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)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Did not shoot the Deputy...

Those for whom the UNISON Rule Book has a status somewhere between a favourite book and erotic literature will know that UNISON is required to have a Deputy General Secretary.

This is a Rule Book requirement with which we have now been failing to comply for some eighteen months.

As an inquisitive soul, I have been asking about this and, along with the Xmas cards from those of my NEC colleagues inclined to send me such, I was pleased to receive, just before Xmas, a letter explaining what is going on.

It appears that a decision has been taken to defer recruitment to a Deputy General Secretary while we get used to having enough Assistant General Secretaries to field a five-a-side football team.

Those UNISON activists who have, in the past, tried to get a debate about the election (rather than appointment) of our Deputy General Secretary before UNISON National Delegate Conference may wish to take note of this.

In the past, our Standing Orders Committee (SOC) have felt constrained to rule such attempts out of order for fear that they would breach the contracts of employment of the holder of the post.

There is no such person now.

A more imaginative argument to seek to rule out extending the principle of election to more senior officials in UNISON has been that it would breach an implied term of the contracts of other staff that they should be able to apply for such posts as promotion opportunities without the peril of an election.

Since our Union now accepts that it may consider dispensing with the role of Deputy General Secretary (notwithstanding that such a decision would require a Rule Amendment quite as significant as one which proposed election to the post)  this inventive argument must too now be discounted.

If someone wanted to propose the election of UNISON's Deputy General Secretary, 2014 would be the year to do it.

As to whether that would be a good idea, a future blog post appears called for...

TUPE protection massively weakened

This blog post comes with a warning (I believe these may now be called "trigger alerts" in informed circles). It concerns employment law and may provoke tedium. If you're a trade union activist you need to know this though.

The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations, in their various guises, have implemented the different versions of the European Union's "Acquired Rights Directive". The extension of the Regulations (TUPE) to cover transfers from the public sector (in the 1990s) formed a vital part of the Blairite plan to outsource and privatise services, buying off trade union opposition with the promise that pay and conditions would be protected. Case law was vitally important to that extension of the understanding of TUPE.

In what might almost be a textbook example of the determination of the superstructure by the base, whereas when it might have been feared that our unions would block privatisation, case law ensured a generous interpretation of the regulations (from the point of view of workers' rights), now that there is less fear, the case of Packwood -v- Alemo Herron (the link above) has now bequeathed us a much more restrictive interpretation.

In a nutshell, this unanticipated decision, detrimental to workers' rights, lays to rest the previous "dynamic" interpretation of the meaning of TUPE for the impact on employment contracts of collective agreements in favour of a "static" interpretation. This means that if - for example - local government workers whose pay is determined by negotiations in the National Joint Council (NJC) are privatised, they can no longer expect (simply by operation of the law) that they will receive future NJC pay increases.

For those already transferred out of local government, and whose terms and conditions have been shaped by the previous (now incorrect) "dynamic" interpretation of TUPE, this legal decision creates a complexity which is probably best resolved (where possible) by collective bargaining and a retrospective agreement with the new employer that they will observe (at least) NJC pay increases. I won't go further into this question in this post because, like many other UNISON Branch Secretaries, I am awaiting guidance (which may well be to let sleeping dogs lie).

For future transfers however, Parkwood -v- Alemo-Herron raises (at least) two vital questions. First, if the law won't give us a "dynamic" interpretation of the impact of collective agreements upon contracts of employment, we need to decide whether or not to bargain for one through a "TUPE plus" Agreement. 

Secondly, this decision makes it much easier to formulate a trade dispute around a transfer, since it is now at least arguable that a transfer involves a materially detrimental change so that, under Regulation 4(9) of the 2006 Regulations, employees facing transfer could treat themselves as having been dismissed.

Trade unions have been perfectly entitled to wage campaigns against privatisation, including campaigns in which industrial action in pursuit of a legitimate trade dispute plays a part, ever since we won that point (yes, won) in the case of UCLH -v- UNISON many years ago.

This legal decision (Parkwood -v- Alemo-Herron) is a defeat and a setback. It undermines workers' rights and worsens the prospective experience of those who are privatised and outsourced.

It does, however, serve as a timely reminder that such legal decisions reflect, albeit in a complicated and mediated way, the state of play in the class struggle. 

Our acquiescence in privatisation and outsourcing has laid the foundations for the law to move (as it now has) against our members' interests. 

I've been wondering when would be a good time to step up our opposition to privatisation and outsourcing. 

It occurs to me that it's quite clear when that time would be.

Now. 2014.

Not dead yet!

I've been taking a break from blogging for the holidays, but as another year approaches the thoughts of trade union activists inevitably turn to the state of our movement and our fitness to face the challenges ahead of us.

The link above puts the most important indicator of trade union strength (our "density"; the proportion of employees who are union members) in both (recent) historical and international perspective.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) UK union density has fallen from 30.2% at the turn of the century to 25.8% in 2012. This isn't good. The large majority of UK employees are now outside our ranks, whereas at our peak in 1979, almost half of all workers were union members.

At the same time however, the OECD average trade union density has fallen from 20.2% to 17%. This is a slightly faster fall from a lower starting point. Among the nations for which the OECD publishes data, only Austria, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and the Scandinavian nations have higher levels of union density than the UK.

We have higher union density than France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Greece, Australia, New Zealand and, of course, the USA.

Our movement may not welcome 2014 at the peak of strength and fitness, but we are certainly not dead. Indeed, measured by union density, we are in a stronger position than the unions in the larger capitalist economies.

Our trade unions also retain the particular strength of a single trade union centre (rather than a trade union movement divided by politics) and we are (just about) clinging on to an organic political relationship with a (still just barely) social democratic political party which could credibly form a Government.

We face a continuing assault upon our living standards, our jobs and our collective and individual rights from a Government which is going further faster in reversing the social gains of the past two generations. However, we face this assault from a position relatively stronger than that of our counterparts in most other comparable capitalist economies.

Which does suggest we could perhaps be doing better at resisting redundancies and maintaining the union wage differential.

It may be time to stop battening down the hatches and showing purely symbolic opposition. 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

With friends like these...

I am indebted to a friend in UNISON for forwarding me the response to the Collins Review from the lobby group for insipid political careerist funded by Lord Sainsbury ("Progress").


I see that the Church of the Latter-Day Blairites are lauding UNISON's two section political fund model (without, it would appear, understanding it).

However, their real agenda (and hostility to collectivism) keeps showing. First, they propose that Labour should require that all unions establish two section political funds.

This is the arrogance which is familiar to those of us required to deal with Progress people, but is plainly calculated to antagonise and drive away trade union affiliates. The UNISON model was created to cater for very particular circumstances and may not appeal to all affiliates. Anyone who has read this blog over the years will have read many criticisms of the structure and use of UNISON's political fund.

