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)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

UNISON NEC elections - your chance to have your say (about nearly two thirds of your Executive...)

The ballot for election of members to UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) opens next week and the list of candidates (your blogger included) has now been published.

‎23 out of 65 seats on the 2015-17 NEC are, in effect, already filled, as candidates have been elected unopposed, leaving just 42 contests.

Whilst it may be a source of some consolation that there are - at least - no posts which will be left vacant (having attracted zero nominations), it is hardly a sign of the rude health of our lay democracy that more than a third of our ruling body will take office having not faced the test of a contested election.

I will blog further about the forthcoming elections (using, of course, no UNISON resources) over coming days but for now offer my congratulations to the 23 who already know that they will be members of the Executive for another two years.

Increasing the engagement of members in our democratic structures will continue to be a challenge facing the incoming NEC.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Priorities for UNISON members?

‎Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris SOC) will realise that I am not above linking back to an earlier post on this blog.

This is particularly the case when - moving on from this week's Local Government Special Conference - it is time to talk about our priorities for debate at this summer's Conferences.

As well as one National Executive Council, four Self-Organised Groups, the Retired Members' and Young Members' Committees and twelve Regional Councils, there are towards a thousand branches with a right to propose motions to our National Delegate Conference.

All in all it's amazing that there are not more than 117 motions and 28 Rule Amendments admitted to the agenda for our 2015 National Delegate Conference. This still represents, however, more business than our Conference will likely be able to get through.

That is what makes the process of prioritisation of the Conference agenda so important.‎ The NEC, Regions, Self-Organised Groups and Service Groups all have a say in prioritising agenda items. The Standing Orders Committee (NEC) compose the Conference agenda in order based upon prioritisation - and only those motions which attract at least some support in the prioritisation process that stand any chance of being debated at Conference.

Every UNISON member can - through their branch - influence their Region's priorities for Conference. Many branches don't participate, so the influence of those who do is commensurately greater.

Motions which sit on our agenda in the name of our NEC, a Self Organised Group, national Committee or Region will be bound to attract support in the prioritisation process from the body in the name of which they are on that agenda.

Therefore an intelligent approach to the prioritisation process on the part of branch activists does NOT entail prioritising the motions deemed most "important" by members. An intelligent approach requires the promotion of motions which might otherwise escape attention (and which cannot rely upon enthusiastic patronage from any part of our officialdom.)

Therefore UNISON activists should not encourage prioritisation of Conference motions because we wish to curry favour, or to enable the delivery of important speeches by key activists, or because we should be "seen to be" promoting discussion on key questions.

No. All that is trivial.

We should seek the prioritisation of motions which will not otherwise be prioritised in order to force debate about issues where a decision of our Conference might make a practical difference.

After all, it's quite laudable that UNISON has progressive policy positions on a wide range of domestic and international policies (and I support them all, and welcome that they put us to the left of the Labour Party) - but at the end of the day it makes little difference what we say about such matters compared to decisions about what UNISON itself will do.

I therefore offer the following suggestions for the prioritisation of Conference motions at National Delegate Conference;

Motion 106 Branch Funding
Motion 115 Unison General Secretary Election
Motion 114 Publication of a Branch Directory
Motion 116 Online Conference Database
Motion 108 Withdraw Support for the Tax Refund Company
Motion 15 Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre
Motion 22 Pay

These are just a few motions from amongst the many - and most branches will be able to express more priorities than are suggested here.

‎I'm not trying to give a comprehensive view about the entire Conference agenda.

I am neither a member of a Party which presumes to revolutionary leadership nor part of a "rank and file organisation" capable of even contemplating some collective discipline within the decision-making structures of our Union.

I'm just asking you to think about how you use the prioritisation process - and to consider using it to maximise opportunities for debate (rather than for the sort of "debate" in which no one disagrees).

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Moving that the question be put

‎In the third of three posts this evening reflecting upon this week's UNISON Special Local Government Conference I want to deal with the question of Conference delegates moving " that the question be now put." A fair bit of this went on on Tuesday, to the extent that the President (who was chairing the Conference) remarked upon it.

This sort of thing does not happen by accident - and several of the commentators mentioned in the last-but-one post on this blog had something to say on the topic.

UNISON Active describe motions as having been "battered through with little debate as the Conference voted time and again to move business on."

Yes. Conference voted. (And as UNISON Active acknowledges, it agreed all the wordy but worthy motions which had been scripted by those who hoped to avoid such rapid progress).

There's a hint of the same regret in the reporting of the Special Conference by Socialist Worker, who give characteristic emphasis to the importance of the positive reception afforded to the oratory of their own members.

The Socialist Party (who are no doubt amongst the "career platform bashers" deplored by UNISON Active) showed in their reporting a better understanding of the importance of ‎the "disciplined approach from delegates on the floor." It was this "disciplined approach" to moving along the business of Conference that helped to deliver the decisions taken on the day.

Co-operation between delegates who had attended the pre-Conference fringe meeting at Camden Town Hall was important to deli‎vering the "disciplined approach" rightly noted in the report from the Socialist Party. There was nothing inevitable about the rapid progress through the agenda of the Special Conference - although it was plainly the wish of the majority of delegates.

Conferences in general - and Special Conferences in particular - are not primarily opportunities for public speaking, personal development or political education. A Conference is essentially a forum for decision-making - and that means that it is the decisions that are made that matter.

