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, June 30, 2016

Wings clipped?

So the Eagle has not yet landed.

There is still - one week after the referendum which provides the ostensible justification for the rebellion of the arrogant and entitled - no declared candidate to stand against Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party.

The plotters - none of whom have the principle or character to have sustained even a fraction of the pressure they have tried to place on Corbyn‎ - cannot really still hope that he will capitulate to their bullying.

They may hope that events (such as the Chief Rabbi's intemperate response to misinterpreted remarks this afternoon) will somehow force Corbyn out. They may think that the observation that there are many vacancies on Labour's front bench may somehow compel a "Jexit" (but then, as Lenin remarked, though not of a shadow cabinet, this may be a case of "better fewer but better.")

The truth is that the anti-Corbyn forces do not yet have a declared candidate because they do not have a worthy candidate. They cannot seriously expect Party members, just as the Chilcot report reminds us of the greatest crime ever committed by our Party in office, to elect to the leadership a supporter of the Iraq war.

The focus of the trade unions must now be upon maximising the participation of our members in a leadership election we did not seek - and Corbyn supporters in each union must be vigilant and vigorous in reminding our colleagues of both our members' support for Jeremy Corbyn and his for them.

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Downing Street Cat demands Corbyn resignation?

Yesterday Progress-supporting local Councillors began scraping the bottom of their own barrel by cobbling together a list of elected representatives prepared to call for the 'decent' Jeremy Corbyn to stand down 'for the good of the Party.'

This list will be published to much fanfare, as will accompany every other stone the right-wing and the establishment can find to throw at the leader who was the overwhelmingly popular choice of Labour Party members and supporters just a few short months ago.

‎After the list of Labour Councillors what next? Labour Lords perhaps? Former EU commissioners with a Labour connection? The pets of Labour Parliamentarians?

We have a Rule Book. It sets out how a challenger (but clearly not an incumbent) needs to round up sufficient nominations from Members of Parliament (or of the European Parliament) to force a vote according to a procedure endorsed very recently.

Corbyn will not resign. Now we have to make sure that he is re-elected. In UNISON our position will be determined by our Labour Link structures (because those are our rules). Last year the decision making process was informed by member consultation which showed‎ decisive support for Corbyn.

Ultimately however, the votes of each Party member, affiliated and registered supporter (each with equal weight) are a matter for the individual.

So - if you want to support Jeremy Corbyn the best thing to do is to join the Party right now (and the second best is to become an affiliated or registered supporter).

Anyone who stands on the sidelines now is ducking the biggest political issue confronting our movement at this moment and - objectively - are siding with the Downing Street Cat (who, your blogger can exclusively reveal, ‎has joined his owner in calling for Corbyn to go - it sounded like a miaow but for the BBC Laura Kuesenberg knew what it meant apparently).

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

On leadership, ambition and democracy

I am pleased to blog a link to a persuasive interpretation of Labour Party Rules which e‎xplains why the coup plotters can only keep Corbyn off a leadership ballot paper if they can rely upon a member of the judiciary who will provide a - shall we say - unusual approach to the interpretation of such Rules.

(Of course I concede the possibility that a shoddy political operation in the interests of the ruling class might be smiled upon by a judge prepared to put class interest before honest judgment - but such an adverse outcome is far from certain) (it's called "relative autonomy" if anyone's taking notes).

The Labour Party Rule Book plainly imposes no express requirement upon an incumbent leader facing a challenge to secure any nominations at all.

And this is why Jeremy Corbyn should hold on and let the members - not the Parliamentarians - decide the leadership of our Party.

I want to say something very important about why I support Jeremy Corbyn.

I support him as Leader precisely because he never imagined himself in this position.

I support him because he did not have that ambition.

In a lifetime of political activity in the labour and trade union movement I have often encountered ambition.

And, over many years, I learned to forget the contempt for ambition which should be the default position of any true socialist.

I have made the mistake, in the past, of admiring ambition and promoting and encouraging "comrades" who exhibited it.

I was profoundly wrong.

The petty ambition of the individual ego (whether on left, right or centre) is the antithesis of the ambition for humanity expressed by true leaders.

