Now -read the book!

Here is a link to my memoirs which, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can purchase online at
Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Give Peace a Chance

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a disgraceful and murderous breach of international law.

I agree with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament that this invasion must be opposed not least because it raises the spectre of nuclear war with all that would entail.

I also agree with the Stop the War Coalition that this dispute between Russia, Ukraine and the West can only be resolved by dialogue.

40 years ago, as a young peace activist, I was used to people yelling "go back to Moscow" when we demonstrated against cruise missiles and Trident nuclear submarines. In those days we were told that the Soviet union threatened us because it was an aggressive expansionary, and above all, Communist power.

However in those days Soviet military might was only ever exercised within its sphere of influence which had been negotiated between the victorious allies at the end of the Second World War. The Soviet union posed a threat to its own citizens and those of its satellites and allies. It was the United States, and its allies, which were the aggressive, expansionary, imperialist powers then, as now. Before and after the end of the Cold War the West has intervened militarily to trample on the sovereignty of countless nations in pursuit of the interests of global capital.

We now know that they never was a risk that the Red Army would come rolling through West Germany, and that there never was any justification either for the presence of American nuclear weapons on British soil or for the notionally "independent" British nuclear "deterrent".

The West won the Cold War, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet union broke up into its constituent republics. Western triumphalism welcomed the ascendancy of a brutal kleptocracy in Russia in particular and in this country the money of those who looted the previously state-owned assets has been welcomed.

Far from signalling "the end of history" the West’s triumph in the Cold War has bequeathed us a world in which war has now broken out between two reactionary nationalisms in Russia and in Ukraine. 

Russia's invasion breaches the Budapest memorandum of 1994, which guaranteed Ukraine's borders in response to its decision to relinquish the former Soviet nuclear weapons stationed in its territory at the time of its independence.

There can be no doubt that this is a setback for the cause of nuclear disarmament in the world, albeit there is no evidence that the possession of nuclear weapons in any way provides a guarantee against aggression (for example by Argentina in the Falkland Islands 40 years ago). 

However, just as it is clear for all to see that the United States was prepared to invade Iraq in 2003 because they knew Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction (whereas they will not invade North Korea because they know they do) so Russia's aggression against Ukraine will hardly make it easier for those of us in nuclear weapon states who argue that have own countries should abandon the horrendous policy of retaining and threatening to use these evil weapons of mass murder.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is unquestionably unjustifiable. Nevertheless it is quite absurd to see people on social media "taking sides" in this conflict. This is particularly sad when some of those so doing purport to be internationalists and socialists.

This is not a war in which it is possible to "take sides”. Socialists should be on the side of peace and of the people who will suffer the effects of this war. Such limited political influence as we may have we should surely use in support of the goal of an end to conflict.

It is in any case quite meaningless to claim to be "taking sides" in a war unless one has taken up arms and booked a flight to Ukraine (or, for that matter, to the Donbass) or started collecting pots and pans to melt down and turn into weapons. 

We need to be voices for peace, not beating the drums of war.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Socialist MPs defend the NHS

Back in August 2018 I blogged here about my prostate cancer diagnosis. In April 2020 I noted that my cancer had progressed and was no longer curable. Since then excellent treatment by our National Health Service (NHS) has kept me alive and, until recently, largely free of pain. 

This has allowed me not only to enjoy the happiest time of my life but also to add to the jollity by continuing in my role as Chair of Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party. I have been particularly pleased to see developments in UNISON, the trade union to which I devoted my working life, since last year's elections to the National Executive Council (NEC).

Unfortunately, a secondary tumour in my shoulder and lymphoedema in my right arm has now created new challenges for myself and those caring for me, which includes not only my partner and family but of course many workers in our NHS.

I'm therefore particularly pleased to see that the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs are organising an event on Monday evening as part of the continuing campaign against the privatisation of our NHS.

Unfortunately, I do not think that we can rely upon the leadership of our Party for a robust defence of the NHS in the public sector. Keir Starmer is eagerly bringing onto his front bench the sort of politicians who have no problem with private provision of public services, and who wrongly think that as long as the NHS provides care that is free at the point of use it doesn't matter who actually provides that care.

The pernicious spread of the private sector within our health service over the past generation and more is quite as damaging as a cancer and needs to be cut out. As you might imagine, I feel particularly strongly about this.

