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)

Friday, March 25, 2022

Don't Invite Them In!


This is the last, for the time being, extract from my memoirs (which you can purchase at This concerns a little remarked upon overlap between vampire lore and UNISON rules; 

“Anyone familiar with the legend of the vampire, as it has come down to us through 70s Hammer Horror films, will know that they cannot enter a house unless invited in. Under UNISON Rules (Rule G.9.1 for aficionados of the Rule Book), the same applies to Regional officials and UNISON Branches. A Regional official may (other than in certain specified and exceptional circumstances) only visit a UNISON Branch at the invitation of the branch. This is a rule which is now more often honoured in the breach than in the observance, as many branch activists do not pay sufficient attention to the Rules and believe that the paid officials have an authority over activists which they do not have.

It had always, however, been my practice, as Branch Secretary, to invite our Regional organiser to meetings of our Branch Committee. I’ve never felt that I have anything to hide from the paid officials of the trade union and, since there are many occasions on which a branch needs to call upon paid officials to do their job and support our membership I have found it useful to be able to point out to them, when requesting support, that they had been invited to the meeting at which we had agreed upon a course of action, whether or not they had been able to attend.

I had worked, over the years, with some excellent and committed Regional organisers (I would single out Greg Thomson and Lucille Thirlby as colleagues who became friends). By 2012 I had been working for some time alongside Stuart Barber, a very experienced official whom I respected but who did have something of a penchant for winding up left-wing members of the Branch Committee (and had a reputation for undermining left-wing Branch Secretaries elsewhere in London). In July of 2012 the patience of the Branch Committee had worn thin and, against my advice (and in Stuart’s absence) the Committee agreed to withdraw the standing invitation to our Regional organiser to attend the Committee.

The following month Stuart did not attend but the Region sent a more junior official (uninvited) whom the Committee agreed to admit to our meeting as a courtesy whilst objecting to the Regional Head of Local Government. The next month, September, Stuart turned up at the Town Hall to attend our Branch Committee and I had to come down to reception to explain to him that, as he wasn’t invited, he wouldn’t be admitted to the building.

Our insistence on asserting our right under Rule not to invite the Region to our Branch Committee became quite controversial and, at our November meeting we were visited by the Regional Secretary and Regional Head of Local Government (whom we invited in). I think they thought that the Lambeth Branch Committee would be a gaggle of newspaper-selling “trots” who they would lecture into good behaviour but they weren’t prepared for the measured and reasoned disappointment with the previous conduct of the Regional Organiser from a large and diverse body of ordinary shop stewards.

Having established our right (and that we were right) the branch resumed the practice of inviting our Regional organiser to our meetings (on a meeting by meeting basis).”

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Trade Union Bully Boy


Once again, here is an extract from my memoirs (which you can purchase at 

This explains how I came to be described in the national press as a “Trade Union Bully Boy”;

“Contrary to the opinions of many who have reflected upon my actions, I was not particularly inebriated after the pensions strike. I had, after all, been looking after my son all day as well as organising the strike in Lambeth. By the time I got home to Brighton I was tired and went to bed quite early.

However, I woke up in the small hours and couldn’t get back to sleep. Unwisely (as it turned out) I thought I would send out an email to members of the Union in Lambeth thanking them for having taken strike action in such an impressive way. I was still on a high from the best strike day I had ever been part of.

As I drafted the email, my mind was taken back to several conversations which I had had with some of our best activists, both on the picket lines and the subsequent demonstration. “What”, they wanted to know, “could we do about the members who had not taken strike action?” These were a relatively small number, but their disloyalty greatly angered some of their colleagues - in particular when some of those who broke the strike were individuals who had been particularly demanding or critical of the trade union in the past.

The sort of person who will break a strike is, of course, very often the sort of worker who is not at all diligent, who gets into trouble at work and then blames everyone else for circumstances which they have likely brought upon themselves. I had tremendous sympathy for the anger felt by a good shop steward who saw someone they had done a lot to help waltz across a picket line. I knew however that there was no way in which UNISON could lawfully take any action against members who had broken the strike.

Therefore, knowing that my email would go to all members, I included some choice remarks addressed to those who had not supported the strike. I sent the email and went back to sleep.

The next morning, when I got to the office, I asked a couple of colleagues what they thought of the email. They said they thought it was ok - but then the phone rang.

An Assistant General Secretary of UNISON was on the other end of the phone. “What the f… have you done Rogers?”, she asked.

It transpired that one of our scabs had forwarded my email to Sky News, who had reported on it, with the Sun and the Daily Mail also picking up the story of the “trade union bully boy” who had threatened union members who had broken the strike.