On Tuesday it was as important as it has been at any Conference that delegates were prepared to get up and move that "the question be now put". This is not "undemocratic" as some delegates believe - it is an essentially democratic step to ask a Conference if it wants to move on and vote, and Conference only does this when a majority are of that view.

The co-operation between delegates from branches with a shared interest in the Conference agenda on Tuesday (regardless of other differences) was a model of what has been missing at UNISON Conferences in recent years.

UNISON members require Conference delegates prepared to make themselves unpopular (and to risk the occasional error of judgement) in order to propose that the Conference moves to next business, so that our decision making body can take the decisions which we are sent to Conference to make.

In the 1990s we understood this - and we need to regain that understanding if we want our Conferences to be effective and meaningful. Lay activists in UNISON have ceded a great deal of the power we ought to have in our Union in recent years.

Tuesday showed what we can achieve at a UNISON Conference when we put ‎our members' interests first.

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Should a Conference overrule a ballot?

Among the questions I've been asked since the decision of Tuesday's Special UNISON Local Government Service Group Conference to submit a pay‎ claim for local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for this year, one worthy of particular consideration concerns the propriety of a Conference taking a decision which appears to over rule a decision taken in a ballot of the membership.

As I'll explain, I believe that there is both a formal and substantive justification for this course of action, and I think that those of us who support the correct decisions of the Special Conference need to familiarise ourselves with both arguments, since not all of those who opposed those decisions will respect them, and the arguments will continue.

The formal argument is straightforward. Our Rule Book says that our Service Group Conference determines our Service Group policies. Consultative ballots of the membership (or any section thereof) don't feature or have any status in our Rules - which were themselves approved by the ballots of the members of the "former partner unions" which agreed to create UNISON, and has since been amended only when agreed by the elected branch delegates (representing our members) at successive annual Conferences.

If there are members of our trade union (with or without votes in branches) who think that member ballots should trump Conference decisions, they have had twenty two years so far in which to propose Rule Amendments to give effect to their wishes. I've not seen them try. They're welcome to do so. 

There was an attempt - in 2009 - to make "sectors" autonomous within Service Groups (so that the National Joint Council - NJC - Committee would not have been directly accountable to the Service Group Conference). This attempt failed - and the decision of the Special Conference to agree amendment A1 showed that Tuesday's delegates had a clearer understanding of UNISON Rules than our national leadership and officials (who wrongly behave as if the NJC Committee had autonomy).

The substantive argument in favour of Conference decisions taking precedence is more important however.

A ballot is a blunt decision-making instrument which can only offer a binary choice and deliver an answer of "yes" or "no".

A ballot question can be framed to influence answers and determine outcomes (a criticism of last autumn's ballot made very clearly by Tuesday's Special Conference).

There are points in time when a simple question needs to be asked and answered ("will you go on strike?") - but our trade unions are founded more upon representative than direct democracy for good reason. We need to trust those we ask to act upon our behalf to come back to us for a decision only when necessary - and with honesty and integrity.

One cannot duck out of the negotiating room every five minutes to take a vote of the members in a dispute about what their negotiators should say next.

It is the responsibility of leadership to exercise judgement and to negotiate to a point at which it becomes necessary to offer the membership an honest binary choice.

Our Local Government Service Group Conference had - over many years - agreed procedures within which such judgement should have been exercised in the case of a pay dispute, and those decisions were ignored when the NJC Committee authorised consultation on proposals which were not a formal offer.

The Committee - or, to be clear, the majority of the Committee were also (as our Special Conference has now agreed) wrong in the way in which they posed the question which our members were asked. It was fundamentally dishonest to have counterposed acceptance of an offer, which left many members worse off than had they accepted the employers' original offer without striking,‎ to the alternative of "all out strike action."

In circumstances in which a sector Committee has posed a misleading question to its members in a consultative ballot, the Service Group Conference has not only the right, but the duty to over rule the outcome of such sham consultation.

Delegates at Tuesday's Special Conference did their duty in a disciplined and effective way, and UNISON has been changed for the better as a result.

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After the Special Local Government Conference decision - who is saying what?

