moving in a positive direction on this issue it is most important that we encourage this and focus our fire - and our ire - on the Government. In this regard it was positive that Dave made clear that UNISON would express support for the cause of those taking action on 30 June, even if we were not in a position to join them on that date.

Dave seemed to have expected some opposition on this point, and subsequent contributions to debate from some of his supporters expressed suprise at the absence of a "polarised debate" (even as one or two did their best to polarise by taking issue with things that hadn't been said).

From a wide range of views, NEC members expressed support for sustained industrial action and a recognition of what is at stake in this dispute. Defeat in this battle could spell an early end for Cameron and Clegg, which means that they will throw everything at us.

If we are to move forward in unity, the General Secretary and the whole NEC need to give confidence about our seriousness about taking action at an early and appropriate time - and must involve activists in a wide-ranging debate about our strategy and tactics.

We must also build and sustain unity across the movement, including organisations (such as the RCN) with little history of struggle, as well as those (like PCS and the NUT) who are, admirably, in a position to move ahead of our timetable.

Our first steps must be to educate our members about this attack and make the administrative preparations for a ballot. We also need to think in practical ways about how UNISON can show support to action on 30 June if we cannot be a full part of that action.

This is the biggest issue facing us as a national trade union.

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Learning from Organising?

In preparation for Wednesday's meeting of the UNISON NEC I was talking with my old friend and comrade, Roger Bannister, who drew to my attention some content of the draft of the NEC Annual Report for Conference, which we will be considering at the meeting.

The content referred to the "Three Companies Project" about which I have blogged before ( - more than once (

The project was a joint initiative with the American Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to organise employees of three particular global contractors raking in profits from the privatisation of "support services" in the public sector.

I say "was" as I learned for the first time from reading the draft of our report to Conference that the project had come to a "successful conclusion" in March, a piece of information I had not learned as a member of our Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee (the relevant strategic committee of the NEC) - and which has not yet received much publicity.

The website set up to promote the project ( has little to say on this topic - the latest post there is from November.

The NEC has been promised, but has not yet received, an assessment of the effectiveness of the project.

There is certainly a need to organise contractors' workforces, whose unfair pay and conditions contribute to super-profits for global corporations. This need is expressed persuasively on the project's website ( - what UNISON now needs from this Project is a thorough assessment of what we have learned.

It is usually true that we learn more from our failures and mistakes than from our successes. The correct test of the value of a pilot project is not it's success but it's contribution to our learning.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

D&O Committee report

Today's meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee (D&O) of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) dealt briefly with Conference business with little controversy.

The Committee is recommending that the NEC oppose rule amendments which would require candidates for the NEC or for a Service Group Executive (SGE) to be nominated by their own branch and at least one other rather than, as at present, a minimum of two branches.

Whilst I can see arguments in favour of the proposal - that those we elect to national positions should have strong local roots, I oppose this on balance for practical reasons (what if the nomination form from the candidate's own branch were ruled out on a technicality?) as well as from a sense that, in the interests of democracy, it should be as easy as is reasonable to secure a place on a ballot paper.

The Committee also opposed Bolton's attempt to place a two year time limit on certain internal disciplinary sanctions, rather than the five year limit which the NEC itself is recommending. Although I personally support Bolton on this, the Committee having recently had the debate, I did not argue today.

The D&O is however recommending that the NEC support a rule amendment from Birmingham which would give disciplinary panels of the NEC the power, which they currently lack, to "censure" a member. This equivalent to a disciplinary warning is a welcome proposed addition to our Rule Book.

I can think of several cases where the availability of a moderate but non-negligible sanction could potentially have avoided a lot of grief and wasted effort.

Assuming the NEC agrees these recommendations it will then be for Conference to decide.

At the end of the meeting I asked about arrangements to lift the Regional supervision of our Newham branch. I was assured that all that was needed for this to happen was a final report from the Region to Head Office.

Let's hope that report is already written and arrives tomorrow.

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An index of hypocrisy

A hat tip to this morning's Morning Star for alerting me to the excellent work of the TUC in exposing the blatant hypocrisy of the Tory Coalition when it comes to indexation (

As of this month, the annual uprating of occupational pensions, benefits and tax credits will take place in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) measure of inflation rather than the Retail Price Index (RPI). The CPI tends to rise more slowly than the RPI both because of the composition of the "index" (what's included and what isn't) and because of the method of calculation.

The impact on my pension (to take a personal example for once) is that it's now worth between 15 and 20% less over the course of my lifetime than it would have been had this change not been made.

In an unprecedented attack upon workers, even the previously accrued value of past service has been reduced, stealing from us what we thought we already had as well as reducing the value of what we have yet to earn.

Still, you might think, it's not a shock that Tories rob workers (nor that Lib Dems help them) - but at least Chancellor Osborne is a consistent advocate of the CPI as a measure of inflation.

Only he isn't.

Student loan repayment rates will continue to rise with the faster rising RPI rather than the CPI.

The only thing that's consistent about this Government of hypocrites is a consistent desire to do down working people.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

UNISON NEC elections - vote for the left!

Ballot papers are hitting doormats now in the UNISON NEC elections (apart from those of you with those irritating vertical letterboxes hinged at the top whose ballot papers are in envelopes folded amongst junk mail and leaflets for pizzas because you don't have a proper letterbox!)