Within a couple of hours I had, on “firm advice” from UNISON HQ, withdrawn my email in a follow up email to all members (as one of our Convenors remarked, this meant that everyone got to see what I had said all over again). Although I didn’t - and don’t - think that there was anything wrong with what I said, I did not want to cut across the work which UNISON was doing to get the best possible media coverage for our action at a time when it seemed possible that we would be taking further strike action in the near future.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Great White Elephant of the Euston Road


Just when you thought it might stop here is yet another extract from my memoirs (which you can purchase at This concerns the UNISON Centre, a large erection on the Euston Road;

“The first half of my time on the UNISON NEC was (literally) overshadowed by the construction of the “New UNISON Centre” in the Euston Road. The decision to build the new headquarters building had been taken during my first term on the NEC, and I had voted to support the decision (indeed I think everyone voted in favour, although my fellow London NEC member, Fiona Monkman, a qualified architect, was not - as I recall - in the room when the vote was taken, and so escapes responsibility for the decision).

I was wrong to vote as I did. We all were.

The NEC was sold the decision on the basis that - although it would have been marginally cheaper to have refurbished the old NALGO headquarters in Mabledon Place - once the cost of having to relocate all the staff twice, rather than just once was taken into account it was a better deal to build the new headquarters. Over the following years the NEC would receive periodic reports of the gradual progress in implementing the decision, the acquisition of the site of the former Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (EGA) hospital (and the agreement to include in the site a museum commemorating that association), obtaining planning permission from Camden Council and - in 2010 - accepting the Finance Committee recommendation to retain the freehold of Mabledon Place, selling a lease in order to repay the loan which had been taken out from the Co-op Bank to finance the building.

UNISON officially moved into the building in 2011 and it was an improvement as a workplace on Mabledon Place. The ground floor included a cafeteria and a large atrium with walkways between the refurbished EGA Hospital building and the new offices above. The new building went up much higher, to a ninth floor Conference centre above an eighth floor “activist suite” including working space for members of the NEC and other national committees.

However, the building was much larger than we really needed, and the floors between the offices on the fourth floor and the (little used) activist suite on the eighth floor were kept empty for several years, a state of affairs about which I made a bit of a fuss as time went by (not least because I thought - and still think - that it is daft that UNISON pays rent of the first floor of Congress House to accommodate the staff of its Greater London Region when there has, for a decade now, been more than enough space at the UNISON Centre to make room for the Regional staff).

Eventually the empty floors were turned over to (occasional) use as training/meeting rooms, but the cost to the Union of the income foregone by not making use of expensive central London workplace accommodation over such a long period has never been calculated by UNISON (because it wouldn’t support the case against increased funding for branches which the Centre has consistently tried to make). As remote working and working from home become ever more common, the UNISON Centre will become ever more obviously an expensive white elephant.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Practical International Solidarity


In response to popular demand (from regular readers of this blog, Sid and Doris Blogger) here is another extract from my memoirs (which you can purchase at, an excursion into international solidarity work;

“January 2009 witnessed a particularly brutal episode in Israel’s periodic bombardments of the (effectively) imprisoned Palestinian population of Gaza - to which UNISON responded both nationally and locally. At the beginning of January there was a large national demonstration, which sticks in my memory largely for parenting failure on my part - I had failed to ensure that my (then) seven year old son, who came with me from Brighton to join the march was wearing enough layers and so had to requisition the branch banner to wrap him in!

Later in the month, following discussion at the Branch Committee, we secured the agreement of the Council for our shop stewards to take a collection, around all Council workplaces, for Medical Aid for Palestinians, which raised in excess of two thousand pounds.

Thanks in large part to our energetic International Officer, Gurmeet Khurana (who had been elected unopposed with the support of the “Lambeth activists”) the branch carried forward our solidarity with the Palestinian people beyond the episode of intense international attention that generally arises for a short period when Israel bombards Gaza.

That autumn we raised a further seven hundred pounds in a workplace collection for the Viva Palestina aid convoy and, thanks to a successful bid for funds from the national union which Gurmeet put together, in August of the following year Gurmeet and another of our shop stewards - Sahida Uddin - went to Nablus on the occupied West Bank to sign a twinning agreement between Lambeth UNISON and the Nablus branch of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).

Lambeth UNISON’s association with the struggle for solidarity with the Palestinian people was also carried forward that year - at one step removed - by an illustrious former member of our branch (and former shop steward) Glyn Secker, who in May 2010, skippered one of the boats in the aid flotilla led by the Mavi Mamara, which was boarded unlawfully in international waters by the Israeli Defence Force.

Most of the international work of trade unions is, of necessity, undertaken at a national level between the bureaucratic structures of the respective organisations (because these have the  solidity and permanence to sustain those relationships) - lay activists are mostly involved as an ornamental addition. In my years of union activism I didn’t have the time or space to prioritise international work and, on the rare occasions when I did pay attention to it I advocated involving more rank and file workers. Lambeth’s twinning initiative with the PFGTU in Nablus was probably the only time when I was involved (however tangentially) in actually achieving this.