The decisions of UNISON’s Special Local Government Conference (crucially the decision to try to reopen pay negotiations in the National Joint Council (NJC) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland this year) have attracted a range of online comment.
I am indebted to my fellow member of the National Executive Council (NEC) John Gray (a.k.a. the Goblin Cleaver) for drawing attention to a considered commentary at UNISON Anonymous, which shares some of the balance which I tried to express when the NJC Committee first abandoned last year’s pay campaign. A simplistic approach of bashing the national leadership over the conduct of the particular campaign hardly reflects the reality of how our pay campaign came to falter as it did.
However, in the spirit of a blog which appears to have been set up to provide a faux-activist voice for supporters of UNISON’s lackadaisical leadership, UNISON Active arrive only at the conclusion that, whatever legitimate criticism of the misleadership of the pay campaign “we need to avoid a ‘them and us’ agenda at all costs.”
Let’s face it, those who say that “we need to avoid a ‘them and us’ agenda at all costs” usually think that because they realise that they – or those they support - will be thought of as “them”.
There can be little doubt that the extent to which the Communist Party of Britain’s Unity Bulletin at the Special Conference had its finger so far from the pulse (and so distant from the views of the branches who had requisitioned the Conference) reflected the enduring inability of many comrades from that political tradition to accept or comprehend a materialist analysis of the particular role of paid trade union officials in the workers’ movement in capitalist countries.
Comrades from the other side of the “icepick” divide are culpable of an equally one-sided analysis of the role of the “trade union bureaucracy” (as a force in conflict with the interests of the membership) which does little more to assist comprehension of real life trade unionism than the willful ignorance of the Unity Bulletin and UNISON Active.
In an otherwise reasonable review of the Conference, the Socialist Party make the mistake of personifying “the bureaucracy” as if it were a homogenous, subjectively self-conscious agent capable of purposive action, whilst the Socialist Workers Party’s report presents the debate as if it became only about union leadership (providing a mirror image of the equally one dimensional reporting of UNISON Active).
Meanwhile, Workers Liberty, conclude that at the very point at which activists have just shown that we can use our official structures to good effect that is the point at which we should build an unofficial structure (turning the maxim of the Clyde Workers Committee on its head).
The paid officials of trade unions have material interests which are distinct from, but not necessarily in opposition to, the interests of workers who join trade unions. This does not mean that there is a unified “bureaucracy” in any particular trade union – indeed the absence of such in UNISON just now is self-evident.
However, the predominance of the interests of those who favour institutional continuity is equally evident in UNISON over the past few years, and the strategic approach to campaigning and industrial action as a device to “show members that we are on their side” and to recruit more members (and sustain subscription income) is inexplicable from the point of view of those who refuse to accept that paid officials have material interests of their own.
The next steps after Tuesday’s Special Conference are not entirely about building unity, nor entirely about building opposition (though both are necessary). They are about building union organisation and strengthening union democracy. Branches and activists who need not agree on every point (or even most points) have shown that we can work together in a disciplined way to make use of our Conference democracy in the interests of our members.
There is a lot more to be done with this.
I would particularly commend the succinct summary of the outcome of the Conference from the Morning Star (but then I suppose I would...)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

After today - Prioritise Motion 106 to National Delegate Conference

The decisions of today's Special Local Government Conference create a lot of further work. Our Service Group Executive (SGE) and our National Joint Council (NJC) Committee (which is accountable to our Service Group Conference) will both have to act on the decisions we have taken - and so shall we in our branches.

However, the factors that brought us into the hideous glass monstrosity of the QEII Conference Centre were many and varied and there is more for us to do if we are to make our Union fit for the future than simply what we decided today.

The catastrophic failure of the 2014 pay campaign was a manifestation of the inadequacy of our national leadership of our national pay negotiations. Today was an assertion, by lay activists from branches, of our authority and our dissatisfaction at this failure.

This failure arose against the background of the massive decentralisation which has taken place in our Union this century. Our branches have to negotiate more, administer more and deal with far more employers than we did before.

We need to respond to this by providing adequate resourcing to our branches. We know this. Our National Delegate Conference has tiptoed around this question for the past couple of years.

Of course this is controversial. To increase the proportion of our resources which goes to branches feels like a threat to the financial interests of those whose livelihoods depend upon the financial stability of the organisation.

Therefore our officials highlight (not wrongly) the reserves held by some of our branches. ‎The NEC Finance Committee last year tried to come up with a formula to assist branches with the demands we face without reducing resources to the Centre.

For a variety of reasons a majority could not be found on the floor of Conference. Branches having reserves are understandably reluctant to see their funding reduced because of what they may feel has been their past prudence. Others - particularly north of Hadrian's wall - were unwilling to acquiesce in the pragmatic willingness of the NEC to composite with those who seek a shift of resources to branches.

The upshot of last year's stalemate has been the failure of the NEC to put any proposal on branch funding before this year's National Delegate Conference. 

Happily for those who care about our future, the Lambeth branch does have a motion admitted ‎to the Conference agenda which addresses the need to devolve resources to branch level, giving the NEC a clear steer to bring back detailed proposals to achieve this aim.

That motion is Motion 106 and - if it is to be discussed at June's Conference it will need support in the pre-Conference prioritisation process.

Today we began to see what can be achieved when those who put the interests of our lay members first work together. We need to use the ability which we have found that we have to reshape UNISON to face the challenges of the present and the future.

Prioritising Motion 106 may not be "the" next step - but I suggest that it is one of them.

Every branch should be consulted by their Region as part of the prioritisation process. This is a process which has often in the past served the interests of those who ride the Howdah of the Great White Elephant of the Euston Road.

We can turn the prioritisation process to serve the interests of our members - and therefore we should prioritise Motion 106.

(Regular readers of this blog - Sid and Doris Blogger - will be reassured to know that I'll blog other recommendations for prioritisation soon.)

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UNISON Special Conference - reasons to be cheerful

‎Today, delegates at UNISON's Special Local Government Conference took a small but necessary step in the direction of a member-led union which fights for our members.

The headline decision, taken when the Conference voted by 60 per cent to 40 per cent to support Composite C, was to submit a claim for a pay rise this April.

That was controversial because we accepted the appalling two year pay proposals following a consultative ballot in which members had accepted those proposals (because they were told that they were "the best that could be achieved by negotiation" and that the only alternative was "all out strike action.")

