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 27, 2014

On Activism

As a member ‎of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) I am very aware of how many of our branches struggle forward with too few activists.

Indeed, as I write, I can almost hear one respected Branch Secretary colleague explaining how she "writes the theme tune, sings the theme tune"...

I am acutely aware of how many of my fellow UNISON Branch Secretaries long for a few more active trade unionists to help share the burden of the work that has to be done.

I realise therefore that, in many ways, I am in a fortunate position even to be able to differentiate between activists and "activists".

Nevertheless, since it is essential to the survival of our union movement in the twenty first century (and hence to the future of humanity) that we encourage, nurture and develop activism, I think it worth sharing a few views about the difference between activism ‎and it's simulacrum ("activism").

The thing about activism is that it is a noun derived from a verb. To be an activist is to be active.

For example, this evening I was proud to lead a UNISON deputation to Lambeth Council to address Councillors about the budget cuts they were about to make. Those who accompanied me, in the deputation or in the gallery, were activists.

Other activists couldn't be there as they had other commitments. That's always understood.‎ One of the things activists are familiar with is being double-booked!

"Activists" on the other hand are those who go to the pub rather than show support for members of their own trade union branch expressing, to their main employer, opposition to further cuts in jobs and services.

"Activists" are often to the fore when criticising fellow trade unionists for not being sufficiently forthright, or militant. Yet when the occasion for forthright militancy in fact presents itself that is the moment at which reality sorts out the difference between (real) activists and "activists".

Earlier this afternoon I was honoured to be amongst activists at a joint UCU/UNISON meeting at Lambeth College - where rank and file workers discussed and agreed tactics in a fight against utterly unreasonable proposals from their employer. Among those members were activists whom I am proud to call comrade.

I have the great privilege of being one of the Branch Secretaries of a trade union branch with a proud tradition of activism going back (at least) to the 1980s. The genuine activism which I saw this afternoon at Lambeth College and this evening among the deputation at Lambeth Town Hall continues this proud tradition.

Regrettably I have also had recent experience of "activism" (as opposed to activism) and therefore of the conduct of those who are radical in word rather than deed. I fear that those who announce their being "activists" without bothering actually to demonstrate activism are no real friends to trade unionists nor assets to the struggle for the emancipation of humanity.

I look forward ‎to continuing to work with activists - and to hearing less and less from "activists" whose deeds never match their words.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

To be strong together we have to be together!

‎I'm on my way back to the branch following the Annual General Meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Council, and congratulate the Regional Council Officers who were re-elected (and offer my commiserations to the candidates who were not successful!)

The Council heard from Maureen LeMarinel, our President and from Sadiq Khan for the London Labour Party and agreed a number of motions, two of which (yet to be announced) will be submitted to National Delegate Conference. The Regional Secretary reported that the Region had notified the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) that the Region would narrowly miss today's noon deadline for submission of Conference motions (because the tube strike had forced a delay) and hoped for sympathetic consideration of our submissions in the circumstances.

Some new speakers spoke well about the need for unity to take on the Tory Government and the pay freeze. Regional Council delegates can make such words good by turning up in sufficient numbers at the Regional Council meetings on Tuesday 20 May and Wednesday 22 October, so that London's UNISON members, across all Service Groups, have the opportunity to demonstrate the unity which we supported earlier today.

The Regional Committee (using its powers under Rule F) can monitor the use of UNISON resources (including staffing resources) deployed in our Region, in order to ensure that these resources are being used effectively to promote UNISON's objectives. These objectives clearly include delivering quorate meetings of our Regional Council in this crucial year and I hope that our re-elected Regional lay leadership will lead the Regional Committee in taking its responsibility seriously.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hope from an unexpected quarter

Although the trade unions (having - not quite - convinced ourselves that we have defended the principle of collective affiliation) will not defeat the foolish Party Leader on Saturday at the wholly unnecessary Special Conference, Young Labour's 25,000 votes will be cast against the Collins proposals to loosen the ties which bind the Party and unions.