With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to see that the flowering of local international solidarity activity at the level of our branch was about to be swamped by the tidal wave of redundancies which were, in 2009, just over the horizon - but at the time (and since) I have been proud of what we achieved at that time as a trade union branch.”

Monday, March 21, 2022

Democracy in UNISON


Continuing the series of extracts from my memoirs (which you can purchase at, here is a recollection of the debate about UNISON democracy back in 2008 during which it was confirmed that UNISON branches have the right to campaign against national recommendations in member ballot;

“Ten years after our 1998 Conference had agreed the motion which led to the first “Democracy in UNISON” guidelines a similarly titled motion had found its way on to the Preliminary Agenda for the 2008 Conference, in the name of the Scotland Region (which reminds me of something that my old friend, Croydon Branch Secretary Malcolm Campbell, used - with an admirable but wholly uncharacteristic lack of diplomacy - to say, which was that Scotland is a Nation, except in UNISON where it is a Region and in cricket where it isn’t even a minor county).

The motion had arisen from Scottish health branches who were angered at attempts to prevent them from making recommendations to their members in the ballot on the previous year’s national pay offer, in circumstances in which the national leadership (the Service Group Executive) had not themselves made a recommendation. I seized the opportunity to draft an amendment to a motion which was certain to be prioritised at Conference, and so Lambeth proposed an amendment which clearly restated the “the right of UNISON members, branches and other appropriate representative bodies to make and campaign within Rule for recommendations in member ballots.”

In preparation for what I felt would be an important Conference debate, I organised a meeting at the (then) University of London Union in Malet Street to coincide with an official UNISON briefing and invited London branches to attend. I made clear that this was a purely unofficial event, and that I had paid for the room booking out of my own pocket. However, that didn’t discourage the Regional Secretary from writing to me warning me not to go ahead with such “factional” activity.

At the risk of repeating myself, I should explain that - in UNISON - “factional” simply meant something the leadership/officials disagreed with (since it was never used to describe the majority faction of the NEC for example, nor “Team Dave” - of which more later). Anyway, I responded to the Regional Secretary by inviting her to attend the meeting, which she did - along with a couple of friends (well, associates)(at least people to sit next to her).

Because the main motion came from the Scottish Region (generally a mainstay of support for the leadership) the NEC had to agree to support it and, realising that they would have trouble defeating the Lambeth amendment the NEC majority agreed (in spite of my attempts at persuasion) to ask Lambeth to remit, on the basis that they would otherwise oppose the amendment (because, they said, UNISON members did not have the right to campaign to change policy…)

When Lambeth refused to remit our amendment, which the Scottish Region had agreed to support, my NEC colleagues chickened out of an argument and agreed to change policy on the amendment to “support with qualifications”. This is - and always has been - a device by which the NEC avoids defeat on the floor of Conference on a motion (or amendment) which it would prefer had never been written but which they know that Conference will pass whatever they say. Which it duly did. We won that round, but in the battle for democracy in UNISON there is no final victory - and no final defeat.”

Friday, March 18, 2022

A new hope...


Here is this week’s final extract from my memoirs, available at This concerns a meeting called, almost 16 years ago, by the best leader our party never had;

“On the day after UNISON Conference 2006 I was called to an urgent meeting in London, in my capacity (at that time) as a member of the National Committee of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) (which was approaching its second birthday and third annual Conference).

This wasn’t an official meeting, and it was private (at the time). John McDonnell, who had called the meeting, explained that, whilst the Labour Party had no tradition of throwing out sitting Leaders, and wouldn’t throw out Tony Blair (as much as we might have wished it) it was nevertheless clear that Blair would be standing down.

In these circumstances, he thought it was necessary and important that someone from the left of the Party mounted a challenge for the leadership when Blair resigned. Although - as a result of a deal done more than a decade before - it was known that Gordon Brown would stand (and obvious to all that he would win) - it was essential, John felt, that the left should be able to rally round a candidate.

He pointed out that some preliminary work had been done to build up the organisation of the left in the Party, in Parliament and the trade unions. The LRC was developing, the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs was getting better organised and - through campaigns such as “Public Services Not Private Profit” connections were being made with the left-led trade unions.

John felt that, if we sat out a leadership contest we would miss an opportunity to build from the modest plateau we had reached at this point - and that we would also leave the way open for another “left” challenger, who hadn’t been involved in trying to build organisation and didn’t have that perspective (this, it would turn out, was Michael Meacher MP).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the meeting consisted largely of people associated with the LRC and staff in John’s parliamentary office (such as Andrew Fisher and Owen Jones, both of whom would go on to become far better known than they then were) John’s willingness to stand as a candidate was met with great acclaim.