Secondly, Progress want to prohibit members of other political parties from being members of "affiliated" funds. UNISON Labour Link retains (regrettably in my view) the "UNISON Berufsverbot" to prevent those who are not individual Party members from holding office within our APF - but we cannot ask our members what Parties they are members of!

Given that the author of anything published by Progress can be assumed to be a PPE graduate from Oxford whose parents can afford to support them as they work (unpaid) as a political intern I would hope that they know that trade unions cannot interrogate our members about their party affiliation except in tightly circumscribed circumstances. If they do, then they know that they are setting up conditions which cannot be met, which would only make sense if their long term aim were to dissolve the collective relationship between trade unions and the Labour Party.

The third - and most revealing - of the attacks upon trade unionism advanced by Progress is their demand for an end to the "block vote." They want trade union delegates to vote individually (in a secret ballot) - which would certainly prolong Conference debates (or, which may be the intention, ensure Conference has almost no time for debate).

The so-called "block vote" is simply the concrete expression of collective affiliation, which is the manifestation in the political sphere of the core trade union principle of collectivism.

It is true that the call for "collective responsibility" can be abused (and is sometimes within UNISON as I have often commented on this blog). The application of "collective responsibility" to the elected leadership of a trade union in relation to internal union affairs is, for example, an undemocratic perversion of collectivism.

However, the application of collective responsibility for the pursuit of the policies of a trade union by delegates representing the union (to, for example, the TUC, the Labour Party or a joint trade union side) is simply the proper and democratic application of collectivism.

Because Progress is an organisation created to promote the individual political careers of politicians who are fundamentally individualist rather than collectivist in outlook, they believe that the application of democratic collectivism is undemocratic. 

They believe that the unaccountable action of an individual delegate casting a secret ballot according to a personal whim is a more democratic way of representing the interests of working people than for elected delegates to abide by the policies agreed, through democratic structures, by those whom they represent.

But then, as their fervent support for "primaries" reveals, Progress are in the camp of those who want to make twenty first century politics in the image of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries free from the burden of parties in general, and of a working class party in particular.

As a UNISON member I already have enough enemies not to need friends like these.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

UNISON NEC - it's official!

That's the link to the official report from today's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC).

For the full, uncensored version of the bits I found most interesting come back here in a while...

UNISON NEC meeting today - industrial action on the agenda

I will (honestly!) blog a full report of today's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) when this is ready.

The highlights of the meeting included the following points.

  • The General Secretary began his report by acknowledging the scale of cuts in local government. The Head of Local Government confirmed that UNISON national officers were looking to arrange a meeting with the group "Councillors Against Cuts" as agreed at Conference;
  • The NEC expressed continuing support for members who had taken action over pay in Higher Education yesterday, and for members at Liverpool University on strike today in opposition to an attack on conditions from the employer;
  • A ballot of UNISON members in the Probation service will take place with the aim of UNISON joining with the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) in taking strike action in January in opposition to the impact on employees of the disastrous privatisation plan of the Coalition Government;
  • The threat of industrial action in the Ambulance sector had brought the employer's back to the negotiating table (the NEC received a summary report of industrial action ballots held in 2013 which indicated a revival of action across the Union);
  • UNISON had been isolated at the TUC in calling for a major national demonstration against austerity in the spring, and this was now planned for the autumn;
  • 22 March is pencilled in as the date for a major anti-fascist demonstration, further details of which are awaited;
  • The outcome of UNISON's legal battle against employment tribunal fees is still awaited (branches can expect urgent guidance also on recent case law in relation to TUPE and collective agreements);
  • UNISON will ballot our members on the retention of our political fund in the autumn of 2014 (ahead of the 2015 deadline to avoid a clash with the General Election);
  • The NEC reaffirmed a message of support to members at Whipps Cross hospital;
  • The 6th and 7th floors of the UNISON Centre will not now be rented out as office space but will be turned into meeting rooms.
That last one was only a highlight for anoraks...

More detail later.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Holding the line on defending the link?

"Labour aims to reassure trade unions by easing in party funding changes" according to the Grauniad headline, although the full story suggests a slightly more complex story emerging from discussions between Ray Collins and the unions (and UNITE in particular).

It would appear that a selective drip feed of information to the Guardian Political Editor is being used to float ideas which might form the basis of a hoped for compromise, thereby avoiding a major row at the unnecessary Special Conference in March.

The unions need not to fall for "phasing-in" of anything other than cosmetic change - and Constituency Parties should have an eye not just to the potential consequences for party funding of adverse change, but to the political consequences of cutting the Party adrift from its trade union moorings.

It will be ironic if the "one Union, two sections to our political fund" fix which was brokered more than twenty years ago to enable a merger between affiliated and non-affiliated unions now emerges as a favoured model, but the UNISON approach is at least consistent with collective affiliation, as opposed to the total individuation of the relationship between trade unionists and our Party hinted at by Ed Miliband in his 9 July speech.

The battleground may be shifting to the arrangements for voting at Party Conference, where the 50% of the vote for affiliated organisations has to be a red line which we do not cross. No amount of concessions on policy questions in the here and now (up to and including a pledge to bring the Trade Union Freedom Bill into law) would be worth a further dilution of union influence in the Party.

UNITE is "seen as the swing union" (which hardly amounts to praise for the clarity of the approach of its officials on this issue up to now). Jim Kelly, lay chair of UNITE's London and Eastern Region, has it right when he says that the link can be defended if the unions stand together. The forthcoming meeting of the UNITE Executive will be critical and I hope that the good sense expressed (for example) on the website of UNITE's United Left will prevail.

I was pleased to speak last week to Party members in Edmonton, North London, on behalf of the Defend the Link campaign, and some positive suggestions were made by sympathetic Party members about how to renew and strengthen the link at a local level. If we can defend the link we need to move the debate on in that direction.

First though, we have to defend the link.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Solidarity (and picket practice)

I'm looking forward to being part of a branch contingent joining our nearest Higher Education picket line tomorrow morning, and wish luck to all those who will be supporting the second day of cross-union (UNISON, UNITE and UCU) national strike action against the 1% pay offer in that sector.

It's the second day of strike action in a campaign of discontinuous action which indicates the seriousness of the unions' leaders and members. If the leaders are serious about securing a real shift in the employers' position at the commencement of action, the call for a second day demonstrates that the campaign is about more than simply token action. In heeding the call the members then show that they are serious about achieving a just outcome.

Tomorrow is a vitally important day not just for all workers in higher education, but for all trade unionists. The joint action in this sector is an (as yet regrettably isolated) example of the co-ordinated action for which delegates from all our unions keep calling at the TUC. The outcome of this campaign has implications for us all.

