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)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The dog that didn't (quite) bark at UNISON Conference

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will know that sometimes at a trade union Conference it's the decisions which don't get taken which tell you as much about what is going on as those that are.

The front page story of two of the four Conference bulletins produced for (rather than by) the National Executive Council (NEC) were devoted to attacks on a motion which never even got debated - Motion 107.

Opposition to this motion had included reference to cynical blog posts written late at night, so readers of this blog will no doubt take this post with a pinch of the salt which you will have scattered in a circle around yourself before reading this...

So what was Motion 107 about?

It sought to increase the proportion of UNISON's subscription income which goes to our branches from 23.5% to 25.5%, giving the increment directly only to those branches who have taken on the administration of our membership database.

This would have moved no more than £3.4 Million out of the Centre and to the branches. It provoked not just fillibustering but flattery, threats and procedural innovations. Perhaps if (or I should say when) UNISON Conference gets to vote on the allocation of funding between branches and the Centre it's pretty much inevitable we shall opt for some greater decentralisation?

Why is this so?

Partly it's that collective bargaining has been increasingly decentralised as our national trade union has proven incapable of defending much more than the shell of national bargaining.

Partly it's that our branches are facing up to organising a fragmenting workforce as our national trade union has proven insufficiently strong to prevent this fragmentation.

Partly it's that our branches face additional accommodation and staffing costs as our national trade union has been found wanting in defending trade union facilities.

All of these weaknesses of our national trade union flow (most recently) from the premature abandonment of the fight to defend our pensions and from its debilitating consequences, including those for local government pay this year in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, the roots of the decentralisation of employee relations in public services are deeper than the events of the past two years. It seems to be unavoidable that our national trade union has decreasing relevance to the interests of our members.

It follows that those who care for the future of our trade union will want to try to find an accommodation with those who, quite reasonably and responsibly, supported Motion 107.

Sometimes a motion that isn't even debated can be the beginning of a result.

But if you've read this far, you already knew that...

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29 September and the NHS. It's not how we got here, it's where we're going

Following my disappointment at the June meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) where a majority opposed all talk of a national demonstration, I'm pleased I was right to be optimistic that a better position would emerge at last week's UNISON Conference (

After the contributions of our own General Secretary last Tuesday and that of the General Secretary of the TUC a week ago today, it is clear that we shall be heading for Manchester on 29 September for a national demonstration in defence of the National Health Service, with further campaigning ahead in the months to follow.

Some on the left will be critical of the time taken to get to this point, they will warn that, if our only message is "vote Labour", we won't be saying enough, and they will question the extent to which we can rely upon our own leaders. On all three questions they will have a point.

However, now that the call for this demonstration has been made, the most important thing we can do is to make it massive - and use it to boost and bolster local campaigns in defence of the health service, and public services generally.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

If there are Councillors Against the Cuts, shouldn't we be too?

Continuing my catching up from the events of last week's UNISON Conferences, I want to say something about "Councillors Against the Cuts", which was the theme of a debate at Local Government Conference last Monday, and a fringe meeting at National Delegate Conference last Wednesday.

Attendance at the fringe suffered not only from a clash with the bedroom tax fringe but also from the fact that, in navigating the rapids of Rule P, the branch moving motions on this subject to both Conferences failed to foresee that the subject would be debated at the Conference at which it had originally been ruled out of order, but would not be prioritised for debate at the Conference at which it had originally been admitted to the agenda.

The debate at Local Government Conference was somewhat sidetracked by an amendment from the Service Group Executive (SGE) which asked Conference to acknowledge that any dialogue with Councillors Against the Cuts (for which the main motion called) would be in the context of a previous SGE circular opposing the advocacy of "no cuts" budgets.

Whilst this cackhanded wrecking amendment was deservedly trounced it was in any case unnecessary, since any dialogue in which our SGE participates will inevitably be informed by the timidity which is their guiding principle on this question.

