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)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Local Government Pay - we're going to fight!

Sometimes even my irrepressible optimism of the will takes the odd knock. But just when you feel at your lowest, that is the point at which the class struggle comes along and reminds you why you do it all.

Today I have been reinvigorated by an excellent lobby of, and deputations to, the local authority by which I am employed. Even more though, I have found encouragement from a hitherto unlikely place.

The UNISON North West Regional Local Government Executive.

These are comrades with whom I have not always seen eye to eye (not even when looking at an icepick). However, at today's meeting of the UNISON National Joint Council Committee (the democratically elected body of lay UNISON members which dictates the policy of the majority of the trade union side nationally) a motion from the North West was agreed - and it was a motion I could not have written better myself.

In a nutshell, the Committee agreed not to ask our members to choose between the two "rancid horsemeat" options ( on pay offered by the employers but instead to consult members positively about their willingness to take action for a deal better than either of the options on offer from the bosses.

This was at the initiative of the North West Region, UNISON's largest Region (in terms of membership numbers). It reflected the agreed policy of the Greater London Region and -plainly - commanded majority support from Regional representatives.

We go towards the 2013 local government pay dispute with eyes wide open. It won't be easy winning members to take action, and still harder to win concessions as a result of such action. It is however essential that we throw all we can into this campaign.

Every UNISON local government activist must now prepare to secure the largest possible response to this call for action in the forthcoming consultation exercise.

Congratulations to the NJC Committee for giving a lead.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The real choice confronting local government workers about our pay

I didn't comment immediately on the miserly local government pay "offer" (summarised on UNISON's website - because I know that hasty and terse electronic communication can get the author into a spot of bother.

Essentially, the employers are offering 1% if we accept the slashing of mileage rates paid to car users, and will reduce that offer to 0.6% for all but the lowest paid if we don't.

The other elements of the first ("preferred") offer are less significant. An extra day's leave on the national agreement may not echo in automatic improvements for those already getting more.

The loss of the unilateral arbitration clause is, I would suggest, of questionable importance, since the London Weighting dispute showed almost ten years ago that this supposedly "unilateral" clause is inoperable without the cooperation of the employers. It's importance is symbolic because the employers remember having a few extra tenths of a per cent squeezed out of them last time they cooperated.

Really though this choice is no choice at all. Even a 1% pay rise is a 2% pay cut in real terms, coming after a three year pay freeze during which the spending power of the earnings of a worker stuck at the top of their grade has fallen by a sixth. Neither offer is worth even considering.

The cynical device of an "either/or" pay offer could be a cunning ruse to divide the trade unions and the workforce - but only if there's something worth having for a significant chunk of the workforce in at least one of the options on offer. Here there isn't.

The position of the local government employers amounts to offering us two different bowls of rancid horsemeat, with just a slight difference in seasoning.

Heather Wakefield is right to deride this false choice of paltry offers ( but the question which will face UNISON's National Joint Council (NJC) Committee tomorrow is not only what to say but what to do.

The choice which we should put to our members is not a choice between the employers' two options, but the honest choice between fighting for fair pay or swallowing what is offered.

I hope the NJC Committee finds the confidence, courage and common sense to give leadership by recommending rejection of both options and a campaign for industrial action to win a decent pay rise.

Until local government workers are prepared to stand together nationally, as teachers and civil servants are being asked to, we will not get a decent pay rise. Our members are entitled to a leadership which tells this truth.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Don't give up on 90 days!

The snappily titled Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (Amendment) Order 2013 ( comes into force on 6 April and reduces the statutory minimum consultation period when employers propose to make a hundred or more redundancies from 90 to 45 days.

This vindictive piece of legislation is plainly intended to weaken the hand of trade unions when bargaining to reduce redundancies, in circumstances in which the Workplace Employee Relations Study ( suggests that we are already failing to make a difference in almost four out of five cases (

Many managers will assume that they can immediately start relying on the new reduced minimum from the implementation date of 6 April. We needn't let it be that easy.

First, wherever collectively agreed redundancy procedures explicitly include a 90 day consultation period, we can rely upon the incorporation of that agreement into the contracts of individual employees.

In these circumstances, employers will need to seek our agreement to amend a collective agreement.

Failing that they would have to sack and re-engage employees in order to get round their contractual right to a 90 day consultation period (and - depending upon the wording of a local collective agreement - they might have to allow a 90 day consultation period before they did so).

This is likely to apply in many cases and, even where they may be doubt about the status or meaning of a redundancy procedure, it's worth asserting with confidence the best reading we can, since the employers' legal advice is often (to them) as depressingly cautious (from their point of view) as ours (is to us).

Secondly, those of us who work for Labour local authorities at least should insist that our employers follow Labour Party policy, as expressed in Parliament by the Opposition Front Bench, and agree as a matter of policy, to continue to observe the 90 day consultation period until it is restored by an incoming Labour Government (fingers crossed!)

A suitably robust position from a local trade union side, making the point that a realistic consultation period can be as much in the interests of the employer as of employees (if it saves money on redundancy payments for example) ought to give sympathetic Labour Councillors enough ammunition to shoot down any adverse officer advice.

Thirdly, and arising from the last point, we need now to be raising the specific demand, within the Labour Party, that a draft statutory instrument to restore 90 days should be ready to be laid before Parliament on the first day of a Labour Government. This should be one of the first things we expect, and if Front Bench spokespeople are to be taken at their word we ought to be pushing at an open door (

If the trade union leaders are serious about how we relate to the Labour Party, I won't have to post a model motion for Constituency Labour Parties on this blog, because I'll be able to post a link to such a motion on the website of one (at least) of the "Big Three."

Most importantly though, we rank and file activists have to be serious in the here and now, where hundreds of thousands of us are at risk of redundancy even before our Labour Party is given another opportunity to disappoint us.