For UNISON activists in local government, support for our brothers and sisters in Higher Education is also an excellent opportunity to practice picketing, ahead of the strike action which will be essential if we are to secure a meaningful pay rise in 2014.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Climbing the mountain to fight for fair pay in local government

There wasn't a quorum of delegates at today's meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Local Government Committee. This is in large part due to the fact that the Regional Office makes no effort to encourage participation in the Local Government Service Group (just as they do nothing much to encourage local government branches to attend the Regional Council AGM).

However, the bizarre and dysfunctional politics which haunt the first floor of Congress House are a sideshow when it comes to the real grown up trade unionism of the local government pay dispute (as they are generally I suppose). Local government pay is a national issue across England, Wales and Northern Ireland and activists need to think about what needs to be done at a national level (turning to how we remove or work around right-wing obstacles at Regional level very much as a secondary matter).

The delegates who were present this morning made some constructive suggestions as to the steps we need to take to develop a pay campaign for local government workers, starting from a clear-headed understanding of the enormous difficulty of persuading hundreds of thousands of local government workers to take strike action in 2014, twenty five years on from the last really significant victory in national action over local government pay.

We have a mountain to climb.

But that means we need to strike camp, get our boots on and head on up.

We need a major rally/meeting/training session for stewards in every Region (or every major city) to draw together as many shop stewards as possible. The size of such gatherings should give confidence to participants - but we are not so naive as to want to build the shallow confidence of a "ra ra" rally. We need "mythbuster" leaflets which take on the foolish argument that miserly pay restraint saves local government jobs. We need to equip every activist with arguments for the pay claim - and then with arguments for industrial action. We need each shop steward to leave that rally/meeting/training session equipped to make and win the argument for strike action.

In tandem with a campaign to win our members first to support the claim, and then to support strike action, we need a campaign for public support and to apply political pressure upon our employers. Every single local authority should receive a deputation in support of our claim in January, while dozens (or hundreds) of our members and supporters demonstrate outside. This should be preceded by a model letter for ALL UNISON members (and friends and family) to send to their local Councillor(s) and followed by the publication of a statement in support of our claim open to the signatures of all Councillors and Council candidates (other than those from the far right) - so that voters in May's local elections know who was with us and who was against us. We also need an Early Day Motion, and an e-petition on the Government website, with a co-ordinated joint union campaign to lobby MPs to support the EDM (and with a view to a mass lobby of Parliament if we can force a debate).

These are just the first steps we need to take. But if we are going to climb this mountain we need to take those first steps.

In the spirit of the Clyde Workers Committee we need to give the official structures of the Union a chance to get moving.

If they don't we'll press on unofficially.

A fortnight should be long enough to assess whether we should continue to wait before acting ourselves. We can't reasonably expect our own employees to work through all their weekends or until midnight - but we also can't reasonably expect our most committed activists to do anything else.

This national local government pay dispute (because a dispute is inevitable) will involve the largest bargaining group in the economy and will represent a turning point for our movement.

Either this is the beginning of the end for austerity politics (and therefore for both the Coalition Government and their "Progress" co-thinkers within the Labour Party) or it is the beginning of the end for national pay bargaining (and therefore perhaps ultimately for the national offices of our trade unions. )

It's not unimportant.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to remove the protection from a protected conversation

Section 14 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 introduces a new section (111A) into the Employment Rights Act 1996, to provide that details of "pre-termination negotiations" should not be admissible in evidence in employment tribunal hearings about unfair dismissal.


For good employers this new law is unnecessary. For those who want to strong arm employees out of the organisation it appears to offer a handy new tool which they can use to bully workers without fear of being held to account.

Happily the tool is so poorly designed as to not be fit for this nefarious purpose. This is because evidence about the "pre-termination negotiations" will be admissible in evidence in any tribunal claim other than unfair dismissal (as well as being admissible in all cases where a dismissal is alleged to have been for a reason which would make it automatically unfair).

This doesn't just mean that (for example) the veil hiding the so-called "protected conversation" can be pulled away in any case where allegations of discrimination accompany those of unfair dismissal - it also means that the fact of the "pre-termination negotiations" can always be made admissible in any case in which an employee is summarily dismissed.

This is because, by virtue of the Industrial Tribunals (Extension of Jurisdiction) Order 1994 an employee who has been dismissed can bring a breach of contract claim before an employment tribunal. An employee who has been summarily dismissed can bring a claim for wrongful dismissal alongside any claim for unfair dismissal and can therefore introduce evidence about the conversation which their employer had hoped would be "protected."

No decent employer should consider making use of s111A anyway. But if they try, they should watch out.

Bonanza for spivs and chancers

It's not really news that a handful of large contractors are raking in billions of pounds from the taxpayer. (

The function of outsourcing for a capitalist economy is precisely to open up to private profit (capital accumulation) areas previously excluded, in order to provide opportunities for profitable investment. It may be that this or that contractor makes super-profits through ripping off the public sector (and the private sector often seems adept at driving a harder bargain) but that really is incidental. Margaret Hodge and the Public Accounts Committee can expose particular scandals, but it would take both a change of Government and a change of tack by the Opposition really to address this issue.

Outsourcing expresses the primal urge of capital to penetrate and commodify every area of our lives. This drive is, of course, dressed up in an ideological worship of the supposed "efficiency" of the private sector, a foolish mantra which, having been swallowed whole by politicians of all parties, continues now to be excreted over our public services.

It's deeply ironic that, while every local authority has a staff code of conduct that defines as gross misconduct any attempt by a public servant to profit personally from their professional role, Councillors think nothing of handing over whole swathes of service delivery to organisations with precisely that motivation.

While, among the many thousands of workers outsourced over the past decades, there are many good people trying to do a decent job, their bosses are all too often spivs and chancers who care only for shareholder value (and their own inflated salaries and bonuses).

As public service trade unionists we need to remember to assert that a public service ethos is both morally superior to, and practically more effective than the profit motive as a guiding principle for the delivery of public services.

And we desperately need more Labour politicians, at every level, who understand this.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Stop the Lobbying Bill’s union membership data grab!

Full marks to the TUC for launching an urgent lobbying initiative to combat the threat of (the relatively little noticed) Part Three of the Lobbying Bill.


This legislation - if it comes into force - will create unnecessary and uncalled for administrative burdens for trade unions in relation to our membership records - and open up new avenues for vexatious litigation against us.

The TUC are rightly highlighting the threat of breach of confidentiality of union membership records (in an economy where we know many major private employers have previous form for blacklisting trade unionists). However, the scope for mischief-making by anti-union employers and right-wing fringe groups is at least equally alarming.

The Lords will debate Part Three on Monday - so we only have the weekend to get the message across about a serious attack on the rights of millions of trade union members which has almost slipped below the radar of the civil liberties campaigners doing such good work to resist the outrageous restrictions of Part Two.

The TUC has launched an urgent campaign ( to allow union members and anyone concerned about data privacy to adopt a Peer and email them about this.