As we head in to a future in which the forces of "Progress" will confront truly progressive forces in the Party with an agenda to expel collective working class organisation from politics, it is encouraging that the young activists who are the future of the Party recognise the dangers in the Collins proposals from which union General Secretaries are politely averting their gaze.
‎Congratulations are due to all the comrades who secured this outcome last Saturday in Bradford. There is still hope that we could have a Party of the left in this country.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Who is taking action to protect UNISON members? Not the current leadership of the Greater London Region.

‎As is so often the case, I'm a bit behind with my report of last Wednesday's meeting of the UNISON NEC.

One point I'll pick up on is the report which we are now receiving regularly of industrial action ballots at branch level, of which there were 32 reported to our most recent meeting.

The majority of these are in two of our large Regions, Yorkshire and Humberside (9) and Scotland (8). There were three ballots in each of the North West and East Midlands Regions and two each in Northern, West Midlands and Wales.

In Greater London (as in each of the South East and South West Regions) only one ballot was reported (leaving the Northern Ireland and Eastern Regions reporting no ballots).

I know that London's one ballot is a tribute to rank and file activism at branch level - rather than any sort of sensible or strategic leadership from the Region - were it not for the sort of committed leftwing activists which officials at Congress House love to hate then we would be reporting a duck like the East Anglians and the Northern Irish.

It is lamentable that UNISON in Greater London, under its current Regional leadership, has shown itself unable to facilitate action by members in defence of our own interests. This is the hallmark of a dysfunctional UNISON Region which has not been capable of holding a quorate Regional Council meeting other than its AGM since 2005.

It is ironic that, at Tuesday's forthcoming Annual General Meeting of the Greater London Regional Council a motion from the Lambeth branch (in which I declare an interest!)‎ has been ruled out of order. The motion concerns industrial action, and seeks to address the right-wing antipathy to such action which infests UNISON's Greater London Regional office.

There can be little doubt that officials in UNISON's Greater London Region are routinely breaching UNISON Rule B.2.2, which defines UNISON as a "member-led" Union. This is nowhere as clear as in relation to industrial action, a vital tactical option which needs to be available to trade unionists in any dispute, but which is seemingly viewed with horror on the first floor of Congress House.

‎I salute the one competency of the officials at Regional Office (which is the ability to use all those full-time resources to control votes at the Regional AGM) but, with the greatest of respect to that ability, I would encourage all delegates at the Regional AGM to vote for the slate of candidates headed by Glenn Kelly for Convenor.

I have had my differences with Glenn over the years - but a vote for the slate he heads is a vote for an effective, responsive democratic UNISON in Greater London - and whatever the result on Tuesday we need a renewed effort at organisation by those of us with a principled, non-sectarian, commitment to effective trade unionism (which must - of necessity - mean unconditional commitment to support struggles against all forms of oppression).

I am proud to be a member of UNISON and of its Lambeth branch. I am fed up with having to be ashamed of the Region.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Remembering Chavez

The comrades from the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign deserve congratulations‎ for organising the first Hugo Chavez memorial lecture this evening.

Tariq Ali spoke to a packed lecture theatre at the School of Oriental and African Studies, explaining the background and origins of the Bolivarian revolution and ‎identifying it's global historical significance.

‎With the tentacles of US imperialism manipulating their puppets in the Venezuelan opposition against the Government in the hope of destroying a beacon of hope to the world it is an important time to renew solidarity with progressive forces in Latin America.

‎Being reminded of the gains being made by the left in America's own "backyard" is also an important antidote to the depression which can easily set in when considering European politics - which Tariq Ali persuasively characterised as dominated by the "extreme Centre " (which is the coming together of the "centre-right" and "centre-left" around neo-liberal consensus - and which is "extreme" for the foreign wars it has waged and for the domestic war it fights against its own people under the banner of austerity).

‎When your "day job" is all about acting locally it's good to be challenged to think globally from time to time.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Someone did shoot the Deputy...

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Borderline-Trot) may recollect my wanton expression of the dangerous opinion that 2014 could be the year when UNISON Conference might be able once more to debate the principle of the election of officials around the vacancy for a Deputy General Secretary.

‎For myself I only regret sharing this view, in person. In a recent chance encounter around Euston with a cordial acquaintance (who shares his name with a TV Channel).