Let's not give up on 90 days easily or readily. If we are to retreat in the face of Government attacks (as we have been since the bungling of the pensions dispute) it must at least be a fighting retreat.

Members - and potential members - don't expect us to be able to win every battle.

But they rightly expect us to try.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Recruitment - Spring Forward

The official report of this week's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) is now online ( It headlines the item which we discussed after agreeing our response to the TUC on a General Strike - the forthcoming recruitment drive.

This was an item which required not only an introduction from our General Secretary, but also a contribution from every Assistant General Secretary who was in the room. Since we have enough Assistant General Secretaries to field a five-a-side team (with a substitute) this took a while.

Dave Prentis put the case positively. We don't want to become a declining union, we want to recruit in order to grow and become stronger. He also made the point that UNISON hasn't frozen recruitment of staff (although we don't seem yet to have advertised for a Deputy General Secretary - If we want to engage and enthuse activists then our message needs to be a positive one about how we are using our current strength and what more we could do with greater numbers.

Some other contributions to the discussion would be less persuasive in the branches. A focus on the income generated through recruitment is entirely rational, but our shop stewards will be more interested in strengthening our bargaining position with employers than firming up our bank balance.

Similarly, the suggestion that we should communicate a message that "no branch can hide" from the recruitment drive is probably not the sort of positive encouragement most likely to inspire activists. The official report manages to avoid that tone, but I can't be the only busy Branch Secretary who will read the comment that "from the start of the advertising campaign on 11 March 'everybody has to be doing something'." with a wry grin.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am sceptical about the efficacy of "free standing" recruitment drives. I agree very much with our General Secretary that "We recruit best where we've got issues and we recruit best where we've got branch organisation." I asked about the evidence base for the assumption that the recruitment drive will be effective and was told that we will be drawing on the experience of USDAW, the shop workers union, which has continuously to recruit vigorously because of their high membership turnover.

Bearing in mind that even witty cynicism never built a trade union, I think that activists need to engage in and take ownership of this national recruitment drive in our localities. The issues which we have to recruit around, most obviously job (in)security and the threat of redundancies, can be the basis for local application of the national initiative.

The initiative will be launched from 11 March and will therefore coincide with the working through of some of the job cuts which will be the consequence of budget setting in local government branches. Branches facing cuts will need to integrate their involvement in the recruitment drive into an energetic response to the cuts.

I'll return to this topic I'm sure.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

UNISON - "TUC get off your knees and organise a serious campaign"

I said yesterday that UNISON's response to the TUC consultation on "the practicalities of a General Strike" warranted an entire blog post and, given interest expressed by some of UNISON's leading Twitterati, I thought I had best get on with it.

The background to this document, which I hope we will publish officially, is the consultation with affiliates launched following last September's decision (backed by UNISON) to consider "the practicalities" of a General Strike.

UNISON's response starts with an acknowledgement that living standards have fallen back to 2003 levels as the Government pursues a programme of austerity which manifestly fails to achieve its stated aims.

The demonstrations on 26 March 2011 and 20 October 2012 and the strike on 30 November 2011 all show that we can mobilise opposition to the Government and "it is regrettable that the TUC failed to build on these events and that a degree of momentum was lost."

(I've included that quote verbatim as cats have few opportunities to laugh).

We can't afford to sit and wait for a Labour Government and the trade union movement needs to provide leadership and an alternative economic strategy.

There are a number of issues we have to consider in relation to a possible General Strike. First, it is a tactic not a strategy and ought not to be counterposed to other tactics.

Having demolished that straw man, we go on to observe that the willingness of our members to engage in industrial action is falling (and, in response to a question from your humble blogger, our General Secretary confirmed that this means since 30 November 2011). As we have on

We need to take account of falling trade union membership and density (and - again - in answering a question, the General Secretary confirmed that he didn't necessarily mean UNISON, as our density in many areas is rising as non-union members are made redundant in even greater numbers than our members). This is certainly true across the movement as a whole.

We appreciate that leading labour lawyers (Hendy and Ewing) have suggested that current anti-union laws contravene our human rights, but we're cautious about legal challenges and our own Rules require us to ballot for action.

Our overall conclusion is that the TUC should be leading a serious campaign to increase our members' confidence and industrial strength so that our members come to see mass industrial action as necessary and desirable.

So our answer to the question of when a General Strike should take place is?

Not yet.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Practicalities of Considering the Practicalities of a General Strike

This blog post is only for those interested in the detail of life on decision making on the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) (Regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger). It should not be shown before the watershed...

At 11am this morning, our President Chris Tansley, reasonably and justifiably confident that the NEC would get through our business before, or shortly after, lunch, let us have a tea break (tea and coffee being verboten in the prestigous ninth floor Conference Chamber where most of the NEC meet).

He suggested we have a somewhat longer break than normal, so that the NEC Policy Committee could use the time to have a brief meeting to agree our response to consultation from the TUC following last September's Congress decision to give consideration to "the practicalities of a General Strike."

In the event the Policy Committee debated the issue for ninety minutes, with the rest of the NEC told to go to lunch an hour into our "tea break". As I was minding people's stuff in the first floor video link room, I was treated to the experience (probably unique in human history) of watching the UNISON NEC Policy Committee as a silent movie (with snippets of sound when someone on the top table pressed the wrong button).

This episode has probably taken the NEC's rigid Committee structure (and its fairly recently developed convention of "Committee collective responsibility") to a new height of absurdity, since the decision taken by the Policy Committee during the tea break then became a recommendation to the whole NEC straight after lunch (although the minority on the Policy Committee who had not supported their Committee's decision were bound both to silence and to support the decision).

Given that the majority of the NEC were despatched to drink tea and eat biscuits while the minority who are on the Policy Committee debated this important question, we clearly might just as well have had the whole debate as a whole NEC, as we had numerous other debates. As with the insistence last year by the Chair of Policy that that Committee dominate NEC representation on the TUC delegation, there were grumbles from more than just the usual suspects.