The reality is that by passing Motion 47 we have unlocked a door which remains wedged shut, and to which we will have to apply our shoulder by way of model motions, and other initiatives, at branch and Regional level if we are to push UNISON towards the position of practical and meaningful opposition to all cuts which is the logic of so much of our current policy.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

The pay "debate" at UNISON Conference - leadership, "platform-bashing" and the future of national bargaining

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will know that sometimes in the past I have blogged throughout Conference week.

It may be my advancing years but this year I decided to focus on various goings-on at Conference rather than blogging away, to some of these goings-on I shall now turn and the first of these, chronologically and in terms of its importance to our members, is pay.

Last Sunday's "debate" on pay at Local Government Conference attracted the ire of the grumpy post-Marxist-Leninists of the (occasionally) self-proclaimed "sensible left" ( for "platform-bashing."

Now it may be true that, if "platform-bashing" were an Olympic sport, your not-very-humble blogger would aspire to be a medal hopeful, but sometimes a platform deserves to be bashed, and in relation to this year's lamentable 1% pay rise the Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE) deserved the bashing they got (with numerous sound contributions, notably from a delegate from Bristol).

Incidentally, as seasoned Conference watchers will recall, although the relevant pay negotiations are handled by the sector Committee, accountability is still vested in the SGE as a result of the defeat of amendments proposed by the NEC in 2009 (

The Local Government Conference discussion on pay took the form of a post mortem, since local government members had already decided, by a margin of three to two across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to accept 1%. Because this event was so recent, no Conference decision addressed it (indeed the pay "debate" was conducted largely by a series of speeches "for" a motion moved from the platform (on behalf of the NJC Committee) by a leftwinger (although one despicable individual "jumped the queue" by the device of speaking, but not voting against).

The clear mood of Conference was hostile to the pusillanimous position of putting an offer to members as "the best that can be achieved by negotiation" without a clear recommendation either way. Somehow in future years we must try to turn that mood into policy which will bind the SGE and its sector Committees (either that or elect more people prepared to show leadership).

Those who think the "platform-bashing" a futile diversion from building our strength for the fight next time ignore the evidence from Scottish Local Government, or Higher Education, where clear leadership offers members the real opportunity to reject real-terms pay cuts. Whilst the weakness of our leadership may well reflect their perception of our weakness on the ground, which may not be ill-informed, until the leadership start at least trying to turn this round we are stuck in a spiral of decline.

The different results of the consultation exercise in London and, even more, the North West Region, demonstrate that a different outcome to the 2013 pay round for local government workers south of the border was possible.

It no longer is.

However, if the anger expressed at the SGE on pay is to have been anything more than cathartic we need to start a campaign now, with leaflets and petitions to our members, lobbies of local authorities, and model motions to Regional Local Government Committees in support of a vigorous campaign for an identified flat-rate pay rise across the board in 2014. The resources of the UNISON Centre need to be devoted to researching the positive economic impact of a boost to the earnings of local government workers so that we can demonstrate that pay justice for us will bring wider social and economic benefits.

We also need to make this a joint union campaign at a local level, so that we can fight alongside low paid GMB members in particular to ensure that our sister union takes the sort of firm line nationally on pay which they have shown locally in the dispute in Brighton.

Whatever was said from the top table last week about building a fight on pay in 2014, in the year before a General Election there will inevitably be pressure applied against industrial action from those in the bureaucracy of our movement who think it might inhibit Labour's electoral prospects.

We therefore need to start building momentum now for the fight over pay which is not just our only chance to restore our living standards - but also our best chance of saving national bargaining.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Out of the bubble

I'm back in the real world now after UNISON's Local Government and National Delegate Conferences and will catch up with blogging over the next few days (including some proper reports from Conference).

For the moment I'll share a few unconnected thoughts from a Conference which was at once inspiring and worrying.

There's a lot of anger amongst our activists, much of it directed at our leadership - but there's neither the confidence nor the organisation of the rank and file to make that anger count. That's why Local Government Conference gave the top table a kicking over a pay deal we had already accepted. We need to build rank and file organisation if we want a different outcome in 2014 (or ever).