Those motivated by ambition are neither to be trusted or admired and those who seek to promote themselves should always be mistrusted.

I now see the character flaws, which I have sometimes failed to perceive in the past, exhibited very plainly in those seeking to depose Corbyn.

(Which is not to say that some others with the same flaws may not flutter around him, drawn like moths to light - and clinging to him regardless of any harm they may cause him).

The careerists of Parliament pretend that their opposition to Corbyn (which is really an opposition to the mass membership which supports him) is for the good of the Party.

It is not.

It is for their own self promotion.

‎The time is now for those of us who believe in both socialism and democracy to defend Jeremy Corbyn.

From a UNISON perspective, from a lay-led union, our support for Jeremy Corbyn was determined by extensive consultation with our members.

Our Labour Link Conference is the only body with the constitutional authority to change our collective mind on this question - and I think that delegates will reflect upon the fact that, in the absence of equally extensive consultation, there is no sound basis for any such change of mind.

As we must defend the democracy of our Party so we must defend the democracy of our trade unions.

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Stand firm in support of Jeremy Corbyn

One of my favourite scenes in the Simpsons is where Homer corrects Bart when his son says that this is the worst day of his life.

Homer, meaning to cheer Bart up, corrects him cheerfully - "the worst day of your life so far."

I imagine today's Daily Mirror headline (whilst entirely predictable) must feel like that for Jeremy Corbyn.

The Blairite plotters have achieved some of the wider reach they must have hoped for as the group think of the Parliamentary Labour Party has spooked even some of the so-called "soft left".

The Blairites hope that they are close to forcing Corbyn from office and ensuring that the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition does not use the occasion of the Chilcot report to hold Blair to account.

Jeremy has to stand firm. No matter how many Members of Parliament, Leader-writers and members of the commentariat gather to ladle faint praise upon him in disingenuous would-be political obituaries.

We have to prepare for a storm of outrage from the ruling class and their allies in our movement if a majority of Labour Members of Parliament vote "no confidence" in him and - as he must - he stands firm and stays in office.

The Party elected him and only the Party, the whole Party, should ever replace him. Those of us supporting him likewise must not blink.

We could, however, support him more effectively. Those (who choose afresh each day to abstain from supporting Corbyn where it matters in the Labour Party) waving Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party placards in Parliament Square, pretending that they amounted to more than a small fraction of the thousands present, handed ammunition to the Blairites.

‎Those who respond with unnecessary insults or vitriol to Corbyn's critics ignore the sensible advice of the man himself, and those who think it appropriate to address a mass rally with swear words confuse political struggle with a drunken argument.

We many thousands expect that one man should keep his cool and stand firm under almost intolerable pressure from an angry and frightened political establishment. The least we can do is show the same calm determination.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Dave Prentis speaks out in support of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership as thousands rally in London

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, in a well-timed intervention, has reaffirmed UNISON support for the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

As members of the Parliamentary Labour Party gathered at Westminster for their meeting they could be in no doubt that there is no support of any consequence within the trade unions for the coup plotters.

With the Tory Party leaderless and rudderless (the Remainers having no plan B and the Brexiteers no obvious plan A) the Labour Parliamentarians who are attempting a putsch give relief only to our adversaries.

Plainly this attempted coup was some time in the planning and the timing is as much to do with Chilcot as it is with Brexit - but crucially it is an opportunist ‎(if ham-fisted) attempt to both manufacture and then capitalise upon a crisis (knowing that the media can be relied upon to fan the flames). In this way the resignation crisis repeats on a grander scale the equally confected anti-semitism crisis of recent months.

A coterie ‎of the self-righteously entitled, viewing the world outside from within their Westminster bubble and believing (against all evidence) in their own importance, are trying to put pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to resign, knowing that unless he buckles to such pressure they cannot regain their former dominance of our movement.

Thousands‎ of protesters in Parliament Square this evening may prick their bubble or we may not, but the solid support of the trade unions, as well as the majority of Party members, for our Party's elected Leader should (but probably will not) give the plotters pause for thought.