For this morning, upon attending a special meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee of our National Executive Council (NEC) originally convened to give formal assent to some purely technical Rule Amendments required by the Certification Officer in anticipation of the forthcoming Political Fund ballot, I was confronted, along with other Committee members , with a hastily tabled proposal to amend our Rules in order to delete the position of Deputy General Secretary.

Whilst I felt we were being bounced, the majority of Committee members accepted the evidently persuasive argument that it was urgent to agree this Rule Amendment in order to save the money we haven't spent over the past eighteen months in which we have held the post vacant.

As one wag observed at lunchtime, it seems that if you propose election to a post it will be deleted before such a debate can take place.

I recall, at Conference 1996 and 1997, speaking in support of the election of Regional Secretaries. 

Whatever else you can say about this, it does at least show that our former Deputy General Secretary was, in the opinion of those who call the shots in our Union, literally irreplaceable!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Local Government pay - contemplating the furtherance of a trade dispute

As confirmed yesterday in a bulletin to UNISON branches, there is now a trade dispute over pay between the trade unions representing the local government workforce in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the local government employers.

Any activist who has ever been cautioned that they should "wait for negotiations to break down" before declaring a dispute should take note that this is not the approach being adopted here - and quite right too.

The dispute has been declared because the employers have failed to make ‎a pay offer in response to the pay claim put to them in October. Given that the settlement date is 1 April, an offer worth considering (by means of our long established machinery for consulting via branches) would already be too late to be implemented on time.

What explains the employers' tardiness I do not know - although, having lobbied the London employers regional pay consultation event I know that the majority of London boroughs couldn't ‎even be bothered to turn up to discuss the largest item in their budget (though cheekily, Tory Bromley came along even though they have abandoned national pay bargaining!)

It's clear that the only hope we have of anything approaching a decent pay rise is if we can mobilise our members for national strike action - and that, of course, is why it is important that we have declared that there is a trade dispute.

‎The framework of (limited) legal protection for UK trade unions from civil liability for inducing breach of contract (by for example calling a strike) which was established by the 1906 Liberal Government is now to be found as section 219 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

In addition to all the legal restrictions around ballots and notification imposed in the 1980s (and retained by New Labour) the original restriction from 1906 also remains - in order for an act on behalf of a trade union to attract civil immunity (so no one can sue us) it has, first of all, to be carried out ‎"in contemplation or furtherance" of a trade dispute.

Although there is no formal legal requirement to "declare" a trade dispute it is a sensible step, and - in this case - an important moment in the 2014 Local Government pay campaign. 

We now need to contemplate how to further this dispute. The workforce covered by the National Joint Council is not only the largest bargaining unit within UNISON - it remains the largest single bargaining unit in the entire economy. This dispute is highly significant.

The Service Group Executive, and UNISON's National Joint Council Committee, need to take a leaf from the book of our sisters and brothers in Higher Education and give a bold lead.

The Union as a whole, at the very highest level and from the top down, then needs to apply the lesson of the period between the General Secretary's speech to the TUC in 2011 and the strike over pensions on 30 November of that year.

A satisfactory outcome to this dispute depends upon the single-minded mobilisation of all of the resources of our Union in order to inspire and empower members and activists on the ground. 

Our membership in local government is falling as the sector is hammered with job losses, and defensive struggles played out locality by locality can only, at best, achieve some damage limitation.

This dispute is our opportunity to change things. This will require a clear and decisive lead from the top and dedicated and disciplined determination from every activist.

The first step taken by declaring a dispute is a step in the right direction.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Please take immediate action to prevent the deportation of Jermaine Strachan

‎I set out below an urgent message sent out today to members of Lambeth UNISON. If any of the readers of this blog can take a few moments to read this and send an email to the Home Secretary to help us try to stop a tragically unjust deportation due to take place on Sunday 16 February, please do!

Please take immediate action to prevent the deportation of Jermaine Strachan

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to all members of Lambeth UNISON to ask you to take some immediate action to try to avert a tragic injustice.

A young father, the son of one of the members of our trade union branch, is facing deportation this Sunday because he lost his own father in a hit and run in 2004.