I shall use my votes for the candidates of the left (myself included) because now is precisely the time for a more combative and effective leadership for our trade union.

From the election addresses which will be all that most members know of the candidates asking for their votes, it will no doubt appear that every candidate is a socialist firebrand dedicating their every waking hour to the struggle against the Tory led Coalition Government.

However the candidates standing to achieve a fighting and democratic union are those with a proven track record of action rather than only words. These activists are the sort of people we need amongst our national leadership if we are to rise to the challenges facing UNISON in 2011.

Good luck comrades!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Prentis pledges to fight

Dave Prentis' speech to UNISON Health Conference is available online (

All UNISON members - not just health workers - should pay attention not just to Dave's denunciation of the Coalition's attack on the NHS but also when he says;

"we will build an alliance of all public service unions to break the pay freeze, protect our pensions, stop the cuts."

These are strong words well meant - and amount to a pledge which we must collectively redeem over the coming months.

Our job as activists in these circumstances is twofold. First we must build the organisation and - crucially - the confidence of our members to be prepared to take action. To do this we have not only to recruit more members and stewards but also develop and articulate a convincing strategy, locally and nationally, which can persuade our members of the necessity for, and efficacy of, the action we will ask them to take.

Secondly, we need to maintain the pressure on all our union leaders to ensure we can give form to the words spoken on Conference platforms. For now, building the strength and combativity of our union organisation is also the most important step we can take in this vital direction.

A couple of Lambeth branch members tell me they saw our General Secretary in Hyde Park last Saturday week and told him they wanted a strike.

"Build for it then," he said.

Very well. We shall.

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Prioritising Conference Motions

The key priority for union activists right now is the defence of jobs - however we also need to give some thought to our forthcoming UNISON Conference, and the topic of prioritisation of the Conference agenda - about which I have blogged before ( ad nauseam (

Not all of the 124 policy motions admitted on to the agenda by the Standing Orders Committee will be debated, and the final order of business will be structured in accordance with the outcome of a prioritisation process in which branches can have a say.

Bearing in mind that motions originating from the National Executive, Regions and National Self-Organised Groups can expect to be prioritised by those bodies, activists need to pay particular attention to lobbying for support for worthy motions from branches to ensure that these do not fall off the agenda altogether.

I offer the following initial thoughts about some of the motions which might be worth prioritising;

Motion 20 from Birmingham on Public Sector Pay raises an issue we need to push up the agenda - we can't let this be the first pay freeze in history not to be broken by trade union action.

Clearly if we are to take such action we need also to defend our rights to do so (such as they are) and that must mean prioritising Motion 80 from Havering, "Defend Trade Union Rights".

Of the various motions on pensions I am obviously inclined to argue for support for Motion 26, "Defend All Pensions" from Lambeth. I hope that several of the pensions motions are prioritised and that a unifying composite motion can be agreed.

Looking at the various motions dealing with the cuts, their impact and our opposition, Motion 35 from Somerset, "National Organisation Against the Cuts" stands out for its advocacy of nonviolent direct action whilst Motion 78, "Youth Unemployment and Young Black People" from Hammersmith and Fulham highlights an important issue.

In a first for this blog (which will shock regular readers Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak) I'd also like to see a motion from the Manchester branch prioritised - Motion 66 which calls for a demonstration when the Tories meet in that city in the autumn.

We need to retain a focus on opposition to the far right - and I think Ealing's Motion 104 on the EDL strikes the right note (mobilising mass opposition is a wiser strategy than calling for bans).

Of three motions on housing (54, 55 and 56) I think Somerset's Motion 56, "Housing Emergency" has the edge (but will listen to colleagues in housing on this of course).

9 of the 14 International motions deal in some way with the Middle East - but because of the pace of events since February's deadline I think it's inevitable that the key international debate will have to be around an Emergency Motion which has not yet even been written.

Finally, Glasgow branch have once more put down a motion (Motion 71 - "Democratic Socialism") which seeks to commit UNISON to support socialist policies. Since all the other motions deal with various problems which capitalism creates for us, I am tempted to support this step forward on the "resolutionary road to socialism."

Since the prioritisation process repays organising between branches I would be interested in the views of other activists.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Out of order?

In the midst of the busiest time in a generation for lay trade union activists, we can't afford to lose sight of the routines of the movement.

Right now the preliminary agenda for UNISON National Delegate Conference in June (in Manchester owing to an unfortunate antipathy to meeting on the south coast) is out - and it reveals what has been admitted to the agenda and what has been ruled out of order.

Bizarrely, an attempt by my local branch to encourage debate about whether we should advocate that local authorities should set "needs budgets" has been ruled out of order on the basis that it could (somehow) place the Union in legal jeopardy.

I am obviously cautious about suggesting any criticism of the Standing Orders Committee, bearing in mind how much time and effort has been spent dealing with such matters in the past.

However, you do have to wonder on which planet it would be possible that someone could take legal action against the Union because we contemplated suggesting that local authorities should abide by the policy already endorsed by UNISON's Scottish Council.

If my judgement is wrong, and there is a real threat of litigation against UNISON because our Scottish Council backed "needs budgets" then I invite all readers to join my campaign to raise money for the legal defence of UNISON Scotland. English as well as Scottish pounds are acceptable...