There will be those who, looking at what the labour leadership say the Labour Party would do in government, will abandon all hope for socialist politics in our party and go off in search of a more convivial, if irrelevant, environment for political activity.

The Socialist Campaign Group of MPs are not abandoning our Party and they are right not to. The struggle between the socialist left wing and the social democratic (or not even social democratic) right-wing of the workers movement is central to the stability of an advanced capitalist society.

The Labour left are always fighting with both hands tied behind our backs and nine times out of 10 we lose. Most recently we have seen the tragic outcome of the defeat in 2019 and the evolution of the party under the disingenuous victor of the 2020 leadership election. 

"Corbynism" has perhaps gone the way of "Bennism" and "Bevanism" before it. This is hardly surprising. If the establishment could not generally, and with relative ease, restore control over the commanding heights of our movement then our capitalist system would be continuously unstable. 

The Labour Party, as I said recently, has always been a battleground between socialists and those who are not really socialist. In this repeated struggle the left generally faces defeat. 

However, we only need one real victory to achieve the permanent transformation not only of our Party but of our society.

The struggle takes place within the Labour Party and the wider labour movement and it doesn't take place elsewhere.

This is the struggle that I have been a small part of all my life and in which I hope to continue to play a role for a while yet. 

Saturday, February 05, 2022

A purely personal view

In the last post on this blog I expressed my solidarity with my friend and comrade, Paul Holmes, president of UNISON, following his dismissal by Kirklees Council.

Those involved in the campaign of solidarity with Paul are rightly focusing on positive messages. 

It is particularly important that UNISON is supporting a claim for interim relief in Paul's case.

This is because his dismissal plainly relates to conduct which he undertook in a trade union capacity.

This means that his dismissal would be likely to be found to be unfair because it penalises him for undertaking the activities of an independent trade union at an appropriate time.

I know from my own experience of many years of trade union activity, including both cases involving myself and other union representatives, that the law protects union representatives from dismissal or other detriment in such circumstances.

If a trade union representative is alleged to have conducted themselves in an unsatisfactory manner whilst carrying out trade union activities - and Paul refutes all allegations against him - it is for the trade union and not the employer to hold them to account.

Because Paul and his supporters are rightly focused on a positive campaign they will not, I should imagine, have very much to say about those who have taken to social media in the days since Paul's dismissal to publicise what are allegedly details of allegations against him, made in an anonymous statement ostensibly from various complaints.

Because this is a personal blog of a retired UNISON member whose comments are not the responsibility of the trade union, or of anyone in the trade union, I do not need to exercise such restraint.

I speak here for no one but myself and am accountable to none.

I can therefore say that taking a complaint about a fellow trade unionist to the employer is the moral equivalent of crossing a picket line.

I can say that those who publicise allegations which are still under investigation by a trade union in the immediate aftermath of a decision to dismiss a trade union activist by an employer are behaving disgracefully.

It is shameful to say that this includes some members of UNISON's NEC and also leading members of the increasingly inappropriately named Socialist party. They should think again.

I can say that no socialist, and no self-respecting trade unionist, would ever behave in such a way. We do not accept the decision of an employer as if it determined any case. We defend trade unionists who have been dismissed and support them in appeals and employment tribunals as part of the day-to-day work of our movement. The fact that an employer’s disciplinary panel has arrived at a conclusion proves nothing whatsoever to a trade union activist.

Trade unions in general, and UNISON in particular, may well need better processes to resolve internal disagreements and deal with complaints that may arise. Any shortcomings in UNISON's procedures cannot be laid at the door of the newly elected National Executive Council (NEC) who have faced months of obstruction from UNISON officials. I hope that paid officials will work constructively with our NEC to improve things for the future.

It may be ironic that everything that has been said about this case in public supports the contention that Paul's dismissal is a dismissal for a trade union reason and that his case against the employer is only strengthened by these inappropriate disclosures.

Intelligent socialists should not take things at face value but should consider what is really going on. The question of who benefits from the dismissal of Paul Holmes, were it to be allowed to stand, is that the beneficiaries are to be found in the ranks of the employer and of reactionary elements within the trade union.

In this case of victimisation of a trade union activist by an employer I have no hesitation in standing beside a fellow trade unionist. UNISON is officially supporting Paul Holmes in a claim for interim relief to the employment tribunal and all socialists and trade unionists should likewise stand in solidarity to support Paul against his dismissal by Kirklees Council.