Please make some time to do this today!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Local Government Pay - Now is the Time for Action

‎In the past few weeks, three disputes have led to either national or multi-regional strike action in workplaces where UNISON members are present.

Right now (until noon tomorrow) NAPO are taking action against the attacks on the Probation service. Last month NUT and NAS/UWT members in schools in many regions struck over pay, pensions and workloads. Last week saw the successful joint union Higher Education strike.

That it was only in the last of these three cases that UNISON members were taking action is a product, in part, of objective factors such as bargaining structures, and, in part, of subjective factors (such as the extent to which persistent rank and file organisation can break the spell of the world weary cynicism which appears to be the default setting of many officials in more unions than UNISON alone).

If the trade union movement is to play a role in reversing the longest sustained fall in the real earnings of working people in this country in living memory then - in UNISON - it is to the example of Higher Education which we need to look. And it is from Local Government that we should be looking.

The local government workforce in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, whose pay and conditions are negotiated by the National Joint Council for Local Government Services remains the largest bargaining group in the economy.

UNISON is the majority union in this crucial bargaining group, our membership exceeding by more than 100% the combined membership of the other unions (GMB and UNITE). I don't make this remark out of some sort of "UNISON chauvinism" but to point out the responsibility which falls upon UNISON to provide clear leadership, with the other unions, in a fight which will have implications for all trade unionists - and all workers.

As an aside I should point out that one part of that responsibility is the responsibility of UNISON members of the NJC trade union side to turn up at meetings or send substitutes - and that the same responsibility falls equally on our Union's official structures to ensure that we are adequately and appropriately represented. We can revisit this question when we have won a decent pay rise.

We now have a pay claim, for a flat rate rise of at least a pound an hour to bring the bottom of the national pay spine up to the level of the (national) Living Wage. A special meeting of the UNISON NJC Committee on 13 November will now discuss how we build the campaign ‎around this claim.

Strike action will be required.

National strike action will be required.

All-out national strike action of more than one day will be required.

We also need a campaign strategy which builds towards that necessary action and which wins the support of our members for that action.

We need an e-petition and an Early Day Motion (signed by every member of the Trade Union Group of MPs). 

We need deputations from every local government branch to meetings of every local authority in support of our claim (coordinated by our Regions, with Regional staff organising the deputations wherever branches may be unable to do so). 

We need targeted recruitment material for local government workers who have yet to join us, based upon our claim. 

We need regular bulletins to all our members, nationally as well as from branches, each of which asks members to do something - to act - in support of our claim. 

When our e-petition forces a Parliamentary debate we need a lobby of Parliament, around which we should focus a media offensive in which we publicise the case for fair pay for a predominantly female and low paid workforce delivering vital services.

We need model letters to Councillors and MPs for all our members, our friends and families.

We need leaflets which our branches can customise and order free of charge (on the model of the recent recruitment campaign).

We need guidance to branches (immediately) on how to organise publicity stunts and media events to promote a coherent message which has to be defined within 48 hours of the 13 November meeting.

And we need to sideline and ignore anyone whose world weary cynicism has overwhelmed their optimism of the will.

Now is the time for action.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Support the Probation Officers' strike!

At the last meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) (a report of which here is now somewhat overdue) our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, made a particular point of mentioning UNISON's firm opposition to the plans of the Coalition Government for the privatisation of the Probation service.

‎Today, our sister union, the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) launch a 24 hour strike at noon in opposition to plans which threaten public safety as much as the rights and conditions of the workforce (

UNISON members are not being called out as UNISON has yet to declare a trade dispute, but when UNISON members in probation were surveyed in the summer 99% opposed the Government plans and 85% indicated a willingness to take industrial action.

‎NAPO's action clearly demonstrates the possibility of lawful action in these circumstances, and the strike will most certainly focus further attention on this most outrageous of privatisations.

I'm not privy to the details of the negotiations which are underway to try to protect the terms and conditions of probation service staff, nor therefore to the decisionmaking process which has led to our not yet having declared a trade dispute. However, I hope that if NAPO are forced to take further action, UNISON is able to offer our members the opportunity to act alongside them.

One thing we can all do is sign the e-petition against the Government's privatisation plans (http:‎//

NAPO are taking only their fourth national industrial action‎ in over a century of existence, in response to a vital threat to the very existence of probation as a service for the public, rather than a money-making scheme for private profiteers.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Trade unions need to toughen up

I'm not sure if getting the headline on the letters page of the Grauniad necessarily signifies an upturn in the class struggle (‎).

However, a good UNISON comrade, George Binette, has managed to shame the paper into headlining his letter about last Thursday's Higher Education strike‎ (which points out that Friday's print edition ignored the strike when it was a significant news story). That letter then leads several others dealing with union issues and the living wage.

As this is Living Wage Week‎, with the uprated living wage set to be announced today, it's a good time to reflect upon how we should respond to the longest period of declining living standards for UK workers in living memory.

The Living Wage is, of course, a worthy cause. Setting a standard below which workers ought not to have to live is good sense. However, there are a couple of reasons for caution.

First, as trade unionists, we ought to aspire to raising wages through collective bargaining - the joint, collective, regulation of the employment relationship. We've not been doing particularly well on that front in recent years.

If an increasing number of low paid workers come to rely for a pay rise not upon their own collective organisation but upon a more or less arbitrary announcement by a well-meaning cross section of the great and the good, or upon sudden generosity from employers because the Government offer them tax breaks, then where is the space, or the incentive, for trade union organisation?

Secondly, as important as it is to raise up the living standards of those at the bottom of the pay pyramid (and it is vitally important - which is why I welcome the flat rate pay claim for local government workers), it is also important to reverse the fall in living standards for workers who are not low paid.

It is a scandal that so many thousands of our fellow workers earn ‎less than the modest sum required to live with a modicum of decency - but it is also a scandal that all local government workers have seen our real earnings fall by one sixth since 2009.

So, yes, we need to campaign for the living wage for all, but we also need to organise for a pay rise for all workers, and to organise all workers into trade unions. This "economic recovery" which cheers the CBI while workers' living standards continue to fall is a direct consequence of the weakening and marginalisation of our trade unions.

As the headline writer on the Guardian letters page puts is so well, trade unions need to toughen up.

Friday, November 01, 2013

A new red light for Part 3 of the Lobbying Bill

A not inconsiderable hat tip to the Midlands TUC for the link above, which tells a funny story about how dishonesty can turn round and bite you in the posterior.

The Government oppose "red tape" because they oppose anything which gets in the way of profit (pesky things like health and safety law, or the requirement to pay a minimum wage).

They don't really oppose "red tape" as such of course (indeed they like to use it to keep foreigners out of the country or to make it harder for workers to bring claims in employment tribunals).