Those of us present understood the importance of the project of building the organisation of the left, in the Party, in Parliament and in the rank and file of the trade unions. We could see that having a candidate committed to this project standing for the leadership of the Party would be an opportunity to build up organisation to another level.

At this point, whilst we knew that there would be a vacancy for Labour Leader, we didn’t know when it would occur. Therefore we needed to prepare to launch John’s candidacy ahead of what would be a long campaign, the first phase of which would be to ensure that John was the undisputed challenger from the left.

It was evident that the forthcoming mass lobby of Parliament by the Public Services Not Private Profit Campaign would be an important  moment in launching the campaign.”

Thursday, March 17, 2022

A setback for bigotry


Here's yet another extract from my memoirs, available at

This concerns a case which was one of the first in which an employment tribunal had to consider the interaction between the (then) recently passed legislation against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and the (then) similarly recent legislation against religious discrimination;

“One weekday afternoon, around this time, I was walking down Albion Hill (the steepest hill in Brighton) when I got a telephone message from one of our shop stewards. She was very concerned about something she had seen the other shop steward in her building doing.

He was a new shop steward, having recently put his name forward for this position. I didn’t know him (I am not sure that I had met him at this point) but what I learned from his fellow shop steward (whom I knew to be a reliable activist) gave me some cause for concern.

It transpired that Mr Apelogun-Gabriels (whom I will break with the normal practice of these reminiscences and name since his name is already in the public domain in relation to this matter) had been permitted to set up a Christian prayer group at the office.

He had then copied a leaflet and distributed it, not only to colleagues who attended the prayer group but more widely throughout the office. His fellow shop steward saw a copy of the leaflet and found that it was a vicious homophobic tract, which she immediately advised him to cease distributing and destroy.

When he refused to do this she telephoned me as Branch Secretary to alert me to the problem. Not being at work, I had no immediate means of contacting Mr Apelogun-Gabriels. I knew what the Council would do (and thought that they would be justified in so doing).

I wasn’t wrong. The Council suspended Mr Apelogun-Gabriels, having received complaints from staff (some of whom were - quite properly - supported by his fellow UNISON shop steward in making the complaints).

I arranged to meet Mr Apelogun-Gabriels urgently and, shortly thereafter, met him on a day when I was caring for my young daughter, whom I sat at one end of the office with some pens and paper (and a swivel chair for entertainment) whilst I discussed the case with him.

He told me he felt that he was justified in publishing a leaflet which consisted entirely of extracts from the Bible (which it did) and, when I told him that - if he apologised sincerely - I thought we could get him off with a Final Warning, he refused to contemplate this.

I particularly recollect that, once he had left the office following our lengthy and difficult meeting my daughter summed things up well. “Daddy,” she said, “he was a very shouty man.” I agreed with her and took her for a pizza in Brixton.

Mr Apelogun-Gabriels subsequently decided that he did not want me to represent him as he could not be sure that I was heterosexual, so I referred him to our Regional Organiser. He wouldn’t take her advice any more than mine though, and the Council dismissed him.

I very rarely approve of any employer dismissing a worker, but this case was an exception - and I was pleased to learn that his employment tribunal claim for religious discrimination failed. Religion is no excuse for homophobia.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Care connect learning - when UNISON lost a lot of money…


Here's yet another extract from my memoirs, which are going for a song at

This refers to my first (of seven) term of office on the National Executive Council (NEC) of UNISON from 2003 onwards and to something I learned during that term of office.

"As I have mentioned, I served on the NEC’s Education and Training Committee during my first term on the NEC from 2003 to 2005. The decision to restrict me for ten years thereafter to just one Committee, for reasons to which I will no doubt get round to reminiscing about sooner or later, was made easier by the fact that this Committee was abolished in 2005.

The Committee had been held responsible for one of the most egregious failures of governance and financial probity of which I became aware during my time on UNISON’s NEC. 

In 2001 a senior UNISON official had registered a new company “limited by guarantee”, Care Connect Learning, which was - in effect - a wholly owned subsidiary of UNISON (technically, UNISON was its only “member” when the company was established). Care Connect Learning was intended to obtain Government funding (from the Learning and Skills Council) to provide training to (particularly) lower paid and less skilled staff in health and social care.

Whilst it did not appear that any lay Committee of the Union (including the Education and Training Committee) took any decision to establish this company, various senior lay activists and officials were, at various times, appointed as Directors of the company.

Presumably the original intention had been that the company, by providing training to potential UNISON members who would thereby become well disposed towards the trade union, might assist with recruitment, whilst the ability to access Government funding would enable UNISON to offer valuable training opportunities to existing members. However, because of the way funding from the Learning and Skills Council was provided up front and the training provision only subsequently audited, the company pretty soon found itself owing a lot of money to the LSC to repay funding which had been provided but deemed not to have been used appropriately.