Jermaine Strachen was 14 at the time of his father's death and was dependent on his father (a British citizen) for his immigration status in the UK. Now 26 he faces deportation leaving his remaining family including a six year old son behind.

The Strachan family's tragedy starts at the Athens Olympics where Errol Strachan, 45, of Frant Road, Thornton Heath died of multiple injuries when a car driven by a Danish yachtsman struck him just hours before he was due to return home from the 2004  games, where he had been working as a catering contractor.

An inquest held at Croydon Coroner's Court  in 2013 heard witnesses say Nicklas Holm,  a member of Denmark's Olympic sailing team, had been driving at 80kmph when he hit and killed Mr Strachan.

The speed limit of the road was 50 kmph, which Mr Holm, who had been driving in a lane specially designated for those involved in the Olympics, insisted he had not exceeded. The yachtsman said he felt "no guilt" about Mr Strachan's death and competed in the games just six days later.

But in 2010 a Greek court convicted him of manslaughter by dangerous driving and sentenced him to eight months in prison. Judges overturned the verdict on appeal in April 2011.

Mr Strachan from Croydon had been crossing to get cash out of a machine on his last night in Athens, where he had been posted for four days by employer Admirable Crichton when he was hit. Lawyers for Mr Strachan's are to appeal in the civil court in February 2014.

Ms Hazel Strachan said her husbands death had been devastating for his two young children Jermaine and Sharnette, both from an earlier relationship - adding: "Jermaine was just a kid when it happened so it was especially hard for him."

Since his father's death Jermaine has been subject to reporting conditions, which he has complied with every Friday at Luna House in Croydon.

Ruth Cashman, Joint Secretary Lambeth UNISON stated "It defies belief that the Home Office would compound the Stachan family's tragedy by deporting  Jermaine. Jermaine lost his father at 14 and his six year old son Maliki also faces growing up without his father. We consider this a gross injustice and believe Jermaine Strachan should remain in the UK with his family and should be given full British Citizenship."

 Jermaine's reference number is S793967 and he is currently detained at Dover Immigration Centre.

We are asking members, please to send an email to the Home Secretary ( with a copy to the local MP ( and to the branch (, quoting Jermaine's reference number (S793967) and asking that he be granted leave to remain in this country.

If you have time to write this in your own words that would be great. If not you can cut and paste the email addresses and suggested text for the message below.

Thank you very much for anything which you can do to help us try to prevent Jermaine's deportation.

Best wishes,

Jon Rogers

Email addresses;;;;

Title for the email;

Reference S79367 – stop the deportation of Jermaine Strachan

Suggested text;

I am writing to urge you to stop the deportation of Jermaine Strachan, a young father, who is facing deportation after losing his father in a hit-and-run during the Olympic Games. Mr Strachan, 14 years of age at the time of his father's death, was dependent on his father (a British citizen) for his immigration status.

The Strachan family have already been through considerable trauma. Errol Strachan, 45, Jermaine's father, died of multiple injuries when a car driven by a Danish yachtsman struck him just hours before he was due to return home from the games. At the time his wife, Ms Hazel Strachan, said her husband's death had been devastating for his children, son Jermaine and daughter Sharnette, both from an earlier relationship. She added "Jermaine was just a kid when it happened, so it was especially hard for him." Since his father's death, Jermaine has been subject to weekly reporting conditions, which he has consistently complied with at Luna House in Croydon. Despite this, he now faces deportation and leaving his remaining family, including six-year-old son Maliki, behind.

Maliki's teacher has written a letter of concern to the Home Office to highlight the effect of Jermaine's detention and possible deportation on the child, stating "Maliki is a naturally happy boy but I have seen his world turn upside down since November, when his father was taken to Dover. This naturally happy boy has become frequently tearful, complains that he misses his dad and finds it increasingly difficult to concentrate."

I join Maliki's teacher in calling on the Home Office to reunite him with his father, Jermaine. She adds in her letter that "I worry for the severe effect his father's deportation will have on him. Maliki is a British citizen and he needs his dad as he grows up. As a society, we should want the best for our children and should ensure they are not denied the role models they need to grow into well adjusted, emotionally stable adults. I implore you to reverse the decision to deport Maliki's father. As a teacher, I see the profound effect absent fathers have on children, both emotionally and educationally. Maliki's father need not be absent; please think of this boy's future and reverse your decision." As his teacher demonstrates, all too often, the rights and need to safeguard children are overlooked in immigration cases.