Tomorrow the brave little soldiers of the PLP will courageously have a secret ballot in the hope that they can undermine our Leader without having to put their names to their deeds.

Jeremy Corbyn will be right to ignore this arrogance whatever the result - and Party members and trade unionists alike will be right to support him in so doing.
Now more than ever we need an anti-austerity, anti-racist and anti-establishment Leader for Labour.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Defend Corbyn

I guess it is up to the relatively inexperienced team around the Labour Leader whether he can show the determination to defend socialism which can only now be shown by demanding a confidence vote of the whole membership.

If, dear reader, you are a Labour Party member then you must support Jeremy Corbyn (unless you are pond slime). You must contact your Labour MP (if you have one) and sit on their throat until they pledge unequivocal support for the Leader elected by an overwhelming majority of the membership.

And if you are not a Labour Party member then - if you consider yourself to be a socialist - now is the time for you to join to support Corbyn. 

It is quite simply impossible effectively to support Jeremy Corbyn if your membership of the Socialist Workers Party, or the Socialist Party of England and Wales, or the Communist Party of Britain (or any other tiny sect) stands in the way of your application for Labour Party membership.

‎Right now the only important matter for socialists is to defend Corbyn. Without that we don't need to argue who was right about the EU.  We don't need to argue about anything else.

This country is in the throes of an upsurge of the racist politics of the xenophobic right (who have triumphed in the refrendum) ‎and the ONLY small hope we have is that, for the first time in decades, the Labour Party is led by someone who really believes in Labour values.

We must defend Corbyn.

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Confidence in Labour's Leader - Who should decide?

We just had a referendum in which every adult had a vote.

Some people think that the result was a tragedy.

I am one of those people.

Some people think that the leader of the Labour Party is responsible for this tragedy (although they have no evidence).

I am not one of those people.

Now two of those people (who happen to be Members of Parliament) have tried to undermine Labour's Leader.

They've done this although they have no alternative candidate. No would-be alternative leader has the courage to stick their head above the parapet (which means none of them could do a good job as a leader).

They've done this in order to prompt a secret ballot of the Parliamentary Labour Party (although this cannot constitutionally lead to an election). Our anti-Corbyn MPs want to ensure that critics can try to undermine our leader from behind the shield of confidentiality. They want to undermine our leader and our Party even though they have no alternative.

If anyone thinks that now is a good time for Labour to consider who should lead us then surely the vote of confidence should be put to the whole membership, not just the tiny fraction of the membership who sit in the House of Commons?

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Trade unions must defend Corbyn

It is no accident that Blairite MPs have chosen the house journal of the ruling class to seize the opportunity provided by the referendum result to try to destabilise the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Agents of that class within our movement are blaming Corbyn for Brexit and proposing a leadership challenge.‎ 

It is an absurd proposition that Corbyn's honest and balanced making of the case for remain was the reason why many Labour voters (in England outside London) did not take the Party's advice to vote remain.

Labour supporters and working class people who voted to leave the European Union had been alienated from our Party over a period of years - and for most of those years it was the Blairite politics of pusillanimous triangulation which dominated our Party and drained all commitment to and enthusiasm for our Party from large parts of our electoral base.

Now the shameful capitulation to reaction known as "Blue Labour" is heard in calls for Corbyn to take a stand against immigration - to respond to the electoral challenge of UKIP by aping its politics and appeasing prejudice.

Labour's response to the anti-immigration sentiment which plainly formed part of the leave vote in (some of) our heartlands must be to answer the misconceptions upon which it is founded, not to echo and reflect reactionary views.

The time is now for all socialists and trade unionists to stand in support of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party - and in support of anti-racist anti-austerity socialist politics.

Some of us at UNISON Conference are not able to speak - but I have been pleased to hear how well received expressions of support for Corbyn have been this morning, reflecting the rapturous reception for our Leader on Wednesday.

UNISON's response to the Referendum result - resist racism - defend Corbyn

Below I reproduce the statement issued promptly by UNISON in response to the result of the EU referendum (which is an all but unmitigated disaster for the working class).