At this point the matter came before the Education and Training Committee - and obviously also came to the attention of the Finance Committee, as UNISON had to agree to underwrite half of the repayments due to the LSC so that the company remained a going concern. This led to an investigation by another senior UNISON official who, when she presented her report, answered my question about who had given the official who set the company up on UNISON’s behalf the authority so to do by telling me that the official had believed that he had the authority.

It cost UNISON at least a million pounds to extricate its troublesome subsidiary from its difficulties (later offloading the company before its voluntary liquidation in 2010, leaving its unsecured creditors massively out of pocket). In debates about the allocation of funding in UNISON between branches and the Centre, UNISON members should really know more about some of the occasions on which the Centre has managed to waste our members money on a truly heroic scale because of inadequate governance."

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Culture change in Lambeth?


Here's yet another extract from my memoirs, which you can purchase for next to nothing at

This concerns changes made to Lambeth council’s Human Resources function, during which I led the trade unions in adopting Napoleon’s dictum not to interrupt one's adversary when they are making a mistake;

"If anyone were to be foolish enough to read these pages in the hope of gaining some insight into how to change the culture of a dysfunctional local authority they are set to be disappointed. However I can offer quite a few pointers to what not to do - and among the many things I have seen fail over a long period in Lambeth, the appointment of a “Director of Culture Change” would certainly make the list.

After her disastrous appearance at the one and only, first and last, Staff Conference at the Royal Festival Hall in 2001 Chief Executive Faith Boardman had - I think - genuinely set out to change the dysfunctional, confrontational (and institutionally racist) culture of the organisation of which she found herself at the head.

I never understood why bringing together the quite distinct functions of Human Resources and Public Relations and putting them both under a new Director of Culture Change was supposed to help with this endeavour, but I made a point of always being agnostic in principle about senior management restructures over my years in Lambeth.

In my experience if senior managers think that the UNISON Branch Secretary is overly interested in what they are responsible for, who they are or what they are doing, it only makes them think more of themselves, which is rarely good either for the organisation or the development of their character. There are only a handful of people who really believe that the structure of the senior management of a local authority makes any difference whatsoever to either the workforce or the community - and those are the handful of people who populate that structure (plus a few of the Councillors who think their role is to be part of the senior management).

As I have already observed, once Labour lost control of the Council, the Chief Executive had political support for a change of personnel at the top of the Human Resources function, and a new Head of Human Resources was brought in in August 2002. The arrival of the new Head of HR coincided with a major restructure of the function, intended to make deep cuts and significant savings and, for some reason, in one of those dramatic failures in people management at which Lambeth has occasionally excelled, there was no office or telephone waiting for the new Head of HR on her arrival.

The existing structure of the Human Resources function had evolved through the enterprising empire building of the previous Head of HR and, whilst he might have been able to manage to deliver the savings which the Chief Executive was looking for, the new management structure which she had implemented clearly wasn’t. The Director of Culture Change left in May 2003 without being replaced, and the Head of HR was also gone, after a period of absence, by the autumn of that year. An indicator of the complete mess that the management of the Council was once more in was that when the Head of Employee Relations left, early in 2003, to follow the former Head of HR to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, no more senior manager turned up at his leaving “do” - so, as Secretary of the Joint Trade Unions, I thanked an old adversary for his years of service to the borough."

Monday, March 14, 2022

An off colour remark...


Here's yet another extract from my memoirs, which you can purchase inexpensively at

This concerns a staff conference held by Lambeth Council on the Southbank in 2001;

After Heather Rabbatts moved on from being Lambeth’s Chief Executive she was temporarily replaced by Director of Education, Heather du Quesnay, prior to the appointment of her permanent replacement, Faith Boardman, who had previously been in charge of the Child Support Agency.

Ms Boardman arrived making a strong play for support from the trade unions by emphasising to us her pro-workforce credentials. Within weeks of her arrival we had, for example, established a series of joint working parties to come up with proposals (such as a a staff handbook) - that were intended (substantively) to involve the trade unions in collectively agreeing a “relaunch” of organisational culture and (procedurally) to model joint working to managers as the way they would operate from now on.

In Lambeth UNISON we never advocated “partnership” because that invariably involves trade unions adopting a subaltern position in relation to management and helping achieve managerial objectives. Over the years however we often adopted practices which might have looked to the casual observer a lot like partnership, the difference being that we never played second fiddle.

Another part of Faith Boardman’s plans at the start of her tenure was the organisation of the first (and as it turned out last) staff conference for the whole Council workforce, which took place in two sessions, morning and afternoon, at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. We had union recruitment stalls at the event and were willing it to go well.

