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)

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Support the strikers!

More workers will be taking strike action, officially, today than on any date since 30th of November 2011.

Following the defeat of the defence of public service pensions in the early years of the last decade, many of us felt that it would be years before our movement was fit and ready to take such action again.

The combination of rising price inflation (which can certainly not be attributed to a "wage-price spiral”) with a vicious and declining Tory government prepared to launch unprecedented attacks upon the civil rights of workers and trade union members, has returned the class struggle to centre stage. 

Even the draconian restrictions now imposed, by the 2016 Act, on the limited protection from civil liability when trade unions call strikes, have not prevented the calling of mass strike action at a national level (albeit some of our trade unions have a way to go to catch up).  

Much of what has gone wrong in this country (and many others) over the past generation has been associated with the decline in strength and combat liberty of the trade union movement. Those of you who are still at work, and whose health permits you to participate in these vital struggles, I wish you all the luck in the world.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Men, the menopause and sex discrimination - Tories plumb new depths of ignorance and reaction

It is now more than 27 years since the House of Lords accepted the ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the case of Webb v E.M.O. Air Cargo (UK) Ltd  [1995] ICR 1021]. 

Crucially, the ECJ held that; “there can be no question of comparing the situation of a woman who finds herself incapable, by reason of pregnancy… …of performing the task for which she was recruited with that of a man similarly incapable for medical or other reasons.” 

This important and progressive ruling from the ECJ established the modern understanding that any detriment imposed upon a woman because she is pregnant is sex discrimination, because a male comparator is simply not possible.

In many decades of workplace trade union activity, I always felt that one of our highest priorities as trade unionists must be to protect our members who are pregnant. After all, we are all of us only present in the workplace because of a pregnancy!

The Equality Act 2010, one of the last acts of the last Labour Government, established "pregnancy and maternity" as a protected characteristic, providing additional protection to women workers, operating alongside the right not to be subject to sex discrimination.

A generation on from the struggle to get the law to recognise that detriments imposed upon pregnant women are plainly sex discrimination, workplace activists and trade unions have been campaigning for recognition of the rights and needs of women workers going through the menopause. The TUC have produced an online interactive guide.

Last summer, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee produced a report with recommendations concerning Menopause and the Workplace. Among the recommendations were that he Government should launch a consultation on how to amend the Equality Act to introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause.

This week the Government produced its response to that report, rejecting that recommendation on the grounds that; "it is important to ensure that the policy is considered in the round to avoid unintended consequences which may inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions.”

Whoever drafted, approved and published this absurd argument very clearly did so in complete ignorance of the debates which took place around pregnancy and discrimination in the 1990s, leading up to the decision in the Webb case. They can no more be a male comparator for a woman experiencing the menopause, then there can be a male comparator for a pregnant woman.

There may be sound arguments against establishing menopause as a new "protected characteristic", but the nonsensical suggestion that a risk of discrimination against men suffering from long-term medical conditions is one such argument must be dismissed.

If I thought that my individual "identity" or personal experience gave any added weight to the argument I am making here, I would point out that I am just one such man suffering from a long-term medical condition (and one which has led me to years of hormone therapy, with side-effects which mimic in some respects some experiences of the menopause!) 

However, since I don’t have any time for identity politics, I won't waste your time with that nonsense, but will instead focus on the nonsense being peddled on behalf of our government, who assert that special provision for women workers experiencing the menopause could somehow discriminate against men.

The fact that such an uninformed and reactionary opinion can be expressed on behalf of the Government in 2023 is indicative of the increasing space within which right-wing "culture warriors" are now able to operate and to push back against the social gains of recent decades. 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Normal blogging in 2023...

Regular readers of this Blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) may have noticed a dearth of posts over the past month.

Rather than promising that "normal service will be resumed as soon as possible", I think it may be more sensible to say that this could be the “new normal”. 

I have written here before about my diagnosis of prostate cancer, and subsequently of advanced prostate cancer. Not wanting me to miss out on a very popular illness which I had otherwise escaped for the last three years, this holiday season kindly also gifted me my first experience of Covid (!) I have recovered from Covid, but won't be recovering from cancer…

This blog has always been primarily somewhere where I pontificate based upon my experience in our movement. Following my stepping down from my UNISON responsibilities in 2017, I have spent the past six years serving as chair of Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party (CLP). I also served as the last chair of the Brighton and Hove Local Campaign Forum.

Given the unavoidable progressive deterioration in my state of health, I will not be seeking re-election as CLP Chair at the coming AGM. I am no longer able to commit to attend evening meetings, particularly not as we return to meeting in person. I certainly can't be out on the streets campaigning.

Of course this will change the nature of this little blog.