Dave Prentis has elaborated upon this statement in addressing UNISON National Delegate Conference this morning, acknowledging that the referendum result was not what UNISON had campaigned for and that many of our members will have voted to leave.

Living and working in areas which returned large majorities for remain your blogger need not be constrained to be polite about those who voted (and particularly not those who campaigned) to give Farage the best day of his life.

Those who voted to leave voted against the interests of our members and our class, and we have awoken this morning in a country in which the forces of reaction are encouraged and empowered and in which we now know that racism and intolerance will rise.

Nevertheless it is obvious that our trade union must be more measured than an angry and obscure leftist blogger - however there are a couple of points missing from a statement with none of the content of which I disagree‎.

First, given that - although by no means did every leave voter cast their vote out of bigotry‎ - this referendum result is a victory most of all for the racist right, we must affirm our opposition to racism alongside our opposition to austerity and with equal prominence. 

Dave Prentis did make this point in speaking to the statement at Conference this morning - observing that many members who are migrants would be frightened this morning and affirming that UNISON's message was that migrant workers are welcome in our trade union and in our country.

In standing alongside our black members - and migrant workers - UNISON has to be prepared to engage forcefully with prejudice wherever it is expressed (including within our own ranks).‎ Immigration does not cause the economic and social problems for which it is blamed - and we must educate our activists and members to take issue with such misconceptions wherever and whenever they are expressed.

Secondly, in circumstances in which the Labour right-wing (who themselves created the distance between our Party and our class, some of the consequences of which we witnessed yesterday) may mount an attack upon our Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, we must reaffirm our support for the Leader, expressed at our Conference on Wednesday.‎ 

The firm support which Dave Prentis pledged for Jeremy Corbyn earlier this week - when he reminded our Conference that he had ‎campaigned for Jeremy in the leadership campaign - will need to be repeated and reiterated in the coming days.

Dave Prentis reaffirmed that UNISON would fight in defence of public services - this will need the rejuvenation of our trade union (of which more later) but it will also depend upon our anti-austerity Labour Leader behind whom UNISON - and the entire trade union movement - must stand.






Dear Colleague


Please find below Press Release issued today – UNISON on the vote to leave



Friday 24 June 2016

For immediate release


UNISON on the vote to leave the EU


Commenting on the news that the UK has voted to leave the EU, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:


"The people have spoken, and they have made a clear call for change – and a different relationship with Europe.


"We will be working in the coming weeks and months to hold the leave campaigners to the promises they've made – that there will be more money for the NHS, and that our rights at work will remain intact.


"But this also has to be a time for our country to heal. At its best the campaign has enabled genuine debate and discussion in our homes, workplaces and communities about the future of the economy and the kind of country we want to live in. 


"At its worst, the campaign has been typified by hatred, vitriol and misinformation that have done a huge disservice to our democracy and values.    


"Over the coming weeks and months, all political leaders must think about how to address the issues that people in our communities care most about – falling incomes, insecure jobs, unaffordable housing and the huge challenges facing our public services after more than half a decade of cuts. "


Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Silence of the Goats

In thirteen years on UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) I have rarely been called upon to speak at our National Delegate Conference.

As an NEC member I may only attend Conference in that capacity and may not speak other than on a subject agreed by the NEC (and in accordance with NEC policy).

My NEC colleagues‎, knowing that I am painfully shy and often awkward and tongue-tied have generally spared me the embarrassment of making a fool of myself at the rostrum.

Others on our NEC who need to be protected from a similar fate for similar reasons (such as my equally retiring friend and comrade Paul Holmes) also experience four relaxing days on the top table, knowing that we shall not suffer the stress of being asked to speak to such a big crowd of people.

Delegates at Conference will of course appreciate that those of us not asked to speak could not possibly match the persuasive eloquence of those NEC colleagues who do get up to speak on behalf of the NEC time and again.

If regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak) believe that NEC Conference speeches are allocated to reward loyalty to a leadership line I can only express shock at such cynicism.

After thirteen years I think I can sort out the sheep from the goats on our NEC.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

NEC scrape through on branch funding - what next?

The National Executive Council's Motion 121 on branch funding scraped through UNISON Conference‎ by 52% to 48% in a card vote this morning.