However, at the morning session, after a fairly lengthy speech, in which the new Chief Executive stressed her commitment to equality of opportunity and moved on to opine that the Council needed an Assistant Chief Executive and that she knew who it should be - she pointed out one of the Directors on the stage with her (who happened to be a white man).

Questions were then invited from the floor, and, having stuck my hand up, I was called to ask the first. I asked Faith Boardman if she could see the contradiction between expressing support for equality of opportunity and then identifying a white man to be her Assistant Chief Executive without any competition.

Flustered, the Chief Executive, in her reply, used the word “coloured” when she must (I hoped) have intended to say “Black”. The ripple of shock, anger and surprise which went through the (majority Black) audience was palpable - and when the next question, asked by our Black Workers Group Convenor, was prefaced with the remark that she asked it “as a proud Black African woman” the spontaneous outburst of applause was deafening.

Although she did not repeat this appalling faux pas at the afternoon session (and did not appoint any Assistant Chief Executive without a recruitment process) Faith Boardman never fully recovered from that morning during her remaining years in Lambeth.

Nor did the Council ever again bring its whole workforce together in one place on the same day. Which was a shame because it was a great union recruitment opportunity.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

1999 - marches and banners


Here's another extract from my memoirs, which you can purchase (perhaps as a Mother's Day present) for a nominal price at

The spring of 1999 saw me carrying equally heavy banners on equally tiring marches at different ends of the country;

The New Labour Government introduced the National Minimum Wage with effect from 1 April 1999, which represented a victory for UNISON - and for Rodney Bickerstaffe in particular who had been fighting for a statutory minimum wage when most of the TUC stood in opposition to such an infringement on “free collective bargaining”. 

However the level of the minimum wage at its introduction (and the existence of lower rates for young workers) were unsatisfactory, which is why UNISON National Delegate Conference 1998 had agreed to call for a national demonstration in support of UNISON policy for a higher, unified rate.

The NEC organised the demonstration for Newcastle in April, which was not - perhaps - calculated to achieve maximum turnout, but nevertheless 20,000 people turned up. The CFDU were a visible presence with our own new national banner (which some officials proposed should be taken down, a request that was politely declined). For my part, I was carrying the (rather heavier) Lambeth UNISON branch banner - across the bridge over Tyne on a fairly windy day. I never did that again.

A meeting organised jointly between the CFDU and the SWP at the conclusion of the demonstration was another indication of the coming agreement between the divided tribes of the organised left - but I can honestly say I remember nothing of that meeting as I was recovering from carrying that heavy banner over that bridge in that bloody wind!

A week after the national minimum wage demonstration in Newcastle, the fascist terrorist David Copeland planted a nail bomb in Brixton market - and Lambeth UNISON became a central part of organising a community response to this attack upon our borough. 

In a fortnight we organised a demonstration from Brixton to join the May Day rally in Trafalgar Square, an event which occurred on the day after the third (and last) nail bombing (at the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho) and the day before the Police arrested the bomber.

It’s a long walk from Brixton to Trafalgar Square, and longer still if you are trying to steward a demonstration but it was one of the iconic moments in the history of Lambeth UNISON - remembered in the marvellous banner which Ed Hall made for us and which led the demonstration.

Ed had taken early retirement some time after I returned as Branch Secretary in 1996 and had taken up making banners for labour movement and campaigning organisations. To this day if you go to a national demonstration with a lot of trade union banners you will see many examples of Ed’s handiwork, but for me the Brixton bombing demonstration banner has always been his very best work.

That was also the banner which got Ed noticed as the great artist of our movement which he  undoubtably is, leading to - among other things - an exhibition of his banners at the People’s History Museum some years later.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

The Hillingdon hospital strike, Trotsky's birthday and the revolution


A birthday boy

Here's another extract from my memoirs, the true enormity of which you can purchase for a nominal price at

In 1996 I spent a year serving as UNISON deputy regional convener in Greater London and in that capacity regularly attended meetings of the strikers at Hillingdon hospital;

By February of 1996, when I was elected as Deputy Regional Convenor, cleaners at Hillingdon Hospital had been on strike against their employer, Pall Mall for several months, as the employer had sought to impose reductions in their pay and conditions. The strike action had begun unofficially but had been endorsed by the UNISON Industrial Action Committee in late 1995.

The dispute was a long and bitter one, the employer having replaced the striking workers who nevertheless held out for months (indeed for years). The Regional official had not believed that the workers (almost exclusively Asian women) would strike and had tried to persuade them to accept some negotiated solution. The bulk of the UNISON members at the hospital were either unsympathetic to, or agnostic about, the strikers and were certainly not eager to organise any solidarity action.