We were told that the employers had already intimated that they would refuse to reopen negotiations. We were told that we weren't being "realistic" and that we should stand by the decision taken in the consultative ballot (even though by this point the Conference had already agreed - with the support of the Service Group Executive - motions which were sharply critical of how that had been organised, pointing out that it had been undertaken in breach of our previously agreed procedures).

Conference delegates refused to be swayed by such unconvincing arguments and has now set UNISON on a course to campaign for better pay both now and in the future, rather than only in the future.

This is but a small step, with much work now to do.‎ It is, however, a step in the right direction.

Credit is due to the Manchester branch for initiating the Special Conference, and to every branch who supported the call. Also to every branch who proposed motions for debate, and to lay members of the Standing Orders Committee for facilitating that debate.

Every delegate who spoke - and every delegate who got up to move business along (or was prepared to do so) shares responsibility for this positive development.

Today was a good day for trade unionism and for democracy. We shall need many more such days if we are to reverse the retreat and defeat of the recent past - and there is much hard work ahead.

However, I think we're allowed half an hour to be cheerful just now.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Support Composite C at the Special Local Government Conference

I was very pleased this evening to attend the excellent eve-of-Special-Conference fringe meeting hosted by the Camden branch.

The attendance at the fringe meeting was (in spite of the fact that so many delegates are not yet in London) more than enough to call for a card vote.

But we won't.

Unless and until we must.

We won't waste time.

There was an overwhelming mood to get through Conference business (without stifling debate) in order to ensure that delegates can have their say on the one Composite motion opposed by the Service Group Executive.

It would be a mistake to waste Conference time challenging the foolish decision to take a ninety minute lunch break out of an already foreshortened Conference.

It would be equally unwise to take time to point out that Composite A (the "get the leadership out of jail free" Composite) ought not to be on the agenda because its major component part (Motion 44) was incompetent in the first place.

Such challenges will take up Conference time without any realistic hope of a positive outcome, whereas there is genuine uncertainty about the outcome of substantive debates on policy.

We have little time.

We have much to do.

Comrades with good political points to make must make them briefly.

We are not going to the Special Conference to listen to speeches. We are there to make policy.

I have every confidence in the ability of rank and file activists to make good arguments with brevity and wit.

If we listen to a hundred good speeches but fail to agree Composite C we will have achieved very little.

The audience tomorrow is not the entirety of our membership, it is a small subset of the leading activists in our local government branches.

It is unlikely that the greatest of speeches tomorrow will win new adherents to socialism, or recruits to any organisation.

There is no significant controversy on the order of business ahead of Composite C.

If we debate Composite C delegates must be prepared to call for a card vote.

For, win or lose, we must know who was with us and who opposed having a worthwhile trade union (and a card vote is more likely to produce the result which supporters of Composite C seek).

Delegates must be prepared to move "the question be put" ruthlessly and without consideration for the desire of other delegates to make valid and important points.

And other delegates must reflect upon why they were sent to London tomorrow - and support such moves.

We are a trade union, not a debating society.

We need to show the same discipline on Conference floor tomorrow that we would hope for on a picket line.

And we must ensure that every UNISON member in local government can know how their delegates voted on the key question of whether we seek to resist the capitulation on local government pay.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Composite A - lets have a "unified and positive climate" and pretend our leaders didn't totally screw up our pay dispute?

UNISON’s Special Local Government Conference is now just two days away. It’s only the second time in UNISON’s history that a Special Conference has arisen from a branch requisition.
This occurred because the gross mismanagement  of the 2014 NJC pay dispute led us into the most catastrophic defeat in the history of national industrial relations in local government.
You might think that the UNISON leadership would approach this Conference with some common sense and humility.
But it would appear that would be to overestimate both the intellect and character of those concerned.
The cynical manipulation which led to the sham consultation exercise which achieved the predetermined outcome of “reluctant acceptance” of a further decline in living standards now provides the cover for those with an interest in trying to ensure that there is no proper accounting for the inadequacy of our national leadership.
The incompetent author of Motion 44 has been rescued by the compositing of that motion into what is now Composite A, which remains a wordy and poorly drafted failure to account for the inadequacy of the leadership of our last pay disaster, and an unconvincing shopping list of hopes and wishes for the future.
The authors of the fiasco which led us to this Special Conference have the cheek to say that the Conference should create a “unified and positive climate” for the next pay campaign. Under our current leadership we can have a “unified climate” or we can have a “positive climate” for winning higher pay. To have both is simply impossible.
The Salford and Manchester branches deserve credit for trying to enforce a little honesty upon the disingenuous Composite A, making the simple point that the conduct of the consultation exercise breached existing Conference policy (and correcting the falsehood that sectors have autonomy from Service Group Conference).
Even with the sensible amendment though, Composite A remains a pitiable attempt at distraction and self-justification from a leadership which, lacking self-respect deserves no respect from any other quarter.
We will never raise the density of our membership, nor increase the likelihood that we can take effective action until we are led by those who deserve and inspire confidence and respect – and we shall not have such leadership until we, at a rank and file level, can build the organisation necessary to achieve this.
Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will realise that I am not full of admiration for the majority of the National Joint Council (NJC) Committee, nor for the majority on the Service Group Executive (SGE) who have supported their approach. I am not. Indeed, I think that these Committees are acting in breach of UNISON Rules by their failure to promote our members’ interests.
However – as a long standing member of our National Executive Council (NEC) I recognise a truth often concealed within our Union – which is that all the supposedly autonomous parts of our Union are mutually interdependent, and that the failures of one sector or service group depend upon the conduct of the wider union. 
It is the NEC – and those who guide it from the Great White Elephant of the Euston Road – who have set the tone within our trade union over recent years. Since the last General Election we have led only occasional, cautious and tentative opposition to the incessant attacks upon our members, retreating on each occasion as soon as we could claim some concessions (regardless of whether such claims were convincing).
UNISON’s conduct has been the conduct of an organisation led by people who know that they must make a show of opposition but are fearful to provoke an adversary they perceive as more powerful. It has also been the conduct of an organisation led by people for whom the continuity and financial stability of the organisation itself is the most important consideration.