The delegation to the Policy Committee of all TUC matters appears increasingly to be an error which should be rectified. Alternatively we should treat delegation to Committees in a much less rigid way. The Rules permit us to establish Committees and delegate authority to them, but there would have been nothing to prevent the NEC dealing directly with this issue without it having first been to the Policy Committee.

The substance of UNISON's response was thorough and comprehensive, and deserves its own blog post in the near future. In a nutshell, UNISON's official view is that a General Strike is a tactic rather than a strategy, and that it is not to be ruled out. However "consideration of a general strike can only be the culmination, rather than the beginning, of a campaign.

I'll consider the practicalities of blogging more on this topic soon...

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General Secretary's report - Starting with solidarity

General Secretary, Dave Prentis, began his report this morning to the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) with two very important matters.

First, he joined President, Chris Tansley, in expressing unequivocal solidarity with NEC member, and Chair of the London Metropolitan University Branch, Max Watson, who has been suspended by his employer ( This campaign has, as well as UNISON's wholehearted backing, strong support from a wide range of trade unionists and students, with 150 people attending a recent lunchtime lobby.

Dave invited Max to say a few words, and Max, in explaining UNISON's belief that his suspension is due to his legitimate trade union activity, said "this is about our ability to challenge management, rather than just manage their challenges" (an excellent description of the role to which rank and file trade unionists should aspire, as opposed to the strictly subordinate role which some managers might prefer for us).

Dave then moved on to explain UNISON's strong support for our health service members who have been taking strike action to defend their pay and conditions in Mid-Yorkshire ( The members had undertaken five successful days of strike action. The dispute continues and continues to have UNISON's support.

It was important that Dave began with these key disputes, not least because such disputes are currently rare. The NEC was told that UNISON currently has one group of members taking industrial action and one "live" industrial action ballot. This is the lowest level of industrial action in UNISON's twenty year history and corresponds with official statistics which show UK strike action at its lowest level since records began (

In these circumstances, a vital role of leadership is to inspire confidence, and Dave's opening remarks were calculated to give confidence to our members at London Met and in Mid-Yorkshire that UNISON stands with them.

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NEC Rule Amendments to National Delegate Conference

Following on from the last post (and as the stalwarts of our Policy Committee are debating our response to the TUC consultation on a General Strike whilst the rest of our NEC lunches), I can report on the Rule Amendments which the NEC has agreed to submit to National Delegate Conference.

The NEC is submitting seven rule amendments.

The first (to Rule C.2.6) tidies up the definition of a Retired Member so that members who obtain employment post-retirement can subsequently resume retired membership.

The second (to Rule D. corrects an anomaly in cross-referencing which was inadvertently introduce in 2008. (I'm wondering if even I might be in with a chance of a Conference speech on that one...)

The third Rule Amendment (to Rule D.4.2) revises the definition of the purposes of self-organisation arising (if belatedly) from the review of self-organisation.

The fourth amendment (to Rule D.1.3) permits small branches to be grouped for Conference representation. I asked for an amendment to the proposal to clarify that this would be purely voluntary (which was agreed).

The fifth amendment (to Rule D.1.10.4) is a minor enabling amendment arising from the previous amendment.

The sixth Rule change (to Rule G.2.2) clarifies the financial responsibilities of Branch Committees.

The seventh amendment - which I opposed at the NEC meeting - is to Rule H.4.2 and requires all branches to hold their current account with Unity Trust Bank. I opposed this because I wasn't persuaded that this ought to be compulsory. However the large majority of my NEC colleagues were persuaded and the Rule Change will be on the Conference agenda.

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UNISON NEC motions to Conference

UNISON's National Executive Council meeting having been interrupted by an unexpectedly prolonged "special" meeting of our Policy Committee, I have the opportunity to report on the first half of the meeting without breaking the promise I gave to a previous President not to blog during meetings.

The NEC has agreed thirteen policy motions for submission to National Delegate Conference. I assume we are exceeding our normal quota of twelve (the number which the NEC can prioritise) because we anticipate that one (a holding motion on the review of branch funding) will be timetabled automatically.

I'll blog separately about branch funding soon as I think it's a vital question and I've been involved (with a branch hat on) in discussions between branches seeking sensible change.

The other policy motions are, two from the Development and Organisation Committee (on Organising and "Promoting Learning as a recruitment and organising tool"), two from the International Committee (on Colombia and Burma) and eight from the Policy Committee.

The Policy Committee motions are on;
Public Services;
Challenging inequality and the squeeze on living standards;
Campaigning for fair and progressive taxation;
Fighting welfare and benefit cuts;
Resisting the pay cap;
Fighting for employment rights;
Outsourcing and privatisation, and;
An alternative to austerity.

I proposed changes to the pay cap and employment rights motions, and accepted slightly different amendments suggested instead by the Chair of Policy.

On employment rights I am pleased that the motion will (when it shortly appears in the Preliminary Agenda) demonstrate to activists and branches that our NEC is working to ensure that UNISON members bringing employment tribunal claims with the support of the Union will not have to pay the fees which are to be introduced later in the year.

The text of the motions (as, in those two cases, slightly amended) will be published in any case shortly, but if any Greater London UNISON branches have an urgent need to see the text of NEC policy motions to Conference, let me know.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Waiting for the great leap forwards?

Reviewing the papers for tomorrow's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) I am very struck by the way in which the forthcoming recruitment drive fails to relate to or correspond with anything that is going on around us.

Up and down the country, UNISON's thousand plus employees (and we tens of thousands of lay activists) are being encouraged to gear up for a big push to recruit non-members (particularly "free riders" in our unionised "core employers"). This work is to take centre stage for at least a couple of weeks in March.