Just as Jermaine lost his father at 14 years old,  this family tragedy will only deepen by making Maliki grow up without his father. I consider the proposed deportation to be a gross injustice and believe Jermaine Strachan should remain in the UK with his family.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tristram Hunt? No Thanks!

‎Now that Tony Blair has mostly left UK politics in order to spend more time with his ego, there has been something of a vacancy for a really offensive public schoolboy, dripping with contempt for our movement, on the right wing of the Labour Party.

No longer.

Not content with alienating teachers, without winning any significant support from parents or students, with a half-baked hare-brained scheme to register all teachers, Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt managed (as reported in the link above from the admirable Morning Star) to waltz across a UCU picket line in order to give a lecture on (of all things) Marxism!

Trade unionists have more than a century of putting up with a lot of nonsense from the political wing of our movement. Crossing a picket line to work in the trade of the workers on a picket line ‎is, however, entirely outside what is acceptable from an ostensibly "Labour" politician. It should be no more acceptable in our movement than the sort of foul-mouthed racism, misogyny or homophobia at which Tristram would doubtless express his horror if asked for a view at an agreeable dinner party.

As someone who has, in the past, got into a certain amount of if not hot, then at least more than tepid, water for using the word "scab", I suggest we could now replace that with the word "Tristram".‎ 

And as for the individual concerned?

He should be reshuffled into well deserved oblivion at the earliest opportunity.

He may not be, because the Blairite machine is populating the Parliamentary Labour Party with far too many such creatures - but at the very least no trade unionist should lift a finger to secure the return to Parliament of this enemy of our movement.

If we have meant anything we have said in the fight to defend the link between our unions and the Party we created we must now take the fight to these Tory fifth columnists. 

Tristram Hunt is a disgrace.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Stop gagging local unions in Barnet Council - sign the petition!

Hard right Tory MP Aiden Burley (forever to be associated with a "stag do" where one of the guests thought a Nazi uniform funny) may be standing down from Parliament at the next election, but the poisonous legacy of his anti-union views has not been eliminated.

Burley led the so-called "Trade Union Reform Campaign", a failed attempt by less civilised elements on the Tory right to gain respectability for their visceral hostility to the collective organisation of working people.

However, whilst Burley's antics helpfully discredited his own cause, hostility to trade unions is both broader and deeper than the right-wing fringe - as exemplified by Boris Johnson's perennial attempts to substitute anti-union rants for managerial responsibility.

For UNISON members the current attack upon Barnet UNISON is very much a case in point.‎ Having pressed ahead with an ill-advised scheme for mass privatisation (of which the citizens of Barnet now have no choice but to repent at leisure) the Tory Council appear determined to do as much damage as they can to workplace trade union organisation before they face the voters (and the risk of losing control of the Council) in May.
Effective trade union organisation in all but the smallest local authorities has for some years generally been accompanied by sensible agreements on "trade union facility time". That's because the work of co-ordinating the representation of hundreds of workers needs one or more people available at any time (in a way that a shop steward who needs permission to "walk off the job" cannot be).

However, because the legal foundations for this customary arrangement are based upon the statutory right to paid time off work to deal with matters with one's own employer, mass privatisation (or the general diversification of service provision) opens a door through which reactionaries can charge in order to seek to undermine union organisation.

This is precisely what Barnet's Tory Council is now trying to do, and the link above is to an online petition in opposition to this attack which I would urge all readers to sign.‎ 

The trade unions across London need to give the highest priority to ousting Barnet's Tories in order to decapitate an attack upon public services and workers' rights which is of national significance (rather than, for example, devoting resources to Labour's campaign in Tower Hamlets, where the peculiar parochial politics of that borough are of no wider relevance whatsoever).

The front line in the battle to defend trade unions in local government is today in the London Borough of Barnet.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A silver lining?

The link above is to an analysis of the outcome of UNISON's challenge, by way of judicial review, to the outrageous decision of the Coalition Government to impose fees upon claimants in the employment tribunals.