The UNISON Regional Committee - although it had no particular locus in relation to industrial disputes (which in UNISON’s structures are matters for our autonomous Service Groups) - accepted my argument that we should show our practical support for this dispute, and consequently asked me to attend the weekly strike meetings which were taking place at Hillingdon Civic Centre. So it was that, for the next year, I spent every Sunday morning travelling from Lewisham to Uxbridge where the strikers met to discuss their dispute. The strike was under the leadership of the great Malkiat Bilku, the shop steward who had led the dispute from the outset (and would lead the remaining workers back to work victorious five years after they had first worked out). The meetings at this time were hosted by Wally Kennedy, a local Councillor and member of the Socialist Party who had managed to get elected as a Councillor before the Labour Party got round to expelling him.

The UNISON Branch and Regional officials responsible for the dispute did not attend the weekly meetings (because they were “unofficial”) but these meetings, between the strikers and supporters from the local community, were where the dispute was organised and although there was little support from Branch or Regional level, there were national UNISON officials who tried to coordinate public attacks upon the employers. 

Another group of absentees from these weekly meetings were members of the Workers Revolutionary Party (“the News Line”). On one occasion the WRP comrades were waiting outside the meeting to take Malkiat to their annual rally for Trotsky’s birthday. The strikers, being concerned for the welfare of their leader, who was exhausted, directed that I (as the closest thing to a union official present) should escort her to her bus stop and ensure she did not get in the minibus. Malkiat did not wish to offend any supporters and offered to the waiting comrades that she would speak at their rally the following year, to which a young WRPer responded in all seriousness “there won’t be a rally next year, the revolution will have happened.” When I commented that he had doubtless said the same thing the previous year, he retorted “look, you see Malkiat, a cynic, he is a cynic!”

Malkiat got on her bus home, Trotsky’s birthday passed - and the revolution has still to happen (at the time of writing).

Baked Bean Lasagne


Here's another extract from my memoirs, the full horror of which you can purchase for a nominal price at

By 1993 I had become branch secretary of NALGO in Lambeth and NALGO had become UNISON. Like the submerged 9/10 of an iceberg most of the work of a trade union branch secretary is individual casework about which you can't normally say anything. For this though, I'll make an exception;

Not all casework was as serious as that which arose in Housing in the autumn of 1993 - although all casework was (of course) serious for the individual union member(s) concerned.

As a Branch Secretary, I used to joke, that I did not have a monthly one to one meeting with a line manager (as most employees were supposed to) but instead with a baying mob. This was always a very unkind way to characterise my Branch Committee (and only very occasionally truthful) but in December 1993 I had to miss the monthly meeting at short notice to deal with a disciplinary hearing with which no one else was available to deal.

A recent recruit to the Union, who (as it turned out) had been transferred from working in the staff canteens to school catering, because of concerns about his culinary skills, faced a raft of serious - and less serious - charges. Of the charges I remember, there was a charge of making a mutton and vegetable pie without properly defrosting the mutton (which was presented - perhaps understandably - as a charge of gross misconduct).

I also recall that one of the lesser charges (presented as “other misconduct” rather than gross misconduct) was of making baked bean lasagne without any baked beans. To this day I find this charge perplexing since - it has always seemed to me - making baked bean lasagne ought really to have been a disciplinary matter in the first place.

Most seriously for me, the member who I arrived to represent, on a Tuesday morning in December 1993, faced a charge of gross misconduct for making biscuits for schoolchildren with twelve ounces of bicarbonate of soda in the recipe rather than twelve teaspoonfuls. According to the management, had any of the children been able to stomach more than the tiniest morsel of the disgusting product of this error, they would have become seriously ill.

The manager presenting the case against my member, being both diligent and determined to get rid of an employee who (anyone would have had to admit) might not have been best suited to a career in school catering, had frozen some of the offending biscuits and had them defrosted in time for the disciplinary hearing. When my initial attempts to have the hearing postponed to give me more time to prepare had been rebuffed by the disciplinary panel, the manager gleefully asked me if, before we moved to the presentation of their case, I would like to sample some of the biscuits.

Since (at that point) the instructions I had from the member I was representing was that there had been no mistake in the biscuit recipe, an argument which I wanted more time to explore before advancing it, this offer - which was as unappetising as it was unanticipated, concentrated my mind on revisiting the need for a postponement of the hearing, for which I successfully made a fresh request on new grounds. Once the postponement was confirmed, I made the obvious point that the biscuits (having been defrosted) ought not be refrozen and would have to be disposed of - so I never got to taste these delightful comestibles…

The UNISON member was not dismissed but transferred to other duties instead.

Friday, March 11, 2022

1991 Lambeth NALGO Advice Centres Occupation

For those of you who just can't get enough of this Blog, you can now purchase my overlong and quite honestly fairly tedious memoirs for a purely nominal price online.