It is important to note that we have no empirical evidence whatsoever that such a voluntarist drive to recruit, independent of and unrelated to any specific, concrete issue or dispute, will deliver the goods. We have done this before (around the last tv advertising campaign) and, for the effort involved, the return in terms of recruitment was minimal.

The evidence which we have is of massive national surges in recruitment to our union occuring around major national disputes, when potential members could see our union being used properly by our members to mobilise our collective strength.

This explains the hidden history of the recruitment drive, which is that it is plainly a replacement for the stillborn strategy of building a national fight over pay.

If we are indeed giving up on the coordinated fight over pay, for which UNISON persuaded the TUC to call last year, then the least that can be said is that we are doing so prematurely.

The notion that pay freezes will "always" be smashed by industrial action is not persuasive in a twenty first century world in which 2012 saw barely a quarter of a million working days lost through strike action (and where across the economy fewer than 30% of workers are unionised).

However, recognition that our earlier position may have been a little gung ho does not require us to practice a complete "volte face" and to give up on fighting over pay at a national level. Certainly a national pay dispute in local government would be the best context to resist authorities seeking to break away from national pay bargaining.

A subsidiary benefit of a pay fight would be a boost to recruitment, and growth for the union as occured during the pensions dispute. (Unfortunately the outcome of the pensions dispute is an important element of the reason why such a fight is currently unlikely).

It is because such a pay fight is increasingly less likely that the "official" effort which would have gone into such a fight is now to be diverted into the barren channel of a "free-standing" recruitment drive.

Trade union recruitment "as an end in itself" is not a priority for most union members. For those of us who are lay members, the trade union is a tool to defend our interests not the goal of all our efforts.

However, all socialists in the movement share the aspiration to grow the union because it will make us - at least potentially - more powerful and effective.

I just think, if it's going to work this recruitment drive needs to have been situated alongside one or more real disputes or issues.

I hope I'm wrong and will participate loyally in the recruitment drive. I just think it would better if it were linked to our members' interests.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Solidarity with the NUJ at the BBC - no compulsory redundancies!

With no Today programme to listen to I'll try an early blog post to try to cope with the loss!

And what better than to send solidarity with the NUJ strikers who have disrupted essential early morning listening in opposition to compulsory redundancies (

However deep the cuts we face, there is almost always something more that can be done to avert compulsory redundancies.

I think we need to see more such action since, even before the Government's attack on redundancy consultation rights ( we are only seeing change to employers' redundancy proposals through consultation in a little over one in five cases across the economy as a whole (

This, from the NUJ, is what you can do - 


- Visit your local picket line to show solidarity.  


- Send messages of support by emailing: 


- Tweet your messages of support with the hashtag - #BBCStrike  


- Email the BBC Trust to tell them you support the strike to stop the cuts or if you would like to make a general comments or ask a question about the BBC you can call 03700 100 222; textphone 03700 100 212   


- Ask your local MP to sign the BBC redundancies early day motion ( - you can contact your MP online (      


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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Barnet - Stop the Privatisation of Regulatory Services

Below is a message from Barnet UNISON asking us all to take some simple action in defence of public services;

The government is using Barnet Council as a pilot to privatise public services, leaving people without influence on policy through the ballot box and without a say in how their council is run and their council tax spent. We need to prevent the privatisation of Regulatory Services to ensure that councils fulfil their statutory duties to protect the health, and safety of residents. 


We are concerned that Barnet Council is about to hand over its Regulatory Services (in particular the Environmental Health and Trading Standards services) to a private company. Councils have statutory responsibilities to monitor the private sector in order to ensure the health and safety of their residents. The current high- profile national public-health scandal about processed foods emphasises that private companies do not adequately monitor their own activities, leaving the public at risk. If Barnet Council is allowed to privatise these services, it will set a dangerous precedent for other councils. We call for an immediate stop to the privatisation of council Regulatory Services throughout the country.


Sign our petition and join us on the Barnet Spring March to save our services: 23 March, Finchley Central Station in London, 11am.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Support Max Watson and Jawad Botmeh!

I am reproducing below a message sent by the London Metropolitan University Branch of UNISON to its members, concerning a vital lobby taking place tomorrow (13 February). If you can possibly support this important event please do!


Dear All


** Three weeks ago the VC threatened to derecognise your UNISON Branch.*

** One week ago your Branch Chair and the union supported, newly elected
staff governor were suspended.**

Max Watson, your Chair, and Jawad Botmeh, the elected staff governor and a
FSSH staff member at the Working Lives Research Institute Jewry Street,
have been suspended by the University pending investigation of a 'serious
matter of concern' relating to 'gross misconduct'. HR have failed to
provide clear reasons for this, but we are told it relates to Jawad's
appointment to the University five years ago. We regard this as the latest
in a series of escalating attacks on your democratic right to Union
representation by your Union, in an attempt to weaken the defence of your
rights UNISON are fighting for.

*Jawad and Max have done nothing wrong.* They have not in any way acted
improperly and did not mislead HR regarding Jawad's appointment as a staff

We are completely convinced that Jawad's 1996 conviction for conspiracy to
cause explosions was an appalling miscarriage of justice. Amnesty
International <>,
National Delegate
the MPs who signed an early-day
motion <> all share this view.

Local MP Jeremy Corbyn also takes this position on Jawad's innocence and
fully supports Max and Jawad  (see attached letter of support).

Regardless, Jawad *declared* his conviction on application to work at
London Met, and legally has a right to be employed at the University.
Indeed, London Met HR were made aware of Jawad's conviction some time ago.
UNISON are proud that Jawad is employed at the University, and that we work
for a progressive institution (or so we thought) that actively supports the
right to work, enshrined in article 23 of the Human Rights Act.  We are
proud to have Jawad as a member of our Branch and also of the ongoing
support UNISON has shown him over the years, shown by the motion passed at
the 2003 UNISON National Delegate Conference (see above) which clearly
advocates Jawad's conviction was unjust.