The further-sighted elements of our leadership see the problems which our Union faces (and that this may require greater radicalism than is offered by their loyal supporters) - hence the call for the national demonstration to defend the NHS in Manchester on 29 September. However (as the Grand Old Duke of York may well eventually have discovered) it's not always easy to mobilise people. We have a lot of work to do and a lot of trains and coaches to book and fill.

One theme of this year across our movement may well be that a lamentably attenuated grasp of gender politics has become the "common sense of the age" - and the defeat of Amendment 8.1 at Conference showed the same lack of understanding of the specificity of male violence against women which had previously been exhibited elsewhere. Given that UNISON now has, for the first time, a Presidential Team (of the President and two Vice-Presidents) which is exclusively female, I continue to hope that those women (and men) who see the need for the Union with the most women members to be a feminist organisation shall prevail.

The "left" in UNISON, which once routinely punched above its weight at Conference has been marginalised as Conference has been sanitised. Looking back over twenty years of UNISON, it is easy to see how the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) has taken a progressively more restrictive approach, how the prioritisation process has been honed into a device to avoid controversy, and how those who want Conference to be a showcase rather than "the supreme Government" of the Union have become better and better at floor organising.

This last problem is but one aspect of the problem that there is no effective rank and file organisation within UNISON.

And that is a question to which I intend to return...

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Through the looking glass

En route to Liverpool for UNISON's National Local Government Conference I shall soon pass through the portal which separates Conference from reality.

I think that those colleagues who call the shots on our National Joint Council (NJC) Local Government Committee may have traveled several months ahead, since their policy at Conference is strangely different from their practice in the mundane world of everyday life.

One of the entertaining features of our Conference (well, entertaining to Conference anoraks and geeks such as myself) is that motions drafted weeks ahead of a February deadline appear on a June agenda like some sort of fossil record.

This can be tricky for the authors when "events" have intervened, as they sometimes do. If a week is a long time in politics, a few months can be a very long time in industrial relations. Long enough, perhaps, for an ice sculpture to melt even if it hadn't been smashed.

The NJC Committee's Motion 40 ("Calling a Halt to Poverty Pay in Local Government") is now part of Composite C which will be debated tomorrow afternoon. It "condemns the shameful state of pay and conditions for local government workers across the UK" and affirms that "we must continue to demand and campaign for a substantial pay increase that will return us to a position where our pay allows our members to have a decent standard of living."

All well and good.

But wouldn't this be the same NJC Committee which (by 14 votes to 13) refused to recommend members reject a 1% pay offer which the Committee itself described as an "insult" (Leading, as night follows day, to the reluctant acceptance of this insult by our members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland)?

I'm afraid it is.

There is much to be ashamed about in "the shameful state of pay and conditions for local government workers" - but who is it that should feel that shame?

Should it not be the lead national negotiators of the majority local government trade union?

Out in the real world, where tens of thousands of our members are losing their jobs and hundreds of thousands suffer attacks on pay and conditions, the answer to that question would certainly be "yes".

But through the looking glass in the parallel universe of Conference it will be a speaker on behalf of the NJC Committee who will lambast the shameful state of our pay and conditions as they speak to a Composite which will be passed unanimously.

The greatest threat to sector-level national bargaining in local government comes not from the hostility of the employers but from the pusillanimous trade union side.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pay fiasco shows it's time for a change?

Today, on behalf of the largest group of organised workers in the UK economy, our negotiators have signalled that we'll accept a 1% pay rise, way below the rate of inflation.

I beg to differ that our members should bend the knee to further decline in living standards.

I did say we should reject 1% (

I foresaw that this might not happen (

I share the criticisms which are made of this outcome (

Now, right now, what I want is a leadership prepared to fight.

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Solidarity with the GMB

I mostly blog here about my trade union work.

I am also a Labour Party Branch Officer and, in that capacity, am happy to have offered support today to the GMB strikers who won't be emptying my bins tomorrow (

The implementation of single status pay and grading reviews has provoked more than one dispute, but in all such disputes the position of socialists is straightforward.

We are on the side of the workers.

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The best that can be achieved by negotiation?