Composite A on Tuesday’s agenda is a shameful piece of work, but the shame is not only that of the sector Committee, Region and branch prepared to put their names to it. If we want a different outcome from future pay disputes we need a change of approach – and a change of leadership which goes beyond the Local Government Service Group.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The decline and fall of our annual Service Group Conference?

‎I note with regret that there are fewer motions on the Preliminary Agenda for our two day Local Government Service Group Conference in June than have been submitted to be discussed in four hours of Conference time next Tuesday.

The 42 motions on the agenda (a number which at least suggests that someone has the answer) include 11 from Regions, 8 from the Service Group Executive, 8 from National Self-Organised Groups, 6 from National Sector Committees and just 9 from 7 of our hundreds of local government branches. 

I admit my share of the blame as a branch activist for having focused on the Special Conference as far as the Service Group is concerned and therefore omitting to propose any motions to June's Local Government Conference (although in mitigation I will say that Lambeth branch has made several helpful contributions to the agenda for this year's National Delegate Conference‎, for all of which I am sure we can expect the eager and grateful support of the National Executive Council...)

It may well be that, in the same way that the gravitational pull of Jupiter prevented the formation of a planet in the asteroid belt, the proximity of the Special Conference has pulled concern away from the Annual Service Group Conference - but I think this has just exaggerated and exacerbated an underlying tendency.

The pressure on branch activists from redundancies, outsourcing and attacks on conditions of service, in the context of attacks on facility time, make it harder to devote time to the relative luxury of national policy making.

At the same time, when the tragically inept leadership of our most important pay dispute illustrates so clearly that, under its current leadership, our national Union can only be at best an irrelevance to the ‎pay and conditions of our members in local government, it seems almost insane to devote time to making policies to be implemented by the ineffectual phantoms haunting the Great White Elephant of the Euston Road.

It is sad but true that, as an experienced Branch Secretary, I expect nothing from the official structures of our Service Group beyond the branch other than the administration of individual casework - and my expectation is not disappointed.

Having said all of that, it's time for self-criticism (and criticism of friends and comrades - some of whom may even read this blog).

If we do not use the democratic structures of our own Union we will lose them - and find ourselves in an even worse state than we are now. 

We can start by writing strengthening amendments to the various worthy but wishy washy items on the Preliminary Agenda for June's Local Government Conference - and sharpening our pencils to write the Emergency Motions we know we'll need on May 8th.

It's up to rank and file democrats in UNISON to save the democracy of the largest Union in the largest organised workforce in the UK economy.

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Trade Unions and the law - as in UNITE so in UNISON?

Len McCluskey is right that unions must be able to fight for workers even if it means breaking bad laws - see his article in the Guardian reporting an important decision of UNITE's Executive;

The General Secretary of our sister union, UNITE, makes a compelling normative case for the moral and political right of trade unionists - and trade unions - to defy unjust laws, a debate which will become far more pressing if May does not bring us the change of Government we need.

There is an equally compelling objective case to be made by observing our own history as well as contemporary comparisons across the globe. 

Wherever - and whenever - employers exploit workers, workers will try to organise and our organisations will be trade unions. Our movement can be restrained, submerged, outlawed or neutralised through incorporation but none of these tactics on the part of our adversaries can extinguish the organisation of working people.

McCluskey ‎correctly foresees that, if legal restrictions so inhibit our ability to organise as effectively to neutralise our ability to organise and protect our people, we will reach a point at which genuine trade unions - and genuine trade unionists - will have to put the organisation of workers above compliance with unjust laws.

This is a truly frightening prospect, one which threatens the jobs and livelihoods of activists and staff, the financial security and legal standing of our trade unions and the stability of employee relations (such as there is) in organised sectors of the economy. It's not shameful if individuals feel the weight of their mortgages, debts and domestic responsibilities when considering whether they want to be latter day Tolpuddle martyrs.

However, this is a perfectly possible future - and one which might not be far away.

Could we even have this debate in UNISON?

I'm afraid not.

Conference motions raising even a hint of non-compliance with the law are routinely ruled out of order by the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) on the grounds that they could bring the Union into "legal jeopardy."

This year Lambeth branch proposed some modest amendments to the Rules governing the conduct of SOC at Conference - with the intention of clarifying only that the role of SOC should be to give effect to the will of Conference within the Rules.

Even this timid proposal has been ruled out however - because it could bring the Union into (you guessed) "legal jeopardy". SOC point out that they sometimes refuse to listen to our Conference when it "refers back" their reports (because of the risk of such jeopardy) and that - unless they continue to have a free hand to disregard the will of Conference on legal advice we will find "legal jeopardy" all over the place.