This result will come as something of a relief at the UNISON Centre - but, particularly‎ in the light of the strength of support for democratic change in UNISON expressed at the 250 strong fringe meeting for lay members last night, a more considered response would be better advised (particularly since just 29 people showed up at the eariler competing meeting called to express support for the leadership).

The question of the allocation of resources - and therefore power - within our trade union is by no means closed. A broad-based wide-ranging network of lay activists is emerging which is determined to change our union for the better. The question of branch funding will doubtless be of the issues on our agenda.

Those whose hold on power is increasingly tenuous must decide whether to accede to the demand for democratic change or to assert their increasingly shallow and brittle authority ‎by hectoring Conference and bullying activists.

And in relation to that final point I shall of course blog further in the near future (but if I publish anything I tell you is confidential please don't pass it on...)

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Any Questions?

One of the features of UNISON Conferences which has declined dramatically over the years is the facility to ask questions of the Annual Report submitted to that Conference by the relevant leadership body (the National Executive Council for National Delegate Conference and the relevant Service Group Executive at a Service Group Conference).

This year there were just three questions asked of the Annual Report of the Service Group Executive at Local Government Conference - all from just one branch. At National Delegate Conference three branches asked a total of just eleven questions, seven of which gave rise to supplementary questions.

It has become harder to ask questions over the years - both because the procedure for asking questions has become more rigorous and because the Annual Report has become less detailed ‎and interesting - but it is not impossible and it is often worthwhile.

As a delegate at Local Government Conference your blogger was able to make use of an answer received to a question asked of the Annual Report of the Service Group Executive in successfully moving the Emergency Composite on pay.

This morning at National Delegate Conference a delegate from West Sussex illustrated how to use a supplementary question on the Annual Report ‎to raise an issue which would never have made it on to the agenda as a motion.

We need to make better use of our Conferences to hold our leaders to account. The asking of questions is a small but not unimportant tool with which to do this.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Bonfire of the sycophants

UNISON Local Government Conference ended with the well-deserved smashing of the ridiculous Emergency Motion 7 which peddled the absurd notion that there was some (unstated) alternative to strike action to achieve decent pay.

Your (humble) blogger would like to think that it was his first speech against this risible (if not pitiable) motion that swayed the Conference - but I think the decisive contribution was probably that made (in support of the motion) by the delegate who said that we should support the top table "because they know what they are doing".

The President reprimanded those of us who howled with derision at this surreal contribution - but I have to observe that if speakers do not wish to be howled at with derision they ought not to make contributions which invite such a response.

I have often been heckled, shouted at (and even threatened with obviously unjustifiable disciplinary action by those careless of the legal jeopardy in which they thereby place our trade union). I accept these occupational hazards.

I have no time (and less respect) for those who engage in controversial debates but cannot bear to be criticised in consequence. 

The Regional delegate who later spoke in support of Emergency Motion 7 by attacking the Conference decision on Emergency Composite A showed no respect for the democracy of our trade union and deserved exactly the amount of respect with which the Conference therefore received their contribution.

Local government workers are fed up of being given excuses.

The status quo in our trade union is untenable and those who give their loyalty to it need to realise this fact.

I was delighted to ignite this afternoon's bonfire of the sycophants.

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The challenges facing UNISON

The agenda for UNISON Local Government Conference over the past two days has seen a litany of complaints and protests at various dimensions of what is a comprehensive assault upon every aspect of our welfare state.

The Housing Act threatens further to undermine social housing ‎whilst the crisis in social care has brought social work - and social workers - to the edge of a precipice.

Phoney devolution to "city regions" threatens to devolve nothing but cuts, as local authorities set up trading companies to cut workers' pay and conditions.

The Government may have backed off from wholesale forced academisation‎ but academies remain a vicious attempt to privatise our schools and remove them from local democratic control.

Against this backdrop, local government workers face overwork and stress (but not, of course, decent pay).

It is clear that our members, our class and our public services are being battered by an attack on almost every front.

The challenge which this poses to UNISON, our largest public service trade union, is how to organise a fightback against these attacks.