Defend Paul Holmes!

This is the speech I was proud to give at today's online rally in solidarity with UNISON President Paul Holmes, following his disgraceful dismissal by Kirklees Council;

My name is Jon Rogers. Now I am a retired UNISON member but between 1992 and 2017 I was Branch Secretary of the Lambeth branch and I served for 14 years from 2003 to 2017 on our National Executive Council.

I first really got to know Paul Holmes when Kirklees Branch led the successful campaign for a special local government conference to consider the attack upon the local government pension scheme which was made under the New Labour government in the first decade of this century.

I was pleased when Paul was elected to the NEC, adding a powerful voice to the small number of left-wingers on the NEC at that time. I was particularly pleased because Paul, like myself, was a lifelong Labour party member who saw himself very firmly on the side of the left in our movement and of the rank-and-file membership.

Labour left-wingers in the trade unions, like Paul and myself, understand that the Labour Party in this country is a vital battleground in the struggle for socialism and the interests of working people. On the one side of the struggle are those of us who continue the tradition of the trade unionists and socialists who came together more than 120 years ago to create a political vehicle to represent the interests of our members in the transformation of society.

On the other side of the struggle within the labour party are those whose priority is that they should hold office so that they may exercise power. Whilst they may, and in some cases do, believe that what they do is in the wider interest of working people, they have abandoned the goal of social transformation and seek merely to become a moderate wing of the establishment, sometimes mitigating the worst of capitalism and ameliorating somewhat the conditions of existence of the people our movement exists to represent.

These careerists and bureaucrats hate no one more than the socialists within the Labour Party who, by our very existence, gives the lie to the myth that it is not possible for the party to do more than achieve modest improvements in slow steps forward, which are forever being reversed.

There are those who will be shocked at Paul's victimisation and dismissal by a Labour led local authority. I am not shocked, and I don't imagine for one minute that Paul is. I am outraged. I am angry. I am determined to stand shoulder to shoulder with my brother trade unionist against this disgraceful conduct, but I am not surprised.

If you want to understand what is happening in the continual class struggle that daily shapes and reshapes our society, you must look below the surface appearance of events. You must ask the question "who benefits?" and you must consider the timing of events.

Paul Holmes had been serving on our NEC for more than a decade when he was suspended by both Kirklees Council and UNISON. He had been elected and re-elected as secretary of the Kirklees branch over very many years before things reached this state of affairs. What then accounts for the timing of these attacks?

What had just happened in the months before these coordinated attacks upon Paul Holmes was that he had been directly elected to represent our Yorkshire and Humberside region on the national labour link committee, ousting a key figure in the establishment of both the trade union and the labour party - someone who to this day represents UNISON on the Labour Party national executive though they hold no office on either our NEC or our labour link committee.

When complaints were allegedly made about Paul's conduct as a trade union representative, instead of simply encouraging those making the complaint to address them appropriately within the trade union, the complainant's were also encouraged - disgracefully - to take these matters up with the employer, giving the employer an opening to attack a trade unionist who had long been a thorn in their side.

My beautiful granddaughter was born less than a fortnight ago, but even she is old enough to realise that Kirklees Labour Council would not have acted in this way without some indication from within the UNISON machinery. 

There are not two separate bureaucracies, one in UNISON and one in the Labour Party. There is a labour movement bureaucracy which spans both the industrial and political wings of a movement and which ruthlessly pursues its own interests, in this case, the attempted removal of a key rank and file activist.

Just as there is no differentiation between the bureaucracies of the trade unions and the party so there should be no differentiation between the solidarity we show each other as trade unionists and as Labour party members.

I told you when I started that I am now a retired UNISON member, but I am still the chair of my Constituency Labour Party. Just because it does not surprise me to find a Labour authority victimising a fellow Labour Party member for being a good and diligent trade unionist, that does not mean that, as a Labour Party member, I am not angry and determined to act.

Whether or not you are a Labour Party member I urge you to protest directly to the Leader of Kirklees Council, Shabir Pandor, demanding that they rescind the dismissal of Paul Holmes, which is plainly an unfair dismissal for having undertaken trade union activities.

Contact information for the Leader will be appearing in the chat please make a note of this and please make use of it. []

An injury to one is an injury to all.


Tuesday, February 01, 2022

UNISONActive has risen from the grave!