So in UNISON, the SOC stands above our National Delegate Conference - and above the SOC stands respect for the law. Any law.

As an aside, this is an interesting example of how apparently democratic lay structures can come to serve the distinct interests of those for whom the institutional survival and financial stability of the trade union is more important than its effectiveness in promoting and protecting the interests of its members.

What can be done? Nothing, I fear, through the lay structures of UNISON as long as a majority continue to acquiesce in the approach of the current leadership. ‎Next year I'll suggest we propose an amendment to Rule B.4.5 to mirror the rule amendment being recommended by UNITE's Executive (see McCluskey's article above).

I think I can guess what the SOC will do with that (two words, the first meaning "of, or pertaining to the law" and the second referring to a state of danger). 

Just as it has taken UNITE's Executive to recommend the necessary change to their Rules so, in UNISON, it would take the National Executive Council (NEC) to propose this for it to stand a chance.

Whilst that is a good argument for voting for candidates on the "Reclaim the Union" slate in the forthcoming elections to UNISON's NEC‎, it also suggests that UNISON needs a General Secretary prepared to lead from the front and signal that the interests of our members take precedence over the interests of their organisation - and certainly over unjust laws.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Trade unions can still improve conditions for working people - the case of shared parental leave

I blog enough about how bad things are working in the public sector (and local government in particular) and also have enough to say criticising what I perceive as the shortcomings of my own trade union.
I think it is worth saying that not everything is bad, and that effective trade union organisation can still be the foundation for the negotiation of improvements to the conditions of service of our members.
In a few weeks shared parental leave will come into force. This progressive new statutory provision enables the sharing of maternity (or adoption) leave and pay between two partners – but the statutory provision only provides for a fairly minimal rate of pay.
Given that this statutory pay rate is well below the (better) contractual rates of maternity pay available to many UNISON members, if employers do not improve upon the statutory minimum rate of pay for shared parental leave take-up will be minimal.
This would rather defeat the purpose of bringing this new leave provision into force.
That may be why even this Government announced their intention to pay shared parental leave at the same rate as equivalent maternity leave. UNISON branches need to demand at least the same from all our employers. We must not allow the climate of austerity and the constant cutbacks and redundancies to inhibit us from fighting for better conditions, particularly where these promote equality.
Today I signed, on behalf of the joint trade unions for my employer, an agreement which gives equivalent rates of pay for shared parental leave to the rates of maternity pay (under a local agreement which is as good as the best in local government).
It is not all bad.

When is a motion also a Number Two?

There is, I suppose, a sense in which a “motion” which is “number two” in order of prioritisation may be considered to the same thing twice.
An unkind person (unlike your blogger) might make this observation about Motion 44 on the agenda for UNISON’s Special Local Government Conference (titled “NJC Pay Campaign 2016” and proposed by the National Joint Council (NJC) Committee).
It’s not so much that this motion is a risible attempt to look away from the whole purpose of the Special Conference (made on behalf of the very lay body, the majority of whose inability to show the leadership they were elected for, has led us to the Conference itself).
It is, of course, pitiable, that the body, the majority of whom were accountable (if not responsible) for the catastrophic misleadership of the 2014 pay campaign, should put – to the Conference convened to address their failings – a motion dealing only with the 2016 campaign.
It is, also, embarrassing to find oneself in a trade union in which an important national Committee think it appropriate to put a motion to Conference which does nothing other than report on things which they have done since they comprehensively sabotaged our last pay campaign.
But, as I say, it is not so much these reprehensible features of a deplorable motion submitted by the apparently shameless to which I wish to draw your attention.
No, I fear I must voice some criticism of the work of a generally fine Committee of which I was once a member, the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) for our Local Government Conference.  I struggle to understand why the SOC admitted to our Conference agenda a motion written with such incompetence as would embarrass a first time drafter of a Conference motion.
If there were a simple course on how to write a UNISON Conference motion it would include the guidance that a motion for Conference should state what it is that “Conference notes”, what it is that “Conference believes” and what it is that “Conference resolves.” The author of Motion 44 missed that.
The motion starts by telling Conference what the NJC Committee believes should be the outcome of the Conference. Fascinating (or not). But also irrelevant and incompetent.
It then tells us four things that the NJC Committee notes (and another that it “further notes”) before informing the reader of two things which the NJC Committee agreed last November (one of which was a paper, about which the motion tells us no less than nine things).
The motion then “further notes” two pieces of information about another meeting of that Committee in January before telling us that the NJC Committee calls upon the Service Group Executive to do four things.
All of this is interesting (at least to the readership of this blog even if not to the wider membership) but not a word of Motion 44 amounts to a competent motion to our Special Local Government Conference.
No wonder we are rubbish at negotiating with employers if those to whom we entrust this task are incapable of writing a proper motion to our own Conference – but why on earth did the SOC admit to the agenda a motion drafted at the Great White Elephant when, had a branch submitted such poorly drafted drivel it would have been ruled out of order?
Were Conference delegates to endorse Motion 44 (or any Composite including that Motion which did not substantially alter and advise its contents) we would be announcing that UNISON at a national level is no longer to be taken seriously by the employers, or by our members, in local government.
As to whether someone should force the SOC to justify their pusillanimous decision to admit the – plainly incompetent – Motion 44 on to our Conference agenda, I fear that all we would achieve by rubbing their noses in this particular “motion” would be to take up time we could better use debating serious motions with sensible proposals.
Finally, a special note for some enthusiastic readers at national and Regional level. The criticisms of the NJC Committee and the SOC in this blog post, and other criticisms of UNISON officials and Committees in relation to the Special Conference (and for that matter, other Conferences) are all allegations that those criticised have breached UNISON Rules (Rule B.1.4 and Rule B.2.2 for example).