We face this challenge in circumstances of falling membership and income, declining engagement of members with their trade union and a withering of activism and militancy - with the considerable added obstacle of mistrust in those reportedly willing to contemplate working with "sympathetic employers" against "hostile branches" (in respect of an internal trade union election).

Tomorrow evening's fringe meeting (at 7pm at the Holiday Inn) - called by and for lay activists - offers an opportunity ‎to consider how UNISON can rise to the challenge of these terrible times.

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Why we censured the NJC Committee and what we should do next

UNISON\'s Local Government Conference has voted to censure the National Joint Council Committee for having accepted a pay offer which had been rejected in consultation by our members.

Some of those who argued (unsuccessfully) against this motion of censure argued that this was scapegoating and that we should not wash our dirty linen in public.

They were wrong.

Trade unions, if they are to realise their potential to represent the interests of workers, must be democratic bodies in which workers ourselves can determine our collective self-activity.

Democracy requires accountability - and that accountability cannot effectively be delivered simply by the right of any one constituent part of a collective body to elect a new representative (or representatives).

The accountability of a body such as our National Joint Council Committee must be a collective accountability to the membership as a whole, through their elected Conference delegates.

It was precisely because of the need for such accountability that National Delegate Conference in 2010 rejected NEC proposals to devolve, from Service Groups to Sectors, the responsibility for collective bargaining over our terms and conditions of employment.

To hold leaders to account is not scapegoating - it is an exercise in accountability which is vital to the effectiveness of democracy.

To tell our members that we have held leaders to account is not washing our dirty linen in public - it is an exercise in transparency which is equally important in a democratic trade union.

What the (elected and full-time) leadership of UNISON in local government need to do now is what they should have done after the 2015 Special Conference.

‎If we are to reverse the long term decline in the living standards of local government workers we must reverse the long term decline in activism and militancy in our trade union.

We cannot do this by offering the miserable fascimile of leadership which believes our role to be to reflect our members views - holding a mirror to demoralisation and despair as an excuse for our own inaction.

Leaders should not simply reflect the views of those they seek to lead. We should try to shape those views on the basis of a reasoned and informed assessment of our members\' interests.

And we have to tell members the truth.

The truth is that no one much cares for most local government workers - and that if we do not stand up for ourselves then no one else will.

The truth is that the other local government trade unions cannot be relied upon to lead a national fight for fair pay - and if we wait for them to do so we shall wait forever,

The truth is that if local government workers will not fight for fair pay, local government workers will not get fair pay. Of course we can - and must - always find new and imaginative campaign tactics.


The truth is that (at least in my working life) it is only when local government workers have taken national strike action that the relative decline in local government earnings has even been arrested. ‎

‎Although exemplary lobbying by UNISON against the Trade Union Bill has meant that the (now) Trade Union Act has bankrupted neither UNISON nor the Labour Party, we did not avert the new threshold for turnout in strike ballots.

We now therefore face unprecedented challenges ‎if we are to secure higher pay. It is absurd to suppose that this can be achieved by some clever rearrangement of the pay spine to maintain differentials in response to the increasing minimum wage.

Higher pay for local government workers means a larger pay bill for local government. Certainly we must lobby for greater funding for local government, but our members cannot afford to wait for the possibility of a change of political direction before we fight to raise our living standards.

Conference has told the Service Group Executive to ensure that a pay claim is submitted for 1 April 2017. This must not be similar to the half-hearted (not to say risible)‎ claim submitted for 2015 after the Special Conference.

Detailed research must be done to support a pay claim which emerges from a consultation process with which our branches and Regions must engage.‎
We must start now - in every Region and every branch - to have, and try to win with our members the argument that members must be willing to take strike action if we are to reverse the decline in our standard of living.‎

That is the challenge which our Local Government Conference has set to our Service Group Executive and our National Joint Council Committee.‎
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Friday, June 17, 2016

UNISON Rule H.4.1

This is a blog for readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) who are interested in a blog post with a title like the title of this blog post.

If you don't want to know more about UNISON Rule H.4.1‎ (or to have the surprise of what will happen in Brighton next Wednesday morning spoilt in any way) then look away now.