However, because we live in a class society in which those at the top prefer, mostly, not to flaunt their class bias, ‎ they have set up a Committee with the explicit aim of limiting red tape. All red tape. Anywhere. Not just red tape which constrains bosses.

Unfortunately for the Government, their Committee has applied their stated position on "red tape" (rather than their real position) consistently ‎ to Part Three of the Lobbying Bill (a.k.a. the Gagging Bill).

This is the bit that imposes novel, onerous and (literally) uncalled for requirements in relation to trade union membership records. The real intention of these proposals is - pretty obviously - further to constrain our already limited right to strike, but the Government can't say that.

So their very own "Regulatory Policy Committee" has given a "red" status to their mischevious plans. Parliamentarians need to stop this nonsense now.

And if they don't, the whole trade union movement will have to reconsider our approach of slavish compliance with anti-union laws which contravene our human rights and the UK's international treaty obligations.

Solidarity with the FBU - in all our interests

Good luck to all firefighters taking strike action later today (and Monday) in their continuing search for a fair deal on pensions (‎).

The firefighters' cause is obviously just and they deserve to prevail. Many of our pension schemes would no doubt be in a better state had we continued with coordinated strike action after 30 November 2011, however the FBU action is not simply an aftershock from that earlier, too hastily concluded campaign.

As the stuttering economic recovery does nothing to relieve the downwards pressure on workers' living standards, and as this Government continues to demonise and attack public service workers, it's quite clear that a future Conservative Government would renew an assault upon all our pension schemes.

In the current workplace climate of fear, stress and uncertainty, every struggle is a potential beacon of hope which offers the possibility of getting to the coordination of strike action which trade unions vote for at the TUC and then fail to put into practice.‎

But even if disputes are prosecuted entirely in isolation, they deserve our support - and anyone who might ever need to be carried out of a burning building should show support for the FBU in whatever way we can.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


There's the message of support to today's Higher Education strike from our General Secretary.

I hope many other activists in local government, health and our other service groups are also on ‎the way to support picket lines.

Workers in this country are in the midst of the longest sustained fall in real wages in living memory (although a small number of senior employees in the public and private sectors are doing rather nicely).

There's no automatic law that says that if capitalism can drag itself to a better place economically then any benefits will be shared with workers.

We need our trade unions to mobilise us to fight for better pay - and today's unprecedented united action by the three major Higher Education unions is an important moment in building that fight.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Defend the Link’s model response to the Collins Review

If you are a Labour Party member (whether an individual member of a Constituency Labour Party (CLP) or a levy-paying member of an affiliated trade union (or a member of an affiliated society) you should try to ensure responses to Ray Collins' review of the relationship between the Party and the affiliated unions are made which defend the link - and therefore the principle of an audible political voice for the organised working class.

Defend the Link have issued a model response which provides a good starting point (

This is certainly a rather better starting point than a letter from a senior political official of one large trade union which has yet to agree it's position at Executive level, which (in making some preliminary observations which don't actually appear to amount to agreed policy) starts with the trite observation that "the status quo is not an option" (because "it hasn't worked for us").

Whenever anyone says "the status quo is not an option" it is because they are about to propose, advocate or support a change for which they cannot make a reasoned justification, and that is certainly so in this instance. To the (considerable) extent that it is true that the current relationship between the Labour Party and trade unions "hasn't worked" for trade unionists this has been nothing whatsoever to do with structural or organisational questions, and everything to do with the political approach taken by the trade unions.

It is not a good answer to the question of how trade unions might better influence Labour to suggest that we should have less influence!

There's a rather cruel joke doing the rounds about a trade union General Secretary who, thinking aloud, wondered whether - since the Party leadership ignore decisions taken by a Conference at which trade unions have 50% of the vote - they might take more notice of such decisions if we only had 30%.

I don't believe that's true and I think you should all stop repeating it.

In the mean time, Defend the Link have given us a model response to send to Ray Collins in our CLPs - and a sound basis for the formulation of a coherent trade union response.‎

Monday, October 28, 2013

Solidarity with Higher Education members - join the picket lines on Thursday!

A number of UNISON activists in Higher Education have issued the following statement in advance of their strike action this coming Thursday (jointly with UCU and UNITE).

All UNISON activists who can do so should support their nearest Higher Education picket line on Thursday!

This is the statement;

"UNISON members in Higher Education are on the verge of launching national industrial action on 31st October - the only service group in all of our union to do so - and the following left activists are making an Appeal for Solidarity:
We call on all trade unionists to throw their weight behind our upcoming strike. We've won a yes vote for strike action because we have pushed hard for it in our branches and at a national level; we've won elections to the HE SGE because we fought for a left voice to represent our members' needs; we were the only Service Group to oppose the Pensions sell out in 2012 because we worked together; we've won a yes vote because we've built an inclusive, non-sectarian, and vibrant left that talks openly with each other regardless of different political affiliations; we've got a vote for action because we've built a strong network of activists who are serious about standing up for our members and put that ahead of all other considerations.
We are left wing trade unionists of various stripes, currently on the front line in the struggle against neoliberalism, calling for a united fightback and for social justice - we are calling for unity in action now.
Without unity in action right now, we are doomed. Please join our call, sign below, and attend our picket lines on 31st Oct and beyond: Solidarity forever!
Signed (in a personal capacity):
Linda Holden, HE SGE
Sarah Pickett, HE SGE
Tomasa Bullen, NEC
Molly Cooper, HE SGE
Max Watson, NEC
Matt Raine, HE SGE
Andy Beech, HE SGE
Sandy Nicoll, HE SGE
Carole Hanson, Brighton Uni
Ivan Bonsell, Brighton Uni
Domenico Hill, Bristol Uni
Linda Myers, Manchester Met Uni
Sue Howarth, Manchester Met Uni
Rosina Morrison, Manchester Met. Uni
Andy Cunningham, Manchester Met Uni
Lucinda Wakefield, Sheffield Hallam Uni"

Between now and Thursday's strike the priority has to be unity in action.

I will comment further thereafter about the importance of working together in an open and non-sectarian way without losing sight of important political principles.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Grangemouth and the limits of industrial power

It's understandable that UNITE emphasise the news that Ineos won't close Grangemouth‎ (‎) rather than the price being paid in pay, conditions and pensions.

‎The employers have won by threatening to walk away and close the plant - and criticism of the tactics of the trade union is clearly to be expected ( It may be that an attempt to generalise a fight could have lead to a better outcome.

However, this episode is, fundamentally, a reminder of the imbalance in power between labour and capital in our existing social order. Labour (us) consists of real people, with homes, families and communities as well as jobs. Particularly at a time of high unemployment we cannot easily walk away from our employment relationship.

Capital, on the other hand, seeks profit without concern (in the final analysis) for social consequences‎. If a firm is willing to close a plant and walk away it can do so - and, as Ineos have now shown, this can greatly empower wealthy bullies who want to increase profitability at the expense of their workforce.