This analysis was recommended to me by an informed source and puts into context the "headline" news - which is (as any reader of this blog is likely to be aware) that the court refused to overturn the imposition of fees.
This was, quite obviously, a defeat.

However, not only did the Government concede that successful claimants will generally recover their fees (a concession to this legal challenge) but - more significantly - the key challenge on the question of whether tribunal fees will so discourage claimants as to render the law against discrimination ineffective - was defeated only because, at the point of the hearing, there was insufficient evidence that this is what was happening.

As further evidence becomes available a further legal challenge could be made - and I hope it will.

It's hard enough to challenge discrimination without the added hurdle of tribunal fees. Labour needs to make an immediate, high-profile and unequivocal pledge to repeal this pernicious restriction upon the rights of working people.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Breaking the bullshit

I have taken to shopping at Aldi rather more than Sainsbury's because you can get stuff that's just as good but it's cheaper. That's a sensible basis on which to choose a supermarket - but I wouldn't apply it to the planning and provision of public services.

The right-wing "Progress" faction within the Labour Party is pretty much funded by Sainsbury's - but they don't give little vouchers you can redeem on your next visit when you find they've said something stupid and you wish you'd listened instead to Compass or the LRC.

The link above shows the laughably poor quality of the politics (and "thinking") on which Lord Sainsbury is squandering the money extracted from his staff and customers.

In a thinly disguised defence of privatisation the author (whose name escapes me less than five minutes after I finished reading his drivel) promotes the idea of mutuals and cooperatives delivering public services.

Oh dear.

These post-Blair Blairites are a sorry shower.

At least their master knew how to make ideologically motivated reactionary nonsense look like "evidence-based" policy formulation (sometimes).

Progress appear to be ignorant of the fact that the most energetic approach to date to promote mutuals in the delivery of local government services has run into the sand.

‎They are reduced to promoting ideas of which the Adam Smith institute would be proud (that there should be "competition" to - for example - run local schools). Progress are a distorted mirror image of those ultra-leftists who will never permit experience and understanding to get in the way of what they "know" to be true.

If I were Lord Sainsbury, I'd find a better use for my money.

Public services cannot be improved by silly gimmicks, or "competition", or "new providers". What is required is the unglamorous reality of better management informed by hands-on experience and guided by the public service ethos (which the likes of Progress will never understand because it isn't driven by the profit motive).

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Higher Education workers deserve a pay rise!

Your bleary-eyed blogger is en route to work via a picket line, to support UNISON members striking today (alongside members of other unions) in Higher Education.

Higher Education employers have imposed a miserly 1% pay increase on staff, whilst Vice- Chancellors ‎(which is what they call their bosses) have enjoyed an 8% increase on top of their (already rather more generous) salaries.

Two days of strike action - in October and December - have not led to the employers seeing sense, leaving Higher Education trade unionists with no choice but to take further action. 

I do not underestimate the difficulties which our members in Higher Education face as a result of the necessity to take this further action. The workforce in the sector does not consist primarily of well-paid Professors!

As a local government worker, there are two things I can do (after I leave today's picket line to go to work). First, I can propose to my branch that we try to raise funds to assist members experiencing hardship.

Secondly - and most importantly - I can build the campaign for fair pay for local government workers in the aftermath of Tuesday's national day of protest. The more we can broaden the fight to reverse the driving down of our living standards the more likely we are to see a breakthrough.

Solidarity and good luck to all strikers today (in Higher Education and on the London Underground).

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Solidarity with the tube strikers

As it's the day of protest about local government pay (see last post) I probably won't find time to blog again before the tube strike starts this evening.

Above is a link to the locations of RMT picket lines tomorrow and Thursday. All trade unionists should visit to show support to members of the RMT and TSSA unions striking in defence of staffed ticket offices on the tube - and the thousand jobs put at risk by their planned closure.

Those readers living or working in London in will be familiar with the demonisation of tube workers generally, the RMT particularly (and their General Secretary personally)‎. The rest of the trade union movement should show our support with vigour to match the venom spat by our opponents.


Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Making the weather on local government pay

The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Today - and particularly this lunchtime - it will fall upon many local government workers protesting in support of our pay claim.