After a three year pay freeze in which the living standards of local government workers have fallen by 16%, today's news is disappointing. Our pay will increase by 1% this year, whilst prices rise by 3%.

Our negotiators having forced the employers to offer the whole of the 1% which George Osborne had suggested in the first place, by a narrow majority UNISON's National Joint Council (NJC) Committee then failed to recommend that we reject a pay offer which they themselves described as "an insult."

In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that, by a margin of nearly three to two, UNISON members accepted an offer that they were told was "the best that can be achieved by negotiation." The NJC Committee copped out by failing to recommend either acceptance (an honest capitulation) or rejection (which would have been in line with the interests of our members).

The significance of this dereliction of duty by the narrow majority of the NJC Committee is underlined by the fact that the two Regions which returned a majority vote to reject (London and the North West) were also the two Regions in which the Regional Local Government Committee/Executive recommended rejection.

In the same way, in Scotland, members have responded to a clear lead by rejecting the 1% insult which local government workers south of the border will now be swallowing - they are now rightly preparing for a strike ballot with a definite plan of action. I wish them luck.

Workers are rarely keen to strike - and to be asked to consider doing so by a visibly unenthusiastic leadership is always likely to elicit a negative response. Those who want to accept a real terms pay cut on behalf of some of the lowest paid trade unionists are never likely positively to propose this - that's where the weasel words ("the best that can be achieved by negotiation") come into their own.

What does this mean?

It means "the best that can be achieved by negotiation without either the reality or credible threat of action".

If we ballot for action, if we take action, then we can find that we negotiate a better deal than we could have done before we threatened, or before we took that action.

Locally, at branch level, we have used the threat of action to get better deals several times in recent years. Thus far we've not got to the point of taking action. A credible threat can be a useful tool - but a credible threat can only be issued by a leadership who look like they mean it.

To do this you have to start with a hard conversation with union members, in which you tell members things they may not want to hear.

You have to tell people the truth - that they have an interest in fighting to defend their interests (and sometimes also a duty to their current and future colleagues). You have to do what you can to force members to prepare for sacrifices that will hurt them and which they may be unenthusiastic to make.

It's not an argument you always win - and you run the risk of unpopularity.

But that's what leadership is.

Leadership is not telling people what they want to hear, reflecting back passivity and unwillingness to take risks and make sacrifices.

I think that the North West and London Regions showed leadership in the local government pay dispute.

The only way we will ever really get to "the best that can be achieved by negotiation" is by threatening, - if necessary - balloting for and -if possible - taking industrial action.

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UNISON NEC elections revisited

A comrade in the branch asked me earlier if there was any analysis of the outcome of the UNISON NEC elections. I could have said, "I refer my honourable friend to the answer I gave some moments ago" ( but that would have been silly.

I could have referred to the comment of a senior official who, when I said the elections demonstrated little change, observed "that's how we like it", but that would also have been silly.

So I went back and looked at the detailed results.

And they do lead to a few clear conclusions.

First, the turnout remains depressingly low. This has remained more or less consistent throughout my decade on the NEC. This occasionally provokes a bit of soul-searching, but - objectively - UNISON election turnouts are not exceptional in the movement and - subjectively - the combined forces of national officials and incumbent NEC members tend to find other priorities than transforming how we elect our NEC.

Secondly, the benefit of incumbency in trade union elections, which is a fairly well-established historically, was demonstrated fairly clearly in these elections.

In only four cases were incumbents seeking re-election defeated (and in one of these cases the incumbent had already resigned and did not campaign, while in another the Region had lost representation compared to the last election).

Finally, as to the political balance on the NEC, that is pretty much unchanged in general, as left-wingers retiring or defeated have been replaced by newcomers, albeit in different constituencies.

If we're going to see the changed approach to leadership which our trade union needs then we're going to have to achieve this through dialogue and persuasion of NEC colleages.

So optimism of the will could come in handy...

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

We deserve a pay rise. How do we get it?

The TUC are quite right that we need a pay rise ( - the question for trade unions, and trade unionists is, as ever "what is to be done?"