Workers cannot resist such tactics by strike action, but only by occupation on the model of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders forty years ago. Given the legal shackles now borne by our trade unions it is difficult to envisage official support for such action in the absence of a strong, militant and independently organised rank and file.

Without this, our union organisation in even the strongest and best organised workplace is always vulnerable to capital's ultimate sanction of closure.

Which is why, as well as industrial organisation, our workers movement needs political representation. Ultimately we should be fighting for a society in which ownership of the means of production is with the community as a whole (rather than some rich bloke on a yacht miles away). 

Here and now we should be fighting for a Government which would legislate to strengthen workers' rights - and would be prepared to intervene to nationalise vital productive assets put at risk by the sort of bullying and blackmail with which Ineos appear to have got away.

Which is why we need to step up the fight to preserve a political voice for trade unionism (‎ To stop future owners like Jim Ratcliffe from carrying out further assaults upon working people we need our movement to aim for the sort of social and political changes which cannot be won through workplace organisation alone.

Friday, October 25, 2013

CLP motion on the union link

What follows is a motion agreed by Lewisham West and Penge Constituency Labour Party at the instigation of Croydon UNISON.


‎This CLP confirms that having been created to represent working people in Parliament by the trade unions, together with cooperative societies and socialist clubs and societies we have concerns regarding the current Collins Review process.


We believe that Labour's continuing relationship with trade unionists through their affiliation to the Labour Party continues to represent the values and aspirations of ordinary people.


We recognise that trade unions are collective organisations, and as such understand that this relationship is based on the basis of collective affiliation.


We note the review that Ray Collins is having of the Party's relationship with the trade unions as outlined above.


However, we also note that the media interest in this matter is being whipped up

by newspapers hostile to our aspirations which have never had sympathy with the basis of our Labour movement.


This CLP affirms that the relationship between the trade unions and the Party has been and remains central to the role of the Party in representing the interests of working people.


We therefore support:

- the collective affiliation of trade unions to the Party;

- collective decision making by trade unionists within the Party;

- representation for, and involvement of, trade unions at every level of the Party.


We therefore campaign for this throughout the Party and trade unions and call on

all Labour movement activists to make submissions to the Collins review in

accordance with the above principles.


We oppose any and all suggestions that would weaken or undermine the

relationship between the Party and the trade unions based upon collective

affiliation. We call upon the NEC to ensure that any proposals for change take

account of the views expressed.

Solidarity and Human Rights

Trade union rights are human rights - and trade unionists need to be among the foremost defenders of human rights.

Perhaps the first human right is the right to life - we certainly hear enough from politicians about how the state protects our safety.

That's why we should show solidarity with the United Friends and Families Campaign, which brings together those seeking justice for their loved ones who have died in police custody or at the hands of the police.

Those in London tomorrow can join the procession at 12.30pm from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street (‎‎3).

Solidarity to all those who will be there.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Defending the Link - we need UNITE

I urge regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) to follow the link above, to the website of UNITE's influential United Left, which backed UNITE General Secretary, Len McCluskey, in his recently successful bid for re-election.

‎In the article linked to above, Jim Kelly, Chair of UNITE's London and Eastern Region sets out a coherent argument for the approach which trade unionists should take to defend the link between the Labour Party and the trade unions. 

Under a Government of Old Etonian millionaires it is perhaps clearer than ever just how much our establishment wishes to dispense with the uncomfortable inconvenience of a political voice for working people.

In the Sainsbury/Progress faction within "our" Party there are also many who dream of a polity of state funded parties competing for the (ever rightward shifting) "centre ground" without the tiresome need for the party of the "centre-left" to be held to account in any way by pesky workers.

There needs to be a united trade union position (at least among those trade unions which stand for progressive politics) to defend collective affiliation of trade unions to Labour and the existing rights of affiliates at every level (including voting strength at Conference and representation at the NEC).

I believe that UNISON's Labour Link Committee will next month adopt just such a resolute position. UNITE need to do likewise.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Immigration is not the problem

When I started going on demonstrations in the late 1970s I first heard the old chant that begins "unemployment and inflation are not caused by immigration!" A couple of years after that I got an Economics A-level and realised that was indeed true.

That's why I appreciate Anita Hurrel's piece on Liberal Conspiracy yesterday (‎).

The Tory Immigration Bill (which gets its second reading in the Commons today) is as gruesome an example of racist "dog whistle" politics as we'll see between now and the 2015 General Election (which is, of course, what it's all about).

Although making less pleasant the lives of (some) "foreigners" (broadly, those who don't own Central London mansions and/or large yachts)‎ probably does bring genuine pleasure to many Tory MPs, this odious legislation isn't really about denying migrants access to services or compelling landlords to volunteer for the border agency.

The real purpose of the new law is to be seen to be "tough" on immigration in the forlorn hope of ever appeasing the ignorance and bigotry expressed in its purest form by the Daily Mail. For the Tories this is about holding on to supporters who might be tempted by UKIP, and for the other parties it's about keeping up.

What needs also to be borne in mind is the knock on effects of "dog whistle" politics on those who hear, and are encouraged by, the whistling. 

Already black people (particularly young black men) are far more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped by the police (and to die in police custody). 

Already we know that letting agents will collude with racist landlords to deny some would-be tenants homes on the basis of their race.

At work we see instances in which cuts and redundancies fall unevenly on black and minority ethnic workers (as, for example, the very local Councils which pioneered equal opportunities are now savaged by the deepest cuts).

Such discrimination is encouraged and legitimised by legislation attacking immigrants and, although the equation immigrant = black is less true than it was a generation ago, the racist consequences remain obvious.

In determining how we should respond as trade unionists‎ we do have to take on arguments about the adverse impact of immigration upon some workers. An increase in the supply of (particularly) unskilled labour through migration can depress wages - other things being equal (ceteris paribus, as I was taught in economics).

A trade union response ought not to be to try to restrict migration, but to see to it that ceteris aren't paribus. ‎Ever tighter immigration "controls" would simply mean more migrants workers were undocumented, making them even harder to organise and even more vulnerable to unscrupulous employers.

Our approach has to be to seek to organise all workers and fight for higher pay. UNISON's long standing support for an amnesty for undocumented workers reflects the interests of our members rather more than the equivocation and accommodation being shown towards racist Tory legislation by the Shadow Cabinet.

Or, as we used to finish chanting all those years ago; "Bullshit! Come off it! The Enemy is profit!"

Monday, October 21, 2013

Oh Lords !

The Lords tomorrow consider the Lobbying Bill (a.k.a the Gagging Bill) at its second reading, with warnings from their own Constitution Committee ringing in their ear trumpets (‎).