Good luck to all those members of UNISON, and the other local government trade unions, organising events as part of the national day of protest about local government pay.

There can be no doubt that this action, in support of a reasonable pay claim for an increase of at least a pound an hour for local government workers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is a necessary early step in a campaign which must, if it is to deliver a worthwhile outcome, lead to national industrial action on a scale not seen since 30 November 2011.

Hundreds of thousands of local government workers (including school support staff whose pay is governed by the same bargaining machinery) earn below the living wage - and all local government workers have seen our living standards fall by 18% over the past five years as prices have raced ahead of wages.

The misery of pay restraint hasn't protected jobs or services in local government as widespread redundancies attest. A union movement which has not taken on the pay freeze and - in too many cases - has engaged in concession bargaining over conditions of service has proven generally inadequate in resisting the tidal wave of cuts and privatisation.

Where, however, trade unions have given a lead which members have been prepared to follow and have taken a firm line then there have been local victories in defensive struggles.
This is the lesson which we must now apply to the fight for fair pay for local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are the largest bargaining group in the UK economy and, whilst we may not be able to alter today's weather from a meteorological standpoint, we do have the power to make the weather politically.

The Labour leadership talk about a cost of living crisis - our pay claim is an opportunity for them to offer support to workers doing something about it.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Monday, February 03, 2014

I don’t begrudge Boris Johnson his newspaper column but I do mind his ill-considered, hypocritical anti-union tirade

London Mayor, Boris Johnson has taken time off from his busy schedule to share with readers of the Daily Torygraph his views on this week's tube strike.

Predictably he returns to his favourite demand - that strike ballots should be subject to a 50% turnout threshold in order to provide unions with civil immunity (he doesn't explain his demand that way but that's what he means).

The Colonel Bufton-Tuftons reading this out in the stockbroker belt are probably now harrumphing their agreement over the marmalade, but Boris Johnson clearly cannot be defeated by simple mockery (indeed it created him).

Given the superficially "democratic" appearance of this fundamentally anti-democratic proposal it is worth reminding ourselves of the arguments - in practice and in principle - against this proposal.

There are a large number of factors which depress turnouts in strike ballots which, by law, have to be conducted by post to home addresses. Low paid workers, perhaps living in houses in multiple occupation, moving frequently as their tenure is insecure may never even see their ballot paper.

Others still, juggling bills and trying to avoid turning to a legal loan shark at the end of each pay month, may not open all official correspondence promptly. In other cases, well, all sorts of things can happen (we had a member whose young child once turned their ballot paper into a work of art).

Whatever the reasons, very many industrial action ballots produce a turnout of less than 50% - and yet can still lead to well-supported action. On planet Boris, UNISON members would not have been able to take the official action for which we voted on 30 November 2011.

And, in principle, why should there be such a threshold uniquely for industrial action ballots? Management face no "threshold" when deciding to cut jobs, or hold down pay (because they have no vote at all of course). Underpinning Boris's argument is a model in which industrial action is a disruptive exception to the normal rule of workers by bosses.

One might equally observe though that conflict of interest is embedded in the employment relationship and that one-sided restrictions on the ability of workers to take action in support of our interests is no more than old-fashioned class politics, pure and simple.

Perhaps the critical point to bear in mind though is that Boris Johnson was elected with 51.53% of the vote in 2012, but on a 38% turnout. He therefore commanded the positive support of less than a fifth of London's electorate - and yet considers that a mandate not for a few days strike action but for four years rule - including the permanent closure of local fire stations, putting lives at risk.

Whatever disruption and inconvenience Londoners may experience as a result of the forthcoming tube strike it will be as nothing compared to the harm being done by our hard-right reactionary Mayor, attacking public services on the back of less than 20% support.

Trade unionists and democrats need to make the case against further restrictions on our rights.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Ed Miliband's Dog's Breakfast

The unseemly haste which has been the hallmark of the unnecessary interference with the Labour Party constitution initiated by the Leader’s July speech has been reasserted this weekend with the publication of Ed Miliband’s proposals, arising from the Collins Review, just days before Tuesday’s meeting of Labour’s National Executive Council (NEC).