*We urge ALL members to support Jawad and Max and attend a lobby
2.00-3.00pm Wednesday 13th February - Rocket Entrance, Tower Building.*
The short notice for the lobby is due to Jawad's formal hearing being held
this Wednesday at 2.30pm despite the fact that Jawad is on annual leave and
unable to attend - please come and make your voice heard!

Your Union has been there to support you and now we are asking you to
support your Union.


  - Attend the Lobby.
  - Send messages of support and solidarity to :
  encourage friends, colleagues in other institutions and your community to
  do the same
  - Donations to support campaigning - cheques to UNISON London
  Metropolitan University gratefully received.

A national mass of support is already building around both Jawad's and Max's
cases and will continue to grow. We feel Jawad has suffered enough and does
not deserve a further injustice at the hands of London Metropolitan
University. We are convinced that Max is being targeted purely becuase of
the strength and leadership he has shown as your London Met UNISON Chair.
An attack on Max and Jawad is an attack on all London Met UNISON members
and we must stand shoulder to shoulder with them.  We are prepared to take
all actions necessary to defend Jawad and Max and therefore all our
members' rights to be represented.

In solidarity,

Catherine Maguire
Alex Tarry
Allan Pike
Eddie Rowley
Jonathan McCree
Susan Lloyd
Karl Acquah
David Summers
Ivan Roman Orgaz
Megan Redmond
Sara Masson
Chris Manna
Jim McKenzie
Ros Hanmer
Yola Adeyemi Laurence
*On behalf of the London Met UNISON Branch Committee*

Claire Locke
Anthony Cannon
Harry Lister - UNISON London Regional Organiser
Sandy Nicoll - SOAS UNISON Branch Secretary

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Employment rights and a possible Labour Government

Living, as I do, a wild life, I spent this evening at a public meeting on employment law in Brixton. Speakers addressed the Government's assault upon individual employment rights, that latest phase of which is in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill ( which is still passing through Parliament.

Chuka Umunna spoke well against what the Coalition are up to. The Bill seems poorly named since rather than "reform" regulation the Coalition want to rip it all up - and the only thing to do with "Enterprise" is that the Government are also on a "five year mission" ( - but theirs is to attack workers' rights.

Chuka couldn't tell us what we might find in the next Labour manifesto but (the tease!) he flashed us a bit of ankle by pointing out what we could read into Labour's consistent Parliamentary opposition to various specific retrograde steps (such as the extension of the qualifying period of employment before workers can bring unfair dismissal claims).

He also asked the audience what it is we (trade unionists) want in terms of collective employment rights from a future Labour Government. Professor Keith Ewing, of the Institute of Employment Rights, had the answer - which was that we should comply with our international treaty obligations.

That seems sound (and I don't only say that because he told me that my request for the Trade Union Freedom Bill ( or - at least - the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill ( was too timid!

I think we trade unionists need to give more thought not only to how we shall deal with the Tory attacks on our employment rights but also the detail of our demands upon an incoming Labour Government.

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Broadening the fight against cuts

Having had to address Councillors about budget cuts I was late to a packed meeting last night in defence of one of our local fire stations (

The turnout was impressive not just in numbers but breadth, and the leading role of local Labour Councillors, who had got the local MP and London Assembly Member down to speak alongside the FBU, was noteworthy.

Boris Johnson's plans to close fire stations can be stopped, and the widest resistance, uniting firefighters and the community, is clearly essential.

The support from Labour Party members and elected representatives for this campaign is welcome for three reasons.

First, Labour Councillors and MPs can play a positive role in helping to maximise community mobilisation, as we have seen in the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign.

Secondly, involving Labour Party members in a campaign as Labour Party members has a positive impact on the Party as it will tend to radicalise them (us!) It reminds Party members that there is a politics beyond elections and a purpose beyond proving our suitability for government.

Thirdly, the more the Party is mobilised to resist cuts, the more we can force comrades to consider the contradiction between resisting the cuts in the community and implementing them in the Council chamber.

Last night, in our Town Hall, senior Councillors tried to keep their spirits up whilst nodding through further cuts in a silent and almost empty room. A little over a mile away, three of their Labour Council colleagues were at the head of a packed and determined meeting, out to defeat Tory cuts.

With many more cuts to come over the next four years than we have seen since the General Election, broadening and deepening opposition to these cuts, whilst seeking to encourage the debate about what Labour office-holders should do, is clearly in the interests of public service workers (and all who depend upon our services).

In this context I'm pleased to report that sources close to the UNISON Centre suggest that UNISON will indeed be on board for the recently announced "Peoples' Assembly Against Austerity" ( which appears to be our best opportunity yet to draw together the disparate threads of opposition to austerity.

If we are to stand a chance of getting a significantly better Government after the next election we need now to draw those Labour Party members mobilising to defend their local hospital or their local fire station around the broader anti-cuts agenda. UNISON's backing for the Peoples Assembly may mean that we can fashion that into one of the tools with which to do that job.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sussex students show the way

It's great to see students in occupation against privatisation up the Lewes Road at Sussex University ( The increasing penetration of the public sector in general, and the education sector in particular, by private capital distorts and perverts a core public service.

The occupiers have thought through how to use the public act of occupation both directly and symbolically effective whilst minimising disruption of the very service they seek to protect. They are occupying a Conference Room from which the University management, ideologically committed to privatisation and the marketisation of education. Their occupation does not disrupt the education which the University was built to provide.

By their principled stand the students pose a challenge to our trade unions to find our way towards more effective opposition to the destruction of our Welfare State.

You can express your support online at or by tweeting @occupy_sussex. I hope you will.

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Friday, February 08, 2013

Why we need rank and file organisation

Trade unions are organisations created by workers to advance our interests by evening things up in a labour market, and in workplaces, in which we otherwise have less power than employers.