It tells us something about political life in the UK that we have to look to an unelected legislative chamber to protect our democratic rights.

The Lords Constitution Committee sensibly suggests that the proposed limits on third party campaign expenditure in the run up to a General Election (which would stifle the work of UNISON's General Political Fund) impose unacceptable limits on the right to freedom of expression.

So far so good.

Unfortunately, the same Committee concludes that no constitutional issues arise from Part Three of the Bill. After all that Part (on "Trade Union Adminstration") just tramples all over the right to freedom of association.‎

Let's hope the Lords ‎ heed today's Grauniad and - at least - stall the bill. Even if all the dangers of Parts One and Two were eliminated, Part Three remains a serious attack upon our trade unions.

Stop Hinkley C - Nuclear Power No Thanks!

The nuclear power industry, an offshoot of the programme to create the most devastating weapons of mass destruction that the world has ever known once promised electricity "too cheap to meter".

It never delivered that, but it has delivered radioactive waste that will be dangerous for centuries - and for which we have no means of disposal - and, every few years the industry's safety procedures fail somewhere in the world.

These would be sufficient reasons to oppose the building of new nuclear power stations even were the Government not gambling our money as consumers by guaranteeing a price in order to tempt EDF to build a new nuclear power station.

The trade union movement has long been conflicted about the nuclear power industry, a unionised industry which (by the very hazardous nature of its business) does at least aspire to a safety culture. UNISON Scotland has policy in favour of continuing to operate current nuclear power stations (for example).

However, the construction of Hinkley C points so far in the wrong direction that the unions should unite in support of the opposition ( We should not continue to bequeath to future generations the poisonous legacy of waste we don't know how to dispose of any more than we should want to keep alive the prospect of providing another name to add to the list of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

All out for Halloween in Higher Education

I'll blog a proper report of today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) shortly - but the headline news has to be the decision of three Higher Education unions, representing between them almost 100,000 workers across the UK, to strike against the 1% pay freeze on 31 October.

Members of UCU, UNISON and UNITE are set to be called out a fortnight from tomorrow in a vital struggle for fair pay in a sector where growing rewards for some senior managers stand in stark contrast to falling real incomes for the workforce.

All UNISON members (indeed, all trade unionists) need to turn out to support the picket lines of striking Higher Education workers on 31 October.

Lambeth UNISON certainly returned the skeleton costumes we borrowed from the UNISON Centre a couple of years ago (for those who may want to go "trick or treating" straight from the picket line!)

On a serious note, this dispute is a vital step in building the overdue fight against the pay freeze - and the falling real incomes to which it has given rise. We can only restore the strength of our unions to defend our members if we can mobilise around our strength - unity in dealing with the issues which unite us.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

It'll be appropriate

‎As an inquisitive soul, I asked, at today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) when the NEC would consider the timetable and arrangements for the next General Secretary election.

Readers will be reassured to learn that our Presidential Team, with the Chair of our Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee‎ will determine a timetable at an appropriate time.

This will come as a relief to those fearful that this important decision might otherwise have been taken at an inappropriate time!

In unrelated news, our Staffing Committee will consider filling the longstanding vacancy for a Deputy General Secretary in November.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Hold Capita to account

Capita's plans to remove hundreds of jobs from the London Borough of Barnet are rightly prompting opposition and I urge all readers to sign the petition at

On the day the Royal Mail was stolen from tens of millions of us in order to be sold cheaply to hundreds of thousands with cash to spare, Capita demonstrate - by shifting hundreds of Barnet jobs around the country - that the private sector will always put shareholder value above public service.

Today's Guardian editorial's description of our "self-hating" public sector is more than apt. For the generation that I have worked in public service (mostly representing public servants as a union rep) I have watched the continuing denigration of the public service ethos by politicians of all parties - and by many of the senior managers appointed to do their bidding.

The Barnet Alliance for Public Services are to be applauded for petitioning Capita's Chief Executive. If these money-grubbing privateers want to deliver our public services we should aim to hold them to account just as we would elected Councillors.

As a child of two public servants brought up to believe that the value of what we do with our lives could never be valued in money I think it's long past time that we asserted the truth - that the profit motive is a squalid and sordid little thing and the private companies which leech profits from taxpayers are an infestation which we will one day exterminate.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Join the Dots... Defend the Link to resist privatisation

On the same day that the state-owned East Coast trains gave £209 Million to the Exchequer (money which would have gone straight into the pockets of shareholders if made by any of the private franchises)( it is also clear that the Royal Mail is being privatised at below its market value (

This means both that the Government is allowing taxpayers to subsidise the privatisation, and that many small shareholders will make a quick killing and move on. Across the Home Counties, holidays, fine wine and home improvements will be financed by windfall profits from a briefly held shareholding in something we all owned.

The notion that private companies are somehow more "efficient" has always been no more than ideology (barely) concealing the naked self-interest of capitalists keen for an opportunity to turn a profit.

Since the Government are as determined to reprivatise the East Coast Main Line as they are to flog off Royal Mail on the cheap it's clear, joining the dots between these two stories, that this ideology, and those interests, continue to dominate.

The CWU have opposed the privatisation of Royal Mail ( and the rail unions keep up the fight to return our rail network to public ownership ( - but these trade union campaigns need a coherent, organised political voice.

That's why the single most important political issue confronting all those of us who want to resist and reverse privatisation is to defend and enhance the collective relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party (

The trade union movement needs a political voice. That voice should speak clearly in the interests of working people - and should make clear that the era of privatisation is at an end.

Labour needs to make the contrary case in defence of public services delivered for the public good - but to do that then, where the Party holds office it needs to stem the tide of privatisation right now.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Higher Education UNISON ballot result

Congratulations to activists and officials in UNISON's Higher Education Service Group, where it was today announced that members have voted in favour of strike action against a miserly 1% offer (

The margin of the "yes" vote (54.4%) may not be overwhelming but it is decisive, and the Service Group Executive (SGE) will now decide on further action next week taking into account the results of ballots of members of other unions, notably UCU whose ballot closes on Thursday (

The Higher Education (HE) SGE has, in recent years, shown brave and determined leadership which has set a positive example to the wider union.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Barnet Not Fair?

Anyone reading this obscure little niche blog probably already knows that privatisation is a device to transfer money from workers and taxpayers to shareholders.

In a generation of struggles against this pernicious smash and grab raid on public services there have been few more inspiring chapters than the many written in years of battles fought by the workers, community (and bloggers) of the London Borough of Barnet.

Absent an effective national campaign to prevent privatisation (which will need a lot more from the Labour leadership than merely reshuffling Blairites into well-deserved, and doubtless well-remunerated, oblivion) the Barnet comrades were always, eventually, going to find themselves where they now are - with Capita threatening hundreds of redundancies as they shuffle local government jobs round the country.