It seems likely that the NEC, including its trade union members, may be about to allow themselves to be "bounced" by a Leader prepared to put his authority on the line in order to pursue his long term goal of greater state funding for political parties (under cover of an implausible claim to be seeking mass membership).

A lot of media attention is focused on the proposal to move from the current "electoral college" to one "member" one vote for the election of the Leader, with no separate voting by affiliated trade union members, nor by Members of Parliament. The apparent democracy of this move is undermined somewhat by the proposal to increase significantly the minimum number of MPs required to nominate a candidate before they can get on the ballot paper.

As Jon Lansman has pointed out this arrangement would have meant that many past Leaders (including Wilson and Callaghan) would not have been elected. As a Labour Party member I think an electoral system which is likely only ever to deliver two candidates to the members to vote for will not be good for the Party.

However, the proposed method for electing the Leader would still be more democratic than the position in the 1970s, when MPs alone elected the Leader – and that system coexisted with a firm link between Labour and trade unions (who at that time commanded the vast majority of all votes at Labour Party Conference, not the 50% share which Miliband is not threatening)(yet).

Raising the bar to leadership candidates would be bad for the Labour Party, as would the foolish and unwanted proposal for a primary for our Mayoral candidate in London which could, in the worst case scenario, lead to our standing a comedian with views safely within the neoliberal consensus against a comedian with views safely within the neoliberal consensus.

The real danger to the nature of the Labour Party as a Party linked to the organised working class is in the gradual shift in the nature of union affiliation to the Party over the next five years.

Miliband proposes a gradual shift from "opting-out" of paying the political levy to "opting-in" to a status as "affiliated member" (for payment of an additional fee). These "affiliated members" would become a second-tier of Labour Party member, invited to branch and member meetings but booted out when the meeting was to select a candidate.

Over time the level of a union’s collective affiliation will be adjusted (reduced) to the level of those members who have (individually) opted to be second-class individual Party members. It can reasonably be foreseen that this will mean that the representation of trade unions within the Party will be revisited by those (in "Progress", the Tory fifth column) who do not really believe in a political role for trade unions (other than as lobbyists like those who fund them).

The unions may find that all we have achieved is to have postponed the struggle to retain the link (to return to the issue in future from a position of greater weakness).

These proposals also offer the prospect of bankruptcy postponed for the Labour Party, clearly signifying (as I have argued elsewhere) that this exercise is part of a medium term plan to secure more, and more stable, state funding for political parties.

There is, of course, already far more state funding than a generation ago, though some of it is camouflaged. I heard a Labour Group Leader arguing that local Councillors needed a larger voice on the Party NEC because they contribute a lot of funds (!) These funds are provided from the virtual salaries now paid to local politicians and amount to surrogate state funding.

The "professionalisation" of politics, with Labour Groups increasingly dominated by small groups of middle class full-time career politicians is part of the problem of the alienation of much of the population from a "political class" increasingly isolated from the experiences of the rest of us. This alienation ought not to be answered by further insulating politicians from dependence upon civil society through the provision of greater state funding.

Socialists and trade unionists on the NEC face an unappealing choice. Either support a dog’s breakfast warmed up by Ray Collins for us, to be consumed over the next five years, or vote down a Leader we need to win the next General Election.

At the very least the brakes need somehow to be applied to give ordinary trade union and Labour Party members a chance to consider the exact composition of this dog’s breakfast.

How could each trade union actually deliver the Collins proposals within their own Rules? If Rule Amendments are required, what guarantee is there that Union Conferences will support them?

What data will unions be required to pass over to the Party about members who "opt-in"? How will that data be linked so that changes in membership information are communicated between the two organisations?

Given the work which we already face in order to comply with the provisions of Part Three of the Lobbying Bill trade unions don’t need to be saddled with further administrative burdens in connection with our membership data.

Are we seriously supposed to promote to fellow trade unionists an opportunity to enjoy second-class Labour Party membership? 

Certainly there is no good case for being bounced into backing Miliband at Tuesday’s NEC – and (if the Party’s decision making process is to have credibility) affiliates and Constituency Labour Parties should have the right to move amendments to the proposals.