Our unions express our interests as workers but also become institutional expressions of the inevitable day to day compromises which flow from trying to get the best for workers in a society not designed in our interests.

Furthermore, as unions grow and - necessarily - employ staff to carry out some of our functions, a bureaucracy develops and power can become concentrated in the hands of those who are not themselves "workers" and whose interests are in the organisation itself rather more than the purposes for which it was established.

There is, therefore, inevitable - and healthy - contention, and even conflict, within our trade unions as we deal with the conflicting pressures to confront or conciliate with employers, and as the interests of the membership interplay with the interests of those for whom the organisation itself is their priority.

For a hundred years (and probably longer) rank and file trade union activists have grappled with the dilemma of how most constructively to engage in this inevitable contention.

The Clyde Workers Committee ( - expressing perhaps the finest example of the "first shop stewards movement" was an inspirational example of "bottom-up" rank and file organising in the trade unions ("with the officials when we can, against them when we must").

Shortly before, militants in the South Wales Miners Federation published "The Miners' Next Step", an inspirational critique of class collaborationist leadership (

The insights of these pioneers of our movement suggest that militant rank and file workers will always need to organise within, and independently of, the structures of our own labour movement in order to check the tendencies to collaboration and bureaucratisation which arise, not from any characteristics of individuals in leading positions but from the structure of our trade unions and the way in which they necessarily function in a capitalist society.

The dilemma facing socialists in trade unions in general, and UNISON in particular, is how to bring such rank and file activists together when they are divided between different political groups and parties, each of which appears to the others as a competitor for the attention and support of workers generally.

Throughout the 1990s I participated in the Campaign for a Fighting and Democratic UNISON (CFDU) which fought a long war of rearguard action to protect branch autonomy and the democratic rights of UNISON members, leading to the compromise on union democracy at UNISON's fifth Conference in 1998.

The CFDU drew together a variety (or - if you prefer - "rag,tag and bobtail") of Labour and independent leftwingers in an uneasy alliance with activists who were in the Socialist Party, whilst members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) abstained.

Around the turn of the century we managed to draw together the forces around the CFDU, the SWP and other left activists to create UNISON United Left (UUL) which was able - briefly - to "do what it said on the tin" until the Socialist Party comrades announced their departure in a UNISON Conference bulletin in June 2004, transparently because they (incorrectly) calculated that they couldn't be sure that their preferred candidate would be backed by UUL in the General Secretary election (in which your blogger was then sacrificial candidate and obtained a splendid 7.5% of the vote for a good bronze medal position).

It goes without saying that I think that the Socialist Party comrades were wrong to leave UUL nine years ago (and that their wafer-thin "political" justification for this around their hostility to the Labour Party is entirely contradicted by their continuing participation in the United Left in UNITE). It would be equally wrong were comrades in the SWP to abandon united work having taken umbrage at some sharp political criticisms made recently by other lefts (myself included). I don't expect that this will happen.

Those of us who can see the need for militant rank and file activists to organise to improve the organisation and combativeness of our class have an obligation to put this objective ahead of Party or sectarian concerns.

With strike action at its lowest point whilst redundancies are proceeding apace and a pay freeze has held down our living standards we clearly need better rank and file organisation in the UK's most significant trade union.

I hope to be able to blog in a few months about how we have achieved this.

That'll be the "optimism of the will" again...

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Thursday, February 07, 2013

All quiet on the workplace front?

The first findings of the sixth Workplace Employee Relations Survey (WERS)( includes data on conflict in the workplace, and has this to say about strike action;

"The proportion of workplaces that etyxperienced industrial action was higher in 2011 than in 2004; however, this rise can be attributed primarily to the increase in strikes in the public sector .The large-scale strikes in the public sector led to a quadrupling of these workplaces reporting strikes. In contrast, the rate of strikes in the private sector, and other industrial action such as non-strike action and threats to take action across all workplaces were similar in 2011 and 2004."

Across the whole survey, 4% of all workplaces reported strike action in the past year in 2011, compared to 1% in 2004. However, the workplaces experiencing strike action comprised 1% of all private sector workplaces and 27% of all public sector workplaces.

This data, reflecting the nature of WERS as a snapshot, may be recording what has so far been the high water mark of public sector industrial action against the Government's austerity measures, given that in the twelve months to November 2012 only 250,000 working days were lost to strike action (

That is to say, in the whole year that followed the strike action on 30 November 2011, the sum total of all the officially recorded strike action was perhaps a quarter of the action which took place on that single day.

What WERS says about individual disputes is, perhaps, more informative; "The percentage of workplaces where an employee raised a grievance in the 12 months prior to the survey decreased from 38% in 2004 to 30% in 2011."

I think this substantiates the hypothesis that individual grievances will become less frequent in a time of recession and job losses, whether because workers wishing to keep their jobs are more likely to keep their heads down, or because those who are unhappy will opt for redundancy when the opportunity arises.

As I blogged a few days ago ( WERS also reports that "around one in eight workplaces (13%) had made staff redundant in the 12 months prior to the 2011 survey (compared with 9% in 2004)." However the threat to jobs in a recession casts a long shadow, so workers beyond that 13% of workplaces feel the uncertainty.

When the full report of WERS is published later in the year it may be possible to dig further into what this data is telling us about workplace conflict, but qualifying the relative increase in strike action between 2004 and 2011 with more recent labour market statistics, and considering it alongside the evidence on individual grievances, the plausible conclusion I would draw is that workplace conflict is at a low ebb.

Given what is happening in many of our workplaces (pay freezes, redundancies and a ceaseless intensification of work) this is not an encouraging conclusion to have to draw, but if we didn't have pessimism of the intellect whatever would be the point of our optimism of the will?

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

UNISON must back People's Assembly Against Austerity

The welcome call initiated by the Coalition of Resistance for a "People's Assembly Against Austerity", backed by numerous trade union General Secretaries ( may give rise to a sense of deja vu to old cynics, but does us all the service of offering some hope.