Barnet UNISON can be proud, however, not only of their exemplary resistance but also of its results. The Union is still in there, representing members. Also, Tory Barnet have set the precedent of publishing the details of their contract with Capita (

Since the private sector can generally evade the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act to conceal their looting of the public pursue under the disreputable cloak of "commercial confidentiality" it is a critical victory to have compelled the publication of this contract.

If we are to turn the tide of this latter-day Thatcherism (which for a long time had engulfed the Labour Party and threatened to swamp the union movement) then we all need to follow Barnet UNISON with as much determination as we wish to prevent our employers from following Barnet Council.

For a start, let's ask every Labour Council to be at least as transparent as Barnet's uber-Tories. Let's have a clear commitment that every contract for the provision of local government services by a private company should always be a public document.

And that's just for a start.

The Directors and shareholders of companies like Capita must be subject to at least the same scrutiny as are Councillors and senior managers of local authorities.

We have to make this happen. The hundreds of Barnet workers facing sacking as private capital continues to pillage public services deserve at least this.

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World Day for Decent Work

As Dave Prentis reminds us in today's Grauniad, today is "World Day for Decent Work" as declared by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) (

However much our every day work may be full of the immediate, local - even parochial - concerns of particular trade union members or groups of members, it's always good to be reminded that we are part of a global movement which aspires to organise all workers everywhere.

Whether it's a fire in an unregulated textile factory in Bangladesh or the shocking death toll of migrant labourers in Qatar, the world provides regular reminders of the need for our trade union movement and its campaigns.

We do need to campaign to put pressure on Governments, international bodies and major corporations to combat the life-threatening exploitation of many of our sister and brother workers around the world.

From the perspective of the oldest trade union movement in the world (here in the UK), however, the current Government provide a clear lesson in just how temporary and contingent can be gains from legislation and regulation.

With tribunal fees choking off individual employment rights and the mischievous lobbying bill throwing a spanner into the heart of what's left of the right to strike, while the Government proposes work without pay for the unemployed, our international solidarity work is likely to become much more of a two way street.

The most important thing to do to make every day a day for decent work is to build up trade union membership and organisation, the foundations of a decent society.

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Institutional Racism at Work - lost research from the last century

f you had been looking for a report analysing the operation of institutional racism in the workplace you might not immediately have been drawn, by its title, to "The Organisational and Managerial implications of Devolved Personnel Assessment Practices", a research report published by the (now defunct) Greater London Employers' Association in 1999.

(The report is not, as far as I am aware, available online, although the internet discloses its existence -

This report, commissioned by a consortium of London Borough Councils in the late 90s, did however, in spite of its title, provide a methodologically solid foundation for some stark conclusions about racism in the workplace. Fourteen years on this research has not, as far as I know been either challenged or repeated. Indeed it has all but sunk from sight.

Since I was personally involved in the agitation which eventually led a number of London employers to commission this report, I could recount its origins and history at far greater length than would hold the attention of all but the most determined reader of this blog. And I fear that may well turn out to be what I now do...

In a nutshell, from at least 1993 several London local government UNISON Branches were particularly struck by the evident over representation of black workers among those facing formal disciplinary action from employers.

In one way or another, UNISON branches raised this concern with various London Boroughs. From personal experience I can recall that the employers' initial response (of denial) rapidly shifted when they carried out their own analyses.

I recall, for example, broad assent from one employer at the time to the observation (based upon their own monitoring data) that, in one Department, black workers were, in the mid 90s, twice as likely to be disciplined, and three times as likely to be dismissed, as their white colleagues.

Since these were employers with a high profile (and generally sincere) commitment to equality of opportunity, they agreed with us that something had to be done - but what?

One understandable (but misconceived) response was to review the files dealing with particular disciplinary cases. Since these were cases conducted under negotiated disciplinary procedures under which workers had (and generally made use of) the right to union representation, this laborious exercise (of which I have personal knowledge in one particular case) predictably failed to reveal any systematic pattern of greater injustice among cases that got as far as a disciplinary hearing.

It was because this "surface-level" analysis of data thrown up by personnel (or as we might now say "people management") procedures failed to account for the evident racial disparity in outcomes that a number of UNISON activists across Greater London pressed, as the 90s wore on, for the employers to commission research that looked a little deeper.

This led to the commissioning of the research which (eventually) led to the publication of the report. From the point of view of the concerns which had led to our campaigning for the research to be undertaken in the first place, there were two key findings.

The first was that managers acknowledged (in structured confidential interviews) that the ethnicity of an employee was a key determinant of whether or not they took formal disciplinary action. At least once asked to reflect upon their actions, managers were accepting that their actions were discriminatory!

The second finding (based upon something called a repertory grid technique - was that white managers demonstrated a systematic tendency to rate white subordinates as better performing than black subordinates (whereas black managers demonstrated no such tendency). The nature of the research technique was that managers were not necessarily conscious of this discriminatory tendency, but revealed it in answer to the questions which they were asked.

Taken together, these findings tell a compelling story about the obstacles to creating islands of equality of opportunity in a society in which the deep structural roots of racism, embedded in the actually existing social relations of production, express themselves both consciously and subconsciously in the conduct of social actors (in this case, the predominantly white managers in a number of London Borough Councils in the late 1990s).

Obviously this could be read as a cautionary tale about the limits of reformism and the need for a revolutionary transformation of society if we are to destroy the persistent racism which is the enduring (and perpetually reproduced) legacy of the key role of African slavery in the genesis of Western capitalism.

However, whilst waiting (and/or preparing) for that revolution there remains much that can be done to fight for what Manning Marable once referred to as "non-reformist reforms".

In many ways, the problem of institutional racism in the workplace was only highlighted in the 90s because of victories won in the previous decade in gaining access to those same workplaces for black workers.

At the beginning of the 80s, Lambeth (with an estimated black population of 40% - remembering that no ethnic origin question was asked in the 81 census) had a workforce which was 90% white. Within ten years, vigorous application of equal opportunity recruitment practices had shifted that percentage to 50%. (Older readers will remember Lambeth and other boroughs being denounced at the time as the "loony left").

In the generation since we managed to open some of our workplaces up to greater diversity we have failed to make the same progress to achieve both equity and equality in those workplaces.

However, the research published by GLEA all those years ago continues to point out things that could be done, right here, right now to advance equality given that we know that (still predominantly white) managers, left to their own devices may end up discriminating.

Managers can be trained and challenged to analyse and confront their own prejudices.

Managerial decisions can be rendered transparent and subject to scrutiny.

Human Resources staff can be given the support to champion equality and challenge discrimination.

Union representatives can be empowered and encouraged to confront racism.

Employers can support and resource the self-organisation of black workers within trade unions.

The long lost research report, buried because of the discomfort to which its sound findings give rise, remains a tool which we can use to fight for these limited, achievable and worthwhile goals.

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