Over recent years our leaders have been predicting the anger that would end the pay freeze. This anger seems now like a mirage, forever shimmering on the horizon and always beyond our reach. Always this wasn't the year to fight (but soon!) Then it was. Then it wasn't again. Now? Now we shall see.

Clearly events have not unfolded as expected. It's broadly true that, for decades (generations even) every episode of pay restraint has been defeated by an upsurge in industrial action, often driven by unofficial rank and file pressure in the first instance.

But now, after the longest and deepest fall in real wages in living memory, this still hasn't happened (yet). Why?

I think there are a number of factors which mark the current period out from earlier waves of industrial conflict provoked by pay restraint.

Fears for job security are obviously real for many of our members but - historically and currently - these fears are not of themselves an insurmountable obstacle to fighting for higher pay.

Certainly the political context is less favourable than (say) a generation ago. There is no global alternative to capitalism. There is no visible Parliamentary alternative to austerity. There is a generation of workers with no memory of such things or much knowledge of trade unionism.

A generation of anti-union legislation has also trained trade union officialdom to play a key role in policing workplace militancy - and this has had a cumulative deadening effect upon the vigour and combativity of the movement, as well as the confidence of the rank and file.

This context doesn't mean it is impossible to fight as was shown by the public sector pensions dispute or, very differently, by the electricians. The modest recent increase in trade union membership may even indicate a turning of the tide.

However, rebuilding confidence and combativity cannot be done by sitting and waiting for the tide to turn so we can surf on the crest of a wave of rank and file militancy. In these times, leadership cannot consist of passively reflecting back the mood of the membership in the hope that it will improve.

That's why, whatever the outcome of tomorrow's UNISON National Joint Council (NJC) Committee and of the pay consultation exercise which will be reported to it, the approach of the North West Regional Local Government Committee (to make a positive recommendation to reject a further real terms pay cut) was correct, and the approach of the (narrow) majority of the NJC Committee itself was wrong.

We won't revive our movement until we start leading a fight for the interests of our class like we mean it.

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UNISON and the defence of our National Health Service

At the front line of public service delivery, in health, local government and across public services, many trade unionists are ground down by falling living standards, increasing workloads and job insecurity.

Even the most politically motivated of us can be constrained by this everyday reality - too busy dealing with constant pressure of redundancy and reorganisation to raise our eyes from our local concerns.

In these circumstances it's all too easy, when asked to imagine the challenge of bold and decisive action (whether a national strike or a national demonstration) to shrink back to dealing with pressing local concerns, unable even to believe that more is possible in the here and now.

That's why an event like UNISON Conference, next week in Liverpool, can be an important occasion in the battle to defend our National Health Service. We must and will fight locally to defend our health service, but this war cannot be won only with local skirmishes.

Next week, UNISON's leadership will have the opportunity to give a bold lead to the next step in a national fight to save the NHS, leading a united Conference to engender confidence and enthusiasm among local activists.

We know this is possible, we saw the potential of the Union when decisively led in this spring's recruitment campaign, and eighteen months previously in the run up to the pensions strike.

A national mobilisation in defence of the NHS can provide a vital focus for essential local campaigns - and an opportunity to shift popular opinion and electoral politics in our direction.

In Liverpool next week, UNISON has an opportunity to give a united lead.

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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Recruitment, Organisation and Industrial Action

One rather odd debate, which popped up more than once at today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) concerned the relationship between recruitment, organisation and industrial action.

It was good to hear once more that, in the target period of this spring's recruitment drive we recruited 44% more members than we had in the comparable period last year. This does indeed demonstrate that an effort of will, backed up with resources, can deliver results.

However, this recent experience does not alter the compelling historical evidence, which is that major "spikes" in recruitment figures are often associated with popular and well-supported industrial action.

Delegates at Conference may therefore find it odd that the NEC decided (on the recommendation of the Development and Organisation Committee, of which I am a member) to oppose Amendment 1.3 at National Delegate Conference.