Here is an extract from those memoirs concerning the 1991 NALGO advice centres occupation in Lambeth; 

At the beginning of the occupation, the manager of the Money Advice section walked into his team’s office to inform staff that their colleagues in Consumer Advice appeared to have occupied the two threatened advice centres. Then - looking around the office at the rucksacks and sleeping bags brought in by his staff - he paused and acknowledged that he realised he was probably talking to the night shift of the occupation.

The occupation would last for ten weeks, from the middle of April to the end of June. During the day, advice workers ran an advice service from each of the centres and overnight - and at weekends - a rota of members of the advice shop and other branch activists, including myself, spent the night in the occupied centres. I was assigned to Lambeth Walk CAC, along with my partner, Margaret and our closest friend, Christine.

The advice centres had their own kitchens and toilets, as well as telephone lines (which the Council cut off, not realising that we could attach telephones to the lines connecting the burglar alarms, which they had not cut off). We were able to cook - and eat - some quite impressive meals and - since the majority of the occupiers were in our twenties and thirties we coped quite well with sleeping on the floor. 

The NALGO branch also hired a couple of mobile telephones to ensure we could keep in touch if the Council worked out that that they should have cut off the alarms. These devices were the size of house bricks, and we could only get a signal at Lambeth Walk (a stone’s throw from the River and the centre of London) by leaving the advice centre and climbing to the top of a children’s climbing frame in the square outside.

A month into the dispute - when management were still refusing to talk until we ceased our “unlawful occupation of Council premises” - we successfully escalated the dispute by bringing out NALGO members in the Trading Standards and Public Safety sections on strike in support of the continued employment of a temporary admin worker, and making clear that we were linking the two disputes and would only settle the two together.

The Council responded to our escalation by offering negotiations with the Director of Environmental Services (and future Chief Executive) Henry Gilby, out of which we arrived - eventually - at a settlement whereby one of the threatened advice centres remained open (the other being replaced with a series of local advice surgeries at libraries in the south of the borough) and the threatened temporary worker was found permanent employment elsewhere in the Council.

This dispute was my first experience of negotiating a settlement and return to work. As with everything of significance I ever did as a trade unionist this was a product not of my own endeavour but of the collective action of workers prepared to take risks in support of action which they believed to be both justified and potentially effective. 

It also led to my first visit to NALGO Headquarters at Mabledon Place, where the Industrial Action Committee turned down the branch’s request for support for our successful dispute from national funds.

Peace and Nuclear Affairs Officer

For those of you who just can't get enough of this Blog, you can now purchase my overlong and quite honestly fairly tedious memoirs for a purely nominal price online.

Here is an extract from those memoirs - unusually, not involving trade union activity - about one of the best jobs which I, or anyone else, has ever been paid to do;

With the implementation of the Service Plan for DEHCS, my job was in a “generic reduction” group. Five current roles of Research Officer were being reduced to three with the merger of two sections. One of my fellow Research Officers, who was also an activist in the Black Workers Group, felt that the detail of the proposals placed himself and another Black colleague at a disadvantage and - bizarrely - circulated memos around the Department accusing me personally of racism.

It turned out that my accuser was, sadly, experiencing something of a breakdown, which simply gave me my first experience of facing an allegation of racism (something which was rather more common in the rough and tumble of the late 1980s and early 90s than it is in the po-faced twenty-first century). In the event, whilst my job was at risk I was able to apply, as a redeployee, for a fascinating (and better paid) alternative job.

Late in 1988 I became the fourth - and final - person to hold the post of Peace and Nuclear Affairs Officer (PNAO), a job created a few years before to resource and implement Lambeth Council’s Nuclear Free Zone policy. I had been offered the post - on a temporary “acting-up” basis - the year before, when a previous postholder had taken leave, but had declined the offer because the NALGO branch had had - at that time - a policy against accepting “acting-up” appointments.

For a long-standing peace activist, this was something of a dream job which entailed, amongst other things, the production and distribution of leaflets warning local residents of the risks from the nuclear waste trains that travelled regularly through the borough and - most amusingly - complying with the Council’s statutory duty to comment upon the civil defence plans being prepared by emergency planners at the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority (LFCDA) (as it then was).

After a civil defence exercise in the early 1980s had been disrupted by the refusal of many Labour Councils to participate in the absurdity of planning to govern what would have been left after a nuclear holocaust, the Tories had legislated to compel cooperation by local Councils with preparation for civil defence in the event of nuclear war.

Lambeth - along with many other Nuclear Free Local Authorities - adopted a policy of “creative compliance” with this legislation, which meant that someone had to read every detail of the - utterly incredible - plans drawn up by the LFCDA in order to comment critically upon them, whilst publicising to local people the futility of the Government’s policy to plan for survival from nuclear war. 

I had the good fortune to be that someone, meaning that I was paid to engage in the sort of political activity which I had been participating in voluntarily in my own time since I had been a teenager in Brighton.