As a retired person suffering from fatigue as a result of advanced cancer, cancer medication and lymphoedema, I watch rather more television than I should.

I particularly enjoy Hammer horror films. I always like the way in which Dracula can be brought back to life with the blood of a virgin or some other plot device which enables him to entertain us through yet another film.

I was therefore very pleased to discover the resurrection of the UNISONActive blog, which once described the author of the blog you are now reading as “UNISON’s answer to screaming Lord Sutch”.

UNISONActive was initiated in anticipation of the 2010 general secretary election in order to provide a vehicle for online comment supportive of the then General Secretary and critical of various left-wing elements within the trade union. In those days, items were often posted on the blog anonymously in a failed attempt to conceal the fact that posts ostensibly written by lay activists were in fact being penned by paid staff.

UNISONActive was very much the upmarket end of support for the union leadership at that time, distinguishing itself from the most scurrilous muckraking blogs which appeared elsewhere. As well as content which was partisan within UNISON there would be other, more general trade union content and an attempt to have a professional presentation. Not every contribution was anonymous and sometimes leading UNISON activists would put their name to useful and interesting contributions to debate.

The UNISONActive Blog was very quiet at the time of the 2015 general secretary election (with just one post), reflecting the fact that some of the best supporters of the victorious candidate in 2010 were sitting out that later contest. Shortly thereafter new posts stopped appearing on the Blog and the sands of time covered it as surely as if it had been the tomb of some ancient pharaoh.

Now however something stirs in the depths. The Blog has come back to life and has a new purpose - to criticise and attack the left-wing majority on the UNISON NEC. A post published yesterday in the name of an individual member of the NEC is a fine example of what is to be expected from the resurrected UNISONActive Blog.

On the one hand, the author makes sound points that need to be considered in a debate about how to win members to support industrial action in the context of the current antiunion legislation. She goes on to make observations which could have been, and indeed often were, made at any point in about the last 20 years;

“What we need is an organising agenda that is inclusive of the whole of the leadership including those with different affiliations or none and in partnership with the General Secretary and staff. There is such excellent work done by staff to further UNISON’s policies agreed at NDC and huge amounts of knowledge and expertise amongst both staff and lay members.”

In 14 years of membership of the NEC and its development and organisation committee, I did my very best to be part of an inclusive approach to the organising agenda but was consistently frozen out because I was not seen as supportive of the “powers that be”. I could have - and indeed did - say something very similar to the preceding paragraph many times over those years for all the good that it would've done - or did do - me.

Having made some reasonable and some platitudinous comments, the author of the post over at UNISONActive then goes on to comment “more in sorrow than in anger” about the conduct of the new leadership of the NEC.

The most pernicious and dishonest component in the litany of attacks being made against the elected leadership of our trade union is the unfounded allegation of bullying and harassment of staff. This is nonsense. If any individual member of staff considers themselves to have been harassed they may have recourse to appendix 2 of the UNISON rulebook which sets out a dedicated procedure to deal with just such cases.

What is happening in UNISON is a cultural change away from the culture in which lay members saw their role as somewhere between cheerleaders and proud parents looking on at the wonderful work of the paid officials of the trade union and never voicing criticism of our “world-class negotiators”. 

I remember, for example, when UNISON invested considerable resources in trying to recruit staff working on the 2012 Olympics and completely failed. I simply pointed out that this has been a complete failure and the response to my doing so had been as if I had farted in church. It was seen as positively rude to suggest that the officials had got something wrong.

Even when officers had failed on a gargantuan scale, as when we lost £1 million to Care Connect Learning and another million in the hopeless “Three Companies Project”, it was like getting blood from a stone to try to hold anyone to account and reports which came out long after the event were hardly effective in so doing.

Now it appears that the UNISON NEC is trying hard to develop a culture in which senior paid officials are held accountable by elected lay activists as should be the case. This alters the balance of power within the trade union and those who feel threatened by this will allege bullying. 

I myself faced criticism and investigation because of comments made on this blog in the past. Those who could characterise occasionally intemperate comments on a little read blog as bullying of UNISON staff will no doubt go much farther when confronted with a lay leadership asserting its proper authority in accordance with the rules.

Supporters of democracy within UNISON must be prepared for many more serious criticisms and acts of sabotage as they try to turn the trade union into the union we voted for in 1992 and which our members deserve in 2022.