This amendment, moved by the Southwark Branch to an NEC motion on Organising, and timetabled for debate, essentially makes the point that industrial action can be beneficial for recruitment.

Opponents of the amendment, who carried the day at the NEC, denied the existence of any such relationship. Their argument (which I have heard before from officers) was that it is not that the Union is fighting in our members' (and potential members') interests which helps us to recruit.

Rather it is other activity, incidentally associated with industrial action (and described by one of my fellow NEC members as "talking to our members") which boosts recruitment.

I fear this line of argument is as unpersuasive as it is ill-informed. Supporters of Amendment 1.3 didn't and don't argue that industrial action is the only way to boost recruitment. The amendment simply makes the point that industrial action can be, and often is, associated with trade union growth.

The NEC policy of opposing Amendment 1.3 may well prove as counter-productive as it is misguided, since it could see the debate on organising at Conference dominated by an entirely unnecessary disagreement.

As a member of a minority on an NEC Committee I've done all I can - it's up to Conference delegates to determine UNISON policy now.

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Scottish local government strike

In a debate on pay at today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) it was left to Scottish NEC member, Jane Carolan, to report on today's biggest UNISON news (

Our members in Scottish local government are to ballot for strike action alongside members of UNITE (GMB having decided to accept the below-inflation 1% pay offer). There are plans for two national one-day strikes and a rolling programme of regional strikes.

This positive news should encourage local government workers in England Wales and Northern Ireland to reject the similar offer before us - and for Higher Education staff to do likewise.

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Support Yorkshire Health strikers

At today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) NEC members from local government (Paul Holmes) and Yorkshire (Vicky Perrin) asked General Secretary Dave Prentis about the dispute in our Mid-Yorkshire Health Branch (

Dave Prentis confirmed UNISON's full support for our members who are preparing for further strike action in a continuing battle against job and pay cuts from an employer happy to spend public money on external consultants rather than public service. The employers are threatening the Branch Secretaries of UNISON and UNITE with redundancy - and UNISON needs to match their escalation with increased support for the branch.

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UNISON and Labour - what next?

General Secretary, Dave Prentis, gave his characteristically wide-ranging report to the National Executive Council (NEC) this morning.

He started with the news that UNISON's new website will go live next week - so look out for that.

It sounds as if there will be plenty to report on the website since the Tories are ratcheting up attacks on the trade unions.

The Government are attacking the role of teaching assistants - vital low-paid public servants - whilst implementing tax cuts for the rich.

The Tory right have "check-off" arrangements in their sights - and the Government are trying to turn a crisis of sleaze in Parliament into an opportunity to restrict political campaigning by the trade unions.

Questions to Dave revolved very much around the disappointing response from the Labour leadership, whose consistent failure to offer a radical and coherent alternative (in line with the progressive policies of the trade unions) may well be the greatest threat to the prospect of a majority Labour Government.

Labour Link Chair, Steve Warwick, and Labour Party NEC member, Wendy Nicholls both responded to the debate. I'd like to say that we arrived at a conclusion about how UNISON should exert a positive political influence upon the Labour Party.

But you can't always have what you like.

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Should we march to save our NHS?

UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) met today. The first debates focused on NEC policy on amendments to motions for our National Delegate Conference in Liverpool in a fortnight's time.

The most heated and important debate focused on a recommendation from our Policy Committee that the NEC should oppose calls for a national demonstration in defence of our National Health Service.

I was among a minority who opposed this recommendation, believing that UNISON should take a bold lead to give a national focus for the growing number of local campaigns defending our health service.

Unfortunately a majority were won to the view that "now is not the time" for such a national demonstration as there isn't a "mood" for it - a view which, we were told, had been taken by delegates at Health Conference.

The future of the NHS is a citizenship, not a service group, issue - and the 25,000 recently on the streets of Lewisham demonstrate the support that will be shown for the national demonstration in defence of the National Health Service when (not if) it is called.

Our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, made the sound point that UNISON may well find ourselves having to decide to support such a national demonstration called by others.

UNISON Conference will have the final say on UNISON policy.