It may, at this stage, be no more than a call for a single Central London meeting (for which you can register online -, but the breadth of support for the initiative suggests that it could contribute something useful.

The organisers hope that the Assembly "will provide a national forum to develop links between trade unions, trade union councils and grassroots community based campaigns, and to build confidence of those promoting anti-austerity views which, whilst increasingly popular, are barely represented in Parliament."

There's a model motion to support the Assembly online ( and this should be taken into Labour Party and trade union branches. I hope that UNISON will support this initiative at every level, since the jobs of our members are so much in the firing line of continuing austerity.

UNISON activists should be tailoring the model motion to local circumstances and UNISON rules and guidelines - and should put the question of support for the Assembly on to the agenda of our National Delegate Conference.

This will require a coordinated approach reflecting, within our union, the broad support for this worthwhile initiative.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Collective Bargaining over pay - from bad to WERS...?

The Workplace Employee Relations Study (WERS) provides reliable data on the regulation of employment relationships (or what we old-timers used to call "industrial relations") across the economy (

It gives us some credible, and far from encouraging, information about the scope of collective bargaining. In summary, WERS observes that;

"In the private sector, although formal rights to negotiate over pay changed little, the scope of collective bargaining in the unionised sector declined dramatically.

In the public sector, collective bargaining coverage fell markedly but the bargaining scope was stable."

There is better news, at least in terms of employee perceptions, when it comes to pay (which is the subject of this blog post);

"Nevertheless, unions continue to bargain successfully for employees, increasing the likelihood of pay rises through pay settlements.

Employees' perceptions of union effectiveness in bargaining on their behalf have remained fairly stable since 2004, in spite of indications that their infuence is waning. When employees were asked 'Ideally, who do you think would best represent you in dealing with managers about getting increases in your pay?', one third (33% in 2004 and 30% in 2011) said a trade union.This rose to one half in workplaces with a union recognised for pay bargaining (55% in 2004 and 53% in 2011) and two thirds among union members (69% in both years)."

It may be that our subjective perceptions as workers are shaped as much by past as present realities, and that they have yet to adjust to recent change, for - as WERS observes;

"Union infuence over pay setting has been In decline for three decades. By 2011 only 6% of private sector workplaces bargained with unions over pay for any of their employees and just under one sixth of private sector employees (16%) had their pay set by collective bargaining. These figures have remained fairly stable since 2004.

However, the last seven years has seen a significant decline in collective bargaining coverage in the public sector. Collective bargaining takes place in less than three ffths (58%) of public sector workplaces, setting pay for a little over two fifths (44%) of public sector employees, down from over two thirds in 2004. Strongly unionised workplaces where 100% of employees have their pay set by collective bargaining have been a rarity in the private sector for some time. But they are increasingly uncommon in the public sector too.

A fall in the percentage of public sector workplaces using multi- employer bargaining — from 58% in 2004 to 44% in 2011 — lies behind the decline in public sector pay bargaining.The percentage of public sector employees covered by collective bargaining in Health has fallen from 74% in 2004 to 14% in 2011, in part because the Independent Pay Review Body has resumed responsibility for pay after Agenda for Change negotiations were completed. However, even if we exclude Health, the percentage of public sector employees covered by collective bargaining fell from 66% in 2004 to 56% in 2011."

From the perspective of a public sector not-yet-rarity, working in an organisation where the pay of all but a handful of the most senior staff have their pay and conditions determined by collective bargaining, it is certainly alarming to see this decline in collective bargaining coverage.

The nature of being a worker in a capitalist society is that we have to sell our labour power. The price we get (our wage or salary) is the most important element of that transaction since it determines what we can do (how much we can buy) in that part of our life when we are not at work.

Our predecessors created trade unions because they saw that a "combination" of workers was necessary to even up our bargaining power to get a better deal on pay from the employers. Collective bargaining over pay is probably the most important factor to differentiate a trade union from a friendly society.

However, like all tools, collective bargaining will rust up and become useless if we don't keep using it. As a local government worker, emerging blinking into the daylight after the three year darkness of the pay freeze, only to find the feeble glow of a probable 1% offer (2% less than RPI) as the only light for my future, I can see the risk that we lose the commitment our members have to us on the issue of pay if we can't lead them (us) to better outcomes.

I hope our leadership see clearly the challenge before us...

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What do union reps do? (2) What do we do with the time we spend?

The sixth Workplace Employee Relations Survey (WERS), initial findings from which have recently been published (, provides evidence about the issues with which workplace representatives (including non-union reps) have been dealing;

"Representatives were shown a list of 11 items and asked which they spent their time on and what they considered to be the most important issue for their workplace. Union representatives were more likely than non-union representatives to spend time on discipline and grievances, while training was a more common issue for non-union representatives.
Taking both union and non-union representatives together, the most common issues that representatives spent time on were discipline and grievances (64%), health and safety (62%), and rates of pay (61%). The prevalence of these issues had not changed since 2004. Issues that had grown in prevalence were: pension entitlements (from 30% in 2004 to 45% in 2011) and performance appraisals (from 28% to 41%).
The increased prevalence of certain issues between 2004 and 2011 meant that the number of issues that representatives spent their time on increased: 88% spent their time on two or more issues in 2011, a rise from 73% in 2004.
When asked whether their time was spent primarily on collective or individual issues, non-union representatives were more likely to spend their time primarily on issues that affect groups of employees: 64% compared to 41% of union representatives. Union representatives were more likely than non-union representatives to say their time was equally divided between collective and individual issues (23% and 7%)"

In other words, workplace representatives spend our time dealing with basic "bread and butter" issues in the workplace.

The apparent paradox that union representatives are dealing less predominantly with "collective" issues than "non-union" representatives is clearly a consequence of the dominance, in the workload of union representatives of the representation of trade union members as individuals (whether in disciplinary, grievance, sickness or capability procedures).