I hope to continue blogging for a while yet however. Indeed, once I no longer hold any position in the movement I may take the opportunity to be a little more forthright in expressing my opinions (having always been exceptionally measured and reserved in everything I have ever said here of course…)

For now, I wish good luck to the comrades locally who will be standing for Labour in May’s local elections and all those in UNISON who will be supporting the Time For Real Change candidates in the forthcoming elections to the national Executive Council.

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. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Farewell Roger Lewis (01/06/62-22/11/22)

Roger speaking in 2016

Our movement has lost a bright star. Roger Lewis, secretary of Lambeth Council’s joint trade unions has died an untimely death at the age of only 60. Roger's loss will be felt not only amongst the workforce of Lambeth Council but much more widely throughout UNISON and the labour movement, and will be felt particularly brutally by those campaigning for the rights of disabled workers. 

I have known Roger as a committed socialist and trade union activist for more than 30 years. Roger arrived to work in Lambeth Council in 1987, a young and enthusiastic socialist in his mid 20s. He worked in social services day centres where he rapidly became a leading shop steward for a group of workers who were often treated badly by managers whilst delivering vital services to a vulnerable client group.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s when strike action was still a frequent feature of a trade union life, Roger was a reliable and stalwart picket as well as developing as an experienced and effective caseworker representing individual trade unionists facing difficulties in the workplace. 

I remember Roger outside the Town Hall, protesting against cuts and the poll-tax, supporting the advice centre and youth centre occupations and demonstrating against the Gulf War. I also remember Roger as part of a group of twentysomethings having our first drink at the newly opened Wetherspoons pub in Brixton (!)

Roger was one of a number of our shop stewards at that time who was a member of the Socialist Workers Party and, whilst that meant we did not always see eye to eye on every dot and comma of our politics, as a left-wing Branch Secretary I knew I could rely upon Roger and his comrades when the chips were down.

Though sensible managers respected Roger as a diligent and effective shop steward, some of his local managers were not in that category. In 2005 a hostile local manager seized upon a malicious complaint to try to secure Roger’s dismissal. With the support of his legendary UNISON Convenor, Jackie Lewis, Roger fought off this vicious attack.

However, in a cruel twist of fate, at the same time, Roger who was already suffering with arthritis, found that a degenerative condition was costing him his sight. Once more, local management tried to get rid of Roger on the grounds that he could not carry out his duties. Roger and his trade union branch fought back and won.

Not only did Roger retain his employment as he lost his sight but he took on a new role and, from then onwards, as well as continuing to be a leading trade union activist, Roger played a vital role in developing Lambeth’s service provision for disabled people locally. In a short blog post I cannot possibly do justice to the many ways in which Roger contributed to our society. There will I'm sure be others who can say much more.

Such was Roger's courage and determination as he faced acquiring a life changing disability in mid-life that he was not distracted from his commitment to the class struggle. On the contrary, Roger acquired a renewed focus and rapidly became a key figure in UNISON's Disabled Member’s Self Organised Group in the branch and beyond. 

When the Coalition Government launched its savage attack upon public services and our welfare state, Roger was to the fore in organising Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) an organisation to which Roger gave his persistence and commitment, and through which he became a nationally known figure.

As Roger became an increasingly common sight, with a megaphone or on a platform outside Parliament or on a demonstration, he remained a fully committed member of his union branch and continued his valuable work for the Council. When my retirement from UNISON roles in 2017 created various vacancies, Roger stepped up to take on the challenging role of Secretary of the Joint Trade Unions for Lambeth Council.

This involved the vital and often thankless task of building and maintaining unity between the different trade unions while leading negotiations with the Council over a period during which it repeatedly and determinedly demolished its own Human Resources function. The workers of Lambeth Council enjoy decent conditions of service and broadly fair staffing procedures, and for the past five years Roger Lewis, more than anyone else, mobilised our collective organisation to defend those rights.

I had hoped to see Roger last month when he was in Brighton representing Lambeth at UNISON's National Disabled Members Conference. Characteristically, however, when I was unable to get out in the evening, Roger couldn't meet at the end of the Conference as he had to get back to Lambeth for a work commitment. I have no doubt that right up until Roger was taken into hospital having had a heart attack last Friday, he was working hard for our class and our movement. I cannot describe the anger I feel that someone who did as much as any of us to defend our pensions from successive attacks will not have enjoyed a single day of retirement.

I have known and represented a very great number of trade unionists and trade union activists. Roger Lewis shines out in my memory for his courage, commitment and determination. If he could inspire an old cynic who is writing this blog I can only imagine the inspiration which his example will continue to offer to so many comrades for so long.

Farewell Roger and thank you for your comradeship.