Now -read the book!

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

UNISON - an honorary life member writes...

I have today received my certificate and badge as an honorary life member of UNISON. Diligent readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) may recollect my having been awarded this honour at the close of last year's National Delegate Conference. There is, of course, however, many a slip twixt cup and lip, so it has taken a few months for the matter to be finalised.

I won't repeat the thanks I gave in June when originally notified of the decision of UNISON's lay leadership to grant my honorary life membership, although I remain very grateful to my comrades on the UNISON NEC, and also to the UNISON officials who helped to make this happen.

Bearing in mind that I have been living with prostate cancer since 2018, and with advanced cancer since 2020, it is handy to have been able to get the honorary life membership in whilst I still have some life in which to enjoy it!

According to the certificate this honour has been awarded in recognition of “outstanding service to the union”. As an extremely modest person, I could not have put it better myself. There will, however, be some who might take a different view, given that I devoted years to being troublesome at every level of the organisation.

Given that the whole purpose of a trade union is to organise and mobilise those of us who have, individually, less power so that our collective strength can answer those who have power over us, troublemakers are inevitably the sort of people most likely to provide “outstanding service to the union”.

I expressed here recently my regret that UNISON in local government is not yet part of the strike wave which represents a reasonable response to the refusal of the Tory Government to consider pay rises which will protect the standard of living of our members. 

It will take some time (some years) to transform UNISON into the fighting trade union which can take its rightful place at the leadership of a combative working-class movement. However, over the past 18 months, a majority of members of the UNISON NEC have been starting the work which needs to be done to achieve this objective (in the teeth of virulent opposition from the supporters of UNISON's Ancien Regime).

Since my honorary life membership will (obviously) only last as long as my life, I won't be in UNISON to see the better future for the trade union for which so many, myself included, fought for so long. That future is far from being assured, and if UNISON is to become the organisation needed by our members, and the wider working-class, then activists need to mobilise now to nominate and campaign for candidates in the forthcoming UNISON NEC elections standing under the banner of "Time For Real Change”. 

The internal struggle for democracy and accountable leadership within our trade unions is not a diversion from the struggle to respond to the cost of living crisis, it is an essential part of that struggle. 

Take it from an honorary life member… 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Missing from the strike wave

It's bad enough being a retired trade union activist, living with advanced cancer, forced to sit and watch the largest strike wave in years played out on our streets and in our workplaces. What is worse is the knowledge that, even had I not retired, I would be part a section of the workforce which seems, at present, set to sit out the current wave of struggle.

In spite of pockets of militancy there does not seem to be an immediate prospect of the local government trade unions leading the largest workforce in the economy into battle nationally to defend our living standards. This is the case although the objective need for action on local government pay is far greater now than it was when we took national strike action in 2002, 2008 or 2014.

According to official data published today average real wages across the economy as a whole are currently falling at an annual rate of 2.7%. This is not because workers are having their pay cut in money terms, but because pay increases are failing to keep pace with price inflation (the latest official figure for the consumer price index (CPI) is 11.1%).

Even workers who are winning pay rises of 10%, which seem impressive compared to years of pay freezes during Tory austerity, are seeing their real wages fall. 

Local government workers (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland), who had become accustomed to a modest decline in real earnings each year as our pay was frozen whilst price inflation inched upwards, are in most cases now seeing the largest single year fall in a real earnings in decades. The latest pay settlement gave the lowest paid workers a fall in real earnings of less than 1% but for much of the workforce the real pay cut was 7%.

Postal workers, rail workers, civil servants, health service workers and many others are being led into struggle against the attack on working-class living standards. 

Local government workers are the biggest battalion in our entire movement, organised across the three largest trade unions, and primarily by UNISON. 

It is a third of a century since local government workers last really won a significant national battle over pay. 

It's about time things changed. 

Just once in my life I would like to see UNISON in local government really live up to its potential.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Lambeth's Living Legend

I am indebted to a recent reader of this blog for kindly reminding me of an event which took place last month at UNISON's national LGBT+ conference.

My old friend, and Lambeth UNISON branch comrade, Jackie Lewis received a well deserved award for lifetime achievement as a trade union activist.

The national trade union rightly recognised Jackie’s decades of pioneering commitment to lesbian and gay (latterly LGBT+) self organisation in the labour movement and to building solidarity with the Palestinian people (it was Jackie who took the case to the Supreme Court to permit local government pension funds to refuse to invest in companies which profit from, for instance, arms sales or the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza).

However, what are those who admire Jackie's national political activity may not know just how impressive her work at branch level has been for more than 40 years. Having recently had two (rather sad) occasions to remember friends and comrades from the Lambeth branch, the award at LGBT+ conference made me think that I should also place on record my admiration for Jackie while I still can (and while she can read it).

Jackie Lewis was already a well-established NALGO activist when I arrived to work in Lambeth Council in 1987. Indeed, as I recall, Jackie was Assistant Branch Secretary of NALGO at that time. By the time I became a NALGO branch officer in the early 1990s, Jackie was Convenor of Social Services (becoming convenor of Adult Services this century).

During 25 years as Branch Secretary of the most demanding, exciting, infuriating and wonderful trade union branch I relied upon Jackie Lewis for support in very many ways. Jackie’s diligence, which borders on pedantry, makes her one of the most effective and experienced caseworkers in our movement, and one to whom I would often turn for advice.

Jackie is also an excellent negotiator. Before my time in Lambeth, she had been part of the team who had agreed what was, at the time, the best maternity package in local government. Jackie’s persistence and determination has, over many years, struck fear into the hearts of managers and won their respect (occasionally having the same effect on her Branch Secretary).  

This wasn't only true locally. For most of the past 30 years, Jackie has served on the UNISON Greater London Regional Local Government Committee and its Executive, representing London on the UNISON National Social Services Committee for many years (until a manoeuvering reactionary managed to exclude her). 

Jackie’s knowledge of the wider trade union, having also served for many years on the Regional Committee and attended Conferences and the TUC often benefited the Lambeth branch. Jackie can be relied upon to suggest amendments that might keep a radical motion on the right side of the Standing Orders Committee.   

Most of all, Jackie Lewis is a loyal, dedicated and disciplined trade unionist. In 2004, Jackie was the only member of our branch committee to vote against a conference motion, which I proposed, calling for the resignation of Tony Blair as Prime Minister. However, when, as a branch delegate, she was asked to move the same motion against the opposition of the UNISON NEC, she not only agreed but did so brilliantly. Such understanding of collective discipline and democratic accountability is the measure of a great trade unionist.

Jackie certainly deserve the recognition which she received last month for her national activities, but I think that her service to the workers of Lambeth is the most important and admirable feature of a lifetime of unparalleled activity within our movement.