Rule H.4.1 makes clear that the essential formula for the funding of branches is to be determined by the National Delegate Conference (NDC) and not the National Executive Council (NEC).

This allocation of responsibility is a vital underpinning of democracy and lay member control in UNISON.

(Before I write another word let me be clear that nothing that I say in this blog post should be construed in any way as a criticism of any UNISON employee!)

National Delegate Conference is (at least occasionally) beyond the control of the senior full-time officials who control the trade union.

The same could hardly be said of the National Executive Council (NEC). In my thirteen years on the NEC I have seen no evidence that it is an effective tool for holding the union machine to account.

And I have been looking!

I looked at how we appeared to have wasted a million pounds on Care Connect Learning. I asked questions. I did not see how lay members held officials to account.

I looked at how we could not account for a million pounds ‎spent on the Three Companies Project. I asked questions. I did not see how lay members held officials to account.

I have found that asking questions and voicing criticism are not a route to popularity in our trade union.

Fortunately that was not my goal. 

Therefore I can say that I know that those responsibilities which are given by our Rules to the NEC are generally not subject to effective lay oversight by that NEC.

The NEC simply isn't up to the job. If you are a UNISON member then this is your fault as you elect us.

Rule K and Rule O are fine examples of aspects of UNISON's activity which are (by virtue of the Rule Book restriction of these Rules to the NEC rather than NDC) effectively the domain of senior paid officials.

Happily Rule H.4.1 is not at all like Rule K or Rule O (nor even Rule D.2.11 - although I might be facing improper and arguably unlawful action under Rule I.2.1 for even mentioning that Rule in this context!)

Rule H.4.1 says that Conference (consisting of voting lay delegates from branches) will decide how our branches are funded. This must be by a decision of Conference, in respect of which delegates may vote for or against.

The NEC may not arrogate to itself the power of Conference by presuming to tell Conference - in a "statement" - what funding it will permit branches to have.

NEC statements to Conference can be a useful and constructive device to respond to urgent issues or to elaborate upon action which the NEC will take. They have no particular standing in Rule P (and are in that respect unlike statements of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress at Congress).

However, an NEC statement may not properly or appropriately be used to circumvent the powers give to Conference by our Rule Book.

‎I'm glad to be able to clarify this.

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Staring into the abyss
I was pleased to hear that UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis had called out the racism of UKIP with his complaint yesterday about their anti-migrant propaganda.

If you want a vision of a post-Brexit future you were shown it yesterday.

A gurning reactionary preened himself in front of racist images in our capital city whilst an extreme practitioner of the hatred preached on the far-right butchered a Labour MP in Yorkshire.‎

For some reason this brutal assault has not swiftly been labelled "terrorism" - as the media show a measured refusal to rush to judgement which distinguishes this tragedy from some other recent events.

Nevertheless it is not too early, and will never be too late, to spell out the connection between the vile xenophobia of the "little England" wing of the political right and the violent expression of hatred on the streets.

The former legitimates the latter in the minds of perpetrators whilst the latter vindicates the warnings from proponents of the former about "rivers of blood." They are two sides of the same coin - and it is a coin which has been thrown into the air by the Referendum debate.

Of course not everyone who wants Britain out of the European Union is a xenophobe, bigot or racist - but it is on that side of the argument that the xenophobes, bigots and racists are to be found.

I only hope that all those progressives dreaming of a "Lexit" will not now cast a vote which lines them up with the spectrum of red, white and blue which extends from the leading Leave campaigners all the way to the far right.

Remaining within the EU will solve none of the problems which exist because the United Kingdom is the sad, small, bigoted and backward-looking nation which the referendum campaign has revealed it to be - but leaving will worsen every one of them.

The Labour Party and trade unions face a massive task of taking issue with racism and anti-migrant prejudice in the working class. We cannot do this by accommodating to abhorrent views - we have to argue back against all those who (wrongly) believe that immigration causes housing shortages or strain on public services.

I also have no time for anti-Corbyn forces preparing to blame Labour's Leader for the consequences of the distance which New Labour put between our Party and our class.