Dave - Don't Duck Debate!

‎Among the many things I rather admire about Ed Miliband is his pursuit of David Cameron over the latter's refusal to face a fair, public debate in the General Election campaign.

It's clear that an incumbent is always likely to resist such a debate (unless they consider themselves an underdog) but it shows a pretty shameful attitude towards democracy and a shabby disrespect for the electorate to resist a debate.

And this is true in other elections also. 

One of the motions on the Preliminary Agenda for UNISON National Delegate Conference is Motion 115 from the Lambeth Branch (yes, I declare an interest, my branch sometimes pays my tube fare and Conference expenses).

Motion 115 expresses support for Regionally organised hustings in the forthcoming election for General Secretary of UNISON - and suggests that these could be broadcast online so that members can see for whom they are being asked to vote.

As diligent readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) will be aware, this blog has a position of "armed neutrality" at this stage in the run up to the General Secretary election and - on the only occasion when your blogger had the opportunity to question would-be candidates - I did my level best to be equally rude to all of them.

The point about hustings - and making them accessible to members - is that anyone who aspires to be our General Secretary should be prepared to test themselves in front of our members. 

My fellow members of our National Executive Council (NEC) will have to take a policy position on Motion 115. Will we support elementary democratic practice (as advocated by Ed Miliband)? Or will we take the line of Dave who wants to duck debate?

The answer to that question will show whether our NEC‎ has confidence in the ability of candidates who may emerge to contest the position of our principal officer to present themselves well in debate (much as they would have to if - as we surely expect of our General Secretary - they have to appear on "Question Time" or generally in the media).

I await that answer with interest.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Save the White Elephant!

‎UNISON is a proudly progressive organisation and, though animal welfare is rarely a key priority compared to job security or public services, it's good to know that protection for endangered species is a core value for important decision making bodies within our Union.

The Standing Orders Committee for June's National Delegate Conference have ruled out of order a request from the Lambeth branch that our National Executive Council (NEC) undertake an options appraisal of our accommodation needs, noting that this should include consideration of moving from, or making better use of, the plush and partially empty "UNISON Centre" (a.k.a. "The Great White Elephant of the Euston Road").

The SOC fear that this motion may breach Rule D.2.10, which - on their current reading - reserves to the NEC all responsibility for the terms and conditions of staff. 

This is, of course, such fanciful reasoning as to be absurd, suggesting as it does that our Conference - the "supreme Government" of our lay led Union - ought not to consider the scandalous waste of our money on empty space in Central London because we don't want to upset those who work there.

Clearly that can't be the real reason for the SOC decision.

The truth must be that they want to save an endangered species - White Elephants of such impressive majesty are increasingly rare and many believe that they must be protected at all costs!

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UNISON Special Conference - Out to lunch?

Delegates to UNISON's Special Local Government Conference next Tuesday have now received the Final Agenda (about which I shall blog further shortly).

As you might expect, the timetable for the day is set out in the documents. The Conference will open at 11am and close at 4.30pm. The late start time is clearly intended to enable branches within three hours travel time from London to avoid the expense of overnight accommodation if they wish - and the early finish is equally intended to enable all those apart from the furthest flung to return home the same day.

The limits to Conference time set by these constraints are entirely comprehensible.

What is a little difficult to swallow is the fact that, within the five and a half hours of Conference time, it is proposed to have a ninety minute lunch break (from 12.30pm until 2pm). (Actually I suppose that with so long to chew our food we could swallow anything) (which may be the point?)

Many of our members work for five and a half hours without taking a break - but we shall expect ourselves to spend more than a quarter of our time lunching! Even though it is only those motions which attracted some support in the pre-Conference prioritisation process which can be debated there are still more motions for debate than we are likely to be able to deal with in four hours of Conference time.

Doubtless many of our activists who are used to often working through lunch will consider challenging this aspect of the Conference timetable when the timetable is put to delegates to be ratified - but that is probably ill-advised. 

The time taken up on challenges to the Standing Orders Committee, by their reconsideration and subsequent report back would all simply serve to reduce the paltry four hours of debating time available to address the most catastrophic national pay dispute in local government history.

‎The absurd and unjustifiable decision to write such an unnecessarily long lunch break into the timetable for our Special Conference is, let's face it pretty small beer compared to the conduct of the pay dispute by our national officials.

Or perhaps several large beers...?