It is precisely because trade union representatives are part of a collective organisation representing the collective interests of workers independently of the employer that they can represent individual workers against the employer.

It's 45 years since the Donovan Commission famously described shop stewards as a "lubricant rather than an irritant" in industrial relations (, but WERS shows that this remains true.

In any industry, sector or profession where productivity depends to any extent upon the engagement or commitment of the workforce, employers need processes to regulate work and the employment relationship which workers can view as at least minimally fair. The role of independent trade union representatives to defend workers' interests remains the most widespread answer to the questions raised by this need.

At the same time, it is clear that many thousands of volunteer, elected lay activists are the bedrock of the trade union movement, dealing with the issues with which workers look to their union to deal.

When the Tory Right stop squabbling between homophobes and libertarians and return to their hobby of attacking trade union facility time, WERS may be a useful source of data to ensure that any debate bears at least some relationship with evidence and reality.

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Monday, February 04, 2013

What do union reps do? (1) How long do we take to do it?

Well, what do we do?

When the occasional controversies break out about time off work for union representatives the two sides of the argument often trade anecdotes.

The sixth Workplace Employee Relations Study ( offers us large scale empirical evidence based upon interviews with the most senior representative in each workplace surveyed.

It says something about the nature of debate around trade union activity that WERS deals first of all (as I shall), with the question of how much time we spend and whether we are paid;

One in six senior union representatives (17%) carried out their role on a full-time basis.

On average, union representatives spent 13 hours per week on their role with no signifcant change since 2004.

These figures are an overall average, and 51% of union representatives spent less than 5 hours a week on their role.

In the public sector, 19% of senior union representatives were spending all of their time on union activities, 64% were paid part-time reps and 17% were unpaid part-time reps.

This compared with 12%, 80% and 7% in the private sector.

(It's interesting - and worrying - that there are union reps getting no paid time off! And alarming indeed that this proportion is higher in the public sector, where there is higher density and better organisation. We had better explore this further when the full reports from WERS become available later in the year).

Part-time union representatives in the public sector that were paid spent an average of 10 hours per week on their role, compared with 6 hours for their counterparts in the private sector.

What WERS doesn't tell you, but I will, is that many of us, whether paid full time or part time for our union work, also do a lot of additional unpaid time on work which we only do because of our trade union role (and I don't mean blogging on the train home...)

The best way to defend what we have is almost certainly to ask for more, across the whole movement. We also need transparent accountability to our members for every hour of paid trade union time (and if that means the same amount of transparency to the employers, or the Tax-Dodgers Alliance, then so be it).

Tomorrow - time permitting - I'll blog about what WERS tells us about the issues with which we are dealing in the workplace, with the time we have.

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Renegade launches ill-informed attack on trade unions

Renegade former trade union General Secretary, Alan Johnson, is apparently calling for a reduction of trade union influence in the Labour Party on a platform bought and paid for by Lord Sainsbury (

Johnson, a former Cabinet Minister who has since found his calling occasionally sat on a sofa next to Michael Portillo (and often on his right) (, says workers aren't interested in trade unions any more because of the "image of 'fat, white, finger-jabbing blokes on rostrums shouting and screaming'". Having conveniently - and inaccurately - stereotyped the movement through which he rose, Johnson has a particular go at Len McCluskey for daring to want more MPs who support trade union policies.

Unlike Johnson and his lazy and offensive stereotyping of our movement, trade unionists might want to consider the evidence. Are we, for example, "increasingly irrelevant?"

Well, the Workplace Employee Relations Study (WERS) (about which I have blogged previously)( says that "in workplaces with five or more employees, the proportion of all employees who belong to a trade union changed little between 2004 and 2011."

That proportion may only be 30%, but it's no lower than it was when UNISON Conference was persuaded by our General Secretary not to call for the resignation of Tony Blair.

Furthermore, a large majority of those trade union members look to their trade unions to deal with workplace issues (

What then has changed since the middle of the last decade (when Johnson courted the support of trade unionists in anticipation of his eventual doomed bid for the Deputy Leadership) to make our former friend change his mind?

It's not that trade unions are less relevant - it's that we're being just a little more assertive in the Party. That's clearly why Johnson and his Sainsbury-funded little helpers in the "Progress" faction berate the unions for spending time in and on the Labour Party.

Johnson says to the trade unions; "You have only got six million members. When are you going to start addressing the real problems you have got?"

I think there are two responses that need to be made to this question.

The first is that many in our movement are trying to address all of the problems which we have, including inadequate union density. Our problems interact, however, and the legal shackles which we face contribute to our limited effectiveness, which impairs our ability to defend working people (and therefore to grow).

These legal shackles were retained by the Government of which Johnson was a member, and I'd bet pensions with him that he'll fight any suggestion of a commitment to repeal from a Labour Government in 2015. Therefore, Progress (and its stooges such as Johnson) are part of the "real problems" which the trade union movement has, and to which he directs our attention.

Secondly, however, the decline in trade union membership over the past generation, whilst certainly alarming, is not unique. In the same period, the Labour Party as a mass membership active political party with a real presence in our communities has withered away.

There may only be 30% in trade unions - according to WERS - but 47% of workers work in workplaces with on-site representation, almost exclusively by union representatives. For these workers, the presence of trade unions remains a part of everyday life. Do 47% of citizens routinely see their local Labour Party campaigning on their streets?

Johnson might have a case for his preferred option of a further reduction in trade unions' policy making role in the Party if he could point to the vibrant growth of other parts of the Party structure crying out to be empowered. He can't because there aren't.

Indeed renewal of Labour as a mass party, if it is possible, almost certainly depends upon increasing - not reducing - the engagement of trade union members in the ranks of our Party.

But then Johnson's preferred position of support for Tory pay freezes and Tory spending plans might be in jeopardy.

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