If Labour voters refuse to listen to Labour on the EU it is because the Party in power did not do nearly enough to act for the working class - not because Corbyn gives a reasoned, balanced and persuasive case for a "remain" vote.
We are staring into an abyss - and that abyss will still be there whatever happens next Thursday. We need to face up to the horror before us - but we also need to see how much worse things will be if a majority vote with the racists for Brexit.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Local Government Conference gets more interesting

The Standing Orders Committee (SOC) for UNISON Local Government Conference has made the Conference agenda somewhat more eventful by admitting eight emergency motions to the agenda;

Obviously it is something of an embarrassment to the Lambeth branch to find that only two of our three emergency motions were deemed to place the union in legal jeopardy - but it is some consolation that the third made its way on to the agenda (and the substantive purpose of each of the others is addressed, though obviously in a less inflammatory manner, in emergency motions on the agenda from other branches).

Lambeth's emergency motion‎ is one of no fewer than six dealing, in different ways, with the consequences of the decision taken by the National Joint Council Committee on 27 April to disregard the views of UNISON members expressed in the pay consultation process and to accept the employers' two year pay deal.

I intend to see if the branches involved can initiate a composite encompassing at least some of these motions, although this has not been suggested by the SOC. Since there are different views expressed in the emergency motions we can however expect an actual debate, in which different points of view are expressed leading to a vote in which people vote for different things.

As an old-fashioned left-winger (not to say an unreconstructed dinosaur) I think that is what a debate is - a contest of ideas. When we are congratulated, at Conference, on a "debate" in which everyone spoke on the same side of an argument, I despair at the sad misuse of the English language (and wonder why we waste our time and money arranging to sanitise all controversy from the Supreme decision-making body of a vast democratic organisation).

Thank you, Local Government SOC, for ensuring that we can have some disagreement in Brighton next week!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Lessons of the UNISON Service Group Executive elections

The summary results of the biennial elections to UNISON’s Service Group Executives are now available online.

Service Group Executives (SGEs) have responsibility under Rule for overseeing the negotiations about pay and conditions of service which are (for most of our members) the fundamental purpose of a trade union. In some ways our SGEs are more important bodies than even our esteemed National Executive Council (NEC).

I’ll blog in due course about the turnout and the detail of the results but am initially struck by what these elections tell us about the rude health (or otherwise) of our lay democracy in UNISON. Here is a summary of the results, focusing on how many seats remain vacant, and how many of the other seats are held by someone who was elected unopposed.

Service Group Executive
Elected in a contest
Elected unopposed
Vacant seats (and %age of total)
Total number of directly elected seats
18 (67%)
4 (29%)
Health Care
6 (17%)
Higher Education
15 (47%)
Local Government
8 (23%)
Police and Justice
8 (30%)
Water, Environment and Transport
4 (20%)
63 (33%)

There are a significant proportion of vacant seats, for which no one was even nominated, on all our Service Group Executives. The proportion ranges from one sixth in Health Care up to two thirds in the Community Service Group.Overall, one in three of the 191 directly elected seats on a UNISON Service Group Executive are vacant. 

Of the 128 UNISON members who hold the other two thirds of the directly elected seats on our seven Service Group Executives only 27 (21%) faced a contested election, with the great majority (79%) and a majority in every service group having been elected unopposed.

Following the catastrophic decline in the turnout in last year’s election for General Secretary this is another loud warning bell that member engagement and participation in the democratic structures of our trade union is waning. This is a subject which I hope that lay activists will discuss at an important fringe meeting in Brighton next Tuesday evening.

I should make two points in closing. First, in writing this blog post I hope that I have refrained from directly or indirectly making, causing, inciting or otherwise contributing to any posting which may be perceived by any member of (UNISON) staff to be critical of them.

Secondly, as a UNISON member in the Local Government Service Group in the Greater London Region I would like to congratulate John McLoughlin, Sue Plain and Caroline Firmin on winning the three contested seats in the only Regional constituency of any Service Group in which there were three contests. These are positive results for all those who believe in lay democracy and effective trade unionism.