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

UNISON calls strike ballot at Barnet Council

I can do no better than reproduce the press release of the Barnet branch;
UNISON, one of the UK's largest trade unions, serving more than 1.3 million members, wrote to Barnet Council on11 March 2015 notifying them of our intention to conduct a strike ballot of the Council workforce. This ballot is a direct response to the five commissioning projects agreed at the 3 March 2105 Full Council which would mean outsourcing of the majority of the workforce.
The Ballot opens 18th March and closes 8th April.
At the infamous Full Council meeting on 3 March 2015, the Conservative Administration voted through the decision to explore other options for directly delivering council services. The services involved are as follows:
·         Libraries
·         Adults & Communities
·         Children’s Centres
·         Street Scene services
·         Education & Skills and School Meals
UNISON estimates that this will mean upwards of 80% of the workforce are likely to be working for a different employer. According to a recent Barnet Council committee report there are only 1,466 directly employed permanent staff.
It is important to note that the in-house service option for eleven out of twelve outsourcing projects have beenrejected by Barnet Council over the last three years. UNISON has, over the last six years, tried to engage with Barnet Council over the future delivery of council services without success. In-house services, whilst previously being high performing and low cost, have meant nothing.
Barnet Council abandoned its role of directly delivering services when it adopted the mass outsourcing EasyCouncil One Barnet Programme back in November 2010.
We now have first-hand experience of what happens following outsourcing and even councillors of all parties areopenly critical of some the services they are receiving from Capita.
The shocking Care Quality Commission (CQC) report on Your Choice Barnet is more evidence of what happens when terms & conditions are cut and are not taken seriously. It is clear from the report that service users were put at risk as a consequence of YCB’s attempts to deliver the seriously flawed One Barnet Business Case.
In committee meeting after committee meeting the public has had to listen to talk of difficult decisions, yet the real difficult decision would be to reject the austerity budget process and refuse to cut and outsource services. Elected members were elected to serve their communities and not impose policies that will see even greater inequalities.
Contrary to the spin that outsourcing protects frontline services and guarantees savings, what all the evidenceclearly documents is that the taxpayer ultimately ends up paying the extra costs whilst service quality deteriorates.
Austerity is driving the outsourcing agenda not just in Barnet but across the UK and Europe. Whilst other councils are also considering mass outsourcing Barnet is racing ahead and appears to be in a race with Northampton &Bromley Councils which are also doing the same.
UNISON Branch Secretary John Burgess said:
“Barnet Council staff are an incredible, resourceful & understanding workforce, who have been subjected to unacceptable levels of change and stress. The adoption of the five commissioning outsourcing projects makes it very clear to all staff that the Council is not interested in retaining in-house services. This is an ideological assault on public services and our branch is drawing a line in the sand by declaring this ballot. Austerity politics is driving an anti-in-house services agenda which we reject and are asking our members to reject.”

Saturday, March 07, 2015

UNISON NEC elections - vote for me?

‎Like many blog posts on this blog over the next few weeks this is one which has not been posted with any UNISON resources.

Voting in the elections for UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) opens on 7 April, but, the nomination period having drawn to a close, I can report that I am a candidate for election (to the male seat to represent the Greater London Region).

Sixteen branches have had their nominations for me to be a candidate accepted (and two have had their nominations rejected).

I'll be writing to the branches directly but shall now thank the Barnet, Camden, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Southwark and Tower Hamlets local government branches, the Community and Voluntary Organisations branch, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority branch, the Homerton Hospital branch and the branches at London Metropolitan University, the School of Oriental and African studies (SOAS) and the University of Westminster.

‎I'm standing for (re-)election to our NEC because I want UNISON to be a vibrant, combative and effective trade union which fights for the interests of our members.

As ever, I face an opponent with enthusiastic support from the control freak faction at Great Russell Street‎, who believes in "partnership" with employers and the disciplined support of lay activists for paid officials of the trade union.

I have fought six previous elections against candidates of the Regional Office, and have always only narrowly scraped to victory. 

My opponents have had the sponsorship of an entire element of the union's bureaucracy and I have had only the enthusiasm of genuine activists.

Once more we shall see whether the unimaginative careerist elements (who generally dominate all the large trade unions) can extinguish troublesome democrats (in the Greater London male seat and elsewhere).

They may succeed of course and - if they do - they'll probably sustain trade unionism in this country for just long enough to ensure that future membership subscriptions pay their own pensions.

My justification for seeking to remain on our NEC is primarily that I am good at making powerful people feel uncomfortable (which is surely what we all want from every shop steward). Years ago I challenged the waste of a million pounds on Care Connect Learing. More recently I pursued the squandering of another million pounds on the risible "Three Companies Project". I make a nuisance of myself to those who misuse power and disadvantage working people - whether they are in management or in the trade union. 

There is always the option to vote for an alternative who will do as they are told.

Workers in the UK - and across the world - need much better from our trade unions. Like so many other lay activists, I give my time to try to make our movement into what it could be. Much of what holds us back comes from within our own movement, particularly from this whose vested interest is in the financial viability of the institutions of the movement more than in the efficacy of those institutions in promoting our members' interests.

UNISON members face a clear choice in the election for the Greater London male seat between an irritating, arrogant critic of indolent authoritarianism and a stooge of the Regional Office.

I'll respect that choice.

Read more here later.

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Spring cleaning

Apologies to those readers who noticed I had taken the blog offline for a couple of days.

I am trying to springclean the blog, which I hope to make a better and more effective vehicle with which to organise, comment, offend and outrage (as appropriate). A lot of old posts have disappeared temporarily whilst I check through previous content.

This is my personal blog and all content expresses only my own opinions as a rank and file labour movement activist.