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Monday, June 03, 2013

Show some leadership - reject 1%

Back to work after Whitsun and a key priority is encouraging UNISON members to respond to the consultation on local government pay and - I hope - to reject the 1% pay insult (in line with the policy agreed by UNISON's Local Government Service Group in the Greater London and North West Regions).

However, since rejection requires a serious commitment to strike action, some members will - no doubt - opt to accept a below-inflation pay increase. That's their right and I respect their views. Above all, trade unionists should express a view.

Opinions are not, however, static more than dynamic. Nor are they individual more than they are collective. The fallacy of the opinion-poll driven politics of my generation has been a politics which aspires to no more than reflecting back at people their own individual answers to loaded questions. Blairites call its consequences "triangulation" and hold it to be the highest wisdom.

They are wrong.

Leadership can play a role in forming consciousness - which is why it is such a shame that, by such a narrow majority, 14 members of the National Joint Council Committee rejected the wisdom of another 13. A clear national recommendation to reject a pay offer, described as "an insult" by the very Committee that failed to recommend its rejection, would have emboldened our members to deliver a decisive rejection.

We saw, in the run up to 30 November 2011, how - in UNISON - leadership could function to make our trade union an organisation deserving of our pride. In its own way the positive results of this spring's recruitment drive has shown something similar.

In the absence of a positive national lead from the Local Government Service Group (outside Scotland) it falls to Regions and Branches to try to demonstrate such leadership. It's harder to do this successfully at a more local level.

But we have to try.

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So Labour will commit to means-test Winter Fuel Allowance in order to prove the "iron discipline" that will be shown to public finances if we win a majority in 2015 (

This stupid departure from social democratic principle is supposedly symbolic of our response to the challenge of proving Labour's "economic competency" but can do no such thing. We'll always lose a dutch auction on social welfare with the Tories.

As long as Labour remains within a narrative led by the Coalition and defined within the Westminster bubble we shall continue to fail even to be relevant to the popular hunger for an alternative reflected in (for example) by the impressive attendances at preparatory meetings for the forthcoming Peoples' Assembly (

A promise of "iron discipline" on public spending won't secure the endorsement of the Mail, Express or Telegraph but it will confirm to civil servants striking in the front line against austerity this week ( that Labour doesn't plan to ride to the rescue of public services.

Whether our leadership are just naturally too timid, or whether they are hamstrung by the continuing influence of the well-funded Blairite cabal, Labour is missing an opportunity to inspire, mobilise and lead opposition to the Coalition.

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Sunday, June 02, 2013

GUMBISON ruled out?

Back to work tomorrow after half term so back to blogging just in time to learn that Brian Strutton has told the GMB Congress categorically that there are no merger talks with UNISON.

As a UNISON NEC member I'd like to think that, having heard of no such talks, there have indeed been none, but it's as well to have these things confirmed.

UNISON and GMB have been making eyes at each other in public at recent TUCs - but it does now seem we were only ever trying to make UNITE jealous...

Given that our Development and Organisation Committee threw out a protocol developed between officials of the two unions to reduce membership "poaching" it's clear there's little appetite for merger among lay members of either Union.

Joint working between rank and file representatives of UNISON and GMB at a local level is essential to protect workers' interests - mutual hostility only ever ends up strengthening the employers. We should be far quicker to support each other's disputes.

In the long run, the existence of any particular trade union isn't written in stone. We made UNISON twenty years ago - but it is inevitably an open question whether it will exist in the same form to receive my application to be a retired member in another twenty years time.

However, for now, a merger with the GMB would be (for both unions I should imagine) a massive distraction from the task of rebuilding our membership and our strength in the workplace. The one merger which would have had compelling industrial logic and significant political benefits over the past decade is the one which, it now seems, will never happen (at least not with UNISON).

With trade union membership figures edging upwards, and positive news from UNISON's spring recruitment drive, we need to focus outwards to the interests of members and potential members.

And at least now we know we will never have the misfortune to become part of an organisation which would inevitably have been called "GUMBISON"...

Hat tip Andy Newman on twitter.

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